I’ve been in Pretoria for six months. Six months and four days, to be precise. I didn’t actually notice on the day we reached our six-month milestone – we are so busy and wrapped up in our life here, it passed me by completely. Which has to be a good thing! No-one’s first half year in a new country is all sweetness and light, and I have had my fair share of downs as well as ups. On the whole though, I think I have got off pretty lightly in the “difficult first six months” department, certainly compared to other places I have lived.
Looking back, it seems incredible that only six short months ago I felt like the helpless toddler that I described in this post – Starting expat life: feeling like a child again.
Or even the pre-teen I was when I wrote this post, three months later: How far I have come.
But am I an adult yet? Well, perhaps not quite – but I certainly feel like someone who knows their way around, is comfortable negotiating daily life here and even feels ready to give advice to newcomers. And so, to mark my six months anniversary in Pretoria, here is a list of some of the things I have learned so far from our time in South Africa:
- You can get used to living with a high level of personal security. I don’t really think twice now about all the keys, padlocks and bolts we have to open and close to get in or out of the house. I automatically lock my car doors every time I drive anywhere. I am always aware of who is around me, and if a car is acting suspiciously on the road behind me. I never have my handbag open, I put money away when I get it out from the ATM before walking away. You do have to live in a sort of state of high alert all the time, but it doesn’t ruin your life. Having said that, one of the things I am most looking forward to when I return to the UK for a holiday is walking out of my front door at night, simply closing it behind me, and walking….
- A GPS is a damn fine thing – it brings you freedom in a way no map can. Up until now I have eschewed these relatively new items of technology: early experiences with one back home in the UK when they were still called SatNav’s were not good: they fell off the window; you could never get a signal; they took you down ridiculously narrow roads leading nowhere. But here they have been a revelation – allowing me to go anywhere I wish, knowing that not only will “James”, “Kate” or “Sarena” get me there, but they will help guide me home too. I love my GPS so much I even wrote a whole post about it.
- Culture shock comes in many guises. I think I have suffered more from the differences in the school community we are now part of than in the differences of South Africa itself. The school is an American international school so we are having to learn about a whole new curriculum and a whole new way of doing things. Many of the frustrations I have felt since arriving here have been directed at the school. That isn’t to say I haven’t felt culture shock in other ways and places, but perhaps this was the least expected. I’m not sure yet where I am in the culture shock “cycle” with the school but I would guess somewhere between negotiation and adjustment..
- South African politics and race relations has to be one of the most complicated in the world. You think you know a place….and then you move there. We all followed what was going on here durning the Mandela years, followed his release from prison, the election that brought him to power….and then so many of us stopped watching. I think we thought it was all resolved and everyone would live happily ever after. Of course, something like Apartheid is going to leave a massive legacy that is going to take decades, if not centuries, to unravel. There are problems on all sides of the political spectrum and underlying everything is the question of race. Never have I felt so aware of my skin colour on an ongoing, daily basis. As an outsider it is fascinating. But for the average South African there are difficult times ahead. I hope the “rainbow” nation holds together as when it works, it truely shows the world how things can be done.
- It doesn’t matter if you live in the most wonderful place in the world and go on the most incredible trips every few months – your children will still be children. They will still have tantrums even on safari. I know this from (bitter) personal experience.
- Living without airconditioning when it is 43 degrees isn’t much fun. Again, bitter personal experience.
- All Netflix’s are not created equal. There is Netflix UK and there is Netflix US and then there is Netflix SA. We got all excited when Netflix SA arrived and joined up to see what it was all about. On recommendation from friends, we got stuck into Narcos – which, if you haven’t seen it, is excellent. But knowing it would come to an end pretty soon I started asking around to see what other shows people would recommend. The suggestions came in thick and fast, mostly from my friends in the UK. I got all excited, thinking that for just a fiver a month we would be able to watch all sorts of fabulous shows. Only to find out that you can’t get most of them here in South Africa. Ah well, back to the drawing board it is then (luckily the local TV service DSTV actually has some pretty good shows and we are currently getting into Billions and the second series of the Leftovers).
There are, of course, many others things I have learned since living here. I know the sound of a displaying weaver bird. I recognise when a huge black cloud means hail, and when it means just rain. I understand a bit more about what happened during the Apartheid years, and why there is a whole generation here whose education was messed up. I know which shops I need to go to for cleaning products, and which for food. I even know where to get the best type of puppy food (less than four weeks now until the puppy arrives!). However, there is – of course – still a LOT that I don’t know. A HUGE amount. And so I start the second six months of our time here with lots of unanswered questions: why DOES the weaver bird keep destroying his beautifully crafted nest? Who WILL people be voting for in the next set of elections? Just how cold DOES it get in the winter here? How likely AM I to see whalesharks in Mozambique????
Yup, the next six months look like they are going to be as much fun as the first.