‘I am an African’ is one of the most beautiful speeches I have ever heard. Thabo Mbeki’s voice adds a deep lustre to the poetry, and that’s about the only good thing I will ever say about him. I love my home in all it’s natural beauty and manmade vice, because this is my home. South Africa is vibrant and loving and exciting and warm. It’s a place filled with opportunity and brimming over with good humour. Despite all these things, there is one instance when I wish I could be a citizen of another country: International Travel.
I spent almost a decade traveling beyond the borders of South Africa. I would visit as many as 12 countries in a year, pin-balling between continents, zigzagging across the Atlantic. I’ve been to some wonderful places and some truly dreadful places that aren’t worth mentioning here. Throughout my travels, South Africa remained my home. Every time I left for the South of France, safely nestled in my luggage were those magical totems of home: Peck’s Anchovette, Bovril, biltong (as much as I could get away with), Freshpak Rooibos and dozens of Cadbury’s Top Deck. Shoes be damned, I needed my fix of sandwich spreads.
I live permanently in South Africa now, and every day I raise my eyes heavenwards and say Thank You. Thank you for biltong within walking distance. Thank you, sweet gods, for Steers Chips. Thank you for Chippies Prego Sauce (the Capetonians know). Every morning I wake to the sweet smell of fynbos, and if I’m lucky I’ll see a protea just hanging out at the side of the road on my way to work. But yes, there are times when I dream of other lands. I dream of gelato, and Iberico ham. I dream of a Miami pedicure and a Vancouver sushi dinner. I lust over endless aisles of cosmetics and the magic that is Amazon. What I wouldn’t do for one hour in a CVS!
There is only one instant when I would rather be from some other land: International Travel, or more specifically the visa’s that are required when one travels internationally. Honestly, I’m not scared of paperwork. Ok, I admit, I’m a little scared of beaurocracy but these are things I can handle. The thing that I truly despise is this: the visa application process FORCES you to be a less-creative traveller. It requires of you to plan out every instance of your journey weeks before you undertake said journey. The process strips you of your creativity and forces you to account for every damned day in foreign territory. I hate that I need to decide where and for how long I will travel BEFORE I’ve even arrived. How could I possibly know that? All I have is a Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor and I’m expected to commit to my annual leisure time before I’ve even boarded a plane? This is absurd.
As mad as I am at the indignity and farce that is planning your holiday in every detail 3 months before undertaking it, let me take a minute to say “I get it”. I understand that you want to protect your country from foreign African interlopers. Perhaps you feels some patriotic duty to defend you borders from intruders who may (!) take your jobs or perhaps inadvertently benefit from your tax-sponsored health care. I get it. Please allow me to divert your attention to paragraph 1 in which clearly states “ I don’t want to live in your damned country. My own country is pretty awesome and that’s where I’ll return”.
So please, international community/ countries who are richer than us (did I hear you say Spain? Greece?) hear me loud and clear: I am not interested in living in your country, I merely want to visit it for a fleeting cultural visit. I want delve into your cuisine for plus minus 12 days, and then I want to come home to a bobotie. I want to snap selfies, and be ripped off by taxidrivers. I want to get sunburned or maybe not sunburned at all because it’s monsoon season and I had no idea. I want to travel. I want to be a traveler. Shouldn’t that be allowed?
I want to be a traveller, hell I’ll even take ‘tourist’, but most of all I want the freedom to be a traveller. I want to visit your country, and just go where the coastline takes me. I want to follow the path that leads me to the most delicious food and I want to do that organically, creatively and spontaneously. All of this paperwork robs us of what joy it is to visit a foreign country – because everything is planned, research, booked, paid for and confirmed in advance. All you do is tinge our trip with anxiety and fear and pressure. That’s not what I want. I want to be offered the same welcome that we offer to you: warm and humourous and unexpectedly exciting. I want this partnership to be equal. I want you to feel the wonder that I feel every morning waking up in South Africa, and shouldn’t that be how we feel waking up in your country?