Monday, June 6, 2016

The Year of Yes

When I became an expat last year, I read a lot of advice about how to handle the transition and settle into my new home country. Much of the advice was "get out there and meet people" and "don't worry if your new house isn't completely organized just start making friends."

Since I am physically unable to leave my house to do anything if my house isn't completely organized, I didn't follow the advice. In hindsight I eased into my life here slowly. 

In our first year we found a house, moved in and hosted my parents when they came to visit. I sought out an opportunity and began volunteering with EduFun. We made friends both naturally and through groups like Internations. We trained for and completed a half marathon and I resumed going to personal training. Last year I started and maintained the blog. And, we traveled to multiple places in South Africa. 

But, there is something markedly different about my second year here as compared to my first.

Even though I just listed all that was accomplished during year one, I also spent a significant amount of time last year doing absolutely nothing. And, I spent a lot of time doing mundane things like grocery shopping and organizing closets. After working for 20 years at a job that included a lot of nights and weekends, a really long commute and a significant amount of business travel, I couldn't get over the fact that suddenly I had free time. All the tasks that I used to cram into my time away from work, I now had endless time to accomplish. If I needed to write an email to someone, I could put thought into the text instead of just firing it off as fast as possible. If I needed to grocery shop I could take my time in doing so. If I needed to visit more than one store, or go grocery shopping again the next day because I was looking for something specific or because I forgot a bunch of stuff it didn't matter. I had the time. Looking back I spent a lot of time just being amazed about how much time I had. And, I was never bored. Not for one second. 

When year one turned into year two I became aware that my time here in South Africa wasn't going to last forever. Even though intellectually I knew that all along, I started to feel the pressure to make the most of this situation and thus began The Year of Yes.

I did not conceive of the concept of The Year of Yes on New Year's Eve because of some kind of champagne fueled epiphany. I actually didn't conceive of the concept of The Year of Yes at all. In year two I just naturally started saying yes to any and every opportunity that came my way. And now, half way through 2016 I realize that this is The Year of Yes.

When I was asked if I would teach a class at school on Mondays (last year I would visit the school and work with a small group of kids and now I stand up in the front of the classroom and lead the lesson) I said yes. When asked if I would be the co-administrator for the women's social group that I am part of I said yes. When invited by an Indian friend to learn how to drape a saree, I said yes. When invited by the same friend to participate in several Indian cooking classes that she was teaching, I said yes. When I noticed that there was a group of expats going to the Joburg CBD to take a graffiti tour I went along. When the opportunity arose to join a committee to plan an event to raise money for scholarships for girls from Diepsloot going to university, I got involved. When I learned that solar lamps were needed so kids living shacks in Dieplsoot without electricity could study at night, I began a fundraising campaign. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

What's funny is that I thought I didn't want to fundraise anymore, I never considered what it would be like to wear a saree, I'm not particularly interested in graffiti, I never liked school when I was a student and I never particularly liked being around kids.

But it turns out some kids are fun to be around (and some are not), wearing a saree is a cool experience to try once in your life, Indian food is interesting and different than the food I am used to cooking, graffiti can be beautiful and takes lot of talent to create, and working on fundraising projects again has been a rewarding experience.

Teaching grade 3 students as part of the EduFun program at the
Diepsloot Combined School
When I came here I had a list of things I wanted to do during my jobless period. Except for writing this blog, finding a great volunteer opportunity and taking a photography class (and I only did that because Mr. Deep insisted) I haven't done any of the things on my list. I thought I would blow the dust off of the Rosetta Stone we bought years ago and teach myself Spanish. But, it turns out that while I would love to speak Spanish fluently, I have no interest in taking the time to learn it. I also thought I would take a digital marketing class but I never did so I must not be that interested. In addition I planned to watch every James Bond movie ever made in order. That one I might still do. Marathon movie watching seems like a good activity to take on during The Year of Yes. 

Cooking at Indian cooking school.
saree selfie
Wearing the saree 
Street art in the Joburg CBD.
The graffiti tour was great, I may write a separate blog post about it.


  1. Great blog post. I very much followed a similar path, though mine started earlier, like when our container wasn't even fully unloaded and the house looked like a disaster, my husband sprung on me that we'd go on a safari. Nooooo, I wanted to scream (I smiled at the sentence about you not physically being able to leave the house when the house is not in order), I'm not done here yet! But the safari was amazing of course, and after that I did pretty much everything that came up. And I, too, was never really interested in the graffiti either, or diving with sharks, or riding on elephants, or doing a bike race. But people in Joburg seemed to have fun doing those things, so I thought, why not? I think that this is something Africa, more than other places, does to you. You become more adventurous. It's contagious. When I lived in Singapore over 15 years go, I didn't say yes to nearly as many things. Perhaps how old you are also plays a role. Maybe we eventually feel like time is running out, in general, and at the same time we are less concerned about all the reasons we might previously have said no. Who knows, there are many factors, but I still think Africa plays a big part in it.

    1. I knew you would understand! It's hard for me to say if Africa plays a role or not since I've never lived outside the USA before. But, I do think people who say yes to living in Africa are probably pretty adventurous and Africa does not disappoint when it comes to unique experiences. I'm happy with how year two is turning out but year one was good too. It was quite relaxing.

    2. The good news is that Africa also helps you with the relaxing part. Hakuna Matata. What you can't get to today can safely be done tomorrow. Just now. So, it's a nice balance - get busy by saying yes to new stuff, and relax by not being so high strung anymore. And I guess it also helps to have someone else doing your washing and folding laundry:)

  2. Why people confuse graffiti with art is beyond me. It is little more than stylized vandalism.


About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.