The World Belongs to Those Who Dream

May 31, 2022

Twenty years ago, my life changed. It wasn’t the first time it happened and it certainly wasn’t the last time. But it was the setting of where it happened that engraved this moment in my heart forever: in Africa, under the stars of the savannah, late at night, talking to a stranger who somehow, without any explanation or effort, guessed all the struggles my soul was going through. He didn’t give me the answers. All he did was give me more questions. But it was those questions that changed the course of my life.

The following is a fragment from my book “Through Dust and Dreams”

We were sitting by the fire, watching it die. We sat in silence, listening to the darkness all around. This is a special time in Africa, the moment after the sun has set yet before the moon has risen. A time when everything is silent and all is dark, and it is too early to sleep and too late to finish any of the many things one needs to do when a camp is set up. Too dark to look for anything, anywhere, and in those hours humans usually gather together and light a fire. Around its light and warmth, the silence of the darkness dissipates. It’s the moment when, surrounded by so much darkness, you are almost forced to look for light in the depth of your own being.

“There is only one real problem in this world: men have lost their courage to follow dreams,” said Chris, and his words sounded like a heavy and somewhat sad conclusion. He reached over, grabbed the bottle of brandy and filled his tin cup.

We had drunk a lot that evening. First, some Coke and brandy, then the Coke was finished and we carried on with the brandy (although it tasted more like petrol). The bottle was almost empty and I could feel the sweet, pleasant weight of the alcohol running through my veins.

I looked at his hands, holding tight the small, half-empty cup. I could almost see the pulse of life in his veins, the same way I could feel it in his voice.

“You see, Roxana, that’s your problem. You’re so caught up in the storm of thoughts going through your head that you forget to look around. It’s like looking at the surface of the sea and not knowing what lies underneath. Go diving, get your head underwater, go deep inside and then you’ll understand what beauty really means.” (…)

His voice brought me back from my thoughts.

“Your problem is that you’ve got twins living inside you. One belongs to civilisation and all those posh things… your job, your studies, your life in your big and busy city and all the social status you’re after, the other one brings you here and shouts out its own story about adventure and exploration, about nature and wilderness. The problem is the first one was born just ten minutes before the second one and she claims her right as ‘firstborn’. You live by the rules she dictates, and you go ahead and build your life in the direction she takes you and you try hard not to hear the second one, whose shout is now no more than a whisper. There will come a time when you will not be able to ignore that whisper any longer.”

I already had a headache. It was the combined effect of alcohol and a long, heavy day. We had reached the camp as the sun was setting and begun the usual routine of putting up the tents, unloading the cars and lighting the fire. We hadn’t quite got around to settling next to the fire when I saw something long and black climbing quickly up Chris’s leg. I jumped, screaming, but Chris shook his foot and with a sudden move I saw the creature falling directly into the fire. It was a scorpion. I looked at the animal’s body twisting into the flames, changing its colour from deep black into almost reddish, contorting in a last spasm. I felt I wanted to save it, to get it out of there, but it was too late… On the other hand, it was better that it had landed in the fire: at least that way it couldn’t climb on someone else.

Afterwards, we had dinner with feet up on chairs and tables. Then the rest of the group disappeared into the comfort of their tents, where a zip would protect them from all such strange creatures. The two of us, Chris and I, remained outside with a bottle of brandy and the leftovers of dinner.

“You see,” he said, with an absent look in his eyes, “life is like a row of closed doors waiting to be opened; you never know what you will find behind them. A nice room, or a cellar filled with spiders’ webs. All that you can do is open them and have a look. Some people stop after they have opened the first door: they cannot handle the insecurity of opening another one. Others go on and try to find something closer to what they are looking for.”

“What do you mean, that I should go back tomorrow and throw away all that I have and all that I have built, give it all up, resign, leave my life? So that I do what?”

At that point I just wanted answers. I was just too tired of questions and riddles.

“I don’t say you should do anything out of a sparkle of enthusiasm, jump into the unknown. I am only saying you should be honest and ask yourself if the room you’re in at present is the one you really want to be in.”

It wasn’t. That I already knew, as I knew I should open another door, but which one was it to be?

“Just trust yourself,” Chris continued, somehow encouraging, as if he had sensed the tears of frustration burning at the back of my eyes. “Be honest with yourself. And one day, some weeks or months or years from now, you will find the answers. One condition though: that you keep on searching.”

I didn’t understand what he wanted to say. I was trying hard but I just didn’t.

“That is why you told me about the Bushmen and their way of living? Do you think that one can be happy only if one returns to wilderness? I cannot do this. Civilisation is a part of me, as are my city and my friends and my life back there.”

“There’s nothing wrong with civilisation,” he said. “And you don’t have to give it all up. On the contrary: use it, but do not become absorbed by it. Do you think that we live here without any trace of civilisation? I rent DVDs, I use the Internet and I will send my kids to school. I’m not saying the answer is somewhere in the hut of a Bushman.”

“Then what on earth are you saying? It’s too confusing.”

“You have to live with the world and not in the world, use it but do not belong to it, otherwise it will suck your blood until you’ve got nothing else left. We cannot escape our lives, our century and all those things around us. But we can use them and not be used by them. It’s so easy to become a victim, you know. How many people are doing it every day? You only need several shots of espresso a day, a fancy restaurant in the evening and some crazy music at a disco, all anaesthetics to help you forget, to ease the pain of not living in accordance with who you are.”

I was getting cold. The fire had almost gone out and the darkness all around had become even darker. I felt as if there was too little light to fight, too little hope to keep me going. Was there any sense in that conversation? We had probably drunk too much.

“The world belongs to those who dream,” Chris concluded. I had heard him say that before, but that night those words sounded soft and final and they linked somehow with my old dream of going to Africa one day, a link that I didn’t fully understand at the time.

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