Brick walls, culs-de-sac and closed minds

I can’t say I am sad to see the back of 2012.

One absolutely mind-blowingly amazing thing happened – I gave birth to the most gorgeous little girl in the world (and I am not at all biased, of course).

Other than that, however, and even in part due to that, it was a very difficult year – stressful, tiring, challenging, demanding…all those sorts of words. And at times heart-breaking.

Why? Well, a few reasons – some of which were simply the unsurprising results of being a new mum: adjustments in my own selfish little world, and my marriage (reasonably new, at 2 years); sleep deprivation; various anxieties (big and small) about whether I was doing the right thing; and often feelings of isolation and loneliness (despite having a loving, involved husband to share the journey with).

But we also packed up our lives of over 3 years in Cape Town, South Africa, to move back to Australia, via 3 months in New Zealand. With four animals and all the logistics that involved (quarantine arrangements, import permits, freight companies, millions of vet visits, etc.). With the aforementioned sleep deprivation. With the little whirlwind that was a newly crawling bubs, unpacking everything as fast as I tried to pack it… With numerous frustrations along the way, involving bureaucracy, estate agents and other modern day evils...

And with the completely predictable doubts and sadnesses one feels when deciding to leave the ‘mother’ country… As well as (here’s the really heart-breaking bit) the gnawing feeling that all many people hate you for ‘voting with your feet’ and leaving the country they feel you should have more loyalty and love for – even if it has become an environment so fraught with political and social issues that its hard to understand what one is being judged for, other than being willing and able to ‘seize the day’ elsewhere...

The decision to move countries is never an easy one – there are always trade-offs, nowhere is perfect, and ‘the comfort zone’ (or even just ‘the known’) is always more attractive than change. But in the case of South Africa, there is also a disproportionate and completely unfathomable amount of judgement and guilt-tripping that is experienced by ‘those who have left’. People’s responses usually contain implications (or overt accusations) of racism, of pessimism, of shallowness, of selfishness, of short-sightedness, and my favourite always: a lack of patriotism (what a quaint, 20th century word – terribly useless and even dangerous in today’s world).

Discussing or deciding to leave South Africa always feels like one of those ‘don’t drink the kool-aid’ moments to me. Part of me wants to say ‘so sorry, I just can’t see myself fitting in here anymore - it's probably just me’, while another wants to shout ‘for goodness sake, don’t take it so personally!’ People move countries all the time. This is the 21st century. The fact that we live in a globalised world, with physical and cultural lines completely blurred, and information/ communication networks making distance or location almost meaningless ‘these days’… is so well-known and accepted that it is actually boring to have to say it.

I don’t see myself as South African (nor Australian). My reasons for leaving the country of my birth (again) are many, complex, personal…and tangled in an emotional ball in my stomach that makes it hard to even discuss. With anyone. Even my beloved husband and I have very different ways of explaining or justifying this move. And that’s okay. It’s allowed.

We are all allowed to have different parameters for happiness and security… Different places meet our needs and hopes in wildly different ways. How boring a world if this were not so. And how overcrowded would be that one place everyone wanted to live in.

My experience of South Africa in the last 3 years or so was unfortunately not the sort of place I want to live in anymore. I don’t feel ‘at home’, or as if I ‘belong’ anymore. In fact, I now doubt I ever did really ‘belong’ there, upon re-examining many of my memories of childhood and early adulthood spent unintentionally clashing with the opinions and practices of those I was surrounded by. 

This was clearly summed up for me in the unquestioned and oft-repeated assumption that being South African is about 'braaivleis and rugby' - even the so-called 'heritage' day is now commonly referred to as 'National braai day' (a 'braai' being a barbecue). Well, I don't eat red meat, for ethical reasons mostly based on sustainability; and I can't understand how a bunch of men chasing a ball around the field can be turned into something of a religious experience!

There is a fundamental ‘disconnect’ (a favourite word of peace studies lecturers and writers!) between the mainstream culture of the country today, and my own – both my unconsciously acquired heritage or childhood foundations, the expectations that are the result of my ‘socialisation’; and the intentionally ‘created’ culture I want to live in (as adults, we can choose and modify our cultural inheritance in many ways – through our studies, chosen circles of friends and travels, for example).

Since I only have one life, I see no reason to spend it in a place where I don’t feel connected, understood or valued as an equally legitimate member of the society to those of other political, social, intellectual, racial or ethnic groups. More importantly, my daughter has only one life, and I intend to give her a future filled with hope: basic personal security and freedoms, as many opportunities as possible, and a foundational belief in gender equity!

Whereas in South Africa, personally and professionally, all I experienced on every level, at every turn, were culs-de-sac, brick walls and closed minds.

So, looking forward to 2013 and OPEN DOORS, OPEN MINDS and NEW STARTS!!!


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