When Eric du Preez met Ashley Dearling, Cupid almost certainly descended on a fluffy cloud, harp and all. The energetic medical doctor and paediatric occupational therapist complement each other are a breath of fresh air. We meet the Ilala residents over a cuppa tea on a chilly Thursday morning.
Ashley (28) answers the door, wearing a bright smile. Eric (28) follows closely behind, immediately offering a hot drink to ward off the unexpected Winter chill. It is decidedly atypical Ballito weather – more akin to Gauteng, where Ashley is originally from. “I was a typical Vaalie,” she rolls her eyes. “Part of the crowd that would jam up Ballito every holiday season! I always say that I am Jo’burg born, but I was never a Jo’burg girl at heart.” When Ashley’s parents, Terry and Tony, retired in Simbithi, she started spending even more time on the balmy North Coast. “I was working, by then, as an OT, but I missed my family. I would visit my family in Simbithi and think…ah, this is the life!”
Three years ago, Ashley spotted a vacancy for an OT in Ballito. Her colleagues encouraged her to apply. “I figured I had nothing to lose, so I did. I flew down for an interview and was offered the job. Then, came the preparations for the big move.” It was around this time that Ashley met a handsome doctor named Eric. Eric hails from the Bluff, where his parents own a guesthouse on the beach. He was doing his internship at King Edward Hospital in Durban when a mutual friend introduced him to Ashley. “We started to chat, because Ash wanted to find out more about living and working in Durban. Whenever she was here, we would meet up and spend time together.” Eric made it official, however, among heaps of moving boxes before Ashley made the great trek to Ballito. She giggles as she recalls his romantic, albeit spontaneous, gesture: “he walked in, saw the boxes and then dashed back out. I was confused, and then he walks back in with a measly flower he had picked from the garden and asked if I would go out with him. How could I have refused?”
The couple spent much of their free time, together, with Eric ‘crashing’ at the Dearling’s Simbithi home. “I was living in a cottage at my parents’ guesthouse so I would pop home for lunch, and to do my washing, then drive up to Simbithi. My mother eventually pointed out that I was never around, and suggested I find my own place.” Ashley pats Eric’s leg indulgently, recalling how – over dinner one night – he mentioned he needed more cupboard space. “My mother called me after and said since my man needed more space, she had already shortlisted a few places in the Estate for us to look at,” she laughs.
When Eric and Ashley viewed the unit in Ilala, they were sold. “We had a thing called the ‘Good Luck Buck’, meaning if we saw a buck it was good omen,” Ashley says. “The day we saw this place, there were five bushbuck in the garden. It was meant to be.” Eric agrees, joking that he had simply requested a cupboard, and had instead bought an entire house!
Ashley recently opened her own practice: Evetts & Dearling Occupational Therapists, and Eric has a private practice in Umdloti, called Umdloti Doctors. Each enjoys their profession immensely, with Ashley calling OT the most rewarding aspect of her life. “I’ve heard people say a doctor saved my life, but my OT made my life worth living. As an OT, I get to give someone better quality of life, which is enough to get me out of bed each morning.” Working with children, specifically, has opened Ashley’s eyes to a world of play and possibility. “We treat through play; play is essentially a child’s occupation. To watch a child become excited to come to therapy, and to hear parents say that – because of our work – they understand their children better, is an exceptional reward.”
Eric agrees. “Being a doctor is tough, sometimes, but I enjoy the patient interaction. Umdloti is a small town so I get to know my patients pretty well. You form an attachment with the regulars, which is great. I still do a shift every Tuesday at the Gateway Hospital casualty, and that’s where I see a wider variety of trauma.”
Life in Simbithi suits the couple perfectly. Ashley is especially thrilled that her parents, and grandmother all live on Simbithi. “I get to have my whole family close by, so we do family dinners every Tuesday evening. My mom calls it dine and dash,” she chuckles, as Eric jokingly points out these dinners are on the days he works a 12-hour shift at the hospital. “Well, Eric does all the cooking in our house,” Ashley concedes. “So, Tuesdays we pop out to my mom’s house!”
Both enjoy the Club, and Ashley has a soft spot for the yummy cupcakes and brownies at the Heron Community Centre. “How awesome is it that I can get delicious cake without leaving the Estate, and then see a group of girls on skateboards on my way home. Come on!” Eric adds that they enjoy the security of Simbithi, too. “There simply isn’t anywhere better to live.”