Saturday, November 5, 2011

South African visit by an Expat

Peeping at Places in South Africa... (not all bad)...
We arrive back in SA; 18 months since our previous visit... People ask,' What have you noticed has changed?' Others comment, ' You'll notice that there's been a deterioration in the infrastructure in the last three years...'  Others say, 'Same old, same old...'

I'm interested to discover that little has changed in some areas, and in other areas visible change (both good and bad) is conspicuous. Roads and verges have deteriorated greatly. (A trip to the Drakensberg lead us a merry circumnavigation around potholes galore. My husband had hurt his back carrying our luggage and found the potholes and humps an agonising experience as we bumped along. )We notice that verges are dirty and unkempt and garden refuse places overflowing with garbage bags strewn on pavements. The burgeoning weight of managing maintenance is evident. And a trip to Clarens and Golden Gate included a lengthy stretch of one- way traffic next to Sterkfontein, reportedly due to the contractor abandoning the project until the government gets around to paying him. 

We also made a scenic township detour through Phutadithaba due to a bridge ostensibly having collapsed. And on a couple of nights we had take away supper by candlelight due to electricity outages.
     Ironically these are seen as superficial irritants to the locals. And the people seem more positive and enthusiastic since our previous visit, when an air of pessimism permeated the atmosphere, with some folk having a B plan to 'pack for Perth'..., get money off- shore, ensure that they had an overseas connection, else were 'semigrating' to the Cape.
Some folk had previously said, 'We can't emigrate because of...' whilst others said, 'We envy you...' or 'Please take me with you...'

This time we sensed an air of optimism in some folk, but denial that there was any reason for concern in others. For the impoverished nothing seems to have changed.  They continue to dredge out a pittance for the next meal. For the comfortably off they seem confident and want to invest in bigger homes and business ventures, while others are down-scaling and getting their 'ducks in a row'. Others continue to pack up and leave to start a new life faced with the immense challenges of adjustment. But there are new bridges and structures being built, new additions to shopping centres under way and a sense of progress in some spheres.  (When we are there the new Edendale township's spacious R450 million Mall opened.)

The Green jersey supporting the Springboks across cultures, and from kiddies to oldies offered a wonderful sense of camaraderie. That I found really comforting.
I notice that young students seemed depressed and demotivated. Friends of ours' daughter wanted to throw in the towel and not finish her 1st year at her Uni, but finally did go back. Folk say the young are demotivated as they see few job prospects or upwardly mobile opportunities due to equity policies and some rather overt partiality, nepotism as well as cultural bias. Instead they hop on a plane to do a Gap Year abroad. Some stay there playing what they allude to as 'The wait and see game', whilst they earn an income in pounds or dollars. (But that, too, is precarious with the present state of the USA $ and Europe's Euro. )Another friend's son dropped out of his 2nd year at his Uni and the weed was a peer pressure factor which temporally debilitated his cognitive focus. And another friend's son couldn't find a job despite having his degree under his belt and was a Pizza Delivery Man. 

The irony is that unemployment is high and yet minority groups battle to find suitable employment. (Trading puts the unemployment at 25.5 % in July 2011.)
    One or two folk in SA relish telling stories (with a sardonic smirk) about expats who hated it overseas and have come back... For them this is the ultimate endorsement that they have 'done the right thing' staying, and that they can continue to remain stoic because after all, ' n' boer maak n' plan' and 'alles sal reg kom'....

Life seems to go on... I think when one emigrates one finds it almost inconceivable to comprehend that life seems relatively unchanged for others, when one's personal universe has been turned upside down... and one's suffered the bereavement and loss of one's roots, identity, family, friends... and every aspect of one's existential life- world, culture, values and landscape. My first visit back I felt angry and wanted my world to move with me. 'How dare they carry on regardless, as though we never existed ?' was my emotion, which of course was carved out of visceral raw pain, sadness, grief and loss...
       I am far more reconciled now. I am, of course restless when I'm there, making idle wishes that I don't have to really 'go back', that we can throw in the towel, that we can 'sommer' stick it out like everyone else; make sure we've got candles and gas for when there's a black-out, put up with the crumbling infrastructure and make sure our personal space is 'veilig' behind a high fence.

While in SA I soak up the sounds, smells, vistas and flavours - the antediluvian Hadedas primeval squawk, our sons endless supply of Biltong that easily seduces me back into that sublime lifestyle, the avenues of Jacarandas, the flat -topped African thorn trees and the scrub bush, the windmills and dry pinky-hued grasses, 
the African huts nestled in their dusty space as though they've been there forever, 

the wild life that we glimpsed, the majestic rock formations and omnipotent Drakensberg,
 the smell of veld fires that tantalise my nostrils, the Piet my Vrou and cooing doves, the lilt of an African voice, the balmy ruby sunsets, 

the placid African bovines, 

- familiar places, landmarks, people... After a few weeks it becomes home again and I feel resistant about leaving. The things I dislike, or now as an expat feel uncomfortable about, seem to blur into the background.
     I get deeply attached to my precious SA family. I feel reluctant to pack, but know that once I am back in New Zealand that I will be fine again. I tell myself to be brave and vehement about why we started a new life; not only for ourselves, but as a haven for the unquantifiable unknown. Our guest room beds are made up... 

 And of course, as always, I sob at the airport and am miserable all the way from Durban to Johannesburg. In fact I sob all over again as the plane takes off from Oliver Tambo Airport and I leave African terrafirma behind 'till next time.' 

But now almost two weeks after getting back to Auckland, I'm more settled again. The sun's warmth has been a balm to the sadness since we've been back, our loving NZ family are 'chuffed' to have us back and our lovely, restful home with pastoral scenes, indigenous bush and glorious ocean vistas awaits us. And little Paddywag adds to the stability  that we needed after weeks of living out of a suitcase.

1 comment:

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