I have never been too big into celebrating milestones. As a family we had a tendency of barely acknowledging the big things that make the headlines in family newsletters. I’m not sure how or why, but that was the way I grew up. We missed birthdays, graduations, weddings and many other celebratory occasions because of traveling or practicalities. It wasn’t meant to be hurtful to others or ourselves, it was just the way it was.
My first birthday was in lockdown during a coup d’etat, my quinceaños was cutting a cake at Titti’s house coming back from Casanarito, my 18th was being returned home safely from kidnappers. Looking back it almost feels like such milestone celebrations were too overwhelming with too many outsider expectations, so we (i.e Astrida) just didn’t really bother. I celebrated my university graduation only because it meant something to my dad but I didn’t go to my MSc graduation because I had work.
While we didn’t celebrate some the typical milestones, we also didn’t miss acknowledging all the important times in our lives. We learned to quietly celebrate those wins that mattered to us. Winning my first swimming trophy, finally getting a scholarship, my brother turbine finally switching on after months of work, Gimli finishing high school on his first attempt.. When my latest milestone came around, I celebrated in a way that was fitting in my relationship with Africa: quietly, with my inner circle and drinking a bit of bitterness, hope and insightfulness.
This year I celebrated 10 years since I arrived in the African continent.
It’s a big statement, but I tried not to overthink it as I don’t feel I’ve reached a destination yet, my journey is ongoing. “Ten years” however commands an attention I couldn’t ignore. With such a big statement looming over me, and with the eternal boredom and stillness that arose from the Year of Covid, I could only but retreat into self-reflection of what this milestone meant.
Almost ten years ago I started a blog to remind myself that I had a lot to be thankful for; writing on and off has been a way of pouring out what sits inside in my African journey. This journey’s firsts steps came with the death of my first love and the forever lack of Juank in my life, and while it nearly destroyed me, this journey has kept unravelling into a beautiful set of adventures, self-discovery and acceptance of life and of who I am.
Looking back, I am certain I have gone where my path was intended to, however, on this day, when the light was soft and I found myself on my own, I let my mind wander as to what 10 years has meant to me and what I would have missed if I had chosen another path. These ten years have transformed me. I have learned and done things I had only read or dreamed about as a child. There have been different kinds of pain: why I left, the people that I left behind, the people that I still miss; but redemption has also come in many ways.
I have found peace in the light that trickles through Jackalberry trees in Sand River forest.
I have raised animals I didn’t know existed when growing up.
I have come to love the whining voices of baby rhinos.
I have learned to track lions on foot, to recognize a distant flick of a tail.
I have deepened my understanding of nature in ways I never conceived.
I have dusted my feet in the wild grounds of this continent.
I have missed birthdays, weddings, christenings and funerals.
I have survived all my winters.
I have confirmed Venezuelans have the best rum and best chocolate in the world.
I have become gin snob.
I have learned that distance only destroys loves and friendships not meant to be.
I have had my heart broken.
I have broken hearts.
I have loved people fiercely.
When I first arrived in South Africa a huge billboard read “If you lose the need to wander, you belong“. I felt it was immensely true, for when I arrived I felt this was the place where I was meant to be as I never wanted to leave it. In this quiet 10 year contemplation, revisiting my adventures, successes and failures I realized however, that there is much more to belonging –the constant question in my life, and that wandering if is an inherent part of who I am. I spent the first part of my life looking desperately to belong somewhere or to someone by constantly moving, changing adapting; only recently have I come to realize that the sense of true belonging Africa has given me has come from the opportunity to become and freely be me, allowing me to belong only to myself in my constant moving and dancing in between lives. I’ve realized now, ten years after I first read this, that it is my constant wandering where I feel like I belong.
As looked for the meaning of belonging I found Brené said it best: “True belonging is something we carry in our hearts, it’s not something we achieve or accomplish with others; belonging is in our heart and something that others cannot hold hostage or take away from us“.
I celebrated my ten years by myself and with a special tribe, carrying this decade long relationship in my heart. We had a sundowner on top of a rock viewing the vast wilderness at our feet.
For the last 10 years, you – Africa, have been my greatest love, teacher, test and home.
To us, happy anniversary.