A much needed Re-Treat

Pen, Janine and I are bumping along a dirt road in my Dad’s Suzuki Jimny. We squint into the naartjie orange sunlight filtering across the dry South African landscape. Acacias scratch the air as we pass a group of amaZulu women walking closely together, hips swaying in unison. They form a brilliant patchwork of colourful skirts and doeks, sailing dusty seas. I turn to smile as we drive by. I wonder what secrets are exchanged as they chat, two-by-two. As quick as the scene has captured me, we are around the next corner and faced with the winding rocky road that leads to Zingela. We engage 4x4 and excitement rises, we are on our way to a wellness weekend exclusively for people like me. Females of the Species.

The first thing we notice, after giraffes and acres of aloes – is the distinct lack of signal. Uh Oh. We are 100% out of touch.

In. Stant. Panic.

From me at least. I haven’t managed to send my boyfriend a message yet to tell him where his house keys have been stashed. I feel nervous sweat trickle down my bra, imagining him arriving home to have to break a window to get inside. My friends give me the look. “This weekend is for you! He can find his own keys!”. I can’t shake it, and quickly find out there is Wi-Fi at the bar. The guide kindly fires up a solar system to get it working, and I send my Whatsapp of dire survival. I stare at my phone, and for the hundredth time I am disgusted at how dependent I am on this black box of connectivity. I am so addicted to the stress it brings, I have described it in these terms of late “I check it all the time, because I want to see the bullet coming”. I check my phone from a place of pure, modern fear. I turn it off. Angrily, it is shoved down in to the depths of a bag and I vow I won’t turn it on, not even to take pictures.

It is beautifully warm on the banks of the Tugela, and an hour later I have eased up on myself a bit. Hard on myself for forgetting to send the message, then even harder for coming to such a wild and beautiful place and instantly needing Wifi. A family of bushpig shnuffle and trot on fast-forward legs in grey sticky mud not 10 meters away from my frazzled body. They look at me curiously, tiny babies striped as wildly as hyenas with a great hairy mama herding them along.

Women have appeared all over the camp now, lugging tog bags, rolls of yoga mats, a hot air balloon of every pastel K-way puffer jacket imaginable. Their voices rise and fall, laughing, questions “Are we in this tent? Ah my name is on this diary on the bed!”. My roomie and I pounce on our complimentary strawberry Lindt balls. The weather is so warm the centres are liquid. She is 46, I am 38, but all in an instant we are both 7-years-old greedily gobbling our chocolates and giggling, cheeks bulging with sugar and the realisation we are 100% free for the next 48 hours. Later we fall asleep to a full symphony of frogs, it’s just like that Paul McCartney music video from the 80’s “We all stand together, bom bom!”

The next day is spent trail running before the day heats up and practicing the remarkable Kundalini style of yoga, and home practice yoga. In Goddess Pose, or Utkata Konasana, our thighs burn with what we learn is life force. When our muscles quiver, that is heat and fire being generated. It is powerful! We quickly learn that breathing, whether through running, yoga or fits of laughter, is how we tap into ourselves. I love watching three young daughters with their Mom, their first-time trying yoga ever. They tease each other with the looks only sisters can give, and I feel a huge wave of love for my own sister and the looks she gives me. Our secrets.

Before lunch, we spend time under a huge tamboti tree learning about journaling. This was the session I’d struck off before arrival “I write enough all week long; I don’t need to write even more!” I had thought. The irony, then, is not lost on me come Monday when I have my coloured paints out, taking the useful structures I learned in the journaling and gratitude session and applying them before I had even opened my laptop. The journaling session must have seemed comical to passers-by, as grown women held packs of cards, smacking them hard in their left hands to clear the essence of the previous person before plucking their 12:45pm destinies. My spirit animal is the raccoon, and it fills me with a secret delight. I shake my stripey tail and run off to lunch. I have not one, but three helpings of fresh green salad, piled atop with avo, pickles and mango atchar.

A silent night walk, a beautiful dinner under the stars, conversations with gentle women, fiery women, quiet women, comical women. I haven’t checked my phone yet, and my shoulders no longer feel like they are permanently pinned to my ears. I go to sleep smiling over the baked green apple, stuffed with nuts, fruit and cinnamon. I feel full in so many ways.

In the morning, we walk up Hippo Hill, climbing slatey rock faces that add an extra adventurous element to the weekend. We settle on top of the mountain, tidal waves of thorny hills rolling either side of us, the Tugela drifting lazily along below like a fat, full snake. After Kundalini yoga, we enter into a guided meditation. It is a journey, and the yogi asks us to imagine a pathway, our own pathway. Mine is immediately a Drakensburg landscape, and the guide asks us to imagine the grass around us as we walk. A breeze whirls up around my bare arms and curls like breath around my neck and into my scalp. This happens as I picture tall grass on the edge of my path, and a hand running through it. But it’s not my hand, it is the hand of my brother, his leather wrist band is clear as day. I choke. The breeze I feel on the back of my neck is my mother’s hands. They are both there, with me, together, whirling around me gently. Four tears, two on either side, roll down my cheeks and land in my lap. I know that everyone else’s eyes are closed, no one can see my grief or my joy. I feel more deeply connected to them than I have in years.

When we open our eyes, there are shy smiles all around. But I notice there are many red eyes too. I think of the women around me, three who have lost their closest friend only recently, two who have lost parents when they were young, women whose marriages have ended, whose lives have changed for so many reasons. I wonder, could 20 women all breathing together create a type of healing, and a type of connection between our personal pains that we can’t explain? Did the light in them see the light in me? Do we even need to know?

Arms stiff from planking, glutes stiff from Goddessing and cheeks stiff from laughing, we say our goodbyes to the Zingela team and Kath Calverley, the brainchild of the Women’s Wellness Weekend. We’re the Female of the Species, and we’re pretty weird, but we’re also pretty damn wonderful.

By the way, I did finally turn my phone on – to about 254 completely harmless Whatsapp messages. No longer bullets, just blanks.

Written by Kath Fourie - Jane of all Trades and imminently delving into Health and Wellness in a more formal way.