It was 20 years ago this month that Jeremy and I first stepped foot in South Africa. While America was celebrating its independence, we were flying over an ocean to a land that would, unknowingly, capture our hearts forever. I’ll never forget that trip in the Summer (or Winter if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) of 2000. South Africa was a much different place then. Death was everywhere due to HIV/AIDS. Children were raising children. The images in front of me were so different than any I’d ever seen or experienced before. They were images that prompted us to take action, leading us on a journey that forever changed our lives.
After many travels back and forth to South Africa, in 2007, we moved our family from the East Coast to Africa. I’ll never forget watching the doors of the shipping container being closed and locked up as our belongings spent the next few weeks in transit to our new home. We were really doing this. Joshua had just turned 5, and Emma Grace was 2. They were about to learn what it was going to be like growing up in a culture they were not born into.
Those first few months in South Africa were filled with adjustment as we moved in. There were so many things to learn…quick exchange rate calculations at the grocery store, driving on the other side of the road, driving a manual, speaking English so people can understand. I remember loud and clear the day that I realized we couldn’t live temporary. We had to make South Africa our home like we were going to be living there forever. We couldn’t have this short-term mindset. We had to be in it for the long haul.
And that we did. We raised our kids there. We built amazing friendships there. We created memories. We had life experiences, both joyous and heartbreaking. We lived life and truly made it our home.
It was one year ago this month that we decided it was time to move back to the states. I believe it was the right decision, but it’s still so hard, because a piece of home is still in South Africa. It’s why I have yet to unsubscribe to my South African grocery store weekly deal emails, why I can’t bring myself to get rid of my favorite plant pots over there, why I cherish weekly calls with my friends in South Africa. I miss the people most of all (although a cold Appletizer on these hot Texas days are high on the list, too 😊). We spent years building a culture and an identity. Man, I miss those daily interactions.
Living in South Africa I learned that I will never think like an African, but moving back to the states, I feel like my thinking doesn’t fit in with my American identity either. I feel hyper-sensitive to things I see and hear. Processing through it feels exhausting at times. Sometimes I think this journey that we set out on so many years ago wrecked us, both in very good and very challenging ways. But I press on to make Texas my home just like I made South Africa my home those many years ago. I just wonder why it feels so much harder than it did 13 years ago.