“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.” – Richard Mullin.
Travelling in Africa has been a massive part of my upbringing, it has made me the person I am today and it defiantly has had an impact on how I view this world, just some countries had more of an impact than others.
My country of birth is South Africa, Johannesburg is be exact, obviously the most known country on the African continent. South Africa has hosted most of my family members, my siblings, my parents and my grandparents, so like most Anglo-South Africans; one would expect a prophecy that my grand-children would be born South African. Until 2004 unveiled its plans for my family.
My parents worked for the same retailer franchise but in different fields, my mother was a qualified bookkeeper and my father knew marketing and warehousing through more than ten years of experience, hard work and dedication. In his last few years of working for the company, he became the Marketing Director for one of the branches. My brother, sister and I were going through milestones in terms of our schooling years – they were finishing their final year whilst I was starting my first. (Yes there is an age gap.)
My dad was job hunted half way through that year; of course it is very ominous and random to receive an offer from a company in Kenya. He was offered the position of CEO of a large retail outlet much like the one he was working for at the time. I am not entirely certain of why my parents decided yes to move out of South Africa. After all their home was all they knew, it is extremely gutsy and I take my hats off to them for having that courage… and for giving me the travelling bug too.
October came around and my dad was on a four hour flight to the hub of East Africa. My mom had to stay behind until my brother and sister had finished their final exams. They were on their own mission, my parents had agreed for them to take a gap year in England. Little did I know then, but my last year of living in South Africa was my last year of living with my brother and sister. I was too young to appreciate the moments of them being around.
On the 29th November 2004, the day I had my first stamp in my first passport.
“Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.” – Anonymous, but clearly someone with the experience of an open mind and the advantages of possessing one.
Kenya was, and still is, stunning. As a young naïve child, it amazed me that the sky could be so boastful about how many colours it could show. The different shades and hues of pinks, oranges then drastically change to blues then black. The urbanised Gauteng province of South Africa had sky-scrapers with our economically dependent coal mines that caused smog at an increasing rate. Development stole beautiful sunsets that the city could have enjoyed.
I started first grade again, it was just easier due to different school calendars. The great part of being a child? No judgement or preconceptions of what or which type of people are socially acceptable. We are taught that. I had a phenomenal time in Kenya; I was exposed to, probably, the oldest African tribes in History (the Cradle of Mankind is said to be in the Great Rift Valley). One lesson Kenya gave me is: when you are given an opportunity – take it.
My father had resigned from his CEO position due to his own reasoning. I did not understand it at the time, but he went to Sudan for a day, I thought just because he could. He had an interview with the UN base in Juba (this was during the referendum so Sudan was still one country). You can understand why the UN was there with Sudan having a civil war over oil. My dad’s potential occupation was to set up petrol reserves for their bases. In the position my family was in, he accepted. He would only see us for two weeks every eight weeks, my mom and I managed to live on our own, no matter how difficult it was, for eight teen months. Father was offered a promotion that required much more time from him thus only allowing him to come home once every six months. He declined.
2008 was very hazy for me; I do not recall specific occurrences. I think my dad found a job in Kenya after Sudan but then why did we move back to South Africa? I do remember taking a flight to and from South Africa with my mother every three months due to our visas expiring ever so quickly. Maybe that was the reason, Kenyan immigration control. Life is harder when you are not local. I never asked my parents why because it is in the past; there no need to know what happened if it does not change it.
Five months in South Africa. My father had a call from Zambia where he would be introduced into a new field of work – customs and logistics. We did what we do best, dive in to the unknown.
Ndola, Zambia was a small, industrial town reliant on mining minerals. The north part of Zambia was called the “Copper belt” and rightfully so of how much it exported. Dad’s responsibility: manage the transport of copper to and from the mines in his district. School was very much the same to me, but I was at the age where I could start to interpret situations better. I became more aware of people around me; I became more fascinated about their stories, because one thing non-expats do not know is that when you become part of an expat community, you are not only socialising with the natives of that particular country, you are socialising with other expats globally. See, Africa is a “gold-mine” of minerals (no pun intended) that the manufacturing countries thrive upon. I could go on about this is how Africa remains in a pool of debt because of how Africa has the raw materials and the More Economically Developed Countries have the equipment to extract those resources. Obviously the equipment and the people specialised in the field of geology costs more than the minerals itself because they trade in US Dollars. No African country, except maybe Nigeria because of their black-market oil trading, can compete with such a strong currency.
Zambia’s lesson: do not take anything for granted and appreciate the items, tangible and non-tangible, you do have. Industrial towns had very little when my family lived there. It was just a coincidence that as soon as we left, everything started to boom. Murphy’s Law right?
Twenty two months down the line when my dad’s contract had duration of ten years, he had been offered a transfer. I admit I liked the idea of settling down in Zambia for a little bit longer, but part of me had inhabited the travelling bug and did not want to settle down at all. It was mixed feelings and the start of adolescents.
July 2010: I had to do one more term/semester of primary school in Botswana even though I graduated a month before in Zambia. School calendars differ from country to country even with the same system and syllabi. I have to admit, making friends was way harder this time around, I guess the older you get, the more you develop preferences. Not to mention, each country has a culture in the way they socialise, so moving around you had to learn how to adapt but still keep what you have learned previously at the same time. I could not wait for high school! Turns out high school is secret for “You learn who is important in your life.” I learned exactly that.
I met three of my best friends which I am still in very good contact with (keeping friendship is the hardest effort a human could try whilst distance is between them). You know that stereotypical time at sixteen where you supposedly fall head over heels for someone? Add the heart break and you have the traditional teenage ritual. Yes, that was horrid but my years in Botswana were absolutely amazing. I would not change an experience. I’m generally not the extroverted-go to parties-kind of person but I was not anti-social. Because of my disability and the fact I use crutches, it’s not hard to notice me in a crowd, which I was cool with, it meant people would notice if I had been kidnapped. People were extremely as ease with me; after all as long as you are able to communicate with a person, there is nothing to be sceptical about. I never received any special treatment throughout my entire education which is exactly the way I wanted it. If I achieved something then that would mean I put bloody hard work into it, no one else. Besides what good would it bring me later on in life if teachers were being “soft” on me when in the real world no one is ever such a thing. Once again, I’m grateful for those who treated me normally. Now the lesson I learned whilst growing up in Botswana: many people come into your life. The ones who stay are a gift; the ones who leave are a lesson.
So you can imagine how devastated I was when my parents wanted to move out.
Would you decline an offer to be your own boss? I know I would not, that’s why I do not blame them. Dad had the opportunity to own his own business and I am glad he grabbed it with both hands. He has never been happier.
Remember when I claimed that every country has its own culture of socialising? Let me just say that South Africa’s way of life was a whole other ball game for me. After spending ten years in undeveloped African territory and coming back “Home” – if home meant place of birth and only that. Yes, it’s true I do not consider South Africa as a place where my heart is because the fact is South Africa has not had an influence in my life. The brunt of my learning stages in my life understood the deep African heart not the Western civilisation. Do not get me wrong, I do not exclude South Africa as if I have no connections with the country completely, because that is literally impossible. Here is an example: When someone asks me where I am from because apparently my accent is undefined, I say Africa. I know that is probably acting all foreign like because “certain” people mistaken Africa for a country (You know who you are). People find it strange that I consider four countries to withhold a home environment but I do and I’m okay with that.
“Not all who wander are lost” – J.R.R Tolkien. Well, within ten years I have done a lot of wandering and maybe it was stressful, maybe it was tiring to start all over again but oh if you do go abroad, you will only regret the places you did not go to. Remember: a place is only as good as the people in it. Advice? Make sure you have people with you to share the unforgettable moments with.