(Panting frantically) … ‘A minute has never been this long and cold. Mom must hurry up, before he knows where I am. Maybe I must find a denser bush, it’ll keep me warmer for the next hour and 59 minutes. I hope he doesn’t see me.’

 Meet Chanté. The beautiful South African air hostess has journeyed over two hundred and two flights this year with one of the world’s most prestigious airlines. As known only by the residents, Melbourne Lake, is where she finds her escape from a busy schedule. So, much travel has surely changed the mature 23-year-old’s perspective, and with it, a new appreciation for the quiet moments she has to herself. Having been all over the world, meeting new people and earning a decent salary that anyone her age would strive for, her growing years have not been easy. How do you change the way you think about yourself if you’re constantly reminded that you’re a mistake?

 ‘I had a lot to be grateful for. I had a successful father who gave me every materialistic thing I wanted, but I needed love. The only relational commitment my father had was to different women and his hedonistic existence of sensual pleasure, as well as his pornography addiction however, I thought it was normal for men to be entertained by such things. There was no distinctive difference between love and lust. After my parent’s divorce, I couldn’t quite establish my role as a woman, since I could only see my mother on Wednesdays. She wasn’t allowed in my father’s house, so she would pullup in front of the house and I’d spend strictly one hour with her in the car. I loved every dawdling second, she helped me with my homework and she taught me… like, girl stuff, you know? I was so young, but I will never forget the times I had with her. Things are completely different between us now.’

 You remember how things pretty much never change at school, no matter the century? School was school, you get the boyfriend every girl wanted, you trade your purity for what you think love was and you try to prove that you’re different, knowing that you did exactly the same as all the other girls. Juvenile conversations destroy what you work for, even if you’re a top-class track athlete with a full scholarship. Unfortunately, you’re never labelled for what you accomplish but for what you’ve done wrong. It was evident that a stable mother figure was absent, but only for a little while…

 …and into Chanté’s life stepped Judith. ‘She was just “another one”, but what made her different was how she cared about me, like none of the previous ones did. I didn’t care much anyway - well, at first.  Judith has a daughter, Ancois, who got a mental condition when she was 18 months due to a fever, but my arms weren’t open for them to take my place in the house. I was reluctant to invite friends over because I was embarrassed about Ancois, I couldn’t trust my father’s behaviour either. I was a hardened rebel, I disapproved of any woman moving in, but I obviously didn’t have a choice. To some extent though, Judith was still different. Her invitation to church didn’t flatter me, but my heart was changed when we left the first sermon. I softened up as she taught me things that only a mother can teach her daughter. We went from cooking, to cleaning, to folding triangles with plastic bags, and she would be my makeup artist when I had a function at school.’ Judith’s engagement to Chanté’s father didn’t last long. ‘Old habits die hard, his proved it.’

 You take a certain disposition when you’re being addressed with a name that you’re constantly correcting. ‘Chanté, Chanté, Chanté, Chanté, Chanté… how many times…? It’s not Chantelle!’ Writer, Joshua Becker, stated that his constant forgetfulness of names was a desire to be known rather than to know. Was it so hard!

 This particular disposition involved a sudden move to Rustenburg, into “another one’s” home. Chante’s father was struggling to keep a bankrupt business alive, and her varsity savings were the last resort for their ‘survival’. ‘What do you mean I can’t study next year? Our agreement was to save the unused high school money for varsity?.' She was devastated. 

 ‘I lost it. A furious disappointment raged through my body, and the last 15 years’ resentment roared. His drunkard temper didn’t scare me anymore, but when my body flipped over the dining room table, I knew I had to escape before the unthinkable could become reality. I only had time for the most important items; imagine escaping a fire. I ran to a dense bush in the garden, phoned my biological mother and hoped that he wouldn’t find me in the two hours I’d have to wait for her. 3 a.m. has never been that dark, every stuttering second felt longer than the previous; I haven’t had a longer night since.

The road has been dark, but there has been light. ‘When Ancois phoned, apparently “my plants missed me”, and they wanted me to visit more. She never owned up to actually being the one who missed me – I missed her and Judith too. Chante’s love for Ancois grew more and more over the years, right up to her sister's passing earlier this year. They were moments to be cherished. 'Judith officially adopted me in 2013, and I try to visit regularly. From nowhere, two people ended up paying for my studies. I only knew one of them and I paid him back with the money I’ve been making. With a boasting distinction in my honours year, I’m barely using my degree now. Who knew I’d be living in a different country today? God heard my prayer, I remember that day clearly, like yesterday: “God, I don’t know you that well, but I want to go to varsity. I am not made to be mediocre.”. People’s kindness and generosity extended far beyond any expectations I had, you get good people out there, I try to be one of them.’

 5 years later, she tells the story as if it’s not hers. Every detail is shared with faith, the faith to believe that there is a solution. Often in life, one’s behaviour isn’t comprehended until people know your story. Recently sitting at the Melbourne Lake after her flight to Australia, she shares a complicated past with the people she met over two hundred and two flights. Her beautiful skin and peaceful eyes tell a different story, one of a courageous journey that lies ahead. She uses each moment as an opportunity to support the hurt and lost, yet she dreams of coming back to her homeland to pursue her passion project. Chanté is now engaged to be married in December.




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