I have to apologize for the sop story that is my blog, but it is a personal memoir of sorts that is usually fuelled by emotions of turmoil. So if you’re not into it, sorry (not really, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to). I usually write about these experiences with two goals in mind: first to help me process what is going on (writing is actually quite therapeutic) and second to give insight to others who might want to know what it was like (in this case, what it was like to sell all your belongings, say goodbye to all you know and hold dear and move to another country to start life afresh). I haven’t really felt the need to write this down until now, so here goes.
We’re six months into a new life as expats living in Luxembourg. The first two months after we arrived was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. When we got the green light to move to Luxembourg in January 2019, we went ahead and booked accommodation at an airbnb for a month, with the goal to use that month to get sort of settled, find our own accommodation etc. This was a great idea as it turned out, as our hosts and fellow guests played an incredibly important role in finding our feet. It’s not every day that your path crosses with people who are generous and kind, but we were incredibly blessed by those people we met in that first month. God knew what we needed, and when we needed it. Apart from the people from the airbnb, I also met the most amazing South Africans who helped us find our feet. All of these people took us in and helped us with everything from translation (all paperwork is mostly in French, or Luxembourgish), to figuring out public transport, to finding accommodation, getting used to local shopping, navigating the weather and your wardrobe, figuring out how the education system works and even helped us to go buy our furniture at IKEA. There were countless acts of incredible kindness and support by these people, also expats who have lived here for quite some time already. We’ve gotten to know them a little bit and I feel blessed to know them and be able to keep in contact with them as we grow our own roots here.
During the first week at the airbnb, it snowed. A lot. Apparently more than it usually does in Luxembourg. I found it breathtakingly beautiful and otherworldly, but it also threw me a little bit. I went into full-on hibernation mode. It made it hard for me to orientate myself, to navigate and to motivate myself to get out and get stuff done. We were forced to act fast when we just arrived, having had a long list of admin to complete on arrival in order to get registered as residents etc, so the three of us headed out every day during the first week, completing some sort of task, however small it may have seemed. My husband had 3 days before he had to start his new job when we just landed, which meant that really early on, we had to part ways and start figuring out traveling and navigating Luxembourg on our own. I WAS PETRIFIED. I kid you not, I felt like I was frozen. I would see my husband off to work and stay in bed for as long as I possibly could, with the snow falling outside, only leaving bed to go play with Yuvi for a little while in the playroom or to eat something. My husband never had the luxury of getting stuck, he had to brave this new (cold) world head on. He nudged me to get unstuck, helping me, motivated me to try and accomplish at least one thing a day.
I remember that I had to go out to get a sim card, because my South African roaming didn’t work out, but not having a sim card meant not having internet to go out there and navigate how to get to a post office where I could buy a sim card (sticky situation, right?). My dad called me on the wifi and I told him what I had to go and do and I was just terrified of leaving the house. I just cried so much. Come to think of it, despite the good times and the tons of help we received in the first two months, I cried a whole lot. Quietly sneaking away to the bathroom to just ugly cry it out, because it was a shock to my system. I didn’t cry because I missed South Africa (sorry South Africa), or because I missed my family (I did miss them a lot, but it wasn’t the main reason for the tears), but because I was really scared and I felt terribly unstable in life.
Everything was new. I have never even set foot outside of South Africa in the 31 years of my life and now, here I was, with 3 large suitcases and 3 carry-ons, my husband and my 3 year old in a bedroom in an airbnb in Luxembourg. A place that looked unfamiliar, felt unfamiliar, even smelled and tasted unfamiliar. It took me a while to get used to the names of places, and to figure out the difference between names of streets and neighborhoods and bus stop names. It took us a while to figure out how the transport app works – we got on busses often, only to realise that it’s going in the wrong direction. It took me a good while to build up the courage to speak to strangers in shops (or anywhere), because of the language barrier. Most people can manage some form of English, but it’s happened often enough that they don’t. My husband has always been my rock and my true North in life though, and his sage advice was (as always) to not care about how embarrassing the situation might be. Fall on your face, learn from it, who cares.
Slowly but surely though, we got used to Luxembourg. My nerves melted with the snow and friendships started blossoming just as Spring arrived. How poetic, right? But it’s true. Spring was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. The vast contrast between winter and the new life of Spring and the promise of a brand new start, a beautiful and a good life. A safer life, a slower and more wholesome life.
Everywhere blossoms started appearing and Luxembourg transformed into a living floral arrangement that changed weekly. First it was the crocuses and then the fruit trees blossomed, after which it was the tulips and then the poppies and I can’t even mention the countless other types of flowers I’ve seen here since Spring. Suddenly, if it wasn’t raining, it was a joy to be outside. I remember taking Yuvi to the park for ice-cream one day – it was a maximum of 11 degrees Celsius, but it was glorious! Since then I’ve had plenty of time to adjust to this new way of living, and I’ve had such good times with people who have lived here longer than us (also expats though, haven’t managed to chat with locals yet – the language barrier really is a problem). Yuvi has made new friends, all mostly from South Africa funnily enough and they all get along so well – that really does my heart good to see him love his friends.
Most days are really good, but there still comes times when the blues hit me real bad. Today was one such day and it hit me hard. It was my nephew’s birthday party and the whole family got together in Pretoria to celebrate. We video-called them while they were setting up and decorating the cake for his 2nd birthday party and it was special to be able to share these moments with them via video calls, but it was heartbreaking not to be there in person. I actually burst into tears when we video called later in the day and I saw all my faves together in one place, it broke my heart at that moment and I longed to be there with them. It also really hurts to see Yuvi miss the family and hear him ask to go there. Do I have regrets moving to Luxembourg, though? Absolutely not.
Do I miss my family terribly? Of course. But we still talk every week, if not every day, and we will see each other as often as we can.
Is it easier now? Not always, no. Sometimes it still feels hard to put down roots and make it home, but I’m pretty sure it will come with time. I remember how hard it was to find my place in Cape Town the first time we moved there so many years ago, and yet, in time it became home.
Do I miss South Africa? Yes and no.
I miss certain places. I miss Cape Town, I miss the country’s incredible beauty, and its beautiful people. I don’t miss hearing about murder and rape and corruption over the radio on my morning drive to work. I love how the worst news on most days in Luxembourg is about some bar brawl, or how they’re hunting a dangerous boar next to the highway. I don’t miss feeling unsafe walking the streets/beaches/hiking trails of my home country as a woman all alone. I don’t miss anxiously gripping my child’s hand in public or sleeping uneasily at night. I pray for my country, South Africa, and there’s still a lot that I love about you, but I do not regret leaving. You have a beautiful heart, South Africa, please don’t let hatred and (insert other bad things here that tend to be a problem) consume you. I pray that your hearts will be transformed with God’s love, a love that can bring peace.