‘The Racking Charm of South Africa’

English Language and Creative Writing student Melisa Matvejeva travelled to Africa and discusses her experience. it has completely changed the way she looks at the world, her overall goal and priorities.

The twenty-seven-hour trip towards our goal was coloured in a pink haze. Usually, when the rose-coloured glasses fall, the unpleasant truth stains the ‘picture perfect’. This time the non-tourist experience of the breathtaking ugliness created the image. ‘Beauty’ as the one missing puzzle piece, yet it completed the picture and lowered our heads from the clouds of an impeccable 21st century. Followed by the 2-minute showers we were supposed to have.

The burden of wasted drops lay on our own shoulders. Maybe this is what created our first African feeling – being woken up by exotic birds, which sounded like stray kids screeching. Weirdly, it smelt like the rain. Might have been the spell of the ocean – to mask the stench of drought. As the birds sang their song welcoming the sun, we woke up, leaving behind the privilege of water.

Early mornings with organisations that helped people – disabled, lost or poor. We sat around tables, drank the precious water and tried to fight the reminisce of lack of sleep. It was not boring. It was the factual accuracy, the wave of it. It was hitting us like a truck after every word that rolled down their desert lips. Knocking us out completely. And what we saw in their eyes was both a curse and a blessing.

Our wish to help, but the inability to perform. Our compassion, but lack of exposure to comprehend. We were listening to people who fought against diseases, whilst being surrounded by palm trees. The perfect mix of the sun and the ocean – a five-star holiday. We saw underneath the gold surface, the backstage of people playing the foolproof roles.

Melisa imageWe did not visit Robben Island and somehow it was unnecessary. It has been said that the only hope there was, was the visible Table Top from a detainee’s cells. We were between the people who needed just as much hope against famine and dust.

We felt the power of Table Top right there – the pillar of faith. It was constant. Hidden by the ‘tablecloth’ or not, it was the backbone of the place. And the people here were the trees growing towards the Table Top, striving in between the bushes. Towards the top. The experience was scorched behind our lids – the outline of racking charm. Yet it was not only the pain of the people we met, or the degree they were in. It was the knowledge. Cape of inspiration.

Like the sweet smell of flowers for bees – we were drawn towards the beautiful humans here. They never viewed us differently, standing out as the sore thumb only in our own eyes. We were acknowledged and then pleasantly ignored further, mixing.

Melisa is glad she took the opportunity and can’t wait for further travel with Coventry University! If you’d like to share your experiences, contact us at