cheers

Never Ever Ever Settle

I’m so over settling. Standing at a crossroad and choosing the easier option. Sitting in a comfort zone. Living the proverbial dream.

I’m over being told what to believe. Who to trust. Where to shop. What to wear. How to eat. What to cook. How often to exercise. What house to buy. What investment plan to have. Which decisions to make. What to be. How to look. How to act. How to live.

I find it hard to explain how frustrating prerequisites are. Those things that you should have all sorted by the time you’re 30. Why don’t you own a house? When are you getting married? What will your kids’ names be? Their names will be Not Now and I won’t be taking any more questions from you right now, dankie Tannie.

I recently found myself in a position at work that caused me unbearable frustration. Having skilled up and learnt the ins and outs of my position, I soon felt like each day was a churn as much as the next.

At the risk of being labelled a millennial – I worked my ass off. I gave my 110% and I worked my public holidays and evenings going the extra mile. In the end – why are you doing it if you’re not willing to do it proper. Why are you doing it if you’re not willing to push it a second mile to make it epic. Why are you doing it if you don’t care enough to ensure it is perfect? Beyond perfect.  An embodiment of the ultimate. Out of this world brilliant work that you know you are capable of.

And although it was a lovely reward knowing I was doing my utmost best, the frustration of not learning and growing travelled straight into those little fibers in those bones that feel emotion most. That feeling of being at a peak but the view isn’t quite as picturesque as you’d imagined.

What do you do when you’re sitting up there and your view is nothing more than a sea of clouds? Do you take the advice and settle and show gratitude for the job you have? Do you settle on those prerequisites and suppress your desires because you’re supposed to settle down and be grateful? Or do you do something more brave and take matters into your own hands – tactfully…

Here’s what I found to be my truth: You open your mouth and you speak the truth in you. You gather the best of words your mind can muster and you call up your boss and you discuss. You swallow your pride. You gather your confidence. You state your case. You take control of your future.

Soon enough you will find yourself in a position you love. One you believe you will thrive in. One in which you will give even 130% just because you want it so badly.

Celebrate your abilities.

There is no moving forward if you’re not willing to take control of your life.

There is no growth if you’re not willing to take the risks.

There is no shine if you’re not willing to polish some rocks.

There is no contentedness if you’re not willing to do any of the above.

Seeking advice doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be constructive. Sometimes it’s necessary to trust your own answers to your own questions. You know you. You get you.

You have no control if you don’t decide to shove the criticism aside.

The “don’t show your weakness”

The “don’t be too ambitious”

Shove that old school shit where it belongs.

I refuse to settle.

I will not be mediocre.

Rising into Mediocre Bliss

I’ve never been one for missed adventures. I like to be where the action is. I like living by the idea that the day I’ve just survived brought me something new – a new experience, a new friend, new knowledge or some sort of new outlook on a part of life.

The sad realisation is that not each day has all of this to give. At some point, every new morning really is just another morning. Lunch is pretty much the same. Work is work. Routine is routine. And before you know it, you’re lying in the same bed at the same time weeks later wondering what day it is.

This all kind of got me thinking:

I want everything. But I also want nothing. I want the award of happiness. But I want the bliss of being happy without needing anything.

I want to not always want more.

I used to attribute a lot of value to events. I think this is something most of us do. We look forward to the show. We wait for the weekend. We live towards our next holiday. We need something to look forward to because the idea of just doing nothing forces some sad notion into our heads that our lives are lame. There’s no time to chill. There’s only time to get busy and do shit.

How exhausting is it to keep expecting of your life to be more exciting. How terribly tiring to the mind to have to project some sort of fairytale-ised concept that what is now is not enough and what is next is everything. When I was younger I used to write about running from the chains of routine and the unfulfilling poisons of a responsible life plan and towards the prospect of an impulsive choice leading to a magnificent life. Dramatic, yes. Mind you, I DID make those impulsive choices and they sure led to some unforgettable adventures.

But as something different, what I’ve been doing for the past 3 months is a blissful pot of nothing. Most days are wasted away reading books, cooking weird new things, working out, eating a lot of broccoli, and going to bed at 20:30. No, I’m not your grandmother. I’ve simply never been this healthy, rested and well-read since I was a hadn’t-yet-discovered-beer student.

It has become all the more apparent that we feel happiness or despair based on how our minds compare our external environment and experiences to our expectations.

I’m not saying it’s greedy to look forward to the weekend. Or that being busy and making a lot of plans is too much. I’ve simply come to appreciate the bliss and the contentedness that a little touch of mediocrity gifts the soul.

Tomorrow I’ll drive the same route to the same job. I’ll come home to the same house with the same routine and I’ll end my day switching off the same light before closing my eyes and waking up to a new day.

My life is pretty average.

And for once, I’m pretty damn happy with that.

Life after travelling

My year abroad taught me many things. About life and about the world and about people and about contentedness.  I’ve been back home 6 months now and thought it apt to reflect on the decisions, the journey and what I’ve learnt being back home.

Life before travelling

Before I started pursuing my travels, I was your average eight-to-five-and-sometimes-later’er who spent Friday nights celebrating the end of a brutal week with a double and a sharing session with friends. Sure, we enjoyed our jobs and we had good fun embarking on local adventures and participating in local activities.

But what I think served as a shield from enlightenment was our lack of that sense of awe of the world and of the universe. Life had become such a day-to-day thing that our tunnel vision left us, to some extent, in the dark.

I’ve written quite a bit about how travelling changed me and my mindset, but it seems that it had this profound impact because it was such a significant upgrade on the outlook I had on life before I broke free.

Why I went travelling

By no means was I unhappy.

I think I just needed to learn to appreciate everything around me more. To wake up in the morning with fresh eyes. Because we tend to stare out across foreign oceans with more awe than we do our own. Which is pretty stupid on our part. But it remains inevitable.

I imagine many of us young folk have this desire for adventure. We have a picture in our mind of an inconspicuously placed wooden swing under a palm tree on a flawless beach with turquoise water. Or a rooftop scene with a small table and a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with two glasses and a full moon. It’s what the internet people want you to imagine. It’s how they sell trips.

What I desired was to know more and see more and feel more and nothing quite makes this happen for me like looking out of a train window across a landscape I’ve never seen before. Or walking through a new street and absorbing that foreign feeling of hearing a new language all around me.

For me, it was less about a getaway and more about living the life. I wanted to, for at least a little while, be like them. Live like them. Talk like them. Be them.

I wanted to live a different life. If I lived a different life, maybe the quarter-life crisis and the doubts would fade and the questions would be answered and I would finally know my true self. Away from peer and cultural and religious influence. It would be me making decisions based on the self I really was and not the self I was expected to be. Just a pure me. The me I want to be.

It’s like Eleanor Roosevelt said:

It’s your life – but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.

Life while travelling

Loved every minute ‘cause it made me feel so alive.

It was perfect. Most days. I built a new support system on my own terms. I chose friends who shared my outlook on life. I chose to carry myself with confidence. To venture to new places alone. To dive into adventure.

Travelling taught me that you can find friendship in the strangest and most unsuspecting of places. That you can connect with strangers on a level far deeper than lifelong friends. That you can find your place in this world through connecting with others like you. And that it is up to you to reach out and connect and grow with those around you in order to find that sense of belonging.

It also taught me that “having it all” isn’t something to try and achieve but something to try and develop within yourself. It’s not about things. It’s not about places. It’s about you and the self you build and the reasons you believe you can be proud of that person.

Life after travelling

So what, then, do you do when you come back home and you find yourself right back at the dawn of question number one and two – who am I and what am I in this world?

Inevitably, travelling cannot be a lifelong thing. Somewhere along the way you have to stabilise your life in order to fulfill other desires such as having your own little place where you can play your piano. Grow your vegetable garden. Cultivate your spices. Raise your dogs.

So you find yourself sitting on this fence in the midst of responsibility and adventure and your being is torn through its centre.

But what I’ve learnt, as time has gone by in my little hometown, is that this new me that has surfaced – the individual whom I have developed on my own terms and in my own pursuit of meaning –  has outgrown the old me.  I do not want the same things anymore.

And the toughest part of that realisation is admitting that the life you need to build for yourself from here on out will not compare to the one you lived before you left. And through this process, you might lose some friends and you might go through a whole new level of self-discovery. And it’s not easy and some days you will feel more lost at home than you did before your journey started.

But it’s your responsibility to cultivate this new appreciation for life and for yourself and to be strong in your conviction that you have everything you need to build the life you desire. A life built on your own principles and your own confidence and your own vision.

Your adventure never ended.

It has only just begun.

Shut your eyes and see

It took me three years to realise that I was wrong.

For a really long time, I believed that the most important things in life are captured by the eye. It’s kind of like a window to the soul thing in which your eyes allow for you to discover the world and read people and learn things and expand horizons. I thought that you could feed your soul through feasting your eyes on amazing and beautiful places and things and people.

But I was wrong.

It has been almost three years since I first read James Joyce’s Ulysses. There was a sentence that stood out as if it were being shouted at me…

“Shut your eyes and see.”

I re-read it at least fifteen times before my brain was able to wrap itself around the confusion.

Shut your eyes and see.

I’ve been wrestling with it ever since…

What I see through my eyes are signatures of all the things I have been placed on this planet to read. But somehow there is a limit to that. There is a limit to what can be seen. Limits to discovery. Once you’ve seen it all, you are done. It is done. You have done it. You’ve seen it.

You’ve travelled to Germany and you’ve seen their giant pretzels and now you can tell everyone about it and show them the pictures when you get back home.

But really you did so much more than that.

There is something bigger than seeing everything.

There is something to which there really is no limit.

Something you can never exhaust.

Because there is no limit to what can be felt.

And that is why, when you shut your eyes, you really see.

You discover more. You delve deeper. You understand better.

You comprehend.

That is why, when you shut your eyes and allow yourself to experience and to feel, I imagine you create the most powerful of memories.

It is huddling around that table in the freezing cold enjoying a glass of Glühwein with people who speak in your native tongue.

It is standing in the rain in Amsterdam with a friend you only met twelve weeks ago, but who somehow has become a soul more connected to you than even some of your lifelong friends.

It is climbing trees in the Gooise forest with the sound of summer hissing from the treetops.

It’s not about where you go or where you’ve been or what you’ve been taking pictures of.

It’s about the one thing no-one can take away from you.

It’s the memories.

It’s eating a bowl of bitterballen in a restaurant in Utrecht not because you’re hungry, but because they have heaters that will help bring back the feeling in your hands.

It’s listening to Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 – the saddest classical symphony of all time – over breakfast with friendly strangers in Belgium.

It’s stroking your fingers across the rough sand of the North Sea.

It’s dancing so joyfully the soles of your shoes tear off.

It’s cycling against gale force winds in aggressive rain and complete darkness through the narrow paths of ‘s-Graveland.

It’s falling off bicycles.

It’s thinking about the people you loved when you were home.

It’s the nostalgia when listening to that song from that drive to the ocean that day.

You must remember this.

It was all I had.

All I’ve ever had.

The only currency.

The only proof that I was alive –

Memory.

9 Countries | 19 Cities | 365 Days

There’s a song I listen to every time I’m about to leave a place. It gives me a feeling of coming home. Like all the Lego blocks fit just right to build up a little place for my soul to rest in.

For a long time I believed that home was something I would find looking out from atop mountains or sitting next to rivers or peering across endless farmland. I thought I’d find my home hopping across countries and oceans and continents. I thought that it would have a name and that it would have a little space for me to live in.

But once I found it wasn’t a place, I started thinking that maybe home was something you build inside yourself. Through discovering what you want from life and what kind of person you want to be from here on out. It takes a really long time and a lot of hurdles before you reach a point where you can go “Yes. This is who I want to be. This is someone I can be proud of.”

But as soon as you’ve reached that point where you can look at yourself in the mirror and smile without cringing, you somehow find that, still, that is not enough. Being content with yourself is only one little Lego piece needed to build the home you’re so eager for.

Because after a year of pondering its meaning, what I found home to truly be, is the people you surround yourself with.

It’s all those souls you meet along the way who make you feel less alone in this world.

So this is my goodbye to the home I built here in Neverland. To my replacement family who gave me more than I could’ve hoped for. To the folk I met on my travels who gave me all the memories. And most importantly, to the friends who helped me live through this year with no single ounce of regret.

Doei, Nederland! Het was echt een leuke feest!! I love you and I’ll miss you xxx

On being The Foreigner

Travelling is amazing and uplifting and inspiring and life-changing. It has taught me a whole lot about the world and about myself, but I’ve been failing to put the whole experience into words lately.

This is mostly because I tend to be quite sceptical about things and my past year has been a real positive one, so I haven’t really decided yet where I need to shove my cynicism.

However, I had a discussion with a good, new friend over a beer the other night and have finally found a way to express a little something about this experience. So right now, I’d like to place emphasis on one very real reality… which is the phenomenon of being the foreigner.

People generally tend to like the foreigner.

You’re interesting because you come from a different world and you speak a different language and you were raised with strange traditions and customs that are fascinating and sometimes even exciting. When you speak English you have a weird accent that few people are able to pinpoint and sometimes the way you do things is simply laughable to these new-country people.

It’s fun for locals to chat to you, find out about your life and stalk your Facebook profile to try and gauge what your country looks like and what kind of people your friends and family are. It’s just as fun to talk about you because having a foreigner in town somehow seems to be fundamentally noteworthy.

Being the new, foreign girl is similarly thrilling for you yourself. Not only because you’re immersing yourself in this new world but also because you know that, to them, you’re interesting. Your visit here somehow gains more purpose when you discover that the people you converse with are also learning new things about the world with you being here. They find your language and your background entertaining, and somehow their interest makes you appreciate where you come from and who you are.

Though at some point, you’ll start wondering whether these locals actually consider you a friend, or whether you’re simply a temporary form of entertainment to them with your weirdness and your awe of their country.

Being the foreigner, realistically, gives you little chance at blending in.

Even after 11 months of trying to perfect my Dutch accent, people will probably always notice that I sound a little bit like a goat (apparently) when I speak it. Being super short, not having blonde hair and lacking the ability to cycle 5 km’s and still look like a total babe undoubtedly makes me very not Dutch. No amount of time in this country will ever change that and I will always be the tiny alien from Africa.

And somehow, living in the shadow of your foreigner status, the place you’ve travelled to hardly becomes home. It gets pretty close to it. Some days I feel so normal it’s like I never travelled far to get here at all. After some time, people warm up towards you. The lady at the supermarket learns your name and the bakery dude gives you a special yet creepy “I already know what you’re gonna buy” nod when you enter his shop lately. The barman does this too.

But this still somehow is not home. You’re from a different world. Your past is there and your people are there and that is where your heart is embedded.

And some days, missing a place that is so very far away can cause for the hurt to travel straight to the fibers in your bones.

But there is a way to overcome your foreigner feeling.

When I left home the first time to go to Italy, I wrote about how Paulo Coelho made me feel less foreign through the words in his book, O Aleph. On a journey through Russia to promote his new novel, the main character has a couple of revelations about moving through spaces where everyone and everything is unlike anything you’ve come to know. Somehow he managed to discover that we, as foreigners, are not that much different from the locals…

Because we are all travelling. We are all full of the same questions, the same tiredness, the same fears, the same selfishness and the same generosity.

We are human. And so we innately have something in common with everyone who crosses our path. We may be from different worlds. We may eat different foods. We may drive on different sides of the road. But we all live in this world and the world is small and our fears are frighteningly similar.

And as such, you reach a point where, even when you order a beer in Dutch and they look at you with a smirk on their face, you enjoy that beer like a local. And even when you still struggle to pull away up a hill with your bicycle, you build your confidence right back up again with your ability to cycle with only one hand.

Because no matter how foreign you are and how much you simply do not fit in, this experience has shaped you in ways that make you more aware of the world than you would’ve become simply sitting there at the southern tip of Africa.

So be foreign. Be weird. Be different. Annoy the shit out of the locals with your foreignness. Just make sure you leave something positive behind for them to remember your people by. They may forget you. But you represent a nation when you enter the world. You represent a language and a culture and, essentially, a country.

So make their memory a good one.

Four of my biggest revelations while travelling

It’s been six months since I left my people and my things and my life behind to venture into the unknown. Six months of brave quests, amazing adventures and priceless friendship. But it’s also been six months filled with numerous challenges and a great amount of fight.

And, of course, a couple of revelations:

Revelation number one: You can’t run away from yourself

The internet places this stigma of joy and fulfillment on the whole idea of travelling.

It has a tendency to fairytale-lise the concept as if travelling is the greatest escape from a monotonous life or an unfulfilling career or heartbreak or depression. As if travelling is the answer to everything that is wrong with the life you lead. As if it will soothe your memories of sitting in traffic for hours or spending your days slaving away behind a computer. As if it will heal your heart. Or re-balance the chemicals in your brain.

And sure, it can be those things. It can heal and it can serve as an escape. It can make you happy. It can fill the empty parts of your soul. But it will not do this automatically. There is much more to the story. There is much more reality buried beneath the happy Instagram posts and the ambitious Facebook feed. Because no matter how far you run and no matter how many people you meet and places you see, you are still there as you.  The you with the past that you have. The you with your memories. The you with the need to make sense of it all.

It kind of gets that Bob Marley song stuck in your head … “You’re running and you’re running but you can’t run away from yourself”.

At some point, no matter where you are in the world, you will have to look yourself in the mirror and accept your defeats and accept yourself. You are human. You are not perfect. Some things you are great at and some things you inherently suck at. That’s just the way it is. And it’s okay. And it’s gonna be okay.

Revelation number 2: The gap between the first and third worlds is ENORMOUS

To me, this venture was all about getting out of my country for a while.

I know most posts you read about travelling are written by people from first-world countries visiting the third world so they can again appreciate what they have back home. So that they can see how the “other half” lives and gain some perspective on their lives and their privilege and their luxury.

But it’s been quite a different experience being a third-world born venturing into the first world. I’ve had many discussions with fellow travelling third-world nationals in an attempt to grasp how they experience the first world and what it will be like returning to our countries – countries much less developed and functioning than the ones we find ourselves in now.

I have no water restrictions and no electricity outages in The Netherlands. I’ve only been approached by two homeless people in the past six months. I confidently cycle 5km through to the neighbouring town without constantly looking behind me in fear of being a target. I, to some extent, have stopped clutching my handbag with furious protection when travelling by train.

How do I go back to living in a country that switches my electricity off for sometimes 24 hours at a time, has an incredibly corrupt government, is suffering through one of the worst droughts in centuries causing for multiple towns to have no water for weeks, and one that is so riddled with crime and violence that I basically never leave the house by foot?

Not to mention, one that is so divided on the basis of race that people hate each other so much they publicly declare that their fellow South Africans, as a race, be murdered out completely.

There is no doubt that my heart lies with my country. That I love being South African, that I love its vibrancy, its culture, its diversity, its languages, its nature and its beautiful chaos. I just have the biggest hope that, at some point, by the grace of peace and love, it will live up to its potential and be the South Africa we all desperately wish for.

Revelation number three: A place is only as good as the people in it

I am not a rock. I am not an island.

Without the amazing people I find myself surrounded with in this country, this would’ve been a completely different experience. It’s not that I struggle with being alone or that I need to surround myself with people in order to be happy. I am quite content by myself. And I’ve ventured to various places and countries by myself since I’ve been here.

But there’s something about sharing an experience with another person that tends to enhance the memories you make. When you travel alone, your memories are your own and it’s hard to explain to others how epic that journey is. Not that they don’t care or won’t listen, but because their eyes didn’t quite capture the things yours did. And their hearts didn’t quite change in awe of their surroundings alongside yours.

Experiencing epic things with friends by your side, even if you’ve only just met, gives you something amazing to share and connects and enhances your souls on a level far beyond what you could ever imagine.

Revelation number four: It is what you make it

The journey is only as good as you believe it can be.

I never imagined I’d find the corny kind of happiness I have. It’s not that I was unhappy before I started this quest, but there’s something about waking up with a smile and laughing as much as I do lately that is a little bit unfamiliar. And the more I wake up with smiles and laugh ‘til tears stream down my face, the bigger this happiness grows and the bolder my joy becomes.

But it’s not like happy mornings and laughter just happened naturally.

There’s a switch in the mind that allows you to feel and experience things more deeply. It’s a switch that allows you to appreciate stupid little things like autumn leaves falling from tall trees and snowflakes blinding you as you cycle to the supermarket.

It’s noticing how a ladybug’s wings curve perfectly over its tiny body and seeing a spider’s web illuminated by thousands of tiny water droplets. It’s laughing at the things kids say and appreciating the people around you for their quirks and their faults and their drinking habits.

You make your own happiness. And you get to choose how you go about making that happen for yourself.

It’s all up to you in the end.