Winter in South Africa

It feels weird seeing all the posts from my home in the northern hemisphere about their summer. Apparently there has been a heat wave – cue multiple pictures of kids in paddling pools and moany posts about not being able to sleep at night. I gather they even cancelled sports day at our old primary school due to the heat!

But here in South Africa it is, of course, mid-winter.

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But what does winter actually mean on this part of the continent? Well, it means that we are shivering at night but still enjoying the bountiful sunshine in the day. It means no rain, dry air,  but a temperature cool enough to walik, run, cycle, play tennis or whatever other exercise takes your fancy at any time of the day rather than just in the early mornings.  If only the houses were better insulated and heated this would be a near perfect weather!

Outside, the trees are bare against the sky, which makes it all the easier to see the noisy mousebirds that seem to gather at this time of the year – maybe they feel a need to huddle together as the temperatures drop. But although lack of rain means the grass is mostly brown and there are more leaves on the ground than on the trees, flowers miraculaously still bloom.

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As I walk my dog in the mornings, I notice workers on their way to their daily jobs bundled up against the weather. My own children – hardened by living through northern European winters – might still be wearing t-shirts and shorts, but most of the locals have resorted to hats and gloves. I also notice the occasional blanket accessory – one of the quirks of local culture that I love.

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As the sun drops the air immediately chills and even we Brits retreat indoors to build a fire and wrap outselves in blankets on the sofa. It’s a beautiful time of the year but I am grateful it only lasts for a couple of months.

We need to talk about dog poo

This morning as I dragged Cooper around the block on his lead (he can be very obstinate when he wants to go in a different direction to you!), I thought about how hard it is to clear up your dog’s poo when there are so few bins on the street. One, on my usual walk, to be precise. And as night follows day, Cooper will always, ALWAYS, do his business after we have passed that lone receptacle. Nevertheless, I dutifully bag up his offering and carry it round with me until we either get back to said bin or reach home. After all, I’m a Brit: it’s what we do.

The dog park we frequent is another matter: bins dotted about everywhere, each one close to the main path, ready and waiting for the deposits. But sadly, even this doesn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference: the park is littered with dog turds of all shapes, sizes, colours and smells. It is particularly bad at the moment, thanks to there having been no proper rain for months. But it’s not the lack of rain that is putting the poo there in the first place: it’s the local population who simply don’t have a culture of picking it up. And yes, it is pretty revolting.

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So why do I feel the need to share this story with you? After all, who wants to read about dog crap when you could be reading about sunsets and cocktails?

Well, mostly because this is exactly one of those small (but not insignificant) things that can trip you up as a new expat somewhere, one of the culture shock traps perhaps no-one will tell you about and you yourself won’t even have thought about until you move. One little thing like this on its own may not be a problem, but lots of little things added together can be. Especially if they happen slowly, one at a time, drip fed into your psyche until one day you reach your limit and you blow – without really understanding why.

Half way through writing this post I downed tools and walked to our local shopping mall to pick up a bit of food shopping. As I did so, I thought about what other little things were “different” from what I would be used to back home. Not better, not worse, but different. There were loads – the way people cross roads, the way people drive, the type of food available in the shops, the etiquette at the check-out tills in the supermarket, the types of childrens clothes for sale, the rubbish on the street…..after you have been here for a while, you get used to it all but when you start looking at it through a newcomers eyes it reminds you again what it is like to have to adjust to a totally different culture. The trips and the traps are everywhere.

But back to the dog poo. One of my newly arrived friends here (she will know who she is if she is reading this!) stated the other day that she wanted to start a campaign to clear up the dog mess in the park. It’s a great idea and I’m behind her but really, even if successful, it would be a drop in the ocean (or in the mounds of poo). Ultimately, as expats, we might be able to make small differences to our immediate surroundings but we can’t control the wider world we live in. So in the end we just need to get used to it, go with the flow, embrace the differences – or, at least, live with them.

So next time you go out for a walk and find yourself stepping around or over a bit of dog crap on the floor stop and think. Does it bother me? Did I even notice it? Am I even letting my own dog do his business and leaving it on the path? All of these things will help guide you as to which part of the culture shock cycle you have reached. And if it’s the latter, if you are so comfortable in your surroundings you’re at the “living like a local” stage then congratulations! Hopefully this means you have fully intergrated and can now enjoy your expat life to the full.

So this is the time to start encouraging your nieghbours to pick up their dog crap. Good luck!

 

Photo credit: Phil Thirkell

 

Soak it in while you can for soon it will all be mundane

So nine months into our time here in South Africa and something occurred to me today. As I was taking our now pretty lively puppy Cooper for a walk, a flock of startled mousebirds flew out of a tree. I love mousebirds, they have cute tails and make a funny noise and I was reminiscing about our observations of these birds when we first arrived in Pretoria. It was nostalgic. Ahh, the early days, I thought. I miss them.

And then I realised that so much time has now passed since our arrival that things aren’t new or exciting any more. Life has basically returned to being mundane.

It isn’t really of course – see my recent post about a holiday in Mauritius. Plus how could life POSSIBLY be mundane with a four month old Miniature Schnauzer in the house whose main mission in life is to steal our laundry.

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But what has happened is that I have been through the expat cycle to the point where life here has become normal. It is hectic, a constant round of swimming and horseriding and sleepovers and play-dates. When I am not working or writing blogs I am booking flights, hotels and car hire (there is a LOT of that here), running to the shops, trying to top up my phone AGAIN, chasing some workman or another, attempting to register to vote in the UK elections, taking the dog to the vet, filling out a school form….you get the idea, it’s a normal, busy family life. That happens to be in South Africa now and not a town in the west of England.

So how does this make me feel? In a way a little sad as I loved the early days when every bird was interesting, seeing the zebras on the way to horseriding was something to put on Facebook. Eating out was always a treat, discovering new coffee shops and trying new wines was something that made me happy. It still does, but these things happen less often and aren’t quite so unique. As I am sure happens with everyone, eventually your new expat life returns to some form of normality and in my case seems even busier than it used to be (possibly thanks to the addition of lively puppy).

My message thus to new expats is to enjoy it, soak it up, because before long it won’t seem special or new or exciting any more. But with a word of caution – just like those annoying people who tell you to enjoy every second of your new baby because before you know it they will be all grown up, this advice probably isn’t terribly welcome if you are struggling in your new home. So to these people I would say just wait, get through this bit, perhaps try and find something interesting or new or even just different as often as you can and make a note of it. It may not mean much now, it might not bring any light into your life. But when you are ready it or they will be there waiting.

Just like my mousebirds in the tree.

My Expat Family

Completely gratuitous new puppy post

So this post has nothing to do with being an expat partner or really to do with being an expat – apart from it is the final chapter in the story that started way back when we promised our daughter’s we would get them a dog when they were uspset we were moving to South Africa. And that getting a dog seems to be a very common thing to do here in Pretoria – maybe something to do with the ease of having constant access to the outside, good weather and a bit of peace of mind that it may bark when someone tries to break into your home (but don’t get too excited about this, when you see my pictures you will realise that my little one is hardly going to be much of a threat to anything bigger than a beetle).

Oh and also that my next post on expat depression going out later this week does mention getting a dog as one self-help method  to make yourself feel better.

Anyway apart from that this is really just a post to introduce you to Cooper, our nine-week old miniature schnauzer puppy who joined the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide household last week.

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An absolute charmer, Cooper has already wheedled his way into our hearts with his cuteness, bounciness and teddybear fur. He also has impecable manners and apart from one accident has done all his business outside and sleeps all night without a murmer. I know this breed is recommended for its family-friendliness and we certainly have not been disappointed – he is brilliant with the children and apart from the usual puppy propensity to chew and nip, plus a bit of a gas problem as he gets used to new food, I can’t fault him.

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Of course with new puppy comes new responsibility and as a first-time dog owner I am still getting used to having another little-one to think about. He is about one million times easier than either of my babies ever were but I still need to make sure he is fed, watered, taken outside, played with, trained, kept healthy, groomed every six weeks or so…and travel now becomes slightly more complicated as we have to ensure he is always booked in to kennels well in advance of any trip we make (until the time he will be old enough to take on some of the holidays with us). Plus in a couple of years time we will have to go through the rigmarole of getting him back home to England (thank goodness quarantine between South Africa and the UK is now a thing of the past).

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In the end though, I have a feeling it will all be worth it!

Do you have an expat dog? Please tell me about him or her in the comments section – including whether you moved them from another country and if so how the move went.

My Expat Family

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