Sunday, September 24, 2017

One Year, and Yet So Far...

September 22nd, 2017

Today marks a year.
A year since I left the continent which I called home for over a decade.
(Asia? I mean – Asia?! Who woulda thunk?! Certainly not me!)

A year since I returned home, to Africa.
(Home. What a strange concept that is. “Home”. What is home, really?! I wasn’t born here, my family doesn’t live here, I feel as comfortable here as I have in several other places in my life… Hmmm. Philosophical ramblings for another time.)

But here we are. Back in South Africa. And what a wild and wonderful roller-coaster it’s been!!! I came back without any idea of what I was going to do. I was jobless, homeless, directionless… I simply believed that it was the next step for me to take in my life. That I had enjoyed all of the goodness that my Asian Adventure had had to offer, and that it was, once again, time to leap towards the next chapter. So I leapt! And that brought me here.

For now...

Who knows where the next step will lead?!

I was SO fortunate (once again). I moved in with my brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law for a few months, so I had a home base. I applied for a fair amount of jobs in my first month here, and after about a month, got 3 offers in a week (2 teaching jobs, and one with the film production company I had worked for briefly before I left the country.) I found a car, I found a place, I met someone lovely, with whom I shared many magical moments (and some not-so-magical ones), until we parted ways – realizing that it was exactly what we both needed and craved at a certain time in our lives, but that life goes on, and relationships evolve, and paths diverge…
And suddenly I was living in my very own little house, driving my very own little car, to my very own little kindergarten teaching job, and falling into patterns of life that were so new to me, and yet all-too familiar.
I love being back here. It feels SO right – for right now.

It hasn’t always been easy. 
In fact, it was devastatingly, soul-crushingly, agonisingly difficult for a long time in the beginning. The sheer JOY of the warmth of being back with old friends who’ve known me for such a long time, was juxtaposed against the dawning realization that my life seems to have been placed on 'Pause' for a long while. It felt (feels) a bit like I just stepped out of a cryogenic freeze, and everyone’s lives have gone on, whereas mine is not all that different from when I left 12 years ago. I still live on my own, do as I please, eat whatever and whenever it suits me, hang out with friends a lot, spend days holed up in bed if that’s what I feel like doing… I don't have a partner, I don't have children, I don't really have any formal obligations towards other people (as one does when part of a household), I'm free of debt, and still remarkably untethered to anything - unlike just about everyone else is, here.
It’s difficult to connect on a fundamental level with those who haven’t shared the experience of being away for a long time. It often feels more like being an observer of life, always on the outside, looking in through a glass pane… there, but not quite there.

While everyone here has been really busy growing up – buying houses, building up careers and/or companies, starting families, setting up mortgages/ pension plans/ provident funds, “achieving!”, “succeeding!”… I’ve been living in Never Land with all the other Lost Boys and Lost Girls.
Except – we aren’t lost. We never were! We just chose to forge a different path. One free of the shackles of everyday stresses and strains, devoid of the constant tension and anxiety that the rat-race forces one into. I like to think that this mentality still informs how I live my life here, back in the “Real World”. 

(Let me be clear here: life as an expat is most certainly not without stress and anxiety. Particularly in a country which one is so obviously not from, where it is impossible to physically "blend in". You’re a stranger in a strange land. It feels like home, but never Home. Your friends are your family. You cling fiercely to your traditions, holidays, customs, to maintain a semblance of connectivity with those whom you’ve left far away. You spend a lot of time feeling so free and liberated! The rest of the time, you feel lost, adrift, aimless… )

I adore being back in a country where people celebrate things like National Braai Day, where I engage intellectually with the crazy political climate because it touches me on an emotional level, where I can watch rugby and cricket games in bars with my mates drinking beers and enjoying the sunshine no matter what time of year it is, where I can (and do!) often strike up a warm conversation with just about everyone whom I come across in my everyday life and have a lovely exchange which leaves me smiling on the inside long after it's over, where I can read the labels on different shampoo brands and understand them and determine which one I really need, where clothes actually fit my body size and shape, where I feel somehow connected to the pulse of this vibrant and exciting and dangerous and seductive place - the raw-ness and the real-ness of this city is breathtaking for me, still. I imagine it always will be.

There is a great deal that I miss about Taiwan. Most of all, I miss my Tribe. 
There's something about being an expat that drew us all together and tied us inextricably in bonds of family and familiarity. We were a mass - a living, breathing unit of love and oneness. 
It's different in S.A. I have phenomenal friends here too, from different times in my life. Many, and varied, and all unique and fascinating and wonderful. But I don't have a "clan", so to speak. And I think that THAT'S what all of us miss when we leave Taiwan.
You go back to being on your own, where once you were part of a protective collective.

Coming back in the year that I turned 40 was also a big deal. I had goals in my head that I thought I would have lived up to by now. I thought I would have had the TV-sitcom family life by now. Settled, with a loving and lovely husband, beautiful and adorable kids, a puppy, a station-wagon, a big sunny kitchen in which we all ate breakfast together… Hashtag: life goals.

It has taken me several months of processing and working through things, reading a lot, speaking to loving and wise and accepting and inspiring people, challenging and questioning myself; to come to a point where I can truly say that I am CONTENT. I am grateful. For it all. I accept my path. Not in a quiet sort of acquiescence or resignation – no! I embrace it. I cherish it. I SEE the magical life that I have lived, and continue to live. I love the path that I have trodden to get to where I am now. I’m no longer stuck in a loop in my head of worrying and trying to control or direct my life. I surrender to the flow. 

This has been such a fundamental year. So important, in so many ways.
I did it MY way. And I shall continue to do so.

Peace and love, beautiful friends. Always. xxx

 Last night out in Taipei, dinner at the Yi Bai Kwai on Le Li Lu
 My surprise Farewell Party. Because My TaiwanTribe is magical. 
 My surprise Farewell Party. Because My TaiwanTribe is magical. 

 Asia, to Africa. BOOM.
 This is how it feels to be HOME. 
 Only in Africa. My soul is nourished in this place. It glows, it is warm, it pulses and radiates.