The distance from my hometown to Santiago de Compostella in Spain is roughly 8968.49 km. That is - 5572.76 miles or to be even more precise, 4839.39 nautical miles. Actually, my personal journey consists of many more miles - in fact - as many as I can cover in the eight months until my plane finally takes of from Cape Town International!
My road to Santiago truly started the day I heard of the existence of the Camino de Santiago. This little blog was born soon after and I have trouble containing the huge smile that I feel coming on every time I think about the amazing people who have crossed my path since I first spoke to a recently returned-from-Spain pilgrim friend.
There is something about this pilgrimage that brings people together and the excitement, the expectation and the joy that the experience clearly brings to people who are in any way connected to the Camino, is undeniably contagious!
If you've been reading the blog for a while you'll know of some of my interactions with very special people, if this is your first visit, feel free to browse - there are some people who have already become a part of my life and I know I will be connected to them for many, many years. I have written here about most of them.
One person who stands out is my friend Ermanno from Somerset West here in the Cape. An extraordinary man who walked the Camino a few years ago and is still as excited about his experience as when he was actually walking in Spain! Ermanno is one of those unique people who is blessed with the gift of attracting people to himself and then in turn he ensures that he introduces those people to each other and in doing so he passes on the gift of friendship - a gift that you can't buy in any of the shops that I know of!
One of the most recent introductions that came to me via my friend Ermanno is probably to one of the most remarkable women that I have had the honour to meet. And as we have only ever communicated to each other via email and our respective blogs, you can imagine how big an impression she has made on me.
Her name is Sonja. Exactly one year ago, she was diagnosed with an illness that, until very recently, I knew absolutely nothing about. Three little letters. Three life changing letters. MSA.
Multiple System Atrophy. A journey of a different kind. And the more I am learning about these three letters and what they mean when put together, the more I realise that you have to be a pretty special person to learn to accept this new travelling companion, if life decides to throw you together as a pair.
Hence my admiration for a woman that I have not ever met face to face. I feel so privileged to be able to direct you to two of Sonja's blogs - I feel that you should hear her story the way she chooses to tell it, she is being truly gracious in sharing this journey so that others can become aware of the illness and how it affects people.
Sonja's personal blog is written in Afrikaans but together with her (equally amazing) childhood friend, Karin, they have created a blog specifically to put a spotlight on MSA in South Africa and this one has entries in English for those of you who don't speak the language. (Google translate can certainly also help if you choose to use that for the Afrikaans entries...)
To read their blog - click here and you will find the link to Sonja's personal blog there as well.
Next Monday, the 3rd of October, is MSA Awareness Day. The idea is that people all over the world should light as many candles as possible at 20h00 (8pm), their local time. The organisers are hoping to make people aware of what MSA is all about. Even if MSA never features in your life, and that is my wish for you today, you never know when you are going to have to deal with it, perhaps via a friend or a loved one.
So. I've decided to educate myself and get involved. On Monday (3rd October) I am going to join Sonja, Karin and Ermanno - all new people in my life - on a walk on the beach in the Strand, a suburb here in the Cape. People all over the world are going to be walking the MSA walk on this day and you can join, wherever you are. Log your miles here, and you have helped to start making a difference!
In conclusion - Ermanno, you are truly making a difference! You are connecting people, creating awareness and the Camino and all that it stands for, is affecting people everywhere through pilgrims like yourself.
Sonja and Karin - I can't wait to meet you both on Monday! Your friendship is something that is special beyond words and your example is something that I truly value!
Here's to forgetting about our our own very insignificant complaints and joining hands in support of those who have been handed true challenges in life! We salute and support you - thank you for educating us and allowing us to make a difference in a very small but hopefully significant way!