My grandfather was Scottish. He arrived in South Africa when he was four. His father had been in South Africa for two years before that, making a home in South Africa for his family. I wish I had met my great grandfather. Apparently, he was a stone mason who sang opera. He was involved, in some way, in the building of the bridge over the Hartebeespoort dam. I have always valued my Scottish ancestry more than my British ancestry. I am ashamed to say that I believe this is largely due to the movie Braveheart and not based on much else. I also look Scottish. I have red curly hair and pale skin. When the Scottish people voted in the independence referendum, I was rooting for independence, knowing little about the actual pros and cons, but with high emotion, nevertheless.
I had not planned my Eat, Pray, Love trip very well. I had booked the French course in Villefranche but beyond that was a scary blank. One of my cousins in South Africa had said that she would go to Scotland with me in December and I thought that I might look for work in London the following year. But my cousin called me when I was in Villefranche and said she was not going to make it to Scotland in December. I didn’t know what to do next. I had also packed too many suitcases. I had a very large backpack, a big suitcase and a smaller suitcase, all full of clothes, as well as my laptop bag. When I left Villefranche, I caught the train across the channel to England and, while waiting in the customs queue, with my backpack on my back, I fell over backwards, and like a tortoise, couldn’t get up again without assistance.
Once in England I headed to Oxford where a dear friend of my mother lives. My mother has known her since their school days in Grahamstown. She and her husband took me on walks through Oxford and we visited Stonehenge while I was there. I love Oxford. I love its ancient buildings and history. I have always thought that I would like to live there. I also love my mother’s friend and her husband. She reminds me of my mother, in lots of ways. She said to me as I was leaving them, “Travel light. “I liked the philosophy behind those words. The problem was that in November of 2008, I had a lot of baggage, emotional and material. I was attached to some of it. It was mine.
I had decided to do the Scottish ancestry trip on my own. While I was visiting good family friends in London, they introduced me to a runaway girl, like me. She had also just walked out of a long-term relationship and was planning to live and work in Bali. It was an instant connection. What a magical soul! Her theme song, at that time, was The Bear Necessities from The Jungle Book. She was a laugher- she laughed with her whole body. When I told her of my plans to go to Scotland, she volunteered to come with me.
It was freezing in Scotland. I had not experienced cold like that before. I was my own in Edinburgh for a day or two before my new best friend joined me there. I was doing a tour of the city (and what a beautiful city it is) when the cold became unbearable. I rushed to the nearest clothing store and bought thick socks, a hat and a scarf, but it was still icy.
My new best friend and I were in Scotland for ten days. We rambled through the countryside, mostly ranting about our recent break ups. But we did fun things too: we went to see stand-up comedy in Edinburgh, participated in a quiz night in Loch Lomond and watched archers, holding their bows and shooting at targets, in a field somewhere (I have no idea where we were). We ended up in a little fishing village called Pittenweem. The graveyard was full gravestones bearing the same surname as I. There were my ancestors, all lined up in neat rows.
We returned to London – she, to leave for Bali and I, to go to Corsica for the month of December. Our paths would cross again and again, as they do, when you make a new best friend.