My husband was on a business trip last week. To the Seychelles. Yes. the Seychelles. And funnily enough, it was extended from three nights to five nights. So in the end, he was away more or less for the whole week.
It was a bit of a pain – mainly because we had parents meetings at the school on Thursday, which he hoped to attend with me. But in all honesty, it was no more of an inconvenience than it would have been had we still been living back home in the UK.
Which made me realise quite how far I have come in the three months and 20 days since I first arrived, wide-eyed and disorientated, on the flight from London.
Back then, it seemed impossible that a time would ever come when I would understand all the locks, keys, bars, codes and fobs – let alone the alarm system – that we have to battle through to get in and out of our home on a daily basis. I would fumble for the wrong key for what seemed like eternity, getting increasingly panicked that I would be locked inside forever. I also doubted that I would ever drive further than the bottom of the road, terrified that I would get lost and never find my way back to the house. Or get hit by another car.
The mornings also seemed like something I would never get used to. Our children have to be up by 6am every day in order to be ready for the school bus that picks them up at the gates of the compound at 6.45am. This mad scramble includes forcing the youngest out of bed and into her clothes, finding something that they will both agree to eat at that time of the morning (tortilla, bread sticks, dried fruit – I don’t care, as long as they don’t walk out of the house on an empty stomach), making two packed lunches, checking they both have caps, water bottles, homework, reading books, football kit or swimming kit and musical instruments, and applying sunscreen.
A mad rush it always is, but between myself and my husband we now have the routine down pat: he does the upstairs part and gets dressed himself; I come downstairs and make the breakfasts and lunches and look after things like homework folders and swim kits. He then walks them to the end of the road (or walks with them as they run, on the frequent days when the bus is here before we are ready) and waits at the end of the road until they are picked up.
With him away, I have to be both upstairs AND downstairs person. I have to be in all places at once, and I have to get myelf dressed as I can’t be seen walking to the end of the road in my PJ’s. Although, sorry neighbours, the stripey blue and white slippers stay.
So, parenting solo, I am having to do a lot of things I really couldn’t imagine myself doing a few months ago, back when I was a “newborn” and wrote this post. But do them I do – I get the children to school on time, I cope with all the security measures surrounding the house (and haven’t even set the alarm off while being here alone!), I find my way all over town, taking myself and the children to social events in places I have never heard of.
I know where to shop for the best meat, I know where to get the peanut butter that I like (from a chemists. weirdly!) and which supermarkets sell the best fruit and veg. I have found a hairdresser, bought rugs and tables and chairs and printer cartridges and all sorts of other things I wouldn’t have had a clue where to source not that long ago. I have worked out how to tell a 200 Rand note from a 20 Rand note, I even know which coins are which. Although don’t test me on the little copper ones – I need my reading glasses for those! I have also joined a gym, put our name down for a puppy and – last but certainly not least – managed to accumulate a really great group of new friends.
It happens wthout realising, this growing up, passing from being a newborn to a toddler to where I am now – perhaps a pre-teen or even an adolescent. Confidence grows with every night alone, every car trip somewhere new, every small emergency dealt with. It also helps when you get to know a few people well enough to be able to ask them things – and have numbers in your phone that you know you can call on if you needed to.
I’m still only a youngster though as I know I have a little way to go. I still balk at going into Johannesburg on my own, or taking the one safe transport public transport system open to me (the Gautrain). I have also yet to use Uber, although many here recommend it. I haven’t yet had to deal with a REAL emergency (one that involves doctors or hospitals or getting locked out). I also haven’t opened a bank account or even got myself a Woolworths card – although they ask every time I plonk my shopping down at the check-out.
So I have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. I am growing up, learning every day and hopefully gaining confidence with each new discovery. Before I know if, we will have been there six months – and I will be welcoming new arrivals like an old hand. When you are an expat, you don’t have to have been somewhere for very long to feel like an old-timer.
But until then, I think I am going to carry on sulking, wearing black and listening to Death Rock Kill Queens – or whatever it is that teenagers listen to. After all, I’m still just a young thing.
Where are you on your expat journey – still in nappies? High school age? Or perhaps collecting your bus pass?
Photo credit: South African coins – Paul Saad