Back in graduate school, about a lifetime ago, I remember meeting a student by name of Rahul. He was Indian, in name and appearance, but from Africa, as he would quickly point out when asked about his origins. He was something of a free spirit, not fitting into any mold you might try to find for him: Brilliant yet uninterested in grades, equipped with a wonderful sense of humor, and loving nothing more than a good party. Even though he was well-read and seemed to know everything, he seemed to have a disdain for formal education that made us all wonder, frankly, what he was doing in the rather dull environment of business school.
But what I remember best about Rahul was his passion for Africa. He was born to Indian parents on assignment in Zambia, and if I remember correctly spent a large part of his childhood there. When you’d ask him what it was like living there (with what I now realize was the typical Western contempt for this continent) his eyes would light up and he’d describe it so vividly I can still see the images in my head. “The colors,” he would say, “are like nowhere else in the world.” He’d go on to describe the beautiful African sky at sunset, the smell of the red dust right before the long-awaited rains arrived, the sound of birds calling early in the morning when the air was still crisp, the radiating smiles on people’s faces, the vibrant hustle on market days.
I remember being incredulous. Africa, in my mind – perhaps framed by the images of “Biafra children” we were plied with during my childhood – was a hot and scorched place where nothing grew and everyone was poor and starving. I couldn’t understand why someone would love such a place, was yearning to go back in fact, but I have never forgotten our conversation.
Rahul, you see, was absolutely right. Once you have lived in Africa, so the saying goes, you can never quite get it out of your system. There is something magical about it that keeps pulling you back. Yes, Africa is huge and diverse and you can’t just treat it as one homogeneous mass, yet the fascination with it seems to be universal. Maybe it is the somewhat slower pace of life we fall in love with, having escaped the rat race of a workaholic life in the West and realizing there are many roses to be smelled along the way. Maybe it is the climate, at least here in Southern Africa, which is much less scorching than a humid American summer and where you can live entirely without air conditioning, allowing you to keep your windows open to listen to the sounds of the night. Maybe it is the people of Africa, who are so overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming, quick to smile and laugh and find unexpected humor in every situation, offering a heartfelt “sorry” for you when you’ve hurt yourself even though it wasn’t their fault and therefore no reason to apologize. Or maybe it really is the color of an African sunset. I actually have a folder in my pictures directory called “African Skies,” some of which I will share with you at the bottom of this post. The colors are truly unforgettable.
Whatever it is, I already know now that I will miss Africa with every fiber of my being when the day comes that we have to move away. I will miss the weaver bird’s call for a mate to show off the beautiful nest he created in just a few days. I will miss the sun that so reliably shines every single day. I will miss the smell of jasmine and the beauty of all the other flowers in our garden. I will miss the pure joy on a child’s face when you show him his picture on your camera. I will miss the privilege of listening to a spontaneous a capella choir performance when walking through the airport. I will miss singing Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika at school assemblies. I will miss Africa in a way I never missed Singapore, another lovely place to live. Perhaps I only feel this way because I’m now older and more seasoned in the art of living, less impatient with the things that inevitably go wrong.
Africa is indeed beautiful. Thank you Rahul, wherever you are now, for planting this seed so many years ago.
|African Sky: Sodwana Bay, June 2010. Photo by Jacky du Plessis|
|African Sky: Fiery sunset mixed with smoke from burning grass, Dainfern|
|African Sky: Sunset at Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, June 2011|
|African Sky: Sunrise over Dainfern Valley|
|African Sky: Clouds building over Zanzibar, August 2011|
|African Sky: Sunset over the Garden Route coast near Knysna|
|African Sky: Sunset over Robben Island|
|African Sky: Storm over Dainfern Valley|
|African Sky: Sunset over Cape Town|
|African Sky: Franschhoek, October 2011|
|African Sky: Rainbow over Dainfern Valley|
|African Sky: Sondela, July 2010|
|African Sky: Sunset in Madikwe Game Reserve|
|African Sky: You don’t have to travel far for beautiful sunrises –
view over Dainfern Valley as seen from my desk
|African Sky: Brewing storm in Madikwe Game Reserve, December 2010|
|African Sky: Cape Peninsula, Cape Town, April 2011|
|African Sky: Sunset over the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, March 2011|
|African Sky: Sunrise in Madikwe Game Reserve, October 2010|