I’ve been back in South Africa for just about six months now. Moving on, physically and intellectually, knuckling down and getting shit done. But I do have some epic adventures to recount and I am here now, in body and spirit, because I was there then on the same terms, so here in pictures and captions is Baños in Ecuador, while with words I’ll table Ingrid’s Top Tips for Reintegrating Yourself into Society after Living the Dream for a Year.
1. Travel again immediately
One of the first things I did after coming home was take a two-week roadtrip. I spent a couple of weeks wallowing in Bloemfontein – fellow travellers will confirm the dull thud of reality that hits you right between the eyes – then Mark flew down to South Africa from Brazil and instead of paying off my debt with my SARS rebate, we went travelling. Kimberley’s Big Hole, Mokala National Park, Golden Gate, Lesotho (Katse Dam and Malealea), and the Wild Coast.
2. Do something you said you’d never do
In my case it was babysitting. I looked after my nephew in Joburg while my sister looked for a new au pair. Ryan is now one of the top-five most important people in my life. I’ve watched him grow from an incoherent, uncoordinated seven-month-old into a walking, “talking”, smiling, engaging, curious, smart, funny 13-month-old personality. I was there with my sister the first time he stood on his own, watched him learn to put the balls back into the bowl with his tiny, pudgy little hands – the wonders never cease.
We formed a deep bond and I will quite literally kill for him. I am in love and like people in love, am giddy at the thought of him. I stare at his picture when he’s not around, I rush home to say goodnight. It’s filled a hole I didn’t know I had.
Ryan has made me more protective of children in general. Stories of neglect and abuse resonate now, and I’ve developed an interest in education, in policy – funny how something so personal will conscientise you on a social level.
3. Nearly die
I don’t mean to come across as facetious or dramatic about March’s armed robbery. But it stopped everything, changed everything, for me. I was very depressed – doubly so as I was still on the travel comedown – angry, sad, confused, overwhelmed, afraid. Now, whenever I am affected by it, it’s mostly in the forms of intense paranoia and violent thoughts.
I am worried about the latent mental gremlins but I think it could be a lot worse. I have first-hand experience of “survivor guilt” or whatever it’s called. Nothing happened to me so what right do I have to complain, and is it fair to make other people scared because I am?
I think a lot about what it would’ve been like if we lost Ryan that night. It’s devastating, even though it didn’t happen. Weird how I’ve been unable to shake this hypothetical thing … The unreal is more real than the real sometimes, you know?
I also think about the next time it happens, and I just hope that the circumstances will be the same, minus baby: imagining my sister or her husband, Mark or my parents being here is infinitely worse than it just being me. I’ve done this, I can get through this again – but please don’t put my family through it.
Caithlin said things started turning around for her when her revenge fantasies began. My imaginary scenarios involve me being Jack Bauer taking a gun off one of the robbers and expertly taking all three of them out with one bullet each to the head. I picture the blood running from their bodies across the tiled floor and underneath the orange couches. I know what it sounds like, but it is what it is.
I guess that’s what they mean when they say something changes you.
4. Live somewhere you said you’d never live
On New Year’s Eve in Bogotá last year I was mouthing off to Nikki’s Irish friend about how kak Joburg is. My exact words: “All the money is there, things are really happening, but fuck dude, I will never live there.” I spoke about the place as if I knew it, even though I’d never been here for longer than six weeks at a time.
I visited Cape Town at the beginning of the year and I just didn’t have that pitter-patter in my chest when I landed. Either not enough time had passed, or I wasn’t ready to be back, or I had changed too much while everything else stayed pretty much the same … But I could tell I was done with Cape Town. As Ester rightly pointed out, I had actually been done with Cape Town for a while.
In the end the transition to Jozi was pretty much inevitable.
- My parents are only four hours away, and my sister (and nephew) is right here.
- After the Wild West, I needed something big, anonymous, scary. Exciting. I love the challenge of Joburg, I love its beauty and its culture sets, how demographically representative it is, I love all the Afrikaans I’m hearing. And I’ve found a place to live that’s about 1.5km from where I work, so even the lifestyle complaints (traffic) don’t apply.
- I already have a pretty awesome circle of friends here.
- It’s important for me to live in as many different, difficult, exciting places as possible.
- I love anonymity. More and more as I get older, I need it.
5. Hold out for the job you want
I started as a digital account manager at SoulProviders early in June. I’m doing a bit of everything and a lot of what I’ve never done before: client management, budgeting, creative strategy, media buying, audits. SoulProviders do content marketing on steroids and I’m properly inspired by this group of futurists, innovators, ideators … who are just. So. Bloody. Nice. I love going to work in the morning!
My lesson has been that “getting a job” is not the enemy. Ambition and productivity appeal to me, financial impotence does not. A permanent vacation is some people’s idea of the perfect life; and I could definitely do it for an extended time. But I also need to make a contribution and earn money not only to do and buy things, but to be rewarded for how I spend my time (so that I can go on holidays).
6. Forget geography
The big thing that makes long-term travellers anxious is the fear of returning to the same problems after the journey is over. I heard this many times over from people I met out there. My friend Samia is struggling with that right now back in France, and it just goes to show that even a place like Paris has its limitations.
There’s a big lesson but it’s nothing new: geography is a detail, what’s important is that change happens regardless of where you are. Challenges are opportunities.
I do see things through my own filter: “Hi, my name is Ingrid and I’m addicted to change.” But now I’ve embarked on a different kind of travel: I’m reading only non-fiction to have more smarts, spending less time on fashion and entertainment blogs and more time reading news and think-pieces, concentrating on attitude changes, on curiosity, on friendliness and authenticity. I am educating myself on a daily basis about the things that matter – environment, the democracy of information, economy and trade, technology and business. Things that matter to me, at least.
In summary, I am unexpectedly pleased with formal employment and with where I’m at in general, so aware of why I’m here, and endlessly inspired by where I could be going – pregnant with possibility, guys (the best kind of pregnant).