From sand to sea, South African style

Yes, I realize there is sand IN the sea, and usually sand backs up TO the sea as well, but in this case, I’m referring to going from the sandy soil of our camp in Limpopo to the southern seas around Cape Town. I’ve spent the last week down south in the Western Cape, escaping the heat and oppressive humidity that has come to settle in our canvas home up country. Unfortunately, I haven’t fully escaped the mosquitoes, though there are infinitely fewer here than there. I will admit, though, that I killed a mosquito the other night here that had enough blood in her system to start a small blood bank. It was disturbing, really.  The splatter of blood that shot out of her abdomen made the tile floor look a bit like a crime scene, albeit a tiny one.

By the way, I say ‘her’ because it is only the females who bite. Just as an fyi. The males are pleasantly content to mill around the flower patch. I’m sure many people could come up with pithy one-liners about how females are often the deadlier of all the species. And you know what? I think I’d be inclined to agree. Females of all species seem to kick ass across the board, whether it be in small, microscopic levels as in mosquitoes (who, by the way, are also the biggest pawner of malaria and lots of other fun little parasites, once again proving that size doesn’t really matter), or massive levels (elephant breeding herd, which are led by equally massive matriarchs).

But back to the sand and the sea.  My life in the reserve can be compared to a primal storm of heat, humidity and dirt, lacking in all creature comforts and akin, in many ways, to quicksand in its ability to swallow you whole.  Getting back to nature in the reserve isn’t all that great, to be honest, and this is coming from someone who loves nature in all its forms (sorry, all forms but mosquitoes).  Life by the sea has more of a nurturing, tranquil, soul-saving element to it, though it can be equally difficult and violent.  So if you have a choice, do I go down in quicksand, or will it be in rough waters?  This is the predicament I face in South Africa.  I can quite literally sink or swim.  And if I swim, am I swimming in the right waters, or am I wasting my energy in the wrong pond?

When I moved to South Africa, I was met with much trepidation from my family, and much excitement from my friends, who insist they live vicariously through me.  Which is probably best for them, as I can’t imagine too many of them would be happy living in the conditions I’ve subjected myself to by uprooting to the other side of the world.  Sure, it’s cool to wake up to a gazillion birds tweeting away as opposed to a gazillion self-obsessed people tweeting away, but still, I prefer to not be woken up at 4am, and that’s the bird population’s fave time to croon.  When your walls are so thin you could push through them, the sound is a force, not just a lovely, muted plethora of white noise.  Sometimes the birds even come into the house and perch up on the rafters.  I should let them know there are mambas that frequent those heights, but as of yet, I haven’t learned to speak bird.  And they don’t understand Spanglish.  I know.  I’ve tried communicating in it.  They do, however, speak broom, and unhappily vacate the premises when I show them business end of the latest model of household sweepers.

For the record, I don’t make a habit of beating the animals out here.  In fact, I’m thus far only responsible for a few understandable casualties.  The majority are mosquitoes; one is a squirrel.  Yes, I know.  Squirrels are cute and fuzzy.  They also eat through everything, leave a mess wherever they go, and attract many a venomous snake.  They aren’t allowed to stay.  I defend my turf just like they defend theirs.  Other than that, I leave the wilderness intact.  I do give it a boost  to relocate sometimes, though, when it starts leaving trails of poo on my clothes.  Hence me ushering the birds out with the broom.  The frogs and geckos stay.  They eat the bugs, they earn their keep.  Bargains can be struck in any situation, I’ve found.

So after a bit of digression, I’m back to why I started this post – appreciating the differences in life, and accepting when it’s time to make a change.  I came to Africa because I was the cliche.  I needed a change of pace, a new headspace, and a way to get back to my creative roots.  I honestly believed it was a good idea to uproot my life and move it 13,000 miles away with no set job or home.  And I knew all of five people.  Nice odds for an easy transition, right?  But to me, it was important to get out of my comfort zone (which people who know me would laugh to hear, since when have I lived in any comfort zone in the last ten years?).

To me, the definition of ‘comfort zone’ is not simply the safety net of financial security, familial security, or the security of being somewhere (mentally, emotionally, physically) you know.  To me, the definition of ‘comfort zone’ is being in a space where you are no longer challenged on any level.   I need to constantly be learning, pushing myself physically, mentally and emotionally.  Ok, well maybe not emotionally.  I think I’ve pushed that far enough.  Definitely the other two, though.  I spent many years on the road as a touring singer/songwriter.  I know what it’s like to spend lots of time alone, introspectively ‘learning about myself.’  I’ve pushed myself on so many levels, and hit a plateau.  Not only that, but I found that while there is always room to grow, I wasn’t interested in growing in the directions available, which meant I needed to change direction and head down a new path.  There’s always Africa, right?  The continent has a (well-founded) reputation of being behind the rest of the world, and whether the people here want to hear it or not, South Africa still has a lot of work to do.  Plenty of natural resources and money, but not enough structure or accountability.  To call it frustrating for someone who grew up in a highly developed country would be the understatement of the year.

The challenges I thought I would face are a bit different to the ones I’m actually facing, leaving me to wonder every day that I’m here if perhaps I made a mistake.  Not because I don’t love it here.  I do. Well, I have a love-hate thing with the place, yet I am drawn to it, to its irrefutable beauty and its rawness, and to its inherent possibilities and opportunities.  So here I am, floating in a sea of wonder, unsure of how to keep afloat and whether the life raft I’ve tied on to is really a life raft or yet another safety net.  Each day I tell myself that the universe conspires to help you, to give you what you need at the time that you need it.  I question that incessantly, and yet still firmly believe in it.  I have to, or I will sink, and do so thousands of miles from my family, my friends, and my comfort zone.   It’s certainly a growth opportunity, and definitely one I promise my friends and family would not trade their comfortable lives for.  I have to admit, however, that I always feel alive.  Every day I am aware, aware of my surroundings, of my senses and emotions, and of my abilities (and lack thereof in some cases).  Never does a day go by where my mind is not buzzing, and you know what?  I wouldn’t want it any other way.  South Africa, I love you.  Well, most of the time…

All rights reserved. ©2010 Jennifer Vitanzo

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