Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Tropical North

Reykjavík is the northern most capital in the world, or so we're told.

With unpredictable and sometimes violently fierce weather patterns in winter, our hyperbolic expectations for summer - the only benign season the north has to offer - soothe a body aching for but a brief intermission from the storm.

The Icelandic winter can be hostile with its long months of darkness when the hours of daylight are few, especially during the holiday season and in the new year. Extravagant light displays decorate the city and lend magic to the black night that reigns, and if we're lucky, the white snow adds a bit of sparkle to our life.

Despite the cold, we venture on foot to the city centre and nurture our bodies and soul with the holiday spirit. Then comes January, the longest and cruelest month of the year for no fault of its own. On January 7, illustrious Christmas lights are turned off and once again, darkness prevails.

Then comes spring. Spring is the most unreliable season of all four - we know from bitter experience that spring is spring for namesake only...

Autumn however is a season, more often than not, true to nature. Cool rain and loud wind are expected to come knocking and we are not that surprised when the first signs begin to appear in August. We are pleasantly surprised if September continues to bring beautiful sunny days past the prime of summer.


We know for a fact that no one comes to Iceland for the weather so divulging the facts is no crime.

But sometimes, when we least expect it, Mother Nature surprises even the most pessimistic locals with an unexpected summer surprise.

A week ago, on July 20 such a moment came out of nowhere and took me by surprise. The moment it happened I was walking down Laugavegur (the curious shopping strip in Reykjavík's city centre) and very much lost in a moment of self-reflection.

I'd been struck by a sudden realisation as walked down the mild slope down Laugavegur and creative ideas were beginning to take shape. Then came the shower, a rain that poured down in a linear fall almost in a straight line from the gray cluster of clouds.

It was the perfect summer rain: warm but refreshing in the humid air and 17°C air temperature.

And what lovely rain it was!

Like a muse sent to me by Mother Nature, the city of Reykjavík revealed herself to me. To be more specific, she revealed her exoticism to me, a local resident with small town roots and yet an outsider in her own land... a local crammed into a life of abstinence from travels, as priorities are skewed by the sometimes harsh economic reality of a writer to succeed in the hunt for the perfect job, and so far without achieving much success.   

The temporarily entrapped traveler in me that conformed to native society with ease but constantly longing to be somewhere else - to journey the world from one end to another - all of a sudden felt perfectly at home.

The warm shower reminded me how despite my immobile traveling lifestyle, I am on a journey, a journey to re-discover my country again in spite of the obstacles along the way. To get to know Iceland as if it were new to me. And in so many ways it is.

The city of Reykjavík is still a stranger to me in more ways than one. So much changed while I excavated the world with my backpack and passport in hand. The monocultural little Iceland grew and expanded beyond my wildest expectations. New residents from all over the world have changed the city and made it a better place to live. Icelanders who left came back with a piece of the world to share.

After years of sticking my head in a pile of academic books, while my mind constantly drifted to other lands, I discovered at last the simple charms of my city and within awakened a longing to get to know her better. A city that is inspiring, beautiful and modest. A city exploding from the creative powers of her residents. An international city that makes up for her smallness with a big heart ready to embrace the whole world.

It took a downpour... a warm shower to clear my judgement... judgement previously clouded by the prejudice of my youth and perhaps of late, pragmatic disposition... to see the delightful Miss Reykjavík for the young and vibrant city she has become.

Thankfully, it's never too late to get started on a journey.

The warm shower inspired me to write about the journey, a journey I can only take in Iceland, and a journey that fuels my undying belief in the realisation of all my dreams.

After all, what is a traveler without dreams...?

Home Sweet Home

Welcome Home!

Home. It's a word fundamental to our sense of belonging in this world of ours. Whether we travel the world from one end to another or never leave our place of birth, there is a special place (or places) in the world we call "home".  

After years of traveling, the concept of home continues to puzzle me. What is the actual meaning of this term? How narrow or wide is the definition in this vastly shrinking world of ours?

The basic requirement of an authentic home is probably to have in one way or another set roots. But what does it mean to set roots? Can you set roots in more than one place? Or is home simply where the heart is?

Much changes when one travels the world. The largest changes occur in the general mindset, that is, 

how we perceive different cultures as visitors and even residents, and how we perceive our own culture as a result of the exposure to different cultures.

For me personally, the definition of home has changed a great deal. I no longer identify with only one culture. I have bonded and set roots in places other than my native Iceland. My bonds to Iceland are profoundly personal. I have family and childhood history that ties me to this land. I also feel a connection with Iceland's rugged landscape and rough seas.

I identify with Iceland in ways I don't identify with any other country in the world, primarily the awesome power of Icelandic nature and my family. But I still can't say my relationship with Iceland is so profound I see it as my one and only home.

It's but one of a few.

The very first city to take my breath away was Paris. I was only 9 years old at the time and it was a half-day excursion with my parents and 4 years old sister. The hot scorching summer sun was high up in the sky and the air a dense cloud of city pollution typical for summer in the city.

As I stood on Pont Saint-Louis between the chic bohemian Ile Saint-Louis and the magnificent Ile de la Cité, I was immediately struck by the beauty of my surroundings; the gentle flow of the sea-green River Seine sparkled under the relentless midday rays that struck the surface, and the snow-white walls of the Notre Dame rising high above the Notre Dame Provincial Park.

The majestic sight hypnotized my young eyes, and in that moment, I fell in love with a city so unlike my own humble background, a small town that once upon a time relied on the fishing industry for survival but as times changed became a subdued town in search of a new identity. 

My young impressionable eyes envisioned a glamorous lifestyle in a city so rich in culture and history. As the years passed and my dreams of grand artistic success as a novelist, journalist and a photographer rose, I envisioned my life in a small Parisian studio on Ile Saint-Louis with a small terrace overlooking the city.

At 22, I finally made my childhood dream come true and moved to Paris to do a photography course. Sure, life was not as grand nor luxurious as the cityscape that compelled the dream throughout my teens, but I nonetheless was swept off my feet. And before I knew, Paris was home, my home.

Before Paris, I'd already found another place that truly welcomed me and where I had set roots through the acquisition of language, active participation in the local community and kind people who made it even harder to leave as the mandatory departure date arrived.

Rio Verde, a small city in the state of Goiás in Central Brazil, was my home for a year. I went from a young girl lost in the wilderness of a language strange to my ears and limited by extreme shyness to a young woman full of life, playfully indulging in a language ever-so familiar to my ears. It not only altered the course of my life but gave me enough faith to explore the world on my own and make the adventurous world of travels my path.   

The dream of Brazil was born out of impressions, impressions of a song from an exotic world to an innocent child. The song was Lambada by Kaoma and for reasons I couldn't possibly explain, the song seduced me with an image of a tropical culture passionate about dancing under the Brazilian skies.

Later I realised, there was more to Brazilian culture such as resilience, pride, and the spirit of joie-de-vivre. And I felt very much at home. My heart still beats for Brazil.

So far, three homes. you'd think that's a reasonable number of countries to claim as my own. But I have three more to go.

On a small island in the midst of the Greek Archipelago, I escaped the cosmopolitan citylife as summer announced its arrival.  For brief 3 months I took time out from the fast-paced outside world, working late nights and spending long days on unspeakably beautiful beaches and in a quaint little village named Chora. 

The island that is Ios is known for everything but tranquility. For the travelers who come and go it is but a place of intoxicated days and nights. Few explore the dry slopes of steep hills, Homer's grave, and the amphitheatre that overlooks the glittering Aegan Sea in the daytime and the bright reflection of the still moonlight in the night.

Strong bonds of friendship formed in our community of incestious workers - a term we used to refer to "internal" hookups - mostly in their twenties. Life, a sweet elixir of worry-free existence, was lived moment for moment, and in my Greek paradise I found a place to be just me.

But as autumn came the breeze grew cooler, the days shorter and eventually even the busy streets grew quiet. Seasonal workers traveled back to the real world where they either occupied a real-life job or were in search of one, and others returned to academic institutions to continue their education. 

After a summer in paradise, I would return to London. I felt instinctively something awaited me in this grand city and as it turns out, it did. I eventually met my husband-to-be on an outing with a multicultural group of friends, and understandably, London is a very special place to us. It is where we lived and loved and every now and then, our hearts tingle for this city that never ceases to nurture the spirit. History is written in stone in this age-old city. The spectacular literary and theatre scene rarely fails to disappoint; academic institutions with history centuries-old; castles and palaces housing arrays of museum artifacts; and leisure scene with endless possibilities. 

My final and absolute home is my husband's native land of South Africa. From the time I first arrived in the country long before we met, I felt a deep connection to the country and its rich multicultural history, as well as the majestic landscape that changes from region to region and coast to coast. 

The highland plains of Gauteng ("Place of Gold") where the glorious Cradle of Mankind sits in its throne next to the notorious Johannesburg; the towering Table Mountain peaking over the breezy coastal city of Cape Town right where the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean have their rendez-vous; and the garden route stretching along the coastal regions of the country from Cape Town to Durban. 

Durban is the largest city in the verdant hills of KwaZulu-Natal on South Africa's east coast. The pounding waves crash on the shore stretching along its centre, and within flourishes a vibrant city. On its outskirts, the verdant suburbs of Kloof and Hillcrest sit comfortably above the thick humidity of the Durban coastline, in the moist and sometimes foggy hills. 

The mere thought sends a tingle, nay, a strong tickling sensation to the very depths of my heart. 

A familiar scent, singing crickets and certain songs bring forth a state of such nostalgia and longing for an unwritten future however distant it may be. 

Thus, my definition of home is an unusual one.  

My definition of home is not isolated to years of residence or deep familial roots. Home is a feeling, a feeling of belonging in a place that touches the soul so profoundly that it occupies a piece of our heart. Be it a temporary home or the place that holds the key to our future, home is a place where the heart rejoices life no matter the ups and downs in life.

Home, in other words, is where the heart lives and beats to a rhythm of its own.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

What you might want to know about me...

I am obsessed with traveling - if there was a temporary remedy to keep it under control, I'd be taking it right now - but only until I book my next adventure.

I married a man from the southernmost tip of Africa - we met in London, the arena for international matchmaking. 

My man...the rugby player

I have a dog I named Emma after one of Jane Austen's characters. I wanted to name her Jane Austen but my husband didn't quite see the appeal in calling out "Jane Austen!"

She is a real beauty...  
Just kidding...  she's not that small.
Miss Emma in all her glory.

I am addicted to coffee - if I don't have my two cups straight after breakfast I am in trouble. It sounds worse than it really is. 

I bought an espresso maker to reduce the cost of purchases in the specifically chosen cafés I would regularly attend to feed my addiction.

I am an optimist - no matter how bad things get I know things will only get better.

My first love was the city of Paris - it may sound crazy but I fell in love with her at the age of 9 during a half-day excursion. Later, I studied photography in Paris - her charms never wear off and I have days when I miss the Parisian life. I even took two semesters of French phonetics to speak French with some dignity.

I so enjoy good food, French food in particular (surprise! surprise!) 

Coq au Vin... my husband can cook :)

I fell in love with more than just the French language - I settled on a total of 7 languages to learn before I die... when I was 11. I am up to 5 but hey, if I fancy a few more after reaching 7, I'll give it a try.

I can't sing - and even if I am wrong about that and actually have a voice that doesn't shriek or destroy the hearing of stand-byers, I just don't. Ever.

I live the northernmost capital in the world - some days take your breath away while others bring you close to a state of desperate misery. Sometimes it feels like we live on the very edge of the world... 

A foggy day in the city - all of a sudden the sun erupted and her blinding rays shut through the fog...
In my 33 years, I have made it my mission to not only pass through the places my travels take me... I like to set roots in a few... Rio Verde, the little city in the middle of Brazil; Ios, the party island with the gentle heart; Paris, to get to know and embrace the city I love the most; and Durban, the tropical city no one knows exactly where to find on a map but one that I like to call home.  


I have always known my calling in life was to write - I can't imagine my life without the ability to express myself in words. It's a gift I cherish with all my heart and seek to nurture here.

My only intention is to write from my heart... about the journey I am on now that I am back in my native Iceland... about shorter adventures in unknown places... and maybe one day, about a life in South Africa...