Not only is the year 2012 coming to an end today.
Today also marks the end of our family’s life in South Africa. As you’re reading this, we are somewhere en route between Joburg and Tennessee, making a last splash in an undisclosed Middle Eastern location – okay, Dubai, if you must know – before reality sets in again.
So forgive me if I feel the need to make some sweeping observations not only about this past year but our entire African adventure.
I have no regrets.
When we came to Johannesburg in early 2010, we had the benefit of having a prior expat assignment under our belts. That made a huge difference – not so much in terms of navigating a new country but in terms of our attitude towards it and life in general.
What I mean is we knew to leave out nothing from the start. I was greatly helped in this by my farsighted husband Noisette, I admit, because I am by nature a couch potato. If there is a computer on my lap, that is.
I remember that as an expat novice in Singapore some fifteen years ago I focused all my energies on forging a routine and willing my surroundings to function as I wished. Because that’s what new mothers do. Routine is king and you enslave yourself to it. But the truth is that afterwards you don’t remember the routine. You remember the time you sped over Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river in a water taxi, even though you threw up afterwards from breathing all the diesel fumes. Or you might have thrown up because you were pregnant. You remember the giant waves lapping into your undersized motorboat taking you to some godforsaken island off the Malaysia coast. You remember the time you stood on the highest mountain in New Zealand clutching your two-year old on skis, afraid that he’d be blown right out to sea by that howling wind. You remember feeling transported back in time when touring Pulau Ubin off the shores of Singapore, pedaling your bike with a napping toddler behind you through sleepy Kampongs.
Those are the things you remember, and you regret not having done more of them. Because what else will you have one day to look back on but a bunch of memories?
So here in South Africa we dove right in from Day One.
We went on our first safari with the house still a mess of boxes fresh from the container.
Put endless hours in noisy and bouncy safari vehicles under our belts for the privilege to watch lions, giraffes, buffalos, elephants, impala, waterbuck, rhinos, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, and even a leopard.
Went into the notorious no-go zone of Alexandra, many times.
Drove women and their firewood through Diepsloot.
Visited Cape Town.
And Umhlanga Rocks.
Had the most glorious food and wine in Franschhoek.
Saw African penguins in the wild.
Swam in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Okavango.
Paddled down the Zambezi.
Went into a cage in the freezing Atlantic to come face to face with Great White Sharks.
Were kissed by elephants.
Dangled from ziplines over the Tsitsikamma forest.
Watched whales off the coast of Knysna.
Changed four tires in one day on a deserted road in Namibia.
Paddled down the Orange River.
Fell into the Orange River.
Camped under the open sky.
Watched countless breathtaking African sunrises and sunsets and everything in between.
Stood on one of the highest sand dunes in the world.
Stood on the tropic of Capricorn.
No, this time I have no regrets.