Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Reasons I Travel

At the end of the day, travel is, for me, about people. Whether I am returning to Africa or to the UK, places I visit regularly, where I have lived and worked, or whether visiting someplace for the first time, such as when I went to China a couple of years back, the most important component to me is always the people I meet, and friends new and old. This is not to say that there are not other factors -- work, for example, certainly requires me to travel quite regularly, and provides the justification for these trips. And like anyone who leaves home a lot, I like experiences as well, whether cultural, aesthetic, adventure, or what have you.

But the most important element of travel is people. I am staying in Sea Point, in Cape Town, with my good friend Doug, a black Zimbabwean who has lived in South Africa for more than a decade. We met in 1997 when we were at Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, and he is one of the people I always try to meet up with when I return. The time here will be too brief, but it is important, indeed crucial, that I spend it here. The conference in Stellenbosch provides another example. I walked into the conference venue knowing of a handful of the people there but actually knowing only one, a grad student at The University of Texas who I nonetheless always seem to see in South Africa. By the time I left Stellenbosch yesterday I had made a handful of new friends, some of whom I'll maintain contact with professionally, a few of whom I will likely remain friends with over the years.

In some ways I think I'be grown almost sanguine about the opportunities travel affords me. I brought my camera on this trip, have been able to see some new places and revisit old ones, and have yet to snap a single shot, which probably seems like a waste, but in my eyes just remonds me of all of the time I have spent here and the ways in which I try to immerse myself.

In any case, Cape Town is raw this morning -- rainy and damp, cold -- and I have decided to devote a day to trying to catch up on work. I apologize for the fundamentally personal nature of this entry, which lacks much insight into South African politics or history or culture. But South Africa is, for me, more than simply a tableau for politics and work. It is a real flesh and blood place where I've spent a large proportion of my life and energies for nearly a dozen years. So today I'll just work for a few more hours until Doug, my friend, gets home from work, and we'll go out to eat and for a few drinks before tomorrow, when all too quickly, I'll be leaving again.

[Crossposted at the FPA South Africa Blog and the FPA Africa Blog.]

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