Last week I had to say goodbye again. My current role means I have to often move between nursery schools across the country. For the last five weeks I helped with rounding off a nursery school in Palmerston North in preparation for a visit from the Education Review Office, New Zealand’s “school inspectors”.
In gratitude of my work, I received the most beautiful Africa laser-cut artwork with a poem by Bridget Dore written on it. The poem, Africa smiled a little when you left, is dedicated to Madiba.
My cousin and his young family emigrated to New Zealand three months ago, and the past weekend we were in terrible need of vitamin F (for “family”). They came to visit us in Palmerston North, and one of the first things he asked was: “How are we going to watch rugby, and who do you support?” For the first time in 16 years I said, without thinking: “The All Blacks.” And immediately I thought: Have I officially become a Kiwi? Do I no longer identify myself as a South African? Even though I have a New Zealand passport, but that doesn’t mean that I should now identify as a New Zealander, does it? If anyone were to have asked where I came from, I would have answered without a second thought that I was from Palmerston North, and no longer from South Africa as I always had.
I therefore “supported” the All Blacks during every match, but every time the Springboks scored, I shouted and clapped just as loudly. Now I wonder … Did I really support the All Blacks?
The Friday after the match I received my gift, and upon reading the poem I burst into tears, because – just as the poem says – Africa is always in me; it’s in my head, its rivers flow through my finger prints, the drums pulse through me, the coastal lines forms the silhouette of spirit.
My cousin’s wife asked: “When will I feel that this now my home? When will I again feel as if I belong?”
I could not give her a definitive answer. After 16 years I still wonder if I belong here 100%. There are days when I feel that New Zealand is now my home; yet on other days I think, no, it will never be.
I still fancy biltong, droëwors and crumbly mealiepap. I still miss Chocolate Logs and Creme Soda. I miss the smell of fresh rain on a dirt road, and thunderstorms that are so powerful that you don’t need to switch the lights on because the lightning lights up the world around you.
I miss the fantastic swim beeches full of people who are holidaying with abandon, cooler boxes filled with sandwiches, cold drinks and chips taken with to the beach. You hit it out to beach early in the morning, claiming your piece of the beach in the sun between all the other shiny, oiled and sun-kissed bodies.
I long for the unbelievable sunsets that you only see in Africa. Nowhere hve I ever seen such sunsets. I miss being served in my own language and working in my own language.
It is a bit better now, but I struggled for quite a while with the local humour, because our senses of humour are different from those of other countries – and it takes a while to learn the slang and get used to it. You learn to say “yeah” instead of “yes” or “ja”. You say “righto” instead of “all right”; “Bob’s your uncle, I’ll shout you a meal” instead of “I’ll stick you for lunch”. I can now make jokes in English without fear of giving offence.
This is probably true for wherever you find yourself in this world. It isn’t about where you live, but with whom you live there. I have made many good friends here in New Zealand. Some also hail from South Africa; others are Pakeha (white Kiwis) and one of my best friends is Maori. I love them all dearly and each have a special place in my heart.
My children already know: My husband and I will speak Afrikaans in our home. And if the grandchildren arrive one day, we will speak to them in Afrikaans. Children-in-law will have to learn Afrikaans quickly, otherwise they will struggle in our home. Our mother tongue is Afrikaans en this is how we can be ourselves.
Will Africa ever NOT be a part of me? I don’t think so. Africa and Afrikaans is in my blood. For ever.
This post is also available in: Afrikaans