At the end of 2020, I drove approximately 2 000km to the Eastern Cape to spend Christmas with my family. I hadn’t seen them for 11 months due to the border closures a result of the pandemic.
After a tough year, with all that had been happening in the world, the journey home was such a wonderful and uplifting experience.
From the makeshift photo booth on the side of the road in Gaborone, sitting me down on an old rickety chair while a young man held a white (tending to grey) cloth behind my head in order to take the photographs for my permit; to the photographer disappearing for 10 minutes and coming back, miraculously, with the five passport sized photos; to making copies of my documents under a gazebo on another street corner, where a man sits with a generator and a printer, one-pula-per-page; to the lovely lady at the South African Embassy who gave me some of her sage advice on love, relationships and how to remain happily married while taking my fingerprints; to the truck drivers at the border who made small talk with all and sundry while we waited in a queue for our rapid Covid test results – only to see them again as they moved over for my little red car to pass them on the open highways, and flash their lights in response to my thank-you hazards; to the petrol attendants in Molepolole that washed my car from head to toe while I was in the shop buying coffee because “it must look good for the city, Mma”; to the friendly people in both Mafikeng and Johannesburg who graciously let me into the correct lane without a hint of annoyance after I realised my error and needed to move at the last minute.
I spent the journey reflecting on how much I love the African spirit.
That indomitable, never-say-die, life-is-what-you-make-it, can’t-keep-me-down, never-too-busy-for-a-friendly-hello, upbeat, smile-and-wave spirit that reverberates through our continent.
Perhaps it is the harshness of Africa that gives this to us – the feast-or-famine environment that we are born into. We might have it all in one moment – but we know that we might have nothing in the very next.
Life is not easy in Africa; sometimes it isn’t even pleasant. But there is no place on Earth that I’d rather be, with its blue skies and wide-open spaces, friendly people, a sense of community that seeps from even the poorest of areas, and a warmth that exudes from the beach sand to the desert sand as if to say “You are mine. You are home.”
Life often takes us on a different path to that which we had hoped for or imagined. As with water, the smallest pebble can change the entire direction of the flow.
Occasionally we have time to prepare for what is coming. Sometimes it is a sudden loss that leaves you on your knees.
I believe the fear of change is the loss that accompanies it. Saying goodbye is not easy; neither is welcoming change. It is, however, necessary – and if you are able to do so with hope in your heart and a belief in the beauty that is yet to come, rather than a sorrow for what is lost, it does make it easier. Africa shows us this.
The Kalahari is the place in Africa where I feel most connected to her beauty; where there is a magic that cannot easily be described.
Fanus Rautenbach, a renown South African author, once wrote of the Kalahari: “die man se hemel, maar die vrou se hel”.
It is not for everyone. The environment can be harsh and unforgiving; dry and unkind; sometimes even cruel.
But the rain will come.
Not when you want it; perhaps not even when you desperately need it – but when Africa is ready.
This year the rains have been plentiful, the pans are full and the Kalahari is almost in flood; next year, we may only get a few drops.
Such is life – but something always grows in the cracks.