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.


16. Like Falling in Love (4 November ’16)

Emigration is emotionally taxing. As mothers and wives, we tend to carry the emotions for our entire family. We “keep it together” through all the preparation, through the physical move, and for as long as we can after we arrive. It is the most difficult and most thrilling time of our lives.

Today I thought about the things my family and I miss the most. It isn’t the Biltong, or “South African Marmite”. It isn’t Woolworths or the luxurious cars we used to drive. When I asked my children what they missed the most, they said, without hesitation, “our old house”. We never lived in a fancy house…so I had to think a while why they’d say such a thing. I realised that it’s not the house they missed at all. It was all the memories. It was our first family home. Our children were raised there for 7.5 years. It was their happy place. We had birthday parties, Christmas and casual Sunday braai’s at the pool. We had friends and family who’d be at every one of those occasions.

After 7 months in our new home country, it occured to me that once I saw my children settling in and knowing that they’d eventually be OK, it was time for me to allow myself to feel OK, to let go of the weight of everyone elses emotions and see my family as someone on the outside looking in.

…and that’s when I realised that I don’t care about South African groceries. I have found substitues for almost everything and have adapted so well to them that I don’t feel the overwhelming need to have family send over my favourite chocolate or breakfast cereal. There is nothing I need that I don’t already have.

Suddenly my phone rings, and I have Facebook post “Likes” during NZ daytime hours. “During NZ daytime hours”….This means I have friends. Right here in NZ: I have friends who care, who have become a part of my life and some who have been an absolute saving grace on some of my darkest days.

We all know about the freedom that NZ offers us and our children. The beauty of our new surroundings, the peaceful sleep we now have at night, the parks our children can play in, the streets they scoot around in….but a good friend once told me that to make the most of our journey, it would be up to us to write our own new history, to make our own new memories – because THESE are the things that build the foundation for a true home. Looking back over the past few months, we have made SO MANY! Our 8-seater patio table can now be filled with good friends, and our braai burns almost every week. We have bought a car that fits 7 people, because we need it for our new tribe, and our grocery cupboard is filled with all of our now regular NZ favourites.

Like falling in love, suddenly, and all at once, I realise, we are home.

15. Our Truth (4 October ’16)

Our truth, after 6 months in New Zealand:

This week will mark 6 months since the day we arrived in New Zealand. In April this year, with a good job secured and work visas in hand, we came with our two young children filled with hope to a new land of opportunity.

For the first couple of weeks I blogged about every amazing thing we experienced. I photographed everything!! Every park we visited, every new insect we saw and every new food we ate was fully documented.

Soon after we arrived, I was to have my first birthday away from South Africa. It was the same week when my husband started his new job and the same week my children would start at their new school. It was the worst birthday I’ve ever had. I sat in our new home, alone, staring at piles of laundry through the tears than ran from my eyes. We had not yet made any new friends in NZ and due to the time difference, I did not receive a single phone call from South Africa until late that night. It was then that I realized the enormity of our decision and the distance we’d placed between us and our former home.

I passed off these horrible feelings for ones that are natural and just “part of the process”. I put it behind me, pretending to my family that my “birthday day” was just fine. Pushing through the next few weeks, I kept a positive attitude. Despite my miserable birthday, I was still very happy with the decision we’d made and it made my heart so happy to see the freedom my children had on a daily basis, to feel the adrenalin lift out of our bodies and to feel like we were finally “living” a life that we all deserved.

Finally our container arrived at our door and it was, as everyone describes “like Christmas”! Having all of our own belongings made our decision even more concrete now. THIS was our new home! We were all bursting with excitement. I blogged about this again and how wonderful it was to open boxes and discover things we seemed to have forgotten we even owned. Life was good!

Fast forward 6 months.

When we left SA, I had just one single fear. It was that our youngest daughter (7 years old at the time) would not take the move very well. I was worried about how she would adjust to the change. She was a sensitive and emotional child. “You’re worrying for nothing”, everyone said. “Kids adapt so easily”, they said.

Well, it is 12.26am right now. My family is fast asleep and my ELDEST daughter is asleep in our room. Children surprise you sometimes and in our case, a big surprise it has been. Now that she is suffering from anxiety and a level of depression that we’re still trying to understand, I am at the mercy of our eldest, previously incredibly independent 8 year old daughter (the one I thought would be just fine).

For all the amazing opportunities, the safety and the freedom that we have in NZ, I can tell you that when your little girl sobs herself to sleep in your arms, when you can almost hear her heart breaking because all she wants is to “go back home” – and when she tells you that she wants nothing for her birthday, nothing for Christmas and that she will give it all up to see her friends and family again, it is the most difficult thing not to start packing your bags and booking the next flight to SA!

I have been an active member on a support group for immigrants for over a year now. I have given tons of advice, checklists and helpful information to so many people. I thought I had this whole immigration thing sorted. Not once was I prepared for the emotional toll my children’s unexpected immense sadness would take on me as a parent.

I have struggled with the culture shock but have found ways to work with it. I have struggled with lonliness but have now made some amazing life-long friendships that I know I will take with me, no matter where in the world we end up. I can rationalise anything that I feel uncomfortable with and am not familiar with. But this is by far the thing I am struggling with the most. As a parent I tell myself that in years to come, our children will be OK, that they are young and it is still early days yet. I tell myself everything I can to justify our decision to our daughter. The truth is that it is not possible to tell an 8 year old child exactly why you left your home country. For all the beautiful things that South Africa is, there is a lot of darkness, grim stories of horrible events that have happened to us and loved ones – that we simply cannot imprint on an 8 year old mind. It is a helpless, empty feeling to just have to tell your child to “trust” that the right decision was made for them and then expect them to be OK with that explanation.

Do I regret moving? No. If you are already living in NZ, it is not difficult to draft a quick comparison, a list of pro’s and con’s and be sure that this was the right decision. No. I only wrote this down, perhaps selfishly for my own therapeutic need, but also for the parents out there who might be struggling with a similar situation. I wrote this for the parents who feel like they might have made a mistake in removing their children from their home country and everything they know. I want them to know that they are not alone – and I guess I want to know that I am not alone.

I feel that for all the positivity shared on this page, for all the hard facts that we share with each other every day, we owe it to ourselves, and each other to be honest and truthful about the incredibly difficult days that come with immigration, the things there are no instructions for on any website that we can share with one another.

I am so grateful for the support and love of our newly formed friendships in NZ. We could not do this without a support base. We are all in this together!

14. Because the Night 

Falling asleep to the sounds of wild geese and the odd rumbling of a freight train… It beats falling asleep to the sound of screeching car tyres, the howling of sirens and the rapid thumping of the heartbeat in your chest.

13. Inside my little brown suitcase

When I was small I carried a little suitcase… You know the kind? The box shaped brown ones made of hard board with a small brown plastic handle. My suitcase went with me everywhere and it was filled with Lego. Lego was my favourite toy because it had the potential to become anything you wanted.

Houses were my favourite things to build, perfect little houses with gardens and those pretty pink flowers blooming around every corner. I had all the Lego roads, the straights and the curves, which I’d connect to make my miniature neighbourhoods. Even at the age of 5, everything would have its place in my little city, everything flowing, everything functioning as it should. Tiny smiling people would stand at pedestrian crossings and cars, buses and law enforcement vehicles would be evenly spaced on the roads so that there’d be no chance of a terrible Lego accident.

Now please don’t tell me that there are bound to be Lego accidents, that some of my pieces might go missing or that one of my Lego people aren’t smiling… Because today is one of those days when I feel like I am living in my perfectly designed Lego city. Everything flows, everything works. It is New Zealand… and I wouldn’t pack up my little brown suitcase for anything in the world today. What a magnificent city this is. How lucky we are to have taken this massive step towards freedom – and beauty – and this deep breath of life!

…and don’t call it “Legos”! It’s LEGO!

12. Big City Lights

Before we moved to the Kapiti Coast, I was under no false illusion that there’d be big malls and bright shiny lights. In my mind, New Zealand was a place you came to leave those things behind. I wanted somewhere where my kids would be free to be kids.

I don’t remember any part of my childhood being restricted by physical boundaries. Some of my best memories are the ones where I played with small metal cars in little tracks that I’d moulded out of mud and stones in my grandparents’ front garden. From my seat on the grass, I could see passers-by, traffic, and the little corner cafe. On many a day when Oupa was feeling generous, we’d each get a giant R1 coin and we’d run hurridly across to that cafe. Now that, that was an outing, a real treat! It felt like hours that we’d spend in that shop and what that R1 coin could buy us felt like, well, everything!

So, while I sit here tonight feeling strangely miserable, I struggle to rationalise why I miss all those modern conveniences that I’ve become accustomed to as an adult. My days are filled with laundry and deciding which fabric softener is best, which one is better for black clothing, and which is really just the most affordable. There is no telephone that rings and there’s only so many dishes a person can wash (and what dreadfully awful dish washing liquid is this anyway? Where is my South African Sunlight. Don’t even talk to me about your “Marmite”.). When the TV that I switch on for background noise echoes the beginnings of Dr. Phil, I shudder at what my everyday life in New Zealand starts to look like.

At the end of the day, all we really need is to feel like we are home. How long does that take I wonder? What defines “home”? The vast separation I feel, while I’m sure is absolutely normal for a new immigrant, is an emotion we must – just – manage. When the question surrounds your children, what kind of “home” do I want for them? I know that it is not  one that involves shopping for brand name clothing on a Saturday afternoon.  It is not one where they cannot ride a bike and explore the beauty of their very own neighbourhood. It definitely is not one that is riddled with fear that they aren’t even old enough, nor should they be forced to understand.

That, is certain.

As for the laundry and Dr Phil, well, I’ve decided to play some music, to open the curtains, to get back into an old hobby. Maybe next week I’ll step outside and build some mud tracks with the children and ride bikes in the park.

Today marks 1 month, 3 weeks and 1 day since our arrival. One day I will stop counting.

11. Our Things

In 7 days, the full consignment of the contents of our entire material lives will be delivered to our doorstep. Packed into a mobile single garage sized container is everything we have accumulated over 13 years. Some sentimental, some essential, some only vaguely useful – but it’s “our stuff” – and stuff helps us to feel safe. Things that belong to us help us to feel like we ourselves belong.

The process started weeks, even months leading up to our departure from South Africa. We painstakingly scoured through heaps and heaps of household goods in an attempt to identify the items we could leave behind. We found ourselves leaving much of it to charity or giving things away to people who could make better use of them. With helping hands from a few good friends and family, we finally sifted through the last of the clutter and were left with what would be crammed into our 20ft shipping container.

I feel I should discuss the de-cluttering process. For many immigrants, the task of shipping your household items is just one of the many stressful activities that need to take place as part of the moving process. People talk about what shipping companies to use, which ones to stay away from, how much insurance they should take out and how long it takes to ship. While these are all important and necessary parts of the decision-making process, not many people speak about the emotional toll this particular step takes on us.

For me, there were some very significant feelings to work through during this phase.

It is easy, in our every day lives to get caught up: in the business of life, in the drama, in the chaos. As South Africans, we also tend to deal with things in a constant state of heightened emotion. We take experiences and we shove them in closets, we stuff them in folders and file them away. We’re rushing. We’re fast-moving. We’re forward thinking. We don’t live in the now.

And then you start to unpack. You start to unfold and unravel all those bits of life that you pushed into a corner, away for safe-keeping. I’m referring to those sentimental bits, the most difficult part of your consignment to sort and pack.

Old letters, birthday cards, funeral booklets, photographs and wedding invitations – your life is laid out in bits of paper sprawled across your bedroom floor. You’re forced to pick each one up, open some dark boxes you once tried so hard to close and really think about how much you need to remember it, how much you need it and what it means to you.

I found this part of the process extremely therapeutic. So many doors had to be shut, so many chapters closed. It was in one afternoon that I found tremendous sadness, shards of anger and traces of despair and longing. In the same afternoon, I had also found forgiveness. I found that things that once brought me to tears now bring me to a place of peace, contentment and enthusiasm for the life I have.

I deliberately chose to keep only the items that gave me peace. I pictured myself looking at those items in another 13 years, making sure that in the future they’d bring me only happiness.

Once the de-cluttering and sorting came to an end, a new set of emotions rears its ugly head. This happens on the day they come to pack your house into said container. Room by room, your house, your home, is emptied. Filled now with echoes of forgotten birthday parties, first baby steps, family movie nights, childlike giggles, splashing pool water, dinners with friends, all of the memories you so carefully crafted over the years.

Walking out of that front door, keys in hand to the vision of just brick wall, bare windows, a scattering of dust and the odd empty cardboard box is not a feeling that can easily be described.

While waiting for these 7-8 weeks for our belongings, living with bare essentials, we have come to realise just how little we really need. I know now that 99% of the items on that ship we can live without. We have little desire for material objects. But here’s the thing: We are immigrants. No matter how much we come to love our new land, this will never truly be our home – at least not until we have had the years we need to create our own new past. Things that belong to us help us to feel like we ourselves belong. 

7 days… and counting.


This post honours and remembers those Syrian (and many other) refugees who have had to flee their war-torn countries, losing loved ones, losing most and if not all of their material belongings. Let’s not forget what really matters: each other. Visit https://www.worldvision.org.nz and read about the  “40 Hour Famine”.

Our eldest daughter has decided to take part in the “40 Hour Famine” and we are incredibly proud of her for coming to this decision on her own. To support her efforts, please follow this link:


10. The Gift

Ever since I was a young child I can recall lazy afternoons at my grandparents’ Johannesburg home. I can still picture myself as a young child, sitting cross-legged on the carpet gazing up at my grandfather in awe. He’d sit in his lazy boy armchair, like grandfathers do, telling us stories about the days when he and my grandmother were very much younger.

Although difficult to choose just one, my favourite story would have to be the one where he’d speak about how they’d have regular street parties with their neighbours. He explained how everyone who lived in the street would bring their garden chairs out into the road on a Friday evening. He’d describe in detail how the night would unfold into a soiree of swing music and impromptu jive dancing.

I’d often hear the same story being told to my cousins but I’d never tire of hearing it. My grandfather gained so much joy from sharing stories of his life with us. I’d never be able to tell it the way he could. He was a fabulous storyteller and I hung onto every word he said.

These days, with my grandfather now having passed, I cling to that feeling of being transported back in time, so immersed in the life of this man who I simply adored. Knowing how my grandparents could dance, even in their much older age, the pictures in my mind were clear. I recall all of these stories now, of finding happiness in simple things, in easy to reach places, like little sepia movies in my mind.

It is different for everyone, but this is what New Zealand is for me. Taking back simplicity. Giving to my children what I was once so blessed to have had. Being brave enough to take this giant leap towards what I can aptly refer to simply as a GIFT, a gift that they may have the freedom to write the history that they so deserve.

“When it comes to making a big decision in your life, you have to want it more than you fear it.”


Thank you Oupa 💗

7. Final Destination

We arrived at Wellington International Airport on April, 11th 2016. A significant milestone. We’d finally arrived. All the anxiety, all the waiting, all the tears and stress had led to this: our new home.

In the black of midnight, a dear friend had hired a trailer for our tons of luggage and driven the hour long drive to collect us from the airport. The drive back to our newly rented home on the Kapiti Coast was surreal. I know I will never forget the feeling of knowing that we were not merely coming on vacation. This was no temporary arrangement. THIS, was home. Every sight and sound was magnified. These were all sights and sounds we would one day grow accustomed to. Home. Wow.

Arriving in the driveway of our little house, nestled in a valley between forest and ocean, even in the darkness was picture perfect. I remember thinking that the Americans have nothing on this “dream”. We had everything but the little white picket fence.

And so we unpacked our heavy bags one by one, dragging them into the entrance hall. While we flew almost a full day to reach our destination, our same amazing friends (who had taken this same journey many years before us) had gone the extra mile… Inside our oven were “ready to bake” fresh croissants, inside our kitchen cupboards and drawers were all the basic essentials and in a ready cooled, cooler box some much-needed groceries for the next few days. I cannot emphasise enough how much of a difference these gestures made to us getting started, how much they helped us to adjust (psychologically and practically) over the next few days. We will always be grateful for our kind, generous friends and are inspired to pay it forward!

It wasn’t long before all four of us fell asleep. Of course, after the trip we could not help but feel exhausted, even through the overwhelming relief we felt to finally be spending our first of many nights in our New Zealand home.

(Did I mention that we arrived to 1 x Queen sized bed + 1 x Inflatable mattress for the kids, also provided on loan by and prepared by our friends?)


6. Saying Goodbye

This is probably the part we all struggle with the most – and it’s something different and deeply personal for every person involved. For the people staying behind, they might feel a level of abandonment. They might feel a hint of anger that they have yet to rationalise. They might feel saddened and/or worried that you will forget them in time. What should be obvious, but is something that I didn’t immediately recognise, is that while we are sacrificing a lot to leave, we are also gaining so much by making the move, but for the people who are staying behind, they experience only a loss. They don’t gain anything by your move. The loss for them is possibly deeper and more significant than it is for us, the ones who have been absorbing, feeling and being absolutely consumed by the various stages of the leaving process since the day we started to even consider the decision.

My last days in South Africa were spent enjoying a lot of quality time with family and friends. I made sure my children were able to process their thoughts and feelings, that they had adequate time to deal with their own goodbye’s and created experiences for them that would be happy and lasting.

Up to about 3 days before leaving, I was coping pretty well for someone who was about to make the biggest change of their entire life… When packing up our house, I even gave myself the proverbial ‘pat on the back’ after working through all my sentimental items, digging through so many happy, even painful memories without shedding a single tear.

While I am recognised by some of my family and friends as someone who copes well in the midst of crisis, someone they can lean on for strength and support and who can put emotion aside and be that “no bullsh!t friend” when they need one… this was getting ridiculous. I silently struggled with why I was the only person to be feeling “OK” and somewhat unemotional, even a little detached from the events that would be unfolding almost just hours away now.

I started to think I was made of steel.

And then it hit me.

One thing triggered another and suddenly I found myself sitting at the hairdresser (for one last wash and blow dry), with tears streaming incessantly down my face. What woman cries at the hairdresser!!!

There are few words to describe the physical heartache that comes with leaving so many such special and meaningful people behind…

I am told it does not get easier.