And so, the time has come….

Here we are then. The last day. I am trying to look forward and not back but it’s hard. Everywhere you go it’s like “the last time we….” walk the dog in the dog park, shop in Woolworths, take the kids to Bounce, visit the school….

But forward I must look because that is where we are heading. It has been a fantastic two years – although I have to remind myself that I didn’t always love it. When I visited our dentist the other day (the last time we visit that dentist!) he asked whether I was happy here now. I must have looked a little confused because he then admitted he had made a note from my first appointment that I wasn’t particularly enjoying my time in South Africa.

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It’s hard to pick a favourite photo of South Africa because I have so many but this one is so beautiful……

To me now, that sounds very strange but then other memories come back: getting a rush of home-sickness at the supermarket check out one day; sitting alone having an ice cream to cheer myself up because I didn’t have any friends; crying into my pillow at night because I was missing my old life so much and this new life was so different and disorientating. It is only memories of feeling unhappy that I have left rather than the unhappiness itself but I know it existed.

Time. That is all it takes. Time, some friends and a bit of routine. And a little dog called Cooper.

South Africa, Pretoria, friends that I have met here – I will miss you all. The sunshine, the wine, the braai’s, the dog walks, the lions and leopards and cheetahs, the penguins, whales and turtles, the hadedas, mouse birds and go-away birds, the mountains of the Drakensbergs, the sea of the Cape,  my helper, the school, even the bloody pizzas (there were a LOT of pizzas!).

It’s been good. See you on the other side.

x

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(Not) Going Home for Christmas

This could be my very last Christmas as an expat. Note: I don’t say my last Christmas overseas. I am sure I will still travel abroad for the holidays at some point in the future. And given my last post about the differences between migrants and expats the chances are that I may be living abroad again but very possibly not as an “expat”.

So last Christmas. How does it feel? Well in all honesty, I always think this is the one day of the year (for people who celebrate Christmas, whether that be for religious or for cultural reasons) when many of us would probably prefer to be at home. Yes, I know, that might very well mean family rows and turgid afternoons watching the Queen’s Speech and stuffing Quality Streets down our throats. But don’t we all love going home for Christmas? The comfort of routine and the warmth of familiarity.

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Th mess of Christmas past…..

Of course when I say “Christmas” personally I do only mean the actual day itself. Even just half the day would be fine. What I am perfectly happy to be missing is the never-ending build up to the big day that is now as British as red post boxes and Strictly Come Dancing on a Saturday night. Starting sometime in early October, the shops fill up with tinsel and crackers and those huge packs of chocolate bars that are apparently meant to keep the kids quiet on the morning of the 25th so you can get an extra half an hour in bed…..as the weeks go on, the background carols start to seep into your brain until you find yourself humming “Mary’s Boychild, Jesus Christ” manically as you try and track down the last Hatchimal or whatever this year’s “in” toy is. Then the supermarket aisles and car parks get more and more crazy as people start stock-piling mince pies and those biscuits and cheese sets just in case somehow they need extra food on the one day of the year when the shops don’t open…

As I happily pushed my trolley around the nearly-empty Woolworths here in Pretoria this morning, I thought of my home town and the stand-up rows people have over the last parking space in Tescos and smiled. This is the pay-back for missing the day with my family when we would drink bubbly and exchange silly secret Santa gifts and stuff ourselves on at least five different types of vegetables along with two or three different meats. It’s hard to even remember it is Christmas here – the weather is all wrong for a start (we are sweltering in a heatwave) and there just isn’t the sort of level of panic you normally associate with this time of year. I don’t have to worry about not buying everything I need for the “big day” because the shops don’t actually close at all – I found out today they would be open until 3pm on the 25th.

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A more relaxed Christmas Day: Pretoria 2015

So I will miss Christmas with the family but at the same time we are all enjoying a less-stressful holiday season than we are used to. Many people leave Pretoria at this time of year so traffic is light and shopping is pleasuable. Christmas Day will be low-key, but fun and a few days later we are doing what most people do at this time of the year: heading for the coast. And as we sit on the beach or dive in the sea I will be raising a toast to everyone recovering from post Christmas Distress Syndrome back home.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Watch out for mini-culture shock

We’ve been back in Pretoria for a couple of weeks now and I am starting to feel back on top of things. Starting. By that I don’t mean I feel settled back in at all – in fact, I really feel like I could do with about three weeks holiday to get over my holiday, now that the children are back at school…

Because, apart from all the extra work there is to catch up on, the friends I want to see, the chores that have laid abandoned since the day term broke up back in mid-June, there is also that strange feeling of disorientation which we all have to go through on returning from a long trip overseas – especially when it is to your home country.

We all know about culture shock and, to come extent, we all expect it when we first move somewhere new. Most people at least have some understanding of the sort of rollercoaster of emotions they are likely to go through as a new expat – even if many of us don’t realise how hard or how long it may hit for. However, what I hadn’t expected was to go through a sort of mini version of this when we first returned from our long break in the UK.

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Expat life can be a bit of a roller coaster at times…..

I was looking forward to coming back. We’d had a good holiday and seen a lot of people we were missing. But it’s always hard when you have to keep packing and unpacking, moving between different places, never sleeping in the same place for more than a few nights at a time. I also missed my own bed, my own shower and my own space. And yes I missed my dog!

So it wasn’t that I didn’t want to return. We had had long enough away and even the children agreed nearly nine weeks out of school is way too much. They positively hopped onto the school bus the first morning back! We also returned to glorious weather (hot, sunny days, cool nights…) and lots to look forward to including various trips and holidays. No, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be home in Pretoria – it was more just that when I got here it took a bit of time to settle.

For the first few days I felt a bit down, grumpy and even various degrees of anger. Usually exercise and sun helps with these things but I couldn’t shake the feelings. I also felt disorientated, to the extent that once or twice I woke up and couldn’t work out where I was. I don’t think my feelings were helped by the bad memories of the first few days of “Brexit” which were also my last few days in Pretoria before the holiday – sitting in the car park at our local supermarket I suddenly had a flash-back to checking on my phone and discovering our prime minister had resigned while I was doing the weekly shop.

These feelings didn’t last long and gradually I started to “re-adapt” to my surroundings, getting back into the rythm of a life that mostly revolves around working, writing, dog walking, food shopping and organising holidays. But these feelings threw me as they weren’t expected at all and it made me realise that, as expats, we have to continue to be aware that life isn’t linear and the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride will continue throughout our time away from home. It also reminded me that I needed to be kind to myself – it isn’t realistic that I would be able to jump straight back where I left off nine weeks ago; and that the guilt I felt about not making arrangements to see people or starting a new project within a week of returning should be parked straight away in the unrealistic car park.

So here  I am on day 13 and I do feel like I am getting there. I have managed to write a few new blog posts, caught up with most friends, met some of the newcomers (who so far all seem lovely), sorted out the last details for our coming trips to Cape Town and Mozambique and more or less got up to date with work. I realise there is still a long way to go and my to-do list is as long as ever (although sometimes I think that is just what life in the 21st century is like for everyone). But at least now I know what to expect next time I return from a long trip home. Buckle up those seat belts!

A Day in My Expat Life – Pretoria

Welcome to the first in what I hope will become a new series showing the reality of expat life. Since I moved to South Africa, I know I have posted quite a lot about our travels – pictures of safaris and wildlife, sunshine and holidays. But of course there are just the edited highlights – the reality is that day-to-day life here isn’t that much more exciting than anywhere else (just with better weather). Forget cocktails on the beach and champagne receptions – this is what a normal 24 hours in a life overseas looks like. Starting with my own “normal” day here in South Africa I hope to share other photographic logs from expats around the world. If you would like to feature please get in touch – details at the end of the post.

DAY: Tuesday 17th May

Time: 07.00

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Every day starts with tea – usually at the breakfast table after the kids have left for school and my husband to work. This gives me a few quiet moments to myself, when I catch up with the news on my BBC app and read any emails that have come in overnight.

Time: 08.00

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After getting dressed, Cooper our miniature schnauzer puppy, knows it’s walk time. If he is lucky I meet up with friends and their dogs and  take him to one of the few places in Pretoria where we can let them off the lead. Today though it was a walk round the block firmly attached to me to stop him running off and eating every dried frog/chicken bone on the path

Time: 09.00

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I had an appointment in Johannesburg this morning so was leaving Cooper in the capable hands of our domestic helper Sarna. She comes to us twice a week and takes care of the washing, ironing and cleaning. I don’t know what we are going to do without her when we return to the UK.

Time: 09.30

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You can easily drive to Johannesburg but I find the Gautrain a better alternative. Linking Pretoria with Joburg and Oliver Tambo airport, the trainline takes you right into the main shopping areas and is wonderfully clean, efficient and safe.

Time: 10.30

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My meeting in Johannesburg was with Hannah who runs Translating Me, a business that helps expats settle into their new life. We had never met before but we had so much to talk about I don’t think we stopped nattering the whole time we were together. It helped that Hannah introduced me to this wonderful cafe, the Patisserie, which sells the most incredible macaroons. I will certainly be returning and bringing friends from Pretoria!

Time: midday

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Back to the station to take me home – these two security guards were carrying on a conversation across the tracks. Their presence makes the station feel very safe.

Time: 13.00

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On the way home I popped into our local supermarket, Woolworths. It is completely different from the chain that used to be Woolies in the UK – best known for it’s “pick n mix” sweets selection and selling records back in the day. This version of Woolworths is more or less the food part of Marks and Spencers, an upmarket British chain. According to Wikipedia, it is also not the same as the Australian version of Woolworths. Confused? I am! However I am very grateful that it exists as it is a great place to shop with a fantastic range – although prices have gone through the roof recently.

Time: 13.30

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Checking out with a smile! Service is always great at Woolworths – I think they hand-pick the friendliest workers to employ.

Time: 14.00

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Back home and gardener Lucas, who works on our compound and for us every Tuesday, has been helping keep Cooper entertained. I’m not sure what our local staff (including the guard at our gate) thought of him when we first got him as unfortunately many people here associate dogs with aggression as they are trained to guard homes. However Cooper seems to have won them all over and now they all seem to love him – until he steals something of theirs and hides it in the bushes!

Time: 14.30

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Grabbing a sandwich I manage to get a bit of work done at my desk knowing the girls will soon be home from school.

Time: 16.00

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And they’re back! One little boy is ALWAYS glad to see these two – although two or three times a week it’s a quick turnaround to horse-riding or swimming lessons. The girls have a long day as they leave at 6.45am and often are not home until 4pm or later if they have after-school activities. We all look forward to the weekends and holidays!

Time: 17.30

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As it’s a tuesday, the girls have swimming lessons – they swim two or three times a week at the Universty of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre, one of the top training grounds for South African athletes in the country. Let’s hope some of that skill and competitiveness rubs off on them! Usually I drop them off and my husband picks them up on the way home from work, giving me time to prepare food for when they get home. Tonight it was the not-very-inspired pasta bolognese for tea.

Time: 20.30

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And so the day ends with a sleeping puppy and a roaring log fire – our only heating system in the downstairs area of the house. The days may be bright and sunny but the nights at this time of the year are very chilly. Blankets are your friend!

 

If you would like to feature in A Day in My Expat Life please leave a comment below or email me at clara@expatpartnersurvival.com. All I need are around 10-12 pictures snapped as you go about your ordinary day, sent to me with captions, the date and approximate timings. I will do the rest! Please note: high quality pictures aren’t necessary, camera pics are fine as this makes it a lot easier to do 🙂

My own contribution to being a road tester…..

As anyone who has been following this blog will know, I too am off on another expat journey very soon. When I started writing the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, moving abroad again wasn’t actually a consideration. We thought we were done, settled in the UK for the foreseeable future. However, life happens and here we go again…

So during the last year of writing and editing the book, I started to pay a little bit more attention to what I – and my contributors – were saying. I started to realise that all this information was actually going to be really useful for myself and my family as well as for all my readers. And as we get closer to the time to leave, I have started taking sneaky peaks at some of the chapters – on taking children, in particular, as mine are such a different age and at such a different stage than they were last time.

I thought it would be fun to join my other road testers and chronicle my journey in the way that I hope they will be, one chapter at a time. So, here is my introduction and in a future post I will be discussing chapter one: Before You Go

First of all, could you tell me a bit about yourself, your family and your background?

I work from home in a part-time role managing a small independent journal called the International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, as well as spending quite a lot of my time marketing my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. I have two children, both girls, aged seven and nine. We have previously lived as a family in Pakistan and St Lucia. Before that. I lived and worked all  over the world – including Jamaica, which is where I met my husband.

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Where do you live at the moment and where are you moving to? Why are you moving?

At the moment we live in a leafy town in the West of England. It’s a beautiful location full of Georgian architecture and green parks and not far from both the countryside and a couple of large cities. It’s almost ideal for us as our local school, an excellent state primary, is about three minutes walk from the house and we are surrounded by friends. We are moving to Pretoria in South Africa, where we hope we will also be surrounded by friends, as well as interesting wildlife! The girls will be attending the American International School so there’s a lot to get used to. We are moving with my husband’s job; he will be working at the British High Commission.

Have you ever been an expat before? If so, where and when? If not, do you know much about the “expat life”?

Yes I have been an expat on and off all my life – as a daughter, young adult, diplomat and as a mother and accompanying partner. So I have seen it from pretty much every angle. However, I think it is different every time you move and I am waiting to see what this particular relocation will throw up for us.

As an expat child in the Philippines

As an expat child in the Philippines

How prepared are you feeling for the move? As well as from the Survival Guide, where are you getting your information from?

I have been very lucky in that we were able to visit Pretoria late last year so have been to the school where the children will go and the house where we will live. I think this has helped us all prepare mentally for the move. I also have a couple of friends living there already and have made contact with a couple more online, who have been able to answer some of my obscure questions.

Why do you think the Survival Guide will be useful? Are there any chapters you think you will find particularly useful?

As my children are at a very different age than they were when we moved last time, I think the chapters which focus on them are particularly helpful. We’re also planning to get a dog when we are out there so I will be consulting my own advice on bringing a pet home with you when we leave!

How did you find out about my book?

Lol – I wrote it you numpty!

What are you most looking forward to about moving to your new country? What are you most worried about (if anything!)?

I am really, really looking forward to exploring both South Africa and the region. I love wildlife so the safari opportunities are just going to be amazing. I am also a big diver so can’t wait to get back under the water – one of my ambitions in life has been to see whale sharks in the wild so I am hoping to tick that one off my list.

South Africa is also a real foodies paradise so I can’t wait to get stuck into the local restaurants, farmers market’s etc. Oh and then there’s the wine…..

I am of course worried about the security situation. We will be well looked after and well protected but it does play on your mind, especially in the early hours of the morning…

Rhinos in a small safari park close to Pretoria

Rhinos in a small safari park close to Pretoria

How are your children feeling about the move? How did they react when you told them?

They really weren’t keen at first (you can read about their reaction in a post I wrote here) but have definitely come round now. Visiting Pretoria really helped, as has telling them we’ll get a dog. They still have their ups and downs but I think they’re generally pretty excited now.

I have a wide range of expats reading my blog – do you have any questions for them? Either country-specific or just general questions about moving and living abroad?

I suppose really whether people find it easier with each move or whether it’s just different each time, especially when the children are so different. Also, four years is a long time in the world of technology – I wonder how this has changed expat life?

And country-specific, please let me know if you have any tips for secret spots in South Africa – anywhere you think we should definitely visit?

Don’t forget you can also read about my real road-testers Lynsay,  Nichole  and Erin.

Share Your World 2015 Week #6

What was the last time you went to a new place?
I assume this actually means WHEN was the last time you went to a new place, and where was it! Last October we visited our soon-to-be new home, Pretoria in South Africa, to check out houses and schools. We were lucky enough to be there in Jacaranda season so the city looked at its best. We really enjoyed exploring – the highlight was probably when we turned a corner to find a group of zebras by the side of the road. But it has also helped our children with the transition, as at least they know where they are going now…

 

Beautiful Pretoria

Beautiful Pretoria

If you were or are a writer do you prefer writing short stories, poems or novels, other? And what type of genre would you prefer?
I prefer to write non-fiction, as a former journalist I think it comes easiest to me. However, I have written 4/5ths of the first draft of a novel and really enjoyed that. I just need to get it finished – and then start polishing it! It’s taken me 4 years to get back to it so far – although I did finally get one of the main protaganists out of the boot of a car last year…

Out of your five senses (touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing) which is your favorite?
Taste. I love food. Who doesn’t? In particular, I love ice cream…

Ice cream!

Ice cream!

If 100 people your age were chosen at random, how many do you think you’d find leading a more satisfying life than yours?
In some areas of my life, none! I am very lucky, I have achieved a good work/life/family/creativeness balance. In other areas, quite a few….

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?
I am grateful that I managed to get to the end of the week with two children still alive, fed, watered and reasonably clean! Next week is half term so I am looking forward to lazy mornings, visiting my parents and a few meals out with friends 🙂

 

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