Frozen Pony England

Africa: it’s under my skin

It’s getting cold outside – minus one my car told me this morning. Hats, gloves and scarves are piling up by the front door. Walks here in the New Forest are brisk and invigorating. Then I chat with my dad, now retired to South Africa’s tropical KwaZulu Natal coast, living footsteps from the Indian Ocean. It’s their summer now. He’s hot, sticky and sipping on an ice-cold beer. I meanwhile am clutching a mug of Yorkshire tea. Momentarily, I wonder where would I rather be?

That question has come up a lot for me, and no doubt many others who have been fortunate to fly south for long stints of sunshine during our long European winter. Having spent my childhood split between the UK and Southern Africa, I’ve put a lot of thought into where I’d rather live, where do I feel most at home? The answer is both, so not so easy physically. However, I may well have come up with a solution. And it’s thanks to the opportunity to write this blog that I’m getting to put that into practice.

For twelve years, I travelled several times a year to the African continent on work research trips and to participate in trade shows. I wanted to be able to sell my client’s trips with tried and tested confidence and the enthused passion that comes from experiencing things first-hand. I also wanted my Africa fix; that reconnection to the wilderness, wildlife and its grounded people. Then, one day, I woke up wanting to spend more time at home here in the UK. I stopped travelling physically.

It’s been over two years since my last trip to Africa. It feels like a lifetime. I used to clear customs at Johannesburg OR Tambo more frequently than the ticket turnstiles at London Waterloo. It left a big gap in my life. A gap that I filled with experiences locally, experiences that reminded of the things that I’d loved about being on safari in Africa. I hung out with the ponies in the New Forest, went foraging with local naturalists, and fell in love with British birds. I swam in the Solent – not quite the Indian Ocean, but as exhilarating. I wore my colourful African beaded jewellery with pride.

Then, the other day, Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga came on my Spotify shuffle playlist. I got goose bumps. I was transported – and had a big realisation: Africa is always with me, it’s part of me. I may not be travelling there physically, but I can always tap into what Africa means to me. And now, through the JbD blog I’m able to frequently return to that first-hand knowledge, to share that passion, and to combine it with my love of writing and being at home.

And one day soon, I will return to Africa, and wow, am I going to appreciate every minute. Absence has certainly made the heart grow fonder. For now, I’m content with my fireside writing, sharing what she has already taught me, and will hope to inspire others to follow in my footsteps, either to travel to and allow the grounding, positive and vibrant African energy to penetrate their skin, or to find those similar experiences via their local community.

Experienced Africa travel consultant and fan of all things well-being, Sally Kirby writes for a number of travel-orientated outlets, and blogs at The Teal Journal. Opening photo credit:  © Sally Kirby 

Sunset at Lake Sibaya

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