Travelling back to South Africa after nine years has been invigorating. From the moment I stepped off the flight and started queueing in the passport control, I recognized that some things are just Africa – the way things are done, the speed at which they are done and the protocol. I smiled that there were only two passport control officers in our section working when there were 46 windows. I chuckled when another two workers stood chatting to each control worker as they worked and I really giggled when a beautifully attired lady directing passengers pulled out her lollipop she was sucking on. I had arrived in Africa and there simply was no point getting frustrated or irritated that things were going to move slowly. I had to admit to myself that even though I haven’t lived here for fourteen years, I miss parts of this place and I was enjoying seeing the chocolate faces all around me. I did not feel intimidated or afraid in any way as I thought I might travelling alone. The airport was the biggest surprise – seeing how beautifully upgraded and modern it was. Clearly things had evolved since I was last here.
Walking through those customs doors and seeing my older brother waving at me really made me happy. It’s been nine years since I last saw him and it was good to catch up. That is the one thing about emigrating that makes it so hard – leaving people you love who are a part of your family and knowing that you may not see them for many years, but the reunions are so precious and sweet when you do.
My shuttle trip down to my Mom and Dad’s place was magnificent. I don’t know why I was sucking up every moment like a sponge – maybe because I realize that even though I have left South Africa and given up my citizenship, there will always be a part of me that is African, that loves this place deeply. I enjoyed every pothole we hit in the road, listening to the driver and a passenger talking animatedly in Afrikaans, the smog from the fires around the townships, the dry corn fields we passed through, the crisp white frost on the ground – every little experience that reminded me of the time I lived here. While everyone else slept on the bus, I lapped up every bit of scenery taking snaps on my iPhone as we travelled.
Finally seeing Mom and Dad again and giving them a hug was amazing. I almost had to pinch myself that I was with them. They live in a beautiful part of the country on a wildlife estate under the mountains of the Northern Drakensberg. It is simply stunning – the views and the wildlife they get to enjoy daily.
That evening we sat on their veranda and watched the duiker (buck) drinking from their bird bath, looking out into the bush. I felt a measure of calm and peace instantly. As we sat I saw a Kingfisher and a Purple Crested Loerie land in the trees. I sat for ages watching the buck. Early the next morning I was awake before it was light. I opened my curtains which had a view of the birdbath and the bush and waited for the sun to come up. The buck were full of energy, dancing and racing around the garden. I lay in bed watching them play like children as the sun came up. Oh, how I was soaking up that sun. Melbourne was rainy and cold when I left and all of us were feeling sun deprived with the grey, muddy winter weather. For two days I had felt the warm sun on my skin and I had to admit that sunshine makes a huge difference to how we feel as people – it energises, refreshes and makes one happy – there is no doubt in my mind about that.
After breakfast we jumped in the car and headed to the Kruger National Park for the day. I have many memories of being in Kruger with my family as a child and I felt that same expectation that it would be a good day – It was! The bush is so dry and the food for the animals so scarce at the moment, yet despite this we saw some amazing game. Within moments of entering the corridor between the first gate and the main gate we came across a herd of buffalo. We had a wonderful morning seeing so many elephant and their calves, giraffe, zebra, warthog, many varieties of buck such as Impala, bushbuck, Steenbok, Waterbuck, Kudu and Nyala. I was delighted to also see jackal and hippo. Unfortunately we did not see any rhino although there was a lot of evidence of them nor did we see any of the cats.
I had to pinch myself – here I was sitting eating a picnic lunch overlooking a waterhole in South Africa and just two days previously I was halfway across the world in Melbourne Australia. As I sat there I silently vowed I would bring my honey, Hamilton, back here one day – that he would experience what I was feeling in that moment.
Travelling back to a place you have lived brings back a sense of nostalgia and although I know it was right for us to emigrate, I want my kids to experience this again, for us to enjoy where we came from once in a blue moon. As we get older I think it’s important to know who we are and appreciate where we have come from, to connect with family. You can’t put a price on that.
A few days later we took a drive up to Swadini Dam on the Blyde River. The scenery was breathtaking – huge basalt mountains covered in natural bush as baboons and monkeys played boisterously on the sides of the road. Hippos lazed on the side of the dam in the warm sunshine. I felt a sensory overload looking at the beauty around me and extreme gratitude that I was able to experience this place with people I love.
Later that afternoon Dad called me over to see the new bushbuck baby that had just been born in the bush over the road from their house. We watched as it tried to stand on its wobbly legs, teetering like a drunkard. We also had a walk around their estate and I enjoyed seeing the buck and other creatures.
Since being back in South Africa I have felt inspired to create and paint. My fingers are itching to get hold of a canvas and put some paint on it. Being in the bush has somehow awakened my senses and reminded me of what living in South Africa is like.
A few days later I caught up with my sister and stayed a night at her home in Moditlo Estate. Her home sits on a river bank under two huge trees and it is simply stunning. We sat on the deck overlooking the dry river bed watching two warthog that came to drink at their little pond. She pointed out the two white-backed vultures that have made a nest in a tree on their property – they’ve named them Vinnie and Van and they’re sitting on an egg.
Later that afternoon we headed out for a game drive in their game viewing landrover aptly named Bosvark (roughly translated means Bushpig). Within metres of leaving their home we met up with a giraffe. I was so close I could have reached out and touched it. Then we head out seeing Nyala, Impala, Kudu, Duiker and Waterbuck. The highlight of my day had to be the two Cheetahs we found lying in the sun, their bellies obviously very full as they lazed – beautiful, sleek creatures. The beautiful sunset behind the Marula trees was a perfect ending to the game drive as monkeys scattered across the road and up the trees as we passed by.
Then we sat outside in front of roaring log fire watching the night jars diving into the pool. I got to eat boerewors (South African sausage) again and it tasted so good. The boerewors we get back in Australia cannot even compare to this. I cannot believe how fortunate I was to experience this wildlife over five days – I somehow felt as though I had been rejuvenated. I just wished my honey was with me to experience it too.
A few days later we travelled down to Dundee for the night where we stayed in the caravan enroute to Durban. The beautiful aloes that stood with their deep orange and red flowers framed against the dry bush was a beautiful sight. I find as I get older I have more of an appreciation for the landscape around me. I have an absolute love of mountains. I always have and I don’t quite know why. Just the changing picture when it is dawn or dusk, stormy or sunny on the huge peaks gives me a sense of wonder and inspires me in ways I can’t explain. I love the sea, but somehow mountains are my absolute favourite.
We had a fun night in the caravan – of course Mom fed us well – we woke to a frosty, cold morning but absolutely nothing could dampen the enjoyment I had on this trip. Heading into Kwazulu Natal left me feeling very nostalgic. This was my stomping ground for many of my early adult years and my younger brother literally lives a stone’s throw from the old cottage Hamilton and I used to rent in the early days of our marriage. Of course it is all gone now, but the memories of that sweet little house, the fires we had and the enormous garden, full of hydrangeas came back to me again.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with my mother-in-law for a quick lunch enroute and it was lovely to catch up.
It was lovely to see my younger brother and his family. Seeing my nieces and nephews was another plus – these guys are great and make good coffee too!
My younger brother has a new home that is lovely too – their garden is beautiful and I even had a special treat of a Fish Eagle that decided to pay them a visit.
Finally we were all together as a family at my nephew’s wedding and this was certainly a highlight for me – it had been 16 years since we were all together and that was during a very sad period of our lives, but this time we were together celebrating and it felt good. The reception was held on a farm and was spectacularly done. Taking to the dance floor with all my siblings was such fun as we goofed around and behaved like children again. I haven’t had so much fun in ages – hubby and I will have to have a party soon – maybe for my 50th!
Saying goodbye to Mom and Dad and my siblings was very hard. On one hand I was so grateful for the time I had with them, but I still felt sad that it had passed so fast and it would be a long time till I saw them all again.
My last couple of days was spent with my brother and sister-in-law in Johannesburg. I shopped and took one of my sister-in-law’s art classes. She is so talented and I learned so much even in that short lesson. Here is some of her art:
Check out her website at Nicky Thomson Art
I managed to paint a small canvas that I squeezed into my luggage to bring home – a reminder of my time spent in SA. It goes beautifully with the colourful basket and printed cloth I bought which I’ve turned it into a wall hanging in my office.
They have such a tranquil home – full of indigenous plants and an organic veggie garden too.
One thing I realize is that when you return to a place you have lived you see it very differently to those who live there. I didn’t see all the rubbish, deteriorating infrastructure, annoying things that the residents have to live with daily. I saw it as a tourist – the things that I chalked up to experiencing South Africa as it is and those things made it all the more special – the little roadside fruit stalls and thatched huts. I guess it is a good thing to see places this way as it means you can really enjoy them.
So now I am home in Melbourne – it is cold but at least we are having the odd bout of sunshine and hopefully spring is not too far away. I loved my trip, am so grateful I could take it and yes, I hope to go back again – in the not too distant future. I guess what I have really learned is that I have been very fortunate to have lived in three different countries, experience three totally different cultures and that each of the places I have lived hold a very special place in my heart. So grateful for all I have experienced.
Finally, I arrived home to a warm welcome from my family – the only joy after seeing my family was to be back with my honey and kids once again.Let’s hope we can all make a trip to sunny South Africa again one day.