It has been a little under five years since I have been home in South Africa and a little over 15 since I have been home for the holidays. And while I know things change, I secretly hope that this pretty little picture in my head is not lying to me.
Throughout my travels around the world people have asked me what is it that I miss the most about home, about South Africa. I used to answer without hesitation “the meat”. That all changed once we entered Argentina, where the beef was better than any memory of beef back home.
It was not until then that I realized that I no longer knew what I miss about South Africa. I felt like I had lost a part of what made me, me. All of a sudden I felt that I could not call myself a South African, that I was without a country I call my own. I have been struggling with this.
I am sure Jessica saw this and presented me with the idea that we needed to travel through South Africa to rediscover what it is that we missed. And so this trip was planned. Am I excided? You bet! Scared? Hell yes.
Let’s rewind a few decades. The town that I grew up in had about 2,000 people, one primary school and a small locally-owned supermarket. The street where I lived with my family was packed with kids. We would play in the streets until our mothers would call us in for dinner, and most of the time late into the night.
I was pretty much oblivious to the apartheid. It was just another word people used. Most afternoons, after school the local kids (white, black, colored) would get together in the park and play a game of rugby, soccer and barney. I never saw color. I saw kids to play with. Sure we used racial slurs, but that was all part of the game, right? We would play the games, beat each other senseless and be back the next day like nothing happened.
Dirty and dusty, it was a great place to grow up.
South Africa has changed since then, for better and worse. The apartheid is over. But, corruption and violent crimes are rampant.
Five years ago I was home for three weeks, this was the first time I noticed the changes in and around the town I grew up in. The population had grown to over 14,000 people. The little creek where we caught fish and crabs now looked like dish water, foamy and foul. The local family-owned store had been sold and was now in ruins. The park we used to play in had all the swings and jungle gyms stolen and sold as scrap metal. No kids ran around playing in the streets. They were all in houses surrounded by 8-foot-high electric or barb-wire fences.
Dirty and dusty, a hard place to grow up.
I had to wonder, in a place like this, is there more to miss than family?
As we boarded our final flight to South Africa the newspaper headlines read "Farewell Madiba," the world cried out, and I knew that there had to be more to my country than meat on a plate and the street I grew up in.
We will be spending four months in South Africa, driving north to the Kruger National park and then heading south to Cape Town. No budget reports, no advice on how to buy a car or where to stay. Just observations form an expat, rediscovering home.