Michele Macfarlane lives with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic eye disease that results in blindness. She tells us about her experience on the Venda Sacred Walk.
Two weeks before boarding the plane to Johannesburg, I got this email from psychologist and conservationist Jeffrey Rink.
Good day Michele, Details follow of a walk in Venda I’ve been trying for years to make a reality… A South African ‘Camino’, albeit in shorter form. This is the ‘inaugural’ walk. Rather short notice, I know. All the best, Jeff
I’d fallen in love with Venda six years previously, when I attended one of Jeffrey’s eco-psychology retreats. At the time he’d spoken about a trip where visitors walked from village to village, sleeping at the homes of locals. I made him promise to keep me informed. It took Jeffrey six years to work out the details and build relationships with the chiefs and headmen of the villages. During that time my eyesight had deteriorated rapidly, but I was determined to do the walk before losing it altogether.
I felt anxious on the flight. What was I thinking? I could barely navigate a shopping centre. What if I stepped on a snake? I pictured being airlifted out, having fallen down a cliff.
A disability assistant met me as I disembarked and took me to the meeting point. Once she left, I no longer had an assistant, the arm of a family member or a sighted buddy – just my cane and a group of strangers, who I prayed wouldn’t find me too much of a burden.
Within the first 10 minutes I realised I’d be spending the next week with an eclectic, stimulating group: a psychiatrist; her son, a videographer; a pharmacist turned property manager; an artist; a former MK operative; a psychologist following a shamanic path; and a GP/homeopath. Except for the videographer, all of us were women. From our first stop, I was reassured that I was not a burden, and the women insisted I just say when they were needed.
Our guides greeted us with the kind of warmth we found in every village. Jeffrey had worked with Nelson, the main guide, for years, creating and running his unique eco-tours, but this trip was the first of its kind. The guides had done a dry run, establishing suitable pathways between villages. Susie, a guide who remembered me from my visit six years ago, wrapped me in a bear hug. She grabbed my bags and guided me up the rocky steps towards our rondavel.
Mukumbani was set up for visitors, so the rondavel had the luxury of a shower and a flushing toilet. From then on, we would be hosted in the homesteads of families where there was no running water or electricity, and a long-drop toilet.
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