I am a very lucky person, for many reasons. The reason most pertinent to this post, however, is that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by good, interesting people. I have managed to accumulate a group of friends and acquaintances who definitely tend towards the informed, smart, opinionated and forthright. Also, most of the people in my social circle are liberal and open-minded. They are positive, upbeat people who love the beautiful country we live in. This works for me. Almost all of the time.
The one area where my opinions seems to diverge from my circle of friends also happens to be one that sparks a fierce emotional response. I would love to move to another country. Not necessarily forever. Unfortunately, many of the people in my life react to this with judgement. I have been told that if I leave, I am contributing to South Africa’s problems by exacerbating the ‘brain-drain’. I should be here – making a difference in some way. I have been told that I will hate it. I have been ridiculed for wanting to move when I haven’t travelled much. On too many occasions to count I have been spoken to like an idiotic child and had it explained to me that every country has its problems. The old idiom of the grass not being greener on the other side is rolled out so often that I’ve reached the point where just a passing remark about grass makes me feel ill. All of this from people who, by and large, have lived overseas for varying periods of time. (Which, of course, is what makes them experts on what My experience would be.)
I’d like to think that I am a person of at least average intellectual ability. I am not and would never pretend to be even close to the smartest person I know. But I do think that I am capable of understanding the challenges that either temporary or permanent emigration would entail. So why do people assume that I would make a decision like this without giving it extensive thought and consideration? What really gets on my nerves though, is the assumption that I am trying to run away from, rather than towards something?
Yes, South Africa has political, social and economic problems. But I’d like to think that I’m intelligent enough to understand that all countries experience these problems to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t expect to move to the land of milk and honey. Besides, I’m lactose intolerant so that probably wouldn’t work for me anyway. South Africa is an amazing country full of warm people and has incredible potential. But I still want to leave. Why?
I won’t pretend that some of the challenges of living in SA don’t contribute to my desire to leave. Yes, I would like my son to have a decent education and have it cost less than R55 000 per annum (for Grade 0!). Yes, it bothers me that I have to live in a mini Fort Knox just to feel safe at night. Which I will admit I don’t – even with my dog, locks, electric fence and alarm system. I wish that I felt comfortable with the thought of my son riding his bike to school or a friend’s house as soon as he is old enough. I would like to have access to good, affordable health care. I would like to know that, barring disaster, my electricity and water will be on pretty much all the time. These are things that I don’t feel I have in South Africa.
I will also admit that some of my need to move has a lot to do with living in Johannesburg and might be alleviated by moving to another South African city. The City of Gold has changed who I am as a person. I am more jaded and cynical because I’ve been affected by crime once too often. I am more insular because, lets face it, most of us tend to stick to a fairly narrow circle. If you live in Northern Johannesburg, you probably don’t go to the East or South too often. I’m sure that this happens in every major city in the world, but I’d like to find out for myself.
I realise that it will not be easy. I have watched every single member of my immediate family (as well as countless friends) move to other countries. They have all had many, many moments where all that they have wanted was to come home. It has been extremely difficult for them to adjust and adapt. To cultures, to climates, to changes in financial circumstances. While watching and sharing is not the same as living an experience, I think that I am as wary as one can be of a change of this magnitude. Yet I still would like to know for myself. I also want to know whether I can do it.
And that desire to Know is really my primary driver for wanting to live in another country. I’m tired of hearing other people’s stories about their foreign adventures, both good and bad. I want to have an adventure all of my own. I want to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I want to be forced to make friends with people who don’t share my paradigm in any way. I want to walk into a grocery store and not know which isle my favourite tea is in. I want to discover a new favourite tea. I want to know that it’s sink or swim time. I want my son to know that there is a great big world out there and that it is open and available to him at any time. I want him to know that you can make changes in your life, no matter how big and difficult they may seem. I also want him to know that his home can be in the place and with the people of his choosing. Most importantly, I want him to know that once you’ve made a change, you can reverse it. So if I leave, I may well be back.
In my opinion, these are not bad reasons for wanting to move. I certainly don’t think that they are deserving of scorn and judgement. But perhaps I am being my usual naïve self. Perhaps I really haven’t travelled enough. Or maybe I’m just over sensitive.
I’d love to hear your experiences. Have you wanted to leave/left and faced judgement because of it? Was it worth it? Did you have a great adventure. Tell me all about it.