I’ve been on five trips, to five South African provinces, over the last four weeks.

On the road in KwaZulu-Natal.

I’ve driven solo for hundreds of kilometers along barren country roads, blasting my iPod and singing at the top of my lungs. I’ve slept in airports and stayed in more quirky B&Bs (“quirky” is often a kind synonym for “dumpy”) than I can count. I’ve camped in the bush and eaten lots of junk food.

I had many remarkable experiences on my travels. I visited remote communities that few outsiders get to see. I was greeted in Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, and Afrikaans. I shivered and sweated and coughed up dust. I witnessed joy and suffering and hope and despair. I saw breathtaking beauty juxtaposed with mind-numbing poverty.

I took thousands — and I mean THOU-sands — of photos. So many that my camera threatened mutiny this week, giving me a mysterious error message that only went away when I changed the battery. You’ve seen some of my pictures already, and you’ll probably see more in the future. But here are just a few.

Village elders, Eastern Cape province.

Aloe flowers, KZN.

Happy children in the chilly Free State.

A view over OppiKoppi, Limpopo province.

Farm animals in the desert-like flatlands of Northwest province.

Walking to school, KZN.

Kids playing, Northwest province.

I didn’t eat much exciting food on my trips. But I did enjoy this curry mince vetkoek sandwich from the Vetkoek Palace and Curry House in Parys, Free State. Vetkoek, which is essentially deep-fried dough, has become my favorite Afrikaans food. 

I’ve endured some wildly emotional highs and lows over the past month. There is so much going on in my life right now and my brain feels ready to explode. All this traveling provided me with way too much time inside my own head, pondering challenges over which I have no control and wrestling with questions that can’t be answered.

Two days ago, as I studied my map book and tried to trace the route back to Joburg from Mafikeng, my eyes started to blur and I almost thought I wouldn’t make it home. But wouldn’t you know it, I did. I stumbled into the Lucky 5 Star and found flowers waiting on the counter. (Lucky always picks flowers from the garden when I come home from a trip.) I dropped my bags and nearly cried with happiness.

This journey was an incredible opportunity for me. I’m so grateful to have taken it. (I can’t tell you what it’s all about yet, but hopefully soon.) I’ve learned many important things about myself and what I’m capable of. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is where home is.

In my “previous life” back in the States, I rarely looked forward to coming home from a trip. Traveling was exciting and home seemed dull. When I was home, I felt restless. I was always dreaming of the next adventure.

Here in South Africa, I feel differently. I still enjoy traveling, but while I’m away I dream of home. I can’t wait to be back in my own house in Jozi, sleeping in my own bed, hanging with the Melville Cat.

Smokey was confused and angered by my comings and goings. At one point he crawled under the car that I was about to ride off in, seemingly trying to prevent me from leaving. He finally settled in though, and learned to stay with with Ms. M while I was away. Ms. M’s house has become Smokey’s extended-stay hotel.

Finally, finally, I’m home. Hopefully I can stay a while.

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