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!

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Day 5: World, meet Ubuntu.

Remember I warned you about truly atrocious pictures?  Well, today you get to experience them for yourself!  Lucky you!  No, really, please excuse the quality – I only had my phone but I really wanted to capture the moment.WP_20150513_001

Today’s post is all about a little thing called Ubuntu.  The theory of this philosophy is taught to us all in school, but the further I get away from the school, the more I realise that I understood nothing at school – I’m only putting pieces together as I live and learn from life.  Ubuntu is one of the things I clearly didn’t understand.

The thing is, when I was away from home a lot of people asked me about the xenophobia in South Africa.  A lot of people seem fairly fixated on race.  And yes, racism is a real problem.  But I think there are far more “colour-blind” people than racist.  I grew up knowing South Africa as the Rainbow Nation – a country where different people – different colours – lived together side by side.  And their co-existence was what made everything all the better.

Ubuntu says “I am because we are”.  Ubuntu is community.  Ubuntu is coming together as one and caring for each individual.  WP_20150513_002Ubuntu is love.  Ubuntu is all-inclusive. (Well, in theory at the very least)

Today I was watching my little sister’s netball match and when they scored a goal I heard cheering erupt behind me.  As it turned out the entire u9 netball group had gathered around to watch the “big girls” play.  They sat in a long line watching – little bare legs all lined up one against the other – warmed by the sun and still full of energy.  It sounds really awkward and odd, but I really like looking at all those little legs lined up.  All the different colours…

Yes, there are plenty of race problems in South Africa.  But there is also a lot of acceptance.  We like to focus on the negative because it sells more newspapers and because we people, sick as we are, are drawn to the car crashes and the burning buildings…  But truly, if you look at South Africa, you see a group of people who are astoundingly diverse, and yet working as one to try build a stronger future.  You see people who have a harsh history, but who are trying to understand one another.

You see Ubuntu.

#25daysatourist

Day 4: Autumn

I now have an editor.  Look at me being all fancy and stuff.  So if my blog posts are late or suddenly have no sense of humour – blame him!  hehe

DSCN4453ANYWAY.  Back to the point.

When I started this whole endeavour I went outside and took some photos of things I love here.  Most of the photos were of my dogs, but that’s just because they’re really cute and I get distracted too easily.  The plan was to save those pictures and use them if I really had nothing else to say. A little sad, but I say it’s better to be pathetic and have a contingency plan than rock for 5 days and then fall flat.DSCN4518

Turns out I need those pictures anyway, so it all worked out well.

The original photos were of some leaves and the autumn trees.  They’re your typical autumn pictures with the red leaves and the bare branches, but I think it’s really pretty, so I took them anyway.

Today I went outside and stood in the exact same place and it was like I had been transported!  Yes, the leaves had changed colour a little more.  Yes, the trees were a bit more bare.  Yes, there were far more leaves on the floor than before.  But it wasn’t any of that which caught my attention. I didn’t notice anything until I was about to walk back to the door,  but in that moment I turned as my dog ran past and kicked up some leaves – and it hit me!

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The smell!  There’s a certain scent to autumn that just smells magical!  It’s like this overwhelmingly lovely earthy, warm hug.  Like a blanket.  One that smells nice.

Now I have no way of knowing if Autumn smells this way anywhere else, so it’s not like I can promote it as this beautifully quintessential South African thing.  But I can tell you that I love South Africa in the autumn!  I love how the sun stays out but the air gets nippier.  I love that I (FINALLY) get to wear cute things like hats and boots.  I love the way the green lawn turns into a carpet of reds , yellows, oranges, browns, and golds.  And I love the smell!

#25daysatourist

 

Day 3: The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

I heard some time ago that South Africa has a unique kind of sunset that looks differentsunset 2 to almost all others – especially those in the Northern Hemisphere.  The reason ours seem so much more splendid is because ours have a magnificent red hue.  In fact, one of the most iconic images of South Africa is that of a tree (or giraffe or elephant…) silhouetted against a red sky and a bright yellow sun.  The reason for these lovely daily paintings in the sky?  Red dust.  We have an inordinately large amount of red dust and it floats about in the sky making our cars dirty and turning our sunsets red!

Now, I live in a city.  Johannesburg is hardly known for its vast landscapes and endless plains.  It’s more like cars, trucks, looming office buildings, and lots of pollution.  But because of the number of cars, trucks, taxis, buses… (the list goes on) we get to set in traffic for a really long time.  Especially if we travel on a highway or at peak times.

sunset 1I say “get to”… A lot of people hate traffic with a ferocity that causes cold shivers even on the hottest summer days.  But me?  Well, I’m strange.  I like the anonymity of traffic.  It means I get to sing and dance and say hello to total strangers, and then never see them again.  Many a soundtrack has been memorised in my car while waiting for the traffic.  But there’s another great advantage to sitting in traffic – one that I managed to capture today.  Not very well, mind you (hey, I warned you I’m a terrible photographer), but capture it I did.DSCN4507

And this is where we get back to sunsets.

Rays that shoot across the sky in seemingly endless beams.  Yellows and pinks and blues and purples and oranges – colours that would look ridiculous together on a painting but somehow look incredible in the sky!  Silver lined navy clouds that hint at a cooler night, juxtaposed against white clouds that still have the sun DSCN4511spotlighting them in the great show that is the sunset.

Sitting in traffic tonight for 45 minutes meant a free 45 minute show of one of the greatest spectacles in the world.  With a repeat performance every night!

I realise that this series is supposed to be about South Africa and touristing.  But I’m quickly realising that it’s simply impossible to see the beauty of this country and not recognise the creator.  No one could choreograph anything as grand as the movement of the clouds.  No one could paint anything as breath-taking as the sunsets seen each dusk.  No one but my Lord.

The heavens declare the glory of God.

And here in Jozi, I get to see God’s handiwork in all its spectacular glory every single day!  If that’s not a reason to visit this place, what is?DSCN4509

Day 3 and I’m learning to love my country a lot more than I ever did before.

#25daysatourist

 

Day 1: Some QUALITY Service

Meet Stanley.DSCN4486  Stanley did something extraordinary today and as my hero for the day, he has made it onto my blog.

Today, Stanley brought me a bag.

Now bringing a bag doesn’t sound like anything too impressive – but let me give you a little more background:

I arrived back in South Africa three days ago and after waiting for what felt like hours for my bags to make it around the carousel, I realised that those bags were not coming…  That’s right!  I got the gift all plane passengers wish they could receive – the gift of not having to lug 40kg home with them after a long flight.

Ok, maybe making lost luggage sound like a good thing is a little too much of a stretch.

But this great catastrophe in my life (as I perceived it – just think: no hair straightener, no facecloth, no slippers) turned out to be a great introduction to some of the great people of this Nation.

Since the moment I informed the people at OR Tambo International Airport that my bags were missing, I have been impressed.  From phone-calls about the progress, to friendly smiles at delivery.  Each person I have interacted with has been compassionate, patient, polite, and friendly.  When I came frustrated and exhausted, the people who assisted me offered understanding, and considerate and fast service.

Tonight I received my second and final piece of luggage.  It arrived at the hands of Stanley, who drove his own car, and had his wife and daughter with him.  He arrived at eight o’clock on a Sunday night.  Never before have I known such dedicated service – and it came with a smile!

I have heard before that the people of South Africa are some of the friendliest in the world.  Today I witnessed first-hand the sincerity, dedication, and friendliness of one of South Africa’s finest.

Today, thanks to Stanley, I am proud to be South African. Today, I am a very happy tourist!

#25daysatourist

Beautiful Savagery

Had you asked me last week where Craddock is, I would have told you it wasbeautiful savagery 1 somewhere along the coast of South Africa.  Most likely in Cape Town.  I would have told you Colesburg was near Kimberly, Port Elizabeth was near Cape Town, and there is no way that a place is actually called Daggaboer (for the rest of you, translated, that means weed-farmer)!  Basically, my South African geography – considering I grew up here – is atrocious.  Clearly, my understanding of South African terrain and fauna is equally horrendous…

A few days ago we did the long-haul drive from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. To be completely honest, I slept through half of it… but I was absolutely astounded by two things: first, how little I know of my own country’s geography, and second, how vast an expanse the African plains are.  I was agog at the immensity of the plains – or shall I say veld – that we drove past!  Land that just goes on for hours – untouched and raw with African savagery.

The thing about Africa, you must understand, is that nothing is really pretty.  Beautiful, yes!  But not pretty.  Everything has an almost harsh undertone that stands out.  There is a predatory feel to the most innocuous of areas.  There is a beautiful savagery to the plains, forests, and ocean.  Here, in this diverse and sprawling country, everything is a wonder – and everything harbours the potential to destroy.

The ocean has a majesty that takes the breath from your lungs, throws it to the wind and then twists your heart with it as it spirals in awesome abandon.  It begs you to grasp it, to embrace it, to revel in it.  Yet it is a fearsome foe to those who don’t exercise caution.  We don’t even know half of what lurks in the ocean depths, but we know that there is danger.  And plenty of it.

Each day most of South Africa wakes up to smile at the sun and marvel at the blue skies.  And yet each day has the potential to burn, to bring cancer, to scorch plants, to devastate lands. It is a beautiful savagery.

beautiful savagery 3It makes me wonder at God.  I know God to be majestic.  I know He is beautiful and splendid and marvellous.  But I also know God to be mighty and strong, He is an “all-consuming fire”.  This is the God that I serve.

People always say that in the midst of untouched nature, they find a brighter glimpse of God.  Yesterday as we drove, that is what I felt.  Today, as I looked down the embankment at the sea, I felt it again.  The danger in the splendour and the savagery in the beauty that was made so clear to me in nature, is the same wonder that is found in their creator.

When last did we stand in awe of His beauty, or fall to our knees and beg mercy from His wrath?  Maybe it’s time we rethink our perspectives and give God the awe and respect we’re so willing to give to the wilderness of the African landscape.