I #GotMyNailsDid

For the longest time – I can only remember my nails being used as a source of distraction when I am stressed, bored or just unconscious and oblivious to the world.

My nails had never been alive to me. Literally serving their role as dead matter, it had never occurred to me that I would ever want to pamper myself and get my nails done.

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The fateful day came when I had a horrific day at work which resulted in a shift in thinking around the corporate working world and the relationships that I had built within my time there. I was completely livid and all I wanted to do is curl up, face down on my pillow.

You know the routine, when someone or something has ticked you off, you have to have people who will help you through it.

Person number one is responsible for agreeing with you – irrespective of whether you are right or wrong. This person is your feel good pill! They support you and your current mood, completely fueling your ego and tasked with making you feel better.

Person number two is your conscious. They listen to you and support you but also give you feedback on the things you had subconsciously stored in your head. Basically, they support you but also tell you exactly where you are wrong. This voice of reason is usually an older sibling or a close friend.

The third go-to victim of your emotional turmoil is the person who is your voice of reason. They basically tell you everything you don’t want to hear when you are still emotional. This person you only see once you have calmed down and can think straight. They will re-tell your story to you, not leaving out brutal facts about where you may have been wrong in the situation. They are the person who puts it all into perspective. Parents usually do well here.

These three people have helped me through various emotional spurs of unconsciousness where I can’t even reason. The positions have remained the same but the people constantly change depending on what the situation is. You should try having your own list of helper bees too 🙂

So there I was, two phone calls made to person 1 & 2 before I hit the nail parlour.

I sat in the reception room, feeling out of place and occasionally glancing at my hands and fingers to try and conjour justification in my head for wanting to do this.

“I am stressed

I deserve to feel good about myself

I need to take better care of my appearance – even if its just nails.”

These are the lame excuses I replayed in my head. There was never a real reason why I had never done my nails before, but now that I wanted to do them, I kept hunting for justification as to why I should. I was that girl who didn’t even bother to do her nails for matric dance.

I sat in front of the lady who was due to transform my grubby looking paws – my fingers clutched inside my palm and waiting.

“You are here to do your nails right?” she asked with a confused look on her face.

I mean, it only makes sense to display your hands on the table for her to begin her work. Unfortunately for her, she was about to work on a strip of nails that looked like they had been snacked on by a puppy.

Embarrassingly, I lay out my hands and she laughed! Laughed at me – never with me.

Obviously I responded with a quick “this is why I am here, I need you to make my nails look good. I had such a bad day, feeling off and and and…” I tried my best to squeeze in all my justifications in one breath.

ShIMG-20150918-WA0017e started working her magic. With each step, I got more and more excited. I got a palette of colours to choose from and was already feeling uplifted and almost better. She continued as I watched with awe at
the transformation of the mind dump that was my nails, to a well nourished field at the tips of my fingers.

What seemed like the worst day ever, all of a sudden became a better day! I sent all my people photos of my brand new nails during and after the process – making sure that they are aware that I am working towards achieving a better mood.

By the time I walked out of the parlour, I had calmed IMG-20150918-WA0013down significantly and started feeling like my chirpy self again.

I sat in the car starring at my new nails for a while, perplexed at how a set of false items can make me feel so good?!

You see, it wasn’t the fact that I had the nails that made me reflect ,but rather the realisation of where I placed my priorities regarding my happiness.

Let’s say I hadn’t had a bad day at work and wasn’t feeling down. What would have motivated me to try out something new that could make me feel so good about myself?

We waiDSC_1095t to find reason to make ourselves happy. On an ordinary day, we don’t bother with the small pleasures and gifts that we deserve. Instead, we have to compile a list of justifications to ourselves as to why we deserve the new nails, the new car, the new book, that new dress and a pair of shoes. We only want to take care of our bodies and lose weight because we are getting married, because summer is coming up. We will only invest in ourselves and our own happiness when we realise we are not happy. Why must we get to a state that needs our attention and awakening before we commit to taking care of our own happiness?

If anything, these nails reminded me to take better care of myself and my feelings. I need to pay attention more to how I feel. I have consciously decided to make more of an effort to do things that fuel my happiness. I want to decide to be happy when it suits me – not when I am so livid, that I am driven to be.

I usually do well at keeping a recreational balance and positive aura. I insist on doing things that I want to do and keeping in sync with my yoga, cooking and reading. Now I insist on focusing on doing things that make me feel good!

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My 3 P’s

So I have been doing a lot of reflective thinking and reading. With some abrupt and impactful changes in my life – new job, new spaces and new experiences – I thought it good to go back to basics and see why I have made various decisions and also have more of an understanding of who I see myself to be at this current stage in my life: You know – reflect and rework.

I am an advert follower and supporter of Kagiso Msimango’s Goddess Academy blog, book and work. I came across her 3P feature which inspired me to want to create my own.

My pleasures – things that give me the most pleasure

  • The simple art of cooking. Honestly it regulates my sanity – it relaxes me in ways most things can’t.
  • Laughing with Tiyani – my best friend and man. He effortlessly makes me laugh uncontrollably. He has such a lite sense of humour, he makes anything become absolutely everything!
  • Drinking a cup of well flavoured tea. I am a tea granny – love daring fusions and flavours. It’s the best way to end a day.

My passions – things that give me a pulse

  • People. I want to know who you are – what shapes and influences you? I am intrigued by the sides people want to show you in conjunction to their whole being. I want to know how people see and understand themselves. I love people with their stories.
  • My personal development and growth (I am quite selfish about this). I want to continuously grow and learn, rediscover and keep reinventing myself.
  • Travelling. Nothing excites me more than meeting new people in new spaces and environments.

My purpose – things that make me who I am

  • To allow people to share parts of themselves. I make people conscious of their opinions on themselves.
  • To grow. I am here to expand my thinking, views and norms. I challenge myself!
  • To be an anchor for my family and friends.

and then I started an action netball team…

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Hot Shots

This was the name selected by one of the initial team members. “Quick – we need to register a team name” – I asked the WhatsApp group that was still labelled “Netball” at the time. Hot Shots was born.

For someone who wasn’t an enthusiast of the sport, what could possibly possess me to even think about creating a netball team, let alone leading it as the captain?

Women to women relationships!

Ever since coming back to Joburg from varsity, the relationships between us women were something I increasingly grew interested in. What I did know was that we women are known to play dirty with each other and be in a constant state of animosity.

Having grown up with brothers, and being exposed more to male relationships, I didn’t get to see much female-to-female relationships in my immediate reality. This meant that I had a very limited and distorted vision of how women behave with each other. I knew my brothers to be very easy to get along with and still I see the dynamics between guys in my more immediate space with my fiancé having a solid relationship with them. They didn’t have to put in nearly as much effort as we ladies often have to just to get along.

There is something unique about the way women saw each other. It’s not that I was in denial about the bitchiness and bitterness that woman display amongst themselves and within their circles, but honestly I couldn’t accept that as a norm for woman relationships.

Why should it be that guys can get along like a house on fire, whereas we ladies have to demean ourselves and discredit our emotional control and stability through senseless fights and bitching?

By creating the netball team, this was my way of fining my own flow with other women, exempting myself from absorbing the typical girl-girl behaviour.

So there I was. “Hi girl – would you be interested in joining an action netball team?” Most of the girls responded with a “yes, let me also just ask my friend if she would be interested.”

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I was entering this venture alone with girls who had a girlfriend for support. Although this is something I didn’t have coming into the group, it was a culture I was trying to form for the group. Eventually I managed to entice a healthy amount of ladies, resulting in a salad mix of team members. My approach to managing the team was to empower each member with a portfolio and let them run with the tasks required for it, showcasing their strengths.

What?! How dare you as a woman seek to enable another? You see, the culture of conflict amongst women suggests that there is no room for collaboration and communication. We are raised to see each other a competition after all, what is a team?

Naturally this caused me more backwash than anticipated. Not only was it difficult for some to uphold their responsibility and commitment to a team of ‘other’ women, but there was this need to have one person with divine power – because we are competing creatures, there is no room to collaborate.

It was either black or white. Either my way or NO way or simply, “I refuse to comply with another women’s approach to doing things”.

Maybe I was over thinking this and looking for gems where there were only hard rocks! Remember in primary school, or even high school where you hated the one girl, not really understanding why you did, but because you formed a part of a group, you were obliged to have a tainted relationship or view of another girl?

This was exactly it. My light bulb moment.

In my few years of life, I have seldom come across this sort of behaviour with guys. What sense is there in competing and belittling the women around you when you could be using each other to better yourselves?!

Guys are extremely good at this: “My boy, well-done on the new car” “You and your girl look really great together” “My man, you are the one! A real G!” There is no real culture of group mentality of “hating” on other men.

The backlash I got from the emotion filled team fuelled me even more to want to do better at this woman to women relationships journey that I had started on.

I have been a victim of bitchiness, the typical egotistical emotional instability that we woman use against each other. Bring each other down to satisfy a twisted reality of “that’s just how girls are”.

I refuse!!!

Making sure I push through the walls, I was emotionally abused and drained out. Gasping for a breath of emotional maturity from the team, I was literally hanging on by a twig. At some point, I almost gave into the believe that woman to woman relationships are just not meant to be. After taking attacks, punches, being demeaned and even disrespected, I too felt that I should shrug my shoulders and acknowledge that I am a woman in a women’s world.

As if that all wasn’t enough, we were losing EVERY SINGLE MATCH! If you need a reason to make a girl quit on life – that’s it! The sense of disconnect began forcefully charging into the team spirit.

The focus from the game was removed because of all the losses and we were finally forced to associate on a personal level – study and learn what each persons strengths were. After tears and moaning, even some potential quitters, the calm peaked.

We can get along as woman. The losses were a blessing in disguise because they showed us that we don’t always have to be competing against each other. Woman can collaborate and get along (if they want to). Woman can work together for a common goal without bringing in the bitchiness and sour attitudes.

Compliments to each other literally started raining out of the sky! To prove to myself that I am an individual woman with my own understanding and contribution to woman relationships, was to prove to the rest of the team that we are no different. We all have dreams and goals and most importantly are not in competition with each other!

The thing is… Travelling changes you! Personal lessons from the trip

Africa for an African’. That was the self-given theme of my trip. It is so much to absorb, the thought that you have just travelled over several thousand kilometers to places you never even thought about. It’s always other people who get to travel and come back with interesting stories. But this time – for once, I was the other person.

Here are a few things that I learnt from my trip:

1. Taking a risk and trusting yourself:

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Starting off my journey with someone asking me exactly why I am travelling – I was honestly surprised by the thought that some people may not actually have the desire to travel. Travelling can be the most glamorous experience and also the least fancy, especially when driving through some parts of the continent. But this is it – this is why you want to do it. The fact that it’s different from your usual – hop on one plane to the next – kind of experience, where everyone is rehearsed and anticipating your arrival, and, of course, your money.

You shouldn’t do it just to say you did. I would strongly advice that you do an emotionally and mentally taxing travel trip such as this one, when you are of a mature enough age to really understand yourself better and make conscious meaning of your experiences, surroundings and choices. Many of my natural dispositions had been stripped by the time I arrived in the third country – Malawi. For some time, I was questioning exactly who I am and what I stand for. Even more often, I kept asking myself why I did this without reaching any distinct explanation. Travelling pulls you towards yourself. You are forced to learn what your limits are, understand exactly what it is you stand for and make meaning of who you think you are.

Even though I knew that this was what I had wanted to do and that I was going to do it for the longest time, I kept wondering if I really wanted to do it. The lesson here was to take risks but even more than that – to trust myself. I knew that I wanted to do it, in the end didn’t see any other reason why I shouldn’t and I only reached that point by trusting myself.

2. Black, white AND grey!

It’s so easy to think that your way is the only way of understanding and doing things. A culture shock is the best thing that could happen to you. Just seeing how different people run their lives and understand the world can really help you be open minded to accepting people’s differences. I remember, prior to this trip, I was very set in my ways and mostly saw the world as either black or white. This meant that anything that I didn’t understand or couldn’t associate with I completely wrote off. Now when you are most vulnerable in another world and environment, you trend to loosen your guard just a little bit more. It’s not because you aren’t strong willed or anything like that, but it’s because you realise that your way is not the only way. For a lot of people, this comes as the biggest shock with travelling. This experience of feeling that everything that you have learnt and that you know may not be the only narrative, can really weigh you down. For an African women like myself, coming to terms with the differences of the meaning of beauty and gender roles across Africa can be challenging. But being open minded while travelling can really strengthen your experience. You are more inclined to want to learn and try out different things. This gives you a chance to have a fuller and honest experience for the game. This is a skill that will help you through life’s unfair punishments when you return home.

3. Common differences: We are the same in a different way

When you meet more people and engage and learn about different cultures, you realize that there actually isn’t that much of a difference between us. The colour, race, ethnicity, status and fortunes are constructed differences that we have to define and separate our identities, but the more people you meet from completely different walks of life with a different narrative, the more you see yourself in each of their stories. This taught me empathy and sensitivity. I learnt the importance of listening to peoples stories and understanding their struggles, respecting them and consciously accepting them for who they are.

4. Seriously, don’t take yourself so seriously!

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When you are in a place where no one knows you you have nothing to lose. No reason to want to be liked, remembered or even noticed. Let go of all your walls, pretences, impressions and expectations. Let go of your past, your expectations, your anticipations or even your imaginations. It’s the most refreshing feeling being yourself in the most honest way, where you don’t have to think about showing a particular side of yourself. I know that my conversations with the people that I met wouldn’t be the same had I tried to make an effort to sound smart or educated. Here, I had an opportunity to be as dumb and ill-informed as I wanted without risking my reputation or harsh judgment. I could just be. There were many parts of the trip where I felt like everything that I had studied and read about these African countries was a myth. It was like reading a book and then watching a poorly depicted movie about it. Nothing can compare to what is real. I had to put myself in a position of doubt and uncertainty of everything that I had known and really embrace a different way of thinking and seeing. The peak of my trip arrived when I eventually let go of everything I thought was or could have been and just let the experience happen to me without trying to have control over anything.

5. I am actually a really interesting person!

I don’t mean this in a vain manner but the premature 22 odd years that I had lived never seemed to be anything amazing to me. I mean, I had done everything by the book so what could possibly be of interest with the predictable life I have lived? That’s the thing – everything that has happened in my life and around it has shaped everything about me and why should that be any less important or significant than anyone else who has done things differently to me. When you travel and meet people, you need to own your story. It being different is enough to carry you through conversations. As much as you want to hear other people’s stories, you need to share your own story too. My honest conversations added value to the way I see myself in comparison to others and how I make meaning of everything that has happened to me.

Nothing prepared me for this trip – and even more, nothing warned me about what would happen to me after it. The overarching experience was so refreshing, I often wondered why I didn’t do this earlier. Like Alanis Morissette says, “it’s the ten housand spoons, when all you need is a knife”. Travelling through certain parts of the continent is not the easiest thing to do, but there has been so much more about it that can strengthen you, and that has truly transformed me with lessons I still make use of years later.

 

When you have always wanted to go to a place & then one day you wake up there

20 December – 22 December 2013

Reality struck. This was the last destination of my East Africa trip! The theme song for this leg of the trip was Sipho Gumede’s When Days are Dark Friends are Few. To a degree, I felt lonely, but not in the sense that I needed people around me, but rather in the sense that I felt alienated from who I thought I was in comparison to who I actually was – the part of me I had discovered on this trip.

The thing is, travelling changes you.The amount of introspection that I had done in the last few weeks was so intense that I felt that going back home was too much of a risk of falling back into my previous identity. I had learnt to be open, independent, accepting and experimental – things that wouldn’t have come naturally for me had I continued to follow my set narrative back home. The people that I had met, many of whom I would have ordinarily walked past, reminded me of myself in such great detail – parts of myself I didn’t have enough courage to show.

Whilst on Mama, the travel group circulated a sheet of paper, collecting everyone’s contact details so that we could keep in touch with the friends and adventurers we had met and travelled with for a solid four weeks.

I had always wanted to visit Kenya and so the fact that my stay there was short, had me feeling anxious and cheated of an experience before I’d even arrived. Kenya really just served as a bridging point of the trip between people who were on the East Africa tour and those who continued further into Uganda. I had decided to spend an extra day in Kenya to try and salvage as much of the city life as possible.

As we crossed the Kenyan border, a mere two meters of driving, we got stuck in a thick pool of mud. There was a lot of backed up traffic from the border gate with people trying to get their own cars out. We were bitterly greeted with stones thrown at Mama’s windows with people hurling slurs at us. Even though we couldn’t understand what was being said, it was clear that we were not wanted there according to the locals. We were quickly advised to close our windows and not take any photos.

Considering the warm reception at all the other borders we had passed, I didn’t understand why we were being isolated and harassed in Kenya. One of the angry locals burst out saying, “we don’t want you here – you people don’t belong here”. By “you” I assumed he had meant the white Europeans that were on the bus and took myself out of the equation, thinking that as a black sister to my black brother we could relate somehow and I wouldn’t become a victim of the angry crowd. Unconsciously I put myself in a position of racial classifications and identified with one racial group over another out of convenience. I always thought of myself as a ‘racially blind’ individual but I soon realised that like many other people, I choose when to ‘play the race card’. In this instance, my life was potentially in danger. Up until this point in the trip, my being black amongst a bus full of white people was not a factor, but now that there was an indication of trouble, my black African identity was my survival kit. I felt a bit uncomfortable about the loyalty of my values at this point.

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We made it through the mud after sitting through a tense period, battling between surviving the muddy roads and the angry crowd outside. We all knew that it was a racial attack that we had just experienced, but we pretended it was nothing more than locals being unfriendly to travellers. It is always easier to choose to ignore racial discussions especially as the minority race on the bus. Also, since my fellow travellers were Europeans, I guess they didn’t want to risk the backlash that could result of a racial discussion with an African – in Africa.

The tension was dissolved by the heat and the extensive traffic jam. I thought that it must have been caused by a out of service robot, but after passing three robots along the way with no change in the traffic flow, it dawned upon me that this was just how Nairobi traffic was.

We arrived at Jacaranda hotel, on the West end of Nairobi where we were to have our last supper together before officially departing the next day.

Unfortunately one of our travel members had been bitten by some sort of Bot Fly while in Tanzania and it had laid a series of eggs in her body. Her legs, stomach and back were filled with pussy holes infested with worms and hatching eggs. Every time I have had to retell this story, I cringe. I don’t get grossed out very easily but this was by far something, both fascinating, but also extremely disturbing to witness. Because of the eggs hatching to worms, the worms had to eat around her skin to survive. You could literally see the worms shoving their way through her skin, eating at it to create a bigger exit. She said that she could actually feel them moving.

The next and only morning we had in Kenya began with a visit to the travel clinic to sort out the wormy traveller. We took a long casual walk around the city, walking in from shop to shop, seeing what the Kenyan market had to offer. It was so similar to Johannesburg in its atmosphere, buildings and even people. Such a cosmopolitan mix of people, some casually getting by with their day – others doing business as would be in Joburg. It was fascinating how similar the two were. A city tour in a taxi drove us around the main city center where they highlighted the bombed East Gate Mall that had been the universe’s threat to my trip. We visited a local street market where I bought a few collectables as memoirs for my short stay in Kenya.

Kenya was mostly a teaser for my upcoming landing in Johannesburg. I saw it as a place that I could actually live in with ease if I didn’t pay too much attention to the horrific traffic.

It was a short but fitting end to my East African Adventure.

Zanzibari beaches and the ghost of Madiba

5 December – 19 December

This was the longest part of my trip – but by far the most exciting. We loaded up Mama with our luggage and got ready for the drive. As soon as we got cell phone reception while we were driving out, breaking news came in: Former President, Nelson Mandela has died. I stared at my phone for a solid 5 minutes reading over the message several times. Nyika received the news shortly after and made the announcement through a microphone on the bus. There was no doubt that everyone knew who Mandela was. As the only South African on the bus, I was now liable as a government public relations official expected to sell the Mandela struggle story to everyone.

While on the bumpy road one of the travellers from Germany walked up to me and asked “How do you feel?” as if the news meant that I was devastated and had lost a father. It seemed a bit insensitive of me when I just shrugged my shoulders in a “meh, I am perfectly fine” sort of manner as though the news hadn’t even dented my heart. The thing is I didn’t have it in me. I spent the rest of the long drive really thinking about why I wasn’t too bothered – maybe because I saw death as a natural part of life, something that none of us can escape. The “I remember…” stories of Mandela during the apartheid struggle invaded conversations for the next nine hours.

Soon after we crossed over the Malawi – Tanzania border, my first impression was that Tanzania was such a busy country – there were people everywhere! Maybe because we were just at the border there seemed to be a lot of activity – but I soon learnt that my prediction was accurate. We drove through the city at a very stilted pace, constantly stopping and swaying off the road due to a heavy flow of traffic. It was painfully hot, we had been in the bus for a solid 11 hours, my feet were so swollen – I had now had enough!

We arrived in Iringa where we would spend the night. I was relieved to see a TV in my room as I was unpacking. I was really anticipating a relaxed and peaceful evening. As can be expected, all the television programs aired documentaries about Mandela. Every single station, in every language – ALL NIGHT! I was looking forward to watching a local movie or even a talk show, even though I couldn’t understand it, I wanted to make meaning of it myself. I felt sick – the TV content, the heat, the disrespectful insects and mosquitos and my untamed running stomach. I lay awake for most of the night.

The next morning I was the first one packed and ready to go. We made our way to Mikumi where we would spend the night. We drove past the Baobab Valley where we stopped to hug the trees in hope that all our dreams and wishes come true. Nyika cracked open a shell of the fruit and we each grabbed a piece to taste. It tasted very dry and powdery in my mouth. I was just proud of myself for at least making the effort to try it.

The Tanzanian city was interesting! I felt like a curious kid, fascinated by everything that I saw – from the use of bikes and buses as public transport to the sight of very few women driving and the market stalls on the side of the road selling what looked like a pineapple fruit of some sort. It looked so confusing and busy for me – but so natural and mundane for the locals.

We arrived at our beach front camp site where we would pack and prepare for Zanzibar the next day. Again, like Lake Malawi in Khande, this beach front was so peaceful and calm – nothing like the Durban beaches we have back at home.

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We drove to Dar es Salaam (which means ‘house of peace’), the trade capital of Tanzania. A local ferry transferred us to the Northern part of Zanzibar. On the ferry, I met a local who travelled to Zanzibar every second day for work. Here I was travelling to see this world wonder, whereas this was just part of his everyday experience. I probed him with a few questions about his own travels and what he thinks of Zanzibar since he never went there for pleasure. He spoke passionately about how breath-taking it is and how he still gets excited to see the clear waters even though he cannot enjoy them in the way that tourists do. The hour long ferry ride was interesting for me, as I learnt that he too desired to see places like Cape Town, which he perceived as one of the most beautiful places in the world, based on what the media had obviously sold him.

We both saw each other’s homes as jewels of the world – but didn’t see our own as the ultimate. Now Zanzibar doesn’t compare to Cape Town in the least, but I couldn’t help think that he had a desire to be in Cape Town because he was so used to his own wonder that he must have been oblivious to exactly how stunning Zanzibar was. Why is it that why we travel outside of our own borders first before we fully explore what our own countries have? Maybe it’s because we take what we have for granted that we don’t prioritise the experience.

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As the ferry was pulling up to stop at the deck the nauseating heat was drowned out by the site of a fairy tale looking land. It was unreal! I couldn’t believe people actually lived here and got to experience these beaches daily.

We drove to a local spice farm where we took part in a tour, tasting and buying spices. Yoh! I was complete. I love food and cooking. I had goosebumps walking through the fields tasting my everyday Robertsons spices, but this time from the stem. The spice menu was diverse with cinnamon, mint, cardamom and even coffee. This was the perfect start to Zanzibar for me.

100_7920We arrived at Amman Bungalows in Zanzibar, where the travel group was allowed to disperse and spend their time freely but had to meet up for dinner and breakfast meals.

During an elaborate and Great Gatsby-like sea food dinner, we were entertained by a cultural dance performance that involved a python. Of course we were invited on stage to have the snake wrapped around our shoulders while we pose for a photograph. This is a game I wasn’t interested in playing. Everyone of the performers seemed very animated and rehearsed – I didn’t get a sense of genuine entertainment and showcasing of their culture. With Zanzibar being what it is, it was only natural to have a typical tourist experience. This dampened my spirits a bit as I felt cheated of the real Zanzibar culture because of this rehearsed state that everyone appeared to be in.

We left for a tour in Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar where we were instructed we wear appropriate clothing that covered our knees and shoulders. Nyika justified this instruction by saying that the town was predominately Islam. He further stressed the point by sharing a story of a young tourist year’s back who had been splashed with acid on her face because she stood out with her shorts and bikini top in the town. That was enough to be covered from head to toe in the heat.

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A local took us on a tour around the town, showing us the markets, which included the fish market. The smell in there was unbelievable. It smelt like someone had died with their remains undiscovered for several months. There were all sorts of fish, dead and even alive, fresh from the ocean. I couldn’t entertain the thought of buying anything from there.

Local newspapers were filled with reports on Mandela’s passing with more people finding it important for me to feel something when seeing the headlines. We visited the slave historical site, briefly went past the Freddy Mercury museum and ended the Zanzibar trip with a dinner at the Zanzibar Ocean View hotel.

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The next day we made our way back to Der es Salaam on a ferry and headed out to Lushoto. We didn’t spend too much time here as we were preparing for the big Serengeti trip coming up.

We travelled to Arusha where we did some light shopping for our camping excursion. The town was filled with a lot of the Masai tribe members, all dressed in their traditional attire. We drove into the Serengeti National Park, the highlight for most for my fellow European travellers. This leg of the trip was all about nature, wildlife and camping. We travelled in open top 4×4 safari vehicles to Lake Manyara on game drives and day hiking. We walked through the Ngorongoro forest and even experienced a bit of the mass migration through the Mara River. We got to see the Big Five, a lion chase and even caught a lion and lioness mating – all things you would only expect to see on wild life TV.

The camping experience was a very refreshing one – sleeping on the ground with only a thin material protecting you from the wild animals you can clearly hear in the middle of the night sniffing around your tent. I was constantly alert, you could never be too comfortable there. In the middle of the park, occupying natural space that the wild animals own is a gamble for any human being.

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On our way out of the park we made a stop at a local Masai village. Here we were welcomed by a song and dance from the locals. The young women looked mature and sure of themselves. The men and women were draped in jewellery that reshaped their ears and necks. The one thing I have always wanted to see was the Masai men jumping sky high like we see on TV. Not only did I see it but I got to be a part of it. The women embraced me in their song and dance and dressed me in their local attire and symbolic beads. There I was dancing with them, feeling so free and secure. We had an opportunity to walk around the village, take photos, ask questions, taste their food and be a part of their world.

100_8059100_8056We made our way back to Arusha to visit the Masi Mara Museum and the snake park. The museum told the story of the Masi people and highlighted the cultural practices.  I saw the snake park as an opportunity to challenge myself with snakes that I had been too afraid to entertain during the previous parts of the trip. Even though it was a secured environment, I felt like I owned the natural space.

100_8080The journey over the last few days was something that needed to be captured in time. All the emotions, reactions and thoughts – my travel diaries did not offer enough justice. From this point in the trip, looking back to everything that I had experienced, my thinking about African people and the African experience and identity began to change. I had always had an inkling that what I’d known had the elements of myth and this experience was now proving that.

I fell in love in Malawi

30 November – 4 December 2013

I found love in Malawi.

An eight to ten hour drive from South Luangwa National Park, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi, began early on a Saturday morning. Initially I was not looking forward to the long hours on the road in the blistering sun but a few hours on the road and I was settled. Between reading my novel, catching up with my fellow travellers and listening to the African tunes on Mama, I had finally accepted my detachment from my home country, South Africa in favour of my new found identity as a nomad.

Now, I had heard that Malawi was beautiful, but in all honesty, I didn’t expect it to be this beautiful. The clean, green landscapes were a sight.

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Just after crossing the Malawian boarder we stopped at a local market for a bit of a cultural tour. Naturally, as Mama stopped we attracted a swarm of locals who held local foods and other items on sale. Besides not being able to speak the local language, I found myself having to negotiate my place in the market with the locals seemingly expecting more from me as a black traveller than from my fellow white travellers. The expectation here wasn’t that I should be supporting their businesses, but rather to provide a detailed explanation of why I formed a part of the crowd of wonderers rather than a member of their own crowd. I was poked and probed by various woman as I walked passed their stores, I had materials fitted on me and wrapped around my body to suggest that I needed them made me feel very accepted. Almost every stall had a display of dried fish with a collection of beans and various shapes of raw Cassava (a sweet potato-like starch). As much as I wanted this experience to be a fun and a daring one, I just couldn’t bring myself to tasting any of the food on the market.

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We continued on with the journey, before setting with the sun at Barefoot Lodge. It had started raining before we arrived and the muddy road that we had carried with us into the driveway of the lodge was smeared all over Mama. The air was cold but fresh. After using the bush to relieve myself over the last eight to ten hours, I was looking forward to a a ‘proper toilet’. As I opened the door, I was excited that I would be able to sit on a ceramic seat. Instead, there was a dark hole in the ground with what seemed like a plastic seat that had been haphazardly placed on it. Not only was this just as good as the bush, but the rain had covered the floor of the loo where my bum was now meant to sit!

The showers were situated right next to the loos which was far off from our bungalows, and, might I add, there was no electricity. You can imagine how the morning shower went. With a troche in hand, takkies on and wrapped in a towel, I ran to the shower. By the time I got back to my room after the shower I needed another one because I was covered in so much mud from the splashes my shoes made as I ran through the rain.

Another six to seven hours ahead and the seating rotation on the bus meant that it was my turn to sit at the back of the bus just in front of the lockers. To put this in context, the bus’s pressure was most felt at the back and this meant that any movement, hump or bump that Mama went through was amplified ten-fold when sitting on the back seats. It wasn’t the place to sit if you wanted a calm peaceful ride. You literally had to be strapped into your seat to avoid juggling all over the bus.

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I sat next to a middle aged lady named Ulrika from Germany. She was a finance person of some sort who had worked and lived in Namibia for some time and was now quite familiar with this whole travelling Africa thing. She had camped throughout the trip and was very enthusiastic about it. Like many other travellers on this trip, she was aware of the ‘rustic nature’ of the journey, namely, that it wasn’t about museums and the fluff that usually comes with being a tourist and so she she embraced the experience in a way that was quite different to how I had experienced it.

It was seven hours before we arrived at Kande Beach Lodge and Campsite, on the shore of Lake Malawi. This is the most breath taking place I have ever seen. It wasn’t the translucent blue water or the white sand. It was the simplicity that attracted me. The fishermen fishing along the shore, the site of only two tourist umbrella’s along the shore and the lonely island that stood far into the lake, the peacefulness of the beach where I could enjoy the waves, the sun and the slight wind without the interruptions of the clicking tourist cameras looking for collateral for their Instagram pages.

I was mortified that we were only spending two days here and made a promise to myself that I would return in the next few years.

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We went on a guided village walk around the town accompanied by the village locals. As soon as the lodge gate opened, a group of about 15 young men pulled over to the gate. I had a few moments of confusion and disorientation when they all rushed to us and introduced themselves. Some were named ‘Slim Shady’, others ‘Batman’ and there was even a ‘Martin Luther King’ and a ’50 Cent’. They individually took us through the village, each giving us an understanding of their village through their own eyes.

This, I felt, was the most authentic part of my trip so far. It wasn’t an animated walk through a village with one person’s narrative and agenda being pushed. We were being shown around by village locals, into their homes, around their schools, through their cassava farms and water pump points.

Once we returned to the lodge, we were met at the gate by a green python that had been killed after being found in the one of the rooms! I soon recovered from that shock as the sunset was welcomed with a cocktail in hand. Soon after supper, a two man music band set up for a performance. Now if you know me, you know that I love live music. I couldn’t see a more perfect way to end the night as I found myself on the beach with one of my fellow travellers, Lola, listening to the waves, soaking on Malawian herbs and staring into the night sky.

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The next day we left for Chitimba beach lodge, further north of Malawi, a four to five drive away. Even if you wanted to do anything different the atmosphere of this place demanded you to be calm and reflective. We only spent one night watching the sun set and listening to the wind on the Nyika mountains.

Malawi had brought me back to myself. Even with the muddy Lilongwe, the snake threatened Kande Beach and the merciless heat, I didn’t want to leave.

Yes, I was conscious of my home and family in South Africa, but a few days spent in Malawi was enough to steal my heart.