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Friday, June 2, 2017

Where is My Handbook?

The process of moving to South Africa was not easy. It was logistically challenging. The visa business was frustrating and caused a lot of angst. However, when I think back to that time, right before we left the USA and came to South Africa, my most prominent emotion was excitement. We were about to embark on a new life and I couldn't wait to get started. We laughed off the delays and challenges. It was all a big adventure.

Leaving South Africa does not feel like an adventure. It feels awful. I would love to put a positive spin on it for you and say something like, "onward and upward" or "change is good" but I can't. What I can say is, "I'm sure it will be fine." That's the best I can do. But I'm not a huge fan of fine. I prefer amazing. 

Intellectually my sadness about leaving makes no sense. How can it be harder to leave a country where I've lived for just over two years than it was to leave a country where I'd lived my entire life? How can it be harder to leave a place where things don't work all that well for a place where everything works? What could possibly be so difficult about going back to America where everyone will understand me when I speak and where I can eat tacos and drink Starbucks with reckless abandon? Not to mention being closer to family and friends.  Side note, what is wrong with me that I listed tacos before mentioning family and friends? 

When we arrived in South Africa, our relocation agent gave us a book called "Living in South Africa." Of course I never actually READ this book, but the point is there WAS A BOOK about newly arrived expat adjustment. So where is the handbook that details best practises for expats trying to depart a place gracefully? Because I have a lot of questions. 

Some of the questions are trivial, yet real. How will I survive without the constant sunshine, palm trees and smiling security guards who greet me every morning and then ask me to buy them a 2 litre Coke and loaf of bread? How will I manage without my clean house and my perfectly ironed and folded clothes made so by the world's kindest and sweetest person? What about the kids that I teach? Will they forget about me after five minutes (answer is yes being that they are eight years old.) Most importantly, how am I supposed to say goodbye to all the people here who I love...my second family, some of whom, if I'm being honest with myself, I may never see again. 

Mr. Deep has gone already. He is in Geneva working on a project for the next few months. While I am here alone for what simultaneously feels like forever and not nearly long enough, he was "ripped out of here."  Maybe that was the way to go? To leave quickly. Maybe I should have gone with him? Maybe I should have insisted on being an excellent wife and standing by my man, literally. I wonder what the non-existent expat departure handbook would have suggested I do?

I have watched other expat friends leave over the years. Some were life long expats and some were not. All were very stoic and said things like, "here's to the next adventure" which leads me to wonder, is that how they really felt? Maybe they were ready to leave and could barely contain their excitement? Maybe South Africa was getting to them and they were tired of trying to find spare change every minute for car guards, constantly sitting in traffic because of broken traffic lights, and having to visit three stores each time they wanted to buy kale? Or maybe it was breaking their hearts to leave and in the privacy of their own homes they cried a lot and got drunk every night under the guise of having to drink all of their South African wine before the movers arrived? It's hard to know. 

The thing about expat life is when it's time to go it's time go whether you want to or not and conversely for some who wish to leave it's not time to go and they have to stay. This is what we all signed on for. I guess if there were an expat departure handbook, that is what it would say. It would be a very short book. 







9 comments:

  1. I am thinking about moving to SA, Jozi in particular. Would love to pick your brain, if possible? I would be moving from Houston, and hopefully within the next year and a half .

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    1. Hello, absolutely I would be happy to chat with you about this. If you like, please email me at mythoughtsfromthedeepend@gmail.com and we can set up a time to chat via FaceTime. :)

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    2. May I also email you?? I am in Joburg now as an American expat and finding it hard to adjust.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your experience of South Africa. I am South African and enjoyed reading your blog. I spent 2 years in the US and when it came time to move back to SA, I had similar feelings that you have now. After a bit of reverse culture shock, I am happy to say that I am loving being back home - sunny days, family, friends etc. I am sure you will be just fine. All the best for your next adventure :-)

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    1. It's wonderful to hear from people who understand the situation. I'm glad you're loving being back home in South Africa and yes, I'm sure I'll adjust to being back in the US as well. Thanks so much for reading my blog. I'm glad you have enjoyed it and I hope to continue writing it.

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  3. Sorry just now catching up on my inbox and all the blog posts I've missed. This breaks my heart! And it so reflects how I felt that time we were told we'd be leaving about 4 years ago, or maybe 5. It's been a while. But we all still long for South Africa. You've captured it so well. Our life no is so easy and everything works, but where are the people who invite us into their homes for a glass of wine every time we pick up a child at their house? Where are the smiling security guards? The street vendors? Looking back at our journey, I know that you'll be fine. But it won't be easy. You are right in that it'll be harder to go back than to leave America. One remedy: Making plans for your next Africa trip soon:-)

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    1. I knew you'd understand. It's very hard to leave. I have accepted it though as Christine says "there is nothing we can do." And she's right.

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  4. Oh I feel your pain! We are also about to leave (Pretoria) after two years, I have one month left. Many would have already gone by now, out at the first opportunity as soon as the school broke up. But why on earth would I do that when I can have another month of sunshine and wine and smiles and all the other things you describe (even if it is a little lonely with most of my friends away and those who are still here are the working ones)? But I have left many other countries and I have never felt so sad to go. In fact I think this is the first time I have ever really, really not wanted to leave. Two years definitely is not enough. There are still so many places I want to go and things I just didn't get time to do. I tell you what thoug, I will be back!

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    1. Oh Clara you and I are exactly on the same page. I feel like even though staying seemed like the right thing to do now I am wondering if it is just extending the pain of leaving and also it is lonely with my husband already gone. This country gets under your skin that's for sure. I'm so glad to have had the chance to live here. Best wishes to you in your new home and thanks for reading my blog. It's lovely to hear from people who love this country as much as I do.

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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 moved from the U.S. to South Africa for three years. We moved due to an exciting opportunity my husband had with his job. Second, I won't be working anymore. I'm actually not allowed to work so that will be different given that for the past twenty years I've been somewhat of a workaholic. I'm excited to share our adventures with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.