"Gretchen nibbled and said, 'I suppose if we knew the facts, we'd find there have always been young people wandering over the face of Europe... pretty much as we do today. I don't think of myself as unusual. Or you, either, Monica. You could have been coming down this road and munching this same kind of cheese seven hundred years ago. In fact, I feel much closer to the girls of that age who were on a real pilgrimage of spirit than to some nitwit in suburban Boston today.'" Michener, The Drifters
A friend turns 31 today. April is a month of birthdays. Which is a nudging, nagging reminder that I'm rapidly approaching the big 30. With very little to show for it. Or at least very little of what would traditionally be considered things-to-show, to show for it. I suppose from many angles I would be considered the drop-out (or one of) of the group - sitting around doing nothing particularly productive just at the moment and having achieved none of the symbols of status and success that are generally accepted as necessary. For the record, I do intend to return to productiveness and meaningful contributions shortly (barring SAPS inefficiency and further economic meltdowns).
The thing about looking back and introspective retrospection (retrospective introspection?), is that it turns out to be a whole lot less depressing than it probably should be - at least when considered through traditional lenses and frames. I have none of the hallmarks of success - no house, no mortgage, no life-partner, no kids. I don't even own a car. I have some debt and some failed relationships - although most of those didn't really get off the ground. I do have a couple of degrees. Well, two and a half, but the half may just turn into a third. And recent meanderings in cyberspace have rekindled an incredible excitement about the idea of studying some more - which will take some doing, and probably a year or two to get together the money but which is something I am fully willing to work towards.
I also have memories and skills I'd never have dreamed of. I've found myself creating new programmes and judging performing arts, becoming a master facilitator, writing training manuals and learning about creative problem solving. I've headed up organisations and learned to delegate and run events of all manner and size. I've written proposals and secured funding. I've been a stage-manager and written press releases. I've talked to mayors and funders and and CEOs and eaten with township nurses and teachers. In so many ways, I have lived.
I've woken up with Table Mountain outside my window and had tea at Rhodes Memorial.
I've seen baby Egyptian Geese fall out of their nest past my window.
I've eaten seared tuna at the Brass Bell and muscles at Olympia Café.
I've had great kudu at Hussars, springbok at Tap Huijs and ostrich on a wine farm in Devon Valley.
I've learnt about the karretjiemense and drunk cappuccino down the road from the Colesburg Inn.
I've danced all night at a Springbok in Stellenbosch and gone wine tasting on exquisite estates.
I've seen lente in die Boland and Autumn in the vineyards.
I've been to Wonder Bar in Durban and Cool Runnings in Bloem and visited insanity on Long Street.
I've stopped at a war memorial on the way to White River and been through the Long Tom pass in early morning mist.
I've eaten midnight picnics and wandered past waterfalls and Cape Parrots in glorious indigenous forests.
I've slept under the stars at a private reserve in Limpopo, seen the ruins of now-lost civilizations and watched white rhino calves and bushpig young in spring.
I've seen rock art and early churches and cemeteries on the Eastern Cape frontier.
I've visited old stations and fortified Ganger's cottages and been to Hogsback Christmas in July.
I've booze-cruised the Orange River in Upington and seen the flamingoes in Kimberley.
I've walked along the beach at Port Shepstone at sunset and collected sea-shells at Haga-Haga.
I've played tipsy-scrabble and walked to the shop and sat by the braai at Pringle Bay.
I've eaten lunch at the place with the fairies (and bunnies) somewhere near Broederstroom.
I've crossed the wall of the Hartebeespoort Dam and visited Rustenburg.
I've seen the soaring peaks of the Drakensberg around Drakensville and Qwa-qwa.
I've spent all night drinking with friends in Ermelo and seen the forested hills of Tzaneen.
I've danced and dined on sushi and wine, and worked and played in Durban.
I've walked in summer thunderstorms and gentle winter drizzle.
I've seen the Atlantic in all her moods and swum at Camps Bay beach.
I've seen the dry, empty beauty of Vredenburg and Saldana and eaten delicious pancakes at a place in Langebaan.
I've ridden a bus in rush-hour in Joburg and taken the train in Cape Town.
I've visited almost all the airports in South Africa and learned to love their anonymity and time.
I've spent time with friends in so, so many places: at Quay Four and Brauhaus, Adesso, Obz Cafe, the Jolly, Dopio Zero in Emerentia, so many places in Rosebank, the Wine Bar on Sandton Square...
I've eaten at Madame Zingara's, the incomparable Five Flies, at Wombles and at Soulsa.
I've spent the whole day drinking wine under an avocado tree in Greenside.
I've picnicked (repeatedly) at Zoo Lake and spent fun-filled nights at the Bowling Club.
I've sipped sparkling wine on a sunset cruise in Table Bay and spent a whole day at Kirstenbosch Gardens.
I've eaten ice-cream at Emerentia Dam.
I've been to comedy in Melville, ballet at the Artscape and Opera at the Baxter Theatre.
I've seen seven shows in a day at Fest and spent a whole morning in a second-hand bookshop.
I've seen Freshly Ground at the Indie in Obs and against the backdrop of the mountain at a sold-out Sunset Concert.
I've watched Johnny Clegg in the Guy Butler Theatre and the Amphitheatre at Spier.
I've eaten at Moyo at the Market, at Melrose Arch and at Spier.
I've watched Oliver Mtukudzi in Newtown, REM at the Belville Velodrome and Klogjag at the Dorpstraat Teater.
I've seen Chris Chameleon at WordFest at Eden Grove and at the Guild in East London.
I've spent time wandering through little shops in Franschoek and an afternoon reading on the Drosty Lawns.
I've tasted mead in the botanical gardens (just near the old Monkey Puzzle).
I've seen the sun rise from the toposcope above Grahamstown and looked down at the question-mark at night.
I remember the Vic and CJs and Legends.
I've danced in a shebeen and seen a lock-down in a Joburg pub.
I've walked to work on a crisp Joburg winter morning and stopped for good coffee in Rosebank.
I've dance at a ball at the Grahamstown monument and been to formal dinners at Constantia Neck restaurant and Oude Libertas.
I've eaten fish and chips at Mariner's Wharf, Hout Bay.
I've been to Boknes and seen the Diaz Cross.
I've visited Mangrove swamps in northern KZN.
I've seen the Kroomies and the Amatolas and the Winterberg.
I've played in the snow on the Nico Malan pass and built a snowman in Tarkastad.
I've eaten tripe and watched 6-year old ballerinas in Mahwelereng township outside Mokopane
I've sung in the Sand du Plessis theatre in Bloemfontein.
I've had lunch at the Berry Farm between Stellenbosch and Franschoek.
I've seen snow on the mountains around Worcester and drunk a beer at the trout lodge near the Huguenot tunnel.
I've closed a dodgy local bar in Kimberley in mid-summer with a bunch of debauched debaters.
I've wandered between the flowers in Burger's Park and seen a club rugby match in Pretoria.
I've visited Ntabankulu and heard a boy from incredible poverty talk intelligently about monetary policy.
I've been to Vensters and slept through Vlotte and seen a TriVarsity at Rhodes.
I've drunk icy-cold draft in the beer gardens at Forries and the Rat.
I've played pool at Champs, almost sung karaoke at Colony Arms and been to pub quiz at Black Bull and Black Steer.
I've had drinks at the Radiosonde, cocktails at Bar Six and sundowners at La Red.
I've stayed at Elephant Lodge in Bela Bela, Summerstrand Hotel in PE, Cape Town Lodge and Green Elephant Backpackers, Burger's Park in Pretoria, Cock House in Grahamstown, Rosebank Hotel, Sandton Park Plaza, Grayston City Lodge, Protea Bloemfontein and the Riverside Lodge in Durban.
I've seen red aloes against winter-white grass and heard the waves crashing against Morgan Bay cliffs.
In recent years I've travelled further afield and seen so many more things. I have not achieved traditional measures of success. Much of the last ten or so years has been a chaotic whirlwind of activity and stress and excitement, a roller-coaster of emotion. It has been a kaleidoscope of places and moments shared with incredible, wonderful people. My life has been full and I have lived so much. And that in itself is a measure of success.