I sit here quietly thinking about what it means to me to be South African, a visitor to South Africa or even African.
It seems easier to explain the effect that this land has on me …
The perfume of rain on African soil.
The scent of woodfires drifting across the highveld on winter evenings.
There’s a very distinctive aroma just as one starts coming into George / Knysna / Plett (I’ve never figured out which herb it is), in much the same way the smell of Wild Sage defines the area around Santawani in Botswana.
The odour of thatch in a game lodge. The bouquet of dust and the various plants when one gets into the bush, sometimes a whiff of something dead. The tang of the ocean at the seaside.
The smell of ‘moer’ coffee over an early morning fire, or the delicious aroma of roasting meat over flames – whether you call it a braai or shisa nyama (but definitely NOT a barbeque, a barbie, or a ghastly NZ sausage sizzle!).
There is also something about the light here.
“Santorini Blue”… I don’t know if that’s an actual colour, but it seems to describe the hue of the highveld sky on a winter’s day to perfection.
We live in “big sky” country – whether blue, or orange in sunset, or dark grey and rent by lightening, or velvet black and filled with stars that seem close enough to touch – the sky is ever present.
As is the moon. I am always aware of the moon, from a sickle moon to the full fecund globe that is full moon. Silver light gilding thorn trees, juxtaposed against dark shadows on the savannah, is not a sight one easily forgets.
The caw of the ubiquitous, raucous Hadedah in suburbia, the burbling call of a rainbird (Burchell’s Coucal) when a thunderstorm is on its way, the beautiful Diederick’s Cuckoo announcing the arrival of spring, the screech of a barn owl or the evocative call of the Fish Eagle.
Jackals calling as the sun goes down, a lion’s roar quite literally making the air reverberate, or the chilling whoops of the hyenas.
The cacophony of barking geckos that start up as the sun goes down over Deception Pan, or a veritable orchestra of frogs around a pan in the summer months.
Cicadas shrilling on days so hot that the air shimmers, or a nightjar calling in the dead of night in the bushveld.
Days of withering heat often followed by the lightest cool breeze, just as the sun is setting.
A gentle little wind, which plays with your hair like an absent-minded lover, reminding you that the cool of the night will soon be with you.
Walking in the bush very early in the morning, the sun’s rays catch the dew on spiders’ webs, reminding you that life, both seen and unseen, is all around you.
Trout fishing as the sun peeps over the horizon in Dullstroom, so cold that the water droplets freeze on your line…
The colours of this land are not subtle either.
The blood red of the coral tree, the green metallic glint of sunbirds, the striped black and white hide of the zebra, or sapphire blue of a kingfisher.
The miles and miles of yellow and orange daisies in Namaqualand in September, or pink and white swathes of cosmos along the roads in April.
The lilac and turquoise of the roller, the tawny hide of a lion or the emerald green of a little dung beetle that makes its appearance in the summer months.
From the golden dunes of the Namib to an unimaginable number of greens in the Knysna Forest.
All vivid and arresting.
Talk to me of Morrungulo or Tsodilo Hills, the great Drakensberg, Platteland dorps and the great Karoo. The warmth of Sodwana Bay or the icy kelp forests of the Atlantic Ocean.
Of wine farms and fynbos in the Cape, to meerkats and diamonds in the north.
Show me our people, in so many hues, with brightly coloured traditional costumes – and even brighter smiles.
All of this creates a frisson of excitement, passion each and every day, a vivid, immediate sense of being alive that I have found nowhere else …
These are my people. This is my land.
Because I am, at the very core of my being, a child of Africa!