This is Part 2 of our story returning home to Cape Town after five years living in the States.  

Read Part I here. 

9 June 2018

I use up the last tissue in my pocket dabbing my eyes and blowing my nose, doing my best to pull myself together before we fall into tight hugs with those waiting for us. We stop at the bathroom and I splash water on my face and sigh at the mirror that reveals my swollen, bloodshot eyes. 

We pass without fanfare or incident through passport control—four with South African passports by birth, and me, with permanent resident status. It takes three self-serve luggage trolleys for us to fit our seven suitcases, but the bags all arrive without incident, and I give thanks. My husband has to remind me twice not to turn my back on the bags; I must keep them close and watch them at all times. 

We move ahead in a straight line and pass through customs without getting pulled aside for inspection. I am more than a little surprised, and again I give thanks. I let Kagiso go first through the automatic sliding doors that separate him from his waiting mother.

I look behind me to corral my tired kids closer and by the time I turn back, I see my husband locked in an embrace with his mom, who has bypassed the barrier that is supposed to keep travellers from the waiting crowd. After five and a half years apart, no metal railing is going to hold her back. 

It’s like one of those emotional scenes you see on TV or maybe you’ve experienced yourself when a soldier returns home after a lengthy overseas deployment. My breath catches in my throat. 

***

It takes two vehicles to fit all of us plus our luggage, so we divide into groups—I ride in one car with a friend from church, my mother-in-law, and two youngest kids. Kagiso and our oldest take the bags in a VW minibus with another church friend. When we reach the car in the parking garage, I automatically head to the right side. “Other side, Kate. Other side,” my friend says, moving in front of me to slide behind the steering wheel. 

“Right,” I laugh. “I knew that was going to happen.” 

It’s dark, and I’m paying attention to the road and conversation more than our surroundings. I’ll take that in another day. We fill the twenty-minute drive with fast talking and loud laughter, but not loud enough to mask my boy’s snoring in the back seat. None of my kids have slept for over 36 hours, but now at least one of them is finally knocked out and the rest of us laugh some more. 

We pull into my mother-in-law’s driveway and it feels as if we never left. As we wait in the dark for the others, my friend lets the car idle for a while then turns the engine off. The street is quiet. It’s after ten o’clock at night and I don’t see anyone outside but that doesn’t keep me from checking.

The car windows start to steam up from our warm breath contrasting with the cool outdoor air, so my daughter opens her window all the way. I tell her to close it all the way except for a small gap at the top, but I leave out, “Just in case someone comes, then they won’t be able to reach their hand inside.” 

 

Related Post: 5 Years in America: A Reflection on Missing (and Not Missing) South Africa

 

The other vehicle takes so long I begin to worry whether they got hijacked or stopped by a makeshift roadblock of rioters. VW minibuses—called kombis—are popular targets. I mask my concern and keep the conversation going. 

Finally the kombi comes around the corner. They made it. “We got lost!” Kagiso says in disbelief. I find this particularly funny since he frequently reminds me, “I’m an African. Africans don’t get lost.” But I decide not to tease him because I’m sure he doesn’t like the fact that he’s been gone so long he doesn’t remember how to get home. Besides, I’m just relieved they made it unscathed. 

We unload the vehicles in the dark and thank our friends again as we hug them goodbye.

We step into the house, and we are home. 

 

Read Part 3 of this series on returning to Cape Town here

 

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Follow along on our South Africa trip on Instagram and Facebook.

***

 

Read more about my ten years in Cape Town in my memoir,
A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging.

Order your copy here. 

A Place to Land

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