Over the past year, Ashley and I have learned to hold everything loosely; our plans, our expectations, our ideas, our relationships, and even our beliefs. We stick our hands palm up in front of us, ready to receive what the divine might have for us in the next moment. We release our attachments to what we think we know in favor of love, connection, and integration. We are tested time and time again–all preparing us for the great big journey of tomorrow. While this process will only keep on repeating itself, we are at a very tall peak. We are going back to South Africa. :O
"So, when you're 80, what story from your life would you want to tell your grandchildren?"
"Probably that time when we lived in Cape Town."
"But we haven't done that."
"Well... I guess we better do it."
We were sitting on a blanket in the park, looking out over the Lake of the Isles. Our chips and salsa were almost gone, and I was staring up at the only-just-now-budding tree branches above us. I imagined a fishing pole casting out over the lake and pulling up an itinerary for the rest of our life. At the top, "Survive COVID-19" and at the bottom "die in a private plane crash at age 86 like in Secondhand Lions."
I looked at Ashley, my beautiful Ladyfriend, and saw a vision of her in a flowing, colorful, piano-key-patterned dress that she deemed her "Africa" dress. We took a selfie of our true selves; a Puerto-Rican and Minnesotan couple, unshowered, ungroomed, and unsocialized during the first two weeks of the March 2020 quarantine. At that moment, we set our sights on what seemed like a foolish dream—going to live in South Africa during the middle of 2021. We had been to South Africa before; Ashley had studied abroad there in college, and we went together for my first time for our honeymoon. We didn't know when we would go again, for how long, what we'd do, or even if it would be possible.
You know when you go to the drive-thru bank, and they have those tube-like things that shoot your cash deposit over to the teller? It felt like we were doing that, but at a spiritual bank where God was the teller and the deposit was our plan for the future. We entered the drive-thru of the United Investors of Spiritual Fulfillment and shot up a tube to the sky with a little message that said "Dear God, we'd like to go to live in South Africa for a while in 2021. Can you make that happen please?"
Unfortunately, the reply was quite delayed. That's because there was a lot to do and a lot happened, including:
The police killed yet another black man. George Floyd. And a woman. Breonna Taylor. And another man. And another.
People protested and rioted for injustice just outside our Uptown apartment.
Theater, my art form of choice, was deemed non-essential and canceled for the sake of safety.
Everyone filmed everything they instead of doing anything in-person.
Americans voted in a turbulent election.
Fear for health and employment spread across the world.
The Church both rose and fell to the greatest spiritual challenges of my lifetime.
So much more.
We kept learning. Listening. Talking through the politically charged motivations of ignorance. Knowing when to talk and when to listen. When NOT to talk or listen.
Loving each other in new ways every day.
2021 came. One night while I was sleeping, Ashley was perusing Facebook and saw that an old friend had just gotten back to the USA from South Africa. This was surprising because we thought that the borders to South Africa were closed. She messaged her friend and found out that the restrictions eased up in January. Travelers could come and go, so long as they could provide a negative COVID test and quarantine. She checked prices and found that airline tickets and AirBnBs were the lowest we’d ever seen them. That was the sign we needed to proceed. When she told me about it the next morning, we knew it was time to hit the big red LAUNCH button.
A few days later, we did a little budgeting and scheduling to find that we'd be able to save up enough money to live there for two months. So, we bought our tickets for May 2nd–July 1st. We painstakingly picked an AirBnB and started accumulating a list of "things to do." Ashley was much more joyful about it, as the excitement and dream of it all was enough. I was not. Anxiety hit me like a grocery bag full of oranges and saltines (crunchy and heavy and sour and salty?) "We're going to a foreign country... in the middle of a pandemic?! What about our lives here in Minneapolis? What are we even gonna do there?" I created a list of "maybe's" to sort through my worries:
–Maybe we’ll take our cameras around the city and make a documentary about overcoming, or about racism, or just about the culture.
With no clear answer or direction or goal, I felt like I had no control. I created narratives in my head about what would happen and what people would say: "You're going to another country during a pandemic? How selfish. You're being a privileged white American savior. Can't you just stay in Minnesota?"
Yes no yes no SHUSH UP, IMAGINARY VOICE OF JUDGEMENT.
Fortunately, being married means you have a buddy who can pick you up when you're spiraling. Ashley's enthusiasm and focus on the dream lifted me up and proved that our curiosity of South Africa just needed to be explored. The anxiety lessened as I spent time meditating and reaching out to God. I felt more peace because we were being obedient rather than worrying about the outcome of our human plans, as I'd become so accustomed. This quest was about going into the wild and meeting the spirit of the Creator, and hopefully coming back with our thumbs intact.
We spent the next few months in preparation. We read books about marriage knowing that our connection would be the strongest tool we had against suffering. We prayed, we planned, we sought wisdom from others. When the vaccine came, we took the opportunity to immunize ourselves knowing the threat of COVID wouldn't be gone, but perhaps it might be less. We even continued to build our careers and lives knowing full well we would need to sacrifice our ownership of all of it, like Abraham and Isaac.
Our lives at home have been really good. Quite comfortable and great, actually. For example, I just completed a Kickstarter campaign for the largest independent show I've ever produced. (Hidden Falls. Oh, and in case you’ve been following that project, it’s in the very capable hands of the rest of the team while we’re gone, so I'm not worried about it). We’ve been living our day-to-day lives in relative comfort and privilege; but that doesn’t really fly with Ashley. She likes to “lean into the pain” of life’s challenges and push me into discomfort. I love that about her. So, we sacrifice our comfortable lives to go learn and grow and see what happens.
Yes, there are infinite reasons to stay, some of them quite compelling. Our families have been experiencing great pain–my grandpa passed away, and Ashley's grandma is declining quickly. But we must go. If we didn't, our 80-year-old selves would be really upset.
So. To answer the question burning in your mind. "How do you feel? Are you excited?"
Yes. I'm friggin' PUMPED. The place is beautiful, we will be stretched, and it's just gonna be awesome. We stay in Cape Town, then we go to Johannesburg and Kruger's National Park for a 3-day safari, we explore Durban and Stellenbosch, we go back to Cape Town, and then we come home. It'll be done before you know it. Now that the time has come, I'm choosing to have a more joyful attitude about everything, because hey... anxiety sucks. (Although now it seems like it's Ashley's turn to be anxious, so it's my turn to lift her up. And tomorrow, we’ll probably switch again. And at some point, we’ll both be scared shirtless)
We want to share this journey with you, our friends and family, so we created this Instagram account (@wanderingzps) so you can follow along with us. We like to be really present, so we might not share a ton, but we'll try. See you in the wild!
With gladness and confidence,
(Ashley and Josh Zapata-Palmer)