[OPINION] There is no greener grass
After a two-week holiday in three European countries, I come home relieved and relaxed. Relieved because I am sure again that other countries have pros and cons, as do we. I feel relaxed because they don’t have it all together out there either. Definitely not.
Until more people in South Africa have the privilege to travel and experience other countries, cultures and social practices, it will take a lot of convincing that THIS IS IT. I am committed to having endless if necessary conversations about a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. In life’s box of chocolates, this is what we got. South African life and living is not better or worse than at least, the Netherlands, London and Portugal. For every pro there is a counter-argument.
A personal observation is that Europeans who move to South Africa have an enormous elevation of the standard of living, the spaces where they live and their access to opportunities. South Africans who live abroad generally have to work a lot harder than they do at home. Childcare is expensive and sometimes it is more cost effective to have one stay-at-home parent. Homes are usually smaller than what they would have in South Africa. The transport systems generally work, which is a good thing as parking is near impossible in the cities, let alone in front of so many homes which generally have no garages. In Amsterdam, if you live in those elegant looking triple-story homes on the canals, the cost of the home is around ten million euros. You get onto a 7-year waiting list for parking and have no guarantee that you will get a personal parking.
As I type this, I realise these are my opinions, generalisations and mostly an observation of middle-class problems. Someone once said if we put all the problems we have in our lives in a hat, most people would rather choose the issues and challenges they are currently dealing with than take on someone else’s burden. We have much to work on, definitely.
I feel confident that after a tumultuous ten years under the non-leadership of President Zuma, we are jostling for a place in a working democracy with a more committed and active president. A president who appears to be making the system work for our country, as opposed to belabouring a broken system and avoiding responsibility. If in the course of time this proves to be a non-reality, we have the systems in place to question and insist on accountability, as active citizens.
When our system works for all, bad apples will be picked for prosecution or cast out for exploiting their positions for personal gain. All those who are not working to uphold our Constitution, our country and ourselves will find themselves looking for new places to hide or live.
I hear many people complaining and whining about what is happening in South Africa. Memes and online derogatory jokes. These include phrases such as “Only in Africa”, “Only in South Africa”, “We couldn’t make this up!”. And so it goes daily. These approaches are an out from actually stepping up and being part of transforming our society to what it could be.
One day I hope people will be using a healthy, elated utterance of ONLY IN AFRICA, ONLY IN SOUTH AFRICA! That day is up to us and is achievable if we start to acknowledge what we can and cannot do with what we have in our country. In here, rests a grand opportunity for progress and abundance.
I wonder how many people really look at their alternatives. I know of a number of families, including my own in the 1980s, which have been split up as a result of apartheid. People looking for a better life and more prosperous future for their children, believed it would be best to emigrate. For some it works. For others, it is a disaster. I have spoken to a few ex (if ex is possible) South Africans who would love to come home, but their children have now grown up in a different country that they now call home. Most people underestimate what it takes to make it work abroad. I wish we had a narrative from those who leave South Africa about what it takes to set up home in a foreign land. I salute them for making the shift and committing to it.
Does anyone really measure what a better life overseas would look like? Some of the perks include living in a mostly integrated society where people are people. Nobody bats an eyelid at mixed couples, blended families or quirky messy oddball human beings doing what they do. Mental health issues are a separate topic, I am referring to the freedom to BE. The pretentious and unpretentious live side by side and judgement appears halted.
A consequence of travelling extensively is that we now choose to do most of our family holidays as road trips in South Africa. Our land has much to offer. We must look to see it. While abroad I couldn’t help but notice that everyone is in a rush, early in the morning on packed trams, tubes and streams of bicycles meandering through other busyness to get to jobs and appointments. Very late at night those same commuters find their way home. At what cost, I wondered. It looks like survival not living. Only the very privileged live near their places of work. Most people have long commutes to and from work. Yes, possibly they can be grateful for having work, but it seems ironic that they go to work before their children got to school and get home after their kids have gone to bed.
Yes, the majority of South Africa lives like that too. In both cases, it is a necessity. At all the museums, galleries, parks and public spaces we visited we saw numerous school outings. I wondered how many parents had the time to do those fun activities with their own children. There just never seems to be time. Everything is open all the time. I saw homeless people, 90% less than we see in South Africa, but homeless nonetheless. We saw a few service delivery protests which reminded me of home. They were peaceful, but protests and unhappiness about a system is what it is anywhere.
Europe is a delightful mix of all I wish for our society. Mostly safe with easy travelling and access to schools, shops, workplaces and entertainment. Everything is relative. Obviously being on holiday is very different to living in a place. I did make efforts to immerse myself into the day-to-day happenings around me. The TV news is as bad and negative as ours is. The world is in trouble and all we can do is build our own possibilities with the opportunities we find in our own country or the world we create for ourselves.
I am a South African wherever I am. I cannot imagine emigrating and taking on a new nationality without feeling despair and loss. If we stay in our lane we will find that we all have a myriad of choices, it takes some work for us to know what our options are. There is a big wide world out there. Nothing is perfect anywhere, only in fairy tales and mostly those don’t go well until happily ever after. I choose to live here in South Africa with access to holidays, not getaways from what seems to be insurmountable toil.
We get what we look for; I see a land of possibility for my children, my old age and all those who want us to win. I also see countless spaces where I can make a difference to the lives of others who don’t yet know what is out there. I see opportunities to have many dinner conversations with friends and family who thumb their noses at our country to find out what they do want after hearing for years what they don’t want.
Death and change are the only guarantees we have in life. While travelling one gets to see so many happy people who roll with the punches, why don’t we?
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn