The bus that never comes…

StockSnap_F9EVIIW6SLAh, public transport. Super efficient, convenient and generally awesome, am I right? As it turns out… no. No I am not. At least not all the time. Waiting for your ride is no fun at the best of times. Waiting in the cold and rain, or when you are running late for an important appointment? Well, that’s just downright infuriating.

I hate being late. Rushing to an appointment or running through the airport to board a plane ranks up there with visiting the dentist or getting a tetanus shot. Despite having given myself 50 minutes to make the 20 minute trip into the city for my appointment at the alien office, I was left stranded by a no-show bus and ended up being half an hour late as I burst into the alien office (at which point I was rather disappointed at the lack of probing on the list of services offered) apologizing profusely. They didn’t seem to mind my tardiness, to my surprise and relief.

Speaking of public transport, I (much to the amusement of my colleagues) did not realize that one has to push the red buttons in the bus/tram to ensure a stop at the next station. I initially thought the buttons were emergency stop signals, kind of like the buttons provided to patients in hospitals. I have yet to encounter a bus trip where the driver did not stop at every station, but hey, maybe it happens. Something that still baffles me is the sight of people leaning on the button as though they will open the doors themselves if they only push hard or for long enough (I have yet to see this tactic actually accomplish anything), which is particularly strange when the next stop is either the central station or the final stop on the route.

More public transport woes are sure to follow, so stay tuned!


Protesting: a right or obligation?

StockSnap_24TVR5K8DZOn Friday the 31st of March 2017, I woke up to a flurry of activity on various social media platforms. It was bad news for South Africa. With Pravin Gordhan out of the way, the Zupta state capture project would be able to come to fruition. More than the plummeting rand, and more than the junk status rating of our economy, the Russian nuclear power deal was what had me really worried. With nothing standing in their way, the Gupta crowd are now free to enrich themselves and cripple our economy in the long term, to the tune of R3 trillion (the total amount of debt the government will have accrued when the deal goes through). The impact on the ability of the government to provide essential services will be severe.

People were (are?) afraid. Shocked. Angry. My Facebook and Twitter streams were filled with calls to rise up and do something, anything. All the while I saw the Gupta backed Bell Pottinger propaganda machine doing its job, and references to Zuma’s courage to take on so-called “white monopoly capital” being thrown around by ANC loyalists and some opposition parties alike.

A few of my friends vowed to take part in the nationwide protests planned for the 7th of April. But many I spoke to mentioned that they hoped that “people” would protest, making it clear that they themselves would not take part, but instead hoped that protest proxies would materialize to make a difference.

I get it. You think your black flag on Facebook is enough. It’s not.

Due to my current status as an expat, this may seem hypocritical but I can say one thing with certainty: Given the choice, on Friday the 7th I would do something I have only done once before: I would march. I would protest. I would bang my pots and pans and let my feet and my voice tell the world that I want change. Because, friends and countrymen, on the 7th of April, protesting is not a right that we can choose to exercise. It’s an obligation. If ever there was a time to take to the streets, to make our voices heard, and to stand up for those who we claim to care about, the disenfranchised and most powerless in our society, it is NOW.

Yes, I hear you. “I have a bad back.” “I’m afraid of being shot by police.” “It won’t make a difference anyway.” STOP.

For me, this is not about removing Zuma. It’s about changing the balance of power for good. For far too long, the South African government has been far too comfortable. Did you feel the tremor earlier this week? Well it’s time to make the earth move. The government should know what it’s like to be afraid of its people. Not the other way around. You have power. You have an obligation to use that power. If you are a tax-paying privileged person in South Africa, you have more power than most. This means that a few million (heck, maybe a few hundred thousand) people can change the direction of the country. Look at Iceland, look at Romania, Brazil, Argentina, and the Arab Spring. Even the USA can get a decent protest going.

For just one day in your life, get off your ass and get out there. Make your kids and grandkids proud. The future of the country cannot be left in the hands of the ANC (not the ANC we have currently anyway), or the Guptas. Nobody is going to “do the right thing” and remove Zuma. Gather your colleagues, gather your family, gather your friends, take your pans and spoons and join a protest!

Save SA has organized a legal protest with marshals, so it will be safe (if that’s your concern).

Rise up! Rise up!

The six stages of leaving your country of birth. Part 2.

Stage 3: Anger

When my husband and I decided to make our marriage work long distance for 2 years, the rational and logical side of my brain realized that it was the best possible solution for both of us. In fact, a big part of me respects him more for not just tagging along with me and instead deciding to do what he feels he needs to in order to be complete whilst letting me do the same. However, the non-rational side of me felt flashes of anger that our family would be separated as a result, with me and one dog (my St Bernard Great Dane mix, Mozart) on one side of the ocean and him staying behind on the other side with our two Yorkies. This stage quickly gave way to the next one…


Stage 4: Denial

The stage of denial dragged on for months, even as I made the necessary preparations to move both myself and Mozart across to Germany. As close friends would break down into tears I would sometimes cry empathetically as I often do, but my own emotions remained strangely evasive as I went about my daily life.

Stage 5: Fear

In the final week before I departed, as the empty rooms in my house and the administrative emails from colleagues in Germany started filtering through the fog, I was gripped by sheer terror. Sleep eluded me. Little things like considering how I would move my two heavy suitcases through the airport and into a taxi by myself filled me with panic. I was a wreck. And then, all too quickly, the day before my flight arrived…

Stage 6: Grief

I still cry daily, and I can honestly say that this is by far the most emotional and most difficult decision I have ever made. Nothing could have prepared me for the intense sorrow I experienced saying goodbye to my dogs and especially to my husband. Even though I don’t feel that I made a mistake in coming here, I long to hold and kiss my husband or snuggle up to my dogs on the couch. There is a part of me missing and it hurts like hell. But I also know what is just over the horizon, and I look forward to my experience coming full circle back to Stage 1: Hope. Because isn’t that what all this is for?

I know that one day I will wake up and I will make it through the whole day without a single tear. I won’t feel anxiety trying to navigate a new city, or grocery store. I’ll recognize the words being spoken to me and respond without hesitation. I’ll feel more at home. And I will feel hopeful. Hope in the security of the love my husband and I share, knowing that we will be reunited and build a bond stronger than before, hope for a better, happier and safer future, and hope that we can build the life we both want and dream of in this beautiful country.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” 

― William Faulkner

The six stages of leaving your country of birth. Part 1.

Now that I am in my new home, more than 9000 km away from (almost) everyone and everything I hold dear, and still very much in the throes of this rollercoaster journey, I often reflect on the multi-faceted emotional aspects accompanying my decision to take the leap. The decision to uproot your life is never an easy one, but every person is different, and this is just the account of one girl who surrendered to the Viking blood in her veins and set out on the journey of her life from the tip of Africa to the heart of Europe.

Stage 1: Hope

Some of my reasons for leaving South Africa probably mirror those of many other South African expats, and will come as no surprise. The fear of violent crime (I have had a number of personal encounters which I doubt I will ever fully recover from psychologically), the uncertainty of the political climate, the at times shaky economy and sliding healthcare and educational systems… but another (perhaps more important) aspect was the growing and uneasy feeling that I just didn’t belong. I am not part of the growing number of white South Africans who are convinced that there is a genocide of white South Africans underway, or that they are an oppressed minority. In fact it sickens me to see that in such an obviously unequal society, these people still do not acknowledge their privileges, nor do they utilize these advantages to better the lives of those who are not so lucky. On the other hand there are a number of black individuals who tell me to go back to Europe (and I don’t blame them for their anger). Should I have stayed and tried harder to make a difference? I believed that I could for a while. But engaging both sides made me feel more and more disillusioned as time went on. It was then that I started a journey of introspection and hoping to find somewhere I could belong, and a place where I would feel comfortable having a family. Over time, I just didn’t want to stay anymore and made that clear to family and friends. I wanted out, desperately.

Stage 2: Excitement

Over the last few days I have often thought back to remember the day my current boss sent me a text saying that a position had opened up for me and asking if my husband and I would move to Germany. The next few seconds were pure elation, I remember looking down at my little Yorkshire Terrier who was wagging his tail and looking up at me quizzically and saying to him “You’re going to be a German doggie!”

Life is never that simple though, and I quickly discovered that this stage would be short-lived when I discussed the opportunity with my husband, who made it clear that he wouldn’t stand in my way but that he was not ready to leave. We were at an impasse. If I stayed I would resent him and if he left he would resent me. A long-distance marriage seemed like the only way for two strong-willed independent people to (ironically) stay together. We agreed to put a two year time limit on this decision.

Celebrate small victories

Navigating your way through life in a new country, with different customs and a language you don’t understand is difficult. For a spoilt South African who has never had to use public transport, is directionally challenged, and has always had domestic help? Well, let’s just say my quest to find the washing machine in the studio I inhabit temporarily proved fruitless, and ended with me sitting in a heap (of clothing) on the floor Googling “doing laundry by hand” and trying to convince myself that, no, Google was not in fact judging me.

My first attempt at laundry in the bath tub was a success (well, I can only assume, but ask me in a week if my clothes are still sticky), as was my first shopping excursion. I only misunderstood two labels and purchased icing sugar instead of sugar and cream instead of milk. However, I remembered to buy a bag and I used the odd-looking plastic divider to separate my groceries from those of the next shopper at the check-out counters, which was met with a nod of approval from an elderly German lady and a mental fist pump from me.

Feeling confident, I ventured out of the office during my lunch break to order some food by myself. At a small kiosk down the street offering a limited selection of foods, I managed to order some fries with ketchup to take away using what can only be described as some sort of pidgin sign language. As I am a vegetarian and there was not a trace of wurst in my container of deep-fried deliciousness, I consider that a victory.

And so I am learning that to survive and keep a sense of humor, you can’t sweat the small stuff, but you ought to celebrate it all!


Germans are…

Before coming to Germany, I was aware of all the stereotypes. Cold, aloof, unfriendly and efficient people who never fail to obey the law and like their beer and sausages…a lot. Also… nudity. Not being an overly friendly person myself (I suffer from a particularly nasty case of RBF-Resting Bitch Face, which I am told is incurable), I didn’t mind the idea of living in a nation of austere individuals. At least I’d blend in, right?

I’ve always thought it strange that we judge entire cultures or countries based on the few individuals we briefly interact with whilst visiting on holiday or business trips. I mean, what if one was unfortunate enough to bump into Jeffrey Dahmer on a trip to the US, or worse, Donald Trump? Anyway, I digress…

A few days ago I was standing shivering at a bus stop desperately trying to figure out if the buses and trams from this particular stop were going in the direction of my office. I couldn’t work it out, so eventually I awkwardly asked the lady standing next to me for assistance. She spoke no English and instead used her finger to draw the number of the bus I would need to take once I got to the main station. I thanked her profusely and then went back to the board to figure out how to get to the main station. I didn’t notice the tram pulling up behind me, and as I turned around I saw her face in the window. She was gesturing wildly that I needed to get on as the tram pulled away. Cursing myself and my ridiculously poor navigational skills (seriously though, they should teach this stuff in schools), I sat back down and waited for the next bus or tram. I figured I could ask the driver if the main station was on their route. About 10 minutes later, I looked up to see the same lady running towards me down the pavement. She had gotten off the tram to come back and help me get on the right one. I was floored, and humbled.

Germany is…The intense, warm and overwhelming kindness of strangers.

The truth is, as much as I don’t like new people…Okay fine, most people… We all need other people on a daily basis. The small and simple social contracts which make us reach out to strangers to help them on their way is what makes humanity progress. Well, unless you’re Jeffrey Dahmer or Donald Trump.

Those working on a cure for cancer do not necessarily suffer from the disease. Those working to save the planet are not necessarily saving it for themselves, as climate change and dwindling resources will likely affect future generations to a greater extent. Whether we think about it or not, we are all constantly doing things to improve the lives of others.

And it took a single woman on a cold morning in Germany, challenging every stereotype for me to see that.

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