Fate Tells the Story 

We would like to think that we are in charge of our lives.  Then unexpected events occur.

The first winter I was in a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin,  I signed up for a ski weekend and my life path was changed forever.   Since I was five years old, my father had taken our family skiing each winter.  We had experienced sub-zero temperature, high winds, sleet, hale, sprained ankles, etc. and loved It all.

Now, I was on a double-black diamond slope in northern Wisconsin (very steep) on my own for the very first time.   I had on a bright orange ski outfit.  Confidence was my best friend.  The sky was the limit.

Leaning out over the precipice, I took off.  I schussed down the first few hundred feet and then lifted my body, changing the direction of my skis as I went.  I continued with frequent turns all the way down the slope.  The wind and powder snow hit me in the face.  The snow sparkled from the sun shining down from the blue sky.

Standing at the bottom to get my breath back, I looked up the slope and saw a tall blue figure making frequent turns rhythmically down the slope.  He schussed to a stop, spraying me with snow.

John introduced himself and asked me if I would like to have a drink with him in the bar that was close to the run.  I agreed and we met in the bar for a Hot Toddy.  The rest of the holiday went by in a blur.  John had a strong British accent and told me he was from Southern Rhodesia, Central Africa.    He had grown up making regular trips to Davos, Switzerland, a mecca for serious skiers from all over the world.

We married that summer.  While John was completing an MBA at Indiana University, I completed my BA.  We settled in Brooklyn Heights, NYC and started a family.  A delightful 8-pound baby girl.    We had no sooner made friends and became comfortable with life in the city when a deep recession settled over the country.

John was working for an international finance company and knew that his role would be made redundant.  John’s father, Charles, encouraged us to emigrate to Southern Rhodesia.  Our daughter, Karen, was two years old when we packed our worldly goods into a crate that was 6 feet sq.  We were excited about the new adventure into an unknown world.

Within a month of reaching what is now called Zimbabwe, we had purchased a home on 5 acres, surrounded by tall gum trees and Natal Mahoganies, a broad tree with large shiny leaves.

John was swept up in the excitement of running a stone quarry next to his father’s chrome mine. John was in his element and worked long hours.

His leisure time was spent at his parents’ home, a 40-acre estate carefully landscaped, complete with orchard, veggie garden, manicured lawns, swimming pool and a squash court.  John and his brother, Colin, played squash every evening and on weekends.  They had both attended boarding school since the age of 7.

They were both highly skilled in ball games including rugby, soccer and squash.  Not having a date with a girl until college, John was shy when he was not on a ski slope.

I had recently completed a Masters’ degree in the United States and looked forward to obtaining a position in the local elementary schools teaching middle-age children, ages 8-13 the local schools.

I was shocked when I was told that my application was unsuccessful.  They explained the circumstances by saying that they had based the decision on the fact that I had an American accent.  They wanted their students to grow up speaking the ‘Kings’ English!’  I was mortified and angry.

Six weeks later, I was told by my G.P. that I was 6 weeks pregnant.  For the next 6 weeks I wrestled with nausea, anxiety and depression.  At the 3-month mark, I experienced abdominal cramps.  My GP told me that I was in labor and that that the fetus would not survive.  He suggested that I talk to his wife, Virginia, a nurse, for counselling.

When Ginny learned the circumstances I was in, and how sad and depressed I was, she encouraged me to separate from John.    After careful consideration, I filed for divorce.  In these Colonial circumstances, I waited only 17 days before my case was heard in front of a judge.  I was granted the divorce.

Financial settlements in the United Kingdom favored the male in the divorce process.  I was granted $50 a month in alimony and $100 in child support.   Blinded by this in- just settlement, I made plans for Karen (4 years old) and I to move to South Africa where I could find professional employment.

I never regretted my decision.  Karen and I drove the 1000 miles to South Africa in a bright yellow Toyota where we created a new life structure, built a successful career and became a Registered Clinical Psychologist after three years of study and an internship in a State Mental Hospital.

Karen spent several weeks with her grandparents in Zimbabwe every school holiday.  During that time, I reached out and joined a back-packing club that took regular trips to the Drakensburg Mountains where there were 8 peaks over 4000’ high.

Karen and I thrived in Johannesburg and subsequently I met Oliver, a high energy backpacker.  A year later, we married.  Our son, Jason, was born the following year.  I had gone through a life cycle.  I had lost and I had gained.  The experience was well worth the pain.

The political and economic position in South Africa continued to deteriorate.  The inevitable transition from a white government to a black government met resistance from the entrenched Afrikaanse government.     It looked as though law and order would give way to extreme violence and a chaotic economy.  The South African government set a brutal financial exchange rate.  The exchange rate of South African Rand to the US American Dollar dropped to an unheard of SA Rand .17 cents to a one US Dollar.  For every SA Rand you exchanged for an American dollar, you received only Rand .17 cents.  It was a punitive government measure to discourage emigration.

In 1986 we emigrated to Southern California due to the breakdown of law and order in South Africa.  Our next door neighbor had been brutally murdered in front of her seven-year old twins.

Unfortunately, Oliver, Jason’s dad, a South African by birth, was not successful in making the transition to Los Angeles, CA.    Announcing to me that he could not afford to pay me any alimony or child support at that time, he returned to South Africa.  As his circumstances improved, he was able to contribute to Jason’s university education.

I had a position in Human Resources for a major bank during the day.  Two nights a week, I traveled up to an hour to a university campus where I taught adult  MBA students for 4 hours.

Without a break in employment, I rented a small house in the San Fernando Valley for Jason and me.  He was happy at his new elementary school, Welby Way, with his new teachers, Mr. and Mrs. McBride.

Karen remained in South Africa to finish high school in boarding school   She and I worked together to research universities in CA that would be suitable for someone with her objectives.   She was accepted at UCSD and after a brief summer at home we drove her down to San Diego.  She finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in 3.5 years.  She then took a 7-week walk-about in New Zealand.  When she returned she stated that she did not fit the American profile and would be moving to England where she felt far more at home.  Having lived in a dorm for 5 years, she adapted quickly to dormitory life.  She was a high energy, outgoing young woman and made an excellent transition.

We had accomplished a complex transition with a high level of adversity and personal loss.  I don’t know whether the willingness to take significant risks, leave financial security, and start a life in a setting that is unfamiliar to you where you have no friends, comes from one’s genetic makeup or temperament.  I had the drive not to remain in a country that had a high risk of giving way to chaos. I wanted my children to experience growing up and being educated in a culture that was dedicated to law and order. Perhaps a combination of those characteristics.

My children have been high on the ‘Adventure Scale’ as well.  Jason spent two summers as a Mountain Guide on Mt Rainier in the State of WA.  Last Sunday, he called me on the way home from a day skiing on fresh snow.  He and Tony, his friend, had had a great day in the Back Country, forming new trails on Rainier in unpacked snow.

Jason’s four-year-old daughter, Dani, has her own skis.  She has experienced riding up ski lifts with her parents and feels the exhilaration of ‘taking off’ unassisted.

We have all enjoyed our immediate family’s willingness to break out and experience the world, to build skill sets to deal with adversity.  We have met others who are happy to reach out to new adventures. We have developed strong problem-solving skills.  What can you lose?

Sally Kilbourne 
Shoreline Toastmasters