Eleanor du Plooy, a small-town girl at heart living in the city, talks about the gift that Covid-19’s global pause brings us.
When you listen to Eleanor du Plooy speak, it’s not surprising that she ended up working in the NGO sector. “My upbringing in a working-class brown community in Upington [in the Northern Cape], in a single-parent home and in a society buckling under the weight of social injustice, poverty and inter-generational trauma, ignited the fire in my belly for social justice,” she shares.
“Witnessing the ways in which my mother modelled what it took to not only survive in these challenging situations, but to thrive, intrigued and inspired me. What is it about black and brown women who manage to succeed even when all odds are seemingly stacked against them? How do so many women of colour ensure that there is food on the table in a context of need?”
The cornerstone of the work that Eleanor’s organisation, the Unyoke Foundation, does is to accompany, nurture and link young South Sudanese peacebuilders with established practitioners. “For many South Sudanese, managing uncertainty is a common feature of their existence. War and ongoing conflict in South Sudan has meant that communities of people have had to live with the constant threat of conflict, social unrest, economic insecurity and deep levels of poverty. Although the numbers of infections and Covid-19 related deaths have been low in South Sudan, I am constantly reminded of how this uncertainty that the world is feeling about the future now, is an uncertainty that many communities around the world have had to face daily for many years. I think about displaced people, migrant workers, refugees, those who are impoverished, who have had to survive against all odds.
Granted, the challenges are different to what a global pandemic presents, but the principle remains for me.”
For Eleanor it reminded her that when a crisis hits, the best way to address it is within community. “Even if we’re maintaining social distancing, we should think through and make sense of the various challenges with others – whether via social media or through calls and other conversations with friends, family and acquaintances.”
A new perspective
“This pandemic also brought home the fact that I shouldn’t put off things just because I think I’ll have more time another day.”
She considers how things are simpler in rural South Africa. “I’ve always been very proud of my klein dorpie upbringing (although I doubt Upington can still be considered a klein dorpie). So small towns, particularly South African small towns, have had a special place in my heart. I am careful not to fall into the trap of romanticising a life I know very little of, but my hankering for the platteland is underscored by a deep need for a simpler life. My understanding of a simpler life is one free from the tethers of the rat race, the drive for accumulating more things and the constant peacocking that we often fall prey to.”
Eleanor’s deep desire to slow down, she says, is about finding ways to listen to her body and to connect to a sense of community. “When I simply rush through life, I miss out on so much. There really is time for everything.”
“The way we used to live before corona – there were a lot of distractions albeit important distractions, such as work. But as a result of these distractions, we lost out on time with ourselves. Sitting with our thoughts… really thinking about what it is that I deem important or what is valuable for me as a person outside of these constructs that exist, such as occupation, profession, and so on.”
It’s so easy to put your dreams on hold. But what this pandemic has made abundantly clear is that drastic change can happen just like that, and that ‘one day’ might turn into ‘never’.
A simpler life
It was during the lockdown that it dawned on Eleanor that she took so many things for granted that she has had to go without. Getting on a bus to go into the city, going to the shop and buying something she needed. This made her question the decisions she had made, pre-lockdown. “I asked myself, ‘Eleanor, if you go to your garden, there’s just a bunch of succulents. Where is the sweet potato, where are the mielies, where’s the basil? Where are the things that you could have planted that you could now eat?’, she related in a radio interview with media personality Ingrid Jones.
“And if you think of the life lessons that you can learn in a vegetable garden… it’s literally ‘you get what you put in’. And it is a reward for the effort that you put in. A visceral reward, something you can see, you can touch, you can taste, you consume, you can grow from.”
“The communities of trust and love that we build and invest in is what’s important. It can’t be quantified. These are the people who we can turn to in times of uncertainty or struggle,” Eleanor emphasises.
Make your own vegetable garden
We can all agree that food sovereignty is crucial in a country with such deep inequality and high levels of poverty as South Africa. Growing your own is a first step toward that. Despite the fact that the majority of South Africans don’t have space and land, there are solutions, such vertical gardens. You can even garden on a tiny piece of land.
“There are organisations that help people who think that this space is way too small, but…all you need is a piece of ground the size of a door. That space can feed four people,” Eleanor explains enthusiastically.
Download these instructions for making a vegetable garden the size of a door.
“Once you’ve grown your veggies, you can immediately start trading; you don’t have to go to the shop, you can find ways of supplementing your income. It’s about saying that I can look after my family, but it also becomes rewarding. We’re not even talking about the therapeutic value of gardening, and what that means.”
Is it finally time to give more of ourselves to the things that truly matter? Are we ready to give more time and to pay more attention to our health?
Author: Leanne Feris