On a chilly Hanover, New Hampshire November morning in 2013, I sat down for coffee with a South African friend from college and had one wish: help me figure out how I could some day play in sub-Saharan Africa. If I was to go play the tour abroad, I was determined to play in South Africa, although walking toward the cafe that frozen winter morning, both of those ideas felt a far way away. But a few pastries later, amidst muffin crumbs on the back of a coffee-stained scrap of paper inside the bakery, my friend handed me a sketched out blueprint of the people, places, and ideas that, fifteen months later, would lead me to Cape Town, South Africa.
I landed from Dubai as December started off and pinched myself about a hundred times as I set up shop in the seaside community of Camps Bay, home to the first division squash championship team from the Camps Bay Squash Club. It was happening. I joined the club, was given a key to the courts and rented a studio apartment down the road with my sister Emma, visiting from LA, and my Boston friend Gaia, who I hadn't seen in two years before running into on a street corner and asking if she needed a place to crash.
Flanked by the towering peaks of Table Mountain from behind, a grocery store next door and the crashing waves of the Atlantic in front, my life for the month was captured in a hundred square meters and was any squash players' dream: top grade players to train with, courts open for ghosting and sprints any time of day, mountain hikes and runs for off court workouts. It didn't feel real. In our shared flat across from the Codfather seafood restaurant, the three American roommates half seriously looked into reasons to never leave.
I met up with my college friend for an impromptu Dartmouth mini reunion and thanked her for that crumpled blueprint that led me here. On Christmas Eve I headed up the coast to the beach town of Knysna, where I met Lauren Hodgson and her extended family. During high school Lauren's friend Meg had moved from Johannesberg to Santa Barbara where Meg and I met in our 11th grade English class. Nine years later, Meg went out of her way to set me up with a Christmas visit to the Hodgsons.
Fourth generation Zimbabweans, the Hodgson's now live in Johannesburg but have spent Christmas in this sleepy sea town since Lauren's great-great-grandfather built their home in the 1920s, arriving by boat from New Zealand. Worn leather titles like The Real Rhodesia and On The South African Frontier lined the bookshelf next to my bed, untouched relics from an earlier era in Africa.
Christmas morning started around the tree, and I was more than surprised to find South African Santa had also brought the American visitor a few local presents, most notably real South African beef jerky. That evening our table of nearly twenty sat outside and feasted on a British-style Christmas dinner that rivaled any Thanksgiving I've ever been a part of. Honey glazed hams and roast turkey with stuffing, beef Wellington and lamb roast, pan fried pumpkin fritters, cheesecakes, mousses, puddings.
Around the table sat Zim families and their closest friends going back generations, along with the American who showed up the day prior. When it came time to give a toast, I tried describing how this was the most special part of the tour- witnessing the generosity of people who for no reason other than being kind have opened up their worlds and brought me into their lives with an open seat, a smile and an extra beer in hand. Hours passed as we ate and over ate, traded secret santa presents and belted out classic hits, poured more champagne and celebrated together as a family in the cool salty air of the Knysna summer night.