It’s time to be publicly honest. No more denials and excuses.
I feel like I’ve lost my sense of identity. Or perhaps that’s the wrong choice of words.
Let me explain.
When I went back to South Africa, the country of my birth, I no longer felt that I “fitted in” back in my home country. Sure I understood the isiZulu (well most of it), relished the Durban bunny chow and appreciated every second of being driven around by my father. But how can an expat ever really feel at home after the experiences they’ve had abroad? However… we will also never be fully accepted or integrated into our new country. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve moved to London, South Korea, Japan or Botswana.
There is always a sense of being caught between two worlds. When your favourite restaurant is in Hong Kong, your nicest beach memory is in the Philippines and the best sunset you ever saw was in Malaysia… how can you ever relate to friends and family on the same level. One of life’s hardest challenges is when you feel your old friends back home are moving on without you, or when you feel you can no longer fully relate to family because your life experiences have been so different. So what is home? And where is it?
Home can be the craziest concept to define when you are an expat. Generally, when I refer to home to someone here in Korea, I am referring to somewhere in South Africa. In fact, in the broadest sense, home is South Africa.
I am still a South African citizen, and though I think there are many things that set expats apart from non-expats of the same nationality, I think I will always be South African at heart.
So home is SA. But more specifically, home is KwaZulu Natal, the province that I lived in all of my childhood and adolescence. Or, even more specifically, home is Durban, the city in KZN that my parents still live in.
But when I am actually home in South Africa, I’ll be referring to a different home.
In the broadest sense, home is Asia, a place most of my friends and family have never been. To them it is ‘the continent’ — a place totally different from the one they call home.
In South Africa, when I refer to home, it will mean Korea, that small country with the chopsticks and straight hair. I will show photos and tell stories about my ‘home’ in Korea.
But when I am here…
Sometimes I pretend I’m still living in South Africa. I wake up, use the Clinique products I’ve used since I turned 14, eat a tuna sandwich with Nando’s sauce (just the way my mother makes it) and listen to 5fm.
But then I look outside and the illusion is shattered. I can’t walk outside, throw my handbag in my father’s car and drive off to Overport to see my beautician. I am no longer in the country where you can go from a world-class city (with, admittedly, a lot of broken traffic lights/robots) to the deepest bush teeming with exotic wildlife in just an hour? And no longer do I experience that beautiful African climate…. It’s simply perfect – sunny year-round, seldom too hot, and only rarely too cold, little rain most of the time, and spectacular thunderstorms to keep it interesting. And those fruit- where everything is seasonal and local and tastes fabulous. But I digress.
If I could pack up certain things from South Africa in a suitcase and bring them with me to Korea, life would be perfect. So I’ve compiled a list of things that will help me construct my idyllic world of perfection in Korea. If I could, I’d bring with me:
- The sound of dogs barking, crickets and the hardida’s crowing
- Melktert, vegetable pickle, koeksusters, mutton sausages, lamingtons, Super M, Cadbury’s chocolate, bunny chow, burfee and malva pudding
- Nelson Mandela, Deborah Patta, Natalie du Toit, the man on the street, and the Cape minstrels
- Drakensburg, Table Mountain, the Tsitsikama forests in Knysna, the Garden Route, the warm Indian Ocean intermingling with the cool Atlantic, the dry escarpment of Gauteng and the Great Karoo
- My family at the beach, eating watermelon and getting burnt like charcoal under the unforgiving Durban sun
- Culture overload, food and music, wildlife and diverse climates, history, tradition, survival, local is lekker, meilies, braais and biltong. More than anything, the people who depict togetherness unlike any other country in a global context where war and racial hatred is the easiest route
BUT- let me take off my rose tinted glasses for a second. Of course, it’s nice to be able to live without burglar guards, have the financial independence that I have at my age and all the opportunities that I have here in Korea- just a few things that South Africa could never give me. But I guess it’s important to be able to see your home country from a distance and appreciate things you didn’t see before.
So, I am a woman of many homes. Each one is special to me. Each one will always have a place in my heart called home.
But South Africa will always be my first love. Here’s to laughing with friends and with your chommies, your “bra”, your boet and bud. Being in a totally different landscape and sometimes climate within an hour or two. The crunch of the beach sand between your toes, the prickle of the salt on your skin and the sunburn from beach cricket. The shoes caked in red earth, socks covered in “blackjacks” and wors on the braai. Cruising in a taxi with kwaito blaring out the speakers with Clifton beach passing you by through the windows. Mrs. Balls, beef chakalaka, niknaks, chappies, biltong, Cape Town, Hunter’s and sunshine… always sunshine.
I love South Africa because it is where my happy childhood memories will forever remain, and where I shall surely return.
P.S. I thought this link was cool- “Which foods do South Africans miss most when abroad?“