False Start #1. Africa

By 2015 we knew that we needed to wake up, unplug and take off again before it was too late. The trouble was that we were far too old and risk averse by now just to disappear for another year of bumming around, rinsing the credit cards and booking sofas for the crash landing. Do that with two kids in tow? That would be nuts. But once the notion of adventure gets into you, it lodges deep in your guts and gnaws at you like a parasite, until all you hear is the rain on the skylight, drumming out the word escape, over and over, as you lay awake in the night.

The safe option at this point seemed to be some kind of corporate escape, (I didn’t see the oxymoron lying like a bear trap in the grass). We would get my business to fund our adventures. So with a bit of manoeuvring I managed to insinuate myself into a new role as Head of Africa, spearheading an international expansion plan for my employer. The job would require our family to relocate to Johannesburg and then travel all over Sub-Saharan Africa setting up partnerships and channel networks. Menna wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of living behind barbed wire in what was, everyone delighted in telling us, one of the most dangerous and crime ridden cities in the world, but I mean, fuck it! We’re talking about Africa!

I took her on a carefully choreographed visit to see some of the premium gated communities out there, I showed her how we might live across the road from the condo where Oscar Pistorius gunned down his girlfriend. This wasn’t the selling point I had hoped.

We both found it hard to live with the idea of being locked away in a luxurious bubble with a certain narrow demographic, rather than being properly immersed in the local culture. It didn’t feel like real travel.

In the end I laid out a contorted proposition: yes, we would live fenced away in a affluent oasis with high-tech security and posh neighbours (horrifying), but down the road there would be a townships and shanty towns (fascinating), a highly diverse population and rich revolutionary culture (inspiring), Menna might work in one of the world’s largest children’s hospitals (galvanising), and only some hundreds of miles away there was the Okavango Delta, Zambesi river, Namibian salt plains, Victoria Falls and all of the forests and savannahs of Sub Saharan Africa (irresistible!).

The prospect of moving to Africa put a thousand volts through our humdrum commuter existence. Quitting jobs, saying goodbyes, opening up tentative friendships on the expat forums, telling making travel plans and packing lists, contacting storage companies, pulling the kids out of school, looking for tenants. I was shuttling back and forth to Johannesburg laying the groundwork, interviewing people, giving rousing speeches in the local office about how bright the future looked.

Shame the whole thing fell through.

We found out barely a month before our departure. The oil price crash of late 2014 hit my company hard (in credibility as much as anything – we had world famous oil economists and forecasters who had totally not seen this coming) and most of our revenues in Africa were derived from exploration projects which subsequently dried up. The Rand devalued massively which screwed all the project forecasts. Furthermore there was a big merger going on behind the scenes. It was the kind of thing that happens in public listed companies ,where disturbances in the macro environment impact revenues, the share price dips, board members panic, risk aversion rockets, investments are cancelled and all the implications of this flow mechanically downstream. The pieces on the board get rearranged, doors open and shut, lives are reoriented, escape routes get blocked.

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