So long and thanks for all the fish, Kosi Bay

Kosi Bay fish - photograph by Jon Pienaar.
Kosi Bay fish – photograph by Jon Pienaar.

Our nomadic journey started in Johannesburg in May, and then took us to Shakaskraal June, and Manguzi near Kosi Bay in July 2014. Take a look at this first article we’ve written as part of our #OpenlyCurious travels across South Africa.

So long and thanks for all the fish – Published by GroundUp

Clans living near Kosi Bay have used an ancient fish trapping system to create a livelihood for themselves and their families for centuries. But as population pressure rises, increasing the twin stresses of poverty and unemployment, how long will the fragile balance between humans and nature provide a bountiful catch?

Read the full article at GroundUp.


The openly curious conversation.

Cartoon via Lumina Yoga at
Cartoon via Lumina Yoga at

“So tell me, what do you do?”

Next to: “Where do you come from?” or “Where do you live?”, that’s one of the most frequent questions that Jon and I get on our Nomadic Journey.

But, as Troy Anderson points out in his witty piece for Slate Magazine, it’s also a conversation killer. Take a look at this extract from Anderson’s article and you’ll see what I mean.

“As I say—as the Encyclopédie Moderne said—“Conversation is not a regular attack on any particular point, but a ramble at hazard through a spacious garden.”)* “What do you do?” is not a great question. We all resort to it, granted, and it is no longer widely considered crass and vulgar, but it’s a bit dull, and it has a way of taking the bloom off the roses in the garden. “What do you do?” points toward an old sin of American talk. One throughline of Stephen Miller’s 2006 book Conversation: A History of a Declining Art concerns the dreariness of talking about work. In the middle, Miller studies Charles Dickens’ remark that the U.S. “is a place where the pleasures of conversations are rare, mainly because the ‘love of trade’ makes Americans narrowly self-interested” and also quotes Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville’s road-trip buddy, noting that “American men are occupied with but one single thing, their business.” Near the end, Miller observes that American advice on conversation has frequently proceeded from the careerist example of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People: “Carnegie thinks of conversation as instrumental. The title of the book is misleading. The book is not about winning friends.”

To win a friend—or, at the very least, to gather data that will enrich your appreciation of the human comedy—you should ask something like “What are you excited about?”—which is nice and wide and cheerful. Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs.”

Read How to Rescue a Boring Conversation – Alternatives to the deadly “What do you do?” by Troy Anderson on Slate.


Panic In Freedom Park

Panic attack.

This isn’t fear. But fear lives there. Somewhere.

As my possessions walked out the door, the panic attack rolled in fast. My knees started shaking, my vision tunnelled and my heart pounded. This was quickly followed by waves of nausea and what felt like the beginnings of a migraine.

I’d made up my mind months prior that I was going to get rid of all my material possessions so that I could free myself to travel and write. It wasn’t an impulsive decision. It was the culmination of years of thinking about possessions and what they meant to me. In short, I realised that I didn’t have a direct relationship with my possessions . Rather the relationship is by proxy – mediated by the lump of fat that houses the complex electro-chemistry called my brain.

What lives outside my brain is a totem – a symbol of my connection to that thing. The physical isn’t terribly important to me, and I don’t need it to trigger a memory or a thought. A photograph stored somewhere on the internet would do just as well. Actually – I didn’t even need that. All I needed to do was to recall the memory directly.

In terms of assets, the kind of jewellery and art I have aren’t investment items. Even if they were, they’d take significant effort to secure, and then I wouldn’t want them anyway – owning physical assets means taking responsibility for securing, housing and looking after them. That takes effort, money and space. More so, physical assets exist at a cost to one’s freedom. You can’t just take off and leave your Kentridge on the side of the road hoping it will still be there when you get back.

But what of mixers, shredders, washing machines, coffee machines and tumble dryers? They are great conveniences for a certain life stage – when you’re bringing up children and have to juggle time. But beyond that, they merely depreciate. And my real-life experience is that people have far more of these than they need. I certainly did. When I started giving my goods away I found meat grinders and electric orange juicers I’d hardly touched.

These things were mostly packed out of sight, and out of mind. Stored away because they may be useful someday. When it came down to it, that which had the most value was the sentimental. My deceased father’s passport. A scarf that once belonged to his mother – my gran. A simple gold band – an heirloom wedding ring. A doodle my son had etched on one of my notebooks – an expression of how he felt about our love, and relationship, at the time.

What was most important could be packed in the pocket of a backpack.

The rest was the shackles of suburbia. That which we accrue for trading freedom for stability, in order to nurture and grow that which we love most in the world – our children.

But my son had flown the coop. He’d grabbed his freedom with both strong arms and fired me from my occupation as an over-mothering mother. More so, he’d begged me to leave and ‘get a life’ so that he could get on with his.

It was a rite of passage. The dénouement I knew was coming. As a mother I’d long realised that loving a son meant letting go more than hanging on. His independence meant cleaving the last threads of the umbilical I was hanging on to, which he did deftly, and certainly.

There I stood. More than a year after he’d reclaimed his life, starting to reclaim my own. I was wrestling freedom back from two decades of responsibility, but why was I experiencing a panic attack?

Why not?

My mind and body were processing physical trauma. [Letting go of your home and material possessions surely ranks right up there with death and divorce on the stress scale.]

I knew what this was. It was a panic attack. It was an appropriate physical response to the environmental stress I had elected to go through. It would pass in time. Which it did.

After it had left me I understood that the anxiety and fragmentation I felt—for a short space of time—was my body’s way of processing a significant life change. I was cashing in comfort and certainty for the freedom of an open road, and there could be a few bumps along the way.

The epiphany?

The more adaptable I become, the more I could enhance my enjoyment of my newfound freedom.

Read more:

How to deal with panic attacks at WikiHow.

The gradual epiphany – I am a nomad – via

The gradual epiphany – I am a Nomad

For a long time I’ve felt suffocated by routine. Getting up in the morning has become incrementally slower, while the thought of chewing more of yesterday’s cud is as unappetising as it sounds. Writing brings its own intellectual variance, but the weight of suburbia is heavy.

Marriage and having a child has brought a legacy articulated in gym fees, utility bills and salaries. Each month the equivalent of a telephone book in character count must be created and sold off to appease the wolves at the door. First prize is going over and above a basic monthly quota to afford luxuries, novelties and travel.

Don’t get me wrong: I live a good life. Writing is at once the most glorious but awful existence anyone could ever hope for. Being a writer means being forever locked in a desperate struggle for eloquence – to give birth to ideas and build arguments that are worthwhile. But once made tangible, ideas are never as nimble or as interesting as they appear in one’s head.

But being a writer can mean a quieter life, and one in which you can work when and how you want to. It is a life that offers significant freedom and the opportunity for intellectual exploration. The more one writes, the more (hopefully) one thinks and reads and tests one’s thinking. In this sense, for me writing has been about enormous intellectual growth, and the terrifying realisation that no matter how long I live and write, I will never have enough time to get as good as I’d like to be.

Part of what a writing life (and interviewing people like David Eagleman) has taught me, is that everything we experience is in our minds, that the material is ephemeral, and that experience is everything. Travelling reminds me that I am essentially a nomad and that some of my most treasured possessions are the intangible memories of experiencing the new.

After being forced to move out of my home and find a new place to live, I found myself questioning my relationship with my possessions. Why did I acquire what I own, and where did the meaning of my relationship with that possession exist – in the material or in myself?

The problem with possessions is that they are at once a blessing and a curse. Physical possessions can add comfort and stability to a life, but they require housing, looking after and insurance. Being in custody of material possessions means that embracing a more nomadic lifestyle requires lots of planning and preparation.

There’s also a question of value. Is it worthwhile or meaningful owning land in South Africa, a country where most people don’t have the means or opportunity to do this? Why own a television set if you could hire one at a cheaper rate? Why manage a mass of electrical equipment when someone else could curate the pain of doing this for you?

The more I started exploring my relationship with what I owned, the more the relationship I had with my possessions didn’t make sense. I have shelves filled with books collecting dust. Surely all one needs is an iPad and an understanding of how to get the perfect podcast or literature that suits your current mode? Shouldn’t books be something we read and share, rather than hoard?

It’s been weeks now since the decision was made. I will pack up a small box of items I can’t bear to part with. The rest will be given away or sold. I will take only that which will keep me nimble on the road. A laptop to write, a mobile phone, my iPad, a camera, some clothes and whatever else will fit into a boot.

Where am I going?

I have no idea. The first stop’s been worked out. I will stay for a couple of months with my beloved sister before moving on. From there Jon and I become writers on the road. We will become nomads who trade the stifling certainty of suburbia with a life lived ‘Openly Curious’.

We hope you will join us as we journey.