As the jacarandas trees exploded with purple blossoms across Johannesburg, I couldn’t help but think that this was the last time I would see them usher in spring. In what is surely a perverse way of viewing the world, I find myself longing for my South African life even though I am still living my South African life. The absurdity of indulging in nostalgia for the life I am leading instead of appreciating my life in the moment, is not lost on me. And yet, as I walked by the switch for the underfloor heating in my house, I forlornly mused that I would never turn it on again. The moment I last used the heating system is indistinguishable in my memory from the multitude of times I have utilized it over four years of living. And then there is the feeling of regret, regret that I did not get the chance to properly say goodbye to Londolozi, a place that has come to mean so much to me. It is where I met my Love. It is also a place where I was fortunate enough to spend time observing and photographing wild animals in their natural habitat. It is a spiritual place where I felt a profound sense of being truly alive. The slight heart palpitations when locking eyes with a lion, no doubt helped! Now every time I go to a place, especially those I only visit infrequently, I find myself wondering if this will be the last time I will be there.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion and one that is likely to continue to rock me when I least expect it, at least for the foreseeable future. While science seems divided as to whether nostalgia is positive or negative, right now it feels as if it is holding me back. I want to be enjoying and reveling in these last few months – it is summer, the best time to be living in Johannesburg. I want to do all of my favorite things – lazy Sunday afternoons swimming in the backyard, Pilates at the studio I love, visiting my favorite art gallery, Art Eye, sipping on a bubbly only available in South Africa. I also want to tick off a list of to dos – an expat bucket list of things still left to see.
In addition, I have taken to stockpiling South African products in the hopes that by surrounding myself with traces of South Africa, I won’t miss it so much. I have already began transporting wine, braai spices, my favorite olive oil, rooibos tea, and peri-peri sauce back to the US, since I have been instructed that I cannot pack these items in my shipping container with the rest of the household goods. The plan is to deploy these food stuffs when our South African nostalgia is most acute. And if that fails, I have a candle that smells like fynbos.
I am leaving. And, while I am fairly certain we will live in South Africa again, we won’t be returning to this life. This chapter is almost finished and when I next return, it will be as a visitor, not a resident. What was once recognizable, and will always have the vestiges of familiarity, will appear different, serving as a reminder that South Africa has changed and I was not here to notice its subtle transmutations. It is not lost on me that I am actually returning to my country – my home – a place I intrinsically understand and yet, where I will likely experience a sense of emotional dislocation not dissimilar to the one I fear will occur upon returning to South Africa. Yet it is the feeling of leaving and returning to a different South Africa that occupies my thoughts.
Leaving has brought on a slew of mixed emotions. It is time to do something new. And yet nostalgia for my South African life keeps creeping in.