Monday, 13 December 2010

Going 'Home'

Feeling a bit random tonite...

This evening I got into my wife's car to park it for her. Carmen is Afrikaans and when I started her car there was a Christmas CD playing and it happened to be Theuns Jordaan, an Afrikaans singer. I was instantly transported back to SA and the times when a whole group of us would go out to Tygervalley or wherever in the MPV for a movie or family gatherings and the comfortable familiarity that was home for us. Though I am not Afrikaans, I missed the nearness of the culture, much as you may miss a neighbour who you live next door to for years and don't know too well, but greet sometimes and then one day see that they have moved out. Do we feel the loss because they have gone, or because we never got to know them and now that they are gone, never will?

In about a week, we head back to SA for our first visit since we moved to Aus 16 months ago. We have settled into our new lives over here, but cannot and probably will never quite leave our 'old' lives behind because our 'old' lives contained and contain so many that we love. There is an ongoing, sometimes heated discussion between expats about the wisdom of immersing yourself in your new life and country on the one side but not forgetting where you came from; and on the other, those that say it is best to cut all ties. Some flock to expat gatherings and buy stuff at the South African shops. Others never look back. There is no easy answer here - some people find that when they give up smoking, cold turkey works; others need to wean themselves off it with patches and the like.

When we moved here, we made a decision that returning to SA (apart from Holidays) was not an option and that has enabled us to be committed through the stresses and difficulties that anyone who has emigrated will know. But the irrevocability of our decision has also meant that as much as all the negatives about South Africa are behind us now and we enjoy levels of freedom and security one could never dream of in SA, the losses are just as real - and in many senses, permanent. Friendships change and it is nobody's fault: experiences shape who and what we are and when you don't share that with somebody, the overlapping circles that bind you to another and strengthen your community, grow smaller. Does it weaken the connection? I can't answer that, but it certainly narrows it. It is an odd phenomenon that those expats who choose to honour the traditions of their mother countries tend to be very true to the historical traditions of those countries - more traditional than the people who live in those countries because in real life, cultures change and morph over time. The celebrations,I guess it could be argued, are fossilised versions of a culture from a particular time. It is why though I do miss the familiarity of home, I tend to avoid expat gatherings - I have fond memories from South Africa, but I want to see it as it really is, not as I remember it.

The Eastern worldview, if I can generalise for a second, appears to me to have far more in keeping with the individualistic view of the world that Western Capitalism espouses as against the traditional Catholic Christian worldview that views community as intrinsic to our nature. When Jiddu Krishnamurti held that 'Truth is a pathless land' he revealed how individualistic, narrow-minded - and ultimately lonely a world of one is. And so now 'communities' are often little more than groups of individuals who happen to share an interest - much akin to Facebook 'friends', shallow and inauthentic.

Our experience of moving here is still an ongoing journey in the sense that until we have moved into our house which we will shortly begin building, we probably won't make any real investments or commitment to the people we meet and engage with, and it leaves one feeling a little lost even 16 months into this journey. We are born in and for community. It is one of the reasons we baptise children who cannot express yet a personal faith. The faith of the community is the soil which both births and into which a child is born and fed - or not. I do not miss South Africa as such. But I do miss the community we left behind and in a way the timing of our visit now is significant for us as when we return, we hope to start our family and build our home. This holiday will be a final farewell. You can - and with Thoreau - I would argue you should look back, often, but know that you cannot go back. It is a comfort and a call at the same time.