Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Just observe – then we’ll talk again…

SA Mandela Marx I’ve had an email interchange with Doberman the other day, where we discussed that great leap of faith – leaving your country of birth and venturing into the virtually unknown. Yes, I know – others have done it before us and plenty more will follow, so how is it the unknown or a leap of faith?

Well, let me tell you. When that day arrives when the bags are packed, your material belongings already en-route to a foreign destination and you are fighting the tears (even though you are a 125kg beast of a man with many a good rugby game behind you) because you are leaving friends and family behind, not knowing when you will (if ever) see loved ones again, it doesn’t really matter how much research and preparation you have done – you may as well be Columbus venturing into the unknown or our Solutrean ancestors tempting the oceans in their skin-covered vessels. Well, maybe not quite, but it certainly feels that way.

And then I realised something – what I now regard as normal and matter-of-fact, some of my countrymen still have to endure. Or have very recently experienced. And it is no small feat, by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t care who you are, how financially independent and emotionally stable, but when your whole support network which you have worked the best part of your life to establish and nurture is suddenly taken away, you kind of feel like those silly dreams where you pitch up naked for the exams.

Initially it was very difficult. No matter how friendly and hospitable the hosts in your adopted country, you still feel like the odd one out. And why wouldn’t you? They have a history here going back generations. For heaven’s sake, in my case we even regarded each other as enemies fighting bitter wars for our beliefs and values. And let me tell you, for all our differences and separate heritage going back ages, I’ve found the British a noble, wise and accommodating nation – maybe even too accommodating. But you are still the foreigner – even though they NEVER said it, I felt like it.

However, the salt in the wound of missed loved ones and a longing for a country you’ve bled for was not rubbed in by my new countrymen, but by some of my own blood, those not understanding the situation or preferring to turn a blind eye. The accusations of being a traitor, for choosing the “easy way out”, are still a distant memory even today. And let me be brutally honest now – I couldn’t care a rat’s bum what they think today. Yet the memories are there. You do tend to question your actions and motives at first. Especially when you hear stories of how good things are, how the situation in South Africa is improving, that the battle against crime is being won, that things aren’t so bad after all. Professional people still manage to find jobs, houses are relatively cheap compared to the first world and space is usually not at a premium. I personally think the doubt is aggravated by the fact that you sit in a foreign land, that most of what you have grown accustomed to over many years is but a distant memory. That, together with the hardships of rebuilding something you worked very hard at to accomplish the first time around, tend to play funny games with your mind – and possibly more so with your heart.

Then there is the other side of the coin. The news you receive while in a country far away, of neighbours, family and acquaintances brutally attacked and even killed, family members enduring violent housebreakings and openly racist behaviour by government officials against white folk, to name but a few of the “nasties”. These episodes tend to yank you back to reality at break-neck speed. You are reminded very harshly of the factors influencing your life-changing decision. A decision not only affecting and concluded for your own sake, but more likely for your spouse and children’s sake – those less able to defend themselves against the savage reality of South Africa today.

I’m not going to tell you about the brutalities and endless tales of utter savagery, corruption and filth I have experienced through family and other loved ones over the past 10 years. Frankly, I don’t see the point. I very much doubt that anything I can possibly say will influence your mindset when tens (or hundreds) of thousands of tales of murdered souls haven’t done so up to now. My experiences of a pre-ANC South Africa (the good and the bad) will not enjoy much objectivity from your perspective when you can’t even believe the tales of those “previously disadvantaged individuals” comparing the “very racist previous white regime” with the “democratically-elected majority-ruled” ANC government and finding the former a better solution than the latter.

Let me merely say this to those who criticise white South Africans for some of their views and also those criticising the ones making better lives for themselves by leaving the chaos and bloodshed behind. Maybe you have been very fortunate in your life. Maybe you have never experienced such atrocities. To you I will say what I have said to others about my experiences working in the mining industry, 3,500 metres below surface in gruelling and life-threatening conditions. “You just come and walk for a week where I have worked and operated – then tell me again how hard life is and how you are in a position to criticise anything I have done. You don’t have to DO ANYTHING – just OBSERVE.”

I am under no illusion that there is nothing harder than leaving your country of birth to establish a new life abroad. I will never think or say that when there are people in professions saving lives by offering their own. However, some find it very easy to criticise and give perspectives when they haven’t experienced the conditions, when they haven’t been there themselves. It’s very easy indeed. Unfortunately, those perspectives also count very little without the first-hand knowledge.

So, just observe. Then we’ll talk again…

10 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Yeah, its stressfull.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Been there done that, in SA mines too. I've lived in a foreign country for years post apartheid and have never been back to SA, despite depredations on family and friends in ANC's commie mess.

Being a Soutie, I find walking my new land helps me identify with it. My kids are the real citizens of our adopted country.

Doberman said...

Very well put. It has to be one of the most stressful experiences in one's life and people contemplating leaving must think and prepare carefully. All I can say is that for 99% of expats, it gets much better after a few years, usually 2-5.

Visiting blogs like ILSA that give a different perspective on the sometimes sanitised official news and sharing thoughts with your countrymen helps focus one's mind on why we left in the first place, because distance from the problem has the effect of lulling one into thinking perhaps things are not so bad back home. But they are and getting worse.

All I say is, remember what you were thinking when you made the decision to move, for me it was securing my kid's futures, that done, it helps make the stress manageable.

AMB said...

I haven't found it too difficult - I think I left at the right time, where I was so disillusioned with what was happening in SA. Melbourne has been fantastic. Of course I miss my "mense", but it gets easier. I also make it a point to read IOL, News24 and ILSA daily so that I don't forget why I left. I've been here 1.5 years now and the kids are happy and free. They have never known such freedom as what they have now and they don't want to go back. They are completely different to the cowering, frightened boys that left SA. We lived through 4 house burglaries in CT - in one we were in the house asleep when they broke in and stole my cell phone from my bedside. Being a single Mom with 2 boys I just couldn't worry what would happen anymore. Needless to say I made the decision to leave and have really never looked back. It also helps that there are stacks of ex-pats here as well as a few working with me so I still get to speak Afrikaans and feel a bit SAcan:-)

Doberman said...

Well said, AMB. When I have those moments (and they are extremely rare) I look outside my study window and see my little kids happily riding their bikes outside in the street like we used to do. They walk to the parks, they walk to their cousins who live about 1 km away. they do everything I did.

Just before I left SA, my oldest then 9 years old would say, "Dad, lock the car doors, we don't want to be hijacked". I can recall those moments and how shit I felt that my babies would have to think like that at their young age. I thought, I can't leave my children to that fate.

I've had my time, it's my duty to give them theirs. My parents sacrificed for me, I'm doing it for mine.

I am now very, very happy living in Queensland. I like the people, I love the weather. In Queensland the saying goes, beautiful one day, perfect the next. It's true. It averages 24-26 degrees mid winter.

What can make a huge difference is what you did before. I found that people who move and are BETTER off than before have it easier. Those of us who were, as one fellow blogger put it "the man" everyone looked up running large companies, to simply leave all that behind, arrive on the other side feeling worthless, is a huge let down.

We struggle to find our way, it takes years, I once used the phrase "I feel like a guppie's arsehole in a big sea". It's true. We are overwhelmed, our qualifications often count for naught, we are treated like imbeciles. I have a great engineering degree and three accreditations and it means shite in Aus.

It's been hard for me personally but I have finally found my place and am now happy. I wish for everyone the same.

FishEagle said...

It just occurred to me how wrong it is for people to judge others, that left South Africa, when they criticized a country that spat them out as beaten up and abused citizens. What the hell do they expect, gees like!

Exzanian said...

IShark: really brilliant, Thanks for this post, so much is reflected in my own experience moving to UK. That sense of isolation, alienation even. The feeling of being the "oddball" with no history and yes, subtle discrimination. But you have got to cut the mustard, no turning back. Culture shock???, Ah Man, Not for sissies I promise you that. It's like jumping out of a plane with a WW2 parachute on your back that has never been used before. Thanks mate, great post!

Islandshark said...

Thanks Exzanian. It is dedicated to all those taking the leap of faith!

Anonymous said...

You guys are pissies.LOL
Try immigrating to a country where you cant even understand Good Morning, and you are the only South African ex pat.
Joking aside, Good luck and vasbyt. When, and not if... you wonder was this all worth it, just read the news in South Africa and you will have your answer.

Islandshark said...

@ Anon 4:35am - Yip, I can imagine that it is even worse when you don't speak the language!!