I have seen the Empire State
Building in New York. I have stood at the base
of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I have craned my
neck at Nelson's Column in London. But I did not
hear the song of creation anywhere.
I have travelled through most of this beautiful
country of mine with a sort of smug pride. This,
I have told myself, this is where God started
when he created our world. Which probably explains
why, when he made some other countries, he ran
out of perfection.
No other continent sings its being as well as
Africa does. The song of Africa rises out of the
quiet, a chorus of creatures awakening to the
cool of the night. Nowhere else are the tribal
people born with choral voices that transcend
that of the animal kingdom in their praise of
Africa. Nowhere else does a camp fire come so
to life, or the heavens reach quite so high or
where you soul can fly so free.
So, you ask me to tell you of my African adventure
with Epic Enabled and why I saw everything with
such new eyes? And you think I will only tell
you about the lion, the giraffe, the leopard and
the elephant. Or of rock formations, billions
of years old rising from the plains. Or of grass
so high and so green because this summer the rains
came. And then you will ask me about the violence
in South Africa and question your safety. You
will call up media images of strife. But I will
tell you about the laughter and the freedom instead.
But mostly you will tell me that African bush
adventures are not for the disabled. You will
look at the restrictions of your daily life and
not even dream of hearing the African heartbeat.
You will know how alone you sometimes feel in
your physical limitations. And remove from thought
those dreams you consider impossible.
And then I will tell you that I was in a place
where my crutches did not impede my being able
to touch a cheetah. That I stroked him until he
purred. That then, in that moment, I heard my
own song, felt my own heart lift and laughed the
laughter I left behind in childhood. Or I can
tell you about the tiny dung beetle, scuttling
through life pushing a burden much larger than
mine. A ball of dung to house his young. A ball
many times larger than himself.
And how did I come so close to the unimaginable?
I rode off into the red African dawn in a truck
so imaginatively and ingeniously converted that
every disabled person on the tour wanted one.
It was such a marvel of engineering that people,
wherever we went, came to admire it. Imagine,
a truck that made them all envy us our transport.
Imagine a truck being the best icebreaker ever
for strange people to come together.
And envious they should have been. Not for us
the hermetically sealed and artificially cooled
luxury bus that seems so foreign to Africa, and
where not a breath of our air gets in. For us
the sides opened wide all around, letting us into
the very bush and allowing a butterfly to land
on someone's knee. A vehicle so sturdy that we
could take the paths less travelled following
the game, banging and crashing past bushes and
trees, getting so close to a crocodile that we
could probably have smelled his breath. We rolled
over boulders that made the truck lurch and lean,
while helpers dived for wheelchairs [already well
secured], while their occupants shrieked in merriment.
A giraffe was so near that we could see her eyelashes.
And a man from Newcastle in England could only
A truck built so high that we had our own movable
watching tower. And how, you ask, did we get in
and out of this mechanical wonder to enjoy our
unimpeded view? With an electric lift is how.
It lifted us from the ground, rose smoothly and
silently so that we could step or wheel effortlessly
into the truck. No huffing, no puffing, no nervous
sweat while someone else has to get you over an
obstacle. And you came to realise how simple it
is to make life a little less complicated, and
how that small freedom allowed us to be more aware
of our surroundings and each other. And how the
able take things for granted.
This vehicle gave us everything except a place
to sleep, although no doubt we could have done
that too. Given how this trip freed us from all
the impediments of our daily lives, setting our
minds and imaginations free, I wonder that no
one thought of it. Things with wheels free people
anyway, but this truck epitomised the independence
we all strive for. A part of our experience and
us. If we needed it, it was part of the truck.
Countless hatches opened to reveal tables, chairs,
stoves and water tanks, crockery, cutlery, pots
and pans. We even carried our own firewood and
liquid refreshments. Under the floorboards nestled
our own grocery store. In short, we could have
been stranded in the Namib desert and been self
And from this very truck came meals to die for.
But mostly it gave us a sense of belonging, a
feeling of ownership, and the sure knowledge that
we were safe. Only when you are that safe do you
realise how often you feel threatened. Only when
your needs are that well catered for do all your
senses come alive, and then the wonders of your
world are there for you to appreciate.
But I have only told you what I saw and how I
came to go where I did. I have not told you what
I felt, or thought or brought home with me. I
know next time I see a dusty Land Rover on the
streets of Cape Town I will smile with a sort
of secret knowledge. I will look at those tanned
young travellers with their muscled thighs and
know that my experience, sans youth or muscled
thighs, was deeper and more meaningful than theirs
could ever be. It will be because their horizons
are limitless, while I can see mine clearly.
They will not discover, as I did, that my journey
had shifted my perceptions of myself and my boundaries
further than I had ever dreamed possible. And
I have lived a life filled with impossible dreams
coming true. And I watched it do the same for
my fellow travellers, a pleasure almost greater
than my own. These youths will not have negotiated
a rocky and slippery path in the black African
night behind a young woman also dealing with recalcitrant
legs and unwieldy crutches. They will not have
seen her victorious smile when she reached the
top. And they will not know that only a few days
before she would not even have attempted the walk
But, down the years, if ever again something seems
beyond my capabilities, I will hear her say, "Jis!
Did you see what I just did?" I know I will
reach higher, because I met a woman with the heart
of a lion.
They will not have known a man left with only
his mind, his voice, his sense of humour and his
eagerness to do and experience everything, while
all the while chuckling in delight at his good
fortune. And they would certainly never have stopped
to talk to him and so missed the man within.
You see, we didn't just drive hundreds of kilometres
and buy some curious. We weren't spoiled or pandered
to and we certainly weren't patronised. No one
did anything for us that we could not do for ourselves.
We did not have the tents or cottages nearest
the bathrooms, we simply had accessible bathrooms.
No one tarred or paved every path we walked, much
as life cannot do that.
And all because someone cared enough to remove
some of the obstacles we cannot overcome, no matter
how hard we try. And left us free to tackle the
hurdles we had not even noticed before. There
is little time for creative thinking when you
are always negotiating stairs, revolving and swinging
doors, lift doors with minds of their own, toilets
too narrow for even a monkey to turn in and doors
with no wheelchair access.
Once the impossibles had been removed, quietly
and without fuss, we were left to find our own
way, because they knew we would get there. And
we knew we could. And God bless the three who
We keep asking society to take us in and make
us a part of the whole. Some well-meaning souls
try to help us. Mostly it's a losing battle. They
will not come to us, we need to draw them to us.
I have always known that. But this time I saw
a group of tanned, happy and laughing people filled
with the joy of living, and the people came to
us to learn the secret of our happiness. For once
we were more free than they could ever be. And
all because someone had removed a few needless
obstacles for us and taken us out into the world.
And we flew high and far and wide. And the smile
will stay on my soul for a long time to come.
The Epic adventure will not heal you or enable
you. But it will empower you. And that is a priceless
thing to have - empowerment. And that empowerment
will help you heal and enable yourself so that
you too will find your own song of life. If you
have to come to Africa from the far corners of
the world to do it, or even if you live right
here. Do not let anything stop you from finding
the music that will change your life.
And which memory will be with me the longest?
The morning I stayed in camp suffering from an
experience overload while everyone else went on
a dawn game drive. The day the sound of a woman's
joyous laugh preceded the sound of the truck.
And perhaps that is what we should do: put our
laughter ahead of our problems.
Thank you, Epic Enabled. Thank you.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA