Durban - She's been around the world, to the North and South poles and pretty much everywhere in between.
But Rita Abraham’s “good place” is her double-storey home, surrounded by an array of greenery and blossoming flowers in shades of pink, purple and orange.
Holding her little pomeranian, Annie, in her arms, 54-year-old Abraham welcomed into her seven bedroom, six bath home with an immediate offer of a drink or snack.
Relaxing on the plush brown leather sofa, she shared her story of starting her own business, SA Insurance Brokers, the non-profit organisation, South African Women’s Forte, and her passion for travel, cooking, baking, sewing and gardening.
“Many people do not know this about me, but I can actually spend hours in the kitchen cooking and baking up a storm,” said Abraham, who lives with her daughter Nicolene.
“I would not say that I have a specific or favourite meal that I enjoy the most preparing, as I can whip up anything and everything that is asked of me.
"However, my kids love when I cook an authentic mutton curry, and for dessert a chocolate or ice cream cake, which are all made with the freshest and best ingredients.
“I am old-fashioned in the sense that I prefer visiting the local fresh produce markets, especially in Verulam, and select my own veggies, fruits and herbs.
"I also prefer to grind my own ginger and garlic, by hand in the old-fashioned stamping-pot instead of using shop-bought ones. I believe you can never compromise on the quality of products that you use.”
The single mother of four said she had spent many years as a housewife honing her skills in the kitchen, revealing that she hoped to one day have her own TV cooking channel.
After divorcing in 1996, she decided to try her hand at running her own business.
“Some of the challenges were entering into a male-dominated industry with many competitive financial advisers, but luckily, I used to assist my ex-husband, who was in insurance at the time.
"I was able to garner some knowledge about the industry before taking the giant leap.
“It was challenging, but over the past 20 years I have grown, and expanded the business where I am at a stage where I can sit back and marvel at all the hard work I put in to make it the success that it is today, and at the same time, lead a balanced life.”
Abraham completed her matric through Unisa in 1999, and went on to study towards a law degree for two years before deciding to rather focus on her business, and empowering women via the SA Women’s Forte, which she officially launched that same year.
It was started to encourage and empower women to enter the business world, not as employees but as owners and employers.
“This is the core aim of the forum - to encourage women to start their own operations, and to acquire skills which would make them major players in the economy of their communities,” she said.
“We shared our beliefs that we need not have any limitation, and that we could compete in the greater business and industrial fields and set trends.”
The group hosts a variety of programmes, and helped to raise money for the Children’s Hospital in Durban.
“After my business took off, and also being part of Gopio International, I am now able to travel much more, either for work purpose, or just a vacation with my family,” said Abraham.
“I can proudly say I have been to the North and South pole and have cruised through Antarctica for a month - the sight of polar bears, penguins and whales was indeed mystical.”
She has travelled to London, New York and Mauritius on behalf of Gopio, using the trips to also help the less fortunate.
“I visit the local orphanages, and old age homes with groceries and treats for the children. I make it my mission to spend time playing and interacting with them.
“I have also become a collector of rocks and stones from the countries that I have visited. I always carry a marker with me, and will write the place and date on what I find, even it means me climbing into the Ganges River, which I did, just so I could bring a stone back home.”
With her cool and calm aura, one would never think that she was once a fiery Latin and ballroom dancer.
“I loved it, that was my passion. I fell more in love after I went on a trip to Argentina, and was fascinated by how they did the tango, it was so seductive,” she said.
“I got some of the music, stitched my own costume and competed in one of my first dance exhibitions.”
Born in Kings Rest, Bluff, Abraham lived with a big family which included her father John, mother Neela, her paternal grandparents, as well as her dad’s five siblings.
“When I was 5 years old, we were evicted from our home, due to the Group Areas Act.
"We were put on a truck and shifted to a two-bedroom home in Unit 7, Chatsworth. My siblings were thereafter born - Patricia, Wenzel and my late brother Desmond, who tragically passed away in a car accident at the age of 23.”
Abraham and her siblings were dealt with a double blow when their parents passed away a year after each other.
“Tragedy struck my family when I was just 16 and my dad, who was 40 at the time, had passed away from cancer.
"A year later, my mom died. I recall my mom saying she could not breathe; she drank some water and within seconds, she had fallen back and was gone at just 35.
“I was only 17 and in my matric year at Brindhaven Secondary School. I was now suddenly the prime caregiver to my younger siblings.
'It was then that family members had decided to arrange my marriage. At that time, you do not argue with your elders, so we had a massive Catholic wedding, with close to 1000 guests at St Anthony’s Church.”
Abraham and her husband, her siblings in tow, moved to Verulam, and it was during this time that she developed her sewing skills.
“I would sew dresses for my sister and clothes for my brothers as well table cloths and curtains.”
The grandmother of two toddlers, Mia Victoria and Harper Stephanie, said if she was not flying between Durban and Dubai to spend time with them, she could be found with a book sitting on the bench in her “memory garden” she had made in honour of her beloved St Bernard, Theodore, who died recently.
Theodore, who weighed 70kg, was the focus of a three-year legal battle since 2012 between his owners - Abraham and her son Edward - and the management of the estate, who insisted that dogs more than 20kg were not allowed there.
In 2015, a high court judge agreed and Theodore moved in with relatives in Cape Town.
He was brought back to Durban a year later when Edward bought his own home.
Tragically, the dog died recently, after rupturing his stomach while chasing monkeys.
His ashes are sprinkled in the garden.
“Theodore was the glue that held us together and now there is a missing piece. He was beautiful and kind-hearted, a gentle giant that was loved by many people,” said Abraham.
“I sit here at his favourite spot... and think about all our precious moments spent together.”