It was quite a surprise that the person who would make me think about it, embodies it literally and figuratively.
SowetanLIVE went to speak to Mokgadi Letsoalo, a 25-year-old businesswoman, who is living with arthritis and manages to run a successful design and clothing company, Gulexy Creations. Letsoalo designs and makes clothing for individuals or wedding parties, her aim is to have boutique stores around the country.
We travelled to Alexandra township to meet the vibrant designer. She welcomes us into her modest design studio. In the corner is a mannequin, two sewing machines, a refreshment table with a coffee maker, on her walls are photos of her graduation ceremony. She holds a BTech in Journalism from the Tshwane University of Technology. She says this qualification helped her become the owner of her own business, and that it echoed her father’s words of motivation until she finished the course. Her father, a pastor, has always been an advocate of education.
“My father has so much wisdom. He would tell us that education is the key. 'I know you might not use the course you’ve studied, but education is more than what you’ve studied, it’s maturity', he would say that. He would add that the BTech helped mature and allowed me to handle my own business”
Letsoalo started her business about a year and four months ago. Her arthritis is a challenge, lately all she manages to do is draw and cut out patterns, though the cutting has become problematic as well. But she doesn’t worry because the two seamstresses she works with and her mother, are more than capable to handle the rest. Her mother, a seamstress by profession, taught her everything she knows.
“It can be very challenging but at the same time, I am so grateful I work for myself. No employer would have been okay with me taking two days off every week. I’m sick almost every day. I can work five hours straight and the next five I’m completely on lock down. I doubt anyone would have understood that,” she shares.
Letsoalo was diagnosed with arthritis in 2007, while still in high school. She is the first to admit that taking the medication is not a great experience. She doesn't allow the sickness to take anything away from her. In fact, she embraces it. She later even goes on to say that perhaps the arthritis is God's way of giving her a voice.
“ It’s giving me a voice, I’m able to say fine I’m a designer. I like what I do and I do it while I have arthritis. Arthritis is a huge component for me, it makes me. As much as it’s so painful, it motivates me every day.”
She says she wants to be known beyond clothes. She wants to be known for her strength, because she feels the example of her life will motivate people.
Letsoalo in her words has a good relationship with her body, because she communicates with it. She shows us two fingers on her right hand that are swollen and slightly bent.
“Right now I can’t use my hand but my legs are doing everything. I got out of the bathtub the other day without having to hold onto anything. I was so proud I showed my cousin. I’m in communication with my body, I talk to my legs. I have developed a relationship with my body because I know it has challenges.”
Letsoalo states that the way she communicates with her body is a testament to her faith. Faith and prayer are second nature to her as she grew up in a praying family.
The young businesswoman believes heavily in being optimistic but by no means takes her condition lightly. She has had hip replacement surgery in the past and is aware that she might need more replacement surgery.
Letsoalo is as colourful and animated as the patterned tunic she is wearing. She tells us she’s currently undergoing 30 days of chemotherapy. Her doctor was not happy with the state of her arthritis and told her they needed a more aggressive treatment. Although her body has changed due to her illness most noticeably her weight loss, she does not exhibit any adverse signs to chemo. A fact she herself points out.
“I was scared when I was told last month that I would be put on it. Everyone (family) was just so scared, we prayed about it. I was calm because I kept thinking these things only affect you if you put your mind to it. I was a bit nervous because I’ve had treatments that did not treat me well. I’ve seen how harsh the treatment can be, but I was prepared” she says solemnly.
She’s chronicling her chemo journey with motivational Facebook posts counting down the days. She’s vowed that she’ll finish the course without losing her hair. Throughout our interview she is smiling and calm. There is no hint of ‘woe is me’ about her at all, just a quiet determination to achieve all she can.
“The only thing I’m praying for are days, if I have life anything can happen.”