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Gabrielle

Gabrielle

Gabrielle

1. Please  can you tell us a little bit about yourself - where are you from originally, where do you live now and what do you do?
I was born and raised in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. I was raised by an incredibly strong, kind and hugely creative mother who teaches children with learning difficulties during the day and spends most other moments painting or creating art. I also have an older sister, Olivia, who has always been my greatest inspiration in this life. Liv was diagnosed with a terminal illness from birth and was told she would most likely not live past the age of 18. She is now 30 years old, a recent bone marrow transplant survivor, a qualified vet and the most incredible artist! My dad died tragically when I was 12 years old when he drowned in the ocean in the small town of Kinkwazi, KZN.

I was lucky enough to spend my high school years living on a nature reserve, with wildlife literally drinking from our swimming pool! We are a nature-loving family and my mom has always placed huge emphasis on our connection to the earth. She always taught us to be still and to harness the joy of the simple, ordinary moments in life. We could sit for hours, in the winter sun, eating oranges and simply noticing the way the light changed throughout the day, with no attachment or expectation.

I was a very driven child and teenager and, in some ways, I feel I was too motivated by achievement as a form of validation. Again, my mom was such a gentle but strong force and she always helped steer me away from these tendencies. I remember her once writing me a letter which said "My Darling, I am so proud of everything you achieve but I am the most proud of you because you are kind". That little note and those words have always stuck with me for the profound impact they had on my life for many years going forward. I hope to someday be a mother who places more emphasis on kindness than on achievement or accolades.

As a true A-type personality, however, I went on to study medicine. I graduated from Stellenbosch University in 2016. I completed my 2 years of internship in KZN and one year of community service back in Mpumalanga. I got engaged in December 2019 and myself and my fiancé, Doug, moved back to the Cape in June of this year. We are currently living in Kalk Bay which has been a dream of mine for 10 years and something I actively tried to manifest for all this time. We live above a cafe which is so fun and vibey - with the daily hustle and bustle and the smell of fresh croissants wafting upstairs. We feel like we are living in a Friends episode! Haha. Kalk Bay has a very special energy about it. We love it here!

I am currently employed as a medical doctor at the Hospital of Hope which is a Covid Hospital, especially built to assist with the pressures of the current pandemic. In terms of my medical career, I would love to specialise in paediatrics but I also have a special interest in Eastern medicinal practices and how to effectively incorporate them into Western medicine. I feel that our training is too focussed on the disease process and doesn’t really “zoom out” to include the person as a whole. Apart from trauma, I believe that disease is more often than not a manifestation of a deeper issue. And by throwing pain killers and antibiotics at someone who is being abused by their husband or not sleeping well at night or eating food that is toxic to their body, etc etc, that patient will continue to return because the real issue hasn’t actually been dealt with. I dream of creating some kind of a healing space that marries all these ideas. I have all these dreams and thoughts and plans currently floating around in my head, I just don’t quite know what it will end up looking like and what path I will end up taking to get there. But I believe, like all things that are right for you, it will manifest in exactly the right moment and it will be perfect. Different to what I expect, for sure, but perfect.

I also run a small business as my "side hustle" called Liv & Light. I own the business with Doug, his brother Cameron and my sister, Liv. We started the business in 2018 as an upliftment project more than anything else and somehow it grew and expanded into what it is today.

We initially sent ex-patients through sewing courses and got them sewing machines and over lockers to use from their homes in Umlazi township in KZN. I designed very simple garments, had patterns made in Durban and then the ladies would sew up the pieces which we sold on our website. We only use natural fibres such as linens and we have tried to maintain a close connection to nature throughout our design, production and general aesthetic. The business expanded to include homeware and, excitingly, my sister has just launched her ceramics range which is beautiful! The ladies in KZN eventually found permanent employment but also set up their own little sewing school which they run on Saturdays, to teach other ladies in the township how to sew. We have recently signed up with a new CMT which is able to manage larger production numbers but who still line up well with our ethos and “heart” behind the business. They also run a sewing program for girls in the local High school to teach them to sew and, in turn, hire them to work at the CMT.

What’s your most memorable adventure?
Usually I would have thought that to be a really difficult question but, given the past year I have had, it's actually really easy! Doug and I decided to take 3 months off at the beginning of this year to backpack through South and Central America. We left South Africa in January 2020 with our backpacks and our tent and not a single plan or night of accommodation booked (our favourite way of travelling!).

We started in Brazil which was tropical and warm and beautiful and then bussed down to Argentina where we saw some of the most magnificent waterfalls I have ever seen. We also slept in some pretty dodgy backpackers but that was all a part of our agreement -14 days of roughing it in exchange for 2 nights of comfort/ luxury.  We then flew down to the Patagonia which honestly blew my mind! Have you ever watched “Into the Wild”? Or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”? It reminded me of some of the scenery from those films. Just unbelievably vast and breathtakingly beautiful. We were dropped off in a tiny town called El Calafate which consisted of a few colourful homes nestled between snowy mountains and glacier lakes with one main street, bustling with tourists - the type who wear North Face jackets and their hiking boots on a normal day - and the air was so full of excitement of all the travellers arriving in this magic little town, preparing for early rises to start their treks through some of the most magnificent landscapes on the planet. The anticipation was almost tangible.

Although it was summer, it's still the tip of the world (very close to Antarctica) so it was freezing outside which made a warm pumpkin soup, some fresh bread and a glass of red wine all the sweeter. We spent 2 weeks in Patagonia - wild camping for days on end in some pretty extreme conditions. Doug and I had another agreement though - that I will go for days without a shower or a toilet and I would eat tuna and two minute noodles, but we had to bring our fairy lights and our scrabble set with everywhere we went. I also carried lots of good books in my backpack (which finally helped me make the jump to kindle, haha).

After Patagonia, we rented a campervan to travel the coast of Chile. I had this romantic idea of an old-school Volkswagen van in a nice neutral colour that would look good on my Instagram feed. Much to my dismay, Doug picked me up in a bright purple van with Superheroes painted all over it! Someone had also spray painted “The government F*!#ks me every day” onto the back of our van which, in the height of the Chilean social revolt, meant we never went unnoticed!

One of my favourite evenings in our van was when we were  in the Lake district of Chile and we managed to find the most beautiful lake at the base of a volcano (which rumbled from time to time) without another person in sight. We parked our van, unpacked our little table and chairs and made a fire. We used our leftovers to invent pizzas for the fire and it was the most beautiful still evening with the most incredible sunset, listening to the sounds of the insects and watching the birds come home. Maybe I was tipsy on our incredibly cheap wine, but I don’t think a cucumber and tuna wrap-turned pizza has ever tasted so good.

We then travelled North to Bolivia to see the unreal salt flats before heading up to Peru. We hid away in a little mountain cottage in the valley of the Incas for a few days before making the trip to see Machu Picchu which, although very touristy, is definitely one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen (I feel like I have said that a lot about this trip, but it’s true).

We finally left South America to travel into Central America. We started in Costa Rica and then caught a bus up into a country called Nicaragua. Don't worry, I also didn't know it existed. To backtrack a little bit - we met 2 south African girls when we were down in Patagonia. They had travelled from Central America, down and so we asked them for some tips. They mentioned a tiny island called Little Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua, which I hurriedly scribbled down onto my notes and forgot all about for the weeks thereafter. When we finally made it to Central America, I suddenly remembered the note and looked up the Island. We decided to take our South African stranger’s advice and we booked a few days on the tiny Island of Little Corn, in the Caribbean sea.

In order to get to the island, we had to bus to Nicaragua, sleep on the airport floor for a night, fly in a tiny plane to Big Corn Island, catch a boat to Little Corn Island, and then a panga boat to our accommodation - Ensuenos.  But more about that later!

How does travel feed your soul?

There are so many ways that travel feeds my soul - from the hours of virtual exploring and planning beforehand, dreaming of what it will look like and feel like and that child-like excitement leading up to a trip. But beyond the initial excitement and anticipation, travel is such a wonderful way of gaining perspective. I love submerging myself in another culture and learning as much as possible about their food and heritage and history. As humans, we so easily become completely consumed in our own lives and all the dramas and complexities of little worlds we create.

Everything feels so big and important when we are in the centre of it all. But, when we travel, that self-serving, self-important  "cloud" seems to lift and it's like we are able to gain perspective and realise that the world we allow ourselves to become consumed by, is this tiny microcosm compared to what else is out there. There is a word that I love - Sonder. It is a term for the realization that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. Isn't that lovely? And so true! I also love traveling for the “coming home”. I am always reminded of what a beautiful life we have, right here. And that, in itself, is a gift of travel.

They say home is where the heart is.  What does ‘home’ mean to you?

When I read this question, my first instinct was to write about home being anywhere, so long as I’m with the people I love. But, honestly, I have such an affinity for an actual place that that would be a dishonest answer. I find such comfort in returning to a space that I know and have memories attached to. I guess home is where I feel I can be completely myself, without judgement or expectation. So that comes with the people who fill the home too. Home is somewhere I can go to find rest and refuge. Somewhere I feel loved and accepted and encouraged. It's a combination of a physical space which brings me joy and the people who live there. Home is a place with beautiful light and fluffy slippers and delicious food and good music and nice bedding. I hope home will also always mean the sea isn’t far away.

What makes Africa special compared to others places you’ve been to? I often wonder if people who live in the US or Australia or Europe, for example, feel so intensely drawn to their continent and nation the way we do, as Africans. Or if Africa is truly unique in this way. Africa has such an intense, pulsating, vibrant energy about it. Maybe it's the fact that we have, as a continent, known such deep suffering which enables us to develop a level of empathy for other humans.

As I write this, I feel so deeply proud to be African. To walk alongside a continent of warriors and activists and leaders. Africa is the heartbeat of the world, don't you think? It's so rich in culture - from the beautiful traditional dress and history of the Zulu tribes of South Africa, to the heartache and history of the Hutus and Tutsi's of Rwanda, to the ancient wander of Egypt, to the beautiful Masai tribes of Kenya and the bustling streets, rich spices and colours of Morocco. There is so much to see and to learn and to absorb! Oh and of course, the landscapes of Africa are surely the most beautiful on earth? And the wildlife! Africa’s tapestry is an intricate, colourful, embellished, broken and frayed one. But, in my opinion, it’s the most beautiful one there is.

What are your favourite SOUL Design pieces  to travel with? A few years ago I bought a pair of the Peponi earrings. I love them because they go with any outfit and can transform a plain slip dress into a beautiful evening outfit or they can spruce up a crisp white linen shirt with high waisted jeans. I have worn them to many weddings too! Recently, I got the baby Nguni necklace and the disc necklace which I love wearing layered together.

We know you recently had an ‘adventure’ after being marooned on a tiny island at the start of Covid - Can you tell us a little bit about your experience and include a picture or two you don't mind sharing?

As I previously mentioned, Doug and I went backpacking for a few months earlier this year. Our last stop was Nicaragua, in Central America. We booked a few days on Little Corn Island which, as I mentioned before, is a 12 square kilometre island in the Caribbean Sea. We found a beautiful rustic air bnb which people raved about on the reviews, as a special final treat after many weeks of hiking and roughing it and before we flew home to start work again.

We arrived, by panga boat, on the most unreal little slice of paradise. Imagine white beaches and crystal-clear water, littered with locals speaking in deep Creole accents (which sounds Jamaican) and Bob Marley playing at all the little palm leaf beach bars and restaurants. The island still maintains a very authentic feel as there are no giant luxury resorts with golf courses and all-you-can-eat buffets due to strict regulations by a counsel of “elders” on the island.

Our travels took a very unexpected turn when, during our time on the island, South Africa announced the National lockdown. Within two days of this announcement, the countries in Central America closed their borders and before we knew it, we had no way of returning home. The family who owned the air bnb we were staying at decided to close their doors to tourists almost immediately but they said to us that we could stay on with them as volunteers – we would get to stay on in our little beach hut and get to eat with them in exchange for looking after and teaching their two little girls. And so that’s what we did for the next 3 and a half months!

We fell completely in love with the two little girls – Luna-Blu and Selva (which means Blue Moon and Jungle) and our days were spent teaching them English, snorkelling together, harvesting fresh veggies from the garden, making homemade chocolate and marmalades and chilli sauce, baking coconut breads and fishing for our dinner. It was definitely the most life-changing experience we have ever had. It was completely out of our comfort zone too though – sleeping in a small wooden hut with all the doors open every night with only a bit of solar and wind energy to power the lights; no hot water; only a make-shift outside shower; no access to shops for all those months, etc etc.

We quickly learnt how little we actually need to survive and to be happy and how we have grown so accustomed, in today’s society, to constantly need to acquire more and more things. And the greatest sadness, I think, is that in order to pay for all this stuff we don’t even need to begin with, we spend all our time working and working, addicted to our smart phones so we can “keep up” with everyone else and we no longer have the time to sing with our kids in the kitchen or to sit with them in nature and teach them, first-hand, how a flower blooms. We are so busy creating this pretty, manicured life that we don’t even notice its most beautiful moments are passing us by.

I feel like this is something we are mostly all aware on some level and that people will often speak about at dinner parties and drinks with friends. But actually, LIVING this simple, slow, sustainable life was the most profound and formative moment in time for me. Doug and I came back with a very different idea of what we want for our lives and the goal is so much clearer now after this whole experience. We will be forever grateful to our Island family for the role they all played in our lives. We still speak to them many times in a week and we miss them terribly!

We were eventually able to come home on a repatriation flight in June. Although we were very sad to leave Nicaragua, it had also been a hugely stressful time for us. The uncertainty of that time was very heavy. Not knowing when or how we would get home and being so far from the people we love in such a scary time was very difficult. We are really hoping the island family comes to visit us in South Africa next year for our wedding. Fingers crossed!