On the wings of a nightingale

“I might walk differently, but when I sing, people only see me as a singer.”

The small, slight figure slowly makes her way onto the stage. Alone, she stands in the middle of the stage facing the audience. She takes a breath and then sings. There is no music, just her voice. And it is breathtaking. The audience is spellbound and when she ends they break out into rapturous applause.

Mohini Naidoo suffers from muscular dystrophy and started singing in church when she was very young.

“I cannot really remember if I was good or bad, but I sang.”
She was good, and in later years she sang at Sunday school functions and from there her singing really took off. In High School she had a voice-training teacher, which she has stopped since she started at varsity because of time constraints but it is something she hopes to start again soon.

Today she sings in an outreach band made up of members from different churches as well as at functions, especially functions with a cause such as Muscular Dystrophy functions.
“Singing is my place of comfort. God has taken one thing from me and given me another which is singing. I might walk differently to everyone else, and there is that small thing of getting onto the stage, but when I sing, people only see me as a singer.”
“The voice is also a muscle and so I have to work doubly hard at it, but I am at my happiest when I am singing. It is my place of comfort. I believe my singing is a gift given to me for a reason.”

But she does not want to sing for the rest of her life. “I want to do something that makes a difference to the lives of others. People say to me that my singing will make a difference, but I want to do something that is more active. And besides, I can do both ...”

Mohini is studying to be a social worker at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). She is in her second year of studies.

Her pre-school years, primary and high school were at “normal” schools. “They catered for me as needed. While at Primary School I had many operations on my feet and could not walk for months. The teachers helped me during this time.”

She was going to attend Hope School. “My doctor however refused to sign the letter for me to be registered at the school. At that time I only had difficulty walking and not all the conditions I have now.”

From Grade 8 she attended the National School for the Arts and majored in voice and music.
“You have to do two instruments. I tried piano for a while, but was too weak and so I received special permission to only do one instrument not two.”

The Arts School is huge and the music department is right at the bottom. “I had the greatest friends who would help me to get to my classes. The teachers also helped me. My first day at the school I fell, and then the next day again and tore my ligaments, so it was a rocky start, but that passed and I loved my time there.”

She matriculated in 2008 and went to Wits. “Initially I wanted to study speech pathology. I did all the tests and interviews only to find out later that I needed maths to do the course. I had dropped maths in Grade 11 when they said I did not need it.”

However her mom approached a lecturer in social work and Mohini went to do the interview and tests. It was during the xenophobic attacks and the questions sketched scenarios and how you would react to them. I never wanted a business career, but to do something that involved people, so after the tests I knew this was what I wanted to study.” This year she has started with the field work and she goes to Houghton Primary School working with Grades 1 to 3.

Her day starts at 5:50 in the morning when she leaves for varsity from Lenasia. Her older brother drives her to Wits. He is great and the best big brother you could have. My mom and dad are also amazing and my mom is my strength.”

Most days she is at Wits from seven until four in the afternoon, then she gets her transport home. “When I get home I relax, eat and then do some work. I like to watch TV and movies and also to listen to music. I do go out with my brother and his girlfriend sometimes.”

During off times from class Mohini spends time at the Wits Disability Unit. “Here I see other people that go for it and don’t let anything stop them from living their lives and accomplishing their dreams. I am usually upbeat, but I think it is okay to be depressed and cry. Everyone has days like that and it is better to let it out than hold it in. Cry, even if you cry alone.”

“I think I am fairly well off compared to many other people. People with Muscular Dystrophy generally don’t live past their late teens and early adulthood. I have that hanging over my head, but I take life one day at a time. I have bad days when I am tired and weak and then I have good days. I even have bad weeks when I am sore because I have fallen but I have learnt to deal with that over the years and grown stronger and also emotionally stronger. I have managed this far and I am stronger than I am meant to be.”

She attributes this to the hydrotherapy she has done for years, although she is not doing it at present. Again she says that, with varsity, her time is limited for other activities. “I did physiotherapy for a while but it was too sore. The hydrotherapy and swimming worked. I also had a biokinetic programme designed especially for me for the gym. Both these activities really helped to strengthen me.”

Everyone dreams of finding that one special person. “I always thought I would never. I mean, who would live with this?” But she was wrong. “I do have someone special in my life and he has helped me to realise that I am special and have my own gifts. He does not see me as a girl with a disability but for who I am. He pushes me in this regard. I played puttputt the other day, although at first I said: ‘no I cannot do this’. He said ‘you can’. And I did! And it was great. All the people in my life have made a big difference to my life.”

“I believe that God has a reason for everything and will not give you anything you are not capable of dealing with. If I was not who I am I would not have the people in my life that mean so much to me.”

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