Mal d’Africa is an apt term that describes the strong feeling of nostalgia and desire to return to Africa once visited.
I experienced this firsthand, living in a fog the month after my return home. I would go through my daily routine somewhat mechanically, feeling like something was missing or not quite right.
Another notable contrast was the amount of space (or lack thereof) in Europe versus the vast openness of Africa.
We were there in 1996 (just two years after the end of apartheid in South Africa) and the view of military installation barbed wire running along all the fine houses in the upper echelons of Johannesburg made for quite a suggestive view. Meanwhile numerous locals sat by the roadside very early every morning hoping to be picked up for some daily job or hopefully more permanent work.
Our journey began in Johannesburg (with our trusty Toyota Corolla) down to Bloemfontein towards Port Elizabeth (surfing at Jeffreys Bay in the shark infested waters of the Indian Ocean) and then West to Plettenberg Bay (munching on jerky and feeling incredibly humbled against the vista of such abundant nature. What a great equalizer is that vast wild land of contrasts and indescribable beauty! Then on to Oudtshoorn (where a snake crossing the highway turned into an event and we saw jockeys riding Ostriches), Mossel Bay (with the loveliest seashells), Stellenbosch (wine region so breathtakingly beautiful) and onward to our final destination…Cape Town along the western Garden route with wind whipped hair and the dust and dirt of millions of years settling over us.
South Africa is 11 national languages, The Great Karoo (Groot Karoo) and the Little Karoo (Klein Karoo) and the Swartberg Mountains. It is the cradle of Humankind (fossils of humans over two million years old were discovered in the north of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province) and Fourways Mall.
In my mind’s eye it is: jacaranda trees and the incredible color of the landscape at dusk, immense (never-ending) skies and plateaus (high-veld and bush-veld), poverty and wealth, tradition and modernity, right and wrong, cheetahs and dung beetles, water and dust, Nelson Mandela and my collection of the Courtney series of novels by Wilbur Smith.
It’s the smell of grits at breakfast, and the Atlantic and Indian Ocean’s spray, sun-burnt skin, big silence and big black deep night. The memory of this corner of the world will stay with me forever.