Swings and roundabouts

2009-08-04 00:00

I HAVE uninvited flu lurking about. The respite of bed-dozing means that I have a moment to pluck my thoughts and examine and distil them. It’s a year since I moved to a new country — time enough to do a mini review of all the pros and cons, and the swings and roundabouts.

It’s a crisp, sun-filled day. A little cold creeps into my hand as I write this. Paddywag lies next to me. He’s our Kiwi baby — named to commemorate two of our South African dogs that we sadly rehomed — Paddystix and Scallywag. He’s brought a new meaning to the word “watchdog”. One doesn’t need a watchdog for protection here. Instead, he is a watchdog because he watches us.

On a recent visit to South Africa, I avoided seeing our three ex-dogs. I felt that it would be too painful for me and too confusing for them now that they are ensconced in their new lives.

One of the most exasperating factors about living in New Zealand is the vast time difference. I often ache for the immediate gratification of hearing one of my children or grandchildren’s voices during the day. But they are sleeping now. And at night, I still find that my circadian rhythm occasionally resists conforming; that I want to drink tea and check my e-mails at 2 am.

Moving country remains the hugest thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s an act of seemingly utter insanity, which negates all one’s most visceral connections to the cosmos. I find myself quoting John Keats more often, “Happiness is sharpened by its antithetical elements”.

Experiencing a new chapter of life is nothing less than profound and it isn’t given enough credence. Each day I’m grateful to metaphorically taste a different menu, yet simultaneously I miss the staple diet stemming from my roots. I recall e-mailing a psychologist colleague of mine after my arrival here.

“Am I experiencing a schism of the self?” She replied: “No, just reinventing the self.”

Living in Auckland is exciting. It’s a sprawling city with stunning vistas. And New Zealand is spectacularly beautiful, no more or less than South Africa — just utterly different. And whereas NZ only has 4,5 million people, SA has close to 50 million (if one includes all the illegal immigrants). One never feels crowded, pushed or rushed by the maelstrom of humanity. It’s a far quieter, more ordered and tidier place, yet equally florid with immigrants from Africa, Asia,

Europe and the Pacific Islands, plus the Kiwis and the Maoris.

Everything works. And to make a small economy financially viable, one has to tick all the boxes; be accountable for the nano-seconds of every working day. Don’t ever believe that Kiwis aren’t hard-working. They work arduously and fearlessly. There are companies one can phone during the night if emergency repair work is required. And women drive buses and bulldozers and chop wood, although none carry large bundles of wood on their heads. Despite the hard work, the less stressful vibe seems to lower one’s kinetic

vibrations. Speeding is an offence and Kiwis are generally law abiding.

But Kiwis possibly lack the robustness which “SAfers” have. They haven’t experienced loving and hating their land simultaneously. They aren’t exposed to such a wide spectrum of life, from exhilaration through to visceral threat.

I love the freedom of wide expanses of glass unfettered by burglar bars, of no gates or electrical gadgets. I sleep peacefully except for my occasional

2 am tea. But after a year of tasting a new chapter, the honeymoon’s over. It’s time for that honest evaluation. What would my advice be to my family, friends and colleagues? People frequently want me to forward their CV to some or other New Zealand destination and ask myriad questions about immigration.

My answer is that no one can give a definitive answer. For those who left South Africa due to a family member being ravaged by violence and their inner sanctum being violated, there is no choice, no turning back. But for those who left South Africa in an endeavour to prevent a heinous occurrence, the choice is complex. Either way one lacks totality. In New Zealand one will, for some time, experience the pangs of desire for one’s loved ones at home and the smells, sounds and imagery of Africa. If remaining in South Africa one will never know how it will feel to taste a new life and never know when the bad could rear its head. There’s good, bad and ugly everywhere. It boils down to random occurrences and dare I say it, luck?

I honestly don’t regret taking the plunge. It’s taught me reflection and provided fodder for inner growth. But I continue to wish that my husband and I could find the perfect place near all our treasured children.

• Eve Hemming is a former Hilton resident who now lives in New Zealand.

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