Missy, the Zinti school maid, still lives in my heart.  She was in her early 40s when I met her – a single mom raising a teenage daughter, working from 7-4 every day for 200 rand (about $25) a month.  She swept door stoops, made butter sandwiches and tea for Principal Zondi’s lunch, jumped at every teacher’s command, and hung her head in shame when she was scolded.  

In her spare time, without a sewing machine, Missy makes traditional pleated Zulu dance skirts.  Each skirt uses 8 meters of fabric and thousands of seed beads, all purchased with money she squirrels away.

Never feeling more beautiful than with one of Missy’s skirts tied around my waist, the cascading strings of beads felt like magical lights encircling my every twirl. Cinderella’s gown maker has nothing on Missy!

As a single woman, Missy has no permission to obtain a driver’s license and will never own a car.  Still, she likes to dream.  One day she came to school dressed in her finest clothes, eager to have her photo taken sitting in Principal Zondi’s car.  I wish I had been able to print the photos out for her.  She was thrilled simply to know what she looked like behind the wheel.

But Missy stole my heart with her generous spirit.  Without speaking one word of English, she was able to make me feel loved and accepted.  She greeted me every morning with a smile and a hug, taught me traditional dance, and comforted me when I was devastated by the principal’s starvation of the kids.  

Two days after this photo was taken, I fled the village under threat for my life.  With only minutes to say good-bye, Missy held me as I sobbed on her shoulder.  Then, we stood eye-to-eye without any words, knowing it was the last time we would ever see each other.  Carefully avoiding the watchful eyes of those who had threatened me, Missy slipped a plastic bag into my hands – her parting gifts that are now my prized possessions.

Ruby’s World – My Journey with the Zulu, is a true story of life on the inside of the Zulu culture.  In the words of Dr. Andrea Heckman, a cultural anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, Ruby’s World will show you the “… real Africa – not an illusion or romanticized world …”  It will take you through the gammat of human emotion … not a tale for the faint of heart.