Thursday, January 12, 2006

Been there and back ....

Just got back from the Motherland – went home for Christmas for the first time in over a year. Thought you might like to know what I thought – I began comparing “home” with “home” and this is what I found :

- Entering the country through customs :
UAE : We were greeted with a sullen grunt of “Hmmpf, passport!” and sent on our way with “Go!”
South Africa : We were cheerily greeted with toothy grins and “How are you? Welcome to South Africa, where are you visiting? Enjoy your stay.”

- On feeling safe and comfortable :
UAE : We finally relaxed and began to believe in the inherent good of people whose sole purpose was NOT to rob, murder or rape us.
South Africa : Within moments, our paranoia (justified by previous bad experiences) returned – we clutched our bags tighter, looked around suspiciously, were unable to leave any possessions unattended for even mere minutes, we locked and double locked car doors, hotel doors and luggage padlocks.

- Cars and traffic :
UAE : Traffic jams and snarl ups on a daily basis, but somehow, apart from the fools in the fast lane, most people patiently sit and wait their turn and let others pull in front of them (although, mostly, you don’t have an actual choice in this!)
South Africa : Traffic jams and snarl ups on a daily basis, most people turn on the road rage when they turn the car key. Drivers are belligerent, confrontational and use swearwords and zap signs far more than they use their hooters.

- Litter and pollution :
UAE : We have always remarked on how clean the streets and parks are – people walk or picnic or sit among the gardens and leave only their footprints when they leave.
South Africa : Streets and parks are littered with every conceivable type of rubbish, from plastic bags, cans, and bottles to garden rubble and dead animals. Trees and flowers are routinely destroyed just for fun. Concrete benches, rubbish bins and street signs are an invitation to prove how strong you are as you reduce them to rubble. Every surface is covered in ugly graffiti.

- Dress :
UAE : With the occasional exception of mutton-expat grannies trying to dress as young lambs, most ladies dress with a certain amount of decorum and respect.
South Africa : Sitting and people-watching in one of the malls, we could not believe that parents allow their daughters out in public wearing the skintight, microshort, low cut outfits we saw. But then, lots of the mothers were wearing them too. Watching people go up escalators and glass lifts was like receiving free biology lessons – not much left to the imagination!

- Television :
UAE : Strict censorship feels restrictive and irritating, but …South Africa : Talking about free biology lessons – just watch some of the soap operas – you won’t have to give the “birds and bees” talk to your kids – it is graphic and very realistic and all in “family viewing time”.

Conclusions :
Yes, distance DOES lend enchantment to the view – nostalgic memories are fuzzy and warm and leave out the harsher realities.
Yes, South Africa DOES treat tourists with more warmth and friendliness.
Yes, South Africans ARE more friendly and warm than Emiratis who, at times, seem quite hostile.
Yes, people in the UAE have a far stricter moral code, which I, personally, think holds more promise for the future than the “everyone-can-do-as-they-please” attitude.
Yes, it was nice to see naturally-growing trees and shrubs that were not planted in strict military rows and shorn and shaved to the exact same shape and specification.
Yes, it was extremely irritating to be swamped at every traffic light by vendors, sick, lame and lazy beggars and all kinds of suspicious looking loiterers.
Yes, it was a shock to have to empty your wallet, max out your credit card and promise the soul of your firstborn just to fill up with a tank of petrol.
Yes, it was very pleasant (to say the least) to come back and find our cars where we had parked them, and our house intact – not a common experience lately in SA.

So, I have decided my heart is where my home is – whatever country that may be – as long as DH and DD are there – but, my soul will always be African – there really is a kind of magic that you can never lose.

7 comments:

Gautam said...

Great Blog! Really informative! Keep it up!

nzm said...

Welcome home, Lulu!

That's a good philosophy that you've worked out there.

My mind makes any place my home (or not!); my soul will always be attached to my birth country, Fiji; my heart is still attached to my adopted country, New Zealand.

My mind has chosen the UAE for now - and that's fine with me. Now I'm making the best of it!

Happy New Year
nzm

SAfrican said...

Welcome back! The longer you stay here the more you miss Africa

Nothing like a good high veld thunderstorm to clear the air.

Sarah said...

Welcome back! I discovered your blog while you were visiting South Africa, and I just love it, it is so informative and it allows me to take a look from the insight in Abu Dhabi, where my fiance currently resides. I have read all your previous posts, hope you allow me to bookmark your blog. Keep up the good work!

don_veto said...

Vive La Difference, and welcome to the UAE

Anonymous said...

Dutch... not African..

trailingspouse said...

Going home is the hardest thing, way harder that becoming an expat. We have re-patriated twice to our home in Canada and each time there is a huge sense of anti-climax. Everthing seems dirty, run down and much smaller than we remembered it. However it's important to know that it is just an adjustment process. Within a few months (we find it can take 3-6 months for us) we start to see the good things and feel at home again. I now know that Canada is where I want to be ultimately and that "re-entry" is just something I have to get through.

There are positives and negatives about all countries. I think some expats in the UAE tend to focus on the negatives (traffic, construction, etc) in order to protect themselves from liking the place too much. What do you think? One of the reasons I like your blog, Lulu, is that you write about both the good and bad sides of the place.

Welcome back!