Last year before turning forty, I found myself thinking about taking a break from my life. I found the thought of stepping off the merry-go-round that is work and deadlines and commutes enormously appealing. So I spoke to my boss, set a date and started saving.
Fast forward eight months. I am now on my 54th day of my sabbatical. This time feels like golden, sparkling sand running through my fingers, and I find myself living so much more intentionally to make the most of it. I have some pretty fixed ideas of what is important to me during this time off. I want to travel. I want to learn new things – so far my list includes yoga, cookie decorating, baking a beautiful drip cake, a short course through the university (which may be completely unrelated to my job – philosophy? poetry? literature?) . I want to read, and write. I want to keep a journal. I want to take photographs. I want to catch up on my blogging. I want to have coffee dates with school moms in the morning after drop-off.
But most of all – I want to be with Immy. This morning I dropped her off at school. I sat with her while she climbed the pyramid at school. We played Apple on a Stick. And when the bell rang, she threw herself at me for a quick hug and kiss and dashed off to class. Such tiny things, that I haven’t had the privilege of experiencing. At least once a day I feel like I need to pinch myself – is this really me? Is this really my life right now? Do I get to be this person, free from worry and responsibility and work pressures? How lucky am I?
In December, we headed to South Africa for our first trip back since arriving in Australia in 2016. I was surprised at all the feelings that came up. The longing for home, the place of my birth – and Immy’s, of course. The life and friends and love we left behind when we moved here. The history shared with my people – friends I’ve had for decades, who have walked beside me through my most dazzling moments, and my darkest sorrows. I soaked it in, every conversation and glass of wine with this tribe of mine. Our eyes, slightly more crinkled at the corners when we laugh. Our hugs, slightly more poignant because so short-lived. Our children, growing so quickly and reuniting with one another as though not a single day had passed.
I took in the region of 800 photographs. I struggled to choose which ones to share here. I did very little editing – straightened one or two, and maybe brightened a few up. In the end, I picked these moments and memories – ties that bind family bonds and friendships across oceans and time.
Our first stop – Pretoria. We spent our days swimming, exploring and catching up with friends.
After twelve busy days, we flew to Knysna to spend the rest of the holiday with my parents. We visited all our old haunts – Leisure Isle, the Friday Night market, the beautiful old church in Belvidere that I love so much. We walked through the forest, and swam in the ocean. We climbed sand dunes at sunset, and went rock pooling at Buffalo Bay.
We spent a few days in Addo Elephant Park to give Dave a taste of the African bush. I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of sitting in a car parked at a waterhole, surrounded by between 80 and 100 elephants. Gentle, slow-moving giants. At the waterhole, one herd drinks while the rest politely – patiently – wait their turn. Babies are protected, sheltered in and amongst the legs of the adults. Friends drape their trunks across each others backs. Others stand motionless, facing a certain direction as though all life waits that way if you have the sense to stop and listen. It was an incredible experience, my first time there and something I hope that Immy will store in her memory forever.
I couldn’t help thinking of something David Attenborough said – The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant, except in a picture book? – and feeling so thankful for places like this, and people who spend their lives dedicated to preserving our beautiful earth.
Our last days passed in a blur of parties, breakfasts, lunches and goodbyes. I cried, and so did Immy. It’s a strange feeling, to leave those you love and the life you’re so familiar with while at the same time returning to the new life you’re making and the things to look forward to there.
We have gained and lost in both places where we have our roots – South Africa, and Melbourne.
I think this makes us extraordinarily lucky.