Where to be? The endless dilemma swirled in my head and my heart. Jo’burg is home, I know it, I feel it. The fact remains unchanged. Yet I can’t reconcile myself to the prevailing culture of materialism, the endless outings to countless shopping malls. I feel I stick out like a sore thumb in those malls, looking too au-naturel for regulars who all appear similarly dolled up in the latest outfits.
I don’t have that sense of familiarity in Cape Town; there is no heartfelt attachment, though I appreciate the city’s landscape, its beauty. I love the ocean being close by, listening to the sound of the waves swishing in and out, watching them roll onto the shore.
But in neither place is there the freedom to walk out of your front door and just keep walking, far and fast. I could do that last year on the farm. But would I want to live in isolated Hoedspruit long-term? Not a chance.
In Vancouver, I used to walk down the street to the beach, and keep walking along the path for as long as I liked. I never worried about my safety. In Paris, I’d take the metro to La Concorde and walk all the way to L’ Arc de Triomphe. Once I got there, I’d keep walking if I had the urge. I didn’t feel caged in, unable to move freely because of security concerns. But neither of these cities called to my soul in the way my home city does.
Now I’m here in Hartebeesport, a small town about an hour north of Jo’burg. The place resounds with a tangible energy, an unspoken but very real beauty. The last few nights I’ve sat on a stone watching the sunset spread its golden light across the sky.
I’ve marveled at the moon and the stars shining unmasked in the night. I feel like I can breathe again, my chest uncaged, my heart open.
Yesterday, I visited the Snake Park, which in fact contains a multitude of specimens much larger than reptiles. I stood outside the jaguar cage, admiring their sleek bodies with strikingly-designed coats. I acknowledged the unmistakable dignity of the lions and lionesses. I stared mesmerized at the stunningly imposing tigers, following the movements of their huge furry paws as they paced back and forth in front of the bars. An orangutan sat with pursed lips, his head resting on his hand, dazedly watching the world go by. Yelp-like sounds came from a small brown otter. I felt for them all locked into these colourless cells, providing a means of entertainment for citizens of cities, excited to see something of “nature” nearby.
I felt similarly trapped, unable to reconcile the conflicting feelings within me about where to be. The biggest dilemma was the people. I wanted to be with my mother and sister the most, yet I wanted to have my dad and cousins close. I didn’t know how long I could live in a city without them. But what to do if neither of them lived in a place I wanted to be?
I continue to sit and look at the veld around me: a rolling expanse of yellow and green, an expression of nature retaining its majesty. I still don’t have the answers, but at least I’m in the right place to sit with the questions.