Today marks exactly five years since our family boarded a plane with ten overstuffed suitcases to move from Cape Town, South Africa to my hometown in West Michigan.
By that point I had lived in South Africa for ten and a half years. My husband and kids were all born in South Africa and had never lived anywhere else. I was going back to the town where I grew up, but it had changed over the decade I’d been away, and so had I.
When I think about the fact that it’s been five years, I feel mixed emotions. I miss South Africa and her people immensely, yet I’m immensely grateful for the time we’ve had here in the States. The Lord has been good and faithful as He always is, and we are grateful.
Read more about our experience in Cape Town and how I ended up there in the first place in my memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging.
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Looking back over the past five years, I came up with five things I do miss about South Africa, and five things I don’t miss about living there.
Here’s my list of five dos and don’ts:
I do miss our family and friends — of course. More than anything else in South Africa. My husband hasn’t seen his mom or brother in five whole years, my kids haven’t seen their Ouma or uncle, we haven’t seen our dear church family or other friends. Five years is a long time, and much has changed on both sides.
I don’t miss being over 8,000 miles away from my sister and other family and friends here in the States. Even after five years, it still remains such an enormous blessing to live just four miles away from my sister. I doubt I’ll ever get over it.
I do miss the sense of community that exists in South Africa. As a gross generalization, Americans are quite individualistic. When we first arrived in Michigan, my daughter asked if we could go over to someone’s house. I said, “No honey, we haven’t been invited.” She just stared at me. The concept of having to be invited fell flat on her. “Well, can’t you just call them and ask them to invite us?”
I don’t miss the crime rate in South Africa. I’ll admit I was consistently on edge while living in Cape Town. Praise God we didn’t have any physical harm done to us while we were there, but the threat was real. Muggings, hijackings, shootings, human trafficking and other crimes are common — more rampant in the cities, of course. We did have our car stolen twice, a handful of attempted break-ins, and an actual break-in during which the perpetrator hid on our property for over four hours while we were there.
I do miss the mountain. Table Mountain is a glorious sight to behold. I never grew tired of staring at her majesty. Now we have Lake Michigan at our doorstep which is another significant blessing I can’t discount, but overall my hometown is remarkably flat. No hills, let alone a mountain. In Cape Town we could see mountains, ocean, city, and winelands from one vantage point.
I don’t miss not having central heating in our house. People don’t believe me when I tell them, but it gets cold in South Africa. And they don’t have indoor heating apart from fireplaces or space heaters. On several occasions in the winter (which happens to be during America’s summer), I could see my breath inside the house. It’s not uncommon to wear multiple layers including jackets, scarves, and hats during a church service.
I do miss the diversity. Living in Cape Town, I could hear multiple languages and accents in any given hour. People of every shade strolled the streets. Now in West Michigan, our town is predominantly white and predominantly middle class. The only non-white kids in church and my kids’ school are adopted, and there are only a handful of them. Yes, we could certainly choose to live in a more diverse part of the U.S. but for now we’re choosing to be close to family, and that decision means very little diversity.
I don’t miss the lack of ease and convenience. Yes, comfort is addictive. Yes, convenience can become idolatrous. And no, I don’t love what ease and convenience have done to me and my increasing lack of patience, but it sure is nice have everything I could want at my fingertips. (And yes, I am fully aware of the privilege dripping from this paragraph. And no, I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.)
I do miss Five Roses tea, Ouma rusks, samoosas, Mrs. Ball’s chutney, boerewors, biltong, chakalaka, Aero bars, Crunchies, and Beacon marshmallow Easter eggs.
I don’t miss the mental strain required to live as an expatriate in a foreign country. And yet, I would go back in a heartbeat. In a very real sense, living outside my comfort zone made my faith seem more tangible. I was constantly aware of my utter dependence on the Lord’s help. In America, it’s so easy to slip into a sense of apathy and self-sufficiency. I don’t need Him or His grace any less no matter where I live, but my awareness of my need was greater when I lived in Cape Town.
Whew! How’s that for a walk down memory lane? I’m so grateful for the time I had in Cape Town, and so grateful for the time I’ve had in Michigan. God is good. All the time.
I’m excited to share more about my experience moving back and forth from Michigan to Cape Town and back again in my memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging.