September is Tourism and Heritage Month. With this thought in mind, in a rare quiet moment, over a glass of good South African red wine, I found myself reflecting on my heritage and roots, firmly based here in the soil of my mother country. I thought back to the time I moved to the UK for four years, young and eager, and decided to share some personal reflections with you – especially on the things I missed most about South Africa during my time abroad.
When I first booked my flights to London in 2011, I was filled with so much apprehension and nervous energy that I couldn’t sit still for weeks. Everyone asked me if I wouldn’t miss home, even before I’ve left! My gut-reaction was that the UK and South Africa surely couldn’t be that different; we spoke a shared language, we shared parts of a history, and the food is pretty much like the food I’m used to. How bad could it be?
In all fairness, it wasn’t bad at all. I loved living in the UK and exploring London on the weekends. Ioved the public transport and the beautiful countryside just kilometres outside the capital. I loved the museums and the architecture and the incredible markets. I could even deal with the four-seasons-in-one-day weather!
But, after a while, as I settled into my new surroundings and this place I then called home, I realised that there were some fundamental “things” missing from my daily existence. Things that made me homesick if I thought about them for too long. Things that simply couldn’t be substituted by an English version. Things that were simply not readily available to buy, or just not part of the European culture. These are the things that reminded me that wherever I lived, wherever I travelled, I would always belong to Africa – my heart will always stay buried under the feet of Table Mountain.
So, before I break out in patriotic song and dance, in the light of Tourism Month, here are the things I missed most about South Africa whilst living abroad.
The food; All of it
Being a food writer, of course I’m going to start with food! I soon realised that South Africa has incredibly exciting food to offer, due to the various cultural influences. I realised that we fell outside of the cookie cutter cuisine you mostly find in London pubs. Don’t get me wrong – London has some of the best food (and chefs) in the world, but I missed our spices; our concoctions, the amalgamation of flavours, our “wild” taste buds at the tip of Africa.
I missed Malay curry spices. Boerewors (not bangers!). I even missed (and craved!) steak masala gatsby’s, even though I’ve only ever had it once before! I missed my mom’s green bean stew, and my killer ostrich bobotie. Ouma rusks. I missed a good ol’ Spur burger on a Sunday. Giant butter avocados from KwaZulu – Natal that tastes like heaven. I missed my dad’s pap and chakalaka on a Saturday evening and thick slices of melktert. Oh, the melktert and koeksisters! And no, an egg-custard slice is not melktert, okay?
Okay. I must admit, they do try. They make this little attempt at a braai called a barbeque. With briquettes and firelighters. The whole place smells like paraffin and the food is charcoal in 17 minutes from lighting it.
A braai to me is almost a hallowed ritual on a weekend. It’s the coming together of friends and family after a long week of work to relax, wind down, enjoy good music, food and drinks, whilst listening to the sputter of the fire. The next morning everyone’s clothes smell like wood fire and you smile inwardly, thinking, that was a lekker night.
It’s more than about cooking food – the chops are just a by-product of the ceremony of burning bags of wood in an open fire. I missed the connections; the human element. The laughs and jokes and spontaneous dancing. I missed the clinking of glasses and the bowls of Doritos being passed around. Connection. Fine, I also missed the pork rashers and potato salad, but that’s just the foodie in me!
London is flat, you guys. It has a lot of other stuff going for it, but it’s flat. I sometimes felt like taking a pen and drawing in the silhouettes of mountains on the horizon. Where I stay in Cape Town, you can spin around in a tight circle and you will see mountains all around you. Mountains for days. I never, ever realised how much I would miss the mountains until I couldn’t see them every morning when I woke up and drew the curtains.
There are some lovely beaches close to London, but it’s not quite the same and a bit of a trek to get there. I missed the wide expanses of sandy beaches that we as South Africans so often take for granted. Did you know that South Africa has more than 40 Blue Flag Beaches? We are so spoilt. I missed a December holiday on the beach! Can you imagine going to the beach in July?! It simply didn’t feel right.
Every supermarket in London sells at least 20 different types of wine from no less than five different countries, even if it is just the little corner convenience store. The larger supermarkets dedicate at least three full aisles to wines from across the globe. You are incredibly spoilt for choice for wine in the UK and there is most certainly something to be found for every taste and whim. Maybe I’m just biased here and acting like a little spoilt girl, but none of those wines come anywhere close to our South African wines. And I tried a lot. They are also quite expensive and eats up a significant chunk of your weekly budget. Plus, you can’t do wine tastings, or buy directly from the cellar. Needless to say, I lived off beer for almost four years, whilst my soul was silently crying out for a glass of plum-toned Pinotage or an ice-cold wooded Chardonnay.
Be a tourist
You don’t have to cross oceans to see beautiful things. Make September your own personal Tourism Month, right here in South Africa. Explore our country as if you’ve never seen it before. It’s vast. It’s jampacked with adventures, culture, destinations and experiences. Visit our national parks or take a walk along our pristine coastline. Spend a day in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban and absorb our multi-faceted culture in all its glory. Be proud of our unique heritage and celebrate it – I mean, more than 10 million foreign tourists can’t be wrong?
At the end of the day
Having said all that, at the risk of sounding predisposed at the best of times, living and working in London is an experience I would recommend to anyone who is considering a gap-year, or a change in direction. It’s the portal to the rest of Europe and exploring the world and all its treasures have never been this easy. In the four years I lived there, I saw and experienced more than most people experience in a full life-time. And, if you spend a bit of time on the net and plan carefully, you’ll be sure to find some cheap flights to London!
I like to think of myself as a global citizen. I’ve travelled extensively and lived abroad a few times. But my feet always find its way back to Cape Town. And, as Adam Small documents so beautifully in his poem, “On the P’rade”, when I hear the fruit vendors singing the praises of their paw-paws or bananas, that’s when I know I’ve come home.
What about you?
If you were to move to London, what would you miss most about South Africa? I’d love to hear!
Disclaimer: This is a collaboration post between The Little Hedonist and Travelstart as part of a media outreach. TAll thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.