From Paris to the Klein Karoo’s Prince Albert

After using their cottage in Prince Albert as an occasional retreat, Jackie Burger finally did what she had wanted to do for years: move to the Klein Karoo for good. In this new series, she shares her journey with us.

Picture supplied

A cocktail of frustration and fatigue pulses through my sleep-deprived body. My overactive mind is already troubleshooting and strategising the week ahead as I glance again at my jam-packed itinerary for Paris Fashion Week and meetings with the ELLE international media team. Then paranoia sets in as I quickly do a mental scan of the contents of my luggage. Will my carefully selected wardrobe measure up to the finery of the international fashion elite?

I find consolation in the thought that all the anguish will dissipate as soon as I have boarded the (almost) midnight flight to Paris, had a good night’s sleep and launched myself into the first of the invigorating days of inspiration to follow.

Finally, I am at passport control, handing over the necessary documents with a sense of achievement while scanning for the business lounge sign. “Your visa has expired,” says the voice behind the counter. I stare at her in shock and horror. Flashbacks of the weeks that were race through my mind: the deadlines, the long hours at the office, the slew of never-ending meetings. I try to reason, plead my case, blame the travel agency, but finally succumb to the numbing reality of the situation. A gnawing voice in my head says on repeat: “You knew that one day this would happen.”

On my way back to Cape Town, I rearrange my schedule, book a week’s leave and give myself a good talking to. Back home, I empty my suitcase of all its perfectly considered and styled contents and replace them with walking boots, a sun hat, my stalwart khaki trousers and cocoon-worthy separates, as well as the mountain of yet-to-read books from my bedside table.

And so my week in Paris turned into the week that the universe conspired to lead me to a most beautiful property in the Little Karoo. It had been listed the day I arrived. When the estate agent had gone, I lingered on the front stoep of my cottage and took a moment to appreciate the wisdom of divine intervention, the essence of a balanced life and how, if we pay attention, all things work together to point us to where and who we are meant to be.

It’s my life

There is a beautiful sentiment that explores the notion that our health and wellness depend on our ability to renew ourselves and that our life is shaped by self-expression; that we must self-evaluate and continuously give ourselves the resources to keep growing. It is a piece of wisdom I gleaned during a troubling time in my late 50s. I had reached the end of a cycle and, under the influence of society’s take on ageing at the time, I felt trapped by – as I saw it – a lack of opportunities.

A friend suggested a life coach and the sceptic in me politely popped the business card in my Moleskine notebook where it remained. But fate had another agenda. Fast forward a few months when, while consulting my homeopath, the same name popped up. This time I felt obliged to give it a try; it was doctor’s orders, after all!

Thus I entered another cycle of life, one where I retaliated against the outmoded concept of retirement and age-related norms. I realised there is no substitute for the wisdom of experience and the need for each of us to equip our lives according to our own needs by investing in something that suits our purpose, our life; that, above all, gives us a sense of freedom and a sustainable life.

After leaving ELLE, I launched Salon 58. It symbolised the values I aspired to and created a space where women could have honest conversations and authentic encounters.

Although I have moved on from that phase, Salon 58 taught me a lesson I needed to learn: fear surely kills more dreams than failure ever will.

A new balance

As I write this, almost seven weeks have passed since we moved to Prince Albert. It feels like a lifetime ago, yet also as if it were just yesterday that we left our home of 30 years in the Strand for the last time. It has been an emotional rollercoaster of what ifs as we acclimatise to the raw, unfiltered and very sobering life in a remote Karoo town, where temperatures soar to 40°C and power outages are brought on by spectacular electrical storms that paint the sky and create nature’s own digital soundscape. Yet, our decision to make this our new home is grounded in the quest for a life of mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Just a few days ago, helping a farmer to harvest his peaches brought back memories of childhood days: the joy of cooling off under sprinklers and the reward of breaking open a beautifully sun-ripened peach in the coolness of the farmhouse stoep. The sticky juice and sweet flesh stirred feelings of immense gratitude tinged with the longing to share the ritual with my father, who had passed away too soon, or my mum in her vulnerable state in a frailcare ward.

I close my eyes for a moment, understanding that we are but the sum total of our life choices. Let’s vow to own our decisions in the realisation that our personal health and wellness are insignificant if our planet continues to suffer. More than ever, it is time to acknowledge and honour our interdependence. And if that means helping a farmer to bring in his peach harvest, so be it.

As former editor-in-chief of ELLE SA, Jackie Burger consistently raised the style bar and remained true to herself amid fast fashion trends. Now she has taken another brave step in pursuit of the space and time for greater wellbeing.