The restless race of the traveler’s heart before the journey begins. When anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; travel fever; wanderlust
Text copyright © Kelly Damon 2017
Cover design and pictures copyright © Kelly Damon 2017
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed, in any form or by any means, without prior consent of the author.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
This is an account of true events. Certain names have been changed to protect the identities of those concerned (but mostly to prevent the assholes I mention from suing me for everything that I have).
THE CITY GIRL
I think I was born with itchy feet. I have tried to think of a time when I did not want to travel, but I’ve lost faith that such a time ever existed. There was always somewhere I wished I could see; some faraway place I wanted to explore.
I am the only one in my immediate family, who was born in Johannesburg. It really makes it interesting then, that out of all of us, I’m the one that hates it here the most.
I was born and raised in a suburb called Kenilworth; a place that has to be the most dull, insignificant area of Johannesburg South.
There. Is. Nothing. Here.
It is so astoundingly unimportant that most people from Johannesburg probably can’t even tell you where it is, most likely because they have never heard of it before.
Kenilworth is not a good suburb, although it’s not an entirely shit one either.
It is neither a place for the rich, nor the poor. It is a purgatory of sorts. It could swing either to the completely uninhabitable town it is starting to become, or it could thrive- if people cared enough to make it so.
It has its good, its bad and its goddamn ugly. It is deteriorating.
It is not the same Kenilworth I grew up in, but, I hate to admit, it is my home.
Although everything is destined to change, which is primarily what this memoir is about; Although I have spent most of my life watching my environment crumble around me;
Although I have watched Johannesburg transform into one of the worst places in South Africa and in doing so, felt every atom of my existence ache, one thing has never dwindled:
My inexhaustible desire to leave this darn suburb for greener pastures and never, ever, return.
I am not a person who can remember their childhood in vivid detail, right down to the dialogue and the attire of the humans who star in their memories. I cannot tell you what my earliest memory is, or what season it was when I said my first my word.
For the most part, I barely remember anything from before I began attending school in 1998.
The story of my childhood, as precious as it is to me, is not very exciting. I didn’t go on adventures, or get myself into trouble with a gang of naughty children I called my friends.
I didn’t play in the street before the dawn of mainstream technology. I wasn’t dirt poor, or stinking rich, or raised in the great outdoors.
I spent 99% of my childhood at home because I didn’t have any friends and, even if I did, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house without parental supervision.
I was taught to trust no one, and to rather be safe than sorry. The outside world was a scary place, where bad things happened to people, especially those who weren’t cautious.
My family had the odd holiday to Cape Town, but other than that we didn’t have money to globetrot. It wasn’t a priority to us.
At least, it wasn’t a priority to the rest of my family.
To me, it was my greatest dream.
Even though most of my childhood memories are lost in a timeless blur of reading a lot of books and staying out of trouble, there are a few special memories that cling to my soul.
They are not extraordinary, but I have never been able to shake them. They all have something important, a common denominator that holds them together and makes them the memories that are the first to surface when I think back.
The first happened so long ago it feels like a dream in a different universe. I don’t remember anything about that day except these details:
It was cold. Freezing cold.
The sky was a dark greyish colour, the kind that invokes feelings of doom and depression.
It was quite early in the morning and my family were venturing somewhere on foot (probably to church, which implies that this took place on a Sunday).
I was wearing a green, woolen beanie that I adored with my whole material heart. My mother then made me lend the beanie to my older sister, Colleen.
I never saw it again. I still blame Colleen for that, and have not fully moved past it.
The second important memory I have is broken.
All I know is that I was with my father, after dropping Colleen off at school. I made the journey home on his shoulders, and we went through a park that exists in my memory as a place full of magic.
This memory, although it is incomplete, is possibly the most majestic I have.
I can still see the sunlight streaming through the autumn leaves and I can still feel it falling on my face.
The third, I was with my mother, again in the cold of the early morning, under an overcast sky, at the shops.
This happened very long ago so the only thing I can recall is that we went to our town’s main shopping street, and that she bought me a pair of gloves with googly eyes on them.
Special memory number four, is of a trip to the city centre, or as we in Johannesburg call it, Town. I am not sure if it was my first trip to the city, but it sure does feel like it was.
From the backyard of the house I grew up in, I could see the city’s skyline. It always fascinated me, and felt so far away, so on this particular day, I was excited to see the buildings up close.
I was with my mother again, and we took the bus. This happened in either spring or summer, because it was warm and the sky was the prettiest pale blue I have ever seen.
There are many more of these special recollections, but these will suffice to make my point.
Do you see the pattern?
In each of these memories, I can barely remember the when and why, but I do remember vividly, the who and the sky. I did not mean to make that rhyme.
Back then, on each of those days, the sky stood out to me, burning its image on my brain, making it impossible to forget.
It’s not just because it was pretty, or bright and children are attracted to colour. No. The sky is always pretty and colourful, but I don’t even remember what it looked like yesterday.
I remember the sky on those days because it invoked the very first traces of wanderlust I will live with for the rest of my life.
I had no concept of travel when I was that young. The world, to me, was as far as I could see. But the sunlight streaming through autumn trees, the pretty blue set as a backdrop for the city, and the greyish doom above me, made me feel like I was not in Johannesburg, and woke my soul up to feelings I couldn’t comprehend; like wander, adventure, and being part of a world that did not end at the horizon.
Although I thought that the world ended at the skyline, I knew, even back then, when I was barely three years old, that if I ever had the opportunity to go beyond it, I would be the happiest girl on the planet.
That it would be exciting, and scary, and most of all, wonderful.
It all makes sense to me now. Twenty years later.
I was born with a need for adventure.
Adventure that I could never act on, and therefore, never made much of. For most of my life I passed it off as a sort of nostalgia.
It was never nostalgia.
It was never innocent curiosity.
It was never the mind of a growing child taking interest in her surroundings.
It was always wanderlust.
Painful, beautiful, wanderlust.
There are other instances that I can offer as proof that I knew I wanted to travel before I understood that traveling was something people do.
There was a time long, long ago when I wanted to be a Metrobus driver.
The idea of getting paid to drive from one place to another all day long was the most fantastic thing I could think of.
I’ll have you know that Colleen laughed at me when I told her that. It damaged my spirit and I never recovered from it.
When I learned that planes carried people to different places, all I wanted to do was fly.
And when I finally understood that countries and continents existed, that the world did not, in fact, begin and end with Johannesburg, I knew that I wanted to see ALL of it.
While Colleen and I have always been extremely close, our main difference as children was that she always found inspiration in the stars, and I found adventure on the ground.
When we were little girls, we would play a game that we called Country Girl – City Girl, and really, it had no point whatsoever.
Our backyard was divided into three main sections;
The concrete, which was the largest area, the garden which had a low chicken wire fence surrounding it, and the grapevine, which served as a pathway to the front yard.
In this game, the garden was the ‘Country’ and the grapevine was the ‘City’. The concrete, and the rest of the house did not exist.
All we would do was play by ourselves in either the Country or the City, until one of us went on an adventure to foreign lands and met the other, which rarely happened.
It always seemed like Colleen had more fun in the Country, because she got the vegetable patch, and a nice wide open space, but, every single time, without fail, I chose to be the City Girl.
Furthermore, the fondest memory I have of this ridiculous game is crystal clear because it had just rained and the sky looked white.
I was made for the city. I thought being the City Girl was cooler, because the City Girl didn’t have to farm or tend to her imaginary livestock.
The City Girl could have fun climbing trees and talking to imaginary city friends.
The City Girl could be whoever she wanted to be, because the City was the land of opportunities.
Now, many years later, when we don’t have games in which we pretend any more, Colleen has a passion for science and astronomy and I have a passion for adventure.
She wants nothing more than to live in the Karoo where the sky is dark and the stars are bright. I want to ride planes all day and share my travel stories with anyone who will listen to them.
It’s not that our individual worlds never collide.
She would give anything to see Japan, or NASA, and I can’t think of a better job than getting paid to sit in my pyjamas and write all day.
It’s just that, now that I think about it, her path has always been calm and academic, while mine has been many paths, leading to different destinations, even though I have no fucking clue of what lies at the end of the road.
It’s the adventure that counts.
It’s no surprise that at this moment in time she has become an activist in nature conservation, and I have written this book about an important adventure that I went on not too long ago.
It was not my first adventure, and if I can help it, it will not be my last.
It was not to a new unseen land for work, education or luxury.
It was an adventure to my favourite place.
Even more so, it was an adventure to my favourite person.
I want to share it with you because it was an adventure of recovery.
It was an attempt to reconnect with a part of my spirit I thought I had lost a very long time ago.
It is really just a story of love.
Of love again.
The fact that I got to travel so I could tell it you is just the cherry on top.