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Stephanie Gaddin
 
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The ups and downs of Melbourne

25 November 2010, 09:10  - Stephanie Gaddin
If you are one of those bitter nasty types don't read further, this story is going to be an honest account of what it's like to leave your life, family, friends, and everything you know and love, for something that you hope is going to be better. If you are sick to death of hearing about how great it is away from SA then stop reading and go look for your jollies somewhere else.

If you love to gloat with glee about the "Saffers" who leave and end up being miserable go look for another article. If you think that emigrants are traitors, then consider yourself descended from traitors, how else do you think white people ended up at the southern tip of Africa?

We have been here seven months now. It was one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life. And I've had some rough times let me tell you. Firstly, I did not leave because I hate South Africa, on the contrary, I love South Africa and I am proudly South African. I left because I love my husband more than I love my country. My family has had it's share of those horror crime stories, and even after my father was gunned down in his restaurant, I still didn't want to leave. I still volunteered at charities and churches, helping anyone who wanted to make a better life for themselves.

My husband started at me about five years ago about the crime and all the usual reasons that people leave, and I resisted him every step of the way. I have a huge family, lots of cousins and uncles and everyone having babies everywhere. I had a very good job that I loved; doing something that I believed made a difference in a lot of people's lives. Why on earth would I want to leave that?

Children playing

Then, he brought me to Melbourne 2 years ago, to have a look see as it were.  

We arrived in the middle of June, and it was wet and rainy and overcast the entire two weeks we were here. And for the first four days I was adamant that there was no way in hell that I would live away from my African Sky and African sunsets and warm African sun and summers and Highveld thunderstorms.

And then I noticed children playing in a well maintained public park, at night - unsupervised. Night after night. Even in the cold. I read the news , the "horror" stories about the "road of death" that had an absolutely unacceptable number of fatalities in the last two years (it was four by the way - yup - that's right - four people died on the "highway from hell" over a two year period).

Politicians were resigning in shame because they had been caught being verbally abusive to a restaurant staffer while drunk on cctv footage. No investigation, no demands for the media to leave them alone, no media tribunal. There were no journos arrested or intimidated. The story broke, the public were outraged and the offender resigned never to be seen in politics again. It was surreal.

I giggled at them - those poor Australian's who had no idea what a real political scandal was (this was around the time of the JZ rape trial). I felt completely exposed in the house with no wall and no burglar bars, with a single clip on the "security" gate that I could bend with my thumb from the outside.

Making the move

And at the end of the two weeks my husband said this to me: "I am tired of spending my whole day in anxiety because you and your carpool friend drive to work, two ladies alone, every day there and back , in a country where a woman is raped every 17 seconds or so. I am tired of lying awake at night for every noise that I hear, because I don't know if I could restrain myself from killing the person who tried to hurt you, and then worrying about the "murder" trial that would inevitably follow. I am tired of having more hoops to jump through every single year just to keep above the water because I am a white business owner. I am tired of it all, and I want to live here, and I want you to come with me."

I thought about it long and hard flying back to SA and by the time we landed, I had agreed to come with him. And here we are in Melbourne (the place I swore I would not end up) two years later.

Let me just say Melbourne has shitty weather, it's either freezing cold and raining, or very hot and dry. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. There is no in between. You freeze or you boil. But, the houses have fabulous central heating and ducted cooling, so unless you live in a tent in a park, everyone copes just fine with the crappy weather.

Getting a bank account took five minutes and I never had to fill in a single form. I sat down at the help desk, the lady took my passport, and had a lovely chat to me while she typed away, and five minutes later she printed out a form, I signed it, and Voila! My account was open, three days later my debit card arrived in the post as if by magic.

I miss my family

The houses are strange; they are mostly drywall, and plaster, with a single brick layer outside. Almost none of the houses, except the really old ones closer to the city have all brick walls. It's a bit of an adjustment getting used to the fact that you cannot bump into the wall at all, because you'll go right through it. Carrying furniture into a house has taken on a whole new ominous dimension.

I miss my family, every single day. But I get to call them on skype almost every weekend and I get to chat to them face to face so it's like I'm still there.

Everything works differently, finding a house to rent is an absolute nightmare, it took us nearly eight weeks to finally get to grips with how things work and to start to say the right things on the application forms. Yup - that's right, there's an application form and you need references, which is a disaster if you've just stepped off the plane with your permanent residence, and work for yourself.

But once you know how it works, the process is actually not bad - the landlord is assured of some kind of security in regards to the tenant and the tenant gets to put the landlord down as a reference the next time they rent. Imagine, renting to someone who has a history of looking after the properties, and knowing this for certain before you sign the lease?

Things are expensive, even in dollars. Bread is about R35 per loaf. Red meat is ridiculous. Restaurants are a real luxury and waiters are a few and far between. On the upside, there is something about having a healthy alternative, steamed veggies are an option everywhere,  even Macdonald's has real salads.

Friendliness all around

Everyone is friendly. All that nonsense about never fitting in is exactly that - nonsense. My neighbours have introduced themselves to me, I know their children and we often do favours for each other, like signing for postal articles while the other person is out. People greet you. For no reason whatsoever. It's disturbing at first, being from Jozi, I'm used to watching everything around me, and not making any eye contact. Eventually you get used to it and start scaring the newbies yourself at the Coles supermarket.

Australians have no idea how to set out a grocery store. Everything is everywhere. If you want mugs, you'd better be prepared to walk through every single aisle because they'll have plain white ones with the kitchen ware a few patterned sets with the tea and coffee three aisles over, and a full on plastic coffee set with the cooler boxes and charcoal. And somewhere - in some secret spot there's bound to be the blue ones that you saw in the pamphlet that are on special for 50c each ( R3.50). But you have to find it first.

People ask me about the domestic situation here, they think there is no-one to help with your house chores. On the contrary there are tons of cleaning services, where someone will come to your home once a week and clean it for you. We don't make use of it, but I know a few Aussies and South Africans who do. Yes - that's right; Australians hire other Australians to clean their houses.

Australians come across as very racist, but I have figured out that it's really not the intent. They are used to speaking their minds and they do not have the PC language and culture that has built itself up in South Africa. I know a family who will happily refer to the teenage daughters best friend as a "Wog" because she's of Greek descent - they love her dearly, but for them the word just doesn't have the same associations and negativity that it does for me. I still haven't gotten used to it though and I'm not sure I will.

Everybody swears - profusely - even the children. They truly do not see foul language as anything other than an alternative way of expressing yourself, although in some cases I do believe they know no other way of expressing themselves. It's quite strange to sit on a public train and look up at a sign prohibiting foul language while all around you the Fs and Ss and other colourful words are flying at a phenomenal rate.

Can't have it both ways

I have found that there are no generalities when it comes to the behaviour of the children and teenagers. There are strict parents, who raise well behaved children that are welcome in my house at any time. And there are the not strict parents, who are a nightmare to have over as their beloved angels break everything in sight and draw all over my walls.

For every one thing that is so different that I hate it here, I find three others that are so similar or better that I can't help but like being here.

It's tough and stressful, and to be blunt - calling it the chicken-run is grossly unfair; you have to be made of resilient stuff to start over again, without any of your support structures.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Would I go back to South Africa if my husband agreed to? In a heartbeat.

But I can't have it both ways so I've made my choice and I'm staying, for better or for worse. I think it will be for better though.

- Are you a South African living abroad interested in sharing your views? What is it like for a South African living in a foreign country or how do you view South Africa from a distance? Send us your columns to feedback@news24.com and you might get published in our new Beyond Borders section.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.


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Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

 

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