Considering the rather tense state our country seems to find herself in at the moment (and I’m really not going to get into the political goings on that surround us), I thought I might explain why, rather than being one of the people clutching my passport to my bosom and heading for the hills, I am instead one of those people who tried living overseas and swiftly made my way home again. The simple answer obviously is that I love South Africa with an intensity which does not blind me to her short comings but allows me to feel positive about our future despite them.
I did not come back to South Africa from Ireland because I couldn’t find a job or friends there. On the contrary, I made more than enough money and was probably more successful in my career there than I have ever been here. I made lovely friends, who I still consider friends now and keep in touch with despite the distance, and indeed, my whole family still lives in Ireland. So when I was homesick, it was my country I was homesick for. Ireland is certainly not a terrible place to live – the people are friendly, the countryside is gorgeous, there are more pubs than this girl knew what to do with, and gigs aplenty. So why then did I find myself hopping on the first SAA flight I could find after less than 18 months in Dublin? Well, because for me at least, it really is true what they say…there’s no place like home.
So here are some of the things I love most about South Africa:
1. The landscape – we really do live in the most awe-inspiring environment. From the majestic Drakensberg, to the warm Indian Ocean lapping our toes, to the endless solitude of the Free State, and the magical swamp forests of Sodwana, where else in the world can you find such an incredible wealth of beauty in one country?
2. The people that go with it – wherever I have travelled in this amazing country, I have been inspired by the people who are as diverse as the landscape. We have fought so hard for this rainbow nation, and there are beautiful things about each culture we encounter. And the really amazing thing is that almost without fail, people are so willing to share their unique perspectives and welcome you warmly into their worlds.
3. The sense of humour – we are a crazy bunch at the best of times, but we recognise that. I love that South Africans are able to laugh at themselves, and usually it’s us who are the first to make a joke at our own expense. Sarcasm is a finally honed tool in this country, and our dry sense of humour is what gets us through the tough times I’m sure.
4. The climate – none of this waking up in the dark, going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark for us please. Summer is a real season here, and in winter, temperatures in Durban often peak higher than summer temperatures in European climates. Ok, we don’t get much snow. But we get to spend our evenings under the stars almost all year round. And when it rains, it’s real rain. The kind that makes the ground steam and permeates the air with the scent of earth afterwards. And if balmy sunshine isn’t your thing, you can move to Cape Town where the days are cooler, or Sutherland where even the temperatures are extreme.
5. The contrasts – like Sutherland, we are full of extremes. We have cities like Johannesburg, where life is fast paced and industries thrive, and cities like Durban, where things sometimes move as languidly as the ocean we love so much. We may have corruption and crime, but we also have individuals who are so genuinely selfless it astounds me, as does the work they do to help people and animals. The men are by turns macho as hell, and metrosexual as a Nivea for Men ad…but they’ll never let a girl change her own tyre. And in Kwa-Zulu Natal you can go from the city to the beach to the mountains to a game reserve all in one day (with some judicious driving mind you). We have one of the most forward thinking Constitutions in the world, and at the same time we are a country of people who value tradition and the lessons of the ancestors.
6. The passion for nature – I love that I live in a country where I can spend an afternoon on a wine farm that also happens to house an incredible cheetah conservation project. Even more, I love that as much as a cheetah is perceived to be the enemy of agriculture, the farmers can totally buy into a programme that allows them to help these glorious animals survive. South Africa has the third highest level of biodiversity in the world, and a wealth of people committed to keeping it that way. Even though for many, animals are a means of survival, or are seen as workers, more and more people are learning to connect with them. From protected areas and national parks to dedicated environmental law enforcement officials to simply loving our pets as if they were people, we are a nation that has a passion for the flora and fauna that makes our country special.
“But the crime, the crime!” I hear the passport-clutchers yodelling. Well, yes, we do have way too much of that. Other countries have crime too, though perhaps not on the scale we do…and those countries don’t allow me to spend crisp winter days in the Drakensberg, or to feel the salt of the Indian Ocean on my skin after a day at Ansteys Beach, or to breathe in that special smoky smell that tells me it’s time for a braai. It may not be perfect but it’s perfect for me – I’ll choose the beloved country every time.