One of the most common questions I get asked by students and others is: 'Why did you come to South Africa?' They seem to be especially concerned when they find out how long I've been here (eight years). In response to this question, I experience a range of thoughts and emotions. From nostalgia for my carefree days during my study abroad period at UCT, through thoughts of all the wonderful friends and family I've made here, on to missing my family back in Los Angeles so incredibly much (especially my three young nephews and niece) and all the way down to the deep sense of belonging I feel here. Get ready for a long post!!!
One of the things that I love so much about South Africa is the welcoming nature of its people. I've been adopted by multiple families and communities and the love, acceptance and care that they show me keeps me going every single day. When I first came to Cape Town, I threw myself into basketball as a way to meet non-study abroad students (which can sometimes be very hard to do at UCT!). Having played for many years on a social level, I was able to make lifelong friends out of team mates and enjoyed playing pick-up games with 'the guys'. It's sometimes tough to be a woman in sport in South Africa, and I've experienced much more blatant sexism here than I ever had in the states, but the women and men that I've met and made friends with have enriched my life incredibly. I met my friends playing basketball; my best friend was my first teammate at UCT. Without her, and all the others in the basketball community, I don't know that I ever would have been able to find my place in the world. Being super awkward and prone to bouts of
depression, I had never previously been able to have these close relationships that I now have. As the closest person to me, my best friend in particular has taught me how to love, how to show that love and is continuing to help me learn how to communicate. I've also learned so much about South Africans (and many other Africans as well) having met the people I play with and traveling to the national USSA tournaments. There is a warmth and selflessness that people can have that I had never known before.
About five years ago I moved to my flat, which is a small one bedroom place behind a family's house. There are two other small flats, with mine being the biggest around a shared central courtyard. Since the day we moved into this flat, this family has welcomed me with open arms, becoming a kind of second family to me when I miss my own so badly. Their youngest daughter (who is now five) hangs out with me all the time (we're besties :) ), when I am having trouble in my personal life the mother gives me gigantic motherly hugs of comfort and is always around for a quick (or really long!) chat, the kids make me sweets and celebrate
my birthday and sometimes the dad even waits for me to arrive home when I am out with friends late (just to make sure I am safe <3). Coming from the Bo-Kaap and Salt River communities, this family has also helped me to learn about their culture and beliefs. As opposed to reading and watching documentaries about the District 6 removals and life under apartheid, they share their stories with me and enrich my understanding of these horrific injustices and their continuing effects today.
Next, I began teaching and tutoring. Students and parents amaze and inspire me with their welcoming nature and ease in embracing me as part of the family. One of my first students, who is now in matric but was in grade 9 when I began tutoring him, has a mother who has helped me so many times over the years. She fed me dinner when I was there tutoring on late nights, encouraged me to start my business when I wasn't sure if I was able to or had the confidence to do so, and has always been such a warm and friendly person to me that I immediately felt loved and welcomed. I know I will keep in touch with many of these students and parents for years to come, and I will enjoy seeing the kids grow into adults and find their own place. While teaching can be sad at times, especially when you need to let go of students who you've tutored, laughed with and watched grow up, at the same time it is incredibly rewarding. I will see at least some of the students at UCT while I procrastinate in my own PhD studies, and the others at least I can follow on Instagram :)
Well there is the long and short of it: what I love most about South Africa is not the natural beauty (although this is a truly beautiful country and city in particular), nor the lions roaming the streets (haha), but rather its people. There's hate and there's crime, but there's also love and a people who are not afraid of showing and expressing that love at every turn. When you become an expat, you feel continually torn between home and family in the place you come from and the home and adopted family you have found in your new country. The Capetonians here help to take some of that sting and pain away by just being the loving people they are.