My grandfather’s passport

It was just over year ago that my Oupa Marius passed away. He breathed his last – a peaceful sigh, my brother said – surrounded by loved ones on the 16th of June 2013, which also happened to be Father’s Day.

While it felt sudden and unexpected to me at the time – I mean, I’d spoken to him just a few days before and he’d said that he was feeling better and would be heading home from the hospital soon – I guess it wasn’t really.

He was going on 89 and had lived a life fuller than most.

In the time he walked this earth he had been many, many things: a husband, father, grandfather. A teacher. A writer. A cultivator of crops. A singer. A laugher of the highest order – it would always start deep in his stomach, bubbling up and inevitably end with him wiping tears from the corner of each eye. A lover of God’s good creation with a passion for exploration.

He was an adventurer and traveller who knew exactly how to get off the beaten track. And if you happened to be with him when the whim to take the road less travelled hit, boy did you just have to hang on and surrender to the ride.

In my oupa’s mind, roads marked with no entry signs in the Kruger National Park only meant better game viewing opportunities. And those who said you couldn’t 4×4 with an Elantra obviously lacked imagination and guts.

I think it’s this part of my grandfather’s character that I adored the most. Cursed with a tendency toward timidity, I have always envied and admired that sort of robustness.

(So much so that, in recent months, when faced with a challenge or posed with an out-of-my-comfort-zone opportunity, I’ve taken on the mantra: “What would Oupa Marius do?”

And always end up thinking: “Actually what wouldn’t he do?”)

Of course this resilience went hand-in-hand with the sort of free spirit you simply couldn’t quite pin down. It was no doubt the driving force that had propelled him and my Ouma Naomi to the furthest reaches of the earth.

I recognise the fluttering of that spirit so poignantly in myself… although I haven’t allowed it to move me nearly as often as I would have liked it to… yet.

So, last year, while spending time with my gran and the rest of the family before and after the memorial service, I was struck by the sudden urge to see, touch, inspect the passports my grandfather had filled over the years.

At first I found this urge weird and completely out of place. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So finally decided to ask my gran if she knew where they were and if I could have a look at them.

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Taking up her walking frame she accompanied me to my Oupa’s study. Filled with books, magazines, files, stamps and all sorts of bric-a-brac that he had spent hours poring over, the study had become a place of comfort and commemoration to most of us. A shrine.

She opened one of the desk drawers, scratched around for a bit and finally brought forth a pristinely preserved specimen of the all-too-familiar green booklet.

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Casting a quick look over the front page, my Ouma handed it to me and said it dated back to the late 70s and early 80s. She mentioned a stamp or two I might spot and then left me to indulge my curiosity.

Although the passport had by no means yet been filled, what I found inside captured my wanderlusting imagination.

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From Transkei (yes, you needed a passport to get to the wild coast in the old days) to Turkey, Italy to Iran, Cyprus, Malawi and Bahrain, my grandparents had travelled to a delectable selection of unlikely destinations.

While I remember them visiting Australia and the US in their later years, I had no idea that their taste for adventure had been so all encompassing. I suddenly wished that I had known this earlier. That I could sit down and ask my Oupa about Iran. What was it like back then and if he thought there was any comparison to the politically-isolated place it is today. Which spots I should visit when I finally take those trips to Turkey and Malawi. If Cyprus should feature on my destinations-to-visit list.

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My Ouma must have seen how taken I was with the outdated document and graciously told me to keep it as a memento.

It sits safely on my bedside table and every now and then I turn to it for inspiration.

Although my Oupa was a particularly well-travelled individual there were a few places he (and his passport) never got to explore. A few of the places I simply have to see for myself.

South America with a backpack, for one. Oh, and also India. Morocco, Costa Rica (the sloth sanctuary in particular) and Zanzibar. I’m not too sure about Scandinavia, but I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t mind visiting again. And, of course, gorilla tracking in Uganda.

So, I hope Oupa Marius’ passport is ready for take two, because it’s coming along. A tangible token of his special spirit of adventure.