As I was driving on the wild coast of South Africa, I took a step back to think about my year on the continent. It is true that travels change one’s perception of reality. I would even say that it shapes our (future) self. In Africa, I have experienced pure happiness. Far away from my European comfort zone, each smile received made me feel like a queen in her castle of freedom. As I turned left from the small road heading to Umtata, I realized that I felt closer than ever to the African philosophy of Ubuntu. This bantu word sums up in two syllables the entire spirit of Africa: the sense of community, the idea of “I am because we are” and the perpetual feeling of gratitude, of caring and sharing about each others.
In my red little rented car, I was driving carefully on the dirt road leading to Mdumbi, a small Xhosa village on the South African wild coast, not far from the village where Nelson Mandela grew up. The landscape was completely dark as the night has fallen and some lazy sleepy cows slowly moved from the way as I drove towards them. Two hours of potholes, strange noises and wandering animals led me to a state of near exhaustion. Will I ever arrive to the village? As I opened my window driving down another hill, the sound of the endless rolling waves encouraged me to keep going. The ocean is near. It can’t be that far anymore.
Lost in my thoughts, on the dark deserted road, I replayed the film of my travels.
Africa… Africa for me is more than a place on earth that we point on a map. Africa – it’s first and foremost smiles. Hundreds and thousands of true smiles shining at my face. Africa – it’s happiness in despair. It’s positivity no matter what. It’s hope and faith in the darkest times.
As I drove near a dead animal’s skeleton that almost scared me, it led me back to my biggest travel fear: losing a relative.
One day, it is true, we will all die. As my grandmother would say. However, all the other days of our life, we are alive! would I add.
I remembered as I was still a teenager, my mother fighting against cancer and her endless faith. For ten years, our life has been unpredictable as the quarterly hospital checks were setting the tempo. Today, she is climbing some of the highest summits of the Indian Ocean. My mother, by her restless fighting and her inner wiseness showed me the beauty of life: a walk in the countryside, a rainbow after the storm, a bird picking up some wooden sticks to build its nest. She opened my eyes to the not- so-hidden beauty of life. I often wonder if this is one of the reasons why I live so intensely.
My hands hooked up to the wheel, some kids running a few meters from me in the dark, drew me out of my thoughts, their large white teeth smiles reflecting the light of my car. As I watched them running on the hill to their huts, I told to myself:
We have two lungs, we can breath in and breath out. Why always waiting for a better time, for more money, for a hypothetical boyfriend to live our dreams? There is only one thing that we will ever possess in this world. And this one thing is here and now: the present moment. It is as ephemeral as it is eternal. So why don’t we take our backpacks and fly, run, drive, walk, cycle, swim, sail, ride, dance… whatever makes us feel alive. As Wayne Gretzky says: “ You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
I finally saw some lights at the end of one curve. Mdumbi Backpacker stood discreetly in the deep dark of the night, in front of me. I will have to be patient to discover the surroundings. At that moment, all I could see was my traditional hut and all I could hear was the wind and the waves rolling endlessly not far from here.
As I fell asleep under the caring milky way, I dreamt about Mandela, Desmond Tutu and the Ubuntu feeling of connexion to my seven billion brothers and sisters, to the Earth, its species, its water, its ecosystems.
5:30am, it has never been so easy to wake up! I jumped out of my little bed and ran outside. The first light of the sun was shining on the morning dew, changing the grass field into a diamond mine. Click. Mental picture.
As I walked down the path to reach the ocean, I picked up a few plastic bottles brought by the tide, traveling is about being the change we want to see in the world.
The magic of walking alone on an untouched natural landscape, being the only one watching the rolling waves, the surfing dolphins following my path along the beach made me feel like part of it: I was the ocean, the sky, the air and the soft sand between my toes. It threw me back to the wandering rhinoceros crossing my way while driving in a National Park, the feeling of invincibility while watching the milky way from a tent, in the middle of nowhere, somewhere; the sweet taste of an apple – only meal of the day- as the best food on earth. Traveling alone is an indefinable feeling of finally being able to play the first role in the movie of your life. It is about taking back the control.
The small village of Mdumbi stands proudly. This place is nothing else but magical. The small colorful huts watch patiently the village’s life. Children are running and playing in the waves down the cliff, armed with wooden fishing sticks, they laugh almost as loud as the waves and the wind together as they catch the evening’s dinner. The white face painted women walk proudly as they carry on their head the heavy treasure to be sold on the market to feed their families.
As I walked up the little track leading to the other side of the beach, one man was sitting on the hill above me, resting his back on his little blue hut’s wall. A cow was enjoying the rich grass few meters from him. With his left hand, he slowly put the lightened rolled cigarette to his dry lips and inhaled carefully the smoke before releasing it amidst the low clouds above his head. The sky was a light painted blue and the sun was reflecting its light on the village’s colorful huts. Click. Another mental picture to add to my private mind collection.