Those Who Travel Meet Themselves

Michelle van Onna-Green-Thompson/ April 10, 2020/ Archive/ 0 comments

In 2012 upon my return from South Korea, I joined couchsurfing, a platform that allows you to offer free accommodation to travelers from around the world.  I felt compelled to join as a way of paying it forward to all the people who had hosted me in South Korea. I slept on couches, beds and a floor bed whilst I traveled across Seoul. I was welcomed to each home with warmth and kindness, meals were shared and a roof provided at no cost to me.  

This is my ajuma, I love this woman she was my sauna partner and my friend in silence she spoke no English but we became great friends

As I started receiving requests from around the world I had none from South Africa instead most people who knew me were terrified that I would get killed by one of my guests,  “aren’t you afraid of waking up to a man hovering over you?” no actually, that thought never crossed my mind and I truly did not believe I can attract a killer into my home.  60 people later I had still not been killed, if anything I had the opportunity to see the face of PTSD in a soldier who had just finished his Iraq tour and decided that he was going to join the anti-poaching war that is playing out in our National parks and game reserves. He wanted to see the night scene but ended up shepherding 13 woman instead of enjoying himself, I felt like Whitney Houston in the bodyguard minus the romance.  

12 months into couchsurfing I had become a seasoned host and tourist in Johannesburg, I knew the ins and outs of the social markets such as neighborgoods, arts on main. For the edgy traveler I took them to Yeoville to visit Sanza owner of the Pan-Afrikan plate and unofficial historian who will take you on a gastronomic and visual journey of the life and times of Yeoville, through these dinners long lasting bonds were formed. We discovered together, laughed and turned what was an emotionally difficult time for me into triumph. The test of the strength of our friendship was marked with their return every year to visit South Africa, we went from friends to family and some even chose South African universities for their PhD studies. A sure sign that how we treat people directly impacts the countries bottom line. 

This experience left me questioning how we as  South Africans interact with space and navigate Travel. Through being a tourist in my own country and abroad, I had the opportunity to watch how people interact with Brown South Africans. Abroad other Africans upon meeting me would announce “a South African! You people don’t travel” which always left me feeling rather invisible and dumbfounded “I’m here but according to you we don’t travel…?” 

 In  South Korea there were more Brown South African women than from any other African country! Which to my own amazement left me surprised as I did not not know that beyond South Africa we are valued for our work ethic, education and ability to teach. Why did I not know this before? Because it’s not documented, there are no stories about these women as history has taught us if it’s not documented it does not exist.

The our country (South Africa) has a history of segregation that we still unenthusiastically working through like a bowl of lumpy porridge.  So much about our lives as brown people is undocumented and not taught in our classes. You see your value as a human being when you are reflected accordingly in books and so the journey to documenting stories from Brown South Africans began.  Those who travel meet themselves was born, a journey of collecting stories created to inspire, document and change the narrative. 

We are now in the 2nd edition of @thosewhotravelmeetthemselves (click on the link to see the journey thus far) its wonderful knowing that this book can be found in libraries across the country thanks to all the people who donated so we can get the book to more people. We work with heart and continue on this journey no matter where it may lead. 

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About Michelle van Onna-Green-Thompson

Michelle Ntandoyenkosi van Onna-Green-Thompson is an award winning author, a farm-girl writer with a passion for traveling. In 2016 she was nominated by the National Department of Tourism of South Africa as one of 20 upcoming women in Tourism. She was further elected as a Read to Lead ambassador by the Department of Basic Education in 2017. In 2018 she published "Those who travel meet themselves", a book created to share South African stories and inspire people to push their boundaries and question their outlook on life. It is her love for all that she has discovered through travel that drives her vision to get more people of colour to travel beyond their immediate physical and mental borders.

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