Wanderlustless

Mark Twain famously said that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

It skyrockets us out of our comfort zone and makes us realise that in a great big world, our way of being is just one tiny way.

I long prided myself on being a traveller. Until a year or two ago, I couldn’t go a few months without cabin fever setting in. Usually I’d hop on a plane, but a short road trip out of town would suffice. Travel and momentum had always been in my DNA. It started, perhaps, with long car trips to and from boarding school since the age of 6. And was cemented by a deep restlessness in my young adult life, to see the world, and make sense of who I was relative to the rest of humanity.

I prided myself not just on being a traveller, but an intrepid, gritty one. I worked hard at ticking off the list of experiences any good backpacker worth their salt ought to have had:

A severe case of Delhi belly. Ripped off by a carpet trader in Goa. Backpack stolen off an overnight train somewhere in Eastern Europe (my girlfriend and I were also, as an aside, flashed twice in the space of 24 hours in Prague, and both times the flasher treated himself to a happy ending). I woke with a crick in my neck after a night spent on a slab of rock on Mount Sinai. Spent 3 days sailing down the Nile on a felucca, hopping overboard to wash, hoping not to be taken under by a Nile croc. I strolled the Champs-Elysees with my fiancé. Hiked the Great Wall of China. Spent the night on a bench in Heathrow so I could catch the red-eye flight.

But can I come right out and say that I’m a little over travelling and I really just want to stay put. Not absolutely put. Just a little bit put. The thought of far-flung destinations that involve airports and long haul flights and stopovers piques my anxiety rather than my wanderlust.

Can I blame my kids? Old age crankiness?

I still adore the idea of travel, it’s just that I’ve become quite lousy at it. I get thrown by the inevitable curveballs, and I like to be assured of a good nights sleep. Travel can be arresting and confronting, and hence, quite exhausting.

What thrills me now is chucking a few bags in the boot of the car and finding a spot close to home. Preferably a beach, but in the Cape we’re terribly spoilt and have mountains and rivers and winelands. Few places are as astoundingly beautiful and diverse as South Africa; there is so much wonder on our doorstep.

I love the idea of discovering a local gem, then returning to it again and again, to experience it in a different light, a different season, a different mood. To discover the rhythm of a place that is not your home but has come to feel comfortingly familiar through the holiday rituals that become part of each trip you make.

Maybe the bug will bite again. Hopefully—as I want my boys to see the world. And there are still places on my bucket list! Walking the Camino de Santiago, Buenos Aires, a retreat at a remote monastery. I used to dream of packing my boys into a caravan and road-tripping across the States, a country I haven’t seen much of…

I just need to reconnect with my inner wanderer. I know she’s in there, she’s just taking a sabbatical, and she shan’t be rushed.

Look for the helpers

Nothing in life is without it’s opposite. Wax and wane, ebb and flow, peaks and troughs. No joy without pain, expansion without contraction, light without dark. In South Africa, even in relatively settled times, those last two poles can feel very close together.

When we first moved back six years ago I struggled with the disparities. At the time, I wrote this:

The short stretch of road on my daily school run is like a microcosm of life here, where wealth and desperate poverty coexist. Moments after you pass an exclusive gated community cosseting the privileged minority, you’re left contemplating life behind the high walls of one of the country’s most notorious prisons.

Possibly as a coping mechanism, I’ve become an ostrich, my head buried deep in the sand. And like most people in our privileged pocket of suburbia, we’ll have our noses to the grindstone, building our life, when we hear of a tragedy that makes us despair.

After the senseless killings of Meghan Cremer and Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was raped and murdered in a post office, fear and outrage have reached a crescendo.

My news feed is awash not only with despair over the escalating violence against women, but there also seems to be a spike in the stay or go debate. It feels like people are leaving the country en masse. Political instability is one thing, but crime is usually the straw that breaks the camels back for those sitting on the fence.

We haven’t for a second regretted moving back home. Our hearts are here. But something that strikes me as South Africans grapple with what to do is how we attack each other’s decisions.

Anyone who writes about their love for this country (the lifestyle, the natural beauty, the strength and resilience of its people) gets lambasted by those who don’t. South Africans abroad, or those wanting to leave, are not great ambassadors for our country. Leaving can be heart-breaking, so it helps to have reasons to justify your decision, and there are reasons aplenty.

Usually, those writing about whether to stay or go are the ones with the freedom to actually leave, which just serves to alienate those who desperately want to go, but can’t. And so rather than have each other’s backs, we resort to mudslinging and the debate becomes quite divisive.

It is a fraught issue, but it’s one that plays out in a tiny percentage of South African households—the same households that can (partly at least) immunise themselves against crime and corruption and poor service delivery. Those most affected by the country’s travails have precious few choices.

I don’t know what it’s like to have my life ripped apart by a violent crime. But like most South Africans, I know someone, a lifelong friend, who does. Not long ago, on a sublimely beautiful spring morning, we spent time together drinking tea on her patio.

We spoke about renovations and gardens, we oohed and aahed over her new yellow pot, and we laughed about some of the things our children had done. But we also spoke about how she was coping after her attack and why bad things happen to good people. We wondered why some people are born into abject poverty and some experience the worst of humanity, while others are surrounded by love and good fortune.

How do we make peace with the darkness in the world and not let it swallow us? Do we block it out? Do we wrestle it?

‘Gratitude,’ my friend said to me. 

Her life took a very dark turn, and she says the person she was before died on the day she was nearly murdered. But on this sunny morning, over a soul restoring pot of tea, this woman with an indomitable spirit reminded herself, and me, that there is always somebody worse off, so we need to be thankful for all we have.

‘It’s what all the great teachers say,’ she told me.

‘We can’t dwell on the despair. It just adds to the darkness. We need to be grateful so we can find the joy in life. It’s our joy that adds to the light.’