Ten years in South Africa

On the 8th of August 2005, we landed in Johannesburg after a long and sleepless flight from London. I had never been in South Africa before, and yet this arrival was for real. We were planning to settle here. My husband had gotten a very good job offer in malaria research, and I was about to complete my Master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism. We thought there would be an opportunity for us in this Rainbow Nation.

As I peeked out the plane window to get a glimpse of my new home country, the first thing I saw was frost. Let me tell you, it was not what I had expected to see and I was underimpressed to put it mildly. As we drove towards Pretoria, the Highveld winter landscape did nothing to improve that first impression. Large expanses of brown grass was all I could see…

Settling in was hard, I won’t deny that. Over and above the challenges that I am sure every person that settles in a foreign country goes through (like visa bureaucracy, understanding the way things are done and opening a bank account), there were also more specific issues. For a Scandinavian to get to grips with the African Time and “just now” mentality (“just now” means some time between next week and never in South Africa) was an adjustment that I am still not completely done with. My proper work permit took 3 years to materialize, and most of the people we socialized with in the early days were expats (meaning that just as we got to know and like them, they moved on to the next assignment in some faraway country…).

But South Africa grew on me, and today I love this weird and wonderful place! Just like in any relationship, South Africa can drive me absolutely raving mad, but at the end of the day this is the place I call home now.

So many things have happened since that cold day in August ten years ago. We bought a house, where we live with our 3 dogs, 2 cats and a very talkative parrot. We got engaged, then married. I’ve run the epic Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. We travelled near and far, then travelled some more. I’ve developed some serious patience (at least in a Scandinavian context) and a canny ability to make a Plan B (and even C when things get really bad). We’ve learned to live with loadshedding; never to post anything that needs to arrive within the next 3 months; why you shouldn’t climb baobabs; how to blag your way out of Mozambique without a visa; what a certified copy is (and the importance of always having one, that is no more than 3 months old); and that African Time applies to everything except traffic (where The Faster, The Better is the golden rule). But I have not yet mastered the ability to chase away monkeys (in fact, a few times my attempts – all according to the text book: clap your hands and shout with an authoritative voice – have resulted in the monkey chasing me away…). I don’t like monkeys, and clearly the feeling is mutual.

House and family

We’ve witnessed some big moments in South Africa’s history. Most importantly perhaps, the passing of Tata Madiba and the hosting of the Soccer World Cup. But also other big news headlines (for good or for bad) like the introduction of e-tolls; the forced resignation of President Mbeki; Chad le Clos beating Michael Phelps in the 2012 Olympics; South Africa winning the Square Kilometer Array; the sad Oscar and Reeva saga; and of course the fire pond at Nkandla to mention a few.

Tata Madiba

World Cup 2010

We’ve experienced things that many people only dream of doing once in a lifetime, like our many encounters with Africa’s wild animals; eating at some of the best restaurants in the world and tasting fine wines on spectacular wine estates; visiting people on their homesteads in some of the most rural areas of the country; and watching endangered turtles laying eggs on the beaches of the Indian Ocean. We’ve dived with sharks and climbed some of the highest mountain passes in the country. And we have had the pleasure of meeting people from all walks of life, all of whom have taught us something and made us better people.

South Africa

South Africa

South Africa

Sure, there have been some not-so-great experiences too… Like the time when we got stranded in Standerton with a broken turbothingymajig; a biltong-dust and cheese sandwich (Worst. Sandwich. Ever. – I still shudder at the thought of it…); houses that keep the winter cold out about as well as a cheap tent; a shot of mampoer one late night in the Karoo; rain spiders that keep coming towards you even after a can of Doom; and numerous visits to the chamber of pain (aka Home Affairs)… Maybe I’ll tell these stories in more detail one day. At times I really do not understand this place, but I have come to realize that no one does (not even the locals) and that makes it easier to deal with.

South Africa
South AfricaIt’s been one helluva ride, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat (apart from that sandwich, I’d rather eat my shoe to be honest)! We’re proud and thankful to call South Africa home, and we hope to spend many more years here. And that brown, winter Highveld grass? In that I now see shades of copper, bronze and gold!



34 responses to “Ten years in South Africa

    • Hi Clara
      Welcome to the ride of your life! One thing I can promise you; it will never be boring 😉
      The doom-immune rain spider I encountered was in Cape St Francis. They are large (size of my hand) and hairy bit apparently harmless (unless you suffer from a nervous disposition in which case a heart attack may ensue).
      Check out some of my old posts for travel tips!
      Good luck!

      • Rain spiders run towards the shadow which makes us think that they are running towards us. Really harmless and great as they eat the bugs that bite us. Pleae don’t doom. Just capture in a container and put outside.

      • I promise I won’t Doom again, but there is NO way that I will ever get close enough to capture one of those monsters in a container! 😉

    • You get a lot of them in Joburg, too. Hairy-but-harmless shouldn’t be a thing – they’re way too creepy too be harmless! *shudder*
      But they’re not nearly as bad as parktown prawns….

      • You know what Kat, I’ve never seen a parktown prawn! They don’t seem to cross the boerewors curtain between Jozi and Pretoria 😉 One of the few reasons not to like Jozi I suppose!

  1. Great blog, we’re glad you’re enjoying your new home, and yes, we’ve been there (Home Affairs), several times, even as locals, as to biltong dust, never, not even sprinkled over my dogs afternoon treat!

  2. Hugely disappointed that you disliked biltong dust and cheese sandwiches. Personally I rate them on par with finely cut cucumber sandwiches, with preference for the former. But then Inwas weened on biltong…glad you are happy in RSA.

    • Well Louise, I guess we have to agree to disagree on both counts! But then again, I’m sure you would hate my Swedish smoked fishroe sandwiches equally 😉

  3. From July 2006 to January 2010 I lived in South Africa serving as a US Peace Corps volunteer. I can relate to all of what you wrote, having experienced it myself – others I remember too. It did my heart so good to read your writing – made me homesick for South Africa. One day I was at a government “event” – high girls were performing a traditional dance – I was floored when I saw that none of them were wearing underpants! Tradition I was told . . . thanks for the memories

    • So many times, South Africans ask me why I live here. When I start listing things like weather, lifestyle, food, travel, affordability etc, etc many sort of concede that “yes, there are those things” 🙂

  4. Hi,
    Thanks so much for an awwwsum article! I can read this over & not get tired of reading this!
    I am South African & moved to the Netherlands since 2010, purely for love….lol.
    We plan on moving back to SA soon as I’m sooooo home-sick …..especially after reading this & checking out yr awwsum pics….I simply adore your cats, dogs & pets.
    I don’t blame you for staying 10 years in SA…tx for choosing my beautiful country! So many ex-pats run down SA so badly…..but nothing will change my mind! I love my country!
    Enjoy SA ….

    Kind regards
    Judy Allard

    • Thanks Judy! This is a truly amazing country, and I’m glad that you want to come back. Like you say, too many SA expats talk nonsense. But then again, perhaps SA is better off without them 😉

  5. I am at a loss for words! You have described my country so well (with a bit of exaggeration which you are allowed) and have gained understanding that many people have not. I have lived here since I was born in 1953 and a have experienced dramatic, traumatic, joyful, amazing things that are really life in a multi cultural society. I love the fact that you enjoy it here! Stay well forever!

  6. We immigrated from Holland over 35 years ago. I cannot return there. The people here are truly heart warming, kind and generous! I work with wonderful mixed cultures, religions and languages, and “just now” we will see them. We arebased in the W.Cape, and never a dull moment of spectacular scenery, weekend outings to the mountains, coast or rivers! The people living in poverty are not poor in giving of themselves! This, I truly believe is the true South African spirit! There is so much to do, and so much to learn. It is never ending. It took me 20 years to get citizenship, so the house of horrors is all too familiar to me. But now, I can truly say “I am Proudly South African”. My roots are here now. My children are here, my work is here, my life is truly here. Yes, there are the creepy insects, the electricity goes off. It’s time to chat and to mingle with people around you during these busy times. It is a household blessing. I have to go now – Surfs up my bru!

  7. Wow, what a very interesting read! We are true-blood South Africans but left it for a much easier way of life here in NZ! We are desperately happy here and have settled in with no issues at all! But SA will always be in our hearts. I just loved reading your story – made me miss every inch of SA! Viva SA Viva!

  8. Pingback: All in a few days’ work | MY SLOW JOURNEY·

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