I haven’t written here for eighteen months. It’s been so long that I don’t even recognize the wordpress publishing format anymore. In June, it will be two years since we left South Africa for a five year stint in England to get my British passport and to await Andy’s still-pending South African Permenant Residence. This move may or may not become a forever one and the door to returning to SA is always open – and left purposely so – although five years seems pretty permanant right now! Although I’ve shared bits and bobs over on my Instagram about our semi-gration, and the subsequent emotional rollercoaster ride, I’ve yet to put into full words the impact of this life change. I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend until they’re in it, just how much of a change leaving your country of thirty-six odd years can be. It’s a bit like motherhood – it’s difficult to explain to others the full extent of the experience, but when your eyes meet the eyes of another mother in the playground, or in a cafe, or on an airplane, you know that they know.
It goes without saying that moving to a new country when you have established yourself and started a family in another is not easy. Add to that, our personal experience of moving in a pandemic, having our move date changed again and again over the course of a year, packing and unpacking, having to eventually succumb to eleven days of hotel quarantine with a four year old after desperately trying to avoid it, losing a family member to COVID 19 a few weeks after arriving, and then watching your home town literally burn in front of your eyes via television and viral videos during the riots of July 2021, made our initial move particularly challenging and, if I’m being honest, quite heart breaking.
Subsequent to our move, England has gone through three prime ministers and is currently in the middle of a cost-of-living and energy crisis. Brexit is a thorn in its side, the results of which we are literally starting to see in the supermarket aisles. Tomatoes are like golden Willy Wonka tickets at the moment! Our eyes watered when we recieved our first electrical bill here. And then the gas bill. And then the water bill. And that was before the increases. Andrew battled for weeks to get a doctor’s appointment at the local NHS surgery when we first got here. And the fully-furnished cottage we’d thought we’d be in for a few months before renting or buying a place of our own, now seems to have become our indefinite home, as rental and mortgage prices soar in front of our eyes.
The debt we’ve accumulated through the pandemic and the cost of immigrating (UK visa application costs, NHS payments, pet travel, shipping, hotel quarantine) that we thought we’d easily pay off within six months to a year, is still hanging over our head – although we’re chipping away at it slowly. Visions of inexpensive flights and weekends away to Europe (one of our primary reasons for the big move) were shattered with the change in Schengen rules and visa periods, not to mention the months-long waiting list to get an appointment. So too went my idea of popping down to London on regular day trips to visit old friends and get a shot of city culture, when it became apparent that train tickets were rather pricey and that train strikes seemed to be more often than not.
I know I’m painting a bleak picture. And my in-built, knee-jerk, very South African reaction is to point to the positives in the midst of all the unexpectedness we were so unprepared for. We’re lucky enough to have the grace of my husband’s mother who is allowing us to stay in her cottage, while we find our feet. I don’t think she, or we, thought finding our feet would take this long! As part of our rent, we have renovated and redecorated certain rooms of the old cottage, which has been fun and kept us busy on days devoid of plans with friends. I have made some lovely friends through the school gate, fellow mums who have really looked out for me and made me feel at home, despite my tendency to traipse through their homes with my shoes on! This cultural difference really floored me at first. In South Africa you’d be looked at rather strangely for taking your shoes off as soon as you entered someone else’s house, unless you were heading straight for the pool! And it still makes me giggle to look around at a bunch of grown ups chatting to each other in their socks. Imogen is thriving at school – she loves her school and her friends and at the age of five, counted to one hundred this morning and read me a school book last night. I do worry sometimes that she is growing up too fast here and homework is a pain in the proverbial arse, but I’m so proud of her. Most of all, I love the freedom of being able to walk her to school, to walk my dog down isolated country lanes and grab any taxi without worrying about my safety. Not to say that England is entirely safe (a motorcycle was stolen from outside someone’s house the other day and subsequently the village Facebook group was up in arms), but there is definitely a lot less looking over my shoulder and being on red alert at all times.
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t speak about the weather, which quite honestly didn’t really bother me in the first year when we had the heating on without a concern. But this winter has been harder. A lot more fires have been made (grateful for our fireplace) and a lot more layers and hot water bottles have been utilized. It’s the grey skies that get you more than the cold. And in the flat countryside of Lincolnshire, where we currently live, that grey sky can bear down on you like a heavy weighted blanket. But when the sun shines and the blue sky appears, it is practically celebratory and I find myself appreciating the sunshine so much more. Taking my coffee out to sit in the garden and just breathe is not something I would have done often in South Africa, but here it seems sacrilige not to be outdoors whenever you can.
One of the biggest things I’m grappling with is who I am in the midst of all of this. Last year I had something of a breakdown after autumn set in and thank god, am now in therapy. I’d gone from being a creative person in South Africa, constantly reinventing myself and my work, sharing beautiful pictures and stories on social media, to someone who had become a little more quiet online. I went from someone who’d looked forward to, and loved her client sessions, to a shell of myself who transformed into a jibbery, anxiety-ridden mess before a client call. If you’ve followed me from the beginning of my online life, you will know this is very unusual for me. I’m a natural communicator, both verbally and through the written word – a bit of an over-sharer, really. I process my life, my emotions, my learnings, my creations, and then I share them with others. And this is all over my astrological and human design charts. I really feel like I’m born to share and connect with others. But moving here, I lost my voice a little. I lost my way. There have been numerous reasons for this. The English aren’t really, as a whole, big on over-sharing. From what I’ve seen of the British media, over-sharers are attacked and the tight-lipped are revered. So in my attempt to fit in, I’ve followed suit. Even writing and publishing this post makes me nervous. Will one of the moms at the school gate read this and think I’m strange? My home environment is also not really my own, as much as we are tweaking it to be. I have always had a set office space, beautifully curated to allow me to dream and work. My desk, for now, is currently in my husband’s gloomy dressing room. Not the best space to create in when you’re surrounded by big dark wardrobes and smelly gym shoes! Working on finding a new work station is currently my number one priority.
Living in England means that domestic help and childcare is super expensive and so I spend so much more of my time focusing on these. Having a five year old, two big, hairy dogs and a cat in a small cottage, as well as a husband who works in the hospitality industry and is away from home most days, nights and weekends, means that there is a lot on my shoulders in terms of childcare and cleaning. I never feel on top of it. And I admit: I use cleaning as a crutch; a distraction and a procrastination. Why work on creating anything when there are dirty carpets to be vaccummed and piles of clothes to be washed and put away? Pop on a podcast, and I can get sucked into cleaning until it’s school pick up time and then I move onto the next distracting role of mothering: cooking, doing the homework, entertaining, bathing and reading bedtime stories. A stay at home mom who also does all the domestic work, as well as part-time client work really is a full time job and a half, and I don’t think I truly appreciated that whilst living in South Africa. So that’s been an adjustment. There just seems to logistically be less time here to be creative or focus on myself, my work and my meaning or place in this world.
When you move to a foreign country, you are different. No two ways about it – you sound funny (everyone asks me if I’m from Australia) and you do those culturally different things like leaving your shoes on when you come into someone’s house. Trying to acclimatise to my new environment has meant that I have taken a step back from being as outspoken as I used to be on certain topics. I think I can safely say that in Cape Town, most of the people I hung out with had similar outlooks on the world to mine, and if they didn’t, they had known and loved me long enough to look past it. But when you move to a new place and know no one, it’s unlikely you’re going to jump on your soap box at the first social gathering you’ve been lucky enough to be invited to. I had people ask, when I was back home in South Africa recently, why I’m so quiet online these days. The truth is, I am quiet in real life too. As I fumble and feel my way around this new territory, I move within, where it’s safe, and I keep things at surface level most of the time. It’s been eighteen months of moving and settling stresses, spikes in cortisol levels and some hard knocks. I haven’t felt secure or confident enough yet to get too deep or to expose my soft underbelly. I trust though, that there is a slow unfurling taking place, as I build those authentic connections that will allow me to grow, and express myself and create once again. It just takes time. And that’s okay.
Therapy has been so worthwhile – my anxiety has lessened and I look forward to my client calls again, with confidence in myself and my knowledge and a deeper understanding of why I feel the way I do. It’s been a bittersweet lesson moving countries. A humbling one in so many ways. There has been no instant gratification in England. Things take time. Everything moves slowly here, just as the seasons do. I’ve had to sit and get used to living in a space that’s not perfect, or my own, and I’ve had to feel uncomfortable. So uncomfortable. I’ve had to reach out to others and rely on their help and kindness. I’ve had to be patient. And I know there is beauty in that. There is gold in that. And soon it will be time to mine down, dig that glittering metal up, and polish it for the world to see.