It was a clear choice: the truck or the bridge. I was fast approaching the narrow bridge over Kaalspruit on the R74 having just past Winterton, and my heart stopped. A large truck was coming at me, intent on taking up more than one side of the road and I felt the bridge's pavement destroy my two left tyres. The Mercedes E250K Avantgarde was up to the task, and I slowed safely to a stop. I had bought the car as an urgent purchase in Johannesburg before hitting the road and while it was more than I wanted, at that Winterton bridge it was everything I needed.
For the past 18 years that I'd lived in America, my thoughts had often lingered on a return home. Certainly, I had missed South Africa, and my reason for leaving were simply curiosity: I could, so I did. However, losing my job to a corporate restructuring in 2015 presented the perfect excuse and I booked a flight home.
I thought the best way to reintegrate myself into Africa was by embarking on a six-week road trip. I dodged dongas, ditches, and gullies on a Free State farm that would have been an obscene challenge for a 4x4, and drove some of the most beautiful roads and stunning scenery, with the outdated GPS that came with my 2005 model never failing to get me lost along the way. I named her "Shirley", as in "Shirley, you're kidding me!", a constant refrain as we battled it out over old highways that she determined were "Off Road", and new highways where she suddenly found her bearings. Shirley had heard of Phuthaditjhaba (established in 1974), but had never heard of Harrismith (established in 1849).
But it wasn't the roads or the breathtaking landscapes that re-captured this African's heart. At every stop along the way - from the salesman who rushed to help at that Winterton bridge, to the current residents of the house where I was born, who opened their hearts to this total stranger, and let me sleep in the guest suite that was once my living room - it was the countless beautiful faces of South Africans I met along the way to the Mother City.
After ignoring dire warnings of danger, especially as a woman driving alone through the country's remotest areas, I was able to breathe into a country that does us all proud. The same debates and issues that are happening in America greeted me in South Africa – but there is an openness here that is inspiring. In my opinion, the downside to our transparency is that we are seen as economically unstable. Perhaps if we followed the American example, highlighting our good sides, covering up the bad, the world may look at us differently. My hope is that we can start to see ourselves as the extraordinary country that we are, value what we have, and build a better life for all that reflects the beauty in every one of us.
Date Published: 13 June 2017