South Africa is beautiful. It’s also full of amazing people who are creative every day.
Our food is influenced by diverse cultures and it’s super tasty.
Only here can you find one street on which lived two Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
It was here that millions of years ago early hominids first used stone tools and created fire.
We have 11 official languages with equal status and plenty of amusing unofficial ones.
We are one of the world’s top 10 wine producers because we have been at it since 1659 and have tasty soil and smooth sea breezes.
Only here will you find a mine deeper than 10 Empire State Buildings from which our people have delivered almost half of the gold that has ever been mined.
We innovated the heart and penis transplants, the yellow fever vaccine, the CAT scan and identified the CDH2 gene.
As South Africans, we know these boasts, but sometimes we forget. Partly because we get used to them, and partly because our story is complicated. We have challenges too.
Sometimes I lose the perspective of how fortunate we are and I feel despondent about our struggles.
Ours is a land of shipwrecks. About 3000 ships of brave explores have met their wet end on our craggy coastline.
We have the biggest meteor scar on Earth.
We have gaps and inequalities that separate our people. Language. Land. Wealth. Water. Education. Employment. Race. Resources. Services. Sickness.
I want to resist letting these gaps prevent me from remembering how blessed we are. It’s important to remember how fortunate we are because gratitude is a game-changer. It is the thing that will help us to overcome the challenges. Gratitude increases happiness and decreases depression. It enhances physical health and sleep quality. Gratitude expands empathy and reduces aggression.
One way in which I try to practice gratitude for our country is that I lure overseas friends and business associates to come and run trails with me in our large and lovely land. While they gawp and marvel, I feed on their appreciation.
In July another small group joined me on a two week trip from Cape Town, up through the Karoo to the Southern Drakensberg. Then down through Addo Elephant National Park and the Garden Route.
Elaine spoke of how inspired she felt.
“The vastness of your environment gave me strength. Running on your trails in the huge Drakensberg, the pretty Garden Route and on famous Table Mountain is incredible. The mountains and boulders are huge, the forests are lush, the streams are clear and the beaches are wide. Sometimes things in life feel like they can crush me, but not there. Running there enlivened me.”
A previous visitor, Dave, who spoke of how alive SA is.
“The food is big. The portions and the tastes. The personalities of the people are big too. Big as in alive. Big as in generous. When they get to know someone they are quick to share. People are so open. On the Rhodes Run they held the barbed-wire wire fence open for each other. Strangers ran in small groups and quickly worked as teams, encouraging each other, sharing what they had.”
Sam, a business colleague and now a firm friend, who has never been south of the Sahara before didn’t take much persuasion to sign up for the Rhodes Run as his first Ultra.
Reflecting on his experience, he said, “The Drakensberg Mountains were monumental and the people we encountered along the way were open, warm-hearted and welcoming. The sense of achievement when I crossed the finishing line was overwhelming. Eight months of lonely hill thrashing in the Lancashire Pennines and the Peak District had paid off.”
And pay off it did! Sam trotted in at 49th place in a field that struggled on the day.
Sam also did really well in another way. Together with his few international teammates, he raised almost R90,000 to support the local village school.
In Addo, we stayed at one of the more remote bush camps. Again my guests opened my eyes to see our place and people afresh.
They invited the game ranger from the gate to join us for a braai. They asked him about his story and told him theirs. They shared a meal. It was such a simple, powerful thing to do.
Later the ranger told me that it was the first time he had shared a meal with white people. His words were: “You guys made me feel like a human, not isolated.”
These trail running visitors have challenged and inspired me. To see with fresh eyes. To hold barbed wire open. To form teams. To the power of simple togetherness in breaking down our inherited separateness. To not be overwhelmed. To be proud.
They have given me more megapixels in how I take in our world.