Going Somewhere (Slowly)
Uprooting yourself and daring to traverse the unknown is a powerful learning experience. As a Caucasian South African, Nick Reyneke grew up in the midst of challenging social circumstances, but even this did not prepare him for life in Central and South America. When I met Nick, he was sleeping on a cot on the other side of a spacious dorm in Casco Viejo, Panama City’s most historic district. Then still on his way to Colombia and parts unknown, Nick and I exchanged stories and pearls of wisdom for weary travelers. Since then, he’s managed to enrich entire communities as a teacher, a volunteer, and now as a graduate student. It’s a great pleasure to count him amongst my colleagues and friends. Here is his story.
I’m trying my hardest to be myself, even though I’m not 100% who that is yet. Living in a crazy and unpredictable world doesn’t make it any easier, but I’ve found that, if I take my time and enjoy each moment, I get a little closer to figuring out who I am.
I was born and bred in the notorious South African city of Johannesburg (or Jozi as we know it.) Jozi is known for fast lane living and the Gold Rush. We call it "Skop, skiet en donner" in Afrikaans. Translated to “Kick, shoot and beat up” in English. I left South Africa with my family during the Apartheid years in the 1980’s and went to live in Weymouth, England. Although I’ve lived in South Africa for most of my life, I’ve also been a resident to five other countries.
South Africa is unique in terms of our environment. While we’re known mostly for Jozi and the coast culture there, the inland country itself is a biodiversity goldmine. I managed my family’s olive farm, Kamerkloof, in a very small and friendly community in the Baviaanskloof. The Baviaanskloof is a UNESCO World Heritage site, widely recognized for its extraordinary biodiversity, human history, and unique geography. The farm sits in a narrow valley, about 200 km long, surrounded by steep rock formations, green slopes and high mountain plains. Baviaanskloof is home to three biodiverse hotspots and seven distinct biomes. In this predominantly warm area, most of the valley is flush with narrow side gorges, each with their own little streams that form stunning oases during throughout of the year. The river is vital for farmers, communities and the wildlife in the valley.
Being a fully functioning sustainable farm, Kamerkloof is a safe haven for all living things, and was an incredible place to grow up. While government conservation is promoted, so too are sustainable farming practices and eco development. As such, farming and conservation work go hand in hand. Endangered plants and animals are well protected, but also incorporated into agriculture and other economic pursuits wherever possible. Notably, Kamerkloof is committed to protecting the shrinking population of Cape mountain leopards in the area. Several organizations have sprung up in defense of these big cats, and they’ve created dozens of jobs in the process. Likewise, Kamerkloof is an authentic Baviaanskloof experience, where we’re creating partnerships to restore an important water catchment area, improving livelihoods of locals, and engaging with the growing green economy.
Initially, my decision to live there was surprising. As a young teenager, working the farm I jumped in with both hands and feet out of necessity. But I never thought I would learn so much about myself, and embracing Ubuntu within the community and the environment around me. Ubuntu is a South African Nguni Bantu term literally meaning "humanity". It can be translated as "humanity towards others", but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity". My experience in the Baviaanskloof allowed me to better understand key issues effecting my home and the world beyond. Conservation, global environmental services, sustainable farming, social entrepreneurship, water management and excellent exposure to rural development were all parts of that education. I had the opportunity to be involved as a stakeholder to grow a business at Kamerkloof. My efforts as a land manager have increased the value of the land at Kamerkloof and enhanced the efficiency of the day Baviaanskloof water catchment, as well as conservancy. I was dedicated towards managing land and water resources sustainably, treasuring and promoting the biodiversity on the farm and surroundings, and trying to also make the enterprises on the farm of benefit to the local community. I realized, at that time, that my mission in life was to better understand and embody Ubuntu.
In 2011, I began working with the PRESENCE (Participatory Restoration of Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital in the Eastern Cape) Learning Network. PRESENCE brings together communities, land managers, conservationists, researchers, government departments and others to co-create sustainable landscapes. From 2010 to 2015, while I managed the family farm, I participated in many PRESENCE workshops, discussions, and hosted researchers to help me learn everything I could. I was fascinated by the way their mission statement completely addressed the issues facing the region. I realized my own abilities to manage livestock, olive farming, sales, hospitality, and human resources with enthusiasm already expressed my passion for my work and sustainability goals. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d been a part of the beginning of a much broader move towards sustainable living that now stands as a model for innovation around the world!
After almost six years of living permanently on the olive farm, I decided to move on with my life. After so much time spent on an isolated farmstead, I found myself yearning to go out and experience more of the world. From November 2015 to January 2016, I travelled from Kigali, Rwanda overland using local transport all the way to Jerusalem. From Israel, I made my way to England in order to fly to the Americas. Now, I have been traveling overland through Central and South Americas for over a year, starting my journey in Cancún, México on the 4th of May 2016.While this transition seems extreme, I’ve always had travel in my blood. I always will. I need to transplant myself and allow myself to take in the culture and ideas –the nutrients– of people and places unfamiliar to me as well as my old Eastern Cape homestead.
Shortly after I arrived in Colombia, I started teaching English in Medellín in February 2017. Now I live in Aranjuez with a local family next to my school, the Institución Educativa Monseñor Francisco Cristobal Toro, walking to school everyday.
I started at the Colombia Bilingüe fellowship program with Heart for Change. Heart for Change is a non-profit organisation, funded in part by the Colombian Government, which supports social projects throughout Colombia through a variety of voluntary and scholarship-funded programs. To date, Heart for Change has brought over 1,200 volunteers from English-speaking countries to act as English instructors or Co Teachers in under-resourced Colombian educational institutions.
Our mission as volunteers is to help more Colombians by providing high quality English education services. The children, like their instructors, wouldn’t have access to native English speakers if we didn’t actively make strides to find them. Some of the kids in my classes have been relocated from previous conflict areas to have an equal opportunity. Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity be involved as a volunteer with the Nutresa Foundation and VAMOS COLOMBIA in Canon de las Hermosas in Southern Tolima. For more than half a century, this area has been the scene of the struggle between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (or FARC), the largest of left-wing guerrillas groups that have operated in the country. The cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotics, particularly cocaine, have been inextricably linked to the conflict for decades, and served as the main source of financing for most anti-government groups like the FARC.
Volunteering in Tolima showed me the cost –in life and in livelihood– of violent conflicts like the one that oppressed down on the people here. It was without a doubt my most rewarding experience since leaving South Africa. I spent several weeks in a previous conflict area with 500 other Colombian volunteers. VAMOS COLOMBIA develops collaborative strategies that connect Colombians from diverse realities. There mission is educating, generating trust, and peace building among the communities that were engaged in the fighting just a few years ago. More than anything, they wish to see their country thrive once more while creating opportunities that improve the quality of life in areas highly affected by 50 years of war. In the village of Santa Bárbara, located in the Cannon of the Hermosas, we constructed sowing terraces that will allow the community to produce food of first necessity in a land that, by its geography, has only been used in the past for the sowing of coffee. From there, basic things like septic tanks to improve sanitary conditions and protect drinking water sources were established, followed immediately by the reforestation of the water basins of the canyon with 3,000 trees AND the founding of recycling systems that can be replicated in other nearby sidewalks. It was incredible to see every man, woman, and able-bodied youngster working together for the sole purpose of reinvigorating the very land in which they live. We camped in tents on the hillside, sharing our quarters with some of the local community to reduce the travel time between the work site and the village. Each night I fell asleep surrounded by my fellows, exhausted but satisfied. When the work came to a close, I could feel a resounding sense of warmth. Something deep, invigorating, and at once familiar: it was Ubuntu, giving me strength to continue my search for myself.
The more I travel, the more I realize how little I really know.
So far, I have been to 55 countries, and there’s still much of the world left for me to see. I am a firm believer in slow living; engaging with local culture and people in a paces that reflects patience and understanding. In this way, I have become a great admirer of tortoises. They take their time to enjoy life at their own pace, so I move slowly most of the time in an effort to do the same. There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like this "Rush rush and you will end up going slow slow!"
Give yourself the chance to go out into the world. Even if it seems like an impossible challenge, you’ll realize that each and every step forward you take –no matter how slowly– is one more insight you have to help you along the way. This lifelong journey has given me many bits of wisdom, and as I move at my tortoise pace, I can discover, learn, dream and enjoy every moment. Even when life proves difficult, I can take comfort in the experiences I have with the many wonderful people I’ve met. And still, so far to go.
*Edited by Noah Daly