Travelling has taught me many life lessons and has enriched my life in many ways. At the same time travelling has also taught me a lot about the countries I’ve visited over the years. I’ve become familiar with cultures and habits, history and sightings, food and religion.
Travelling in South Africa was in more ways very special to me since I’ve had the opportunity to travel long term in this wonderful country. It was possible to dig deeper into the local culture, see a large part of the country including the more unknown places and meet very nice people. In the end, Sean, my husband and so my family in law is South African. I can easily say that both South Africa has taught me some interesting life lessons and I have learnt some new things about the country itself. It’s not only a country with beautiful scenery, diverse wildlife, great coastline and dramatic mountain ranges, South Africa is so much more than just that.
What travelling has taught me about South Africa and lessons I learned while travelling there. I call it the ‘South Africa effect’.
Problem, no problem
I have learned that in South Africa there are no problems, only solutions. They have a very practical and problem solving way of thinking. If something breaks, just repair it and get on with your life. Don’t stress or panic, just fix it. I have also noticed that often the problem gets tackled, but not the reason of the problem.
For example, if a car breaks down, just repair it with a quick fix up and continue driving. When there is a pothole in the road, drive around it but it will take a long time for the pothole to get fixed.
Problem? No problem.
Braai is a way of life
First of all, braai is the South African version of what we know as a barbecue. South Africans love braaing, it’s a culture, it’s a way of life. South Africans could braai everyday. Practically of course, it will be more a weekly thing.
In Belgium, a barbecue is a whole mission. When finally there is a weekend with nice and warm weather, first of all invite most of your friends, family, who ever, since you are not going to light a barbecue for just 2 people. Then there will be beautifully cut little pieces of meat, lot’s of different bowls of salads and various sauces. Anyway, it will take a full day to prepare, standing in the kitchen, decorating the table and so on. Afterwards, you are glad it’s over and will organise another one next year (too much work).
In South Africa you’ll buy 1 huge piece of meat and braai wors (sausage). The whole chunk goes on the braai and will be cut later. No need for lot’s of salads and sauces, the meat is the main thing. Not to speak about the litres of beer and brandy. Some men might even prefer eating the meat straight from the braai and have no need for a nicely decorated table.
It’s also the only country that has a ‘National Braai Day’. It’s celebrated on Heritage Day (public holiday) and South Africans all over the world will light a braai and enjoy a ‘lekker tjoppie’ (translated as a huge piece of meat).
It’s all in the language
South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is the most widely spoken. With so many official languages, South African English has been influenced by the others. This has made for an interesting collection of modified words, some of which might come across pretty funny and bizarre.
Robots: When asking for directions, someone might say, turn right at the next robots. The first time I thought, by the next… what? Did I really hear robots? Well, don’t think the person is insane, he really meant ‘a robot’. In fact traffic lights are generally called robots. It is even painted on the road. When you are approaching a traffic light it says ‘robot ahead’. It will sound pretty funny the first time, but you’ll get used to it.
Lekker: Lekker is originally an Afrikaans (language very similar to Dutch) word, meaning tasty. Meanwhile in South Africa it’s used to describe everything that is tasty, nice, good, well, great, inspiring, pretty,…and not only by Afrikaans speakers, but also by most other language groups in the country.
For instance, when you ask someone, how was your weekend trip to the mountains? Instead of good, you often hear ‘lekker’ or in slang ‘lekka’.
The meaning of time: The definition of the word ‘now’ can be fairly complicated in South Africa and it’s important you understand what they really mean with it.
Now: The word now should not be understood as the english word ‘now’ as in immediately. The word now is used as anything opposite to now. It can mean, sometimes, maybe, next week, one of these days, but definitely now any time soon.
Just now: Slightly more specific, as it means sometime today, but also not really near the meaning of immediately
Now Now: When someone tells you now now, you’ll know a bit more specific when something will happen. It’s the best you’ll get and closer to immediately…when I have time or when I feel like.
The word now is not exact science and not everyone will use it as described here. Everyone has specific meanings for the words, now – now now and just now. Over time, you should gain your own understanding of the meaning of time in South Africa as well as how and when others will use those words.
A great country for camping
South Africa is a very suitable country for camping. I’ve noticed that South Africans really love to be out there and camp. Most campsites have very high standards, are very clean and a lot of times found in the most beautiful locations. I was amazed to see the facilities that most campsites have. Even if it’s out in the bush, each individual campsite will have it’s own ‘braai’ facility.
South Africa has some beautifully appointed hotels and lodges. However, if you are into camping, you might want to consider it as an alternative form of accommodation to be out there close to nature and beautiful surroundings. I am a huge fan of camping. When in South Africa, I’ll always plan to camp as far as practically possible.
Lot’s of beautiful places off the beaten track
I can easily say, South Africa has it all, well almost. There are many great places to visit both on and off the beaten track. It’s so easy to discover the little gems of the country that still do not attract a lot of visitors. South Africa has a lot of beautiful out of the way places that are still undiscovered by most foreign tourists. So you can still see and feel the true soul of South Africa off the beaten track. Areas like Namaqua, Kgalagadi, Northern Cape are locally known but not visited by masses of tourists.
Internet is readily available in most urban and tourist areas. When going off beat, you’ll notice that the world wide web is not always widely available or the connectivity is really slow. Being a digital nomad myself, I like to be connected, but sometimes this just isn’t possible in certain areas of the country. This is when I learnt to appreciate the need to be disconnected and to reconnect with myself. This also allows me the opportunity to enjoy the world as it is, to listen to the sounds of nature, to look at a bush fire instead of a screen and to just be out there. After a while, on the flip side of the coin, being disconnected can get addictive as well.
Live now not later
The western world, in which I grew up, makes you believe that we always have to worry about tomorrow and the future. The general mentality in South Africa is that of course you should ‘worry’ about tomorrow, but you also should live today. The lessons that I learnt in South Africa are that you cannot always foresee the future, that you should try to live now, tomorrow will come later and take care of itself. It made me realise that planning for a future is not always possible, there might be some unforeseen obstacles. Not planning the rest of your life made me realise that you are more flexible in taking those unforeseen hurdles and to be more flexible towards life itself.
Make the most of every situation
South Africa is currently going through a lot of changes, so it’s not always an easy country to live in. What makes it so beautiful is that mostly people, in my opinion, try to make the most of every situation. They try not to give up.
As of writing this article South Africa is facing a major energy crisis. Having a 2-4 hour blackout is nowadays more rule than exception. I really admire how they try to cope with this issue. It’s not nice to sit in the dark, not to be able to cook a meal or anything else you need electricity for. Well, simple, just buy a small gas burner, gas lights, generator, have a braai, light candles…problem, no problem.
The South Africa effect
In general I can say that travelling in South Africa has taught me lot’s of great life lessons and at the same time I managed to learn something about the country itself.
I’ve learned to take life one step at a time, to learn to enjoy it, to appreciate being back to basics while camping and that the world wide web is not so wide spread in certain areas. Stress is something that is necessary sometimes but mostly not wanted at all.
In the end, you only live once!