Darling you’ve got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?

Some of us are riding out the uncertainty. Some of us, packing for Perth.

Some of us are desperate to leave, but being economic prisoners, we can’t.

Some feel like we should leave (it’s only a matter of time we’re told), but we don’t want to.

There are those who bash the country from afar, swapping crime stories at braais with their mukkers, saying phew we’re lucky we got out, the country is going to hell in a hand basket.

Shame we say, you have to clean your own house and look after your kids 24/7. And shame, you have to hack on the Tube everyday and the sun never shines.

Ag, you might have a clean house but you’re barricaded inside it, you remind us.

We write about our love for this country, you lambaste us. You’re like frogs who don’t realise you’re in boiling water you say. Oh, you might be safe, but are you happy is our comeback.

Don’t you miss it, we ask. The beaches, the bush, the skies, the gees, the winefarms, the warmth, the spirit, the connections, the diversity, the entrepreneurial opportunities, your families?

How do you cope with it, you counter. The instability, the political shitstorms, the crime, the escalating cost of living, the loadshedding?

Perhaps your Facebook feed of cuzzies hanging together on weekends, sunkissed with bruised shins, gives you a pining so visceral it takes your breath away. Perhaps you feel just a gentle pang of nostalgia that’s eclipsed by excitement for an upcoming weekend in Croatia or the relief of living without high walls.

Perhaps you left for an adventure. Maybe you were pushed out by a trauma.

For every South African who kisses the tarmac or presses their face into the red dirt when they move back home, there is one who is thriving overseas and has never looked back.

For every patriotic story on #I’mStaying there’s another on #IAmStayingOverseas, swearing allegiance to an adopted country.

I emigrated twice and both times I came back. South Africa never really loved me (like Trevor Noah, I was born a crime), but I loved her, regardless.

I kak about the future, but I can’t bear the thought of leaving. With every year that passes, my roots here sink deeper, but goddam it’s a beautiful thing to walk through the world without looking over your shoulder, and I miss that. We may move to give that to our children one day.

South Africa is immensely beautiful, immensely troubled. Whether we stick by her or leave her shores, perhaps we should be mindful of what a privilege choice is, because those most affected by the country’s travails have precious few.

This country’s stories, like ours, are many and varied, complex and singular.

There’s no right or wrong; there are zero guarantees.

There is always the push and the pull.

Choosing is never easy.

Let’s have each other’s backs.

Wanderlustless

Mark Twain famously said that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

It skyrockets us out of our comfort zone and makes us realise that in a great big world, our way of being is just one tiny way.

I long prided myself on being a traveller. Until a year or two ago, I couldn’t go a few months without cabin fever setting in. Usually I’d hop on a plane, but a short road trip out of town would suffice. Travel and momentum had always been in my DNA. It started, perhaps, with long car trips to and from boarding school since the age of 6. And was cemented by a deep restlessness in my young adult life, to see the world, and make sense of who I was relative to the rest of humanity.

I prided myself not just on being a traveller, but an intrepid, gritty one. I worked hard at ticking off the list of experiences any good backpacker worth their salt ought to have had:

A severe case of Delhi belly. Ripped off by a carpet trader in Goa. Backpack stolen off an overnight train somewhere in Eastern Europe (my girlfriend and I were also, as an aside, flashed twice in the space of 24 hours in Prague, and both times the flasher treated himself to a happy ending). I woke with a crick in my neck after a night spent on a slab of rock on Mount Sinai. Spent 3 days sailing down the Nile on a felucca, hopping overboard to wash, hoping not to be taken under by a Nile croc. I strolled the Champs-Elysees with my fiancé. Hiked the Great Wall of China. Spent the night on a bench in Heathrow so I could catch the red-eye flight.

But can I come right out and say that I’m a little over travelling and I really just want to stay put. Not absolutely put. Just a little bit put. The thought of far-flung destinations that involve airports and long haul flights and stopovers piques my anxiety rather than my wanderlust.

Can I blame my kids? Old age crankiness?

I still adore the idea of travel, it’s just that I’ve become quite lousy at it. I get thrown by the inevitable curveballs, and I like to be assured of a good nights sleep. Travel can be arresting and confronting, and hence, quite exhausting.

What thrills me now is chucking a few bags in the boot of the car and finding a spot close to home. Preferably a beach, but in the Cape we’re terribly spoilt and have mountains and rivers and winelands. Few places are as astoundingly beautiful and diverse as South Africa; there is so much wonder on our doorstep.

I love the idea of discovering a local gem, then returning to it again and again, to experience it in a different light, a different season, a different mood. To discover the rhythm of a place that is not your home but has come to feel comfortingly familiar through the holiday rituals that become part of each trip you make.

Maybe the bug will bite again. Hopefully—as I want my boys to see the world. And there are still places on my bucket list! Walking the Camino de Santiago, Buenos Aires, a retreat at a remote monastery. I used to dream of packing my boys into a caravan and road-tripping across the States, a country I haven’t seen much of…

I just need to reconnect with my inner wanderer. I know she’s in there, she’s just taking a sabbatical, and she shan’t be rushed.

Scatterlings

Scatterlings

*{A retrospective — to a post written in early 2014, soon after we moved back to South Africa after nearly 9 years in Asia and the UK. It’s fascinating to read it 4 years down the line, something I’ll be chatting about more in my upcoming Newsletter}*

Six months after moving back to South Africa, I still wake in a cold sweat and question the sanity of having left our comfortable life in Blighty. After all, South Africa is not for the faint-hearted. It’s beauty astounds you one minute and the inequalities make you despair the next. Extremes underpin so much of life here, and the issues that compel people to leave – crime, corruption, poor service delivery – are real.

My relationship with this country has blown hot and cold in the nearly two decades that I’ve come and gone. The first time I emigrated, to Australia, I was relieved to bid farewell to a place whose politics I despised. I grew up mixed race during apartheid and though privileged, I struggled with identity in such a racialised society. I found it hard to relate to life in homogenous, regulated Australia though and came running back after less than two years.

Six years later I followed my boyfriend (now husband) to Beijing where he’d been offered a job, and by then, I’d fallen head over heels for Cape Town. But still, I couldn’t resist one last adventure and so off we flitted, totally unarmed for the culture shock that lay ahead.

My memories of Beijing are so surreal I often pore over photo albums just to convince myself I didn’t imagine the whole thing. Cycling round the streets in an apocalyptic smog, undecipherable neon signs everywhere, with a swarming mass of people who spoke a language (cultural and linguistic) so very different from my own. I made the most amazing friends, and discovered so much (the Sichuan food cravings haven’t gone away and random Mandarin words still pop into my head).

It was a hugely enriching experience and despite constant homesickness, we got hooked on expat life, moving from Beijing to London via the unique, pulsating city of Hong Kong. And got married and had two kids somewhere in between all the packing and unpacking of suitcases.

What was it, eight years later, that made us come back? Perhaps the smogginess of Asia and the sogginess of Britain wore us down. Perhaps we became jaded from having to reinvent ourselves with every move. Maybe it was the grind of raising young kids with little help far from home. Or the yearning for unfathomably big blue skies, waking to the squawk of a hadeda, and the comfort of being with people who know you, your history, warts and all.

Being back, there have been a few crises of confidence in the future of our country. Some minor niggles – a brief panic over load shedding (that never took place), and generally adapting to the less sophisticated infrastructure. Some not so minor – the Pistorius trial dominating the news, Nkandla. And a major niggle – stories of crime affecting those close to us.

Socially, we haven’t just slipped back into our old lives. Not that we imagined friends would be clamouring round fighting to get a piece of us, but things have changed and people have moved on. Much of this is a stage-of-life thing, where people have turned inward to focus on raising their families. We’ve done the same. Nonetheless, we’re having to carve out a new space for ourselves.

One of the hardest things to reconcile is the disparity in the lives of the haves and the have-nots. This uncomfortable truth cannot easily be ignored. The short stretch of road on my daily school run is like a microcosm of life here, where wealth and desperate poverty coexist. Moments after you pass an exclusive gated community cosseting the privileged minority, you’re left contemplating life behind the high walls of one of the country’s most notorious prisons.

This being my first Cape winter in eight years, I realise how much I’ve missed the stormy north-wester and pelting rain that makes everything sparkly green. Rugged up on the sofa, there is also the lurking thought that many are not warm and dry. And so it goes. Gratitude, and guilt, back and forth, round and round.

It’s these issues that have made me flip-flop constantly over whether to stay away or return and the reason why, even after our tickets home were booked, I was still on the lookout for reassurance that we were doing the right thing. I was heartened when the moving company commented on a surge in families returning to Cape Town; encouraged by local media reporting on a ‘brain gain’ with many expats returning.

My feelings, I think, echo those of many in the South African diaspora. Their longing for home is palpable, even while they bash the country from afar and make gloomy predictions about it imploding.

But here we are, and as the months go by I’m less focused on fortifying our house, fretting instead about whether the boys will get into good schools and where to find paraphernalia for Easter bonnets or stokies for winter.

My kids are thriving under these African skies and I love admiring their mozzie-bitten ankles, bruised shins and sun kissed skin. I feel totally energized after time spent with fellow South Africans who love this place and refuse to focus only on the negative. On voting day this year I felt a sense of belonging I’ve not had anywhere else. There was an air of optimism that was uplifting.

Ultimately, it’s not about this place trumping that place, or choosing the right place. It’s about home, and where that is for you. And despite my fickleness towards this beautiful, spirited country, it is undeniably my home, and the only place in this wide world I’ve felt like sinking roots deep into the earth.