It shouldn’t be physically possible to get from Namibia to England in less than a week, because mentally it is impossible to adjust in 24 hours from the raw, earthy African wilderness to the sterile, consumerist, and claustrophobic green and pleasant land. Don’t get me wrong, I love England. I may have travelled extensively, but Sheffield, where I live, is still one of my favourite cities in the world. But the emotional transition is just too great to be performed so fast.
What is it about Africa that makes me feel so at home, so alive, and so comfortable? My first visit to Africa was as a teenager, but even then I felt the atmosphere prickle my skin and the wind whisper my name. Perhaps I inherited something via the genes of my mother, who was born and bred there, and who has no idea of her ancestry. I’m pretty sure I have a drop of African blood coursing through my veins. The lure of its sun-baked soil is like a ripped edge of skin that tantalises, daring me to come nearer, enticing me to peel back the layers of my outer body armour and embrace the rawness that lies beneath. It extends its fingers deep into the hole and steals its way into my soul, clawing an inch at a time. Every time I visit, another layer of skin is removed, replaced with African dust, African sunshine and vibrant African life.
Namibia, like East Africa, may be poor, but it bears the scent of free people living with no regrets. The smell of sun-baked earth, of sweat and soil, of salty dusty skin, of wild animals, wood smoke, and hard-fought battles. It may not be a romantic smell to some, but it is the smell of honest labour; of people who struggle for every ounce of sustenance from their land of recycled blood and sweat which feeds the earth from which it was produced; the smell of tradition and the smell of hope. Buried deep beneath the layers of privilege and wealth, the sanitised barrier of Western civilisation, the soft feathered luxury of a first world country and a life of never-ending possibility, the shiny veneer of security, lies a piece of my soul moulded from African dust and sunshine.