It’s been a curvy, topsy year. The sort that wends and twists in its own strange ways to end up in places that you never quite expected. It’s also been pretty much non-stop, with only recent days in the Scottish backcountry as the first proper, unrushed opportunity to decompress . To reflect on just how much can change in a year. The answer – which I suppose I knew already, but hadn’t appreciated – is a great deal. Here and there I’ve written over the year. Sometimes sideways, sometimes cryptic notes to various chapters of that personal journey. but a straightforward retelling really puts things into perspective.
Early January had me returning from a journey to Uganda and the DRC to resume the second year of my MA studies at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. I recall distinctly the feeling of wondering, in my last days in the Ituri forests, how the year would turn out. I knew that I’d be in the UK by the end of it. And that, in the long history of things, I’d be back to involve myself more powerfully in the stories that South Africa is finally finding the courage to fight for. The possibilities of being citizens, rather than the children of a corrupt father.
But there was so much that’s happened in the middle. Being accepted to all the UK universities I had applied for – but nowhere finding the funding to actually attend them was a particular kicker that made the transition to the UK hard. Katherine is amazing – an intellectual leviathan, though far too modest to concede it herself. And I’d move across the world to support her over and over again if needed. But having no place of my own, no direction, made the early days hard.
That, and learning that the UK is anything but welcoming to foreigners from the global south. A wall that doesn’t exist for continental Europe and – in general – WASP members of the commonwealth exists with a vengeance for those of us born in Africa without the luxury of second passports from inside the fortress.
But we managed, We always manage. Such is the strength of what is possible when you believe in each other’s dreams and wish for them as much – or more – than your own. And so, out of persistence, has the tide of life turned.
First, there was the wedding. Beautiful, though cold, in August. And in the company of family and a close circle of friends. We held it in a small artisanal brewery, which reflects – I think – out sense of fun. And as a secular, hand-binding, no-surname-changes kind of affair, which reflect the long, serious discussions about our principles and the kinds of lives we believe in leading. The long, beautiful, and – in the largest, most serious sense of it – good conversations on which our lives together have only frown richer over the years. Conversations not simply about surviving the world, or finding security in it, but in exploring. In making a better one for ourselves, and those – wherever they are – that we are connected to. It’s a gift that our space is one equally of intellect, principle, caring, and the good humour to hold it all together as we revel in our changing lives and the wonderment of traveling through them.
And then, barely a month later, England. And winter with its crisp parks and the jet streams of the aeroplanes pouring across the freezing sky above to create a giant white net in the blue.
Back on earth, me discovering a new world. New people and new spaces as Katherine reconnects to so many she knew from her time here before. The libraries in Goodenough College, once hers and now shared as I finish my MA from Rhodes in absentia and wonder about the future. Where to next once the energy of a very large Word document is spent. A long piece on how we tell stories of famine, and how stories constrain our possibilities for action. In the case of famine only in my dissertation, mind. Because in truth, stories of places and stories of people affect our capacity to act and our capacity to perceive ‘problems’ across so many domains of knowledge in the world.
And just like that, the slow coals of an idea start to turn to reddening embers. Narrative and development. I want to understand what seems like an obvious question of how we see the world, and how that affects – profoundly – our capacity to act in it.
For that, the Media Studies MA has helped a great deal. All the months studying framing theory and how we create our ideas of things. But the other part – how we choose to help others based on those ideas – is elusive. For all I know about how stories gain traction, I know very little of the mechanics of how we intervene from positions of power in the lives of others. That is to say, the details, the nuts and bolts of the gamut of what we call development. In all of its problematic imperfection.
And in that state – of no clear path forward in my life, yet such clarity on what I want to learn about – came an email to my phone late one night in a London pub. A scholarship that I had all but dismissed as unachieved – the last I had applied for before leaving for London – came through. An MA programme in public policy and conflict studies at the University of Erfurt in Germany. A path opens up. A chance to move in the direction most wished for. And to learn German besides.
And so, beautifully, surprisingly, the journey continues as interesting and unpredictably as always. Not, certainly, as Richard of the forest in late 2011 would have imagined. But as, I believe, he would nevertheless have approved of. Though the destinations appear to change, the core of the thing – the direction and spirit of the journey – holds true.