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.
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.
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.
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.
It’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!