south africa

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

There is no time to waste

It took me a long time to realise that we don’t have much time. And even less so, time to waste.

In my past four months living in The Netherlands, there has been a sense of urgency to see as much as possible in my time there. To cycle to cool places every day. To catch the bus to amazing events. To spend all night dancing. To meet as many people as I can… It’s a desire to experience anything and everything I possibly can in the limited time that I’m there.

And it has changed the way I perceive the value of time.

My one week back in South Africa for Christmas has taught me much the same thing. I only had 6 days in which to reconnect with my people. With my car. With my way of life here. With my country. I was unable to spend even just one moment doing nothing or going nowhere. I had to see my mountain. Feel my ocean. Drink my wine. Laugh with my people.

It has allowed me to see that I do not have the time to spend any of my days doing nothing. Or to spend any of them doing things that don’t allow either for growth or a sense of fulfillment. I do not have time to waste on any trivial pursuits or a life not lived with the unapologetic intention to make every moment mean something. I do not have time to sit on my ass doing nothing. There are places to see and people to meet. Music to make. Books to read. Sights to see. Memories to make. Get up and go do things that make your days worthy of crawling out of bed in the morning.

I do not have time to pine over things from the past that didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped they would. It’s done and its effect on my present should be only to have learnt valuable lessons and to have grown stronger and more resilient to the universe and the punches it throws.

I do not have time to spend time with people who are not my kind of people. It took me a while to learn that you really can choose your friends. But it took me an even longer while to learn that your friends sometimes choose you as well. So to be yourself and the best version of who that is at all times is of vital importance in having the right people choose you as a friend.

I do not have the time to disagree with you over set opinions and dogmas. There are some things in life that are by all means worth discussing, but much less worth picking a fight over. Tolerance for the beliefs of others, for their ideas and for their choices in life is a sign of respect that not many people ever show. We’re so invested in how we live and what we believe is right that we become ignorant towards the right of others to believe their own things.

Be open. Be tolerant.

I do not have time to not be present. The past couple of months living abroad have added a freaky little twist to many of my friendships back in SA. My need to soak up every moment has pulled me away from my cellphone and my computer to such an extent that people have begun to think I have forgotten our friendship.

I really haven’t.

I see my people in everything I experience.

I see my crazy friends with their infectious laughter in every foreign smile. And I see the big blue eyes of my friends near the ocean every time the blue skies reflect in the canals of Amsterdam.

I am reminded of my family every time “o ek wil huistoe gaan na mamma toe” loops on the local bar’s speakers.

I think about all of my favourites all of the time. And it sometimes even feels like they’re right there with me experiencing every epic moment, becoming part of all the new memories I make.

So here’s to an exciting 2016 in Dutchland! Remembering all the ones I leave behind. And embracing all the ones I am yet to meet.

Tot straks, bitches!

An adventure in the now

I don’t get jogging. I don’t get how putting that strain on your legs and your body and your lungs is fun. Let your lungs rip just doesn’t resonate with me. Sprinting I get. If I need to run from danger I will do the fast run. But no. I will never jog.

A place where people meet up for a jog would be a good place to hide something from me.

So I spent the past weekend drinking wine amongst vineyards in the Franschhoek Wine Valley. And while I was sipping on a glass of Grenache, and characteristically spilling it all over myself, I felt a tiny little surge of what people call happiness. Sitting in the sun. Drinking wine. Sharing thoughts with smart people. In a wannabe French town. In South Africa. Right here at home. And it was good.

But for years I’ve made myself believe that South Africa isn’t enough. It’s not enough to have a dayjob and it’s not enough to grow roots here and it’s not good enough to settle for something as simple. I should leave. I should explore. I should meet new people. I should speak new languages.

And I’ve saved and saved and saved everything I earn. Everything. I wear clothes I bought three summers ago and I never go anywhere and I restrict my budgets because I’m saving a bunch of money for an escape. In my refusal of mediocrity. But then I realised that I haven’t really been living. I’ve been holding so tightly onto a goal for my future that I’m purposely pushing aside the short-term ones that would make me happy in the meantime.

And I blame all of it on jogging. My need to sprint to the end-line is making me fly by all the little experiences I could be having in the place I’m “adventuring” in now. It’ll be quite some time before my dreams of running really far away will realise. If they ever will.

Also, jogging is hard. It’s like you’re getting somewhere but you’re getting there really slowly. And it hurts, man. Jogging is not done quietly. And it takes a really long time to get used to it. Though I’m hoping my proverbial legs and lungs will forgive me by evoking the endorphins my soul has so desperately been craving. So in the meantime, it’s a mini-venture towards making what I have and where I am exciting and memorable.

Maybe it’s not always the far-off places and culture shocks or language barriers. Sometimes it’s just making music. Or reading books. Or maybe it’s just you and your mind and your thoughts and pushing them to the limits in the meantime.

Let’s be adventurers.

If they cannot be literal and geographical,

let them be intellectual, emotional, spiritual, interpersonal,

and my very favourite 

CREATIVE.

Because: onward.

Meet South Africa

South Africa is not defined by its politics and its crime and its inequality.
It is defined by its natural beauty and its awe and the inspiration that ensues.

I have climbed Cape Town’s beautiful mountain.
Soaked my feet in the warm, eastern waters.
And wandered along Mpumalanga’s waterfalls.

It is the connection with nature.
The feeling it instills.
The loyalty to the universe beneath your feet.

This is where I live.

This is South Africa.

SA flag

This is why I love South Africa

A friend of mine recently had an argument with another friend while trying to justify getting a tattoo that signifies South Africa. This argument resulted in my friend writing up this brilliant and pride-inducing piece of nostalgic genius that I have stolen (with permission) to publish here:

What I love about South Africa

south africa cape town

South Africa has every climate and landscape. Deserts, mountains, snow, Mediterranean, rain forest, grassland, bushveld, sea; the warm sea and the cold sea, the coastline and its changeability. It has the sun and it has caves, streams, cliffs, kloofs, and wide open spaces to be explored or left unexplored. It has the Yellow Wood, the Strelitzia, the Varkoor, the Milkwood, Proteas, Acacias and the SA pine. Here you can find a unique, scary, diverse, beautiful wildlife. The blue crane, the big five, the great white, the sunbird and the bumble bee, the parktown prawn (“the what?” says the Cape Townian), blêrrie baboons and the rhino. For now.

rugby fanSouth Africans YOLO and have FOMO and are adventurous even when they pretend they aren’t. There’s corruption and everyone complains and always expects more. We always think the grass is greener than our own. South Africans are resourceful but lazy, approachable and friendly and completely obsessed with sport.

We have braais and our own slang lingo and say “I don’t have an accent, boet.” We have chilled out hippies and hipsters on longboards, jocks and materialistic poppies & dollies wearing too much make-up, surfer dudes and overachievers, the career man and the full-time mom. SA has cultures, diversity, different languages, opportunity.

Gogos, Oumas, Nanas, Grannies. We have Zebra & Giraffe, The Soweto String Quartet, Mango Groove, The Parlotones, Jack Parow, Desmond and the Tutus, Mzekezeke and Mandoza, DJs Fresh, Euphonik and Naaldekoker and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. There are gorgeous babes and okes with stiff necks and Imaginary Lat Syndrome (Chronic Invisible Underarm Watermelon).

I love to love Cape Town with its mountains and sea, wine, acceptance and how everyone’s convinced that it’s better. I love to hate Joburg with its mine dumps, crime, sheer size, cost, poverty and pollution.

Bloem thinks it’s a big city but it’s just cold and full of Dutchmen (said with the utmost affection).

durban cultureThe only thing Kimberley has is a hole.

Durban with its souties and Zulus, the stuffy humidity and warm water.

And PE and East London. Little unsung treasures nobody knows about but really should.

We chat about what an amazing man Nelson Mandela was and Desmond Tutu still is. We laugh at clichéd Trevor Noah jokes and gossip about the Oscar Pistorius scandal. We see Charlize Theron and Chad le Clos’ “unbelievable” dad on TV. And try to fathom why Elon Musk and Roger Federer would not want to claim South Africa as their own.

– Alberto Falanga

This is South Africa. There’s no way to deny its beauty. Its individuality. Its splendour. Its awe. Its diversity. Its language. Its voice. Its echo.

This is where I live.

This is South Africa.

SA flag