My African Travel Diary: Convincing the universe and my parents (Part 1)

By Tsholo Tlhoaele

 In the first installment of an eight part series, Tsholo Tlhoaele takes us into a journey that first began as a young girl with curiosity about her continent and into the steps she took to finally getting on the plane. Along the way she is derailed by many obstacles including over protective friends, a materialistic society and an armed attack in the very place she had set her sights on visiting.

Since I can remember, I have always had this instinctual attraction to Africa, almost like that of a mother to their newborn child. It wasn’t just interest, it was more than that. I felt that I wasn’t merely an African, I felt that I was a part of the make-up of the soil, the waters, the skies and mountains. This is where my thirst for discovering my continent began.

25 Days, 5 countries, the East of Africa is where I had long decided I was going. Without even the faintest idea what to expect, by the age of 14 I knew that this is something that I wanted to do. So I began bargaining with my parents in the last few months of that year.

“Travel Africa?!”

The coldness from my mother’s response assured me that this would only be a dream that I had to entertain with travel magazine pictures, the travel channel and stories from people I would meet in my later life. I must say, it was a long shot expecting my mom to consent to my travel plans considering I was raised as the only girl amongst two older boys – one that never saw the light of day on the streets without an escort, be it to go to church, friends houses or even the local spaza shop. The challenge was to sell her the idea that sending her only daughter out into what seemed like an unknown alone was for a greater cause.

My dad on the other hand, was open to the idea, only as “Awww, how sweet that my 14 year old little girl dreams of cruising the dusty roads of Africa one day”

By the looks of things, getting through to my parents seemed a lot harder than the actual travelling. By the time I had reached my third year at Rhodes University, I was sure that this was something that I needed to do if I wanted to preserve my sanity.

I had every sign from the universe reassuring me that I could do this. I could travel the continent. The literature that I had read in my social book club, my political studies course and my media studies work were all pushing me in the direction to make material this travel idea.

The start of my final honours year at varsity saw to the miracle of my mother agreeing to me doing this barbaric trip. I think she may have been more at ease, as most parents are at the thought of me wanting to travel East Europe – but Africa? How could I possibly go against everything that seemed normal not only her, but most people my age who have just completed their studies. Eish, this now started making me question my own desire.

“Maybe there is a reason why people do not take a liking in travelling Africa,” I began thinking to myself. My mom would always point out, in a comical but serious way, how easily I could be kidnapped while walking from my taxi stop which was a stone throw away from my home, coming back from school during my matric year. If that is what could happen to me in a fairly safe neighbourhood like Protea North, Soweto, what would happen to me in Iringa or Dar es Salaam?

Not only did I have to deal with the fears of my parents and family, I didn’t get much support from my peers either. “Why are you travelling?” – this question in particular, from a young black girl, intellectually similar to me, invaded my skin like a rash. How could she ask me this? If anything, I am sure we all have a little bit of ourselves that we would like to escape, surely that’s enough to make you want to wake up in foreign land.

Growing up in an age when material possessions elevate your status amongst your peers, spending money on a travel trip around Africa instead of buying a second hand Corsa Lite or Hyundai Getz to climb higher on the ‘doing better than others’ ladder meant that I obviously did not have my priorities in check. After all, I do drive a 1971 yellow beetle – come on Tsholo!

Even so, with many skeptics behind me, I knew that I needed to do this. I knew that I was out to get a lot more than what could be seen with the naked eye. For me, an investment was made. A priceless experience that was to shape my future outlook on life, aid in moulding my own identity, it was an opportunity to face myself and see who I really was. Having grown up being told what is right and what is wrong, society telling me what is acceptable and my peers ranking my worth by what I have – it was time to unchain myself from the familiar and let my dreads down.

My close friend Katleho decided that she wanted to join me on my adventure after briefly telling her plans over a phone call. She wasn’t surprised that I was months away from discovering the infamously ‘dangerous’ East Africa.

“This is exactly you Tulz,” is what she said.

So as we started preparing for the journey, the universe struck again – only this time, with reasons why I should not be going:

“Attack at East Gate Mall, Nairobi, Kenya 12 November 2013.”

This was precisely fourteen days before I was to depart. Could the universe have been any more blatant with its hint? How was I to hide this universal catastrophe from my parents when reports on the attack filled the airwaves and TV stations for at least a week? I was convinced that my booking would be cancelled, money lost and experience shattered. I was as good as socially dead to my peers because I had invested my money into a death call instead of just getting a less noisy car than my beloved yellow beetle.

To my surprise, my parents played dead to the headlines. I figured that they thought not to tempt the universe any further by dwelling on the ‘could be’s’ and just accept that they had potentially paid for their daughter’s death, to glamorously take place in the ‘roughs’ of East Africa. My thick foundation of my excitement did not crack even in the mist of all the universe’s threats.

On the evening of 24 November 2013, the flight to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe departs at 10 am the next morning but I can’t sleep because I know that tomorrow I will be living a reality that I created from a mere dream. It could all go so wrong, even worse than getting kidnapped a stone throw away from my home. It could all be a bad decision that I will live to regret, but it could also be perfect.

To be continued next week with Tsholo’s experience of Victoria Falls.

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