On Sunday the 25th March myself, my wife Mikaela and our two beautiful children, Issy (4) and Emilie (just about to turn 2) boarded a plane to Cape Town for the first time with just a one way ticket in our hands. A life changing feeling mixed with sorrow, anticipation, excitement, apprehension and sheer determination.
We were about to give up everything we had in Surrey and London for the quieter life in the Western Cape of South Africa.
We were leaving behind family and friends by the dozen but we felt that this was something that we had to do.
To give you some background on our family, Mikaela is originally from South Africa and grew up in the Western Cape. Although she lived in many parts of the Cape she always counted Paarl, situated in the Wine lands as her home.
Myself, well I am English and proud to the core. I grew up in Cornwall and after University in Chichester I moved to London where I met Mikaela and we duly built a family and a home for ourselves over the next 11 years.
Over those 11 years I had visited South Africa on numerous occasions and was very proud to show it off to all our family and friends when we married here in 2012.
In 2016 we planned the mother of all trips and now, with the gift of hindsight it may well have been the best decision that we ever made. We brought my own Mum out here with us and we cantered through safari’s, The Garden Route, Knysna, Wine Farms, Cape Town………..the lot! We acted like true tourists. My Mum and I flew back to the U.K. and as my wife was on maternity leave at the time with Emilie she decided to stay on a few more weeks and have more time with her parents. Her Mom, Jenny, resided in Paarl and her Dad, Fred, lived in Somerset West.
It would be remiss of me not to mention something extremely important that happened on this holiday. We informed Mikaela’s Mom and Dad that we were going to move to South Africa to spend time with them and them with their Grandchildren. We said that within a year we would be here. Much jubilation for them especially as Mikaela had now been out of the country for 15+ years.
One month after Mikaela had returned back to the U.K. though and tragedy struck our family and Mikaela especially. We received a phone call to say that Mikaela’s Mom had passed away very suddenly. Out of the blue. No warning, no illness. She had left us to be with the Angels. Mikaela and her Mom were extremely close and Mikaela had lost both her Mom and best friend in one very foul swoop. We were on the next flight out to embark on the toughest three weeks of our lives.
Whilst we were in South Africa I also received the news that my Grandmother had passed away and that I would also not be back in time for the funeral. A genuinely horrific three weeks.
Mikaela however was more determined than ever to come back to South Africa to ensure time with her Dad was maximised and that he spent some precious time with his Grandchildren.
In late August, we got the call that we had always feared may come sooner rather than later and that was that Mikaela’s Dad had also sadly passed away. In 7 months, Mikaela had lost both of her loving, beautiful, generous and truly amazing parents. They were very dear to me as well but for Mikaela this was sheer heart break.
2017 will always give me shudders down my spine because in total, between Mikaela and myself we lost 14 people, some closer than others admittedly, that we were friends with, related to, had worked with in the past. It was unprecedented and I never truly knew the real meaning of the phrase ‘I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy’ until 2017 bowled into town.
So it then became a straight shootout between ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to come to South Africa. The reasoning had now changed and the initial reasons for coming here had so sadly been taken away from us.
As the clouds that surrounded us started to lift we soon realised that we were going to struggle to make a clear decision on what was best for our family in the long term whilst leading the life that we were living in the U.K.
Our daughters were in child care for nearly 12 hours a day, Mikaela was all over the country with work and I was undertaking the daily slog of commuting in and out of London. Something had to change but we didn’t know what. What we did know is that we had an opportunity to get some breathing space in South Africa. It was time to start the ball rolling.
Getting a Visa was fairly easy for me if not quite time consuming and pernickety. A South African wife and two children with dual passports always helps I suppose?
In December, the flights were booked, notice was handed in on our house and it was confirmed that we were leaving the U.K. for sunnier climbs.
Throughout the whole decision making process of this move you have to remember that although you and your partner will agree on numerous reasons that the time is right to do this you also have to take into consideration that your drivers for the move may well be poles apart.
There were times when I could feel that Mikaela was having serious moments of doubt and it becomes difficult not to feel that you are railroading someone into something even though you passionately feel that it is best for your family. Don’t forget that Mikaela’s dream move had been shattered in 7 awful months. These weren’t the emotions that she was supposed to be feeling for this one way flight.
For me, the move to South Africa signalled something completely different: An opportunity to live abroad, new experiences, a chance to clear my head after a tough year; a clean break if you like.
In those times of doubt that Mikaela was having though I felt that I needed to stand up for what I believe is right. I may not be right in the long term and I will deal with that should I need to but this would probably be our only chance to try this. Issy and Emilie were not in school yet so their upheaval would always be as minimal as something so life changing could be. Now or never and as 2017 proved to me time and time again, life truly is far too short and living with regret is something that I never want.
My over riding thought was always that I would feel better having tried this and going back to the U.K. in two years time than waking up in 5 years time in the U.K. complaining that we should have given it the best shot that we could have. Regret riddled to boot.
What never helps in these situations is that the last few weeks before moving are genuinely sensational. Leaving parties, drinks, lunches, dinners with all of our friends and family were pretty much daily occurrences. It can really start to cloud your judgement at times but you’ve got to remind yourself that it is not always like this and you can sometimes go months on end without seeing the best of friends that live within 15 minutes of your house. A stark reminder of why we were about to choose lifestyle over the rat race of the city.
Leaving these people in our lives was going to be the hardest part of the relocation. They had been there for us unreservedly for the past year and not once did any of them try and put us off this move. They all agreed it was a great idea and although they were going to miss us they thought it was for the best.
My own Mum and Brother especially had been exemplary in their support. There was just the three of the Daniel Clan in the U.K. as my father passed away when I was 15 so essentially my Mum was saying see you later to 50% of her support network left in the U.K. This was and still isn’t lost on me, especially as she is based in Cornwall and my Brother Mark with his stunning wife Emma are based in Bristol. She had also just hit retirement which would have meant a lot more time with her grandchildren whenever she wanted. Telling the both of them that I was moving my family to another continent was the toughest part for me and although I could visibly see them hurting they never once made me feel guilty. Something I will always be grateful for.
This blog is being created exactly a month to the day that we arrived in South Africa so let me paint you a quick picture of where we are. Last night I sat on our Stoep (a type of veranda for the English reading this), with a beer in hand watching the sun set on the mountains and now I am finishing this on the same Stoep that my children are potting plants, jumping on their trampoline and eating breakfast whilst I am in my shorts having a freshly brewed local coffee at 8am. The epitome of lifestyle over rat race if you will.
The first month has not been plain sailing though and my advice would be to stick together as a family unit and accept that utopia is not waiting for you when you step off the plane.
A pre-requisite to what was about to unfold in the past 4 weeks was when I was sat in a very empty baggage area at Cape Town International airport waiting for our children’s car seats. They never arrived. In fact, they never even made it on the plane. Not the end of the world but these things start to add up very quickly and begin to effect the overall mood very quickly.
We had decided to take a few days to acclimatise when we arrived so we booked three nights in a spa hotel. A great idea and helped us settle in. The first big step was around the corner though.
We were relocating to live in Mikaela’s Mom’s house. We had rented it out for a year but we had a perfect base to start from with numerous amounts of bits and bobs to get us going. We had stored everything impeccably the year before so we had a bed, a fridge and some crockery to get us started.
That all paled into insignificance though when we arrived at the house. The Western Cape is in the midst of its worst drought for over a century and the gardens had died at the house. The grass was dust and the beautiful plants and flowers that had been the happiness of Jenny over the years had disappeared. Mikaela was devastated as it felt like a link to her Mom had also died with them. Since then we have had lots of rain and there is some greenery rearing its head. Mikaela has taken the garden to task and doing an admirable job of creating a new style of garden. Jenny will be smiling and laughing at Mikaela chopping back the roses in the pouring rain.
Once the shock of the garden had set in we ventured up to the garage to check that everything we stored was intact. Someone had changed the padlock on the garage. See what I mean when I say that these things start adding up. No one had a key and the estate agents & tenants swore blind that they had never touched it. Anyway, you can imagine the panic now.
This is where I say to people, don’t believe everything you read in the press. The South African willingness to help people is something like I have never experienced before. After our tragic three weeks the year previously I left with a sense of community spirit like I’d never felt. The neighbours were simply sensational and helped us in more ways than they will ever probably realise. It’s been the same since we have been back this time around as well.
Last year I met two guys, Quinton and Steven in a pub as I took a break from all of the emotions and we have stayed in contact ever since. Mainly exchanging sporting banter and friendly abuse but all the while they said if I needed anything then just shout. Within 24 hours of finding the garage padlock changed one had dropped off an angle grinder to the other, we had sheered it off and I had the fridge in the kitchen with the help of Steven. Our prayers had been answered and there was nothing missing from the garage at all.
On the Bank Holiday Friday that followed, Quinton and his girlfriend Lee-Anne turned up in a vehicle that he had borrowed from work. She entertained our kids whilst Quinton and I carried beds, wardrobes and tables down from the garage and into the house. I had met these guys for maybe 5 hours yet a year later they were willing to be where I needed and when I needed them. Cheers guys. It’s definitely me getting the first Castle Lite’s in at the first Stormers match.
Since then all we have had is constant support from the neighbours. Toys and DVD’s dropped around for the children, dinner has been made for us and invite after invite for play dates or a glass of wine. We even got offered the loan of two cars for as long as we need in one day! It’s been truly amazing and I am so humbled by it all.
Of course we have nothing other than what was in our suitcases so far. Our container was due into Cape Town on the 14th April but got delayed until Sunday 29th. A massive setback for us. We’re trying to settle in, build a home and a stable environment for our children but we simply can’t without our home comforts. It’s brutal on the children as well but the resilience of these two girls is nothing short of remarkable.
It’s tough not having our own luxuries as well and we are craving this container arriving now. It feels like our new life has a handbrake on it as it stands and that builds an untold amount of frustration.
Without sounding stereotypical I can cope without these things for a period of time but for Mikaela she is a Mum and has always taken great pride in creating warm, loving homes for us wherever we have lived so it’s hit her that hardest. We jokingly welcome people to our squatter camp when they pop round at the moment but we know that as long we don’t have any more setbacks then the house will be a home very shortly.
With all of the good people though there is always a minority and we have unfortunately seen a darker side. On our second Friday here we were watching a DVD when we heard a car screeching around the corner and up the road at great speed. Then another. This one however had no control and ploughed straight into the next door neighbours guests’ cars. How he missed our hire car I will never know. He wrote off three of the four cars including his own. The driver was drunk and also only 17 which is a sad state of affairs.
Fortunately no one was injured in the accident but it was an eye opener never the less. The driving that I have witnessed in the last four weeks has been lawless at best.
The amount of people on their phones whilst at the wheel is staggering and infuriates me but people tend to send voice notes over here rather than texts so I suppose this makes it a lesser of two evils? At least they are looking where they are going I guess?
One good thing that did come out of that accident is that the whole neighbourhood was in the street and we met all of our neighbours that we hadn’t previously so we have play dates and dinner lined up with loads of them soon!!
The only other negative so far from some of the people that I have met is that individuals and groups can’t let history go and there is hate ingrained in people that weren’t even born during apartheid. It indicates to me that these emotions are taught and you are not born with them and one conversation I have had has stuck with me ever since. I think I will leave that for another blog as the subject is so broad I may need a few sheets of paper for it. It was really eye opening for me and I don’t think I have fully digested the meaning of it. These conversations usually start with ‘Why the hell have you moved out here?’ so there’s my title sorted already.
The last 4 and half weeks have been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for the whole family. I haven’t even touched on the girls starting school. Again, this will be a blog of its own about settling two innocent English Roses into a town that is so predominantly Afrikaans but I can say that both Mikaela and I have been in tears over it at some point.
Service is slow and frustrating at times and people not getting back to you on e-mail when they ask you first to meet about jobs is difficult to take. The job search for me is ongoing but it’s been fairly positive so far with meetings and networking. I’ll keep you updated on that front.
It’s going to be a long road ahead for us as a family and one that will only make us even stronger in time. As long as it’s not as long as the Main Road in Paarl we should be ok!!
I can already visualise the things that are going to frustrate me but I must remember that there were hundreds of things in the U.K. that frustrated me and are now eradicated.
One of those being that it is almost winter in South Africa yet it’s 10am, I have my second coffee outside and it’s already 16 degrees so I feel that today is going to be a good day!