The Things They Never Told Me I Would Miss About SA

It’s been seven months and five days since I bade a (proudly, only slightly) tearful goodbye to my family on an cloudy Spring day in Johannesburg and climbed aboard a plane to set off on my biggest adventure yet in the even cloudier Liverpool.  I had been warned, naturally, of all the things I would miss – both the obvious (family and friends) and the obscure (basically just a list of things from Cape Town that I can’t possibly miss because I’ve spent less than 0.2% of my life in Cape Town (Is it sad that I went and worked that out?))  I was told in no uncertain terms that I would miss the sun and spiral into deep depression caused by the extreme vitamin D deficiency.  I was assured that I would never make it without the “bigger sky”. I was promised that I would simply perish without delicacies like boerewors, biltong, and rooibos.

Well, quite frankly, we’ve had sun about 50% of the time, the sky is (shock horror) exactly the same size, and though I do admittedly miss my red cappuccinos, I can’t say that biltong or boerewors have been missed.  I can also pick up rooibos at my local Tesco…

But in all the lists that have been published online, and in all the diatribes I endured before leaving SA, there were a few things that were never mentioned.

(There should have been pics, but I’m battling with uploads.  I’ll add them at a later date if I can)

1. They Never Told Me I Would Miss My Accent

“But you live in England – home of the sexy, sophisticated accent!” I hear you cry in indignation.  And to that I say: what, the 15 remaining posh Brits who still live in castles?  I worked in Warrington for a month, and let me tell  you, they open their mouths and it’s the rednecks of the North West of England!

The strange things is that I still mock South African accents.  Suzelle is still funny to me BECAUSE of her accent.  Our diversity of accents, interspersed with those gorgeous bits of vernacular (eina, eish, jol, kip, lekker…), is an ongoing inside joke.  One that I sorely miss.  I find myself making conversation with random strangers in the bus (a massive taboo) simply because I hear a South African accent or a snippet of Zulu.

2. I Was Not Warned I Would Miss The Mayhem

Plenty of people said I would be glad to get away from it.  Never did I dream that I would write a blog stating how I missed it.

Never has the term “first world problems” meant more to me! Here in a genuinely first world country I can say that people just don’t get it!  Priorities are SO warped here.

The absolute chaos that is so frequently the hallmark of South Africa means that we have, for the most part, developed an amazing sense of humour and an absolutely ridiculous level of tenacity.

When I first arrived here, I went to the doctor.  After sitting patiently in the waiting room for about 5 minutes I heard the lady behind me loudly complain that she had waited an “unacceptable” 20 minutes.  To put this in perspective: we were in a spotless, warm, walk-in clinic, with pleasant, knowledgeable staff, preparing to see a fully qualified doctor who would give us a consultation for FREE!

In that instant, I understood South African humour.

Back in SA, my mom headed to Home Affairs.  After waiting a good 2 hours to get to the front, she celebrated rather than complained and the others in the queue cheered!  It was like she had won something!  Comradery and cheer seem to be built upon our chaos.

3. I Was Never Prepared For The Sayings That Wouldn’t Unstick

Everyone wants to be in on the joke.  All jokes.  If I say “Even me!” nearly anywhere in SA, people will understand my reference.  Here in England I just sound as though I’ve forgotten how to use the English language.  And as odd as it sounds, I find I miss quoting Trevor Noah (Vernacular as Dracula’s sidekick needs to go global.  That bit was too brilliant to be confined to SA!) and I miss the 23 years of phrases and thoughts and idiosyncrasies that have become ingrained.  Silly comments about taking a shower, the last dictator standing, “met eish, ja, met eish”… These things don’t get rid of themselves.

As a side note: it was bad enough learning SA polititcs!  I finally got the important stuff to stick and now I have to learn it all over again. Why is there a political party called “The Green Party”? I walked past their offices and genuinely thought it was an events company or something.  How I long for the day when I can turn on the TV and watch a live comedy and actually understand the references – to celebs, politicians, geographical stigmas…

4. I Missed The Warnings On Missing The Wildlife

Now I can’t take full credit for this one as most lists do mention the fauna and flora which flourish across the brilliantly diverse SA.  But what they would do here is launch into statistics and facts about the variety of species and biodiversity and all that boring stuff you learn at school.  I understood that I was leaving all that. That never bothered me…

Until I realised the implications

I walk everywhere here and have been able to see a large amount of Liverpool and while the lush, verdant fields and parks leave me with no hankering after flora, the limited number of birds (BIRDS of all things! I ask you!) made me miss home.  Where here I see pigeons, seagulls, robins, and crows, my view from my window in SA was full of hoopoes, doves, weavers, sparrows, wagtails, starlings, thrushes, hadedas, even the occasional heron, kingfisher, and hammerkop!  I miss the birdsong and the chatter and tiny movement in the trees and bushes. My experience of “wildlife” is so far removed from anything the native here have experienced.

5. They Didn’t Explain How Important Experience Is

This is the last one, but possibly the most important as it potentially encompasses all the other points.

I’ve lost count of the conversations which include the exchange of “I grew up in SA, remember”, “Oh yeah! Of course!”

From armed robbers running through the garden, to walking with elephants, and from picking up starfish in the rockpools in PE and Durban, to knowing a variety of phrases in various languages, I have a life experience so foreign to the people here that I may as well be a new species.  I can’t talk school without explaining IEB vs GDE. I can’t talk animal education without a brief description of the various parks and animals. I never realised how my experience as a South African child shaped who I am.  Even the fact that we had a garden, that we had swimming at school for half the year, and that I remember being taught to track and identify various buck, sets me apart from the people here.


And though this post is already longer than I intended, I must say one more thing.

Even though I love England and plan to stay here and make my life and home here, I am indebted to my SA for the person I am today.  The more time I spend away, the more I respect the people and appreciate the place.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika!