Category Archives: Adventures

The Joy of Flying


I step from the Gautrain station into the airport and feel a little thrill of joy. A sudden sensation of well-being. I love this airport. The first of the Christmas lights are up. Twists of white lights along each railing, sprinkling the hanger-like space with sparkle.

I don’t have time to pause above the international arrivals area today. If I was here longer, I would. Just to stop for a few minutes and people-watch. It’s my secret joy, the opening scene of Love Actually in real life – meetings, greetings, love and hugs.

Today I trip past, run a quick errand, narrowly avoid a trolley-full of spinach, follow complaining south Americans up the escalator and head for check-in. Not too long to wait. I drop my bag and grab a paper.

Past security, I wonder about a little airport shopping. There was a time when Exclusive Books concluded that domestic departures OR Tambo was my “home” store  because I shopped there more often than anywhere else. They used to send me newsletters about it. No time today.

Past the boarding gate, on the sky-walk, that little thrill of happiness hits again. Up the steps, into the plane, find my window seat – always, for a Cape Town flight, especially. The plane is full but I have an empty seat beside me. I settle down and put my bag away. I’m smiling to myself.

photo-2016-11-11-9-33-14-amThe taxi and the take-off. As we lift into the air, I feel relief. Breaking away from the ground and soaring into the sky. Leaving the earth and its worries behind. I look down on Joburg – green, now the rains have come – until it disappears below drifting clouds.

Raising my eyes, I look up and out. This morning’s thunderstorm clouds. High, wispy ice-crystal clouds. Fluffy-white eiderdown clouds. We rise towards them and I wish were could go faster and be up there among them.

Then we are. Up above the cloud-line, looking out at a world of white and the incredible blue of the sky. I take a deep breathe. I feel my body relax. Below, glimpses of fields and houses still exist through the clouds. Up here we glide soundlessly, the clouds and I.

Somewhere over the Northern Cape, the cloud cover thins and I look down on a real live topographical map. A farm road angles and cuts through dry-looking land. There are a few fields near the road, stretching towards the red-grey-brown dirt. Two streams come together to form a small river that flows away, twisting and turning, into the distance. From up here, the land looks parched. A few minutes later, the earth disappears below the clouds again.


The fields in the Western Cape valleys are dark green and bright yellow and dull brown. The dams lie deep, dark blue. We begin our descent. The mountains grow higher and more majestic and more rugged as we get closer. Each ridge and valley, each farm and field become clearer, sharper. Song lyrics, nostalgic, long-not-thought-about, pop into my head:

Daar’s ‘n dorpie wat ek ken daar tussen die blou berge
En die lower van die eike oor die straat

First sight of the sea and Robben Island in the bay. From my seat on the right side of the plane, I’ve missed the sparkling blue of Gordan’s Bay on approach. Instead – a choice over and over again – the left turn reveal of the spectacular view of Table Mountain.

Durbanville rises towards the top of the hill, green and pretty. Table Bay. Lion’s Head. With an elegant turn, the striking, familiar beauty of the Table Mountain massif itself. A few wispy clouds rest on top, like a table-cloth about to fall off.

Over hostels and compounds and the plane comes in to land. We land with a bump – there is wind out there. The sensation of speed and resistance as we slow.

The grass beside the runway is Cape Town summer-dry. In the distance, from the window of my earth-bound plane, the mountains are green-blue-postcard-picture perfect.


We all carry scars. Physical scars, emotional scars. Scars from crazy adventures, scars from stupid decisions, deep scars from emotional experiences that changed who we are or were.

Sometimes the scars are small and non-descript. No-one else would know the backstory, even if they noticed the tiny scar. Sometimes they’re evident to everyone – particularly when trauma brings back that pain. The perhaps-out-of-proportion emotional reaction. The visceral re-experiencing of a past traumas overcome.

This week has been difficult. So many weeks are difficult. Some people’s scars, particularly emotional scars, were exposed by a traumatic event. Some of those scars are recent – not yet healed. Some are long-past but still bring up difficult memories.

Do we value the scars of our colleagues and friends? Not in the sense of sensationally wishing to know all the details, but in the sense of respectfully appreciating that the scars mean something – they mean, more often than not, adversity overcome and lessons learned.

There is a Billy Joel song called “Pressure“. The lyrics have often struck me

You turned the tap dance into your crusade
 Now here you are with your faith
 And your Peter Pan advice
 You have no scars on your face
 And you cannot handle

Some of my own scars run deep. Particularly emotional scars. There are things I have seen and experienced that have changed me. They have made me less open, less giving, less willing to try, to learn, to grow. It’s hard to move past those experiences and find ways to be open again.

Yet this tough week comes at a time when I have found – against all expectations – people who are able to challenge and encourage me to rediscover my strength and my humanity.

I won’t go back and I won’t put myself in those situations again, yet I’m finding, day to day, ways to put those scars and those experiences into perspective. I am learning to cope with the vicarious trauma of the work that I do, with the real trauma of some of those I work with and care about, in ways that are healthier and more constructive – with the constant support of amazing, strong people, some of whom are working through the same or similar challenges, who find the strength and humility to share experiences with me and help me find my own strength.

I am not sad about the scars that I carry. They are a map of journeys taken and the road less travelled and lessons learned. Respecting those scars and the stories behind them – my own and others’ – is a foundation for new journeys, physical or literal, with people who value past experiences and can see and share new paths.

The scars we carry do not define us; they remind us and help us to find new, better, sometimes wiser, ways of taking on the challenge of a life less ordinary.


The DRC trip keeps returning to my mind. Everything keeps drifting in that direction. Kinshasa and Goma, Bunia and Beni come up in conversations, in news feeds, in humanitarian debate wormholes down which I have fallen.

Last weekend I went to the zoo. I was with three well-traveled, cosmopolitan friends; the kind of friends with whom half an hour’s conversation can move easily through three different continents and several decades of history. A zoo trip is a great opportunity to take a long walk through pleasant surroundings with plenty of conversation-starting animal sightings. This trip was to the Pretoria Zoo. We chose this zoo for a very particular reason: Okapi.