December 5, 2011


Back in graduate school, about a lifetime ago, I remember meeting a student by name of Rahul. He was Indian, in name and appearance, but from Africa, as he would quickly point out when asked about his origins. He was something of a free spirit, not fitting into any mold you might try to find for him: Brilliant yet uninterested in grades, equipped with a wonderful sense of humor, and loving nothing more than a good party. Even though he was well-read and seemed to know everything, he seemed to have a disdain for formal education that made us all wonder, frankly, what he was doing in the rather dull environment of business school.

But what I remember best about Rahul was his passion for Africa. He was born to Indian parents on assignment in Zambia, and if I remember correctly spent a large part of his childhood there. When you'd ask him what it was like living there (with what I now realize was the typical Western contempt for this continent) his eyes would light up and he'd describe it so vividly I can still see the images in my head. "The colors," he would say, "are like nowhere else in the world." He'd go on to describe the beautiful African sky at sunset, the smell of the red dust right before the long-awaited rains arrived, the sound of birds calling early in the morning when the air was still crisp, the radiating smiles on people's faces, the vibrant hustle on market days.

I remember being incredulous. Africa, in my mind - perhaps framed by the images of "Biafra children" we were plied with during my childhood - was a hot and scorched place where nothing grew and everyone was poor and starving. I couldn't understand why someone would love such a place, was yearning to go back in fact, but I have never forgotten our conversation.

Rahul, you see, was absolutely right. Once you have lived in Africa, so the saying goes, you can never quite get it out of your system. There is something magical about it that keeps pulling you back. Yes, Africa is huge and diverse and you can't just treat it as one homogeneous mass, yet the fascination with it seems to be universal. Maybe it is the somewhat slower pace of life we fall in love with, having escaped the rat race of a workaholic life in the West and realizing there are many roses to be smelled along the way. Maybe it is the climate, at least here in Southern Africa, which is much less scorching than a humid American summer and where you can live entirely without air conditioning, allowing you to keep your windows open to listen to the sounds of the night. Maybe it is the people of Africa, who are so overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming, quick to smile and laugh and find unexpected humor in every situation, offering a heartfelt "sorry" for you when you've hurt yourself even though it wasn't their fault and therefore no reason to apologize. Or maybe it really is the color of an African sunset. I actually have a folder in my pictures directory called "African Skies," some of which I will share with you at the bottom of this post. The colors are truly unforgettable.

Whatever it is, I already know now that I will miss Africa with every fiber of my being when the day comes that we have to move away. I will miss the weaver bird's call for a mate to show off the beautiful nest he created in just a few days. I will miss the sun that so reliably shines every single day. I will miss the smell of jasmine and the beauty of all the other flowers in our garden. I will miss the pure joy on a child's face when you show him his picture on your camera. I will miss the privilege of listening to a spontaneous a capella choir performance when walking through the airport. I will miss singing Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika at school assemblies. I will miss Africa in a way I never missed Singapore, another lovely place to live. Perhaps I only feel this way because I'm now older and more seasoned in the art of living, less impatient with the things that inevitably go wrong.

Africa is indeed beautiful. Thank you Rahul, wherever you are now, for planting this seed so many years ago.

African Sky: Sodwana Bay, June 2010. Photo by Jacky du Plessis

African Sky: Fiery sunset mixed with smoke from burning grass, Dainfern

African Sky: Sunset at Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, June 2011

African Sky: Sunrise over Dainfern Valley

African Sky: Clouds building over Zanzibar, August 2011

African Sky: Sunset over the Garden Route coast near Knysna

African Sky: Sunset over Robben Island
African Sky: Storm over Dainfern Valley

African Sky: Sunset over Cape Town

African Sky: Franschhoek, October 2011

African Sky: Rainbow over Dainfern Valley

African Sky: Sondela, July 2010

African Sky: Sunset in Madikwe Game Reserve
African Sky: You don't have to travel far for beautiful sunrises -
view over Dainfern Valley as seen from my desk

African Sky: Brewing storm in Madikwe Game Reserve, December 2010

African Sky: Cape Peninsula, Cape Town, April 2011

African Sky: Sunset over the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, March 2011

African Sky: Sunrise in Madikwe Game Reserve, October 2010

Africa Bloggers Linkup


The Loerzels said...

Beautiful sentiment. Beautiful words. And beautiful pictures.

Sine said...

Thank you Marie! said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

When I got to the part about the weaver birds I started to cry. (I do cry easily these days, but still.) Your photos are incredible, especially the one from Madikwe and the lighting over Dainfern. Very impressive.

Thanks for writing this. I agree with every syllable.

Gerda said...

We are on a 3 week holiday from India in South Africa, and enjoying the colors you are talking about! Being from Africa, I think that is my reaction too when asked questions about Africa. To see blogs like yours, raving about Africa.....that is just so coool! Thank you! said...

Great post. Your pictures are stunning. Just yesterday on my way home at 7pm, I saw the most beautiful sky I have ever seen. I was so gutted to not have my camera with me, but you are right - the sun shines every day and there will be another opportunity or 100!

Maria Latham said...

A beautifully evocative post, Sine. This is why I read blogs from places I've never been to — through your words, I could see it all in my mind's eye; the photos were the icing on the cake. Thanks!

Sine said...

Thanks everyone for your kind words. I truly enjoyed writing this and hope that it will change a few more people's opinions on Africa. Plus I just needed an outlet for all those sky pictures I'd been saving:-)

Jozie Days said...

Lovely post Sine! One of my expat friends from the UK who has now located to Atlanta, said one of the things she loved so much in Africa was the 'big sky' as she called it. She was amazed how many types of clouds you could see and how you could see as far as the horizon where the sky touched the earth. She also loved the small in the air after the rain. I know that once you have been to Africa your soul has been stamped with memories that are hard to describe.

Sine said...

Oh, I love the smell too. Before as well as after the rain. Isn't it funny how the sky can be big in some places and not others? I just know that I constantly want to take pictures of it here and it never seemed worth noticing in Europe for instance. Perhaps because it's always overcast there:-)

Niens said...

Your Africa story is just the best! Some pictures feel familiar - wonder why!

Niens said...

What a lovely blog on my beloved South Africa! Thank you Sine!

Sine said...

Niens - just read your beautiful Silent Night story, but now you'll have to fill me in on who you are and why my pics look familiar:-)

- Suzie - said...

Very well written Sine!
Beautiful photos!

Why you think of leaving?
Maybe you retire in Africa?
You are free to choose.

Sine said...

Thank you! No, not thinking of leaving, though as an expat the thought can never be far from your mind. Retiring, however, is:-)

Where would YOU go?

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Love those pictures. Funny he was so laid back in grad school. Most Indians I have met here in the USA are very driven, almost Asian just more cheerful.

Sine said...

He was the most atypical Indian I've ever met.

Lorenda said...

Sunset over Zambezi photograph just SPECTACULAR!! Goog place to stand, Gin & Tonic in hand ...

Sine said...

Thank you Lorenda! This, by far, is my most favorite blog post of all the ones I've written. Both pictures and words. I'm glad you liked the Zambezi pic, it is one of my favorite ones too!

Clara Wiggins said...

Oh I know I am going to miss this place so much - we have at least another year and a bit here and already I am feeling depressed about leaving! Lovely photos - I am v jealous you managed to get that picture of the lightning - I gave up trying as I had too many blank sky photos! I will have to try again next summer...Thank you for linking up with the first ever Stories from Blogging Africa link-up :)

M Cavanagh said...

Great post and gorgeous pictures!

Sine said...

Clara, I love the Blogging Africa link-up, will check out the other stories now! I thought this one would be a good first post for it as it's so essential Africa. And yes, I'm also proud of that lightning photo - I think I just got lucky. Was standing on the patio shooting away during a storm when trying to figure out my new camera, and it just happened. Did you notice it is even a bit the shape of Africa?

Sine said...

THanks, M Cavanagh!