By Charlene Breytenbach

Emigration and longing go hand in hand. Everyone who has emigrated is longing for something or someone. Especially the first three years after emigration it is terrible, and for some, it is worse than for others. A nice holiday in South Africa also worsens the longing.

So, if you’re considering emigrating, it’s crucial that you think about how you are going to handle the longing. Will WhatsApp calls and messages be enough, or would you like to visit every six months? Whatever your strategy, it’s essential to budget for it. Some (very scarce) people emigrate and never want to see South Africa again, while others want to go back often to see their loved ones. I think it’s important to decide how often you want to come back for a visit so that you have reasonable expectations. It is also good to discuss these expectations with your family so that they can understand how often they will see you and your family.

For our family, it is important to see our South African family and friends every eighteen months. I simply cannot endure more than that. This timeframe also allows us opportunities for other holidays, time for our family in New Zealand and to save enough money for another trip to South Africa.

We were lucky enough to visit South Africa in June, and I would like to share my experience with you.

Of course, the holiday was filled with love, fun and excitement. The highlight for me was the South African hospitality and service – from the petrol attendant to the waiters in Wimpy or Spur who serve you with delicious meals while your kids can play and rave to their hearts’ content. In Australia, we must help ourselves to petrol. And at most affordable eateries, one needs to help yourself; if there is table service, it is very basic. Our eateries also don’t really cater for children; they must keep themselves busy with an iPad at the table, which means meals are quickly over and done with. I also found South Africans very accommodating. For example, at both of our accommodation options, we could leave a little later than prescribed by the rules. In Australia, rules are rules.

Regardless of their circumstances, South Africans are very hospitable and friendly. I visited South Africa to partake in the Comrades and was looking for a group with whom I could train. My cousin brought me into contact with his training group. I just showed up and everybody talked to me, gave me advice and encouraged me. And bought me a coffee at Wimpy! It is wonderful to be treated like this. Of course, our family and friends also went overboard! Everywhere, the tables were loaded with just the best South African food and drinks! Delicious vetkoek, milk tart, biltong, red wine, Woolworths treats, and so on and so on.

Unfortunately, there is also a part of our holiday that cannot go unnoticed. The longer we live abroad, the harder it is to adjust when we visit again. When you arrive, you suddenly must be aware of every move your child makes and take care of all your belongings. If you quickly want to go to Spar, you must lock up the house and switch on the alarm. At the store, you must lock up the car again and make sure nothing unusual is taking place around you. You must pay your car guard before you can return home, where you must switch off alarms again before you can enter the house. We are so happy where we live in Australia: We barely close our front door and my husband hardly ever locks the Amarok in front of the house. Maybe we are a little indifferent and happy in the area where we live, but so far, we have not suffered any damage, and we do not need car guards either.

It makes me think of one evening during our holiday. We had to drive to a friend to fetch something. It was already dark, and as we were driving over a 4-way stop, I noticed a motorcycle behind us. I saw that it followed us and when we stopped at our friends’, the bike stopped next to me. I saw a man with a bandana over his mouth and yelled to my husband: “Let’s leave! Go quickly! Something’s not right here.” We left hastily and decided to drive around the block. When we drove past them again, we saw my friend and her husband next to the man on the bike, who was handing them a big bag of delicious KFC! Then we could laugh for being so silly. We didn’t even know KFC was being delivered in South Africa.

The other sad reality is the daily news. For us, it was too much. While we were driving to the beach one day, we listened to a story about a farm murder. A lot of information was given about a specific attack in 2018. The news saddened my father and mother, but my husband was so shocked that he asked me to switch off the radio. He couldn’t endure listening to the realities. It saddens us so much to hear how horrific the attacks are and how big the impact is on our farming community. In Australia, one is not confronted with these realities, but if you visit South Africa, you cannot escape it.

My family are all part of WhatsApp groups and share news about the incidents in their area every day. The night we arrived, there was a hijacking 10 minutes from my brother’s home. My parents also received a warning about new hijacking methods in their area. Children know what to do in case of burglary or hijacking. Our Aussiekaners have no idea what to do if we were to be overtaken unexpectedly, and it made one feel nervous. And of course, I can’t help but recall the Proteas’ disappointing performance at the World Cup!

Despite everything, my heart does not feel so full and warm anywhere else in the world. The Comrades were incredible! If only all South Africans could live in the spirit of the Comrades every day … On 9 June, we were all equal. We all tackled the humps, lost and created courage, helped and carried each other. People who didn’t know me shouted my name and offered me food, water and even brandy and Coke. So many were watching those last few minutes on TV, and I saw and felt the prayers and compassion for each athlete every moment. I will never forget it.

In South Africa, I feel accepted and loved. When we visit South Africa, it’s like we’ve never been away. Suddenly my daughter receives love from her grandmother and grandfather, uncles, aunts and cousins every day. Even my friends’ children who have only seen her once before accepted her with unconditional love.

When I walk through passport control in Australia, my heart always feels warm, but my tears will never dry!

With every goodbye, my heart hurts a little because the time for the next visit becomes increasingly uncertain. As we unpack our bags and enjoy all the presents, we already start longing again. Suddenly, my daughter only has her friends at the day-care and receives love from only me and my husband. We drink our glass of wine in lonely silence in front of the fire, our hearts filled with longing again.

This post is also available in: Afrikaans


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