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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