Pleit immuniteit

Soortvan gewag
maar nie regtig nie
bietjie gehoop
en toe maar ook weer laat vaar

beter as voorheen
waar die nikse na ’n aanloop mis-dalk was

gewoond aan die jaarlikse oorgeslaan voel,
die witleun:
dit maak nie meer saak nie

pleit
immuniteit

maar ’n meisiehart
onthou

dat daar ’n dans belowe is

en dit

voel nou

bietjie rou

Asante sana, Kilimanjaro

To be honest, climbing Africa’s highest mountain was never on my bucket-list.

Staying in a lodge in the Masai Mara or going for sun-downer game drives in the Serengeti was more what I had in mind when imagining a trip to one of Africa’s most iconic regions. I sort of wanted to see the sun set behind the world’s highest freestanding mountain, and not necessarily see it rise from the top …

But alas, the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro presented itself in November last year through a whatsapp from Susan (we’ve been friends since Grade 2): “Wil jy Kilimanjaro klim in Januarie?”.

Y.O.L.O., right? What better way to start a new decade.

To set the scene: Many people who attempt to summit Kili train for at least 8 months to a year. We sort of had three months to catch up with the Afrik1li expedition team. A few Jonkershoek, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head hikes had to do the trick. Small hills in comparison, by the way.

Pulmonary trepidation

To add the the stacking odds, in those three months, I was first in Singapore (December) and then in Abu Dhabi (January), bringing a debilitating flu back from the former and into the latter #notcoronadontworry. Walking up a flight of stairs in Abu Dhabi was exhausting. My lungs, and heart-rate were not at their best behaviour. I decided to ignore my body’s protests …

Reality check: People die on Kilimanjaro. Someone I knew died tragically from AMS (acute mountain sickness) a few years ago. South Africa lost Gugu Zulu not too long ago. A porter sadly passed away while we were on the mountain. It is said to be the most underestimated of the “Seven Summits”.

So, I was, in fact, nervous. I kept my fears to myself, but just in case, I made a few hasty administrative arrangements before leaving. In case the mountain won.

Geared for the cause

I landed back from Abu Dhabi on Friday (17/01). We flew to Johannesburg to meet up with the rest of the team, and then out to Tanzania via Kenya, on Tuesday evening (21/01).

I got to know some of the group’s personalities via an entertaining whatsapp group, but I had only met one other team member apart from Susan, before the evening on OR Tambo. I felt immediately welcomed as we arrived and got showered with sponsored gear. From branded soft-shell KWay jackets to gaiters to second-skins, shirts, beanies, buffs and pocket knives. Mountaineering Christmas in January.

[
Context: The Afrik1li expedition was the brainchild of David Hood, an alumni of the Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Affies) in Pretoria. As he explains, he had a dream nine months ago to do something extraordinary for the brother-and-sister schools’ 100-year celebrations, and to contribute meaningfully to the Affie community, of which his family is still an active part through his children’s attendance of the two schools. He climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago, with expedition leader Louis Carstens, and felt like it was the appropriate adventure to attempt again, and rally troops around as a fundraiser for the Affie100 Fund. The idea was to summit Kilimanjaro on the morning of 28 January, the day of the schools’ century anniversary, and to do a live transmission to Pretoria from the top of Africa.]

Along the way, various sponsors came on board to support the cause, from the Voortrekkers to the ATKV to the Alzu Foundation, as well as generous individual benefactors. Hence, an entire kit of cool stuff to treasure as part of the lingering memory of being included as an outsider …

73498A84-6304-4674-910B-8DF682B5AF05

Being an outsider

I had a few remarks to field from my own alma mater community when I started to share publicly that I would be joining this expedition. Because, let’s face it: You don’t really get more “outsider” than being a former Waterkloof Hoërskool deputy head-girl, currently from Cape Town, on an Affie alumni expedition :). The wonderful group of people embraced my Klofie-background with humour and grace …

For those unfamiliar with Pretoria dynamics: Waterkloof and Affies were in my high school days, and still largely are, fierce rivals. On all levels.

But as these things go, some of my best friends (with Susan as the reason for my trip inclusion), and many of my high school crushes (from Reynecke to Retief :)), happened to attend AHM and AHS. My Anton van Wouw Standard Five class migrated pretty much in tact over to Affies. Our matric holiday in Margate was a case in point in inter-school relations. Seven Klofie girls and probably about 20 Affie guys. Those were the days :). Varsity days at Tuks gave rise to a friendship and study group, and a new Day House HK that consisted primarily of an Affie-Klofie-Menlo leadership alliance.

My strongest connection to the Affies legacy is through my parents and their siblings. We grew up with their amusing high school anecdotes. My father and my mother’s brother were best friends. They played first team rugby together in the early seventies, and that is how my mother came to fall in love with a Wit Bul / junior Blue Bull center. My uncles and aunts were top athletes and prefects, and their photos still hang in the halls. My cousin was a Affie teacher and hostel house father.

So, I had my personal and family connections to be able to “defend” my participation in the Afrik1li cause to those that had questions about my loyalties :). Besides, I was invited by an Affie …

I dedicated the expedition to my late parents and uncle. My dad and uncle would have wanted to join, and sing the AHS anthem at the top. My mom would have followed on Google maps and Facebook every day, liking and commenting on every post.

Tanzania touchdown

Flying out of Joburg in the early hours of Wednesday morning (22/01) and landing in Kenya four hours later, with a short hop on a propeller plane from Jomo Kenyatta International to Kilimanjaro airport, brought the anticipated adventure into life.

I’ve had the undeserved privilege of disembarking from airplanes and going through passport control in multiple nations. Landing anywhere in Africa is different to any other place on the planet. For me, it’s deeply meaningful. A sense of being rooted in the continent that has always captured my imagination.

The Ebola posters and people with surgical masks greeting you for a fever screening as you enter the airport is slightly intimidating, but hey, at least they are super vigilant. This was two weeks ago, before we knew that corona would become a global health crises. Kenya is uber high tech with their screening stations. Ain’t getting nothing dodge through there.

With everyone through customs, we met up with Bariki and Nestor, two of the heroes who came to play a massive role in the uniquely humane and spiritual experience that is climbing Kilimanjaro.

With the heavy gear bags hauled on top of a bus with frilly velvet maroon cushions, we were off to Weru Weru River Lodge in Moshi for a day of getting ready for the real action.

Day 1 (Thurs. 23/01): Bearded treegiants 
Umbwe Gate to Umbwe Cave (1 660m to 2 895m)
Vegetation zone: Rainforest

There are various routes up Kilimanjaro. Some are more, let’s say, intense than others. Umbwe is the most direct approach. “Most direct” is code speak for “bloody steepest way possible”. For in case anyone tried to use that specific euphemism on you.

Upon arrival at the start of the route, we met up with the army of porters and guides (read: superheroes), the crew responsible for our safety and comfort. There were about 70 guys that went up with us. They carry the tents, food, equipment and duffel bags. They are also the cheerleaders and lifesavers, but more about that later. To be honest, without them, getting even 500m up that mountain would not have been possible. After weighing all the porters’ bags to make sure that none of the them were carrying more than their allotted weight (18kg!), we set out into the first vegetation zone, rainforest.

9762755F-9B80-4270-A2E3-185929612085My soul comes alive anywhere where it’s cool and green, and there’s a symphony of birdsong. While we were getting into it, walking pole pole (The Kili creed, meaning slowly, slowly) under that towering canopy of bearded treegiants, overgrown with creepers, with its lush fern undergrowth, the anticipation of being a small human in an untamed wonderland for a whole week lifted a few years off my shoulders.

The first encounter with the rain and mist that would stay with us for the largest part of the expedition heightened the sense of marvel for me.

Our first night on the mountain (clinging to the side of a muddy slope at Umbwe Cave camp) was marked by locating tents in the dark in a downpour, crazy monkeys overhead in the dead of night, and mudsliding to the porta-loos in the dark. More than once. Zero sleep.

The adventure had truly begun.

Day 2 (Fri. 24/01): Upwards into moorland (aka moerland toe)
Umbwe Cave to Baranco (2 850m to 3990m)
Vegetation zone: Moorland

We started most of our days on the mountain around 6am, with duffel bags ready for collection at 7am, then breakfast. And washing, you ask? Well, about that … We had the option to get a small basin of warm water to top-and-tail every day. For the rest of it, there’s wet wipes, hand sanitizer and Lady Speedstick. Confession: I didn’t wash my hair for five days. Dry shampoo only goes so far. If you’ve ever touched the tail of a merino sheep in the bushveld, you would have a sense of what my ponytail felt like eventually. That’s some hardcore roughing it right there. For a soprano.

On day two, altitude was starting to show some of its resistance power. The day’s climb was about a Jonkershoek Panorama route elevation, but the pushback from being more than twice as high above sea-level became a factor to reckon with.

We were still going pole pole in the rain and mist, winding our way up through the rainforest into moorland. The canopy opened up, and as the mist-curtain lifted, we had brief sneak glimpses of the rolling valleys and plummeting gorges that we were starting to rise above. Amani, one of the angel guides, pointed out to me that the emerging giant lobelias only opened during the day, and that the Scottish thistle is also a normal sight on this height. I thought: I miss Chris 🙂

6FB9B39B-4BC1-474B-806D-E78BA30C0E5DWe reached Baranco camp at almost the end of my rope. Never really been one for never-ending uphills. But gloriously, as we reached the camp, the mist lifted enough so that we could clearly see the snowcapped Uhuru peak up close for the first time since arriving in Tanzania. Up until that point, the peak was a rumour, shrouded in a grey cloudcloak. Now, it was right there. Looming. Lewensgroot. On our tenflapstep.

Literally, breathtaking.

Day 3 (Sat. 25/01): The Wall
Baranco to Karanga (3 990m to 4 030m)
Vegetation zone: Moorland

I recently started on the Game of Thrones journey. Sort of in the middle of Season 5 as we speak. For context, Jon Snow just became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. So, there’s a slight fantasy going on here, but sort of imagine The Wall. Not quite as high (well, only about 260m), and not made from ice (rock counts, though). But still. Now, imagine Yosemite Scale Class 4 scrambling yourself up that. In the rain. On a watershed altitude height.

Baranco wall was a tough stretch for me. If it wasn’t apparent.

525B1CD9-565C-4DB0-8E12-097A2F796F88Porters have lost their lives there, and it quickly becomes clear how that might have happened. There are a few places where a misstep could lead to a straight plummet. I put my head down, and just went pole pole. With the help of Tuesday, another one of the mountain angels, and some chearleading by the rest of the economy class passengers of our expedition team … (business class were the faster group …).

image00001After the wall there is a descent into a valley, where the downpour turned into ice rain. At this stage, the scenes in my head turned from GoT to Hunger Games. Soon, they would unleash the tracker jackers. We were drenched to the bone already, with the wind driving us up against the moon landscape on the one side, and now the sky was throwing rocks at us …

There was however one moment in that storm where I turned my face into the wind, and looked up from the sense of feeling battered by the elements. I saw two silver paths sloping and flowing into one, disappearing over the next crescent, with the three guys in their soaked cloaks soldiering on ahead of me, their own private determination to keep putting one foot ahead of the other silhouetted against a canvas of sleet rain. A priceless painting, etched into my memory.

We reached the edge of a valley from where you can actually see Karanga camp clinging to the slopes on the other side. Be not fooled. There is still that valley to cross. Down. Then up. Pole pole. Nestor insisted on feeding us marie biscuits for the final climb of the day. The rain gained momentum, and towards the end of that final scramble there were waterfalls streaming down the path. Into your face.

Nicki had Milo ready at the top. I would have paid too much money for that one sip.

To be honest, my physical reserves were getting low, and my resting heart rate’s response to altitude was starting to become a cause of concern for our two (phenomenal) expedition leaders, Louis and David.

I sat in my tent, entertaining a thought: Do I want to cry now? Then I recalled some of the things that I have had real reasons to cry over in life. This was, not by a long shot, one of those reasons.

I was still having the most epic adventure of my entire life.

Day 4 (Sun. 26/01): Catching breath
Karanga acclimatization day (4 030m)

We spent the next day just chilling at Karanga camp. A proper sabbath: Playing poker and drinking Milo. A day on the beach, really. Except that it’s more alpine desert. Freezing. Wet. With increasingly less oxygen. We had about 10 minutes of sunshine, offering another glimpse at the peak, which seemed pretty close …

00EC8603-4BF9-40E7-BC0D-F560572BDAF8At around 4 000m above sea-level, some mild altitude sickness symptoms can become common. Most of us were nursing headaches and tummy challenges, with one of our team members starting to struggle with a worrying cough. High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is one of the most dangerous conditions that can develop really quickly on the mountain. Together with the leaders, he made the difficult decision to do a rapid descent, which is literally the only way to make sure it doesn’t become life threatening.

That night, with everyone settled down in their tents, a series of rock avalanches came crashing down the valley that we had crossed the day before. It starts off with a rumble that makes you instinctively sit up in your tent and go: “W.T. actual F. is that.” Then it grows into a crashing wave, sounding like tree branches cracking under the pressure of a fire, with the echoes of the boulders hitting the valley below reverberating into the darkness. An eery and unnerving symphony.

I recalled my initial joy of being a little girl in a wild land, and lay there, questioning my sanity.

Then, you need to get up to go the loo. Again. Mission. Find headlamp. Grope around for glasses. Unzip minus 20 degree sleeping bag. Wiggle out of thermal sleeping bag liner. Find beanie (because: freezing ears). Find wet wipes (because: gastro). Unzip tent. Put on muddy tekkies. Wiggle out backwards. Avoid falling on your face from tripping over other tent ropes. Walk three steps, and pause to catch your breath (because: altitude).

Look up.

A billion stars, winking at Africa.

Then, I cried. For beauty. Not pain. Not anymore.

Day 5 (Mon. 27/01): The altitude watershed
Karanga to Barafu … to Millennium (4 030m to 4 660m to 3 830m)
Vegeation zones: Alpine desert and Moorland

You never really know how things will turn out in life.

On the morning of day 5 my resting heart rate behaved better (down from averaging at around 120, to 106), with the assistance of my stress-less-coach, Freddie. It was decided that I could continue on to Barafu, and attempt to join the summit bid later that night.

A few of our other team members were really starting to battle with the debilitating nausea relating to AMS. Our uphill trek to Barafu, the last stop before Uhuru peak, now reaching proper alpine desert moon landscape, was hard. Not just the physical exertion, but also the harshness of the terrain. Barafu, to me, was not a welcoming site, despite the amazing efforts made by the crew to set up camp. Plus, I stepped in poo on the way. The proverbial straws were piling onto the proverbial camel’s back. The proverbial camel was starting to balk.

A71ADCA7-DF60-400F-A534-4EE88DB61040

That afternoon, my resting heart rate was 125. Not ideal. What lay ahead was a zero sleep few hours, with the summit bid starting at midnight, and that entailed a massive effort that would also add another 1 200m to the altitude meter. Quite frankly, I was potentially heading for a heart attack, and the pounding arteries in my head weren’t exactly reassuring.

I had an honest conversation with Louis, who also expressed his concern over what the long-term effects of overexertion could be. I came onto the mountain with the final stages of a Singaporean flu virus still in my system. On all fronts, this was actually a bit reckless of me.

It was time to make a decision: Attempt the summit at the potential risk of heart damage, or perhaps even heart failure, or descend at the risk of heartbreak.

I said I would take an afternoon nap to see if that calmed my heart down. Balking camels are still stubborn as hell.

It was AMS, or maybe even just plain old gastro, that made the decision for me. No time to discern between the two up there. The moment I lay down, a horrible wave of nausea hit, and the three subsequent emergency trips to the porta-loo clinched the deal.

Way down she goes.

Around 6pm, Nestor basically got into the tent, and without a word, just sympathetically packed my stuff. As I stuck my feet out the tent, Gabriel put on my shoes and gaiters. Anwari gathered what was left, and just like that, after a teary goodbye to the rest of the team, I was escorted by two angles down the slopes we had just climbed, to join two of our other team members who went down straight after reaching Barafu that afternoon.

Now, I was balling my eyes out.

Just before the mist drew a curtain over what would be the final view of Uhuru peak, to wrap my misery in its freezing arms, a rainbow appeared to the left of the path. In between the sobs, I asked the guys if we could stop for a minute to take in the kindness of seeing, in that moment of disappointment, the eternal covenant sign. They suggested a photoshoot. These amazing guys still needed to take me half-way down Kilimanjaro to meet Bariki, and then get back up to summit with the rest. They were not just carrying my stuff, but also technically my life, on their shoulders, and saw the opportunity to break through my self-pity with gentle humour and immense kindness.

Kilimanjaro porters and guides will restore your faith in humanity, I promise you that.

As night fell, the lone figure of Bariki emerged from the mist. I hugged Gabriel and Anwari, and started the rest of the trek down to Millennium camp, following closely behind Bariki in the dark.

It was raining. It was misty. It was dark. I was halfway down a mountain I wanted to reach the top of. I was sick. The final straws did their thing. Bariki was patient and kind.

Thankfully, after about two hours of not knowing where I was, or where we were going, we reached Millennium camp. I fell into the stopgap tent that had been set up for me in the “siekeboeg”. Miraculously, my bag was there, carried down by another unsung hero. That night, my water bottle became unusable for other purposes. And that is the least gross way to say that I could not even fathom the thought of unzipping the tent to walk one more step to be sick outside.

Deep into the night, I heard more voices. AMS striked again, this time rather drastically. Another one of the team had to make an emergency descent, just before the summit bid started. She was in danger, and had a nightmare experience on the way down. It is her story to tell, but I will just say that we all had immense respect for the character she demonstrated after surviving the ordeal. Again, Gabriel and Anwari came to the rescue, with Bariki meeting them in the middle. Those heroes did not sleep that night, and our exhibition leader also demonstrated his leadership integrity by forfeiting a 100% Kili summit rate to make sure that she came down safely in the middle of the night.

Day 6 (Tue. 28/01): Ups and downs
Millennium to Mweka Gate to Weru Weru (3830m to 1645m)
Summit Day – Uhuru Peak (5 895m)
Vegetation zones: Moorland and rain-forest (Summit – Eternal ice / glacial)

The following morning, as our other friends broke through with their massive effort to start to reach the top of Africa, the legendary “siekeboeg” crew of five started our long slip-and-slide down. Those of us who were heading the opposite direction cheered them on, and as we reflected on the way down, realised how much of a personal victory each of us had achieved, regardless of how high anyone got. We heard via the walky talkies that from the remaining 12, one more needed to turn back. Eventually, 11 reached the summit to celebrate the schools’ 100th birthday, as originally planned in the dreaming up of the trip. Asante sana, Baba Yetu.

C393F93E-D7D5-49DF-A144-8A82339513D8

Just a short comment on going down a moerse mountain in one day that took you five days to get up. It’s not as easy as one would want it to be. The down actually hurt more than the up, in terms of knees and quads and hips. And toenails.

But alas. We were all starting to feel like we might not in fact die, due to the return of the miracle element: Oxygen.

The best tasting Fanta I ever had in my life, was from the spaza shop at Mweka gate.

Winding down

The following day, we were all reunited at Weru Weru River Lodge to exchange war stories. The summit night was absolutely grueling for the team that reached the top, and major celebrations were in order.

We were all safe. Alive. With a little less body fluid, but with all of our limbs. Hakuna matata!

All of us had a deeply personal encounter with an immovable African icon. Some of us, almost broken by the sheer force of its presence. Forever impacted by the selfless love of the people we met on the way. Old friendships cemented and new friendships established.

Bless the rains down in Africa. A song of ascents.

Asante sana, Kilimanjaro.

Selah.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2019 – A new trajectory

At the beginning of 2019 I was on the verge of falling in a love that could have become, well, byzantine*.

On New Year’s day, I almost jumped off Mariepskop to escape a yellow snake** that snuck up on me while I was sitting on a rock, on the highest point of the Blyde River Canyon. One side, big-ass slithering potential venom-spewer. Other side, 1 900 m cliff. In the middle, a rather perplexed yours truly.

*excessively complicated, and typically involving a great deal of administrative detail.
**the verdict is still out: Could have been a spitting cobra. Not ideal.

Somewhere in the wilderness, a tick bit me on my bottom, and I spent the best part of January fighting a fever that made me consider, in the middle of one dark night, that I might actually die.

You know, casual.

But here we are, on the other side of probably the second most radical year, in terms of decisions made speedily, of my life.

Reflecting on choices made this year – the best one was probably to freeze and allow the intruding reptile (well, technically, I was probably the intruder) to be on its merry way on 1 January. I have my sister to thank for my life. She advised me, calmly yet adamantly from the other side of a crevice, to stand the f&%# still …

The sort of “holding complexity” state advisable to circumnavigate a Catch-22, one might say.

There have however been multiple other grace-guided good choices, with grace-given great outcomes. And one might even say, other narrow escapes.

With a spectrum of Catch-22’s to maneuver.

Decision determines direction

At the end of last year, I did a content analysis of the themes that ran through the year. It was an attempt to salvage some good from a season that was basically spent in the grey twilight that is mourning.

This year, the general mood is vastly different.

The sadness has truly lifted. A heavy burden, gone. I spent this year feeling primarily … relieved.

Breakthrough and change came.

In the middle of the year, I made a speedy decision that catapulted me into the rhythms of a new city, and started the adventure of figuring out a whole new industry ballgame. It went a little something like this.

February was as weird as it gets. I had to walk away from four seemingly perfect job opportunities, for reasons that vary in their complexity. Talk about conundrums.

Then, in the last week of March: I went for an interview (Wednesday). Got offered the job (Thursday). Signed (Friday). Insert overnight hike, as is custom (weekend). Resigned (Monday). Got a title upgrade (Tuesday). Signed for a new flat (Wednesday).

Suddenly, my heart had a yes-peace. And the wave of change broke open a new season.

April: Handed over a portfolio of deeply invested client relationships. Said good bye to a church family, and stepped down from all the ministry commitments. Said farewell to 10 years of Stellenbosch.

I started my new job on 6 May. My father’s birthday. He was an oil man. I now work for a green economy organisation. It felt like a restitution of sorts.

As an intro to the GreenCape team, I joined the acrobranching team-build. Heights, harnesses, and obstacles in the air, with roughly 40 new colleagues. Some people would get anxiety by just reading that sentence.

It pretty much became the metaphor for approaching the new role adventure. One challenge at a time. Don’t look back. Or down. Stabilise before you step. You’re basically safe, so figure it out, go for it, and have fun. But it is pretty high. With a few tricky parts. The consequences of falling, or failing, aren’t necessarily detrimental. But it would be awkward. With the odd chance of reputation or limb disfigurement. Teamwork and trust is the way. And when you get over the nerves of being slightly freaked out mid-air, you realise how much fun you’re having, especially because the new people around you are so great.

I realised long ago that it is silly to find your identity in the work you do, the title you may or may not have, and especially in the income you earn. These things are not Rock. Circumstances literally change overnight.

But I do know that work satisfaction is a massive blessing, and I am thankful to be on the other side of a decision that makes me look forward to returning to work after the holidays.

Streams in the desert

I never really thought I would ever ride a camel into the Sahara to sleep under the desert stars, a few kilometers away from the Algeria border to Morocco. The feedback blog gives more tangible context, but the thought lingers …

I planned my wedding a few years ago.

Morrocco had for some reason captured my imagination, and I wanted to have a Bedouin tent reception, with guests lounging on pillows, as bonfires warm the night and drums beat to the rhythm of the desert.

Now, after eating tagines in rooftop restaurants and navigating the medinas of Marrakesh, Fez and Chefchaouen, the theme is totally confirmed.

Negotiating compliance is a future-me problem.

New musical heights

My first Stellenbosch Madrigal Singers concert was in the Cederberg. Literally, in the Wolfberg cracks, after a 3 hour hike that included a degree of scrambling and cliff-face navigating. Audience included.

I joined the 12-member vocal ensemble as a super-sub, to basically cover for one of the sopranos on maternity leave. The group of stunning people quickly turned into a friendship circle, and became a weekly lifeline of musical and friendship sanity in the midst of the general state of life-busy.

I was also challenged, musically and personally. To step up and own my own voice part, and to be less of an oversensitive diva. To take “constructive peer feedback” like a girl, and to hit back when required … and to never take “that was sharp” personally … 🙂

Experts don’t always know

IMG_0413One of the side-journeys this year was trying to figure out what is wrong with my neck. Chronic pain can lead to depression, and I had to make a decision somewhere in the year to not let it steal my joy. The doctors can’t seem to figure out what the cause of the pain is. From various physios to a neurosurgeon, with an MRI and x-rays and multiple anti-inflammatory meds in the mix. Will attempt getting an accurate diagnoses again in the new year … after Singapore, Abu Dhabi and climbing Kilimanjaro. Even the good seasons are not without their niggles.

Discovered Netflix and Showmax

I fell for it. Finally. My favourite series’ so far have been Reign and Versailles. On season 3 of G.O.T., but the gore is getting to me. Robb Stark is defs the hottest, for what it’s worth … Not a match for Spartacus, though. What is it with me and government / royal court intrigues …

I didn’t read that many books. I think I finished Rival Queens – The betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Nataniel’s memoir, Look at me. I did start with Nice girls don’t get the corner office, but then I realised that I actually have no desire to occupy the corner office. A top floor office, yes. But not the corner one.

A few other highlights

Every view from every mountain top. That weekend in March. Family visits and friend kuiers. Three weddings and two housewarmings. Being recognised by Gideon Lombard.

Maybe a bit ambitious

This year, I said yes to things that might be a bit beyond the realms of comfort zone. There were pockets of high intensity personal decision-making and quick action to follow through. Like making a financial commitment to a car and a house on the same weekend. Like realising in the moment what was happening, and shifting a catastrophic conversation mid-sentence. Like saying yes to climbing the highest mountain in Africa in January 2020.

By His breathtaking grace, through fire-tested faith.

“… their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.” Jer. 31:12

And what of the love, you ask?

Sometimes, the decision to simply linger, despite the awkward, unlocks a third way.

Here’s to a phenomenal 2019.

Selah.

Pursuing surrendered desire

I have lived in 24 different houses. Later today, I am receiving the keys for the first one that I can call mine. Or the bank’s. But hey.

When I move to Hout Bay, I am moving for the 25th time in my life. Fourteen of those moves as a child with my family, across cities (and continents), and eleven as an adult (across three provinces), on my own.

For a brief moment I was tempted to go “yaaaas, queeeen!”

I reckon a Destiny’s Child song got stuck in my head: “All the women, who’re independent, throw your hands up at me … something something assertively feminist … I depend on me …”

But, quite frankly, even-though those lyrics are meant to be empowering, in my case, “I depend on me” would be a full-on delusion.

I simply don’t. Insert Sunday school song here. “We are weak but He is strong …”

I figure, however, that there’s an important difference between “I depend on me” and “I take ownership of (and commit to) my decisions”.

Taking ownership of your own life, in the sense of fully accepting responsibility for your decisions, and acting on them, is an important internal shift.

I propose that it’s the watershed into adulthood.

For me, it’s happening at a relative mature age. I’ve sort of wanted to keep my options open. In every sense.

Some might detect a hint of fear of commitment. Which would be fair.

Perhaps it’s the remnant of a childhood where flexibility was required. Fourteen house-moves and three primary schools. The internalized messaging is: Don’t get too attached …

Or a deep sense of the temporal nature of life in earth. Mourning the death of two parents and other close family members provides some perspective.

Additionally, committing to something permanently, especially stuff, just doesn’t resonate with my worldview, I guess.

Psalm 84 is one of my life-songs. “Blessed are those whose hearts are set on pilgrimage …”

Pilgrimage.

Movement. Change. Adaptability. Flexibility. Resilience.

Adventure.

My imagination is wild. Always has been. The thought of being “stuck” freaks me out.

But a desire for something akin to stability has in recent years also started to pull on my heart strings.

To have a home. My home. (With full acceptance of the theology of “… even foxes have a place to rest …”). Granted. But still. A hearts desire. Surrendered, but real.

And yes. I wanted it under different circumstances. I wanted it with someone. I was holding out for a hero.

I blame Snow White. And Wild at Heart.

But, alas, he is evidently otherwise occupied. Bless his heart.

So, I had a choice to make. Get up. Go get it.

Realising that it’s no other human being’s job to “give you the life you deserve” is probably the closest to coalface honesty that you can get. Especially, as an (older) single woman.

I made a commitment.

Having faced that giant, I can finally let my antique cupboard, a 21st birthday gift, be brought down from Hoedspruit. It now has a spot to stand. With the Noritake tea-set. Sentimental heirlooms now have a spot to settle.

Thankfulness abounds.

You can live your entire life blaming others for whatever un-fulfillment you are experiencing. And sometimes, the decision of others have a substantial influence. No denying.

We wrong others, and we are wronged. We deny others, and we are denied. But still. You can actually forgive.  Others. Yourself. You have been forgiven much.

You can choose. Step out of, and into.

It is your life.

Take ownership. Hold loosely.

The art of pursuing surrendered desire.

Selah.

Small-talk BMT

“What does your husband do?”
(Because, obviously, you wouldn’t be able to afford this by yourself …)

“Where is your husband this evening?”
(Because, obviously, you’re not here on your own merit …)

Names and places have been changed to protect the ignorant … italics for in-between-the-lines-reading ease … 🙂

In all fairness, these questions have been part of small-talk starters since time began. They are stock-standard, asked mostly without any malicious intent, purely aimed at having a neutral conversation with a near-stranger.

They sometimes are accompanied with the next crowdpleaser.

“So, how far along are you?”

I have been asked these specific and other similar questions for most of my adult life.

Easy questions. Normal conversations.

Allow me to humour you with what I’ve wanted to answer.

Exhibit A: “What does your husband do?”

  1. We’re not allowed to know details. The kids are in witness protection programmes in unknown locations around Europe. Something about Myanmar?
  2. He’s the manager and sound & lighting engineer for an electro-funk-grunge band. They’re touring the Indo-underground surf-scene at the moment.
  3. He negotiates peace-treaties in the Sahel.

Exhibit B: “Where is your husband this evening?”

  1. Search and rescue haven’t been able to locate him yet. Them mountains are treacherous.
  2. With the king. Can’t remember which country.
  3. Bursts out in tears … can’t talk about it … runs off …

Exhibit C: “So, how far along are you?”

  1. That depends on who the father is.
  2. Four months, on average, in general.
  3. Too far. It’s bad. Damn drugs.

Simple small-talk.

So, when asked an innocent question by a random semi-inebriated stranger at a recent gathering of previous acquaintances, the only thing I could say was: “No. Just no.”

They assumed tragedy. Awkward silence. No use resisting tipsy sympathy. Lots of hugging. Tears, even.

BMT

Selah.

We need to talk

I have a complicated relationship with feminism.

Not the fundamental principle of gender equality. With that I have zero ideological dissonance. In fact, I find the notion of anything but unquestionable equality frankly, unbiblical.

You’ll very seldom find me engaged in outspoken activism for gender (or any other type of) equality. But you will always find me standing my ground, politely stubborn, on the assumption of equality. I don’t demand. I assume, and expect. I often offend people by having this smiling yet firm internal stance.

I expect to be treated with equality, because I perceive myself to be equal. As a woman, to men. As a white person, to all other races. As a single person, to married people. As a South African, to other nations. Etc. And I expect that everyone else in the room be treated in the same way. That is sort of the definition of equality, is it not? Do unto others …

Walking into a context where others don’t hold those same assumptions (a similar sensation for me than walking into a glass wall) has often been a cause of massive underlying conflict. But I’ll get back to that.

So, my relationship with equality is simple. It’s assumed, expected and reciprocated. This is my stand. You’re welcome to try and move me. In fact, I dare you … :).

But my relationship with the various faces of feminism got complicated again over the past few weeks as the public narratives around gender based violence (GBV) became mass outcry campaigns.

Perhaps I need to be clear before I sound like I’m approaching real pain from an academic perspective. This is just a deeply personal long-winded way of unraveling my own biases. Maybe, somewhere, you can relate, and it helps. That’s my hope.

Thousands of vulnerable people in this country suffer, and die senselessly, at the hands of depraved people who serve evil through their actions. I align fully with the demand on authorities to protect and bring justice. I anguish over violence (gender-based and xenophobic), and mourn the loss of life and of the sense of security. This is not a media agenda. It is an epidemic, and it has to be stopped. I fully agree. We all suffer from some form of PTSD. There are no easy answers. We need to do better, as a nation, on so many levels. We can, though. The police and justice systems needs to be capacitated. Mindset and systems much change. People need new hearts.

But I’m writing this to try to try and figure out why I haven’t been able to fully align my own heart with some of the GBV messaging that has trended on social media, and on the placards on display at the numerous (awesome) marches that have happened around the country, demanding action from authorities.

What I fully get, is that anger is a stage of grief. The expression of this grief-based anger is powerful and necessary, and it will confront complacency and denial. It has to do that. I get that shock tactics and -messaging are often a thin veil placed over desperation and real fear. Compassion and empathy sees through that veil. I hear you. I am you.

There is just some of the borderline hate-speech messaging and lines-of-thought that didn’t make sense to me. I know people have their set of arguments for each statement made. I can probably unpack your argument and explain to you what your underlying philosophical assumptions are in three steps :). Or, you can tell me where you’re coming from. But, let’s not go there now. This is not the time to school one another. You can express whatever you like. It’s valid. It’s necessary. It’s critical. I hear you. Cry, girl-child. Scream. Get it out. Keep going.

I am merely trying to unpack a few of the statements that seemed flawed to me in where the expectations are placed, juxtaposed over statements that make those same expectations void of substance. I’m trying to understand my own heart, where those same juxtapositions live.

I’m talking specifically about the “Men/Cyril/JSE Please Save Us” (or whatever iteration of that) vs. “all men/governments/corporates are Trash” (or whatever iteration of that) conversations.

Let me put it simply: I don’t understand how you can cry out for help from the same “source” that you are vilifying. If you demand principled behavior, surely you can’t be demanding that from trash?

You cannot expect “trash” to speak out on your behalf, to stand up for you, to protect you, to use its strength for your benefit?

You are demanding virtue from something you are declaring to be void of it by decreeing it to be trash.

I am perplexed by this.

So, let’s soldier on.

I’m of the notion that not all men are trash. The campaign messaging logic is flawed.

There, I said it.

Let’s distinguish, though.

Even-though I’m saying that I don’t align with #allmenaretrash, I understand that the cry of this global campaign is for men to recognize that, even-though they might not be directly perpetrating through physical violence or abuse, they might be perpetuating by keeping the strongholds of patriarchy (read: systemic unequal power-dynamics) firmly in place through words, actions and, notably, silence.

I know it sounds like I’m following a particular argument that casts the blame of GBV on patriarchy. I’m not suggesting it’s that simple, or that a sexist joke is the same as rape. Some might suggest that, though. I struggle with extremism, but I do get the logic behind the argument.

I get that we have to have a drastic approach to highlighting blind spots, and that those blind spots are no longer excusable. Boys will be boys, … but not if that is what it means to be a boy.

There are justifiable reasons to “keep the peace”. People who perceive themselves to be “powerful” don’t like when you don’t laugh at their rude jokes. You may be sidelined. I get that. The struggle is real. Leave the damn whatsapp group. Or stay, and school. It’ s the least you can do. Thank you for doing that, though. And for trying to get it.

Selah.

Let’s take this on another rabit trail.

I saw a guy on Twitter not understanding why a memorandum of the #SandtonShutdown march against GBV was handed over to the CEO of the JSE.

Perhaps I can explain by means of a vague example.

Let’s just say I’ve been in corporate contexts where what I said bounced off the glass walls of patriarchy, only to be said next by a male, and then received with much enthusiasm and attributed to the male as the insight that brought the game-changing breakthrough to unravel a deadlock complexity … In this regard, I have been pissed off to the point of withdrawing wisdom and shutting-up. Which is a disservice to myself, and to the people that actually needed to hear what I had to say. Their loss. But mine too. Passive aggression is also a form of violence that damages trust in both parties. I’m guilty too.

And that’s just in the context of being occasionally patronized. Others go through far worse.

Do you understand now why corporate South Africa is also being called to task on GBV? Probably not … because what the hell does GBV have to fo with being patronized in a boardroom …? I’ll leave you to ponder that one.

I have another juxtaposition problem.

I opened a regional newspaper this morning. On the front page there is a potentially powerful advertorial and creed written for men to read out loud to show their solidarity with women in the fight against GBV. On the Lifestyle section front-page of that same newspaper there is a full page photo of a pop star pole-dancing, with gawking men throwing money on stage. I guess she thinks she’s exerting power. Some might argue that she is. But, hell.

Can we pause, please.

Firstly, the newspaper published this “totally acceptable” photo in the same edition where they are calling for a change to the gender narrative. Uhm. Can we be any more tone-deaf?

Secondly, and very critically … the pop star chose to pose in that way. Her PR team was mandated to distribute that image into the world. Don’t throw the “society has created that expectation of her …” line. She bloody-well takes her own clothes off, pays people to take photos of her butt and boobs and and makes a crap-load of money by perpetuating gender sexuality stereotypes on a global scale. Get off the pole, please, before you accuse others of objectifying you. If accountability is demanded, it needs to be demanded of all.

This is not about the clothing / dressing rabbit hole. She does not “give consent” in any way or form by exercising this choice of dress or pose. That is not at all part of this point. Consent is verbal, and it is spelled “yes”.

I am merely making the point that female “role models” are fully accountable for gender stereotypes too. For this statement, I was disqualified from the flammable student feminism gang at Rhodes :).

I guess this post has become about calling out societal “schizophrenia” when we try to deal with difficult and painful matters on a mass scale. You can take any one of the lines I’ve written in this post, and quote it out of context to drive your own agenda. Let’s not.

Maybe it’s time to simply be authentic, and not try and be politically correct or profound. I’m not a hardcore feminist. I don’t hold a social sciences degree that informs clever conversations around hypothesis of gender and power.

But I am a girl. And I do feel vulnerable. And often, highly frustrated by the status quo.

Grieve. Listen. Care. Do what you must. For your own soul. For others.

I was at church last week Sunday. As one does. Also a delicate personal matter currently, but let’s suffice to say that I was there. Holding on to institutional faith by my nails. But alas, I digress.

The pastor led the congregation in a service dedicated to lamenting the state of the nation in response to the violence that has been again brought into the spotlight by painful recent events. It was a powerful communal act of owning responsibility, acknowledging injustice, respecting different expressions of angry mourning, and communicating solidarity. It felt deeply prophetic.

But he had one line that made me realise that I may be harboring some underlying pain. He said: “To my sisters, we stand with you …”

I remember looking up from the prayer at the the guy from way back in the hall. He was doing really well in navigating through murky waters and delivering a powerful statement, but as he said that I thought suddenly: ”Dude, I appreciate your sentiment, but your promise is not practical and does not apply to me. I mostly walk very much alone in places you will never be near enough to do anything to help.” The unfair accusation popped up involuntarily.

I know he was making an important and heartfelt sincere statement. I discern these things. He meant what he said, and I’m sure his actions will follow through for the people in his world.

But my own sense of lack became acutely practical in that moment, and so far removed from well-meaning declarations and sentiment.

The entire thing came crashing down on me. I felt crushed by disillusion. And very much alone.

I simply don’t expect men to be strong on my behalf. I’ve had to be strong for myself. And even though I recommend being empowered, I don’t think hyper-self-sufficiency is a good thing, especially in close relationships.

I do however, know the root of this fortifying.

To put it bluntly, and dangerously out of the bigger context of much honour, love and respect: My primary male example was sadly often incapacitated by his own choices. He probably would have given his life to protect his family from physical danger, but his lifestyle habits often made that intention nonviable.

My father was sacrificially devoted to his family and work, a stubborn and gentle man, with moral integrity and a work-ethic like no one else I know. A highly successful and super intelligent, internationally respected business man.

And for all practical reasons, privately an alcoholic.

Never violent. Just passed-out often physically, and increasingly checked-out emotionally. And currently, frankly, dead.

So, I never did feel quite safe, and learned to protect myself. Fiercely independent, I believe some of the perceptions have been.

My relationship with feminism is complicated because of this very real innate desire for missing male protection, juxtaposed over this inner resolve and coping mechanism of successful self-sufficiency.

It’s a a bloody daddy issues case study :).

I will leave it there for now.

I’m not going to go any deeper by adding the obvious layer of having faith and trusting in God, and not in man. That’s good practice for us all. I don’t mean self-sufficiency in that way. I’m not relying on my own strength. But I’m also not relying on the strength of another human. Which I probably should consider doing if I’m ever going to move beyond the relational status of “it’s complicated”.

I’ve intentionally not alluded to the spiritual warfare dimension in all of this. I actually believe that none of this violence is primarily gender or race based. It is, and has always been, a war on humanity, fueled by a hatred of the image of God. Human free will that chooses to act out of selfishness, denying love, empowers evil to exert influence, marring both the one who wrongs, and the one who is wronged. Free will that chooses to love, empowered by grace, can stop evil. This post is however not written from the assumption that all its readers necessarily share that worldview.

This is not a metaphysical existential crises. It’s simply an attempt to grapple with public statements and positions that I should have been fully aligned with, according to my gender, but that I am not.

So, for the sake of the conversations that people are having: I don’t align with the “#allmenaretrash wording because the majority of my personal experience has simply not been that, and it doesn’t align with my personally held redemptive theology.

I’ve observed how men that I respect grapple sincerely with their roles and responsibility in this time. I’ve been spoken up for and physically protected from harm, by males. I really do appreciate it, when I perceive it to be safe.

But I don’t expect it. Maybe I should?

So, all men are not trash beyond redemption. But neither are they saints beyond reproach. None of us are either. Hence, the Gospel.

This has taken me more than seven hours to write, and I still don’t feel like I’ve nailed what I needed to get out.

And it is unraveling …

We do need to talk.

Selah.

Grace, abounding. For the pilgrim’s progress.

It’s been a week of proper adulting. It’s probably about time.

The personal transition of the past four months has been drenched in a grace that is hard to put in words.

Some of you reading this are aware of the seasons of mourning that hit in 2009, and then again in 2017. Few of you are aware of the intensity surrounding this, and how many aspects of my life felt like I was permanently on a gauntlet. Without that context, a social media observation of this new season might not give glory enough to the One that has been faithful throughout.

I’ve recently realised again how personal a faith journey is. We can speak to others about our unspoken prayers and their miraculous outcomes. We can witness about the amazing and awful experiences we’ve been through, and the supernatural peace we’ve had in the midst of the storms of life. We can testify of the undeserved goodness that has been given to us, freely. It still doesn’t mean others would want to choose to believe that the source of this constant love, is a Person that you can know in your spirit, through communion with His.

And that’s ok. I still believe that none of the storms that I’ve been through, and none of the sunlight that I walk in now, is without Him.

The concept of physical inheritance has given me some still-maturing insights into spiritual inheritance.

Inheritance is interesting. You don’t get to choose what you get. What’s bequeathed to you in a will, is what you get. You can choose to receive it, or to renounce it. There is an executor of that will, with the authority to act on behalf of the one that willed. In our case, the dude’s name was fittingly, Progress. We frequently asked for progress reports. #progress. But I digress.

It is finished. Selah.

God’s will is for us to be in relationship with Him. The terms and conditions of that relationship, and how we access it, is His to determine.

In the Christian Way, faith in Jesus is the T&C. I don’t pretend to know how some get to that faith, and others don’t. But it’s the Gospel. Wrestle with it. It’s too good to not give it a thorough investigation.

We did nothing to deserve what we have in Christ. As the faithful executor of God’s will, Jesus lived the righteous life we can’t live in our flesh, died the death we should have died on the Cross, overcame sin and death, and lives to return as King in the fullness of time. Through His death and resurrection, we are given access to His inheritance of unhindered and eternal relationship with Yahweh, the Father. On earth, as it it is in Heaven. The Kingdom is righteousness, joy and peace in the Spirit. Now, and for eternity.

I don’t pretend to understand this either. I just know it’s too good to renounce.

Then there’s this wrestling with the enabling grace of physical inheritance. Wrestling, because getting stuff can never compensate for loosing people.

There is a responsibility to steward a received inheritance for the benefit of the generations to come. Which, in my case, is still by faith.

It is foolish to not appreciate, sow, enjoy and invest wisely. With deep thankfulness, and many other mixed emotions. For the sake of vulnerability and transparency: That is what you’re observing on social media in this season. That’s where the Morocco adventure came from. It is undeserved and unearned abundant grace. The honour belongs to Fanie and Cilna Pienaar. And to Paul van Heerden. And the thanks to my sister and brother-in-law, for being faithful stewards of what they have been entrusted with, on so many levels.

The glory, always to God.

So, as an investment start, I bought a property. By faith. Knowing full-well that there are challenges in this country that would make many caution against investing anything relatively long-term now.

But South Africa is my heart’s home. It is my delight to invest and work in my spheres of influence for its prosperous future, for as long as I am called here. My land is Beulah, according to Isaiah 62. It’s all happening very fast. Papers have been signed. Deposits have been made.

Talking about long-term commitments, I even downloaded PhD application forms. The topic I’m pondering on relates to resilience, value propositions and nation branding, in line with my love for this country and the current context I’m blessed to work in.

I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I think I may be taking some proper steps towards officially adulting. It’s been a reluctant start (from age 25 to 37 …), but things are looking up …

Grace, abounding. For the pilgrim’s progress. “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs.” Psalm 84: 6

Beauty for ashes. Gladness for mourning.

Selah.

Morocco: Ten days of summer in North Africa

I can’t remember when I fell in love with Morocco.

It just happened. Like falling in love does. The one day you’re browsing a world atlas. The next day you’re planning your future wedding according to a Berber nomadic-camp-in-the-desert theme.

I’ve basically been infatuated with the colours and patterns of this special North African country for quite some time now.

So, when the invite came to join a group of friends (we were housemates (and honorary housemates), so it was basically a reunion tour :)) on a 10-day adventure to this country that has been in my heart for years, it almost felt like a “too-good-to-be-true”. But alas, some dreams do weave their way into reality.

Disclaimer: I am by no means a travel blogger, and this is a rather self-indulgent one-week-post-trip memory download, but you might find some useful info in-between the (sorry, lengthy … ) personal observations and reflections.

Salaam …

Flying solo

The only part of the trip that I did alone was getting there and back. I met up with the gang in Marrakesh, so I needed to navigate the connecting flights from Cape Town to Marrakesh by myself (CPT – Doha – Casablanca – RAK, on Royal Air Morocco, operated by Qatar Airways). Not a big deal, if all goes well … which it thankfully did.

I’m always delighted by the little plane on the screen making it’s way across the globe. I love knowing that I’m now somewhere over Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen … Egypt, Libya, Algeria … I simply love the MENA region.

En-route there I did nip a bit, because international flights tend to disembark slightly slower than what you plan for, and I was still disembarking from the CPT-Doha flight (a 10 hour-ish flight, fast-forwarding time by an hour, arriving there at midnight), when the Doha-Casablanca flight was already starting to board …

First thing that hits you is the humidity when the doors open. Even at midnight. Then you walk-run through a major international airport (massive, beautiful and excellently sign-posted, by the way) to find your connecting flight gate, to discover through deducting from conversations in Arabic that it is delayed by just enough time for you to not be stranded in Doha, and by not too much that you would be stranded in Casablanca the next day … Winning.

The Doha-Casablanca flight time is almost 8 hours (going back in time by two hours). Arrived groggy from 20-ish hours of traveling (worked through a few movies: Crazy Rich Asians, Mary, Queen of Scots etc. And Sound of Music, for good measure). Sat around in the Casablanca domestic departures lounge for about two hours, figuring out the wifi. Then, a short hop to Marrakesh (50 mins, up and down).

Travel tip: When I get on the plane, I set my wrist watch to the time at destination. This helps to orient your internal clock and avoid freak-out sessions when you realise that you a) don’t have an extra 3 hours to board, or b) do have an extra 7 hours to smell all the perfumes in duty free.

Perfect timing

So, despite being this “independently strong” woman that I’m supposed to be … I did have a bit of a stress-sesh about arriving in Marrakesh. What if I don’t find my friends? What does the airport look like? What if the wifi doesn’t work and whatsapp fails? What if their flight had issues? But alas, grace. Literally, the exact time I walked through customs, they walked through customs on the other side. Perfect timing. The reunion was joyful :).

Travel tip: We exchanged money at the airport. RAK has a very convenient station as you go through customs, where you can use your Visa card to draw local currency (dirham) or exchange money. Not Rands, though. So, go with US dollars or Euro, or use your SA card to draw money. Remember to let your bank know that you’re traveling. ABSA: On the app, FNB: Call the credit card division. The exchange rate was around R1.5 to MAD1. We easily found a taxi to take the six of us to the medina. Negotiate the price before the trip. We paid MAD400. Which we later found out was a slight rip-off. But alas. We got there.

Marrakesh

I’ve never been one for crowds. I’m more of a skip-the-cue-VIP-section kinda-girl. Diva. Owning it.

But you need to have the Marrakesh medina experience. It’s as vibrant and bustling as you would expect it to be. The taxi basically drops you outside the medina (the old city), and you’re on your own from there. If you manage to steer clear of everyone offering their guide-services for free, which is seldom really for free …

If not for the guys who downloaded Google maps to navigate us around, I would never have found my way. It’s a maze of stalls and restaurants and rihads, with what seems to be thousands of people squeezing passed one another, jostling scooters and bikes and donkeys for a space to take it all in. It’s wonderful. And overwhelming. Especially after 20-plus hours of no sleep traveling.

We spent the first day side-stepping close encounters with all sorts of moving objects in the souks. We visited the delightful Dar Si Said Museum (historic and contemporary Moroccan art) and the insightful Maison de la Photographie (a history of Morocco in photos, 1870 – 1950). We found Casablanca beer on a rooftop, and dodged snake charmers and determined food stall promo guys on the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. The first night we stayed at Rihad Zanzibar. The hospitality and splash pool was wonderful. The bed bugs, not so much.

Travel tip: The rihad arranged a Merzouga desert excursion for us at a price better than what was available online. We paid around R1 500 for a three-day trip, and they took care of all the arrangements. You can do Marrakesh on Google maps, but the desert tours are better through one of the thousand tour operators :). Travel tip PS: Peaceful Sleep spray. Selah.

Sahara (High Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate, Dades Valley & Todra Gorge, Merzouga)

This entire experience was a massive life-highlight for me. The Sahara holds a special charm, and to have had a small glimpse of this beauty will forever be a cherished memory.

We had an endearing tour guide (yes, I perhaps developed a light crush …), and shared the trip with two girls from China, two from Spain, one guy doing a solo trip around the world from Japan, a couple from Morocco, and a couple from Portugal. While winding through the High Atlas Mountains, Morocco Hit Radio’s playlist shuffled treffers like Aisha, Bla, bla, bla, bla cookie, the litchi song and an Arabic reworking of Informer … I like your boom-boom girl. We also got deep into a Kenny Rogers sing-along medley. True story.

En-route to Merzouga (the town on the edge of desert) we stopped to do a walking tour of Atlas Film Studios’ “Hollywood”. Numerous movies have used the UNESCO World Heritage Site Berber town of Aït Ben Haddou as a set location. Including Lawrence of Arabia, The Passion of the Christ, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, and Game of Thrones. We also had an agriculture tour and a walk into the Todra Gorge, to where the fountain births the river.

There is a striking contrast between the piercing blue sky, red clay and lush green vegetation in the Dades Valley. The imposing Todra Gorge left a lasting impression. I never even knew that these awe-inspiring places and landscapes existed, with their kasbahs, olive groves and roses, let alone imagined I would have the privilege of seeing them.

We slept over in a hotel outside Ourzazate with a view on a spectacular rock face that felt like being in the Cederberg.

Next day, the trip takes you to Merzouga, where a congregation of camel caravans await to whisk you off into the desert sunset.

Interlude. Things about a camel-ride into the Sahara to note:

  • Camels get up with their back-legs first. They’re huge. You can fall forward. And off. And break limbs. Hypothetically.
  • Suppress the urge to burst into “Arabian Nights”. Remember: You are not in Agrabah. But it is highly tempting.
  • An hour and a half on a camel can give you blisters. On your hands. And potentially elsewhere.
  • It’s not ideal to be at a particular stage of the female cycle whilst riding a camel. Or venture into the desert, for that matter. Girl problems.
  • Going up dunes is slightly more comfortable than going down dunes.
  • Wear long pants. Heat is temporary. Chaffing has longer term implications.
  • Camels get down with their front-legs first. They’re still huge. You can fall forward again. And off. And break limbs. Hypothetically.
  • Be in the moment. It really is bucket-list stuff.

The evening in the desert was special. We arrived at dusk to a camp with semi-permanent tents set up. After a tajine dinner prepared by a Berber dude appearing out of nowhere, we took the beds (proper beds with mattresses) outside the tents (as per recommendation) to sleep under a billion Northern hemisphere stars. Priceless. And freezing, at 4am. I felt a bit exposed, to be honest, so I slept with my contact lenses in and my passport and wallet under my pillow, for what it’s worth …

Watched the sunrise over the Algerian border, and hitched a roller-coaster ride back over the dunes with a 4×4, at an additional MAD100. Worth it. Couldn’t quite imagine getting back on a camel at 5am … Big bonus: We were able to have shower and breakfast at one of the hotels on the edge of the desert, before the full-day (slightly exhausting) trip back to Marrakesh.

We spent another night in Marrakesh at Riad Puchka, which we touristingly referred to as our sultan’s palace.

Sitting at a rooftop restaurant, listening to the call for prayer symphony, and reflecting on the almost surreal experience of the past two days, a realisation hit me: My tummy feels funny.

Which turned into two days of frequenting W.C.’s and a renewed commitment to semi-vegetarianism.

Fez

After a pleasant (if not for the above-mentioned tummy-context) 6 hour train ride, we again easily found a taxi to take us to the vicinity of Riad les Oudayas. Once again, the guys, with Google maps, saved the day. I was woman down, so night 1 in Fez was basically just identifying where the loo was located, and getting into bed.

Thankfully, Fez medina is way more chilled than Marrakesh. Spent the next day meandering at a demure pace through all the stalls. Saw the famous Fez leather tannery (aroma, not ideal … you walk with mint leaves in-front of your nose as you approach the tannery. They use pigeon poo to soften the leather …). We walked all the way up to the ruins outside the city for a sunset drink and a game of Kings & Assholes at a fancy hotel on a hill.

Day 2 in Fez was an officially decreed shopping day. I bought a leather laptop bag for R420. It still smells a bit like camel. For effect.

We had dinner on a rooftop overlooking the Grande Porte Bab Boujeloud (The Blue Gate), the main entry to Fez el-Bali. The mood was festive after Morocco beat South Africa 1-0 in the AFCON game. It made a great banter topic throughout the rest of the trip.

Interesting observation: The street café’s were packed with men watching the game. Zero alcohol involved. High levels of enthusiasm, and major joy in winning, without the negative effects of the boozing that we would often associate with the same sport watching culture back home. It felt quite refreshing. And way safer. Selah.

Travel tip: The leather products are really well-priced, compared to SA prices. Make sure the zips work, though. Err’body has their hustle-game on, so don’t hold back on the bargaining. One dude gave me a starting price of MAD400, and another MAD300, for the same bag at the same stall. I paid MAD280. Camel fragrance included.

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is in one word, delightful. It’s about a 4-hour mountain-winding bus ride from Fez to get to this gem.

Morocco’s “Blue Pearl” is nestled in the Rif mountains. The streets and houses are literally painted in all the different shades of my second-favourite colour. The involuntary impulse to sing “Alles is blou” is inescapable.

If Marrakesh is Joburg-hustle and Fez is Cape Town-buzz, then Chefchaouen is McGregor-quaint. We stayed in Dar Nokhba Inn.

It’s worth taking a day to browse this Insta-dream town. You want to pause around every corner for a profile pic. We took a short walk at dusk, up to the Spanish mosque. To watch the sunset over the castle on the hill … Got a group of Asian travel influencers to take our group pic professionally. Winning.

Second day in Chefchaouen, we took a 30-minute taxi ride to do a 2 hour-ish (about 13km) hike to swim in the pools of the Akchour waterfalls. This was probably the most surprising experience for me, not expecting at all the lush valley and azure blue pools to play in. Morocco’s Jonkershoek. Absolutely loved every minute of it.

Returned to the square that evening, to have tajines on a rooftop. As per custom. Bought one too many throws. Because, pretty.

Travel tip: Don’t be surprised by the numerous offers for opportunities to sample the local flora. The green plantation patches high on the slopes is not per se lusern. Also, beware the stray dogs. They seem to like being yelled “voetsek!” at. Also, make sure the taxi you take to get to the waterfall hike is registered to go on that route. We had a close encounter with a group of irate taxi drivers who seemed to be highly annoyed with our driver, whom we figured out was probably a friend of the guy who arranged the trip for us, and not a registered taxi. Rookie error.

Tangier

With the bus ride to Tangier the landscape changes to distinctly more Mediterranean, with one of my other favorites, olive trees, dominating the scenery. That, and the wind farms.

Spent the last day in Morocco on the beach, with a view of Spain on the horizon over the Strait of Gibraltar. We were the only women showing skin. As in, legs. Tried to downplay it a bit by wearing sarongs. But we were quite obviously not from around there.

The promenade felt like Sea Point in summer. Everyone out with their families, strolling deep into the cooling hours of the night.

We didn’t book a hotel for the last night, since our flights were at 5am the next morning. So, we maxed out the time in Tangier, and headed for the airport at around 10pm. Found a corner, and hit the floor for a short, hard snooze.

The trip back was basically just surviving a 7-hour layover in Casablanca and a middle seat for the Doha-Cape Town leg. Which I thankfully passed out for.

And just like that.

My soul, forever coloured in by the generous people and resilient vibrancy of a special country on the exact opposite other end of the continent I love. An adventure of a lifetime, shared with friends-that-have-become-family … #avontuur-rustig.

Back in my mountain nest. Where airport trips are marked by conversations with Zimbabwean Uber drivers about their planned road trip to Egypt. He legit bought a Hilux with six friends, and they’re fixing it up for a three-month trip in 2021 …

Everybody, on a journey.

Choukran, Morocco.

Until we meet again. At a young girl’s dream wedding, perhaps.

Selah.

Some other random and potentially useful travel tips:

  • Flight Center handled my flight bookings and visa application. No mess, no fuss. Visa takes about 10 days. But don’t leave it too late.
  • Hand-sanitizer, wet-wipes and bug repellent saves the day.
  • Cash is preferable, even at the places that say they have credit card facilities.
  • We booked accommodation via bookings.com prior to the trip. I made additional bookings to have my name reflect on the confirmation for the Visa application. Just remember to cancel the bookings that you won’t take up, prior to the trip. Almost caused an international relations incident with a rihad that was expecting my arrival. Managed to make a whatsapp friend in the end.
  • I had my passport on me at all times, while the others felt safer to leave it at the accommodation.
  • Our two-point plug chargers work in their sockets. Wifi is pretty freely available.
  • Eat the beef, prune and almond tajine. It probably is beef. Or a version thereof.
  • Learn some French. It will help if your Arabic fails you. Most people we met spoke good (or some) English, though.
  • The colours do run, despite what the guy in the medina promised you.
  • Download the city maps to work offline on your phone.
  • Remember the Immodium, Valoid and some form of antibiotic salve.

Suddenly

The past two months have been a joyride on the wave-crest of a “suddenly”.

A breakthrough that catapults into a new season, where longed-for change is suddenly the new reality.

I haven’t quite had the time to process the extent of this rather abrupt transition.

It’s a complete shift.

For most people, it would look like normal progression. People move on to other jobs, and they move cities to be closer to their place of work. It’s not that uncommon, actually.

The context of this move, for me, is however beyond career advancement, even-though it is wonderfully that too.

I couldn’t quite place my finger on it.

My life in Stellenbosch was beyond blessed. There are multiple factors playing into that statement, and in general, if I looked at my life objectively, it made no sense to uproot and move away from 10 years of meaningful commitments to a wide network of wonderful people. Deeply rooted in loving community. With Jonkershoek as backyard playground. Stellenbosch was home.

But yet, there was this underlying frustration that something needed to break open, heightening into a deep groaning for change. Waiting …

I’m not elaborating on the intensity of the emotions that I went through in this process. I remember sitting with Habakkuk … “Though the fig tree may not blossom …” and feeling like I really understood what that felt like, on the level of not feeling heard by God in certain aspects of my life, and overlooked by people. I kept declaring that Yahweh Perazim is the God of the breakthrough, and that in His time, He acts swiftly …

It felt, however, like the heavens were brass. (Given the confusing context of mourning too …)

At the risk of not doing this miracle justice, I leave out many things, for many things don’t always need public disclosure. Discretion is sister to wisdom. Selah. Suffice to say, expectations don’t always align. Which was a contributing factor to the crying out for something to shift.

Which it did. After quite a few disappointments that taught me the difference between a false opportunity and a real open door.

To be frank: I had four seemingly perfect job opportunities that I needed to say no to, before the one that I felt the “yes” for came, pretty much out the blue. I had to say no for reasons that had to do with morality, integrity, and self-worth. God reasons. Those that we don’t always understand. “Why can’t I just have peace about this …?!”. But I don’t. So, no.

Then, after months of not seeing any indication of prayers being heard, the suddenly. More than what I asked for.

I had one day to make a decision. The peace was there. So, I jumped.

It’s been quite a faith ride. But here we are. Cape Town. Nestled in on the slopes of a new mountain. Learning at a breakneck speed about the exciting world that is the green economy. A spacious place. Completely new.

Be encouraged. Your life can literally change for the good in a day.

I’ve had many “suddenlies” in my life happen on both the delightfully positive and devastatingly negative side of the spectrum.

Regardless of which way the suddenly plays out, the Rock-reality remains the same: His grace is sufficient.

Selah.

Nuwe berg

Teen die hange van ’n nuwe berg,
word vlerke weer tentatief getoets,
wat deur die storms bedremmeld-nat vasgeplak was
teen die weerlose veg-gees
van alleen vrou-wees.

bietjie vir bietjie
soos wat wysheid en gaafheid spasie gee
kom die onthou:

die droom was nog altyd
om hoog te vlieg.

Dit was net nog nie veilig nie.
Al wou jy wees.

Harte sing eers regtig
as die stilte luister
om te ken.

Selah.