Dumisile Mqadi and I sat on the rooftop terrace of Happy Hippo, the funky eco-friendly backpackers in downtown Durban. Dumi has been working for Happy Hippo and its sister lodge, Hippo Hide, for more than 6 years. She started off as a cleaning lady, but that was only the beginning. “One day, I walked past Michelle Brooks’ office while I was carrying the laundry. Michelle came to me and asked me if I wanted to try and work downstairs at reception. I thought she was joking, so I said “No”, giggling. She told me I should try it out for a month and see how it was; I didn’t believe her, but I saw my name on the schedule for the next month and I saw that I had been put down as a receptionist for some days, and others as a cleaner. I just wanted to quit; I was scared and shy, I wanted to stay at home; I didn’t know what to say. I felt I was not educated enough, I was just a cleaning lady.”
“I did eventually go, and my first shift as a receptionist was at Hippo Hide – I had a night shift, and as all first days I wasn’t too sure about how things worked, and there was nobody to tell me how I was doing. In the morning, Mike (Brooks) came and welcomed me to my new job. He told me he trusted me and he didn’t want to hang around because he knew I would be shy to help people in front of him. After two months, Michelle asked me if she could put me reception full time, but I said I wanted to go back to work as a cleaning lady. I was still very scared and I thought I belonged to that job only. My colleagues in the office were amazing because they treated me as equal and wanted to assist me and help me with any requests, so I chose to stay instead. I owe it to them where I am now; they helped me stick to it and grow confidence.”
“I am not going to lie; I am still very shy and scared. I still feel like I am new here and not educated to do this; our teamwork helps me overcome my insecurities.” “Any tips to empowerment I would like to share? We all come from different families, but respect is universal. When you’re unsure, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, I can’t stress that enough. Be humble and accept being lead and not leading sometime. If you want to do something, you have to fight for it, you can’t sit around but work for a better future.”
“I am so proud of what I have done; I wish I could do more now”. Dumi is planning to further her education, and she is pondering whether to study Tourism or Education. “I always thank Michelle and Mike for seeing the potential in me.” “Deep rivers run quiet”, says Haruki Murakami, and Dumi is a reminder that the humble choices we make every day build up to a better self and a better community.