Friday, August 03, 2007

Okay - I get the message

Have you ever noticed how sometimes life seems to adopt a theme for a while and everything seems to harp on the same thing? Well, this has happened to me lately, and I feel like it's time to say I GET IT ALREADY!

Eight years ago, we moved to the UK with high hopes and naieve expectations. My husband had only spent a few days in London during his gap year just after Noah left the Ark. I had never been to the UK before. In fact, I had never been abroad before. Nevertheless, everything seemed to be pointing us in this direction and eventually, even my doubting Thomas brother-in-law gave us his blessing and declared that this move was God's will for us. We were supremely confident. My entire maternal family descended from this isle and I was sure that I would have no problem with the culture. After all, as a churchgoing family, we would find a church similar to the one we had attended in Cape Town, and we would slot right in - as if we had been born to it.


We left behind a wonderfully supportive group of friends - my best friend had discovered that because my birthday falls right in the summer holidays, I had never had a birthday party, so she threw a surprise one for my 36th birthday, complete with kids' games like pass-the-parcel and musical bumps - friends like that do not grown on trees, ladies and gentlemen.

My husband gave up what was probably the best job he will ever have, with the best car we have ever owned and an office with the best view imaginable (straight out at Table Mountain).

We sold our little house - the house we had built when we were expecting our first child and the only home our two boys had ever known. We camped out here and there for a few months waiting for it all to come together. My husband moved over here with £400 in his pocket and no job prospects. Within three weeks, he had a job. The exact job his best friend had prophesied he would get.

Six weeks after his arrival in the UK, we moved over to join him. All high hopes and optimism.

We joined a church, where our cell group leaders repeatedly told us how they wished all these foreigners would go back home, so that England could go back to being English. We don't go there anymore (we don't even live in that town any more). We deliberately avoided ex-pat clubs, because we wanted to integrate into society here, not create a "when we" microcosm of what we had left behind. We tried desperately to make friends, but were shunned at every turn. One woman even told me I was intransigent. I had to look that up!

I felt dispossessed, set adrift, lost. Permanently on the outside. Having left Africa, I began to realise how African I was. It is in my blood. The music, the culture, the ethos, the weather, the cuisine, the laughter, the candour. In South Africa, most white people consider themselves European. Living in Europe, it becomes very evident that you are nothing of the sort!

For years I had been wondering why I was here. If it was so divinely ordained, why the heck did I feel so out of place? Then Ron Lubensky threw me a lifeline, and that was the beginning of the meme.

Ron is a Canadian by birth, but he lives in Australia. Has done for 20 years. He related how his accent and Canadian-ness remain an object of curiosity for people. He related this exchange:
"How long are you here for?"
"How often do you go home?"
"Every day"

Every day. Every day. Doh! I wrote that on a piece of paper and stuck it near my desk. I have got to learn to go home every day.

Since then, there have been sermons that relate to this topic (including one from my husband last night about being where you're supposed to be), bumper stickers that say corny things like "Bloom where you're planted", snippets of overheard conversations, throwaway lines from colleagues.

So I've decided. Right. This is where I'm supposed to be - for now, at least - and this is how it's going to be. I get the message. I'm here. African I may be, but I'm here. And I'm looking to the future. Hand to the plough and not looking back. Finally. After 8 long years of desert. Deep breath, loins girded, feet planted, jaw set.

What does the future hold? Here. In this place.

I can do this. I can.


Wendy said...

Sometimes I feel that way too....

What am I doing "here"? Is there some real reason?

An interesting feeling to have, especially since I am currently living in the place I grew up, with friends I've known since college and family nearby.

And yet, I often feel like I don't quite "belong" here. I suspect it's because I never subscribed to DC's cultural norms. Not growing up and not now.

Thankfully, my friends and family also don't subscribe to many of these norms - so with them, I AM home. And that may be why I found my way back.

Maybe that's what we're longing for when we get homesick - either from far away, like you , or in the midst of it, like me. A community that truly understands and accepts us as we are at that moment.

Harold Jarche said...

Yes you can!

rlubensky said...

Hi Karyn,

I'm chuffed that my comment turned out to be so personally meaningful for you. I didn't write it with the teleological expectation of that outcome, as it is just my simple story. Thanks for letting me play a role in a great example of emergent learning through blogging.

Anonymous said...

Wendy: Thanks for the empathy. There is an Afrikaans expression: "ek sit in my eie agterplaas en verlang huis toe" - I sit in my own back garden and miss home. I need to remember that being at home is no guarantee of feeling at home.

Harold: Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Ron: "letting" you play a role? There was no "letting" at all! And it is I who need to thank you for the timely kick in the pants. I have learned from your example. Teleology was not my intention, either, but the story being part of my story was bound to include a reference to my faith somewhere along the line.