Living in a 3rd world country and seeing the 1st world through television and the internet can easily give one the perception that life out there is better than what we’re living. Shows like Sex and the City always had me fantasizing about living in New York and Rom-Coms with British leads made me think there would be nothing better than moving to Britain and settling down with a dreamboat like Jude Law.
Moving to the UK was very exciting. I was finally going to live the life I had romanticized throughout my teen years. But, no amount of research could have prepared me for the culture shock I experienced in the beginning and I could never have predicted all the ways that I would have to grow. All the new experiences taught me so much about what the world had to offer but most importantly, they made me truly understand what my home country has to offer and to really appreciate it.
We live in an environment where it’s normal to understand multiple languages. To say we take it for granted would be an understatement. We have one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. We are constantly confronted with different languages and customs. There is no room for complacence in South Africa when it comes to accommodating other cultures. We’re very good at it because it’s all we know. Even with the current sensitivity of our racial climate, we have a common ground where our cultures blend and become something authentically South African.
One of the perks of having so many cultures is the array of food options that we have. There is no shortage of options. Most of my homesickness came from missing the flavours of home. Our heavily melanated nation has a talent for making the tastiest version of everything from buffets and home cooked meals to snacks and take out. International franchises such as McDonalds and KFC are more flavoursome in South Africa, and our original franchises like Steers and Chicken Licken are unmatched by any other original franchises I’ve eaten at elsewhere.
Sunlight is a better antidepressant than I realized. Grey skies are romantic in short spans of time. One or two weeks of grey skies won’t really affect ones mental health as much as it will when you’re experiencing it for the majority of the year. Depression snuck up on me in the UK and it took a while to understand that I had to make a conscious effort to make up for the lack of natural vitamin D in order to stabilize my mood and feel like myself again.
There is no simple way to explain it. The ever-celebratory vibes of South Africa are to be experienced, not explained. We are a loud and electrifying nation that doesn’t need a festival or big-budget event to bring together an absolutely lit crowd of people. We can give life to any situation.
We are not perfect and we may have a lot of work to do on strengthening our economy. But we are a strong and resilient people with a ruthless sense of humour. I miss our people deeply whenever I’m not there and I wouldn’t have known just how special the country is had I never left. My goals went from wanting to see the beauty of the world to wanting the world to see our beauty.
by Zani Tsabedze