I worked with someone. An Italian. He had a name for me. The Greek American Zulu. This was a reference to the most important places and cultures that have influenced me.
Greek. My origins, my DNA, the essence of who I am.
And Greece. This crazy unpredictable country that I have now chosen as home. Beautiful Greece.
American. Because of my years working in the world’s largest American advertising agencies with some of the world’s largest American brands. And my time in that wonderful city called New York.
Zulu. South Africa. Where I was born and where I grew up. The place I called home for so many years and the place I still go home to every year. Religiously. Without fail. And not just because my mother, my brother and my sister live there.
To visit places with names such as Okavango, Mashatu, Phinda, Hluhluwe, Mtunzini. Magical mystical places. Like Makgadikgadi.
Have you ever seen so many stars that the night no longer appears dark? Have you ever heard silence so silent that it is loud and your ears hurt? You will in the Makgadikgadi Pan. Hundreds of square kilometers of dry lake bed. Flatness. A landscape devoid of any landmarks. Nothing to distinguish left from right or north from south. A strange eerie wilderness.
It’s a long long story. But I once spent a night on a luxurious bed planted in the middle of this strange landscape. A night with so many stars that the Milky Way looked like a river. A night so silent that I swear my ears hurt. One of the most memorable nights of my life.
I love Greece. A country so sweet, so warm, so welcoming. A country that truly feels like the cradle of civilization. Even before you see traces of culture.
I love America. So young. So brash. So daring. So loud. So adventurous. So ambitious.
So … American.
And I love Africa.
So primeval. So raw. Such a reminder of who we really are. How big and how small we are. And if you’ve ever been on safari you’ll know what I am talking about. Ever worked through the bush? Ever looked into the eyes of a lion, understanding that he’s looking straight back at you? It’s enough to clear you of anything. Nothing is more essential. No problem is serious enough to warrant your attention. Nothing is more sobering. It’s why my advice to troubled friends is often that they look into the eyes of a lion. They get it.
I chose to leave Africa. For the simple reason that I felt somehow isolated at the bottom end of the world. That I was too far from the centre. But now I realize that maybe this was the centre. Because it is where you see the stars and hear the silence and look into the eyes of the lion.