There was a time when I didn’t believe in fate. I used to think life was one big coincidence. Then I came to Africa and changed my tune.
Five years ago, if I had visited a psychic and she had predicted where I would be today, I would have laughed in her face and walked out without paying. The life I’m leading now is so extraordinary — so utterly impossible — that I don’t believe it could be a coincidence. There must be some reason, some explanation. There must be some plan, of which I’m not yet aware.
A month ago, I wrote a blog post called ‘Land Rover on a Swazi Mountaintop‘. The post was about a photo I took three years ago in Swaziland’s Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, at the top of Nyonyane Mountain. I visited Mlilwane with Jon in June 2008, and it was a very special place for us.
Here is the photo.
That’s Jon’s Land Rover.
Three weeks ago, through a series of ‘coincidences’, I was hired to go to Swaziland in the first week of February for a freelance writing and photography job. I knew what I had to do while I was there: Go back up to Nyonyane Mountain and say a final goodbye to Jon.
Before my trip, I didn’t give much thought to how I would get up to Nyonyane Mountain. I just boarded the plane to Swaziland and figured things would work out somehow. I was right. Here’s how it happened.
After my freelance gig finished, I spent a couple of days in Swaziland with a woman named Dawn. I had never met Dawn before, but her son Stanley is an acquaintance of mine. Dawn is South African but has lived in Swaziland for most of her life. She welcomed me into her house, spoiled me with home-cooked food, attended to my every need, and drove me all around Swaziland for two days. She also offered to take me up Nyonyane Mountain. Dawn is actually an angel.
We set out for Mlilwane, which is less than half an hour from Dawn’s, at 8:30 Friday morning. Unlike the previous two days, which were sunny and blazing hot, it was cloudy and gray outside. We were meeting a friend for lunch and figured we would have plenty of time to get up and down the mountain before noon. It’s a small park and I remembered the drive up the mountain being fairly straightforward.
Actually, it was more complicated than we thought. When we arrived at the ticket office, Dawn and I stopped to help a woman traveling alone who was suffering from a terrible migraine. We got distracted and forgot to buy a map of the park. We took off into the sanctuary, thinking we’d find our way without a problem.
I didn’t intend to shoot wildlife but couldn’t resist these waterbuck.
After 40 minutes of driving around, we were no nearer to our destination. We hadn’t even found the road up the mountain. We stopped at Reilly’s Rock, a beautiful old colonial lodge inside the sanctuary, to ask for directions. The staff recommended we backtrack to the park’s main camp to get a map. Suddenly I realized how anxious and emotional I was. I burst into tears as we walked back to the car.
We found a map at the main camp. We also found two zebras manning the fuel pump.
This cheered me up a little.
Map in hand, we set off in the right direction. It was 11:30. I nearly wept for joy when we found the entrance to the mountain road.
The drive up had seemed easy in Jon’s mammoth Land Rover. In Dawn’s little Volkswagen Polo, it was harrowing. There were several points when I thought we would have to turn back. But Dawn, my guardian angel, knows how to drive on tough Swazi roads. She steered around boulders and maneuvered through deep ruts in the muddy track. My nerves jangled. Dawn stayed cool, patting my hand periodically when she sensed I might lose it.
Finally, finally, we drove through a grove of gum trees and rounded a sharp bend. The vegetation cleared and I could see we were there. Dawn stopped the car. ‘Thank you for bringing me here,’ I sobbed. Dawn hugged me. I gathered my things, trembling, and got out to walk the rest of the way alone.
The road ended and I turned up a footpath. I couldn’t remember exactly what I was looking for but I knew I would recognize it when I saw it.
I climbed over a little rise, and there it was.
A man-made pile of rocks, called a cairn.
Three-and-a-half years ago, I climbed up to this cairn with Jon and our friend Bi. I took a video clip that day.
Sorry, I’m a terrible videographer.
And now, here I was again, on top of the world in Swaziland. There was no sun this time, and almost no wind. Just heavy clouds and ominous rumbles of thunder.
I sat down next to the cairn, pulled out my camera, and took photos.
Not as beautiful as the last time. But I’ll take it.
Nyonyane, also called Execution Rock. According to legend, Swazi warriors would march their enemies up here and make them jump to their deaths.
I tried to think of something to say to Jon. I closed my eyes and tried to feel his presence. To be honest, I don’t know if I did or not. I’m not very good at that kind of thing. But as I sat there, three sentences went through my head.
‘I love you.’
‘I’m a photographer.’
I didn’t know what to make of it at the time. But now it makes sense to me somehow.
I fumbled for my notebook and tore out the letter that I’d written to Jon that morning. I scribbled a couple more sentences. Then I folded up the letter and stuck it between the rocks.
Is it weird that I took a photo of myself? Whatever, it’s what I felt like doing. I’m out of focus and have a weird grimace on my face. Still, not bad under the circumstances.
After about 20 minutes, I felt ready to leave. I packed my things and brushed myself off. Then I took a deep breath and pushed the letter in between the rocks. I heard it drop into the middle of the cairn.
Before I walked down, I decided to take one more photo.
You might remember this picture from an earlier post. I brought it up with me so I could look at Jon while I sat there. I took the photo back after snapping this frame. I figured leaving the letter was enough.
Dawn was waiting for me at the base of the hill.
Dawn (hiding under a sun hat) and her trusty Volkswagen.
Dawn said a prayer before we drove off. I don’t blame her, and I’m glad she did. We made it down safely and the moment we exited Mlilwane, the heavens opened and it rained torrentially. Lightning streaked across the sky and the roads filled with water. We never would have made it down the mountain in that rain.
Coincidence? I think not.