Anniversaries and birthdays always lend themselves to a review of what has been and, perhaps, a view of what it is to come.
The anniversary of our arrival in Cape Town, has been and gone and I still have not written any kind of review. I think the reason for this is because I feel a (self-imposed) pressure to write something definitive, meaningful and almost final.
Well, I can't do that.
I wouldn't dare to be definitive (except perhaps after one glass of wine too many), any attempt to be meaningful would doubtless sound like terrible chick-lit and final just doesn't make sense .
But can I talk about why I came (or why I left) and how it's been.
Why did I leave? Frankly, a desire to recreate my childhood in Roodeport, Johannesburg in the the period from the late 70's to the early 80's. I had the best years there. Have I succeeded? Er..no. For obvious reasons. And some would say that not recreating an 80's version of Roodepoort in Cape Town in 2011 is a good thing.
But I do think that I have found the essence of a South African childhood, which is what I was after. And what's that? Well, to me it's open spaces, lots of sun (although CPT is failing BIG STYLE on that the last 2 weeks), open and warm people, spontaneity, great food, world awareness and rapier-like wit. That's what I had and that's what I wanted to give my children. So far, so good.
Additionally, my husband and I wanted a better quality of life. In London we had a lovely home, he had a great job and he was very successful. We have lovely friends and he has family there (my brother has been in Brussels for a number of years). But we had almost no time. His success was a burden- it was all or nothing. Everything seemed to me to be so very hard- getting around, getting parked, getting your kids into a decent school, going to the beach. It felt like such a mission to me. The government always seemed to be legislating about something that I now had to or couldn't do. Towards the end, I really felt as I couldn't breathe some days.
In Cape Town, we have a lovely home which is less then 5 minutes from school and 20 minutes from work (round Table Mountain and past the zebras, in the right season). He's successful and he's challenged but he's also allowed to be other things as well- for example a good father without feeling as if every moment with the children is a moment he has stolen from his work schedule.
We have had the privilege of meeting the most amazing people since we've arrived. We have amassed in a year as many, if not more, outstanding people that we call friends than I managed to in a lifetime before. Our weekends are filled with outings with friends and or last-minute suppers or braais. The children play, the adults cook, drink, talk, drink and laugh. It's just like Roodepoort in the 80's. In a good way.
That's not to say we don't miss our friends in the UK- I don't see friendships as capable of replacement: every friend has a certain place in your life which no other person can ever fully fill. Going back on a visit to the UK in July, I realised what excellent friends I had left there and it only takes an email or text message for me to start craving more of that person's company. My UK friends' missives often make me very sad. In a good way.
Has Cape Town disappointed in any way?
Apart from driving here which gives me a heart attack every few minutes in the car, there is nothing specific about Cape Town that has disappointed. In fact, Cape Town has exceeded expectations in every way. Even down to security- many people were surprised that I would move my family to South Africa for better quality of life, given the horrific crime figures coming out of South Africa. Firstly, Cape Town is one of the safest places in South Africa. Secondly, yes, one does have to be vigilant- property crime does happen- and I am meticulous about the alarm but I live a normal life here. I walk happily and safely where I can (by which I mean, where there are pavements- parts of Cape Town can be very American in not having pavements. It's a very car based culture, largely, I suspect because of the sheer size of the place).
Has South Africa disappointed in any way?
Yes, the bureaucracy. Whilst entrepreneurship and business thrives, having lived here for a year, the thought of a visit to the Department of Home Affairs is enough to make me come over all queasy and lie down. The queues, the sheer randomness of when you will get served, what answer you may get on a given day from any given person makes it like participating in a a very stressful game-show, with ever-changing, uncharismatic hosts changing the rules of the game as they go and the final prize being something as prosaic as a peanut. They demand precision in the delivery of your documents, turning you away for such minor infractions that you feel they had to really try, yet the website is not updated for months at a time, thus providing misleading information. In fact, I'd better stop writing because the rage is building and growing..
It's the worst excesses of a police state administered by people with no vested interest in the outcome of proceedings except to spoil someone else's day. It's revolting and in desperate need of an overhaul.
And the politics has disappointed. What South Africa and South Africans did in 1994 changing from apartheid to post-apartheid with such relative ease is nothing short of a miracle. Worldwide people braced themselves for an implosion, a blood bath but South Africans didn't let that happen. South Africa had a new constitution, the most enlightened in history. To see all that promise now sink into cronyism and a virtual absence of accountability, is to go beyond sadness and disappointment. I am not saying there is anywhere in the world a perfect government, that other governments are free of corruption or "got it right", but the way the politics is in South Africa at the moment seems to be to squandering the resources of a country so rich in potential. The politicians of today were given a hard-fought legacy which they have either ignored or neglected. I must say I expected more, especially in terms of accountability and investment in education, but then this is a young democracy. We can but hope for the future.
There is so much more to say but funnily, I think Cape Town can be summarised for me right now by the recounting of a simple story. A few weeks ago, there was a power cut-citywide. No traffic lights (robots) were working, yet, somehow the city functioned as normal. At junctions people gave way, helped each other out, laughed and joked. Despite the adversity- everyone had somewhere to be, everyone just got on with it. And then the power came back on later and it was no big deal. And that's Cape Town: relaxed and positive.
Will I be here forever? Who knows, I'm a nomad by breeding. But I hope I'll be here for a while yet because I feel I can breathe again.