Leaving your home is never easy. One thing we see time and time again are those faces of disillusionment, pain and regret when we meet South African emigrants abroad. Such is the duality of emigration. Irrespective of your experiences abroad; of your growth, advancement in business, new experiences, safety and security, hope – you will find that there is always a pull of regret which bars you from moving on completely. It’s the barrier that tells you to enjoy – but only up to a point, for you have things to be sorry for.
In a sense, you are the child of divorced parents who don’t talk and live thousands of kilometres apart. Choosing between them has made your life miserable. You cannot explain to each parent how much their values differ, how much their homes differ, how their approaches to life are worlds apart. They will never grasp the impact of their rules and habits on your lifestyle. They teach you different things, feed you different things, show you different things. They smell and sound different. You sometimes resort to bad-mouthing one, or the other, because you need to justify why you are staying with one, or want to visit the other. More than anything though; you wish you could make both of them understand you love them both – but you love them differently.
There’s no place like home
You miss South Africa, don’t you? Despite the necessity which drove you to relocate abroad, you still yearn for the smells, the feel, the energy of your old country.
You recall the cities – there’s the buzz on street corners and never ending vagrant activity; the high-pitched energy which flows through the streets and compels everyone to do more, be more, and get there faster. You remember playing detective all the time – scrutinising strangers with a friend or foe radar, acutely aware of your surroundings, always vigilant. You miss the predictability of weeks, and weekends (with braais and dad reading the newspaper) and seasons. Each January started with a residual lethargy but also excitement, as new uniforms, stationery and rosters found their way into your home. In autumn, the air grew crisp as the trees donned their brightest outfits yet.
And then came winter, and it’s cold, and people complained, but that didn’t stop us from going for a swim whenever we got to the beach. Of course, for many of our men, winter meant hunting, and bush, and biltong and fire. Then again, every weekend means fire here, irrespective of where you are in South Africa. It’s the way we socialise, the way we defuse the stresses of everyday life. And come December, we’re all ready for a holiday, to set off for a break in the sun and sand of South Africa, meet with family and friends and unwind before we do it all over again.
But you miss more than that, don’t you?
You miss your youth in these streets carpeted with jacaranda blossoms. You miss the small spaza and tuck shops you’d stop at for a quick cool drink and a hand full of chappies after school. You miss riding bike with your friends and playing finger board. The petrol stations; each with their own brand and method of entertaining children with little collectable bags, toys and stickers when you went on vacation. You miss the handmade wood and wire decorations sold in the dusty spots next to busy roads. You miss fig preserves and onion pickles and the smell of homemade rusks which just doesn’t smell the same anywhere else in the world. You miss the South African scents of aniseed, charred steak, smoke, jasmine, jacarandas, briny ocean, sunscreen, Durban curry and vineyards. South Africa feels like the bark of trees under your palms as you monkey around to pick oranges. It feels like clay in your hands as you mold the pellet around the stick for your next kleilat launch. It feels like sun, beating down on your skin as you run from tree shadow to tree shadow to keep your feet from burning in the red hot dirt.
You miss this, and you know what; you have a right to miss this. Even though you’ve made the decision to emigrate, it doesn’t mean that this is no longer your country. It doesn’t make the emotions go away. It simply means you are way over there, doing the best for your family, building a new future.
No more justification
Too often, people see it as a competition – those who can stick it out in South Africa versus those who can make it work abroad. Some start off their new lives abroad with righteous indignation, swearing that this is the best thing they’ve ever done. On the other hand, South Africans back home tell their expat brethren to quit complaining, that they no longer have a say or that they’re wrong. Everyone’s constantly justifying their reasons for leaving or reasons for staying, and it feels like we are stuck in a perpetual boxing match.
But this competition is pointless and damaging to all South Africans and it needs to stop.
Essentially we need to all look past these issues and realise these are human emotions associated with grieving. We are all children of a country who has lost its innocence to some pretty damning atrocities, and we’re all dealing with that in our own way.Those left behind will always feel slightly hurt by those they feel have abandoned them. And as the ones left to carry on in South Africa, they often deny the opinions of those who’ve left these shores. The ones who have left, on the other hand, may feel like justifying their move by reiterating the negative aspects of South Africa, they will feel unloved and discarded and bitter. These feelings are human, yes. But if we grasp this, then we should know to let each other breathe. We should understand that living with empathy means understanding the hearts and souls of those left behind and those who have left and granting each other the benefit of the doubt. We should understand that life is hard, living as a South African is challenging and that we’re all aiming to heal a country which is broken… no matter where we are.
We still love you!
It is for this reason that we want to give a shoutout to all South Africans abroad – from your fellow South Africans back home. We understand, we get it, and we wish you all the best. We know you don’t hear it often, so let it sink in. The choices you’ve made are the best ones for you. More than anything though, remember you will always be welcome here. Because this will always be home. This is your South Africa!
It will always be your South Africa.