Mbiyozo European Adventure

For a blog that is supposed to be about other people, my narcissism sure is showing up hard. But… since there have been a decent number of questions, travel blogs have always been a ‘thing’ and I might want to look back on some of this one day… a recap of the Mbiyozo European Adventure.

The Mbiyozos hit the road late August 2014 for a year in Spain. The Mr got a call from a rugby club, my job is remote and there was no good reason to say no. So, off we went – 6 suitcases, 2 carseats, a stroller, 2 month old and 2 year old in tow.

FAQs:

  • Where is Vigo? – Vigo is the 11th biggest city in Spain in the top left corner in the Province of Galicia. It has strong Celtic influence and is green, rainy and lush. Gaclicians speak their own dialect and the region is off-the-beaten-path compared to the rest of Spain. This made it wonderfully ‘authentic’ but also not-at-all English. It is the biggest fishing port in Europe and 2nd biggest in the world and the seafood was INSANE.
  • Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 13.27.25Did you learn Spanish? – embarrassingly no. I thought for sure we would, but between working from home and spending most of my time with a toddler and an infant, ‘No habla Espagnol’ got the most usage. Mpho took classes and had more exposure as his teammates were Spanish. Khaya went to Spanish school and ended up with better vocab than both of us.
  • How was it? – Great! It was beautiful and people in Vigo are very friendly, if not a little bashful because of the language. People were often apologetic because they could not speak English, when it should have been the other way around! Given the language barrier I did not make many friends. It may have gotten a little bit lonely if we had stayed longer, but given the temporary nature and amount of time we had as a family, visitors we had and travel we did, I never really felt it.
  • Is Spain racist? – We were warned about Spain’s reputation for being racist. Of course, I am the family member who can speak with the least authority, but we did not feel it. Mpho did get treated badly once at a train station while alone (the ticket-lady told him rudely to speak Spanish if in Spain, whereas we were always treated like tourists when together). Mpho and the kids were certainly minorities and black people were sparse. Mpho received a whole lot of funny looks, but there is a long list of prospective reasons for that.  Let’s analyze:IMG_7214Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 13.56.35

All in all, our family was welcomed warmly by Mpho’s team, Khaya’s school and the community at large.

Unsurprisingly, the most racist incident occurred on return to Cape Town. While looking for a short term rental, yet again responses to Mbiyozo were few and far between while responses to Hartley were a plenty.

The most impactful behaviour we encountered was the number of people who touched Khaya’s hair.  We are talking dozens of times on a trip to the park alone if her hair was in an afro. Predominantly old people patting her warmly, uttering ‘que guapa’.  It is never malevolent, but she does get frustrated. Being touched by dozens of strangers makes her feel awkward. We have had to talk to her about it and tell her it happens because she is beautiful, but it is a matter of time before she makes the link to being fetishized. We should all think about that next time we comment about a child – they hear and feel more than we know.

  • Where did you travel? See map. We decided to make the most of our time and see as much as possible without pushing the limits too hard with kids. We took advantage of time off throughout the year and ended it all with 2 months on the road.Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 14.26.26
  • How was traveling with kids? Travel is like all else with kids – more challenging but richer. There is no question kids bring limitations – they make everything slower, more cumbersome and less adventurous. If just us, Mpho and I would have jumped on a boat in Greece and seen what happened next, biked through Croatia, camped under the stars, stayed out all night in Barcelona and Berlin and had long, slow meals in France and Italy. Instead we picked safer destinations with less spontaneity and were home by 9pm most nights. That said, we completely loved sharing this time as a family. Even though the memories belong only to Mom and Dad, they are priceless.
  • Highlights: this is, of course, the hardest part as so much was awesome:
    • Italy – has never disappointed. Cinque Terre was a dream. Amalfi breath-taking and Sperlonga’s beaches and sunsets incomparable.
    • Zermatt – a solo work trip but for sure a highlight. The Swiss Alps are magnificent and I fell back in love with skiing.
    • Brittany – traveling with my parents is such a privilege, even if it involves family drama. Not only is Brittany awesome, but it meant so much to my Dad to retrace his roots.
    • Sweden – is a wonderful place all-around, made extra special because we stayed with friends. Nothing compares to having someone share their life and home with you.
    • Poland – I had low/no expectations and went for Auschwitz but was surprised by how delightful Krakow was. So full of history and art and changing so fast.
    • Sitges – this beach town outside Barcelona was a dream. That we were there when Barca won the Champions League added some serious spice.
  • Misses – yes, there were misses. Nothing can be sunshine and roses all the time.  There were challenges throughout –  language barrier(s), the rugby team had financial problems, I lost my patience and grace daily,  scratched 2 rental cars and hindsight is always 20/20.
    • London – I hate London, but love our people there. After much anticipation and work getting Mpho’s visa, we arrived on New Year’s for our god-daughter’s Christening. We had to leave early because our whole family had terrible jet-lag and flu (Vukile got croupe). It was a disaster for us and our hosts.
    • Douro River Valley – We were tipped off about the spectacular wine country in Northern Portugal.  For Mpho’s birthday, we drove 3 hours and splurged on a 5 star hotel for 2 nights….and left after 1. It was spectacular indeed, but completely inappropriate for babies. To boot, we were on a carb-free, alcohol-free diet (ie no wine or bread), were sleep training Vukile (ie. he had to be in bed before dinner hours) and learned the hard way that we cannot all sleep in the same room. We Airbnb’ed apartments from that point forward.
    • Copenhagen – We arrived to 12 degrees in July after 2 weeks in Barcelona. We just were not ready for that.
    • Regrets – Of course there are places I wish we had visited. Croatia, Slovenia, Greece and Morocco top my list. But my biggest regret is that I never made it to San Sebastian while in Spain.
  • Are you done travel?
    No way! / Yes, sort of.  Travel is a key part of who I am and what I have to offer. I have been to 54 countries in multiple capacities. It has contributed so much and imparted important personal and professional skills. I will never be done. But my priorities are shifting. I was raised in a true community. I want to provide the same to my children and our priorities for the next stage include doing what is best for them. We will continue to try to achieve the ever-elusive balance, but Khaya is now 3. We started to see the effects of pulling her out of school and routine and introducing her to people only to take them away shortly thereafter. Times are indeed a changing and the next phase may well involved clipped (or more clipped) wings.
  • The People
    As always, the true highlight of this year was the people we got to share it with. There is no greater privilege than sharing people’s lives and time and we are grateful to everyone that shared theirs with us:

    • Vigo Rugby – the whole team for being so warm and welcoming. A special thanks to Mariano for translating everything and all 10 million favours.
    • Teachers – Mauro and the Kids Garden staff. Nothing is more appreciated than knowing your kids are in good hands.
    • Visitors (in Vigo and en route) – Grace, Chris and Bron, Jiminy, Jenni, Dips and Rabbie, Curt and Colette and family, Maria and Yvan, Ryan and Lena, Kara Von B, Fiona, Chi, The Door and crew. We love you for making the effort and cherish getting to share moments around the world.
    • Hosts – Grace, Chris and Bron, SJ and Pontus, Linda, Tuesday and Carlo and Giorgio and Valentina – we are NOT an easy crew to host. Thank you times a million for letting us into your homes and making us feel like family

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Vigo Rugby

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Cies Island, Vigo

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Skiing the Matterhorn

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Grace’s Christening, London

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Douro River Valley, Portugal

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Cinque Terre, Italy

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With Jenni in Monaco

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Nice, France

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Lisbon

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Paris

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Mont St Michel

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Collioure, Southern France

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Sitges

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Barca, Barca, Barca Barca Barca

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Last moment of sunshine in Copenhagen before it poured rain

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Stockholm
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Reagan-Gorbachev-Mbiyozo. Berlin Wall

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Auschwitz

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Amalfi Coast, Italy. 10 days = 10 days in the ocean. Winning ratio

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Sorrento, Italy

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Sperlonga, Italy

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July 5, 2015

1933739_530487431805_3116_nThere’s a dream where the contents are visible, where the poetic champions compose. Will you breathe not a word of this secrecy, and will you still be my special rose?”      – Van Morrison

Every year, I try to take stock of the flurry of emotions that come on July 5. This has been the hardest one yet to spit out.

I am exhausted in general. It comes with the territory with two young children, a two month backpacking trip around Europe and a full-time job. For the first year since 2007, I was actually asleep at 5 am on July 5. Passed out cold. When I did wake up to my alarm a couple of hours later, I slipped immediately into action – get up, shower, get dressed, get the kids changed, fed, out the door and onto the train with all necessary accessories (as if that has ever been achieved) by 7:45 am.  We were in Berlin and I was guest speaking at a girls’ summer camp. I was well aware of the date but instead of facing into it and feeling emotions honestly as they arrived, I kept them at surface level. I acknowledged what came, but never with true depth. Mostly because my toddler and baby have no clue that this day is any different from the others and their needs turn rapidly into screaming and crying if not met. Also because, for the very first time, they were confusing and I was unsure of my ability to deal with them. 1933739_530487391885_9637_n

Until night time. When the sun finally set, the kids were asleep and after a blistering 38 degree day (100 F), the sky erupted into an epic thunder and lightning storm and the feelings poured down like the rain. I sat on the stoop of our little apartment, feet in a puddle, smelling the sweet drops as they bounced off the hot concrete, listening to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and crying so hard that my insides shook.

What came to me in torrents as strong as the storm:

1933739_530487426815_2245_n1) The ever-familiar longing for my brother. I miss him every single day. As promised by many, I have learned to live with it. The pain has become far less acute as it has become far more familiar. It arrives again every morning just like the last. It has been a long time since it has slowed me down or stopped me from wanting bigger and better for myself, my family or the world. But it still overwhelms. I miss my brother. The loss never dulls. It continues to come with the same intensely hollowing sadness. I have gotten used to life without him here, but every now and again it punches me right in the gut with fresh shock. I continue to wish there was something I could give or do to make this one truth, this one fact, different. If only this one person, this one life, this one story could have had a different ending.

Mom as a grandma

Mom as a grandma

2) A new uncomfortable feeling – for the first time in 8 years, I have had to dig harder within myself to find him. I am so very sad to admit that it is becoming harder to connect with the Strachan we lost in 2007. Simply because it is now harder to connect with the 2007 version of anybody. For years after we lost him we were more or less the same as he left us – single, achieving, professional, fit. All of the things that he taught us to be. In fact, I believe we each became even better versions of ourselves to honour his legacy and rise to the standards he set for us. 

I am no longer any of those things. I am a mother and a wife first. Wyatt is a Dad. Blythe has a dog with her live-in partner. Mom and Dad are facing retirement. Abbey and Riley are gone. We all own property. There are now 2 baby boys with Strachan’s name. They are magnificent. They are perfect. They are completely transforming who we are and what we do.

This is the first season in our lives you are not here to go first and pave the way.  My heart-twin is not standing to my right with a ready-made example of how I could do and be better. Now, I have to seek people to look up to and decide how to go about it, all on my own.  I wish you were here to set the bar. I wish you knew this version of us. I wish you were here to cheerlead and have my back when I screw up. I wish our kids could go on summer holidays together.

Dad as a grandpa

Dad as a grandpa

But I wish for none of this as badly as I wish you could have done it yourself. I now know what you missed and it is truly too hard to bear. I cannot face this feeling honestly without falling apart with sadness.

When my Dad called Blythe to tell her the news that Strachan had cancer, her reaction was “anybody but him”….. “no offence” she said to me when recounting it. It wasn’t because she loved me any less, it was because nobody -NOBODY- would have loved and lived better than him, particularly when it came to having a family. He would  have given more and been better at this season of life than any other.  The loss of all that could have been breaks my heart all over again.

Usually the tears, like my journals and blogs, round a corner and find a sense of peace eventually. I surface from unchecked emotions and find the maturity within me that knows you cannot sit on a doorstep crying forever. The world is not fair. We are not victims. This is one loss in a world of many. We remain so blessed and so embarrassingly privileged. People may get tired of hearing you talk about this yet again. You do not get to choose what happens in life, only how you handle it. The sun continues to rise and to set on us all.

But this year, this night, the tears kept coming. I do not have a closing to this blog that is inspiring or hopeful or that calls on us to do more or do better.  I just miss my brother and wish he were here.

Strachan Hartley, July 5, 2007. You are so very loved and so very missed. Still. Always.

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Vukile Strachan

Mason Michael Strachan

Mason Michael Strachan

Huxley (aka Mr Huxtable or Pill Cosby)

Huxley (aka Mr Huxtable or Pill Cosby)

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These two are with you now. I trust them to be good company.

A love letter to my son on his first birthday

IMG_8861My Vukile, I have to apologise from the start. I am also a second born and I have a birthday 5 days before Christmas. Growing up, I hated being over-looked or lumped into part of a bigger sum. I’m quite certain this explains my need to assert my independence every 12 seconds over the past 36 years (and counting). But, gulp, I’m going make comparisons to your sister anyways.

IMG_3654I wish I had the same clarity and emotional awareness today that I had when your sister turned one. But the truth is that I have not had it since you arrived. I grossly underestimated the quantum leap from one child to two. Perhaps it is not so huge for all parents, but I have been duly surprise by how hard it is to juggle four hands and feet, work, travel and all the admin that goes with it all. I now see why parents and children alike need a sense of stability. I have lost control of a lot things and count my successes using the big things –  are we still here? Have we eaten? Are we semi-clean? Put them in the win column. The rest is a toss up. Sometimes the pieces fall together, sometimes they do not. Every single day involves maniacal mood swings. It has to be the very thing that drives parents crazy – it is entirely possible to feel perfectly hopeless and perfectly happy at exactly the same time. In case sibling rivalry ever crops up – don’t worry, this is equal opportunity crazy up in here.  Any awareness of my emotions towards my firstborn went flying out the window when you arrived too.

IMG_6577I always believed I was destined to be the mother of boys. I understand them better. They are simpler, more straightforward and 10,000 percent less scary as teenagers. My family was headed by a proper, proper boy and I always believed it made the difference. He set the tone for our entire childhood and I loved every second of it. Do not tell your sister (or teach her to read apparently) but I was mildly disappointed when they handed me a girl first.

IMG_3052I outgrew it, of course, and she has unlocked in me a love so enormous that it leaves me speechless. She coached me to be a Mom. She gave rise to a whole host of emotions that had never been here before. It has actually been seamless. Partly because we are kindred spirits. She looks just like your Dad, but otherwise she is all Mama. Bullish, stubborn, impatient, but smart. She has no fears and doesn’t need approval but gets frustrated quickly. I have already plotted parenting manoeuvres for her teenage years because I suspect her challenges and successes could be similar to my own. The battles we have with her now are straight out of the ‘how to deal with a spirited toddler’ handbook. I know that book; I wrote that book.

IMG_2726You were different from before your first breath. You have stayed different since. We do not know who you look like but you are your Father’s son through and through. You have a gentle soul, a sweet nature and you already show patience and grace. You absorb the scenes around you. You smile just like he does and are just as generous with it too. You take your time, like simple pleasures and can play the same games time after time with a twinkle in your eyes. Your temperament is easygoing. You capture hearts in moments and you keep them because there is no reason whatsoever not to love you. You are completely, perfectly, utterly loveable.

IMG_3255In one of many life surprises, it turns out my girl will be easier for me to parent than my boy. Oh, it will be a fight with her, of that I am sure, but I know how to fight. You and I though, we are cut from different cloth. You are the one who will challenge me to elevate my understanding of people and the world.

You have already given me the most priceless gift – a deepened appreciation of your Dad. You will learn quickly (probably already have) that impatience is my achilles heel. I am a great ‘do-er’ but a less great leader. Mostly because I rarely have the patience to slow down, listen and understand how or why someone may have a better idea or different approach. Your Dad is my biggest victim. He is a leader, a listener, a giver. He shows me infinite patience while I tend to bulldoze him before he gets a word in edgewise. These early characteristics make it much harder for me to anticipate what challenges and successes you may have as a kid or a teen. But they will not mirror my own. With you I will have to slow down, watch, listen, back off and learn new love languages.

IMG_2744I cannot wait. While part of me is scared of slowing down, I know for certain that I need to. Not only to be a better mother and wife, but to become a better me. You will for certain teach me more than I will teach you.

Perhaps the greatest joy and blessing of this first year has been in watching you and your Dad together. Please know that our love for you and your sister is equal, but it is not identical. Our parenting has differed with you and your bond with your Dad is quite simply remarkable. As it stands, he puts you to sleep and wakes up in the night with you. He makes your bottles and changes your diapers. He taught you to kiss. Your face lights up like a bulb when you see him and you get uneasy when he is not around. Please do not think your time together is unintentional. I love nothing more than seeing you guys so stuck on each other. Not that I can ever get enough of you either. Vukile, you have turned our world on its head. You are a true and wonderful gift and you are already fulfilling your name – to uplift this home. Thank you for bringing sweetness to each and every day. You are so very loved. IMG_2920 IMG_4157 SONY DSC IMG_1842IMG_6644IMG_6735 IMG_7590IMG_3142 IMG_0585 IMG_1754 IMG_2258