Tuesday, 26 February 2013

When home is no longer where you think it is......

As some of you know, on the 10th of February my Dad sadly passed away. He was two months shy of his 89th birthday and was a man who had so much knowledge and had done so many different things in his life that I can happily say he lived a full good life. However his sudden passing left me needing to do an emergency trip back home. Home, the place I grew up and lived for the first 29 years of my life, the place I have missed so much.  Half of me was almost happy to do the trip, (not the reason for the trip, but to see the place of my dreams.) So 27 hours of flying and airports (that's just one way) and a 7 hour time difference and then 10 days later doing it all over again to get back to Canada and I feel like I have been knocked on my butt.

I typed some of this while I was there and the rest I have just finished now.

Flying into Africa was a strange feeling. It's like coming home, but I realized almost immediately it's no longer my home. It's the first time I have felt like this, all my previous visits I breathed a sigh of relief to be back in Africa, to be home where things were familiar and life is vibrant and exciting. Now as I pushed my way through the rowdy masses in JHB airport, clinging to my bags to stop a "helper" from forcibly taking them from me while he showed me the way to my next gate I almost had a sense of foreboding.  I know my visit was not of a pleasant nature which may have had an implication on my mood, but things felt so different this time.  I made my way to the boarding gate for my last of the three flights, a short 50 minute flight to Durban, there was no plane at the gate and people looked confused.  I took a seat and joined them.  A pilot sat down next to me and then as we are about to start boarding they announce that they have changed the gates and we need to get across to the other end of the gates to board now.  The pilot shakes his head and says to me, "Jhb airport couldn't organize a piss up in a brewery"  and tells me not to rush with the rest of the people, the plane is not leaving without him.  Welcome to Africa.

I guess by the time I arrived and cleared customs I looked travel weary, I was jet lagged and my back was in pain from a skating fall I had had a few weeks earlier, the customs guy looked at me and said "long flight? - never mind, you're home now". It Made me smile, but at the same time I knew my home was thousands of miles away in Canada with my kids and DH.

Below are a couple of random observations both good and bad from my trip to share.

Umhlanga Lighthouse - Photo by: Jen
Durban is HOT and HUMID, I nearly melted....I could not survive that long term, I was almost longing for -20c note I said almost!

There is nothing like the smell of the earth when it rains in Africa, especially after a hot day. It brought a tear to my eye when it rained the first day and the overwhelming smell hit me, I sat outside on my Moms patio and breathed it in.

Newspapers in SA are depressing. It's only local news, and most of the reports about the crime in the suburbs do not even warrant reporting on. Except for the sports pages, where local and some international sport (mostly European) is covered, it's all about violence and politics.

The food is exceptional. Even from the moment I climbed on SAA, the food was wonderful, SA'ers truly know how to eat. I am typing this while still here and I have no access to a scale, but I know I have gained weight and loved every minute of it.

I craved biltong (it was amazing) I craved a jam donut (it was a disappointment- I threw half of it away). I ate the best steak ever.

The lack of cable internet drives me crazy, even using my brothers ADSL line for dedicated access was slow and not like I am used to.

I did not feel safe. We walked across to the shops and I had the sudden thought that I should not have my bag with my iPad and wallet and phone over my shoulder.

I got used to driving a stick shift on the wrong side of the road and within 24 hours felt like I had been doing it for years.

Mosquitoes love me, does not matter the country, I am the one in the room that they will bite.

Biltong cream cheese is one of the best things ever made

It was amazing to see old friends, there are some people you can just pick up with where you left. It does not matter if it's been 7 years or 20 years.

I love the fact that they serve Coke Zero in restaurants, I missed bottomless soft drinks though.

Alcohol is cheap.

Having packers when you go through the checkout at grocery stores makes your life so much easier

Monkeys are cute

Loved the exchange rate, it was a pleasure being on the right side of it for once.

Clothing in the stores mostly sucked. What is up with the fashion sense there? It was either hippiesh 70s style or neon late 80s. I dont care if that is coming back...I am never going back to the 80s. And skirts that are short in front and long at the back are stupid.

I made a note to myself to open a bank account in my own name with some money in it. If your spouse dies and you need cash when all the bank accounts are frozen it's a problem. Especially when the funeral home demands payment on the spot....so much so that they will follow you to the bank and wait outside for proof of payment.

Having to drive with your handbag tucked under your legs out of sight is a pain, as is having to lock your car doors, take the gear lock off, the steering wheel lock off, de-arm the immobilizer, and have cash on hand to tip the car guards that patrol every parking lot.

Hibiscus Flower - Photo by Jen
Nothing can compare with the lush green and vibrant colourful flowers in a tropical climate, it is beautiful.  Made worse for me by the fact that at this time of year everything in Canada is white and grey and slushy!

The first time I really felt homesick for SA was the day before I left. We spent the day walking along the beachfront and sitting on the sand watching my nephews swim. I miss the ocean, I miss hearing it I miss watching it, I miss diving in it.

On every previous trip I have felt sorrow leaving, I felt like I was leaving a part of my heart and soul behind, I did not feel that this time. I was looking forward to getting home, home to DH, home to my kids, home to the monster dog, and yes even home to the snow. Don't get me wrong, a part of me will always belong to Africa, I will always support the sports teams and I will always love and miss the country, I was born there, I grew up and became me there, it's just that I realize now that home is where your family are, and for right now, home for me is Canada.


  1. Wow such an honest account and oh so familiar. I've been back home 1ce in 12 years and I long for the smell of the earth after the rain; the smell (and taste) of the Spur; a swim in the warm Indian Ocean with beaches of SAND and not shale or pebbles and being constantly amused by the visiting monkeys! Yet we have 'postponed' our visit planned for later this year. Why? For all the reasons you noted. My blood will always be green and gold, but like you my home is where my family is safe, happy and thriving and sadly that's not in Africa x

  2. Jen, I wanted to cry when reading this. Have such mixed feelings about out trip home (yes I do it too!) in August this year. I agree with the above comment - home is where your family is safe, happy and thriving and sadly that's not in Africa. :(

  3. So beautifully written. I have yet to have that feeling when leaving England to come home to Canada. I am still torn 50/50 and it breaks my heart .But like everyone else my family is here and I have now been here as long as I lived in England!

  4. “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
    —Virginia Woolf
    Virginia would be proud Jenni.

    Maria x