Six weeks ago my children and I left France for good. We left behind an apartment with our furniture, clothing and books still to be packed away, and in part it almost felt like we were slinking away from a place that had been our home for four years. We came back from our Summer break to pack up our bags and leave. But this phase of our lives had come to an end, and the reality of a school term back home that had already begun, and the administration still left to do regarding moving house across international borders was still not fully in place. So we left my husband behind to sort out what he could, and finish off his term – whilst we boarded a plane on a Saturday morning, as my children mentally prepared themselves for the arrival back home, and to being the new kids in school.
Today my days consist of the endless viewing of potential houses that will be our new home, and a determination to make sure that my children transition as easily as possible into their home country. I have not, as a result, had time to mourn my departure from France, or to celebrate my arrival back in South Africa. I do have fleeting memories of my life in France, but nothing to make me stop and think: Gosh, I miss that place. I do miss the friends I left behind; the simplicity of our lives there; the ease of getting around the city – which did not require driving all of the time, and strangely enough the anonymity of living in a city where only a handful of people knew me. I do, however, not miss the loneliness of being a nuclear family in a foreign city; the reserve of the french – as opposed to the demonstrative nature of South Africans; that feeling of knowing that this place was just not home no matter how many years we had lived here, and most definitely the boulangeries at every corner with their wafting freshly baked smells inviting you in.
In truth, the disconnect of returning home and the mixed emotions that I had anticipated have not hit me yet. I do see more of the expat Moms at my children’s school than I do my South African friends – they, like me, don’t work, whereas my SA friends are holding down full-time jobs. So the social groups that are always mooted as a critical part of re-integration are already there. The culture shock is more of an awareness than a shock really. There are things I see daily that make me laugh out loud, and in truth they are the South African quirks and foibles I had missed so much whilst living abroad.
So yes, in as hurried a farewell as it was when we left France, there is nothing in me that feels I could have stayed longer. Any longer I think we may have gone through the motions of living there, and not really living there. Some of the benefits of having expat friends in South Africa is in seeing the country through their eyes – exploring it as when I first explored Ghana, then France. In discovering places I would normally have dismissed as “touristy”, and in actually ignoring, albeit momentarily, the perceived impotence of the government , a stagnant economy and the socio-economic inequalities, and in rather seeing the positives of the country, in the same way I was able to do whilst living in France, which had its own share of economic and social problems.
Goodbye France, it was great. Hello South Africa, it’s good to be here.