The long goodbye

2008-05-27 00:00

It’s a known fact that among the top stressors in life are the death of a loved one and divorce, followed by change, which can include establishing a new relationship, changing homes, jobs, cities or countries.

Human beings simply don’t like change. We’re sticklers for constancy.

Moving to another country is in essence a conglomerate change that encompasses multiple losses — loved ones, home, job and country, as well as one’s roots and one’s identity. It’s like a total reconstruction of the self.

I’m told that New Zealand doesn’t favour “tall poppies” and that one must quietly blend and merge with the landscape and avoid being conspicuous. I’m not sure about “colourful poppies”. It could be challenging for someone like me with my burgundy hair, clanging bangles, scarves and gypsy paraphernalia.

So I’ll attempt to arrive gently, hover under the radar and be an omnipotent observer. I’m told one should avoid saying “just now”. It’s interpreted as immediately, not as net nou from the direct Afrikaans translation. It is a South Africanism that we understand only too well back here. It is these subtle nuances that one has to learn by osmosis. I’m also told that at cross roads when one’s turning right from an arterial road, that the traffic in the primary road has to pause and give way to turning traffic. Hellooooo. That’ll surely cause me a near death by cross-roads daily catastrophe.

I look at the world map and try to conceptualise being on a little dot on the North Island, itself a mere dot on the sea-scape. It seems so remote. Somehow, the way the flat world map has been created makes Africa seem like the centre of the planetary universe. One internalises that concept into one’s personal mind map. Now I’m going down there — to a little dot — sort of an after-thought midget landmass near Aussie. It requires a complete reorientation. It’s closer to the east and probably the same distance to the west that Africa is, if that makes any sense at all.

The most bizarre concept is the time difference. When my fellow South Africans are awake I’ll be asleep and vice versa. That creates a complication for nana-communication. But it’s strangely comforting staying in the southern hemisphere. The water will still rotate in the same direction down the bath plug. And I’ll still be able to see the Southern Cross and it’ll still be winter in July and summer at Christmas time. And thankfully, despite the crazy road rules, they still drive on the left side of the road. But of course “robots” are called traffic lights and apparently tearooms are called dairies. And at my work place I’ll be given an official welcome, called a “powhiri”.

Last weekend we visited a game park. I had a brilliant opportunity to imbibe the plethora of wildlife. I even got to stroke an ellie, as two tame ones were there for a movie shoot. (I never realised how prickly their trunks are.) That was an exceptionally poignant and symbolic farewell, as I adore elephants. In New Zealand, wildlife’s far more limited. But then I have an anathema to snakes, so the upside is that they’re virtually non-existent there.

The most difficult part of going anywhere is the getting there. That’s when one realises what a mammoth journey it is. For the intrepid souls who are taking a plunge into the un-known, there are just no short cuts. But one can learn the procedures from sufferers like me, who’ve banged our heads in exasperation waiting and sitting in queues. There are medicals to be done, police clearance, passports, work visas, international driver’s licences, certified copies of everything, the packing up and finally the distribution of the contents of one’s life. I call it the “deconstruction phase”.

It’s like peeling an onion — one peels off layers, disposing of one’s objects and collectibles, and at the core are the wet-eyed emotional goodbyes. Rehoming doggies is one of the things that wrenches.

And at the epicentre, saying goodbye to family has yet to come — at the airport, where I’ll have my Rescue Remedy. But being a born optimist means that after the deconstruction phase the reconstruction phase emerges. And if one’s flexible with a sprinkling of chutzpah, one can, I’m sure, acclimatise to change.

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