Maria Veronica Cabeza has a knack for connecting with people on a plane most of us rarely inhabit. Here she discovers beauty and innocence in the remarkable – and beautiful – young Lulutho Mntonintshi a young South African model and student who lives in Capetown, in South Africa. Here is a heartfelt conversation that she had with Miss Mntonintshi:
First of all, I have to ask you to please tell me how your name is pronounced correctly, please?” I ask her. The words that follow seem whispered as the melody of what she says rolls off her tongue and lips: “Lu…lutho….” I say it back to her a little more loudly to make sure I say it properly; she smiles in acknowledgement. “Lulutho” means valuable both spouse, she tells me..
I look at her and what I see is a girl, a teenager and a woman; a mix of three. Suddenly I feel her energy and spontaneity. A thought suddenly flashes in my brain: I feel that this girl would be able to melt the hardest of hearts…
My dogs bark at her. Embarrassed, I apologise to her. She just smiles… and starts by interviewing me! Ha…!
“How many dogs do you have?”, she asks me.
“Two,” I tell her.
The dogs continue barking and she laughs it all off. I feel as if she has a natural and almost spiritual connection with the animals in which I am surrounded by. Instantly, I know that I am about to discover much about this twenty-five-year-old South African model and student. I have no idea, though, what is about to happen; much our meeting will actually transform me.
“What are you studying?” I inquire.
“I am doing a course on biotechnology; I am a full time student,” she opines, with a proud smile.
“Sounds very difficult to me,” I venture forth.
“No,” she says, almost immediately. “You know, I have always been a science person. I have a kind of ‘questioning’ mind. It is completely different from the modeling that I do, but I am very keen on pursuing my studies in science. I love it. I am doing my post grad now,” she says. “I think it is very important for me to continue to study. Modelling may help me now, but it is not forever…” her voice trails off.
“That’s very wise of you. When did you start modeling? You are gorgeous” I tell her in a rush, staring at her beautiful face.
“Thanks!” she says demurely, in that characteristically whispering tone of hers as she moves suddenly into the light. The full impact of the beauty of her seemingly spiritual glow hits me suddenly.
I also realise how humble she is and also how unaware she seems to be of just how beautiful she looks… and really appears to be inside and out.
“Better you see me than I you,” I tell her. “I am 54 and I am not as cute as you are,” I say.
“Oh wow! Thanks so much!” she whispers again.
“Well girl, you are amazing.” I continue. “You inspired a painter to make a series of portraits – acrylics on canvas, congratulations!” Lulutho is the muse of Lucrecia Oks, an Argentinian painter who made a series art works of her. Lulutho seems to have provoked a unique artistic response.
Suddenly she is curious; she wants to know more about me. “How long have you been a writer?” she asks.
“Since I was twelve,” I tell her
“So it is something that has always been with you? Like it is a passion Yes, surely it is,” she says. “Have you written any books?” she asks after thinking for a while.
“Well,” I tell her, “My first printed book has just come out in Argentina.”
“Amazing!” she replies. “What is it called? What is it about?”
“It’s in Spanish,” I tell her. “The translation will read something like ‘Insane Footprints’,” I say. Complete silence from her end.
So I continue talking. “There are things in life that hurt you so much that you are on the verge of going crazy due to pain and as your life progresses – like footprints – I think that those experiences leave marks, some of which – the worst ones – are never seen,” I tell her.
“Our stories are pretty put in our faces,” she replies, philosophically. “It strikes me like a constant backdrop to life. So I always say: ‘be kind to people because you never know what they are going through’; it is a kind of truth… something for people to live up to. Besides, when you smile you also put a smile on someone’s face. It is a great thing,” she says and then pauses.
“The only way we can go forward is to move towards our fellow men. Understand them. There is no chance of any sustainable development if we can’t manage to live together”
“You are so tender…” I say to her.
“Thanks,” she says breathlessly.
“What do you do in your spare time?” I ask.
“I do a lot of stuff,” she tells me. “I am a very spiritual person and I am very committed to my spirituality. I do yoga, I do Muay Thai fighting – it is something to try to keep my head fit, both for my sake and to make sense of what is going on in my life. It is a kind of escape. I do it every day, I really do enjoy it. I have always been a physical person who loves to be active, I was a tomboy as a child. When I was in High School I used to play many sports, so I think it is being transferred into my adult life now, it is not only to keep my body in shape (I admit it also is the case) but to keep my mental health in check.”
“I get it,” I say to her. “Doing exercise helps to stop control your thoughts…?”
“Yeah it works!” she says, “I love it! I also spend a lot of time with my family, my granny especially. She is old and lives in Capetown. I try to spend as much time as I can with her. I also study, as I told you before. That is pretty much who I am,” she says.
“What about your family?” I ask her.
“My mother lives in Pretoria with my stepdad,” she says. “We chose to live in different places. I am definitely more in tune with my grandmother. She is 83 and I love being with her because elder people like company, and she also gives me so much advice, always and all the time. I appreciate the time I still have with her. Be with the people that you love and show them as much love as you can because you never know when you might lose everything in time, I mean. So I always follow that advice,” she tells me.
I had to take a deep breath. Everything she says to me in these brief seconds has made me go back in time to so many people I have loved and are gone, and reminded me of the ones I must keep a close eye on.
“You like music,” I ask, “The violin, I understand?”
“Yesssss…” she says letting the word escape from her lips like a long breath. “I have been playing the violin since I was in high school; I was 14. And in music I am in grade 5 at the Royal School of Music. I always liked to play an instrument but mostly string instruments. I love orchestra, I played at an orchestra when I was at high school. I like classical music, especially classical string music,” she says breathlessly.
“Music heals too…” I say pensively.
“Music is very healing; it is very beautiful. It has different interpretations for everyone; it is never the same thing. We all feel different toward each distinct sound,” she opines.
“What do you feel when you play the violin?” I inquire.
“For me it helps with my concentration; my focus. I am a little scatter-brained, [a short giggle]so it really helps me to focus; music is on the right side of your brain which is where the attention is. It also helps me when I study. I feel better. I interpret my work with my music… both relate to each other. Music also helps with my memory. When we were kids we used to memorize using music or to sing so that we could remember something well… that is what music has helped me with… I incorporate music into my school work because, in this way, I am able to articulate something or even sometimes remember what it is I want to by relating the song to the memory,” she says, sounding rather sagacious.
“Awesome!” I say, in wonder. “What music do you listen to?”
“I never had a favorite genre; I just love good music. In the past I listened to jazzhop which is like a mixture of jazz and hip hop; there is no words, no lyrics just pure instrumental. The musicians play a lot of jazz instruments. I also like young music like hip hop, Afro music, Afro soul,” She rattles off.
“It is lovely…” I say, “spiritual and touching.”
“Yes, it is. Back in the day, music was a spiritual thing; in Africa music was used to connect with the spiritual world. To bond with our ancestors, to those people who have our roots, to embrace your story, to go back to the emotional ties that bind us. It is a beautiful feeling that you get from music,” she tells me.
“What about dancing? Do you like dancing?” I ask her.
“I love dancing but I am shy. In my mind is like I am Beyoncé dancing but I just do it on my own…when no one is around,” she says with a shy laugh.
“Do you like travelling?” I ask her.
“I do travel a lot. Funny that I want to go around Africa with a bike and go to disadvantaged villages in South Africa and help feed the poor,” she says. “It will be nice to go around. There are so many places where people do not get right nutrition so we want to give them healthy food and provide them with nourishment for six months. Try to change someone’s life, you know,” she says. “It is also important to know about other cultures… there is so much – and so many different – cultures in Africa. Many people travel outside of their country to improve their lives, which is cool. But you still need to help your people first,” she says, “and I am going to do that when I’m done my studies,” she says emphatically.
“We need to start in Africa. There is so much life in Africa… so much that people don’t know about. It would be really nice if we could spread the stories of little villages and people that live in their small spaces… people that are virtually unseen. We want to share this story and also of other African cultures. This is one of my goals,” she says beaming and with an almost sacred glow.
I ask her: “What about new – forthcoming – youth; the new generations?”
“Well,” she says, “Most of us are disconnected from our roots. So we don’ t really know where we came from or what traditional stuff our ancestors used to practice but, if you care, you get to learn. You can find out about your tribe; I insist on going back to the beginning, to our roots, our first home, to the tribe which you came from. It is true that we are in the 21st century, and this technology is attractive but trying to learn something from your past, how your people lived, how they communicated amongst each other…that,” she says, “Somehow it feels real… it feels like home,” she says.
“I agree but there are also youth like you who want to find out look elsewhere for a storyline for their lives,” I say to her.
“Yes,” she answers, emphatically. “But I think the world will change through spirituality and we will relearn to be in touch with people. We are losing that. We are humans, we need to establish a relationship with other human beings. Like with the pandemic; we were locked up as the rest of the world and a lot of people lost their minds and their lives, too,” she says sadly. “But at the end of the day, we need the human touch… being face to face. Everything is too digital. You can control your whole life with your cellphone, but this device will not help you connect with a person – any person – on an emotional level. When you are in front of a person you often feel the need to touch them, to hug them, to feel them…” she says trailing off for a moment before declaring: “Put the device down and connect,” she says… Share silence… It is peaceful and it brings clarity, deep insight into our world.” She tells me…
Suddenly the girl I see before me who exudes uncommon wisdom. I become completely immersed in her world and I am transported to Africa. I feel as if I can hear the stories, experience the culture. And all it took for me to do so was being in the presence of this young woman… listening to her speak; taking in her simple words.
I awake from my sort of reverie and realise she is looking at me. The chirp of a bird by my window brings me back to reality. But in a way I am still in the spell of Lulutho’s charm. My own spiritual self begins to work. I scanned her. The X ray comes back: love is the answer; passion is the means. She says as much to me without actually saying a word. Something inside me feels reborn. This encounter with Lulutho Mntonintshi has made me dig deeper. I feel her voice, I imagine its sound and in the music of it I hear the sounds of Africa; the joy and spirituality of its people. I feel blessed.