One of the first things you learn when you move to South Africa is that everyone that lives here has at least one relative, often more, who live in Australia and / or New Zealand (note I don’t consider these countries to be interchangeable and might I note neither do my Kiwi friends). Thank goodness for rugby because that really helps everyone here with their geography and country separation. As an example, South Africans know that the All Blacks and the Wallabies are two separate rugby teams from two different countries – always a help. I know this because part of the above conversation about relatives living abroad is – you know South Africans were bought up to barrack for the Springboks and any team that plays the Wallabies? Strange!? I had a similar upbringing – if you swap those two teams around that is.
After you’ve got the conversation about the relatives and the rugby out of the way (they don’t like talking about the cricket so much at the moment) the next item of conversation is addressing the issue of why you are actually here – Aussies don’t come here, we go there- is the general message – got it, I really do. I cannot help that I lost my job in Hong Kong and the shipping company that my husband works for decided now is a good time to move here, the company is not Australian, we are. Believe me – I know that we are a very long way from home and a lot of other places – so far to my knowledge we are also the only Aussies in Durban. Come out come out wherever you are other Aussies and share your Vegemite supply!
When you are from Australia you are used to living a very long way from anywhere else (except New Zealand) and its OK – it’s been a whole of your life deal. When we moved to Hong Kong a whole new world opened up to us – from the point of view that we were now halfway to most other places – YAY – and very close to lots of fabulous Asian destinations. The other thing about Hong Kong was that it was more or less in the same time zone as Australia, a flight home for a weekend was at a pinch doable (less desirable with children but still doable) – a long weekend was easy and a week a breeze. Further upside was you didn’t have to ‘waste’ any days traveling as all your flights could take place overnight – leave HK at 9pm or Midnight and arrive in Sydney the next morning ready for the day ahead more or less. The same applied in reverse although the 5.30am landing in HK was sometimes a bit tricky if you had to go onto work for the whole day. Friday night to Sydney and Sunday night back can be worked in – 10 hours, you usually get 2-3 of sleep and if you are a parent that’s generally enough anyway – had worse nights right? Not so the flight from Durban to Sydney if that’s where we are calling home – my husband’s family is from Adelaide, which has more connections required, so we’ll just stay with the simple version for now. For starters if you are thinking of leaving for a weekend in Aus on a Friday night – forget it, it’s already Saturday there! Before you even leave the country you have to remember that there’s no Cathay anymore either – the most direct route is either Qantas or SA Airlines, last time I flew on a flight to Sydney on Qantas there wasn’t even seatback TV’s. To get to Sydney from Durban International airport – you will first need to cross the tarmac to get on the plane (sorry couldn’t resist people of Durban – new airport coming soon but for now still walking on the tarmac). As the only international flight from Durban International airport until very recently was to Mauritius (Dubai is a recent addition) you will need to first go to Johannesburg on an internal flight (read –not checking your luggage through) and then get on the once a day flight departing at 5.50pm and arriving in Sydney 12 hours later 2.45pm – so if you leave here on Friday afternoon you will get there on Sunday afternoon and a pleasant 9 hour time difference (during daylight saving in Aus). Although I did find a Finnair trip that would take you Johannesburg – London, London – Helsinki, Helsinki – Hong Kong, Hong Kong – Sydney, leave on Friday arrive Monday! Either way trips now need to be planned a little more carefully with jetlag for kids also taken into account.
None of my family ever made too much fuss about Hong Kong and us living there, taking (at the time) the only grandchild on one side and only grandson on the other to live a 9 hour flight away didn’t raise too many eyebrows. In fact there was a fairly steady procession of family members that visited, my mother, my father and stepmother, my husband’s sister and husband, my brother, my cousin and her children, my aunt and uncle, my husband’s aunt and uncle, my grandmother (paternal), my grandfather (maternal) another aunt, more cousins, you get the picture LOTS of relatives – the stream was pretty much constant. Yep Nik – we’re coming to visit, see you on xxxx.
So when we tabled the prospect of South Africa to the family we expected the same kind of thing – fine no more Disneyland but hey we got elephants now and a small soccer tournament known as the World Cup coming soon – when are you coming?
Not so much excitement, I have to say. Not just my family but really anyone you spoke to, it kind of went like this
I hear you’re moving
Yes, yes we are, it’s a big change but exciting, we’re moving to South Africa
Oh (not a good uplifting Oh – more a Oh No type Oh) – not Jo’burg?
No not Jo’burg
That’s good then, well – I have heard that Capetown is really beautiful my sister / cousin / god relation / friend has been there, apparently very beautiful and very safe
No we’re not moving to Capetown either – we’re going to Durban
Durban? Where’s that?
Well if you think about the U shape of South Africa and you know where Capetown is on this side – Durban is just sort of here (readers use your power of visualisation as to where I am pointing with my finger now)
Oh is it safe?
Actually we’re very excited (I wasn’t really that excited at the time but I was always a bit offended that these people were horrified with where we were moving to) and we think the kids will love the outdoor lifestyle, having a backyard, doing nippers etc
But can’t you just go / come back and live in Australia if you want that?
They don’t have lions and elephants in Australia – we’re hoping to see a lot of game parks as well as travel and see what’s going on, Africa is the next Asia etc – we hope you’ll come and visit us, we are going to get a house with enough space for visitors
Oh yes – we’ve always wanted to go to South Africa (generally in non committal tones, except one close family member who I think said – well I might come but I’m not bringing my kid with me and I think you’re crazy for taking your kids there as well)
End of conversation
That’s kind of the long version – with South Africans it was usually much shorter
I hear you’re moving
Yep – to your country
Yes (or as I would now say Ya)
End of conversation with South African
Not entirely fair – there were further conversations and referrals and things to do and not to do. One friend put me in touch with a friend who had lived in HK and was now back in Jo’burg so she would understand what I was moving from and to – I emailed her and asked for some tips.
An excerpt from her email is below
I think the best thing for you and your family would be to live in a gated estate as that provides you with peace of mind and that added security. I live in Johannesburg which is far more security conscious than Durban and in essence more dangerous and you learn to just be watchful – a few examples:
1. You never drive into your driveway and wait for the gate to open – you parallel park so that no one can you block you in and open the gate then drive
2. You never let anyone in unless you have organised a prior appointment
3. You ask for ID if you are unsure
4. You don’t drive with your bag on the front seat with the windows opened.
5. You make sure the house you rent has got a good alarm system and good security – usually sensors in the rooms, beams in the garden and an electric fence does the trick (at this point I can imagine my 2 year old daughter trying to scale said electric fence – now she is 3 she is so much more sensible though…..)
These are just the basics but if followed you can prevent things from happening.
I’m sure I’ve already said we didn’t even lock the door of our apartment in Hong Kong!
While the above is sound practical advice and day to day life in Jo’burg for this person – you would find if you discussed it with people they did not grow more enthusiastic about your move or about their visit.
I should add at this point (after three months here) we do live in a gated community (I will write separately on this choice) and we do feel very safe and haven’t come across any real security issues so its all good!
It doesn’t change the fact that South Africa is a very long way away – my 91 year old paternal grandmother our family’s firm matriarch said to me – Nik, don’t worry about it if I die, you don’t need to come home (I had flown for the weekend with the kids to surprise her on her 90th birthday from HK) – its just too far.
But things are looking up – on the visitor side we have my mother and brother planning trips for February and HK friends planning for July and my dad has committed to ‘sometime in the next six months’. So maybe its not that far and the fact we are all still here unscathed has encouraged people.