I have lived in New York for 21 years now and have long tried to suppress my ache for Africa. The all too familiar homesickness I experienced at boarding school reestablished itself when I moved here in 1999. And then reformatted itself into something more bearable in 2005, when I started ROAR AFRICA. Whatever bravery that took, it was worth the grind and the struggle for it led me back to my people, my land and my home.
The Africa effect
What has become my life’s work is also an enormous privilege in that it has evoked something richer, deeper and more complex than I could ever have imagined. Being in the business of making dreams come true carries inexplicable joy – and immense responsibility, not only towards our travelers but to the people of Africa, its land and its wildlife. This bittersweet continent of beauty and harshness, of love and loss, is indeed a canvas for potential transformation. Every trip affords me the privilege of witnessing the Africa effect on our guests, as does the feedback I read in emails, such as this recent one which said: “Everything you delivered added up to a rewilding trip that was also reinvigorating, regrounding and realigning. This is the way we want to be spending our time. This is the way we want to be spending our money. Everything we have currently is enough but what we don’t have enough of is time and travel. You gave that to us! After 30 years of traveling and two more years of Covid, this is the trip that brought us to that appreciation.”
The search for stillness
Feedback like this is the greatest affirmation. It is not in finding the most luxurious hotels and outlandish experiences that we claim success. It is in the intangible. It’s the removal of the demands of travel so that you, our guest, can be a gentle steward of yourself and find the silent space of your inner landscape. That’s the work we do. I know I can count on the African landscape to do the rest. For Africa will recall you into a mode where you can truly absorb time. It will crack open your heart, elevate your spirit and humble you in a way that transcends all. Beautiful places do that, they return us to our higher self. It was the Zimbabwean landscape which did this for me, last August. As I gazed out the window during our plane’s descent, I felt like a giant bird coming home to roost. In a way I was. Birds choose with their wings – if they don’t feel safe, they will leave. Here I was soaring towards the land I chose. And as the emotions crashed around inside me and the tears streamed down my face, I was overcome with gratitude; with the realization of the significance of this journey and how much it was part of my personal journey. And I reflected on the cocktail of life – the joy, love, sorrow, pride and the enormity of my responsibility.
A sacred land
The harsh, dusty brown earth below; the medley of gold and green msasa trees; the fresh, smoky spray of Victoria Falls in the distance; this land, this sacred land, slicing me open the closer we came. I could already taste the sweet, crisp burnt air and I could feel the warmth of the people enveloping us all in their welcoming Zimbabwean love. This was the inaugural Greatest Safari on Earth, the first of its kind in the world, a trip loaded with suspense, apprehension, excitement. And of course, my own personal fears which I’d carried with me for 18 months through the pandemic. And yet, here we were: my colleague Lee Cooper and I sitting side by side on the Emirates Executive Private Jet with 10 courageous, curious travelers all counting on us. Our wheels touched down. I was home and somehow I instinctively knew I could rely on this place. After all, it had made me who I am. All of the work in building a company to share the Africa that I know and love had brought me to this moment.
The doors of the plane opened and a flash of smiles, the effervescent joy and bubbling elation of the most authentic people on the planet rushed in. We were so much more than just a glamorous luxury plane of people, we were an Olympic torch of hope and livelihood. A promise that tourism would return after endless months of doubt and loss. It is a moment I will hold in my heart, not just for me but for those who stood beside me, for what it meant to so many invisible souls who hold that land so dear.
There are landscapes that stay with us even when we leave, deepening our understanding and reminding us of the stakes of being alive. As I walked off that plane into the arms of my fellow Zimbabweans, I remembered something someone once said to me: “Go gently into the wild my love, set the stream of life alive with glitter.”