Expats often feel as if they belong to two worlds and they often comment that they aren’t completely at home in either their home or adopted countries. I experienced this dislocation acutely when I went back to DC last year where everything was incredibly familiar and yet frustratingly unfamiliar. It was a city frozen in my memory – my friends and their lives suspended in time – and I just didn’t quite belong there anymore. It was devastating to realize home was a memory and yet it was a relief to discover that South Africa had become my home. I experience a similar feeling of not quite belonging in South Africa every time friends and family visit me for an extended period of time. This place I call home feels difficult to understand and the things that I accept as part of living here (planned blackouts and poor customer service) irrationally irritate me.
This past April was an amazing month filled with a visit from one of my closest friends and my mom. We traveled across Southern Africa exploring Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, and Phinda Private Game Reserve. We laughed, reminisced, and I reverted back to my U.S. self even changing my accent ever so slightly which I hadn’t even noticed until a friend pointed out that I sounded more American. Then they leave and my American self feels a bit adrift in my South African life. After extended visits from the people I know best, I have the-grass-is-greener moments when I want my old life in the U.S. surrounded by my friends. It always takes a few weeks to recalibrate and stop comparing my old life to my new one.
The truth is that one is not better than the other. Whilst I am the same person, the way I live my life is incredibly different. Then after a few weeks I settle back into the rhythms of my life and remember all of the things that I love about South Africa – my challenging and interesting job, the incredible weather, the unbelievable travel opportunities, an amazing housekeeper who ensures I don’t lift a finger, and the opportunity to live in this fascinatingly complex country. I remember to say boot instead of trunk. I remember that my friends are just a FaceTime call away. I remember how incredibly lucky I am to have these years here.
As much as I love going home and having visitors a small piece of me dreads it as well. Living in two worlds is exhilarating and challenging, but it is somehow less confusing when the two are kept completely separate.