Wednesday, March 14, 2007

far, far away

Come August this year we will have been living in Ireland six years. That's an awfully long time to be away from home, no matter what your nationality. The thing is, there is a whole nation of people like Hubby and I - hundreds of thousands of South Africans scattered around the world. Ireland, the UK, US, mainland Europe, Oz and New Zealand, Canada... it doesn't matter where you go in the world - chances are there are south African expats living there now.

Any takers on finding an idyllic island somewhere and starting a New-New South Africa?
I'd suggest we take over Ireland but it's far too cold and wet here. We Saffas don't know what to do with so much rain.

There's only one flaw in my suggestion above. Wherever it is, it wouldn't be home.
So, the simple answer to that is: Go Home. The media reckons SA wants us back. They need the skills, apparently. So why not just go home?

Well, a couple of reasons, really, the first of which is that home is not what it was when we left. Things have changed so much, we don't know what to expect.
The second seems to contradict the first: The reasons we left in the first place are still valid.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or so we think. You see, the truth is that after 6 years away, I no longer know what it's like to live in South Africa. My beliefs are based on memories of hot summer days, sunny skies and weekends spent with good friends and of a sense of belonging. On the other hand I also remember being constantly aware of keeping doors locked, windows shut and my wits about me and even carrying a pistol for self-defence just in case... and then of course there were the financial strains...
Added to my own memories are what I read in the newspapers. If I went solely on what they say I would ship all my family and friends out of there faster than you can say "How much is a 'plane ticket from Jo'burg to Dublin?".
But surely if things were that bad, the rest of the people would have left already?
The problem is I just don't know anymore what life as a South African living in South Africa is like.

So here's a question for all you South Africans still living there:

What's it like to live there now?
I am so homesick these days I'd happily drop everything here and go back tomorrow (apart from a couple of technical details we won't go into right now).
If I did that, what would I be going home to?

Long comments are appreciated. And tell your friends - the more opinions, the better.



angel said...

oh terri. terri terri terri...
i see what you mean! its so funny i should put my post up today and you post this.
and i wish there was an easy answer! as much as i love this country- if i could take my family with me i think i would duck tomorrow! if i could take my family with me being the operative phrase...

kyknoord said...

There are two sides to it: The purveyors of spin would have you believe that your skills are urgently needed - and they probably are - but there isn't a policy framework to support that. In fact, many of the policies in force translate into a vastly different reality. As you say, your reasons for leaving are still valid.
If you're prepared to eat bucketloads of shit on a daily basis, then ZA is great. If you aren't, it's not. How much are you prepared to swallow? Optimism is great in theory, but in practice, it won't put a roof over your head.

DelBoy said...

I know how you feel Cuz. When I was home in Jan/Feb, I absolutely loved it. It brought back all those great memories that you mention - sunny skies, weekends with friends, BRAAIS! But after 3 weeks there, all the other memories came flooding back - finding work and, as KN says, 'eating bucketloads of shit'!

Do yourself a favour. Take a nice long holiday at home, enjoy every minute of it and then it will remind you why you left.

PS: I'm up for the NEW NEW South Africa thingy. If I win the Lotto this weekend, we can buy us an island.


Mom said...

I don't think I would leave, even if I could, but then mine is a pretty small world. I don't buy newspapers or watch news on T.V. - it can be very depressing. Ostrich tactics, I know, but it keeps me sane. The reality is hardly ever going out at night, everything locked, barred and burglar-alarmed. And the stories of child/woman abuse, murders, rapes and brutality still filter through. Cars broken into while people are in church ....yes it's the unbridled crime which worries me most of all. As for so-called white-collar crime - sometimes it just seems to be a free-for-all out there and the newspapers are full of stories of politicians lining their pockets with our hard-earned money - not to mention monies coming in from overseas to help the underpriviledged which never reaches it's destination. It's not all gloom and doom however. There are still millions of people who care about others and spend their lives trying to make a difference. It's just that sometimes one wonders if it's all worth it - it's an uphill battle and I can understand that people, especially those with young families, don't want to live always having to look over their shoulders and in fear of losing all that they have worked so hard for. Hopefully this will all change in the future, but in the meantime, we still have the sunshine and after all, this is home and the roots go deep.

Michelle said...

I can only speak from a country-Cape perspective (Somerset West - a far cry from the Big City). I love it here. Sure there are the uncomfortable bits like security issues and "interesting" government policies on employment etc. But it's Home.

A while back my son and I (single mom) were looking at migrating to Australia to be with my parents. In the end it didn't work out and a part of me is glad. I'm South African, this is my soil, my air, my culture(s). It's what I know and love. Just as every family has its problems, so every country has its issues too. But I love the spirit of optimism the bears up in spite of it all. The enjoyment of being a rainbow nation (in spite of occasional factions deciding they don't like the rest - briefly). The 'sunny skies, braaivleis and bushveld' that you won't find anywhere else. And an undercurrent of excitement at possibilities, that there's still good stuff down the road.

Yes - come on a long holiday, dive in to living here again and see how you feel. But bear in mind that long holidays also can't give you a feel for what it would be like to be here permanently. You could hate it - you could love it.

The CAPE awaits you.. :-) (hint hint)

chitty said...

The last thing you want to do is come back here and regret your decision to return. Living here is not a bed of roses. There may be some places in the world where it is, but then it is all about perspective. (I am being facetious).
Sure we are a democracy, and it has been 13 years since Apartheid was abolished. It takes a helluvah lot more than 13 years to undo the past and to change people. Much has changed and much has stayed the same.
All those things ppl are talking about, crime, corruption, poverty, etc.; we experience it every day. It is a land of so many contrasts.
The fact of the matter is we are still here and I intend to stay, but don’t let that cloud your judgment. I can change my mind tomorrow.
There are so MANY good people in South Africa. There are many things that happen here on a daily basis that make you proud to be a South African. Can I go somewhere else and peddle my skills in another country? I can do that at a moments notice.
Yet, despite al of this I have hope… perhaps I am misguided dreamer.
SA need skilled professionals and these skills can help in making this a better place to live in. Would I be happy sitting in another country knowing that perhaps I could have helped in some small way? Prolly not. I would not want to leave knowing that I in actual fact did nothing but sit back and point finger. Gah… I am rambling.
Base your decision on what the realities are and what exactly you hope to come back to. Life here is tough and hard, and it probably is elsewhere as well, and you will have to make sacrifices.
On the plus side… you will have family and friends and culture which is uniquely ours. South African have the best sense of humour and that comes from living in a country with so many contrasts.
With your skills you will find a good job and will prolly be well-off financially. That good life will however not be lived in isolation and you will have to deal with “the rest of South Africa” o a daily basis.
Do as Del and Michelle says and come back for a holiday… but also make it a fact-finding mission. Read some of the political commentary blogs. The best ones have been nominated in the SA blog wards site. Keep your eyes and ears open and the answers will come to you.

Anonymous said...

The feelings of homesickness must be very potent. Are you starting to feel any connection to Ireland at this point?

Terri said...

Angel - Leaving family behind is definitely the hardest part.

Kyknoord - I'm beginning to wonder if my appetite for shit is back ;)

Del - Would that it could be a holiday of 3 months, not 3 weeks. Oh, and if you win the Lotto will you make it a Greek island, please?

Mom - Perhaps I need to stop reading the news? I think you hit the nail on the head there: it is home and the roots do go deep.

Michelle - I think I'm trying to establish just how widespread that spirit of optimism you speak of is; I picked up on it last time I was home, over 2 years ago - I don't remember it being there when we left the country. Keep a spot for us there in the Cape just in case :)

Chitty - Sound advice... you're in Sales, are you?
;-) You're right, of course, nowhere is perfect. It boils down to what sort of imperfection one is happiest living with.

Jason - Sometimes I forget I'm not Irish so I suppose in a way there is a connection; however it is on a much more superficial level than the sense of being South Africa and belonging there. The place is in my very bones and the homesickness is a yearning more potent than you can imagine. I live in Ireland but it's just not home.

Anonymous said...

Terri the SA you left 6 years ago is not the same. All you need to do is take a trip along Port Elizabeth's(Your Home city)main street and turn up Donkin Street into central. Along the way you will see the filth and the the total lack of pride of the city's citizens.You might encounter a Taxi(Which is falling to pieces) that is overloaded by at least ten people thundering along overtaking you on the left hand side and going like a bat out of hell.When you reach the top of Donkin Street turn left and pass the King Edward Hotel(Such a beautiful building) and travel to Whites Road. You will stop at the stop sign just long enough for a Nigerian to be able to offer you crack or a lady of the night offering a screw (Including AIDS) for R50.They do not care if you have your young children in the car at the time.Just a little taste of your home town.
The skills that are required are not your skills. You I am afraid are a white person so your skills are not needed. The article requesting ex pats to return was directed to the black folk who have left SA. They do not want to live here either.
Anyway I can not wait to get over with my family and should be settled by begining July.I will bring Old Brown Sherry and we can chat.

Terri said...

Lex - Your description opens up a whole new world of possiblities for the tourism industry ;)

anne said...

It's a funny feeling, homesickness, isn't it. We tend to idealise our home country and be disappointed when we see it again (well. that's what I do when I'm not here anyway...).
I hope your summer vacation will give you the answers you need and help you with whatever decision you need to make...

LiVEwiRe said...

The only thing I can offer is that home will always be home. You will always glorify it in some way. Leaving there doesn't menat that you thought everything was bad; it meant you sought a better opportunity. You could return and find that it's not so great, that it can't live up to what you had in your head. Or it could be the opposite. Home is magical because it's home in your heart, not for any external reason. Sounds like this has been on your mind alot. In time you'll reach a comfortable decision.

Vaughan said...

Simply put - too much politics.

The government is trying to get you guys back, but it was them that chased you away.

SA IS full of opportunities, but those opportunities still depend on the colour of your skin.

I love this country, but the opportunities for me as a white male are so limited.

As kyknoord said - "how much can you swallow".

When everyone was going on the "chicken run", I felt that they were overreacting - not so much now. A lot of the guys that have left, want to come back, and feel the same as you though.

I'd love to leave, but the family is not keen, so I have to compromise. What is more important?

Terri said...

Anne - You're right, of course - I have this romantic notion of home and I want so badly to believe that it's a better place than people make it out to be... the sad truth is it's falling apart.

LiVEwIRe - Ah yes, and me the master of making decisions LOL!

Vaughan - Can't we just have it all? {sigh} OK how 'bout I let you know when my cousin wins the lottery and we get ourselves that island... what? A girl can dream, can't she?!

EVERYONE thanks so much for your comments and opinions - it definitely helped to put things in perspective again.

Oboet said...

Have you seen how many SA's there are outside of SA - see the map at - its incredible how many.