Ngikhona. In Zulu, the native tongue of large swaths of Southern Africa, it’s the customary response to the greeting phrase Sawubona —I see you—.
It means I am here.
And I was. I had traveled far, only to find myself there, teetering on the edge of a vast, deep precipice —where everything seemed to end in a twirling tornado of mist and roaring white water—. But did she know that? Was half a year even worth anything to her?
I had only been in Africa for half a year, but it felt much longer. Like a lifetime.
In a sense, it had been a lifetime. One of dreaming about moving to Africa, of making a life for myself amongst her rolling hills and open skies ever since I can remember.
I spent a lifetime obsessing over Africa. But when I did finally set foot on the red continent, I realized Africa cared little for those who dwelled under her savage sun and thorny bushes.
What followed was half a year of magnificent wildlife and mosquitos, of grimy buses and thoughtful strangers, of soul-enriching encounters and physical malnourishment. Half a year to realize, on this glistening rock by Victoria Falls, where everything seemed to end in a twirling tornado of mist and roaring water, that I did not want to live in Africa.
I closed my eyes. I floated with the swifts, and I cried, overwhelmed with the sudden pain of knowing that I would miss Africa dearly.
“Ngikhona!” I screamed into the thunderous roar of the falls. “I’m here.”
I had to let Africa know that I had come. That I had done what I could, and that I was ready to let go.
A light breeze pried the dense curtain of clouds open just as I was about to leave, letting a slight ray of light through. Everyone gasped as the slightest impression of a rainbow took shape across the gorge. And I wondered if this was Africa’s way of saying Sawubona.