And So It Begins…

…the journey my heart has longed for. Yes, yes, my heart does indeed long for many, but this one involves precious family I haven’t seen in years and family I’ve never met. It was, I think, born from a single photograph I ordered from The War Graves Photographic Project website a couple of years ago, a headstone in a tiny cemetery on Skye, erected to the memory of my great grandfather who died of wounds sustained in Palestine in the First World War, his brother who was lost in France during that same conflict, another of their siblings and their parents, John and Marion Macdonald.

Looking at that photograph, my heart was hooked (not that it needed much encouragement). “I want to go back again. I want to be there. I want to walk where they walked. I want to live and cherish their memory.” The journey then grew through connection with my uncle (my mother’s brother) and their cousin (in law), both of whom hold family documents and photographs they want organised somehow. This dovetailed perfectly with my genealogy, um, addiction, which then yielded more and more crumbs along the family history trail. These I added to a bucket list which formed the basis of my itinerary for this trip. It’s amazing, though, how quickly four weeks can fill up, especially when one’s trying to get from the coast in the south of England to the west coast of Scotland to islands in the north and then Edinburgh on the east coast! Some items have had to stay on the bucket list for now but that simply means there’s scope and reason for another trip 😉

Pride Goes Before a Fall
I managed to get home from work almost on schedule. I successfully disconnected my car’s battery and then managed, after a couple of attempts, to manually lock the driver’s door. I checked it again before squeezing the last few items into my now rather bulky travel pack. I e-mailed off details required for my car hire in Skye. I showered and got ready. I washed the dishes lying in the sink. I unplugged all appliances and switched off the geyser. I locked and checked the doors and windows. I was sorted. Yay me! The buzzer rang – my lift had arrived.

I wrangled my travel pack onto my back, grabbed my hand luggage, took a last look around, locked up and made my way downstairs. Paranoia made me check my car doors. Front door… locked. Back door… swung open! I was horrified. I tried a few options. None worked. Now dripping with sweat, I concluded I would have to reconnect the battery and try figure out how to get the back doors locked. I worried about how long it would take to figure out, particularly with my fear of fiddling with car batteries (which comes from reading the manual – it’s a bit like reading the package insert for medication). I knew I would get dirty again and didn’t have time to clean up. I was holding my lift up. I worried about being late for check in. I decided to leave it. It was inside my complex. And if someone wants to get in, they’re going to get in whether the doors are locked or not, right?

A Little African Adventure for the Road
I’ve always had slight concerns around the safety of tuk tuks in the aggression and speed of Jozi traffic and the questionable roadworthiness of many of the vehicles on our roads but, I figured, what better time to try it than at the start of my holiday? My very courteous driver hopped out of his seat to help load my luggage and very graciously took a photo of me in the tuk tuk:

In the tuk tuk and ready to roll

At the Gautrain station, he once again leapt out to carry my luggage across the road (closed to traffic for EcoMobility month) and help get it on my back. So there you have it: no mess, no fuss, super-fun and I lived to tell the tale 🙂

Sandton from the tuk tuk passenger seat

A fellow passenger on the Gautrain, perhaps prompted by the Springbok shirt I was wearing, asked whether I knew what the Rugby World Cup result was of the South Africa-USA game. “Oh my,” he said when I told him of the whitewash. Turns out he’s a Columbian, studying at Wits, and also on his way to the airport, flying out to a friend’s wedding in Georgia (the country). I love these serendipitous little encounters, learning about others and their life journeys.

The Departure Lounge
Safely checked-in, and through security and passport control, I ordered a serious cappuccino to calm my nerves while I poured out my car door woes to my mother over the phone. Without missing a beat, she said she and my father would drive down and sort it out, “so you don’t have to worry about it.” It’s no trivial matter, either, since it’s at least a two-hour drive for them, one way. Well, that was me finished! How come I have such awesome parents? I said a teary goodbye with a prayer of gratitude for the great grace and blessing that are mine in my father and mother.

Just sitting in the departure lounge reminded me how much I love this, the immense privilege of travel. People rushed to and fro while others seemed bored, waiting for their flight to depart. Out of Africa had their Christmas displays up, a riot of colour and beadwork, while the strains of a live marimba band filled the walkways with lively African beats.

Out of Africa’s Christmas Display

Destinations echoed out over the PA system, fuelling the wanderlust that rages within. “This is a first boarding call for Turkish Airlines flight XYZ to Istanbul.” Istanbul! A myriad of magical memories flooded back. “We have unfinished business,” I thought. “One day, I want to walk your streets again…” Two girls, possibly in their twenties, sat down next to me, glued to their phones. A second boarding call for that Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul wafted over to us a few minutes later. One of the girls, without removing her eyes or fingers from her phone, said to the other, “Wanna go to Istanbul?” “Nah,” said the second, and both carried on their interactions in their virtual worlds, as if nothing had happened, as if they hadn’t just closed the door on an incredible city. I tried to recover from the shock by meandering over to the boarding gate for my flight!

So long, South Africa; Hello, Holiday and History!
It wasn’t long before we boarded and were airborne. The exhilaration of take-off is one of those sensations I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. It’s obviously physically powerful but it also holds a sense of expectation, of something new or different, of change. The glitter of city lights spilled out below us on the velvety-black canvas of night, as I contemplated what the next four weeks may hold for me…

Dinner was a peppery, though quite yummy, dish of grilled chicken strips, accompanied by bowtie pasta, roasted butternut sticks and creamy mushroom sauce. It was served with a salad, a pretzel-like roll, crackers and salmon cream cheese, passionfruit orange cake and a chocolate.

Full, satisfied and finally able to relax after a number of late nights of preparation, I was asleep within minutes, as Africa floated by below us.