One of the hardest things about having relocated across the world is the loss in friendships. Since living in South Africa, my husband and I moved quite a few times. We have been blessed to have finally settled in the small town we now are in. We’ve been here for two and a half years. Unfortunately, strong bonded relationships with other people do not just spring up over night. It is a process. It is trial and error.
As a young adult single woman in America, I had so much going for me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I see what I left behind. I do not hold regret to this. I left my life there because God showed me that He had more planned for me and that it was here. I thank God for molding me to be a God fearing and God trusting woman.
I had a strong church that believed in me and my faith in God. This was a church that had taken me the first 17 years of my life to find. It was a church where the worship fed my Spirit and the pastors and spiritual leaders fed my Soul. I developed for the first time a personal and deep relationship with Jesus Christ at the steps of that alter. I had friends with whom I conversed and spent time with daily. Friends in Christ with whom I could tell when I was unsure and uplift when they were lost. We could worship together, pray together, and sit unmoving in the awe of the Spirit together. This church taught me to embrace my spiritual gifts and to not be ashamed in the face of others who did not understand. This church prepared me for a relationship with Christ when one day that church wouldn’t be there.
I have a family there who has known me since birth. This doesn’t seem like much until those people are no longer a daily part of your life. My family was my solid ground. No matter how we fought or disagreed I always knew they wanted what was best for me even if they didn’t know what it was. I knew that I was never disgraced in their eyes and I was always accepted even when I didn’t believe it! These people knew the ins and outs of my personality like I knew theirs. Nothing caught us off guard. There was no “learning” period. This family taught me to appreciate every moment with the people you love.
I had friends with whom I had spent years getting to know. Some of these friends we’d come from elementary school together while others were relationships that developed once the freedom of the open road hit (in other words once I was 16 and freely mobile between schools!). These were friends who’d seen me at my worst and at my best. They were the ones I had crazy memories with, some of which we couldn’t even tell the story because we’d laugh to hard. They were the ones who knew in a moments notice that something wasn’t right with me. They were a small group that was thicker than blood at the time. They were friends that taught me what I wanted and NEEDED from a friendship and that which I did not.
I had a culture that I knew. I didn’t have to question what was acceptable. I didn’t have to think about how I might not be able to find something that I was so used to being a normal part of life. I knew the history and I knew what to expect. I wasn’t the odd person out. This culture showed me how to be comfortable being myself in a very judgmental world.
When you make a choice to step into a new world, you make a decision to leave these comforts behind. Sadly, these are all people, places, and things that I took for granted because they were a part of my everyday life for as long as I could remember. They were me and I was them. I’ve now been in South Africa for 3 years and 7 months. I’m married with a child and a second on the way. I work and study here. I have a church here. I am still the different one. I am still the outsider.
In the small town where we live I am The American. This is genuinely the title given to me. If talking to someone you know, you would say I saw Shana, The American, at Spar yesterday. In America I was still an American, but I was just Shana. I wasn’t the one with the accent. I wasn’t the one to ask questions to compare football and rugby, baseball and cricket. I didn’t need to defend my stance on inter-racial marriages or my views on the war in Iraq. I never got asked to describe differences in family life between a boyfriend and my family nor the foods that his mom cooked and my mom cooked. These are all new territories. I NEVER thought I’d have to defend just being me and explain that I WILL NOT ever completely change and leave who I was to become complete in the views of a different culture.
Let me just note that Hubby Dearest and I do work very hard to blend our cultures. A person will think that we cannot be so different, both Christian and that our children do not face animosity here as we are both white (South Africa is still a very race oriented country as so much of each culture is centered around their race!). However, we struggle with the differences of our cultures, values, and beliefs. We differ on discipline and political stands. There are even family values that we’ve both had to merge. And yes even our children are questioned as to how do we raise them, English or Afrikaans. Again, I will not completely leave who I was but I do give. We find our medium.
Almost 4 years down the road, I’m still the outsider. Now my husband and I are placed in a new and VERY SMALL town and we’re both outsiders. The only difference is that we’re like celebrity outsiders (insert Miranda Lambert’s Famous in a Small Town). This brings me to the point of meaningful relationships outside of our immediate family that is here with us. I had forgotten the ups and downs of this road. When I first came to South Africa it was quite simple. My husband and I lived where he had lived for 7 years. He had the friends and I just joined in. Some I liked and some I didn’t and that was that. I didn’t need to search. They were provided for me. In a sense this was great because I had enough transition as it was! But when we both moved, we had to start from scratch. This can sometimes be quite tiresome and even painful.
It is a lot like dating. You put your best face on, get out there and give it a go. Sometimes it is stale. These are ‘bread friends.’ Like bread that your brother left the bag open on. It would still fulfill its purpose but yet you walk away still feeling like you’ve lacked something.
Other times it down right burns! You meet a couple of friends and they seem wonderful, great at first! Much like that wonderful looking burrito that the person at the table next to you ordered in the Mexican restaurant. So you tell the waiter you want that! It looks great and smells great. It even has some really cool name that makes you drool as it rolls of the waiters tongue. That is how the ‘Chili friends’ are. At first they seem like the perfect ones. They are fun and exciting and that first couple of times you do something together you walk away having a feeling of fulfillment. This could be it! But just like that burrito something sneaks up. Sometimes it’s early on, other times you’re half way through before you realize that your mouth is ON FIRE!! You quickly reach for the bread, ‘bread friends’, to drown out this burn. What is it? Oh, yea, that word that sounded so great was translation for ‘burn you’re a$$’ chili. You immediately regret ever ordering it. Nothing takes it away. That is how these friends are. They seem perfect but sure enough you end up in pain.
Sometimes your husband finds a friend that he feels is great. They can hang out and chat and whatever men do, but you can’t stand him! It happens vice versa too. I call these Avocado friends. Typically an avo is something one person loves and the next hates. This is also terrible because it usually ends up in fighting every time said spouse will be around that friend. There are the single friends whom are great in small portions (like dark chocolate) but they never mix with your daily life as milk chocolate would. And the list goes on.
This has been our experience over the last couple of years. There have been all out wars over whom we’re going to be around. Each of refusing someone for some or other reason. There have been couples whom it was great with for a time until one of realizes what the other one has been trying to show us…that they’re ‘Chili friends.’ There have been tears as I realize that a female I thought I could trust was the one trashing my name around town. There have been laughs as we go home having felt so awkward like on a blind date!
I’m thankful for my husband because he has stuck by through this transition. Some of you will say well obviously but heck it is a long road!! It is a dark tunnel at times. So dark we couldn’t even see each other was our misery of loneliness. As humans we need friends. It is in our nature. No matter how much I can tell my husband I need a girl friend to spill it out too and he needs a guy friend to just be a guy with! But at the end of this dark tunnel is light, ‘Sun Friends.’ (They’re called this because they are light and warmth on cold days, they are a reason to frolic and have fun. You always leave happy you were there.) That is what I realized last weekend at a wedding….
|Us on the left, wedding couple, more friends and in the all black is Mrs. Paramedic (Mrs.P)|
There was a wedding for two friends. It has been a long road with this couple. My husband and I both are having been at fault for some dark times. But at the end the friendship has carried through and we are all adult enough to turn our backs to the past and look forward. For this I am thankful because I truly cannot imagine life without these people any longer. These friends are the light. Two couples in particular. The other is getting married next weekend. I am blessed to have been friends with them to witness these magical days in their lives!! Last weekend there was laughter, there was a little nudging (okay I’m pregnant and at a wedding maybe I wasn’t the best attendee! My poor husband sometimes! :-/) and there was honesty. We were all ourselves. At the end of the night when we were all ready to make the 30km drive home, we were all too good of friends to allow friends to risk the drive. Even if it meant 30km took us 2 ½ hours, 5 stops, a tow, brake failure, and quite a bit of fighting. We knew that is what friends are for…doing what is right even in the face of threats. Even if it wasn’t what the particular couple wanted.
|Oh yea we're that cool (notice the time!)|
As we drove home that night, all the couples mixed up in each others cars, we all realized one very important fact. We’re willing to go just about anywhere and to any length for each other. For the first time since being in South Africa, I finally felt ‘home.’
I was told a story from the night before. One couple in particular (the ones getting married next weekend!) was one of our very first friends in our town. The man is a paramedic and so he and Hubby Dearest met on duty at accident scenes and struck a friendship. The wife is an amazing, God loving, woman who always seems to bring out the best in me! I’ve enjoyed their company since day one. I’ve also been blessed to be so close with them at a time when my son was very sick! Mr. Paramedic has even promised to ride with me when I go into labor if he is not on duty (hospital is an hour away without traffic) as Hubby Dearest will need to follow in our vehicle and I don’t want to be alone! The night before the wedding this couple and some others were having a braai. Another friend asked Mr. Paramedic where I was from. After an hour of confusion and running every place he could think of through his head he finally stated he didn’t know what she was talking about because ‘Shana is South African.’ Mrs. Paramedic laughed and reminded him that they were talking about my accent and that I was from America. We are so close that they don’t hear my accent any longer as others do. To them I am ‘Just Shana.’ Secretly that night when I got home I cried tears of joy. For me this was the ultimate acceptation. To them I am no longer an outsider.
|That is the groom listening to LJ and the one behind him is another friend (who used to be my boss!!)|
At 3 am, two of the wives/fiancés and I sat in the lounge together waiting on our men to finish the chauffeur job. We laughed as we discussed how wonderful it would have been for a McDonalds to be in our town (or anything 24 hours!) and how much the next that morning was going to suck as we all had to be up in 4 or less hours. I looked into the faces of these women and realized their love for each other, their men and us was what mattered. We don’t have the history of years together, but one day we will have. We have the future together. We discuss the fears and joys of raising our children (or future children). The hopes we have and dreams. We promise to be there and uplift each other.
It’s been a long hard road to get here today. I don’t have the numbers of friends I had back in the States. I don’t have my birth family at hand. I don’t have all of the familiarity. But I have true friendships now. I have understanding friendships. I have family who’ve been there through some pretty rough waters. And I have a family and a home that we’re working to make our own. For me, I’m pretty appreciative.
|It was the end of the night and only close friends were left and yes we are like this all the time! We do not judge!|