Life’s lessons in Johannesburg.



As the final call was being made for the flight to South Africa I still had to show my boarding pass. I was in tears talking to my friend Sonja on the phone who was demanding that I must, no matter what, get on that flight, that I must get away from Amsterdam and everything familiar for a while and most important I must break away from the emotions that had been consuming me for the past months.

My parents had died when I had been 22, and as tough as that had been, this pain was different. Ever efficient, I like everything to run like clockwork, with precision like a Swiss watch that’s why love has the power to destroy me as it has no form, no definition, no rules. It’s formless intensity was so overwhelming in a way I felt I was being crushed from the inside. I realised the summer of 2016 had been the toughest time of my life, devestated could describe my feelings, only magnify that word tenfold.

A few weeks earlier I had ended up in hospital suffering from anorexia, a side effect from the turmoil I was going through. I had lost a third of my body weight, convulsing alot I had been unable to eat. How could love or the demise of it affect me in such a way? Somehow I had managed to keep going to work but it had been hard, every single thing I had done that summer seemed so unbelievably hard. I took Sonja’s advice and stepped on the plane and before I knew it we were approaching the coast of Africa.


Johannesburg, the city of what could have been

Being on long haul flights are a time when I normally reflect on my life, my actions. I had thought about my trip to Romania, how I had loved it there and of Peru and the beauty of the Andes. I realised that on those trips and the months between I had just existed but was not living. The problem was that my emotions and the fact I was unable to let them go, that these emotions were preventing me from loving life. I needed to be my old self again, the person who is endlessly sweet, so polite that your grandparents would adore me, who genuinely likes everyone when meeting them.

I know the exact moment when my life got better and that the summer of 2016 began to fade into a distant memory. I had found a movie on the in-flight entertainment system called The Danish Girl, a story about Lili Elbe, one of the first women who had had gender reassignment surgery. This movie was in a way groundbreaking for me. In the movie there were scenes where she tries on her first dress, learns to walk and move and in a way I was reminded of my own transition many years before when I too had taken the exact same steps to become a woman physically. I had forgotten about those years, the energy I had put into it. In a way I had forgotten I had been anything other than female physically. It dawned on me that I should be immensely proud of my life now, that I was sucessful, most of all it dawned on me that I should not let such a thing as love destroy me. Self worth.


a photo of me November 2016, the woman I became

Although the drive into Johannesburg was a bit scary and downtown felt sinister at night I still knew I was going to like this city. Johannesburg was the city of what-could-have-been as in my early twenties I had been offered a job in South Africa but in the end had rejected it. Now I was seeing Jo’burg for the first time and wondered if I too, in this city, would have suffered during a painful seperation or if this city would have been kinder to me than what Amsterdam had been.

Reef Hotel

watching the sunset from the hotel lounge

The high point of Johannesburg had been the sunsets, sitting in the rooftop lounge of my hotel watching the red skies reflect in the skyscrapers. Although some men had tried to strike up conversations with me I had, as always, declined, opting to watch the birds fly in formation across downtown, just to stare out towards the city. In a way to be honest that was all I was capable of at that moment in my life.

Afternoons I would walk around downtown. The reception of my hotel had  pleaded with me to go everywhere by car and that the streets were dangerous. Now when you say that to me I will make a point of walking everywhere. Johannesburg dangerous? Actually along with the Lili Elbe movie, the sunsets from the hotel it was the people of Johannesburg who made something inside me click. Their energy, friendliness, their vulnerability gave me the first ideas of trying to live again, not to exist anymore, but to live, really live!

So that was that, the first moments of my true, pure rebirth. The Lili Elbe movie giving me feelings of self worth, of being a true survivor, of being unique and through everything to become the person I’am inside. The sunsets reminding me of the endless beauty of our planet and that there is alot more to our world than just emotion. Lastly the people of Johannesburg with their unmeasurable energy and drive reminding me to keep going, to never give up, to grab life by the horns and most of all….to survive.