Nearly three years ago was the culmination of one of the biggest decisions I have made in my life. Having never been to Johannesburg, I boarded a plane and flew 16 hours, halfway around the world, into the unknown. I was moving to a city where the only person I knew was the woman who had hired me. Mid-flight I awoke from an exhausted sleep in a panic about the decision I had made. It was the only moment in the past three years, that I doubted my decision to leave home.
Slowly, I eased into this new foreign life. I rented a car and drove on the other side of the road, despite only having driven a dozen times in the past 10 years. I tried a different pilates studio every week, until a year later I found the right one. I tentatively explored Johannesburg before venturing further afield in South Africa and then to neighboring countries. I wandered the aisles of the grocery store selecting pre-made foods I had never heard of before – babotie, droewors, and snoek. I bought candles and liters of water to get through the frequent electrical and water outages. I spent a significant amount of time adjusting to this new place, years really. I marveled at the crazy maneuverings of taxi drivers who seemed to abide by a no-rules-of-the-road policy. I enjoyed being awoken by the noisy hadeda ibis (a large bird and frequent garden inhabitant). I looked forward to the highveld storms and the pulsing lightening that illuminated the sky. Gradually I substituted cart for trolley, (traffic) lights for robot, gas for petrol, while for whilst, arugula for rocket, and specialize for specialise.
But three years on, I still haven’t integrated fully into this place. I am an outsider with my nose pressed against the glass window and perhaps as an expat, I always will be. I see things through the prism of the US – a place that feels more distant and less like home than ever. I am still asking people to explain the intricacies of how things work in South Africa, although I finally know enough to ask the right questions. I feel like an anthropologist in this regard – noting everything in a notebook but wanting to experience it first hand. I still haven’t been invited to a braai (South African BBQ) or gone camping in the Kruger and these omissions make me feel as if I don’t really know my adopted land. The active social life I had in Washington, DC (filled with near nightly plans) has been replaced by the opposite, evenings spent at home, with only limited monthly social engagements. It has taken three years to build a cadre of friends who, incidentally, I can count on one hand. Dating remains challenging and I can’t help but think I am playing the same game with different rules that no one has bothered to explain to me. I spend more time alone than I have at any other point in my life, which can be exceedingly frustrating.
Yet, I wouldn’t trade a second of this life for another. Outside of the comforts and strictures of my US self, I have discovered that I can do anything – both personally and professionally. The things that challenge us the most often prove to be our greatest moments of growth and trust me, I am forced to grow nearly every day. While my life is not perfect (but what life is), it is mine. While South Africa is not perfect, I see a hopeful future – one that I hope I am contributing to. In these three years, I have seen more of Africa, than I even knew existed. I discovered a complete love of photography and the bush that I doubt will ever dissipate. With more time to pursue my hobbies, I have launched this blog and redoubled my pilates practice. I am the strongest I have ever been.
It has been a great three years filled with unbelievable highs and some noteworthy lows. My three year anniversary has caused me to examine the crossroads where I find myself. My visa is a ticking countdown clock that expires next June. The life I have crafted in South Africa may end and I may have to return to the US. Perhaps even more terrifying, is the fact that I want to stay and even further entrench myself into this South African life that is filled with challenges, adventures, and loneliness. I don’t know what the future holds and for a planner like me leaving it up to the fates is not an easy ask. This country has gotten under my skin and I am a better person for having lived (however many years I am given) in South Africa.