It’s been over two months since we hauled our lives across the world to a tropical island in the Caribbean Sea, and I feel like it’s been much longer. Perhaps because in truth we have been moving all year. Like waves, one change after another has washed over us in 2016 and now finally, with only one more house move to go in the next few weeks, I feel like the time is approaching when I might finally be able to stop paddling madly and lie back and float for a while, maybe take in the view.
When you move your life, you have to find a way to move your whole self along with it. In order to do that you adapt. You seek out the parts of yourself that will cope with the unfamiliar aspects of your new life best, and you rely on them. The landscape of who you are hasn’t changed – it just looks a bit different. You’re the same person, but you’re dusting off different parts of yourself, blowing away the cobwebs and holding them up to the light, working out how to repurpose them for this newness you’re living. It’s interesting – so I wanted to stop, take stock, and write the changes down before they become just the new normal.
So, from the girl who’s learning to be a better list maker, here’s a (not-so-concise) list:
- After a decade in Europe, I definitely “Europeanised”. It wasn’t a bad thing – it was another case of the self adapting to where I was, and I loved my life there. I also thought that, rather than being place-specific, it was a case of becoming a grown-up, and that was just who I was now. But with distance from my life there, I’ve started to feel my default self creep back up on me. My South African-ness, running deep in my blood, was never very far away after all. The directness is returning. I am less afraid of offending. I am a little bit more wild, a little bit more free. I even feel my accent subtly returning to its flatter vowels and faster consonants. Perhaps the hot sun on my shoulders, the big blue sky and the white sand between my toes is taking me back to where I almost forgot I came from. Interesting. When I yearn for home now, it seems to be for the place where I grew up. Where the evening sun dipped behind the mountain while my mum watered her beloved garden, and the smell of jasmine filled the air in spring time; where summer afternoons were filled with braai smoke and the gentle sounds of a cricket match on the kitchen TV, and the doves sang coo-coo coocoocoo outside my window.
- I’m more appreciative of those “passing-the-time”, “shootin’ the breeze” conversations. The ones that hardly register when you’re having them but that make all the difference to your day. When we first moved here, it took a while to meet people – as is always to be expected. But it threw into sharp focus how much I missed the daily interactions of my old life. The chats with other mums at the playground or the school drop-off, the coffee dates in the supermarket coffee shop while the kids ran wild (and we took it in turns to chase after them), the friendships that had built over time and the ones that were still developing – I hadn’t realised how important those connections had become. When we first moved I missed them so much it would make me breathless some days. Now at the school gate and the after-school activities, I don’t take those conversations with other mums for granted. I seek them out, I savour them, and I’m grateful for them.
- I’m learning to be more laid back. The disadvantage of running on Swiss time for so long has been that I’ve developed a deep intolerance for lateness, vagueness and inefficiency. These are three things that tend to come with the territory on the islands, and if you don’t accept it you will drive yourself mad. So I’ve had to learn to go with the flow a bit more and trust that things will work out as they’re supposed to without trying to rush or force them. I’m sure if I had gone to yoga more often I’d be better at finding my zen in situations that are beyond my control! A few more months here and hopefully I’ll get the hang of it – and I’m pretty sure I’ll be better for it.
- I smile more. People here are friendly! They smile in the supermarkets and restaurants and ask how your day is going. They say a sincere “You’re welcome!” in response to my automated “Thank you”s, which took me aback at first. They say “Have a great day!” and seem to mean it, and they love, love, love little children. We are made to feel welcome wherever we go. So yes, I’ve started smiling more too. I now say “How are you?” and “You’re welcome” and “Have a good day”, and I think it’s pretty good for the soul.
- I have a tan. I use high factor sunscreen every day and haven’t once since we got here lay in the sun with a book (ahhh, those were the days), but I have a tan – a healthy, “she’s been on a summer holiday” glow, which isn’t going anywhere. There’s no two ways about it – having a tan hides a multitude of sins. Shorts look (and feel!) better, jewellery pops, and I never bother to wear make up. Thank you, sun tan. That is all.
- We eat more salads and healthy food. That’s the wonderful thing about a hot climate – it makes you drink more water and crave healthy food. On the downside it also involves a lot of ice cream and makes me drink more wine! There’s nothing quite like a crisp white wine spritzer on a hot summer evening…
- I still drink three cups of tea a day, like clockwork at 7am, 11am and 4pm. But I’m pretty particular about the tea I drink and am now down to my last pack of tea bags which I can’t buy here – so please friends, send Tetleys!
- Having so much time to ourselves over the last couple of months has given me lots of time to think about this blog. My vision for it has become clearer in my mind and I’m so grateful to the people who’ve been reading it and commenting on it, who have said such lovely and encouraging things and engaged with what I’ve had to say – even if they disagree with me. I can’t wait to grow it, build on it, dream it into something more – and I just really, really want to thank you for reading.
One of my favourite lines in one of my favourite songs goes like this:
…And this is how it works:
you peer inside yourself,
you take the things you like
and try to love the things to took…
(Regina Spektor, On The Radio).
This is how finding myself in a new place has been feeling. A life interrupted by a new conversation. A change. The same, but different.
(Feature image from Endless Summer Society. No, those are not my legs. Sadly.)