Driving home through the nebulous streets of a pitch black city, a result of the nations rolling power cuts that continually plunge our suburbs into obscurity, I found myself thinking about the way living in Africa so often tests you.
How it pushes your patience and forces you to adjust your perspective, over and over again.
I remember when living in London, how easy the system felt. How efficient it was to renew my passport, to receive timely medical attention, to book an appointment, send mail, take public transport.
How frustrating it can be sometimes to live in a place where the government offers little to no support towards meetings one’s basic needs. Towards supporting small businesses. Towards ensuring that the system functions effectively. How easy it can be to become filled with contempt over the niggling frustrations and impossibilities of life in a country still held captive by its past.
And yet, as I drove through the darkened streets that evening, all I could focus on was the larger than life Table Mountain, standing tall and proud amidst the velvet blackness, it’ grandeur illuminated by the lack of city lights. I saw a sky filled with stars – glowing softly.
I saw, the importance in actively shifting ones perspective in the face of adversity, to seek wonder amidst the invariable and inevitable chaos of life in South Africa – and also, on earth.
Easier said then done, you might say, and I wouldn’t disagree. It’s hard to remain unbothered. At times it seems wholly impossible to be zen when immersed in a home affairs horror story or bureaucratic blister that refuses to pop.
How do we learn to see the mountain in the darkness. That is the lesson.
Said mountain wearing its tablecloth
A few weeks later and I found myself back behind the wheel, this time driving down a busy highway with two sleeping friends in the back seat. I was half way into a 4 hour journey, from the Breede valley to the Garden Route, sipping oat milk flat whites from roadside bakeries and humming along to songs from my favourite indie playlists.
I have always found something cathartic about driving long distances on my own or, in silence. Similar to time spent on a long flight, these periods of emptiness allow my head some respite, time to sort through all its jumble, to compartmentalize and organize the endless stream of thoughts, feelings and emotions that rush through the estuaries of my cerebral cortex.
As I drove I began ruminating over a range of topics. I was thinking about what my next snack would be, naturally. About how the hell I was going to overtake the rattling cargo truck that loomed ahead of me. About the life I have created and how it affords me the freedom to take a week off work and drive through the Western Cape. One that allows me to run my own businesses, to forge relationships with depth and value, that gifts me the opportunity to appreciate the small things in life. But the thought that is most prominent, the one teetering on the peripheries of my mind, is of course the big 3-0.
When young, one is frequently fed the narrative that life ends after 30. That it is a somber thing to bid farewell to your 20s, to step away from the halycon days of youth and freedom. And yet, everything I have seen has proven the opposite to be true. The people around me, many of them far older are proof that the party does indeed goes on – and perhaps only truly begins after 30.
Age is just a number but it is also a feeling. And truthfully, I feel as if I’ve lived a million lifetimes already. To step into my third decade not only feels right – but somehow, neccesary. To embark on a chapter in which I am more grounded, more rooted in one place, less concerned with the thoughts of others, more focused on impressing myself.
A life which is smaller than the one I used to imagine I’d live and yet more meaningful.
If someone were to a create a 30 second clip of the past ten years of my life it would undoubtedly appear as a blurred rush of bright colours and flashing lights, set to a soundtrack of laughter, crackling fires, and the deafening roar of an ascending airplane. You’d catch a lonely glimpse of hospital wards and the luminous sparkle of sunlight bouncing on the oceans surface. You’d see classrooms and jungles, and classrooms in jungles, you’d see university halls, a valedictorian speech, a handful of broken hearts and a girl inching her way towards womanhood. You’d see a thousand late nights and wild parties all smushed together and the undercurrent mood of a person seeking out their place, their purpose, their point in the thick of it all.
Reaching 30, the movie has started to slow down a little. There is a relaxing. A gradual acceptance. Not only of myself but of the place I have chosen to call home. Because despite all its flaws and endless frustrations, this country with its lush terrains, its furrowed hills, deep valleys, rivers, forests and coastlines, it rockpools, jagged cliffs, small little dusty dorpies with their olive groves and guinea fowl and indigenous fauna, it has proven itself to be enough.
I have taken roadtrips much like this one multiple times before and yet each time I do I am plunged into the radical reminder of the beauty of these landscapes. Enough radiance to completely eradicate all the annoyances of negligent governance and painful bureaucracy.
As I grow older, and I like to hope wiser, I am trying to learn (albeit slowly) how to appreciate what is, instead of what is not. To accept that I might not get to be all the things I dreamed of in this life, all the versions of myself I used to casually assume would one day burst into fruition.
Like being a famous journalist or a world class guitarist, like living in a high ceilinged home in the gothic quarters of Barcelona, or a chic New York city apartment. Like being a publisher, an actor, an interior designer or a scuba diving instructor in Belize.
Although, you never know.
But most of these day dreams, I have come to see may never be. And yet, I am strangely ok with it.
Of course the longing to grow and evolve, to learn new things, to travel and taste exotic places, to grab greedy handfuls of everything strange and weird and delicious still persists and yet simultaneously there is also a letting go.
This right here is the path I have chosen. This is the way.
Turning 30 is learning to shed the habit of dwelling on the irritations, the slow service, the power cuts, the infuriation of broken systems, painfully bad drivers, corruption, crime and banking apps that never ever seem to work.
It’s about seeing past the milk on the floor, the fly in the soup, the poo on your shoe and remembering It’s all just small stuff and we’re all made of stardust.
On our 5 day roadtrip, we danced at a festival until our legs ached, floated on lilos in the baking sun, curled up in our tents at night, exhausted and exuberant.
We drove hours to the town of Wilderness, to a backpackers opposite the beach where we fell asleep to sand crumbs in our bunk beds and the roaring lull of nearby waves.
We hiked through nature reserves to swim in coca cola waterfalls and gorged on seafood platters overlooking the source of our shrimp. We stayed in tree house log cabins and soaked in wood fired hot tubs. We watched zebra and elephants and giraffe roam across green plains and woke up to the racket of howler monkeys dancing on our rooftop.
In these five days I remembered that despite everything, the trees will always persist. There is always nature and sunny Spotify playlists and waves to spill ones limbs into. There are always kind strangers to meet, kitschy souvenir shops to browse and cliched photos of sunsets to capture.
There are always fields of horses to shout “horses” out loud to nobody in particular. There’s always new snacks to eat and lakes to jump into and mountains to climb. Or at least pretend you would have climbed if you actually enjoyed climbing mountains.
That is another thing that 30 brings – the acceptance that there are things you just don’t like all that much even if they’re popular and cool.
Or cats. Or ice cream. Or jogging. Or bananas. Or oatmeal. (seriously it’s just mush guys?)
Ultimately it’s accepting that this is it. That you look like this . That you might just be kind of ordinary. I could never have imagined that my younger self would be ok with ordinary.
Ordinary old me rocking that day 3 roadtrip hair
But 30 is realising this is enough.
That wherever we reside on earth we are lucky. But when we have the surreal fortune of residing in a country with mountains like this – well then what is there to complain about really?
As I leap into this new era – I vow to look up. When deeply submerged in the ‘stage-four load shedding, when the gas just ran out and I don’t have any candles and I forgot to charge my phone moments,’ in the umpteenth parking ticket or the 3 hours spent at the bank resetting my password for the fucking app that never works (did I mention the banking apps never work) that’s when I promise to remind myself of the peninsula drives and the salty evening swims.
Of the lethargic evening meals with the humans I love. Of local tourism. Strong coffee. Beautifully restored mid-century furniture. Singing in the car. Good quality olive oil (damn when did I get so old) Skin care. That feeling you get after hot yoga.
I vow to spend more time dancing. To return to the ocean every time I feel lost or sad or both. To not take out my anger on the person who loves me the most. To never take my heath for granted. To ask for help when I need it. To invest my stupid money like a stupid responsible grownup. To dismiss the fear of missing out (its probably boring anyway). To say no more. But to still say yes. To write that goddamn book. To tell the people I love that I love them again and again. To make love and make art and keep writing these long winding essays about how much I like existing.
Just beautiful- your 30’s will bring much magic ❤️