May 16

The Mother Collector

by Nikki · 3 comments

FAQ of the Year:

Why are you starting your Round the World Fare in South Africa?

Aren’t you from Texas?


This is a tough question to answer without saying, “I love it here, end of story.” In the early stages of planning this trip from home a few months ago I wasn’t  ready to commit to ending my journey in Texas. I’m not  so sure I’ll want this trip to end in a years time when my Round the World Fare is done.  South Africa is a better option because it gives me the opportunity to travel around Africa more if there are still a few pennies in my coin purse. And If I’ve reached the bottom of the barrel, I’ll have enough miles to travel home free of charge (Thank you Star Alliance!).

South Africa is also a lot like the United States, making it ideal for debriefing after complete global navigation and the culture shock that comes as a byproduct. I’m anticipating a heavy-handed dose of culture shock when I make my way home permanently. Planning well in advance is a great way to soften the blow, giving me the opportunity to ease into a Western lifestyle without actually being home.

Outside of these practical reasons, my heart has always had a soft spot for South Africa, and longs for its presence.This post will give you an idea of the reasons for my “heart condition”, and South Africa’s greater significance as a starting point in my life’s ever wandering path to international exposure.

It took a few weeks of indulging in local libations, but eventually I found the words to best articulate my reasoning on the back of a bottle of wine.

Passages through life can be often serendipitous, many times sweet, and always soul satisfying. We have drunk from the waters and the wines of the world, settling in South Africa, where its people have enhanced out taste for all things good…Passages speaks to our embrace of new people, places, and things, and our desire to share the joy of our ongoing journey to the horizons.

Passages Wine, Ron Gault and Charlayne Hunter-Gault

My winespiration: Charlayne and Ron Gault. Photo courtesy of

I had a similar experience to the owners of Passages when I studied in South Africa two years ago. I became engrossed in the historical and cultural fabric that shapes this beautifully complicated country, eager to share it with others. During my studies, I experienced life in more of the country than most South Africans. I lived with families who identified with all of South Africa’s Primary Colors; the three main color-classifications during the Apartheid Government. White, Colored, and Black, ranked in that order, and representative of socio-economic status in most (damn near all) of the country today.

My mother in Langa Township teaching me how to knead dough for amagwinya

I was the eldest, and darkest sibling of five in Stellenbosch, a White Afrikaner town, and the birthplace of apartheid; a sun kissed sister in the Bo-Kaap, a Muslim Colored community; and a true isiXhosa woman, packing on pap and amagwinya in Langa Township and the rural village of Tshabo. Seriously, I must have gained 15 pounds in 2 months. I loved it, every bit of it.

Aside from weight gain, this experience also signified the launch of my mother collection. Thats right, I collect mothers. I actually collect all types of family members, fathers, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, cousins and so on. But I especially collect mothers. They’re like down comforters of love that keep in the warmth no matter how cold it gets. All mothers, especially South African mothers are daughter collectors, spreading their goose feathers across generations and scooping up babies and 20 somethings all the same to nestle inside their warm fluffy underbellies. In all the aforementioned homes, I picked up families, but, like I said, I especially picked up mothers.

Collecting mothers can be a hard job, and an emotionally taxing one. It means no matter where I go, I’ll be missing someone, and someone will be missing me. I’ve missed my South African mothers quite a bit, a mutual feeling that we all felt needed to be resolved. There is no permanent solution for maintaining a collection of mothers, but a visit every once in a while suffices. In fact, every time I come to South Africa, I accrue more and more mothers. Making it hard to leave, but even harder not to come back. For this reason alone, it only makes sense that my send off happens in the land of my mothers, returning to them in a years time.

A typical group of kids in Soweto. Similar to the friends I made in 1997. Photo courtesy of Funky Doodle Donkey

Looking back to explain what brought me to this moment in life, it becomes apparent that my passion for world travel and cross-cultural discourse also began in South Africa.  It was 1997 when I came here for the first time; in the heart of Nelson Mandela’s presidential term, and only three years after the termination of the apartheid government. I was ten years old. Though young, and far more excited by wildlife than the state of the post-apartheid nation, memories of that trip stuck with me. Soweto became my backyard, and the ultimate playground. There were children everywhere, not in school, and with plenty of time to play with me. I didn’t understand why they weren’t in school, but those moments spent with my new brothers and sisters became a benchmark for interpreting history and culture, evolving into my obsession with travel and anthropology as an adult.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Sipping on my bottle of Passages, debating how to articulate this post, I hit the “mother lode,” for my collection. A series of serendipitous events found me at the dinner table with Passages Wine co-owner, newly adopted mother, and world renowned journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. As she read the words on the back of her bottle aloud  to her guests my ears rang and heart tingled…there’s the answer! Perking up over my glass, I listened closely, a table of powerful women and daughter collectors in  front of me: (Mama) Winnie Mandela , Zindzi Mandela, Zoleka Mandela and Charlayne herself. How the hell did I get here? A little girl among giants who’ve left everlasting footprints in history. I guess thats why I’m in the business of collecting mothers and not daughters.

Charlayne took the words right out of my red stained mouth. This is exactly why I started here.

Only in South Africa

stephanie May 19, 2012 at 1:54 pm

i love this!

Mike Nassar May 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm

WoW!!! I was, am and will always be proud of you. This amazing adventure including the places and people which Navigating Nikki meets, exceeds my expectation. I just love your style.

Be safe please and keep us posted.
P.S. by the way, I am running for the position of Navigating Nikki “FAN CLUB PRESIDENT”


Shanan June 3, 2012 at 1:06 am

I’m so proud of you! And happy for you! I’ll be following your posts, dearie. This one in particular reminds me of how much I relate to you as a friend, even though we are so different in amazing ways. Live you live and enjoy every minute of it while toasting every hour to the blessings such an adventure can bring.

Love always!

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