New York City is about as different from Londolozi as it gets. At Londoz, our main sources of traffic congestion are meandering nyalas, our skyscrapers are ancient termite mounds, and the only honking comes from hippos in the waterhole near camp.
There are, however, some key similarities, which I’ve come to appreciate since trading Manhattan for Mpumalanga. Both could be described as “intense” places to live, different as the intensity of Times Square may be from the intensity of an active watering hole. Both are world-class culinary destinations (though I think I’d struggle to find ostrich bobotie in the five boroughs…). Significantly, both also are home to places known locally as “the Village.”
Though Greenwich Village has changed considerably since its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s, it retains a special energy. Undergrads and Vietnam veterans sit side by side in Washington Square Park, spending summer evenings jamming out to the same Beatles and Bob Dylan tunes. People linger in sidewalk cafes, deep in conversation. There’s live comedy and music and theatre on every block, and not a single skyscraper; the buildings are human-sized. And in a city renowned for being cutthroat and fast-paced, the Village has a warmth and a culture that’s inviting and restorative.
Eight thousand miles away, Londolozi’s staff village is rooted in those very same principles. It’s a neighbourhood where we assemble as a staff team for braais, fiercely competitive snooker games (pool sharks, please address all challenges to reigning champ Duncan MacLarty), and emotional sendoffs for those leaving the lodge to start their next chapters. It’s where we came together to watch South Africa’s unforgettable triumph in this year’s Rugby World Cup. It’s where conversations flow back and forth between English and Shangaan, and where cultures not only coexist but learn from one another and absorb each other’s ways of seeing the world. It’s where everyone says hello to you, with a wave and a sincere smile.
There’s a well-worn saying that it “takes a village,” but what makes a village? Is it the communal gathering spaces, where people can enjoy food, drinks, games, conversations, and celebrations together? Is it the feeling of safety and peace that village life instills? Is it the simple effort of getting to know your neighbours and sharing your belongings, your time, and your stories with them?
A village may be a physical place, but it’s also an idea. The extended Londolozi family is one big village, spread out across time and space, spanning decades and continents, but sharing a collective history. It’s an intercultural and genuinely intergenerational community (something that’s increasingly hard to find in an increasingly isolating western culture), one that reveres its elders and always makes room at the table for children to participate, learn, and grow.
Above all, “the village” is a way of living, one that’s as vital and relevant in New York as it is in South Africa, and one whose core values manifest themselves in the physical village we at Londolozi call home. It’s a frame of mind and a belief system I know I’ll carry with me long after I’ve left Londolozi to start my next chapter, to strike out into the world and find my next village.