52 hours of flights, 5 airports, 2 continents, 1 lost luggage… 1 woman’s epic journey…

I’m not quite sure what one expects to change in a place when you have been away for so long… it’s like you think the city will have been razed to the ground and rebuilt completely differently, and you won’t know your way around, and will feel like an alien freshly landed. Perhaps what is even weirder than this actually happening, is that even though things look (mostly) the same as you recall, you do still feel like a hapless alien, because not much has actually changed, other than you, and the passing of time. And you keep having surreal feelings like you never really left (especially when you are driving your old car on familiar streets, going to visit friends you have known for more than 10 years and still get on with as if no time has passed).

Even though I have been back a few weeks, and the jetlag has mostly subsided, I still feel somewhat that the whole thing was some kind of surreal but wonderful dream. I shall not recount the endless flights, and the many airport interiors, suffice to say that there are things that only seem to occur in airports:

  • shoe shines (and people actually taking advantage of the service)
  • a breakfast that costs the same as a watch from duty-free
  • old women in Uggs
  • groups of pilots dispelling the myth that anyone looks good in a uniform.

Of course, for my longest flight, I was also behind the screaming babies, and right near the loos, so not much sleep and many in-flight movies later… I arrived in Joburg and was instantly impressed by how organised, clean, and friendly it all seemed. There was also a noticeable police presence, that continued for the rest of my trip (was it something I did? were they on high alert because I had come home?) that I was really impressed by.

I spent a lovely weekend being spoiled by my darling friend and her gorgeous toddler, and also managed to see a few other precious peeps who now call Egoli home. We even dined seriously el fresco at a tree stump table at a fab restaurant (ironically at Toni’s Fully Furnished Pizza co) in Pretoria. A trend that seemed to continue, and become a running joke, was that it rained most of the time, wherever I went. At one point, we were driving along, and I inhaled that scent of the bush after fresh rain and it hit me with such impact that I started crying, because there is nothing like it, nowhere else. I was home.

I then spent a wonderful 5 days with my wondrous grandparents, who are full of energy and as sharp as ever. With my uncle also visiting, Irish wit flowed non-stop. My dad joined me there on his way back to SA from Malawi (where he lives now for work) and we managed to get to the Lion and Rhino Park near my grandparents’ place near Magaliesburg. Sadly there are no more rhinos due to poaching, but we did manage to see lots of birds, antelope, jakkals, and of course, lions. One of the funniest things I have ever seen was watching a lioness pee, lick the grass where she had peed, and make a face of utter disgust (lips curled back, teeth bared, and an almost audible “UGGGGH”). What made it even funnier was the fact that she did it twice more, and made the exact same face. Isn’t nature wonderful?
After Magalies, we headed south to Cape Town. My mom picked us up at the seriously jouged up and totally unrecognisable Cape Town airport, and we headed off on the spectacular drive to L’Agulhas, where they live. It was so wonderful to relax at home, and to see my dog again! She went totally nuts when she saw me and it was probably the most enthusiastic welcome I’ve ever experienced (though my friends did come a close second). I had all these grand plans to figure out my goals and plans for 2011, but instead, it was far easier, and nicer to just watch the sea over the fynbos, read books, and enjoy the company of one of my best friends (he came down to visit) and my folks. Christmas was very quiet and it was great to have a summer, Southern Hemisphere, laid back affair.

An absolute treat and fascinating discovery was my ancestor’s journal from the Crimean War, and his experiences while a Royal Engineer. The journal (written in the 1840s-ish, but mostly about the 1820s) is only part I of a rather epic project. It was incredible to have the original in my hands, reading stori
es about him being saved from drowning by the quick thinking of a Venetian Prince on Malta, and his opinions on corporal punishment in the military, to the story of a stolen pet sheep that ended up being served in the mess hall, and feeling the connection across the years. His words (some sections are actually edited) are accompanied by some fascinating, detailed drawings, and it was a privilege to read. My dream is to transcribe the history and get it published, because it is a story worth reading.
After time in the bosom of my family (and mind of my ancestors), I headed to Cape Town to reconnect with the Mother City, and my wonderful friends. Perhaps because I kicked off the Cape Town leg with a large picnic at Kirstenbosch Gardens, I felt a lot more shellshocked than I expected. It was so surre

al to drive on familiar streets and see such familiar, loving faces, and feel like nothing had changed, and yet so much had. I found myself feeling totally overwhelmed and I didn’t quite know where to begin with who to see and what to do. However, I managed to pack in a lot of stuff, see my precious friends (including some people who are also spread over the globe like me), and enjoy myself, without feeling like I had run around like a headless chicken.
It was both a difficult and an easy journey. I felt at home and I felt like I will always have a place in South Africa, and yet somehow it also reaffirmed many of my decisions – my life, my husband, my pace, my choices…
Of course, it was a wrench to leave, but it was also comforting, and put a lot of nagging questions to rest. I feel like I can always go back there, and my amazing friends and family will be there, but that there is also no urgent rush to get back. The grass is not necessarily greener, but it is still awesome, and it will always be my home.
So I can indeed say, after an epic trip, rather than goodbye, salani gahle.

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