Two years ago, I had a crazy idea. I would say the phrase, “Before I turn sixty, I want to…” and see what was the first thought that sprang to mind. The first thought was… go to Africa. Today’s post is devoted to reflections on three months in South Africa.
It’s hard to believe that Vilis and I are half way through our six-month sojourn in South Africa. In collaboration with Rhodes University’s Wildlife and Reserve Research Management Group, Vilis is gathering and analyzing movement data sets for lions, leopards and cheetahs. The original project was small, involving only a few graduate students’ data; however, it has since expanded to include data from studies conducted all over Africa, including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Even more data sets have been promised, and Vilis is excited. Very excited. (Tap on photos to enlarge.)
I’m revelling in the change of season. During July and August, Grahamstown was bitterly cold at times, and its weather has been unusually wet (apparently the wettest year in the past eighty years). The city’s thick-walled houses are constructed to withstand summer heat, not winter cold, and they don’t have central heating. During some winter days, while I shivered in our drafty Rhodes University apartment, I found it hard to have an attitude of gratitude, but I gave thanks anyway. For the adventure. For the newness. For the opportunity to experience life in another part of the world. Needless to say, I’ve come to appreciate how tough South Africans are. Now spring is here. The thorn trees, which looked so stark in winter, with their arsenals of white spikes, now bear rich new foliage. Swallows have returned, wing-dancing acrobatics in the sky. Rhodes University students have shed knitted caps and heavy coats, baring their limbs to the South African sun.
During the past three months, Vilis and I have grown familiar with Grahamstown, called the “City of Saints” because of its many churches. We’ve seen its vibrancy and its poverty. We’ve climbed Gunfire Hill a hundred times, our hearts pounding at the top as we bid good morning to the city, with its cathedral spire and drifts of mist. We’ve hiked hills and valleys around Grahamstown and have been rewarded with hardy fynbos, cloistered forests and far-flung views stretching to the Indian Ocean.
Beyond Grahamstown, we’ve ventured into mountains and onto plains and beaches. We’ve walked in the presence of giraffes and zebras and have waited nervously while a bull elephant strode past our diminutive rented car. We’ve watched lions and buffaloes feeding and have felt the nerve-tingling charisma of Africa’s big game.
We’ve also attended dramas and musical performances, capturing a taste of this continent’s arts. We’ve grown fitter and stronger and closer to each other, our shared experiences and individual experiences shared with each other building new foundations in our personal lives and in our marriage. We rely on each other, and that reliance hasn’t failed. Now, as we look forward to the second half of our time in South Africa, I’m thankful for the opportunities we’ve had and thankful for those that lie ahead. And, since I’m here, what can I do but jot notes on everything from women’s hairstyles to male Cape weaver birds performing frenetic courtship displays at woven-grass nests that hang like pendants from fine twigs?
Back home in Canada, this weekend is the Thanksgiving long weekend. If I were in Nova Scotia, on the rural property I share with Vilis and a host of wild creatures, I would perhaps harvest the last of my garden produce or pick apples. I would take baskets of fruit and veggies to church and set up a harvest table, a reminder of God’s blessings throughout the year. I would cook a feast that would feature our land’s abundance: stuffed roast chicken (our own), mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh garden salad, various vegetables, cranberry sauce (some years, we pick the cranberries) and pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. Our sons would drive up from Halifax to join us, and we would be together again, as we were for so many years at Ravenhill while they were growing up.
But I’m not in Canada. I’m in Africa, and suddenly, I so much miss the fresh smell of autumn wind, the rustle of aspen leaves trembling and the sight of brilliant red, orange and yellow autumn leaves that tear at the heart before they fall and create a crisp blanket that crunches when you step on it. Autumn is a time of endings and beginnings, of taking stock, of preparing for winter. Pantry full. Deep freezes full. The cold room full. Firewood stacked.
It’s hard to be away from home at Thanksgiving. The heartstrings tug. Yet, here I am in Africa, my dream come true. And this year, I also achieved a long-held writing dream. After many months of intense, hard work, I published and launched my New Zealand travel memoir trilogy, Cry of the Kiwi: A Family’s New Zealand Adventure.
On Friday, while mulling over the subject of this post, I read two articles that discuss the positive results of having an attitude of thanksgiving. Here are the links: the power of gratitude and 3 reasons you should adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Let’s carry on, South Africa, and Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!