Almost a decade ago — I’ve reached the age where I’m allowed to play fast and loose with exact dates — I quit my job at a respectable newspaper to backpack around Europe. There I was: an adventure-seeking 20-something with nothing to fill my days except wandering around strange cities, meeting even stranger people and wishing I’d saved more money before I’d left.
It was the beginning of my love affair with travel. I thought it would be a life-long relationship, filled with dirty weekends in exotic lands and a tempestuous tiff in smoke-filled bar.
But after two months, 25 flights and so.much.aeroplane food, I never want to leave home again. If you’re wondering why you haven’t received a Wild on Science newsletter in a while, it is because I have been on my couch, ignoring my cellphone and, through the application of many cups of tea, trying to get the sounds of screaming children and aeroplane engines out of my head.
One of the first things you’re taught as a journalist: do not bury the lead.
The most exciting thing in Sarah Land right now is that I finally appear to be breaking into the international market: here are my two stories in Nature (about community discontent around the SKA and university funding) and one in The Guardian (a fishing app to fight quotas).
I have some other (very) exciting things up my sleeve so, if you haven’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter to find out.
I try to give new countries the benefit of the doubt, but I did not like Australia and I doubt I will go back.
South Africa is alive with conversation: decolonising universities, the language of privilege, unpacking the kind of country and people we want to be. They’re not comfortable conversations, to be sure, but they are necessary. They ultimately — I believe — make us more feeling, aware and conscious people.
Those conversations are not happening in Australia. You do not see aboriginal people in government, in senior academic or research positions. I asked many officials and researchers about quota systems and they would laugh: “Nah, we don’t worry about those. You see, we were really good at killing them off here. Ha ha ha.” They laughed. Genocide was somehow funny. I doubt the 1-million aboriginals living in reservations — yes, reservations! in 2016! — feel the same way.
I was glad to come home, even though it was only a week before I left for Lindau in Germany.
These guys were the best thing about my time in Lindau, Germany. We were recipients of fellowships from the Academy of Science of South Africa (I was on the journalism one, naturally) to attend the Lindau Nobel laureates meeting.
I got to force selfies upon George Smoot (discoverer of the cosmic microwave background) and Vinton Cerf (father of the internet), but hanging out with fellow South Africans who I otherwise wouldn’t have met was still the best thing.
So as not to deprive you of experiencing Lindau vicariously, here’s a slide show, and two pieces I wrote, one on the need for mentorship (a culture we really don’t have in SA) and one of the next Nobel Prize for physics.
En route to England (Flights #22, #23, #24 and #25), I learned an important lesson: time travel does not exist. If it did I would have been bitch-slapped by a Future Sarah a long time ago.
This thought spiced up my self-recriminations during two eight-hour transits. I promised myself that I would not be so cheap again and that frugality was not the best option when picking flights. I say that every time.