Finding Bo-Kaap and My Heart

The thing about moving to a new town is that you never know how your life is going to change. Perhaps it will be a move for the better. Perhaps it will mean a difficult change, one in which you will learn tremendous lessons from the unforeseen challenges thrown by the universe. One minute you may find yourself trekking rugged terrains along the Great Wall of China and the next, you find yourself back home having an hour long conversation with a barefooted stranger somewhere in the Bo-Kaap.

While the last of my twenties were spent wondering about life (and where it was meant to take me… along with where I wanted it to take me versus where it actually had taken me) it seems that the start of my thirties have since taken a different path. I somehow find my mind calmer than the blistering storm it was before. Perhaps it’s the sense of stability that comes with the start of laying down roots in one place or perhaps it’s the sense of calm that comes from realizing you’ve finally found a person in this world who has that same wandering spirit you do.

If I’m true to my inner most feelings, then one of the hardest things about moving back home after all this travel was re-acclimatizing with my old life and dealing with all the change I had missed while away. Friends had since married. Some had even remarried. Favorite coffee shops had closed down. University hallways that were once liberating, now seem suffocating and almost haunting of a time that had long since passed. As difficult as it was to readjust my mindset, let alone my heart, I knew deep down that this served as a strong reminder of how much I had changed over the last two and a half years.

Finding BoKaap - Life of Shal 3

Turns out, there’s so much more to life than taking any old job and finding any old lover who society thinks is perfect for you and who you desperately want to want you in return. They say there’s a reason for everybody you meet in your life – good and bad – but either way, there’s always a lesson to be learnt. Learn it well so you don’t have to learn it again. Coming back home showed me that I wasn’t the same person who left with a heart as broken as the world I had previously seen around me. I had wanted to make a difference but instead felt stuck in a place governed by too much red tape, broken politics and ulterior motives. So, I left and in doing so, I found more than my heart could ever imagine. I found a place in a country far away that made me feel all those things I longingly sought. I saw the world through the innocent eyes of the three year olds I taught… and while I assumed I was doing the teaching, it was actually them who were teaching me how to love again. A pure and wholesome love that overflowed straight from their heart. A love that I thought the world no longer held.

Travel does that though. It grows you in ways you never imagined possible and teaches you lessons you never knew you needed. It shows you that the hopes and dreams you wished for in your life are still attainable and by no means should you ever compromise on them. Not for a job you think you have to take and certainly not for a love that deep down you know is too painful or empty.  For someone who has spent the last two and a half years traveling, I think it’s safe to say that so much of who I am now is based on where I have been and what I have seen in the past. The world has changed me and I am forever grateful.

Moving to the Cape has been one step in the path to adulthood… which for the last few months I thought I wasn’t ready for. Even now when I look at my old travel pictures, I sometimes think my wandering spirit is still not ready for it. But in that first week I soon realized that there are going to be moments in this lifetime that can change you in a matter of seconds. A look. A touch. A conversation. Perhaps, even a person. But from that moment starts a ripple of events that causes your life to change direction in the most unexpected of ways… and it will be the scariest thing you will ever have to deal with because let’s face it, the possibility that one little choice could change your life forever is pretty damn frightening. But in the end, I’ve also realized that making no choice is worse than making a wrong choice. So whatever it is, just make a choice. Let it change you. Let it make you stronger, smarter, kinder and wiser or if need be, let it break you because then you know you can finally heal.

Finding BoKaap - Life of Shal (2)

Someone once told me the right decisions are never the easiest. I’ve recently learnt that the right person will also make things feel the easiest. Conversations will flow endlessly despite where you are in the world whether it be across continents, over a glass of wine or amidst the mountain ranges. Regardless of the time, be it days… months… or even years… you will still be able to find each other. It will be easy to look into their eyes at the strangest of hours and talk about how your lives have changed over the last few years. It will be easy to share your own travel stories and you will curl up eagerly anticipating the next time he will share his. It will be easy to understand each other despite the random broken Chinese and Afrikaans phrases that naturally find its way into the stories you both tell and while you reminisce about journeys past, it will be easy to plan new ones because you know getting on a plane to spend one day together just seems so easy in a world that doesn’t seem so big anymore. More importantly, it will be easy to just be happy. Funny how life can take you adventuring half way across the world for so many years only to bring you right back home to find what it is your heart was searching for all along.

So if this really is the case then does it mean we shouldn’t venture past our front door into the great unknown as we search for the answers our souls desperately seek? No, I don’t think so. I believe we’ve got to go out and live the life that people read about in those dusty old novels. We’ve got to go out into the world and stop fearing what we don’t know. Take the time to discover and learn how to love yourself first. Heck, fall in love with yourself. Become a whole being all on your own. Go on adventures. Fall asleep under the stars. Talk to a stranger. Wander around a city. Sit alone in a coffee shop. Smell old books. Smile to others. Smile to yourself. Embrace the solitude because I promise you my dear, it isn’t any less beautiful when you are alone. Everything else will come in its own time and in the end… through a million feelings, a thousand thoughts and a hundred memories, you will find that one person with the same wandering spirit as you that will calm your mind and steady your soul as you continue on this adventure called life.

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Hi World! I'm Shal - an environmental microbiologist, writer, teacher and artist from Durban, South Africa. I've spent the last two years traveling and teaching Chemistry and English to young kids in Asia. Life of Shal was founded as a way to share travel experiences, tips and other worldly magic with you! Join me on my journey!

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