In the rural village of Rooihoek, or the red corner, a mother like so many other Zulu mothers takes care of her young daughter while trying to provide enough food to put on the table. Yesterday spends her days out in the fields and doing manual labor to keep her daughter Beauty fed and warm during the cold nights in Zululand, South Arica. After a long walk to the clinic and an even longer wait in line for a persistent cough Yesterday is turned away before she is able to see the doctor. Even though Yesterday feels she must not be that sick her young daughter soon finds her collapsed on the doorstep of their house.
As is customary in Zululand, Yesterday asks the advice of a traditional healer until her friend pushes her to return to the clinic just to be sure she is okay. Yesterday’s friend, a new teacher to the village, insists on paying for a cap for Yesterday and taking care of Beauty while she is gone. My heart sank as the doctor looked at Yesterday to tell her that she is sick with AIDS. Yesterday’s name had never been more fitting than in that instant. She had explained to the doctor that she received the name from her father since things yesterday were better than today. Yesterday she lived in peace with her daughter and today she saw her world crash around here and the possibility of not see her daughter grow up become even more plausible.
Since Yesterday is told she has most likely contracted the disease from her husband she plans a trip to the mines to tell him that he too is ill. I knew life was different in South Africa but I wasn’t ready for the harsh reality of the power of a man over a woman. Yesterday receives a beating from her husband when she shares with him the news of her, and his, illness. It is after this beating that the strength of Yesterday, the strength of a woman, is so evident. Yesterday does not wallow in her sorrows or lie down and die, she returns home with the expectation to live life as best as she can. In her strength she also asks of her friend for the ultimate favor, to take care of her daughter after her passing. It is very touching for a mother to care so deeply not only for her daughter but for another person that she would trust her most prized possession with her when she is gone.
I had wanted to stay angry at him, to continue to blame him for his actions, but it was difficult when I saw the love Yesterday gave to him even after his horrific and unforgivable actions towards her.
Since John had been fired and was now nearly on his death bed, Yesterday set out to create a hospital of sorts for her dying husband. This man had beaten his own defenseless and ill wife and yet she stood by his side, laboring to build this hospital for him.
I think it takes a strong woman to walk away from abuse; but I have realized it takes an even stronger woman to face the abuse, rise above it and move on as a strong and independent woman. Until John dies Yesterday takes care of him, as her husband, not as her abuser and I can’t imagine how tough that must have been to face such physical pain and be reminded of it daily by caring for the hands that beat her. Abuse is not something I interact with often, so to Yesterday it may be expected but to me it will always light a fire within me and want me to fight for these women.
Even after John’s death Yesterday can’t focus on her own health but on the preparations to send Beauty off to school. For Yesterday, the schooling of her daughter holds great significance because of her own lack of education. Her determination to stay physically strong for her daughter is not the work of her body but of her mind and Yesterday knows the strength she is mentally capable of.
I want to cheer for Yesterday and to hope that she not only sees her daughter’s first day of school but everyday thereafter. Even though the movie ends abruptly I picture a life of Yesterday and Beauty together talking about school and Beauty learning to aspire to become more than her mother had even dreamed for her.