From the South African bush to West of London, a short story of 50 years

In a little under 3 months I will be celebrating 50 years on this sometimes beautiful, sometimes wild, sometimes turbulent, sometimes peaceful, always home, planet Earth. My life journey has taken me to places and people I never thought possible, as most of ours have, I guess, and I find myself filled with gratitude and humbled by all that life has offered to me so far.

It's not the colour of the coin that makes me wealthy but the riches of my family. My husband and I are so blessed to be parents to two gorgeous young boys whom we adopted at the ages of 1 year and 9 months respectively... but for now...I am getting ahead of allow me to roll back a few decades or 5, and let you into my world.

I was born in 1971 in Durban on the East coast of South Africa, a city that swelters in the summer, and has winter mid-day highs that rival London in August, but I grew up about 30 kms inland from this vibrant coastal city, in a little village called Forest Hills, about 800 metres above sea level and several degrees cooler at times! My parents were both born in South Africa, although my mom grew up in Northern Rhodesia which is now know as Zambia. I am the eldest of 3 and have a sister and brother whom I adore. The picture below from a few years ago is clockwise from the left: me, my parents, my sister, my sister-in-law and my brother.

I remember as a kid walking the sun-baked roads to school, when there were only a handful of houses on a stretch a few kilometres long, and an occasional speeding car would whip up clouds of dust that twisted and twirled, then collapsed into themselves, erstwhile choking their unsuspecting little victims clad in school uniform. But I loved it out there! My mornings were spent in school, my afternoons spent disappearing into the bushveldt with my friends and my dogs. Most days the only person we saw on the roads was an occasional game ranger on his way to or from a shift in the local reserve. When we saw land for sale signs start to go up, our 6 year old selves protested in the only way we knew how: we blockaded the road with boulders to stop the out of town cars from prospecting. Of course it didn't work! Instead we were greeted with shaking fists, adult expletives and threats to inform our parents.

We lived on a ridge, above a massive deep gorge where the river had carved it's own path over countless years and spent our afternoons and weekends with the neighbourhood kids, exploring the cliffs, climbing up waterfalls using monkey ropes, spotting dassies (rock rabbits), duiker (deer), zebra, vervet monkeys, lizards and snakes, chameleons and a plethora of birds of prey. We would beat our way through wild grassland whose sheafs rose above our heads, traverse the footpaths, flanked by Protea bushes, into the valley used by the locals, who lived in their little mud and tin hut villages by the riverside, and finally strip down to swimming costumes and play in the riverbed below. The smooth white rocks would shimmer in the sun and when the river was high, we could slide down the rocks and allow the current to sweep us over the little waterfall drops into deep rockpools below. Our own private piece of paradise; days of youthful innocence played out in a country whose heart and soul, unbeknownst to us at the time, were broken by Apartheid.

When we weren't bush-wacking, we could be found on our bicycles cycling a 12 km roundtrip up to the sugar cane farms, where friendly farm workers would hack a few pieces of cane for us to chew on our journey home. Freewheeling downhill the last two kilometers, hair blown back, cane fibres offering up the last of their sweetness, smiles on our faces. Home would welcome us with a dip in the pool and a game of Marco Polo with my brother, sister and friends. The night sky would invite us in with views of the Milky way to die for. We were truly blessed.

Christmas day would always be spent around the swimming pool with extended family, and my cousins and I are still very close to this day.

I remember that the one thing that was always top of my list for birthday and Christmas was books, books and more books! I was a literary sponge! I could never get enough. I loved to read and still do. On Christmas morning I loved nothing more than to disappear into my room with my books and some treats and bury myself in the pages of an adventure that was brought to life by my imagination. My favourite childhood titles included: I am David, My Side of the Mountain, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and Le Petit Prince. Hamlet is my favourite Shakespearean play and these days I love autobiographical and memoir, books of pilgrimage, philosophical reads, educational pieces and a nice balance of light summer novels to round it off. Wild, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah and Jonathan Livingston Seagull are some of my favourite reads.

As I grew up I became more politically aware of the world in which I lived. I joined the debating team at school, listened to contentious "political" music (some of it banned at the time but which I had managed to get from a friend at school) and read a lot more about the deplorable state of our society. I entered a regional schools literary competition where my topic explored the music of Johnny Clegg as a Contemporary political poet whose works focussed largely on the anti-apartheid movement.

I went on to study Law, Politics, English literature and other languages at University, eventually majoring in Law and English literature, and followed up my Bachelor of Arts with a Bachelor of Laws degree, where I elected to study Alternate Dispute resolution and spent a semester in the Durban Legal Aid clinic assisting indigent clients with their legal issues. I witnessed many political protest marches on campus and in town, some of them peaceful, others not so much. There were numerous occasions where we had to flee campus due to political protests that had got out of hand. I have been mugged, burgled and witnessed a drive by shooting in Durban city centre, that wasn't so much as mentioned in the daily newspapers.

In my final year at University, I worked for the I.E.C. during South Africa's first national democratic elections, and the entire process was an eye opener. With tensions running high, we had armed escorts to the electoral counting stations and had to keep the peace when conflict arose during the counting process. It was a humbling privilege to be part of such a pivotal moment in our country's history.

After University, I joined the Legal department of a major commercial bank and worked my way up through the ranks for a couple of years. I met my husband at a local English pub and when an opportunity arose for him in China, we jumped at it! The economy was tanking and violent crime was on the rise. We resigned from our jobs and moved across to China. We spent an initial 4 months based just outside Guangzhou city, in a rural development town. Hardly anyone spoke any English and I remember getting passionate about MLB as it was the only thing broadcast in English at the time. The world series was on and the Yankees beat the Mets to be crowned world champions, although it always amuses me that American sports such as MLB and NFL crown their eventual league winners "world champions" when nobody outside of America actually takes part.

Some days I stayed in our little apartment, had Mandarin lessons, took a motorbike taxi into the local town and did some shopping or did some photography or painting. Other days I would ride the company bus to work with my husband, through rural roads, flanked by paddy fields. We would arrive at the Paper Mill where my husband was a contract systems control and automation engineer and I would spend the day learning about the work that they did. In the evenings we would often pop into the local town, explore the market, grab some food at a cafe that had emerged out of nowhere from somebody's garage and finish off with a massage at one of the local parlours. I used to love our monthly trips to Hongkong to renew my visitor's visa and explore the islands and loved visiting the mountainous regions of Southern China in our time off.

The mountains have always been my happy place. In South Africa I used to love the Drakensberg mountains, the sheer magnitude and grace, the cool mountain breezes and the exhilarating hikes and chain ladder climbs. One of my best memories was hiking to the top of the Tugela falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world at 950 metres.



After the initial 4 months in China we headed back to South Africa for the summer and then emigrated to the UK. My husband spent the next 5 years contracting in China, coming home every couple of months, whilst I set up home in the UK, got a job and retrained as a Certified Chartered Accountant.

When my husband stopped working in China and found work in the UK, we spent a few years enjoying each others' company (travelling, enjoying London, going to football matches, learning to scuba dive, skiing, going micro-lighting, dance classes, clubbing, pubbing and enjoying life).

Then we started to think about raising a family. We were in the unenviable position of not being able to have biological children of our own, something we had known from the start of our relationship, and so we looked into adoption.

It was a long 2 year journey of training workshops, seminars, volunteering with children, applying to be matched with a number of different children along the way, and we kept hitting dead ends. We almost always made it to final selection but were always edged out by THAT couple that were more experienced, were going to have a stay at home mom available, had a greater support network of family and friends in the UK etc etc. After almost 2 years, I felt done. Done with the never-ending paperwork, done with the frustration, done with the disappointment, done with the heartache. It was there and then that I told my husband. "Take Friday off, I need to climb a mountain...a real one for a change!" I just knew I needed to hit the reset button. I needed to feel alive and invigorated. I needed to feel happy, and so I went to my happy place....

"Where do you want to go?" he had asked. "I want a mountain that reminds me of home. It must look and feel like my beloved "berg". I so desperately wanted to reconnect with something familiar. So I started Googling images of mountains in the UK and when I saw it, I just knew... this was the one! I had found my Drakensberg in the UK and it was called Helvellyn, in the Lake District. So we packed our overnight bags and road tripped up for the weekend.

We stayed in a lovely little b&b and told the host of our plans to hike up Helvellyn the next day. He warned us of the dynamic weather conditions on Helvellyn and to beware of the fog. We headed off the next day into the sunshine and were well into our hike when the clouds started to come in, closer and closer until we could feel their wetness on our skin. We couldn't see more than a few feet in front of us, but we had our map and we knew we were on the right path. I won't lie, I was more than a little nervous but we had no idea how long the fog would last and the b&b host didn't know which route we had taken. We knew we couldn't just stay there so we started leaving markers every 10 metres or so, in case we got lost. We picked our way slowly over boulders and around larger rocks and eventually heard other voices and made our way onto a wall where a group of 3 teens were sitting on what looked to be a broken down turret. We were very fortunate that the fog started to dissipate just at that time (about an hour after it had drawn in), and we realised that although we had started to see the mountain slope away from us to our right, to our left was a sheer drop-away to certain death. The fog had not completely subsided and although we were less than 100 metres from the top, we sensibly called it day, took a few pics and made our way down the scramble to our right along with the other 3 hikers who also chose not to continue. But that day I had climbed a mountain and I went home happy.

We arrived back on our doorstep to a large brown envelope that was to contain the future we had been dreaming of for the past few years. Our social worker had dropped off a profile of a little boy available for adoption who was just perfect in every way. We fell in love with his story and his pictures and were fortunate enough to be matched with him a month later. We knew at the time that his birth mother was pregnant with her 3rd child and we were asked if we would consider adopting him/her too as social services did not believe that the mother was going to be capable of looking after a baby. Of course we jumped at the opportunity as we had wanted to adopt two children and the chance to keep a sibling pair together was too precious an opportunity to forego. So within 9 months of meeting our first son, we welcomed our second into our family. There was a protracted legal battle between social services and the birth mother before our youngest could be made available for adoption, but in the end her demons unfortunately won out, and we were blessed to be given the opportunity to raise 2 beautiful little boys.

I am now a proud mom of an 8 and 10 year old, who can be found doing the school run most mornings and afternoons and squeezing in a part-time day job in-between. When I'm not spending time with my husband and children and 3 cats, or being drafted in to play Fortnite, front-yard cricket or football with the kids, you can find me walking, cycling, growing my own veg, cooking vegan food, reading, writing, researching, and exploring the fascinating world of blockchain and crypto... I have an inextinguishable love for karate, where I hold a brown belt, and yoga, and hope one day to return to them in one form or another but for now I am managing a shoulder injury and a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

I also love spending time with my sister, my brother and his family. With Covid restrictions finally lifting enough, I have started booking weekends away to the Mountains, the Lakes and the Coast, and plan to share my happy place with the ones I love most.






Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!


You must be logged in to post a comment.

About Author