Moving around is not in my blood. I come from a line of farmers who stayed in one place their whole lives. For the first seventeen years of my life we only moved once when I was three years old, and then only a short distance on the same farm, to a new house that my dad had built for us when the family grew out of our little corrugated iron house.
My husband, on the other hand, comes from a family of railway policemen who were promoted and transferred almost yearly. They once moved three times in one year! I wonder if they ever really unpacked? After our marriage, he quickly became used to a more permanent life. We moved only when upgrading to a bigger home to suit our growing family. That amounted to three moves in twenty years, and those were all in the same city. When we had built our dream home on a nice little piece of land outside the city, we both thought that we would grow old there.
Imagine my shock and surprise when he told me that we had to move to a small, unheard-of mining town in the middle of nowhere 600 km away from everyone we loved. After 23 years in the city I could only think of all the things I wouldn’t be able to find there and all the friends and family we would miss. It certainly wasn’t easy, in fact it was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. It took me a full year to stop longing for the city and everything we had left behind. To stop looking for every possible excuse to go back, even just for a visit.
Five years have passed now, and I can honestly say that I would not go back willingly now. I have become used to the slower pace here. I am spoilt with the fact that nothing is further than five minutes’ drive away. Our kids love it here. The house is always full of their friends. We have made friends, people who also had to start over. We have fewer friends than we had had in the city, but our friendships here are so deep and strong that they have become family to us. I have no doubt that the friends that we have here will be in our lives forever, even when we are no longer in the same town. Because that’s the kind of town this is. People come and go all the time. And one day we will also move on again.
This town has taught me that you can find friendship in the most unexpected places, that people and family are more important than anything else in this world. That you don’t need all the things and people that you think you do. After five years I can count on one hand the friends that made the effort to come all the way out here to visit us, and on another hand the family. I have learned to make wonderful recipes in the absence of the city’s convenience, and to substitute or do without those things I don’t have. I do not miss the rushed, busy life I had there, the traffic, the days I spent in my car driving the kids here and there to sport and activities.
When I visit now I feel like a fish out of water. I go to the shopping malls with great anticipation of all the things I want to buy, often to leave after twenty minutes, feeling overwhelmed and out of sorts. People seem over-dressed and hostile to me. I feel like a country bumpkin, although I had lived there for 23 years!
We have become travel-fit. We can do 10 hour trips without anyone complaining once. We drive 400 km to an orthodontist for a 5-minute adjustment and 90 km for chinese take aways. I drove 1400 km to see One Republic! Distance has become nothing to us.
I am also ready for the next big move, because we knew this would not be forever. I am no longer afraid to start again because this town has made me stronger, braver, more open and less set in my ways. Its ironic really that a small town can broaden your mind. You would expect the opposite. But in big cities people of the same education and backgrounds more or less flock to the same areas to live, to relax, to work and to worship. We only really socialised with people like us, not necessarily by choice, but by proximity. After growing up in a homogenic suburb where all their friends came from similar homes to ours, the diversity here was a shock to our kids at first. They never appreciated what they had had, until they saw that it was not the norm everywhere, and that a lot of people live very differently from what they are used to.
I am a lot less likely to judge a person at face value now than I used to be, and I am much more inclined to accept people exactly as they are. I am much more open to new friendships, regardless of common ground, because those are much more interesting than sticking to the familiar. What fun is there in only having people around that are the same as you? My sister and her family have lived in Germany and China due to her husband’s work, and they came back each time enriched by their experiences, the children more open-minded and street-smart than before.
Although a move to a small town in the country might not be as exciting as a move abroad, it certainly shook our little world upside down, and taught us lessons about ourselves that city life could never teach.
January 2011: Our family get-together just before we moved from Pretoria, Gauteng to Kathu, Northern Cape