17. The Bubble (29 June ’17)

It’s been some time, too long, since I last wrote.

I’ve been hovering over a blank screen, not really knowing where to start. I keep thinking that I need to write something powerful, something to keep my readers interested after all this time of being silent… Then I realised that perhaps you just want me to keep it real, to tell it like it is, and so full steam ahead, here it is: our reality, after living in Wellington, New Zealand for 1 year, 2 months now.

We have survived our first Winter, our first Summer, our first Christmas, our first school year, and even our first trip back to South Africa.

I guess you could say that when I stopped writing, it was a sign that I had started to feel comfortable. After 7 or 8 months, New Zealand started to feel more like home. Friends had been made, daily routines were solid, children were finally happy, and life went on as usual. I have always found writing to be somewhat of a therapeutic exercise, a way to appease the soul in dark or difficult times. Now that our new lives had become routine, things were stable, I didn’t feel a need to write about it. I realise though, that this is the part that people want to hear about. People want to know that ultimately they’ll be OK, that despite the trauma that comes with immigration, that one day it would be worth it, and that they would feel like they were home. So I owe it to you, my readers, to tell you how different life is, several months since the last time I put fingers to keyboard.

Christmas time.

December had arrived, and a day I had waited for, and looked forward to for months. School was out for summer! The streets were filled with kids, barefoot and carefree for the duration of the 6-week long holiday. My sister and her partner were arriving from SA to stay with us for 3 weeks, a time we wish could have just stood still.

After a week exploring our bustling, culture-filled city of Wellington, we packed ourselves into our 7-seater, and set off on a 2 week roadtrip from Wellington to Auckland.

In Auckland we went beach hopping, from dramatic black-sand beaches like Bethell’s Beach, to the swimsuit wearing, surfboard wielding, family filled beaches like Takapuna, experiencing the magic of a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream truck, watching people skyjump from Auckland Sky Tower, and making several hungry visits to Sal’s pizza.

On the road, we enjoyed canopy walking in the RedWoods forest and taking in the beauty of the turbulent Hukka Falls. We stopped to dip in the clear waters of Taupo Lake, skipping stones along the water’s surface and building sketchy sculptures out of driftwood along the shore.

A much awaited stopover in the breathtaking town of Matamata, we indulged in a quick trip to Hobbiton. (Even for those who are not Lord of the Rings fanatics, this is a trip I highly recommend. Matamata must be one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, and it was easy to see why it was Peter Jackson’s choice of location for the film).

The rest of our holiday was spent relaxing and enjoying the Summer that New Zealand didn’t have. At least that’s what we were told. News reports and chatter in the supermarkets complained, asking the question repeatedly “When is Summer arriving?” We weren’t really sure what all the fuss was about. The sun was shining most days and we were surrounded by people we loved. That was good enough for us. But Christmas came and went faster than we had hoped for.

Soon a new year had started. Our two young girls had grown before our eyes and were heading into their second year of school in New Zealand. The nights of crying themselves to sleep were over. My husband was coming home from work; feeling accomplished and relaxed and we had come to enjoy our evening routine. We cook dinner and sit around our dining table together, sharing pieces of our day. We connect in a round of “Sweet and Sour”, something we started in South Africa about 6 months before we moved. Each person around the table has a turn to name at least one “Sweet”, and one “Sour” thing that happened to them that day. This gives everyone in the family an opportunity to share their days’ experiences, bringing out feelings that may not otherwise be expressed. We give each other support for the things that are “Sour” and celebrate the “Sweet” together. The number of “Sour” things around the table has changed over the months, and 1 year, 2 months later, I can safely say that we are mostly celebrating.

We celebrate that school is a happy place to go to, where friends are kind and learning is fun. We celebrate that Daddy had an easy day at work today, or that Mommy managed to cook a delicious meal (for those of you who know me, this is an achievement, since I am a truly terrible cook). Almost every night we talk about things that have happened to people in our family in SA, good, bad, and sometimes sad. But every night, when I lie in bed, I silently celebrate that we can sleep soundly, safely and without anxiety or fear.

By April, one year since we had moved to NZ, we decided that it was time to go back to SA for a visit. Since we left, I had become an aunty for the first time. I had a brand new nephew to meet, a very ill family member to visit, and people who I couldn’t stand to miss any longer. The kids and I flew to SA for a 3 week visit. I secretly worried that the girls would regress once we returned, feeling the sadness of our initial move all over again. I was surprised at the turn of events when we got back to NZ. The children slipped right back into their routines. It was clear that they felt like they were coming “home”. But for me, it was too soon, and I felt myself sinking into a depression. I came back missing people even more, realising the mortality of my parents, seeing that friends had moved on, filling the gap I had once left in their lives. It took about 3 weeks for me to climb out of the darkness and to come back to my life in NZ.

Living in our newfound bubble, we sometimes forget the intensity of our home country, both the horror and the extreme beauty. Remembering our old lives, living behind palisade and electric fencing, security gates and alarm systems; recalling the desperation on a mother’s face as she sits at a traffic light pleading for her next meal; and watching Kysna, one of our most exquisite landscapes burn to the ground. It still doesn’t feel good to be away from it all, not always. You relate to all the good and all the bad, and it’s that sense of belonging to your country that haunts you when you leave. As a South African, you never feel anything else, but South African.

Leaving is a reality that some of us choose for ourselves, and for our children, and more of us are starting make this decision. Since our move, I now have family scattered in various parts of the world, and now that my own family was settled, I wanted to do something more fulfilling with my time.

During the previous 8 months I had started my own business, helping other South Africans to achieve their dream of creating a life in NZ. Understanding the emotional heartache of leaving it all behind, the practical difficulties and the excitement of starting a new life, I immerse myself in my work. Helping people on their own journey, each one so uniquely challenging, I realise how lucky we were to get here, and I give everything I have to those who are trying to do the same.

I have made a commitment to myself that I will always be honest with my clients, as I will to my readers. Immigration is not easy. You can read every website out there and you will find thousands of helpful guidelines and tips on how the process works, how to complete your paperwork, what to expect in terms of cost of living, and how to find a job. There is no manual for how to feel and what to do with those feelings when you feel them. I encourage everyone to embrace them, write, speak and share! Don’t forget to take the rest of your family on the journey with you. “Sweet and Sour” every day, and over the months, watch the “Sours” turn into “Sweets”, because before you know it, they will.

You might always be an immigrant, and it won’t always feel like home, but be grateful every day to the country that has opened its doors to you and given your family the new start it deserves. As a South African in New Zealand (a country with one of the darkest skies in the world), you will always be able to count your blessings, one star at a time.