Sheila Nunes’s knee-jerk reaction to her imminent retirement from the University of Cape Town (UCT) mimics that of a mischievous toddler’s tantrums. She can see herself stomping her feet, kicking and screaming: “I don’t want to go, please let me stay!”
If only it was that simple. Sadly, for Nunes, it’s not. On 15 December, after more than a decade as part of UCT’s Student Housing and Residence Life family, based at the Graça Machel Hall residence on lower campus, she will bow out gracefully. But retirement is not for the faint-hearted – at least not for Nunes. With so many pending changes on the horizon, how could it be? As of January 2023, she will have more time than she’ll know what to do with; the set routine she’s worked hard to develop over the years will be a thing of the past; and her days will be quiet – there will be no chitter chatter and loud laughs with colleagues, and no students to reprimand.
“It’s all going to be very strange. That’s the best way for me to describe it.”
“It’s all going to be very strange. That’s the best way for me to describe it. It’s like a here today, gone tomorrow kind of thing,” Nunes said.
Twelve years have passed at a rapid pace. After all, Nunes joked, time flies when you are having fun. For her, that’s what work at Graça Machel Hall has been – fun and always pleasant while surrounded by colleagues she has grown to love.
Nunes is a member of the catering team in the girls-only residence in Rosebank and her role has many sides. These include preparing lunch or dinner accompaniments like various salads for students in the residence, ensuring that they are served their meals on time, and that they have what they need when they need it. Washing dirty dishes after mealtime in the scullery also forms part of her to-do list. Because there’s not a single thing about her job that she doesn’t enjoy, she’ll miss everything.
“Without a doubt I’ll miss everything. I’ll miss the work; I’ll miss the people, we are a very close group of colleagues; and I will definitely miss the students. They’ve been such a massive part of my time here at UCT,” she said.
To new beginnings
Even though her colleagues would probably need to drag her out of Graça Machel Hall kicking and screaming, Nunes said she has made peace with this upcoming new phase of her life. And aside for playing a few board games with other retired relatives and some quiet time at home in her own company, she plans to take each day as it comes and embrace the unknown. But one thing is for sure: it will take a while for her to establish a new at-home routine.
“I’ve been working since a young age, so not being at work is going to take a lot of getting used to. For the first month, it will probably feel like I am on leave. I think it will only start feeling real after that. Only then will I realise that I’m actually not going back. But all good things come to an end,” Nunes said.
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“We are here today to celebrate the many lifetimes of service that you have all given to our university and to thank each and every one of you in this room for your commitment and your energy.” – Babalwa Ngonyama, Chair of UCT Council
“Retirement is not the end of the road ... it is the beginning of the open highway.”