Eva Melusine Thieme is the author of the travel memoir Kilimanjaro Diaries and founder of Joburg Expat, an award-winning blog about her family’s adventures while living in South Africa. From her endeavors to help baseball gain a foothold in an African township to her hair-raising encounters with lions, great white sharks, and the Johannesburg traffic police, she has fond memories about her life in Africa. Her only regret is never quite learning when “just now” might arrive. Eva currently resides in Brentwood, Tennessee, with her husband and four teenagers, where she is pursuing a career as a freelance writer, author, and co-business owner.
Okay, so much for the formal bio and onto the fun part.
To my friends I’m known as Sine (which by the way doesn’t rhyme with “mine”). I lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 2010 to 2013 with my family of six, where I started Joburg Expat as a place for potential expats to learn about life in South Africa. I hope I can convince some of you that moving to South Africa can bring great rewards and doesn’t mean you have to fear for your life.
So what is my expat story?
Our family – or parts thereof – has lived in Germany, Singapore, the United States, and Africa. My husband and I grew up in Germany, met in Stuttgart, studied, worked at Mercedes-Benz, applied to business school in the U.S., arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with a bike and suitcase each, and from then on we’ve lived pretty much the American Dream. We got jobs, had a child, moved to Singapore, had another child there, returned to the U.S. for two more children and moved around a couple of times before relocating to South Africa. We arrived just in time to witness the first African Soccer World Cup in all its glory and left the year Nelson Mandela died three years later, thus bookending our stay with two of the biggest events in South Africa’s recent history.
A few years ago I was asked in an expat interview why we moved to South Africa, and our kids have asked the same question. Prior to our move they probably suspected we just liked to be cruel parents, and after our move back home they were sure that this was true. Because leaving Africa was much harder than arriving on its shores.
What I loved about Africa
There are so many things I loved about our life in South Africa, too much to name them all. But the weather has got to be number one on the list, it’s just that perfect. The bright sun shining every day of the year sooner or later gives everybody a sunny disposition. The people are cheerful and friendly, and if something’s not working no one frets about it too much, because, after all, THIS IS AFRICA.
Things I didn’t like about Africa
I hated the local traffic and I missed water fountains, free ice water, baseball, an abundance of power outlets in every room without the need for any adapter plugs, turning on a red light, cheerful and efficient customer service reps, hawker-free intersections, the Starbucks drive-thru, Amazon.com, the public library, the U.S. Postal Service, and Comedy Central. I also yearned for the days when “right now” meant just that and one didn’t have to navigate the distinctions between “now,” “just now” and “now now.”
Overall, I’m happy to report that South Africa never felt like the most dangerous place in the world to live and that moving there wasn’t suicidal. I won’t say it’s the safest place in the world either, but which place is? Plus, there are some other pretty cool things South Africa has going for it, so you just have to take it as a whole package deal.
I hope you will find this blog entertaining even if you’re not an expat. If you are about to embark to South Africa, you will find it very useful. What I love about writing is that whatever happens to you at the moment – particularly when things aren’t working out – always has potential for a great story. I’d stand there in line at the Telkom store, fuming that I’d been told three different stories about our internet cap already, and fuming even more that there even WAS such a thing as an internet cap, but then my thoughts would invariably drift to my blog, words would form in my mind, and I’d be on my way to another story, which, if nothing else, I myself will enjoy reading several years from now. If life always went exactly as planned, there would be no stories. If you look at it that way, a crappy day can be the greatest gift!
The people you’ll meet on this blog
My husband, whom I will call Noisette, for his passion for (or should I say addiction to?) the Milka chocolate bar of that name; if you don’t believe it, check out a recent look at his suitcase returning from Germany. Noisette is also the only one in our extended family who doesn’t actually read this blog. I’m hoping that one day in his retirement it will make for some entertaining reading for him.
Our oldest and (at the time of this writing) teenage son Zax, who still doesn’t like to budge, just like the North- and South-going Zaxes in “The Prairie of Prax” by Dr. Seuss; he tells me he doesn’t like his name, but whenever I think I might have to look for a new one, another Zax moment – we were once parked in an icy car park in Indiana for hours in one of our standoffs – arrives and we’re back to square one. But being stubborn also means he is strong-willed, not easily swayed by popular opinion, and one of the greatest debaters I’ve ever met. And he is by far the most courageous one in our family when it comes to jumping from high places.
Zax’s younger brother Jabulani, also a teenager, who is most often found in a happy state, hence the name, which means happy in Zulu, a language he has totally embraced. However, being a teenager, the term “happy” has been severely challenged of late, so Grumpy or Forgetful might now be a better fit. Jabulani also is the most courageous one of our kids in a social sense, talking to strangers, trying out new things in a heartbeat, and not often afraid of embarrassment.
Our third child and first girl, Impatience, who can never wait for anything and has become extremely busy at school and outside of it. Like Zax, she complains about her name but can never quite seem to escape it. She has no patience for anything standing in the way of her goals, and is destined to go far in life by pure tenacity, ambition, and hard work. I could have also called her BusyBee. Or Big Sister, because from the day her younger sister was born she has taken her under her wings, teaching and protecting her every day of her life.
The youngest of our children, Sunshine, whose smile brightens most anyone’s day. I’ve been told I’m not fair in my name assignments, but it is very hard to make it fair. It’s not only her sunny smile that everyone who meets her sees at once, but also her sunny state of mind. She is incredibly caring of others, loves animals, is completely at ease all by herself (most likely re-reading all seven Harry Potters for the 14th time), and she can make the best out of any situation. Though I have to mention here that she can be grumpy too, as many a door-banging in our house can attest.
And lastly, Findus our Cat, who is not technically “people” but tends to think he is. Or perhaps a dog, as he likes to follow everyone around the house like a puppy. He replaced Maus, whom we left behind in South Africa with a caring family who sends us updates every once in a while.
As mentioned above, I’m the author of Kilimanjaro Diaries: Or, How I Spent a Week Dreaming of Toilets, Drinking Crappy Water, and Making Bad Jokes While Having the Time of My Life, a travel memoir about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with my teenage son, first published in 2014 and translated into German in 2015. In addition, I’ve written a number of freelance articles on travel and expat life published in the Wall Street Journal, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and more. Links to these and more of my writing can be found on my author website Eva Melusine Thieme. I also serve on the board of Africa On Deck, a non-profit organization to support baseball in underprivileged communities in Africa.