February 16, 2015

Joburg Expat Hits One Million

I wish it was one million dollars, but it's just pageviews. The number of times people have looked at (and maybe even read) my blog. Joburg Expat has just surpassed a million of those!

A million! (kinda embarrassing, though, to see it listed under last month's stats, which were not great)

When I first started Joburg Expat I didn't have any big readership in mind. I just wanted to share what I knew so that others would have an easier time making their decision to move to South Africa and, once there, settle in and all that. Who knew there'd be so much interest?

I sort of lost track of my pageviews after the excitement of checking them daily wore off. And after we moved back to the U.S., they sort of hit a plateau and have remained more or less steady each month instead of rising further. So I was a bit surprised when glancing at the stats the other day that I was approaching a million views.

To celebrate, I thought it might be nice to tell you a little about me, especially for new readers who are joining us now. Joburg Expat in a nutshell, so to speak. It just so happens that I recently wrote an article about our family for our neighborhood magazine that perfectly suits this purpose. The following is adapted from the original - names and locations have been changed to preserve privacy:

You could call us global nomads. My husband and I were born and raised in Germany, arrived in the United States in the 1990s for graduate school, lived in North Carolina for many years, moved around the country several times, and lived in Singapore for a while. That’s where our second son Jabulani, now sixteen, was born. Our other children are Zax (18 and soon off to college), Impatience (14), and Sunshine (12). We moved to our current home in Tennessee in January of 2013 after relocating to the U.S. from a three-year assignment in South Africa.

The things we were most grateful to rediscover were working traffic lights (including the fact that they are once again called traffic lights and not robots), Amazon, efficient and reliable service (except perhaps on the Comcast front), an abundance of power outlets in each room without the need for any adapters, the Starbucks drive-through, Major League baseball, the public library, water fountains, and yes, the U.S. Postal Service (it is still such a surprise when your mail gets there).

We were also happy to rediscover people who mean “right now” when they say it. South Africans have a rather conflicted relationship with the word “now.” When someone tells you he’ll do it “now,” it almost certainly means “never.” “Just now” means “maybe, but probably not today.” The only thing worth getting your hopes up for is “now now,” and even that is at best translated with “soon.”

And yet we do miss Africa. It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. It is precisely the slower and gentler pace of a life where nothing happens right away that has its charms. We miss the beautiful sunsets; the smiling and generous people who have the world’s best sense of humor; the parking guards calling you Mama; the screeching hadedas (a kind of bird) waking you up every morning; the hawkers at the intersection and the throngs of people milling about; the presence everywhere of Nelson Mandela; and above all, the African bush with all its glorious animals.

We even miss the language, which made for some misunderstandings early on. Ketchup is tomaaahto sauce, cookies are biscuits, biscuits are scones, and there is an entire baked-goods aisle containing rows and rows of rusks, which, frankly, can only be eaten without serious injury to your teeth by dunking them into your Rooibos tea. When you put something on your calendar you diarise it, an athletic cup is a ballbox (imagine my consternation when that first showed up on the school supply list), when someone promises to call they will give you a ring (or worse, a tinkle), things that are yummy are lekker, and when you’re having a bad day it is kak.

Going to a South African school and donning uniforms (yet sometimes no shoes) was quite an adjustment for the kids, but an exciting experience. They had to learn new languages, Afrikaans and Zulu, but perhaps the biggest adjustment came on the sports field. Zax and Impatience took up field hockey, the girls tried themselves at netball – a type of outdoor basketball with neither backboard nor dribbling, a rather sad affair if you ask me – and Jabulani played soccer, rugby, and cricket, the latter a game not unlike baseball but so slow that when the teams break for “tea and biscuits” at halftime it often constitutes the highlight of the match.

When we first moved to Johannesburg in early 2010, just in time for the Soccer World Cup, we had heard the most dire stories of carjackings, break-ins, and worse. Taking kids to such a place and to actually live there seemed quite insane. But, as often is the case, reality was much different from reputation. While Johannesburg is definitely not one of the safest places to live – along with many American cities I can think of – it has changed for the better in recent times, and we count our years there as some of the happiest of our lives.

The weather, for one, was nearly perfect. No need for air conditioning and bright sunshine year round. The sweeping landscapes, the friendly people, the outdoor lifestyle, and, oh, the wine! Don’t even get me started on domestic help, something I sorely miss (though I suspect the kids miss it even more, seeing as they now have to fold laundry, unload dishes, and prepare their own school lunches).

Maybe what we loved so much about our life there is that, in the words of Paul Theroux, “Africa, for all its perils, represents wilderness and possibility.” It instills in you a sense of adventure. You somehow feel more alive, younger, willing to do crazier things than you’ve ever done before. You know those African airplanes you shake your head about when hearing of another disaster? Or those minibus taxis with threadbare tires and overstuffed with smelly people? We traveled in them. Kissed by elephants and battled bush fires? Been there. Bungy jumping off bridges and diving with great white sharks? Done that. (By the way, it’s not so much the sharks that are scary, but the freakishly cold waters off Cape Town.)

Africa gives you this sense of adventure, but seeing so much poverty around you also fills you with humility and puts many of our modern-day grievances in perspective. And it definitely teaches you patience. Because between Africa and your efficient American can-do-nothing-is-impossible self, Africa usually wins.

When you return from all that to the much more predictable existence in American suburbia, you can't help but feel a sense of loss, even though you're surrounded by beauty, the phones work every day, and you never come across any street signs warning you of “hijacking hotspots.”

But we are very grateful to have found such a wonderful community. From the very first day we were welcomed with open arms, invited into our neighbors’ homes, and included in their activities. The kids have found new music teachers and sports teams (lacrosse replaced field hockey, volleyball took over for netball, while rugby remains rugby), and my husband enjoys the more predictable challenges of his job at a local industrial company.

As for me, I continue to write the blog I started three years ago, which is still called Joburg Expat but nowadays generates fewer stories of incomprehensible government bureaucracy or bribing traffic cops, and more about the wonders of First World living.

Noisette, Jabulani, Impatience, Sunshine, Zax, and Yours Truly, December 2014