Moving ‘home’ – from honeymoon period to reality
Reverse culture shock, stark contrasts in world view and opinion, a 9-5 job or no job at all, monthly bills and payments, medical aid woes and the exorbitant costs of car insurance.
Hundreds of blog posts and articles have been written about intrepid travellers from all over the world returning back to their respective countries and the difficulties and challenges they face.
Many South Africans who have lived abroad spent nearly every waking moment longing for a good old braai and cold beer with our family members, and a trip to the beach and time in the bush. We missed the almost unbelievable diversity and friendliness of the people, especially the immigration officers at OR Tambo International Airport.
Moving back to ‘Saffaland’ as it is affectionately known by many expats, has been somewhat trying for a lot of us returnees. I would not want pinpoint one or two reasons in particular which makes it difficult, as every person's experience is totally different.
But, I think it’s the “so now that you are finally back in the country, are you going to settle down, find a steady job and start living real life” glances and barrage of questions about my plans for the future, which have me all giddy, and not in a good way.
My answer is usually the diplomatic “I don’t know what I am going to do at this stage; we’ll just have to see what happens”.
Truthfully, deep down, what I really want to say is that I have been doing real life all along. I miss many things about living abroad and there are a lot of things I do not miss at all, but I am so glad I made the choices I did. Here’s why…
In the last decade, I climbed the Great Wall of China and tobogganed down, and stood in awe of the Taj Mahal at sunrise. I drove a tuk-tuk belonging to a man of faith, who told me that religion should be bringing the world’s people together because we all believe in the same thing in the end. I bought sickly-sweet, piping-hot chai tea from a mobile vendor while on a boat tour of the holy Ganges River.
I climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and spent my last cents on an air ticket to Munich, Germany, for the world-famous Oktoberfest. I worked at the Wimbledon Championships, a probation centre and at a call centre during the swine flu scare in London.
I cooked and cared for a number of England's elderly, taught English in the mountains of Gyeongsangbuk-do province in South Korea, and became a class teacher in Hong Kong to nearly 30 naughty but brilliant 10 and 11-year-olds whose names and personalities I will never forget.
I learned to ride a scooter, and went wine tasting in Myanmar. A giant gecko fell down my shirt at Delhi Train Station in India, and as I was jumping up and down, an elderly woman joined me because she thought I was dancing.
I had enlightening conversations with taxi drivers, and asked the name of every waiter and guest house owner. I enquired about their days, their beliefs and their families, so that I could remember them and write about them. I still try to do this today.
I played tennis on clay courts in Pohang, South Korea, and on roofs in Hong Kong, where the love of the game was our common language. I played Ultimate Frisbee on the beaches of both those countries and took part in the biggest annual Asian tournament in Manila, Philippines.
I watched South Africa's Proteas play India in a T20 cricket match in Dharamsala, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and visited the temple where the Dalai Lama worships - all in the same day.
I made friends with incredible human beings hailing from America, Brazil, Switzerland, Australia, the Netherlands and Nigeria. I miss them. I got invited into people’s homes and learnt about their cultures and customs.
I practised how to tell someone their hair is beautiful in the Sri Lankan language of Sinhalese. I tried my hand at speaking and writing in Korean, and managed to use my Basic French to traverse the south of France with a friend from university, with what I hope was greater ease.
I fell in love, and laughed and cried, and partied too much to remember. I took tens of thousands of photographs. I dressed up for Halloween as Beetlejuice and no one could recognise me because I looked so awful, and I was part of the winning drama cast at a small international theatre festival.
My eyes were opened to all the goodness and tolerance and happiness to be found in this world, but also to the corruption, greed and narrow-mindedness that exists in equal measure…everywhere.
I have lived, just as you have. I have lived real life. I have experienced the same angst about the future and regrets about the past. Both you and I have incredible stories to tell, both happy and sad, of hardships and triumphs.
I made the decision, however, to spend most of my savings and precious time on travel and experiences in foreign lands, and I would not change a thing.
Goodness knows, I might go exploring again one day. For now, it is darn good to be right here...home.