We just returned from three weeks in South Africa – my home. After one week back at work, I’m already ALMOST back in Berlin mode, but arriving back to the cold and dark was difficult. Here were my thoughts the first day back.
It never gets easier leaving home. As I walk down the tunnel onto the plane, my heart is kicking and screaming inside. But the reality is, I work away from home (South Africa) and my husband is European (Czech), so I can’t just pack up and leave Europe when I feel like it. As it came up in conversation with another South African-European couple over the weekend – one of you always has to make sacrifices. The family of one of you will always be far away. One of you has to live outside your comfort zone. There are times I regret ever coming to Europe in the first place, because now I feel I am stuck here – at least for the moment. Of course, I cannot regret meeting my husband, and I have enjoyed our travels around Europe. We live in Germany, and while there are plenty of things I like about the place, it’s just not home. I miss the blue skies and sunshine of South Africa, and the (mostly) relaxed, friendly people.
I also miss the mountains, the sea and the bush of South Africa. I miss eating the foods I grew up with, and of course it goes without saying that I miss my family and friends. In Berlin we have made friends, but friendship feels like a different thing here. There are so many people coming and going in Berlin, both internationals and Germans. As a result, the feeling is that some of the friendships you make here are not so much about a bond between people, but rather a matter of convenience – people need other people to go out and do things with while they are living here, but they know they will move on soon. Not all of our friends are fairweather friends, but some of them are, and sometimes we feel let down by people when they behave in a flaky way. At home, I feel that my friends meet up with me because they want to see me, whereas here it often feels like some people only meet up with us if we’re doing something interesting, they want to get a group together for some activity or they have a gap in their schedule. To me that just illustrates the difference in the quality of the friendships. For the good friends we have met here, we are grateful.
Here, it is 3:30PM now and it’s dark outside. There is a thick layer of grey cloud that hangs over Berlin in winter. Yesterday, I was looking at blue skies in South Africa. When I go to South Africa in September or October there are mostly blue skies and sunny days, and it continues that way until May…here we had grey skies and rain pretty much the whole of last year. In Cape Town there is a drought at the moment, which means you shower with a trickle and catch grey water from washing yourself or clothes to flush the toilet with. Here I can have a nice hot shower, but I’d rather be at home having bucket showers and sunny weather than here in this grey, gloomy weather.
After travelling back from Cape Town to Berlin, I always find the sudden transition to such a different place a bit disconcerting. One moment you’re in a warm, sunny, relaxed place and the next you’re under dim light in a concrete city. As the time in the dark place is on either side of the time in the light place, it doesn’t take long before the memories of sun are swallowed up by the greyness on either side of it. That’s when the whole holiday starts to feel like a dream: distant, untouchable, and too good to be true. Once again it becomes about surviving to making the next deadline, to the next patch of better weather, to the next trip, to the next event. I zoom my focus onto every tiny thing that can bring some light, like a pretty flower or a good dinner, because this is the only way to survive. I look to memories of South Africa like the struggling plants on our windowsill desperately turn to the light in the dark days of winter.