On day 5 I finish his story. I can’t quite explain to you the feeling of loss that I felt when I did, how hard I worked to prolong the ending, to not finish his story, to keep on reading it, holding it with me in my lap.
At that point, I had been carrying his words with me for quite sometime. With its cover tattered and tossed in my trusty multicolored mess of a bag, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom had followed me to Robben Island, where its first draft was written (!), Cape Town – a part of it that Nelson Mandela himself would never have been able to walk through just 20 years ago, Stellenbosch (a very Afrikaans part of the country), Durban, Coffee Bay, Underberg, and then finally, to the Transkei, the homeland of the Khosa, it’s where Mandela grew up. I like the thought, of me finishing his story out there. His story really gave me a sense of perspective on this incredible country and just how far it has come. Before, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the Afrikaans woman on my flight who offered to take a picture of an African lady and her granddaughter as I boarded. But that book – it reminded me just how out of place such a scene would have been a few decades ago. It’s hard to understand just what Nelson Mandela meant to his people, how he helped turn this country onto a different path entirely, until you’re out in the middle of a village introducing kids to a WiFi tablet and the first thing they ask when you connect them to, literally, an interweb of things they’ve never known before, is to see a recording of his funeral procession. These moments like so many more have been a stark reminder to me that the reality of South Africa today is so different from what it was in 1994, just a year after I was born – which means that in the course of my lifetime, this country has had to relearn and relay the foundations of the history it wants its kids to be a part of. Today, it seems like the path South Africa is on was inevitable but 20 years ago it was pretty close to impossible. And that simple fact, it had me holding on to Nelson Mandela’s last page for a while. I didn’t want his story to end even as I realized that in many ways I get to see his legacy around me here, every. single. day.