A Year of Lessons

It seems hard to believe but it’s been a whole year since I moved to Johannesburg. And boy what a year it’s been. Time has certainly flown by at an incredible pace, but I can’t truthfully say it’s always been fun…it’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster really. But more than that, it’s been a year of valuable lessons for me.

The most obvious of these is that persistence pays off – I wanted to have a career as a writer for the longest time, and there were definitely moments when I thought it would never happen and that I should just give up. It didn’t come easily or quickly but it’s definitely been worth the wait. Even when external factors at work are driving me mad, I still love what I do every day. And I think it’s fairly telling that I haven’t taken a single sick day since I started my new job (it’s common knowledge that workplace stress is a leading cause of illness after all).

Here are a few of the other lessons I’ve learned this year, some light hearted, some exceptionally difficult:
1. You can fill an Atos with a huge selection of your worldly belongings, to the point where you can barely see out of the windows or rearview mirror…and still drive from Durban to Jo’burg on one 35litre tank of petrol (that’s around 600km for those who don’t know).
2. Homesickness can hit you at the strangest times. And the road into Jo’burg with its mine dumps and other general loveliness is not the most welcoming sight…one which has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion.
3. Despite that less than alluring first impression, Jo’burg is not as arid and unattractive as we Durbanites believe. There are parts that are beautiful and green and full of trees. I actually really love the complex I live in and take great pleasure in my little garden (especially since some nice men do all the work and I just get to look at it).
4. It’s also not as scary as many people would suggest. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a hijacker or rapist on every corner. Maybe I’m really lucky or just naive, but 99% of the time I feel completely safe, whether I’m at home (granted, my complex is pretty secure) or driving alone at night. Which is how I felt when I lived in Durban. And in Dublin too for that matter. Obviously you have to be sensible, but I believe that’s true for wherever you go in the world.
5. All roads do not in fact lead to home. Some of them lead to Kew. Which is most definitely not on my way home! But I take a certain amount of pride in the fact that that’s the only time I’ve really been lost (and nervous) since I moved here. Well, other than a turning the wrong way onto Ontdekkers (twice!) debacle the other day, but I don’t think that counts since I always knew where I was.
6. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn has been that the people I expected to keep in touch are not necessarily the ones who do (and some who I expected not to hear much from at all are the ones who make the most effort). It certainly hasn’t made the homesickness any easier but nonetheless it’s been a valuable lesson in friendship. The flip side of that is that despite being warned that people in JHB are busy and often unavailable (and that is certainly true in some cases), there are some amazing people here, who despite me having no expectations of them, have made a huge effort to include me. So I guess the lesson is that you may lose some friends in a move like this, but you will make new ones too. I’d rather have the old ones AND the new ones, but I guess you can’t always get what you want.
7. Another big one was about second chances. Sometimes, they really don’t do anyone any favours – not the person giving the second chance (who will only get squashed again) and not the person on the receiving end, especially when that person is in self-destruct mode. It really is true that sometimes you just have to put your big girl pants on and move on. Lesson learned and implemented.
8. Probably because of lessons six and seven, I have also learned just how self-sufficient I can be. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty independent, but this year has really taught me the value of being able to rely on myself. When I lived in Durban, I always felt I had constant access to a support network when things were going wrong, big or small, and would endlessly dissect these dilemmas with the urban family. This year, I’ve learned how to mostly figure things out on my own. It’s been weird, but also refreshing.
9. There is such a thing as too many gigs. Okay, that’s a total lie. But I always sort of thought that if I lived in JHB, after being gig-starved for so long in Durbs, I wouldn’t miss a single opportunity to watch the bands I love. Turns out, I will. Not just because sometimes there just isn’t anyone else who wants to go to these endless gigs with me (and I’ve only been to one solo gig since I got here, which was SNG and therefore obviously unmissable), but also because this city is freaking big and sometimes the venues are just too far away. But I tell myself it’s okay, because up here, there’ll always be another show.
10. You can kill a Parktown Prawn. If you drop a pot on it. And then you will feel bad for squishing so spectacularly what is essentially just a really (REALLY) big cricket, and when another one is encountered, the old Tupperware catch and release method of disposal will be employed.
I’m sure there are other lessons I’ve learned, about things like traffic and how fecking cold this place gets in winter (seriously, I could not have been less prepared last year!), but these are the ones that really spring out at me right now. I’m also sure there will be lots more. I don’t think Jo’burg is quite done with me yet.


  1. LOVE this post! I so get you on point number 6 – although I’ve made many new friends since moving to CT, it’s quite depressing to think of how many friendships I’ve lost since the move. Sad, really.

  2. Bel

    August 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    That was a VERY hard one for me, and it consumed me and made me utterly miserable for most of last year. But part of the reason I wrote this post (which was not well received in all quarters of course) was that this year I have decided to let that go. Sometimes you just have to recognise that things may not be what you thought they were and move on. If people don’t want to expend their energy on you, it’s really pointless to waste all your energy on them. Another tough but valuable lesson.

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