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HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: The newness of getting away from the news

In the run-up to elections, the news has been rather morbid. I have a WhatsApp group of close family members and friends where we often post news items so outrageous and shocking that we’re forced to laugh at them to stop from crying. But we always end with the hashtag: end times. Because truly, that’s how it probably feels for any citizen at this point in time.

We are literally two light switch flicks away from total darkness with the Eskom crisis. Political parties continue to disillusion us with lies, controversy and plain old ignorance. The country's crime stats keep climbing, we have more inquires and commissions going on than we know what to do with, abuse against women seems like an endless and almost pointless fight at this stage because the toxic masculinity is so deeply rooted it seems like even an archaic public decapitation won’t rid us of the problem, and the police have also just announced that they’re about to go on strike.

I was forced to get away from it all from Monday to Friday last week when I crawled into my own version of a cave out in the Montagu mountains to settle in and face my Goliath – research for a new book. My two-and-half-hour drive there was uncomfortable, to say the least. I forgot to check if the rivers were full and whether the landscape looked a little bit less like Mordor because of the troublesome drought. The thought of breathing in the clean mist on the outskirts of city failed to cross my lungs because instead, I was breathing in the toxic fumes of “what even is happening in our country?’. I took a second at the tollgate to remind myself that when I arrived in Montagu, the worries would wash off me with the light drizzle that entertained the skies that day. But as soon as I paid my 30 odd rand, the anxiety settled in again.

Stepping through the door of my tiny cottage, I willed away the angst and gave myself a tiny tour. Then, as is common for me to do, I unpacked. I arranged all my books, pens, papers and laptop in right angles on the small old French-style-country kitchen table. I took the obligatory photo for self-motivation and well, pure shameless Instagram likes I guess. Maybe it’s because in an ironic way, I wanted people to know where I was and to leave me alone. I called my wife, gave her a virtual tour and said goodbye after discussing my structured days for a while and letting her know that I would chat to her twice a day and the rest of the time my phone would be on airplane mode.

I stood at the kitchen window and looked at the dirt road in front of me that led toward the green mountain ahead and that’s when it happened, the news rolled away with those sandy stones and my head was completely empty, filled only with the quiet of that peaceful farm.

The last time I used a notebook and pen properly was in varsity. I can’t explain the pleasure of having thoughts leak out of you in ink. There’s a certain kind of comfort you feel when you raise your hand and notice the smudgy black stains on the side of your hand. It speaks to a simpler time. A time without the callouses on your fingers from obsessive Twitter use and the urgent addiction of information overload.

What did the EFF do? Did the ANC steal any more money? Is Helen Zille being foolish in 140 characters again? Did the poor finally get fed, are the rich finally being accountable? The search finally ended. And the world came to a complete and calm standstill when I received a message from Brendan, one half of the lovely couple who own the place, to let me know he wanted to walk down from the main house to drop off some delicious, freshly made steamed bread.

A simple loaf reminded me that not everything is all-bad. Each slice was a friendly South African reaching out, welcoming me and let me know that not everyone is a mean, angry and despondent citizen out to fight fire with fire and rage with rage. More importantly, it reminded me that I didn’t have to be either.

The ride back to Cape Town, back to the real world funnily enough, was filled with more joy than when I started my journey to get away from it all because just for that week, the world was a better place.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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