How things have changed

We just got back from a visit to South Africa. It’s my second trip back this year, but M’s first, since we left for Canada in March 2010.

The first thing we noticed was how much the price of food has gone up. Whether it’s Woolworths packaging fewer items for the same price, or restaurants all but doubling their prices, the difference is astounding.

I also managed to break a Tata Indica. To be fair, the rental car sounded like it had a dud gearbox from the moment I drove it, but it finally stopped changing gears, in the middle of a traffic circle, on our way to see friends. Fortunately Tempest Car Hire was able to send out a new car, along with a very helpful employee, and we were on the road again with an automatic transmission Chevrolet something-or-other, which felt a lot more stable on the road.

Speaking of the roads … we spent a lot of time driving to see people, as is the nature of visiting a country for a couple of weeks. South Africans, or more specifically, Johannesburg drivers, are terrible on the road. We witnessed several incidents where drivers seemed as though human life meant nothing to them. And it’s not just the taxis anymore. Seriously. I was petrified much of the time. This is one of those problems that can be fixed, by making an effort and driving responsibly. Just because everyone else drives like an idiot, does not mean that you must too. Change can start with you.

It was nice to see the police and metro cops out, being visible, but it seems that drivers just don’t care anymore. Sad.

We were pulled over at one stage by the police, who seemed to be searching for guns, but my Alberta Operator’s License and Canadian International Driver’s Permit seemed to convince the policeman I spoke to that I wasn’t harbouring dangerous weapons in my Tata Indica.

Winter in South Africa is cold. Last December when I shovelled snow off my driveway in -22 degrees, I thought that was cold, but this year, in Johannesburg, I could barely cope with the cold indoors. I realised how lucky we are in Canada with our central heating, and what a dramatic difference it makes. I will no longer mock you if you say it’s cold at -2 degrees.

Our friends are not happy for the most part. There seems to be a pervasive sadness in South Africa, which you might all be used to and therefore don’t see it, but we noticed it. Whether it’s the economy, or bad drivers, or Julius Malema, or crime, or whatever, it’s almost tangible. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but while Canada has its own problems, I could not wait to come back here.

It was wonderful to see our families and friends again, and it’s a shame there is such a distance between us, but the Internet helps. We miss everyone, but I still think we made the right decision for us, to move here. As I said one paragraph ago, Canada has its problems. There is no greener grass, just different grass, on this side. Overall though, I feel happier. Again I can’t put my finger on it.

Perhaps we’ll visit SA next year again. I won’t mind at all. I’m sure our friends and families won’t mind either. But this distance and time apart has changed us: the ones that left, and the ones we left behind. It reminds me of leaving boarding school. I never graduated from that school, so there was always some longing that I’d missed out. Going back to my almer mater many years later, I realised that my decision to leave is what defined me, and so many things would have been different had I stayed behind, that I could not possibly be the same person I am today, nor necessarily be in the same relationship or even country, for that matter.

The same goes for South Africa. I was born there. I have millions of memories there. I have family and friends there. But my life is in Canada. My heart is in Canada. I want to become a citizen, a productive member of society here. At times it feels like I’m deserting SA, but I feel as though I have more to offer here. More to achieve. More to give back. More opportunity. And I have the blessing and good faith of my family and friends I’ve left behind, while I make friends and build my family in Canada.