As a little girl, Deborah Kirsten (daughter of esteemed South African evangelist Michael Cassidy) never imagined she would write a book, travel India and marry into cricketing royalty. And yet decades later, Debs (as she is fondly known) finds herself back in the leafy suburb of Claremont, starting a new chapter as the author of her recently released memoir, ‘Chai Tea & Ginger Beer’.
A mom to three young children, Debs took just over a year to document the details of her life-story. A talented journalist, Deborah had no problem putting pen to paper – but all this had to take place in between getting the lawnmower fixed, ferrying kids to school and of course supporting her husband Gary, who travels extensively for both cricket coaching and public speaking engagements.
Starting a new chapter
Married to an international cricketing hero, Debs by her own admission, has sometimes battled with feelings of insignificance…after all….she was always “just the spouse”. Though she is vivacious, warm, self-assured and strong-minded, she often remained in the background and usually found herself cropped out of photos that fans wanted to take with Gary (specifically during the glory years of cricket when Gary was playing for South Africa). So to find herself at the helm of a publishing and public speaking career is exciting and divinely -ordained by the Lord.
Passionately pursuing her purpose
Engaging, authentic and down-to-earth, Debs was intentional about crafting a book that reflected the honest reality of her life (including the dirty dishes and endless school lifts) and most importantly that resonated with women everywhere who perhaps feel that they don’t have a story worth telling.
Though our interview lasted two hours (and felt more like a coffee-date with a good friend), the singular impression I was left with, was Deborah’s infectious passion for helping people, particularly women, discover their unique purpose through valuing their own story in Christ.
Though Debs can (and does) speak on a variety of topics, and covers a myriad of meaningful info in the memoir, I felt it most appropriate to share an extract from her book where she offers a glimpse of her time in India when Gary was coaching there. I can guarantee that once you pick up ‘Chai Tea & Ginger Beer’ you won’t want to stop reading it!
“I will never forget that first trip with my children into the city of Bangalore. Our driver introduced himself as Manoj. He proceeded to pile our suitcases onto the roof of the car, hauling them up with big shouts of something that must have meant ‘One, two, three!’
The car looked hilarious – top heavy with the air almost being pushed out of its small worn-through tyres. Usually I would have found this funny, but that day I didn’t. Manoj used an old frayed rope to tie the cases onto the roof rack. I was horrified and asked him to secure it properly and pull it tighter. He merely nodded his head from side to side. I was confused as to what he was trying to tell me. Did this shake of the head mean ‘Yes’, or did it mean ‘No’?
Chaos, kids and climbing temperatures
I asked him again to please tighten the ropes. He replied with what would become the most common response to my often very silly questions while in India: “No problem, Madam”.
Manoj smiled at me and politely opened the door, encouraging me to get into the car. James, who was nine months old, sat on my hip sucking his dummy as if his last supply of oxygen was coming from it. Joshua, who was then three years old, held my hand firmly. It was late in the afternoon but the temperature was well over 30 degrees and the humidity high.
I had last been in India about ten years before when Gary was still playing for South Africa, but I didn’t remember things being quite so chaotic and energetic. Maybe motherhood had just aged me a little bit. I had also forgotten the smell of India. Like an over-friendly hostess, it welcomes you in a warm embrace as you step off the plane. It’s a steamy, spicy scent that warns anyone visiting for the first time to prepare their senses for something over and beyond what they have ever before smelt, seen, heard or tasted.
Before I left home, people kept asking me: ‘Are you actually going to take the children with you?’ I’m not exactly sure what they thought I would do with them if I left them behind, but the recurrent question made me begin to second-guess myself. Was I being totally irresponsible taking my babies to India? What terrified me most was that I found myself questioning the decision to come to India. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. How was I going to survive all this craziness if I was too afraid to even give my child a sip of water?
A whole new world
Our car turned through big white gates and passed a golden sign reading Taj West End Hotel. Tall palm trees and tropical vegetation lined the driveway on either side and seemed to steer us into a lush paradise. The sight of Gary standing at the hotel reception was a relief.
Men clad in traditional garments with grand turbans on their heads ushered our car to the front and opened the doors. Gary swept the boys up in his arms. Suddenly I felt at ease. Two beautiful Indian women dressed in turquoise saris placed wreaths of freshsmelling frangipani flowers around our necks. We were greeted with the traditional Indian welcome – warm smiles and hands held together in a prayer-like posture. ‘Namaste,’ they echoed, giving a small bow. Joshua giggled and glugged down the cold glass of fruit juice he had been handed. By now our friendly driver had jumped out of the car and run up to Gary, “Coach, Coach! Mr Gary! One snap, please?”
Gary obliged and one of the hotel staff used a cell phone to click a picture of Manoj with Gary. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the most common request we would hear for the next three years: “One snap, please?” Manoj then requested that the children and I join in for another photograph. I was happy to do this. After my pathetic paranoia over my suitcases, I wanted to redeem myself in the eyes of our dear driver. Just as he had assured me, we had all arrived safely together with our suitcases!
A three year sojourn
The hospitality of the Indian people was overwhelming. Never before had I been welcomed into a country with such warmth and kindness. For the next three years, the Indian people would welcome us into their homes, their hotels, their markets and their cricket stadiums. They would serve us and spoil us, talk with us and teach us. This was just the appetiser of my Indian feast. It would always leave me satisfied yet forever wanting more…”
Back home in SA
It takes a special kind of person to be able to cope with the limelight and the transient lifestyle that accompanies an international sporting career. Deborah and Gary are by now well-acquainted with the constancy of change, and have richer lives because of their colourful experiences.
Having said that, the couple are pleased to be settled once again in their home, with the kids in local schools and the family planted in a nearby church fellowship. Though Gary still travels extensively, the pair make time for building into the Kingdom of God. Deborah speaks at women’s days and motivational events, and occasionally conducts couple’s talks. For more, see www.deborahkirsten.com
The book can be purchased in all leading bookstores nationwide.
Interview by Jackie Georgiou