“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
When I first heard it, I agreed with Forrest Gump’s credo in the same-titled movie, and it wasn’t only because of my chocoholic tendencies, or Tom Hanks playing such an unusual but highly likeable character.
I have always had this view about life as something more than the downright predictability of its course, namely birth, childhood, formative schooling years, job(s), marriage(s), children, family celebrations, retirement, and eventually death. I might be generalising here, but one could easily say that these were the big, significant moments in everyone’s life, and I didn’t want to agree to disagree.
In my view, the big moments in life were the ones that made it uniquely and wonderfully yours: that unexpected first kiss; the one crazy adventure you’d talk for years to come; the love that got away, or the love that made you move mountains. Or, in my case, change countries, and move to Africa. The big moments were the ones you’d never expect to get, just like the chocolates in the box.
My life had been quite the uneventful, usual bit — school, teenage awkwardness and all — until my twenties and my foreign escape (escape does sound better than ‘internship abroad’), where I met and fell in love with my now husband of eight years. Then came the biggest adventure of all: my travel and subsequent move to the African continent, his birthplace.
Before meeting my soulmate at the tender age of twenty, I have never done anything daring or out of my comfort zone. Working a full-time job as a journalist while studying for a business degree seemed like a walk in the park. Graduating with honours was a piece of cake. Everything seemed to fall in place, in the trajectory of life as I knew it: I had my family, the degree, the job, the potential career path, the past failed relationships and possibly, one day, a future long-term partner in sight.
I would eventually meet my other half, but I’ve never given it too much thought. And then there came this sexy traveller with the most infectious smile and the biggest crown of curly hair I’d ever seen. He was kind and wonderful. I was smitten. My life unfolded right before my eyes. Everything could change. Everything was about to change indeed.
I left my life behind as soon as I graduated, and got on a plane to South Africa. Looking back, it all happened too fast, but it was the excitement that kept me going. The novelty of exploring other parts of the world was as strong and momentous as the immense love I carried for my future husband. It felt just right.
Life was not supposed to be lived in one place. Life was supposed to be experienced and relished in as many ways and places one could explore before the grim reaper showed up. It was my time to explore. It was the chance to move away from the past and the obvious and embrace an unchartered path abroad. Who knew what could happen next? But wasn’t that the point of life, not knowing?
Travelling and living in Africa has been the most wonderful, humble and eye-opening experience so far in my young existence. There was so much to see, learn, and capture in my heart, mind, and soul, that I felt at times like I haven’t even scratched the surface. It never got boring.
What seemed like audacious goals for most Europeans and westerners in general, aka the good life — the big money, the big house, the big car, the big exotic holidays — were not necessarily the go-to ways of most Africans. It was a breath of fresh air to see a melting pot of desires, aspirations and artistic expressions, as varied as its colourful people and tribes. I met people from all walks of life, and each time I discovered another universe waiting to happen, or, in Forrest Gump’s words, yet another box of chocolates.
I thought that moving to Africa was my life’s big defining moment, and it certainly was when I touched its sacred ground. But the biggest change was truly about to come. I discovered a home ground where the emotional and the spiritual abound, and where I felt myself shine. In truth, I have truly discovered myself on this magnificent continent, miles away from the only home I knew.
I learned that slowing down and savouring life’s simple moments shouldn’t be an after-thought after a hard day at work. I began viewing work as more than a means to pay bills and shopping sprees. I replaced the climbing the proverbial ladder with an expression of my true identity and passion. I started freelancing and writing at my pace, and to my enjoyment. I read more, and I wrote more.
I also developed a newfound passion for the great outdoors. I often went camping with my husband and tried to keep it as basic as possible. There was something magical about making coffee and frying meat over an open fire. Food tasted better than usual. I savoured the wildlife and its simple, yet powerful circle of life. I looked at the amazing night sky in awe and counted the stars. I took the time to listen to nature’s sounds and rhythms. I discovered gardening and grew my herbs and vegetables in the back yard. My cooking sessions improved and diversified. I didn’t just spice up my dishes; it felt like my whole life has been spiced up. I felt alive.
Across the globe, people search for something transcendent, bigger, better and bolder than the daily life waiting back home: the adventure of a lifetime; the big moment of change. Africa is one of those magical places where being yourself and connected to others, at home, in nature, or wherever your footsteps bring you, is just enough. This realisation alone is worthy of a big celebratory party similar to a rite of passage, a new beginning as a married couple, a newborn child, or another item crossed off the bucket list.
Back to Forrest Gump. If life was indeed a box of chocolates, and every chocolate represented a great pivotal moment, the most rewarding chocolates would be the ones you wouldn’t normally expect to find inside. Take the decadent gourmet French truffle-stuffed delicacy, the couture gold flakes covered goodies, or the chocolates you wouldn’t dare to taste of the purest bitter 99% dark cocoa kind. But those are the ones I guarantee you’d never forget.
Making a big life change might be pretty scary for most. But know what would be even scarier? Regret. So bite and relish that chocolate, today.
This article appeared in the October issue of Skirt! magazine, The Big Issue, on page 39.