Life as an expat? Is it for you? Does your family understand and realise how much you need them? Where do you call home?
We moved lock, stock and barrel to South Africa nearly two years ago. Since then we’ve renewed our two year visa so we can stay here until January 2016 and then apply for residency. This will allow the eldest child to complete University and the youngest to Matric. I will then be able to apply for work and have the bills in my name, making things easier on us all round. We left three adult children in the UK: they’d already left home and in fact the middle one had been living in Germany for two years when we left.
Our parents, siblings, nephews and nieces remain in the UK and everyone has been to visit us and we have, of course, been back to see them. All three children have had medical emergencies in the UK since we’ve been here and we are happy with the way family and friends handled it.
There have been two funerals; the death of my Uncle in December 2011 and my Aunt in September 2012. Other traumas include the birth of my niece in February 2011 and the horrific ordeal my sister went through during the birth. More recently, my Father had a heart attack in June 2012 and then my 15 year old (step) nephew nearly lost his life this month, when a wall at school collapsed on him.
We’ve been there when we can and have flown back for my Father and had already planned visits around the time of the funerals.
The thing is, no one is here for us. No one can just pop in when we have an emergency.
Both children here have been in hospital; one had emergency surgery. I’ve had surgery on my neck and there have been the general illnesses like migraines, flu and stomach bugs, but they’re not life threatening and we’ve had to deal with them as a unit of four on our own.
So, this is why I call South Africa home.
I’ve built a network of friends I can trust, whose opinion I value and who I can rely on when we need things, be it money after losing a bank card and not being able to get a replacement for 24 hours, lifts to school because the car is in the garage or won’t start, looking after when ill, meals cooked and homework done.
It took a year to establish this, a year of struggling, loneliness and no idea of how to do anything or get anything done.
A year of family and friends back in the homeland not understanding why you are moaning, “Look at the lifestyle, your finances, the sun, the pool, what the hell have you got to complain about?”
A trip to the Doctors’ to ask for help, anti-depressants, psychologists, getting help around the home, asking for help and opening up to others.
The most recent experience on a visit back to the UK made me realise where home is and why I was desperate to get back. It wasn’t just about the weather, the sleeping in different beds, living out of a suitcase, not being met at the airport on arrival. It was the plain and simple fact that I converted the cost of things into Rand and refused to pay R15 for a can of coke and I pulled up at the petrol station and sat in my car for a few minutes before I realised that I had to put my own fuel in.
South Africa is home now, I know how things work here, I know what channel I want on DSTV and found Sky confusing. I like having my bags packed even if they do put the meat in with the vegetables. I like the open space. I like the security of living on a golf estate. I like my new lifestyle now that I am working and using my skills and qualifications (as a volunteer).
But most of all I love pulling up at the petrol station for a F1 pit stop; refuelled, water, oil and tyres checked, without asking and back on the track in record time.
By Suzanne Scott