Scottish Book Trust Journey Story

Challenging Boundaries, Changing Lives.

Sometimes my big toes skiffed the sand for a second before the ocean sucked up its strength and crashed over my head again.

‘Jeannie. Are you OK?’ shouted Jude from three feet away.


Some of the salt water dripping from my nose and chin had nothing to do with the sea. It was tears, tears of joy and pride. Was I OK? Hell yeah! More than OK!

Sometimes there are moments in your life that are perfect, they epitomise your dreams, they exceed your expectations and you have an all-consuming need to capture them. Like a luscious plum, a moments sweetness that becomes part of you… to savour on dull days when procrastination and frustration bleed you of purpose and worth.

I’m in the Indian Ocean; a blurred and shimmering Durban skyline appears mirage like between waves. Two lifeguards hover close to Jude. I did this… I made this happen… me… who is worried about getting a train to Glasgow, who says something then doubts whether it was correct or how it might be interpreted.

I’m just an ordinary Scottish Mum who stayed at home and brought up her three children. Twenty years of jam making, seed planting, zoo visits, homework negotiations and furniture polishing. Someone once told me, children are your greatest sorrows and greatest joys, and in those years the joys certainly outweighed the sorrows…and yet…something was missing. An English higher and some classes led to a university degree which in turn led to a job as a note taker for disabled students at university. Agata was one of those students.

Rising up out of a wave I can see the animated outlines of Beth and Agata, arm in arm, laughing as they walk through the simmering water to the beach. They have just had their first surfing lesson. Not part of our volunteering itinerary but Crossing Countries believes in flexibility and challenges. Agata’s smile as she rode her first wave, a reminder of her smile when she introduced me to her first guide dog, when she graduated from university and when we decided to go on our African adventure.

Africa…has always held a place in my heart. A trip, through my father’s work, to Nigeria in the 70s, sowed the seed. Then my son’s visit, with his school to Durban, was the catalyst for a family holiday. We quickly discovered why he loved the place and people so much. I found myself doing things I never thought I could. Nine visits later, I have taught in township class rooms, done art with street kids, danced in shacks, created a vegetable garden and spent many hours talking and arguing about life, the universe and everything with my Zulu friends and family.

And from all these disparate life journeys an idea was planted, a team was created and Crossing Countries was born.

Guiding the beach wheelchair and a dripping and elated Jude back to the sand of the golden mile I realise how Crossing Countries is Ubuntu in action. The South African philosophy of Ubunto has been an integral part of my journey and is complicated to explain. My understanding is that when we can recognise both the differences and the similarities in each other we recognise that we cannot flourish without all of us flourishing. Desmond Tutu says ‘”A person is a person through other persons.” In essence…I can only be the best person I can be if you are the best person you can be.

That woman who found it easier to plant vegetables than to visit her best friend in London has come a long way, she has founded Crossing Countries, a social enterprise, which enables disabled people to volunteer abroad, to have the same experiences as their non-disabled friends.

Today with my feet in the ocean and my hand on Jude’s shoulder I am so, so proud of this team of adventurers who have come on this journey with me.

Reflection time over… Jude is talking to me.

‘Jeannie are you ok? You’re not crying again?’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *