After “How dangerous is Johannesburg” and “Which is the best school for my child,” one of the most-asked questions I get when people contact me is whether I know of any support groups for expats. Until recently, this was also my most-dreaded question, because I didn’t have a good answer.
Somehow, Joburg seemed to be lagging behind other major cities in this department. There used to be the Dainfern Social Club, but I don’t know if it still exists. In any case, it never had a website that I knew of. Then there is the International Women’s Club, but the one time I went to one of their presentations, I stood out like a sore thumb as everyone else seemed to be at least 70 years old. Not quite my crowd – yet. Not that I mind standing out like a sore thumb, but I just didn’t see myself engaging in nature walks and swapping recipes with this bunch. The one group I’m always happy to refer people to is the American Society of South Africa, but it’s a bit less support network and more something you join for Cocktail Hour.
In any case, imagine how happy I was when I stumbled across the Trailing Spouses Johannesburg Facebook group the other day, quite accidentally, when browsing reader comments on another expat forum. I commented back, was put in charge with Nicola Beach, the founder of this group, and solicited a guest post from her, which you will find below.
P.S.: If you are in Pretoria, you’re in luck: Nicola also just founded a Trailing Spouses Pretoria Facebook group (scroll to the bottom for all the links).
THE Facebook group you need to know about if you are heading to Jo’burg on an expat assignment: Trailing Spouses Johannesburg
by Nicola Beach
There’s nothing worse than starting a new expat assignment and no sooner have you stepped off the plane than your partner disappears on a business trip and your child comes down with a mystery malady in the darkest, most hopeless hour of the night. It’s an unwritten rule of expat life: Things always go utterly pear-shaped when you are at your most vulnerable, when the sole member of your support network is out of town. So, what could be better than a real-time interactive group of expats in the same leaky boat as you, helping you to navigate the choppy waters of your new posting and keeping you afloat throughout your stay?
I couldn’t find a lifeline like this when I arrived in Johannesburg, so eventually, while cooking dinner one evening and perhaps emboldened by a sip or two of wine, I decided to set one up. I added around 10 friends. I panicked a little bit. I sipped a bit more wine and then started telling people about it. Over the ensuing weeks it gained momentum and took on a life of its own. I realised that it was really catching on when total strangers started asking me if I had heard about the group, recommending that I should join.
It’s an online group so there are no meetings or committees and yet it has been a catalyst to bring people together. For example, a cycling group has formed, play-dates and coffee mornings have been arranged, expat events and volunteer opportunities have been advertised, and there is currently tentative talk of setting up a knitting club!
The group has frequently come to the rescue of people who have locked themselves out of cars or garages and had flat tyres or car batteries. Members have been able to get hold of out-of-hours doctors and dentists in emergencies.
There is no such thing as a stupid question and we’ve had posts on a wide range of topics. Aside from practical queries regarding visas and the new travel regulations for travelling in and out of South Africa with children, one of the most popular threads to date covered where to buy the best birthday cakes. Cake is important. So is wine. That’s another hot topic.
All new members are screened to weed out the spammers, scammers and other dubious individuals. Plenty have mistaken ‘Trailing’ for ‘Trading’ assuming that we are some kind of wife-swapping group. (We’re not, just to clarify). We’ve had the occasional individual thinking we were a running club. (We’re not one of those either, although if you were looking to set one up, it’s a great place to do so). We’ve also had plenty of South Africans wanting to join because they heard “it’s a good place to find reliable house help or sell a sofa.” It is, but regrettably we only accept expats who land up here without friend or foe and desperately need to learn the ropes in a brand new place.
New member requests are checked regularly. However, if you haven’t heard anything after couple of weeks, please make sure you have checked your “other” inbox before contacting us. It’s next to your regular Facebook inbox, but a lot of people have never noticed it. As well as messages from long lost loves and school friends you had intentionally lost touch with and forgotten about, there should also be one from us, checking your eligibility to join our merry crew.
If you are a current Trailing Expat Spouse in Johannesburg or will be one soon, you can find us here: www.facebook.com/groups/1531532440393475/
With very great pleasure, I look forward to welcoming you to our group, helping to smooth the waters and make your stay in Johannesburg plain sailing.
Trailing Spouses Johannesburg’s founder, Nicola Beach, is originally from the UK, but she has also dodged stray bullets in Lagos and stray cats in Istanbul. She is now getting cosy in Jozi and blogs about her expat experiences at www.expatorama.com