When you’re an expat, getting the word that it’s time to move back home sucks.

It sucks because it never comes at the right time. Maybe there never is the right time,  just as there never is the right time to become an expat in the first place. In theory everyone agrees that they want to move back at some point in time, and everyone has a long list of things they’re missing, but when the actual announcement comes, no one is ready.

Not ready to leave the newly found friends.

Not ready to deal with all that work moving entails.

Not ready to leave this country one has barely scratched the surface of.

Not ready to make a fresh start.

Not ready to find a new hairdresser.

Not ready to pump their own gas again.

It might be easier if you’re moving back to where you came from. Although I’m not even sure about that. Then your time away would be seen by everyone as a brief interlude, an extended vacation of sorts, and everybody would expect you to take it up where you left it, while in reality you’ve all changed over the last few years. New interests, new friends, new perspectives, a whole new world out there that only you seem able to see.

And the fact that you’re calling it tomahto sauce and  not ketchup.

Well, we’re not going back to where we came from. But go from here is what we must do. In just a few short months.

Sure it will be nice to find all those long-lost friends again. Like high-speed internet. A toasty warm house in winter without worry about the electricity bill. Humidity as relief for your parched-out African skin. A waste disposal in your sink magically whisking away anything nasty. A Starbucks on every corner. John Stewart on Comedy Central. Public libraries with a drive-through window and a selection of titles from after 1974. Cheap gas. A big car. Round-the-clock shopping.

But my guess is that the honeymoon with them will wear off quickly, and that with each one of them you welcome back into your life, something else will slip from it that you only now realize has come to mean so much to you abroad.

The smiles you were greeted with by everybody you came across. The car guards in the parking lot waving at you to make themselves seen, lest you forget the R2 coin before you leave. The hoarse cry of the Hadedas each morning, which you swore upon your arrival sounded like a pig being slaughtered. The relentless sun, of course. The street vendors at the intersection trying to get you to roll down your window. The glory of words like Lekker and Kak and Eish! and all the other South Africanisms. The beautiful sunrises and skies. People with names like Lucky and Innocent and Precious. The stunning landscapes on an African road trip. The music. The kids in Diepsloot. The glamour of an expat wife life. Leopards, elephants, giraffes, lions, rhinos, hippos, impalas, weaver birds, dung beetles – all the animals I guess except perhaps Parktown Prawns. The magic of Mount Kilimanjaro. Mangoes, cape berries, avocados, haloumi cheese, and pretty much everything at Woolies. The best Chardonnay in the world. And yes, even cricket

Well, I suppose the best Chardonnay in the world is one thing we will be able to take with us. Or smuggle with us, more likely, because alcohol is forbidden in the container.

But most everything else we’ve come to love in South Africawe’ll only be able to take with us in our hearts and our memories.

Saying goodbye to Africa from the very top. Photo: Martin B.

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