Ten years ago, right about now, I was probably thinking about going to bed. A little tame perhaps for an unmarried man in his early thirties but otherwise nothing very unusual. A normal bed in a normal house with (fairly) normal people.
The only thing that marked it out as a bit odd was the fact that it was a few miles away from what I called home. About eight and a half thousand give or take.
October 3rd 2006 marked the start of a new chapter in my life. A big adventure. Moving to a new continent. The theory was simple. T and I were planning on getting married and we realised that logistically and financially it made a lot more sense to do it in South Africa. We figured we’d spend a bit of time, see how we got on and on some level I think we assumed we’d head back to the UK soon after.
Things started to go wrong very quickly. I made the foolish mistake of applying for a job and a very nice chap called Mark Neethling decided he’d like to employ me. I’m not sure if it was based on my skill set or the fact that anyone who could spell the words Business Objects was being snapped up immediately. Still, there was no need to panic – Home Affairs still needed to rubber stamp my visa so there was no danger of roots being put down.
Home Affairs, bless their collective little cotton socks, did everything within their power to ensure the job offer fell through. Each week I checked in with my prospective employer to relate a new tale of woe about how my application had gone nowhere. This was usually in the form of an email via a dial-up connection about as fast as a stoned slug running the egg and spoon race. Every time I was greeted with the same response – don’t worry, we’ll make a plan once it gets sorted out.
What the hell was wrong with this country? If this had been the UK my job application would have been null and void within 48 hours. Surely it was just a matter of waiting it out…?
November came and went and then Christmas arrived early with the news that Home Affairs had lost my entire application. That should seal the deal in terms of the job.
By early 2007 I realised that no matter how hard I tried I was going to have to give this whole job thing a go later rather than sooner. We toured the country to take our minds off it and I played a lot of golf to console myself. And somewhere in the time that passed until I finally started work on April 1st (oh, the irony) South Africa seeped into my bones.
Six months later we were married and living in a house directly across the road from where T grew up. Friends and family looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested this might only be a temporary stay. I assumed they were being polite or suffering from sunstroke.
When I was nine we had the most amazing family holiday in America. We stayed with my Uncle John who had left for the US as a young man and fallen in love with the place. He even had his own swimming pool which to a nine year old was like meeting Willy Wonka.
A quarter of a century later on a different continent I fulfilled a silly childhood dream and had my own swimming pool. I even helped dig it and cart away the rubble. My back’s never been the same come to think of it.
Life was a lot of fun. We were young (well T was), we were good looking (well T was) and we still had some UK currency in the bank. Plenty of funds to plot our escape once the adventure wore off.
There were tough times in amongst it all. We lost a baby in the early stages of pregnancy and then thought the same thing was happening all over again. Turns out our little boy maybe didn’t feel like sharing space with a prospective twin and wanted the limelight all for himself. He remains unfailingly stubborn.
Once Rhys arrived things went South fast. All the way to Cape Town within six months of him being born to be precise. There were more moving trucks, another temporary home and then a permanent one. There’s a girl to go with the boy, there are two cats and a dog to fill the space that our first cat Polly left behind. I still work for the same company. I have traded in my soul. OK technically I’ve only given up my UK driving license in exchange for a South African one but it amounts to the same thing. I have an ID book. I have permanent residency. I am not allowed to vote which is of great relief to the ANC given that I could just be the swing…
Life is pretty amazing despite the well documented challenges that South Africa has. People greet each other all the time. The sun shines a lot. From my house I can run to a forest, to the coast or up a mountain. Sometimes I do them all at the same time. Our kids have an outdoor life. They grow up surrounded by different cultures and different languages. In international monetary terms we are poor. In international living terms we are blessed with riches. I have met some wonderful people and have seen some amazing things. I’ve learned to make beer, biltong, bacon and probably other things beginning with b. I’ve even started writing…
I will always be Welsh and I will always miss the country of my birth. I miss people all the time. Being unable to travel back to say goodbye to some dear people who have passed away while I’ve been away has been tough. Missing my parents, my sister (technically I should add an in-law to the sister part but screw technicalities – she’s our sister) and my brother is the toughest challenge of all.
Jislaaik…Africa is definitely not for sissies but it is my home.