Expat life – when your friends become your family

The decision to move from home, family and friends and go start over in another city; let alone a city on a whole other country and continent is not an easy one. In 2009, just after we got married, we left our perfectly comfortable life in Johannesburg, South Africa to come and live in the UK.  Fast forward six years later and we have a son called Neo and call London our home.

When we first came to London, we were drawn to other South Africans in London and quickly made friends with a few of them. They reminded me of home and I was less homesick when I still continued to speak my home language and we would all get together to cook and eat food from South Africa.

It was only when I got pregnant late in 2010 and we joined National Childbirth Trust (NCT) after a suggestion from a colleague that our circle of friends expanded. Sometimes, all it takes is to have one thing in common and in the case of NCT: we are all having our first child and we are all clueless, nervous and scared! When our babies were born all within weeks of each other and we started spending more time together while on maternity leave, I started to realise other things we have in common with people who would otherwise be complete strangers. And these are the people I now, and still call my friends.

Of course, there were people we met who we didn’t immediately connect with; or who we lost along the way and stopped being friends with. It took me a long time to appreciate that it’s ok because real friends can never be lost!

My good friend Gugu once said that friends are the family you choose; this could not be any truer when you are an expat.

I get a different kind of fuzzy feeling when I reflect back on the friends we have made here. Sure, they are not many and they don’t need to be. What matters is that we are there for each other and that our friendship has grown to more than the fact that we have children the same age or are from South Africa.

It is less about having a lot of people around you and rather about having few trusted and quality friends. The ones you can call at short notice to baby sit or come around for a braai (barbeque). Or ones where you spend the whole afternoon and evening talking and laughing and only realising when the children run past you screaming and laughing that it is way past their bed time. The friends where, even after spending so many hours together, you realise you still have so much to talk about.

These are the people in our lives that just bring so much joy. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that our life in London is full with our very own hand-picked family!

Do you have any experience/stories as an expat? I would love to hear them in the comments section below.

Thanks for stopping by!

Kgomotso xx

Friendship is a sheltering tree

Friendship is a sheltering tree

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It’s been a year… – Lessons from my cousin Maphanki  

It has been a year since my cousin Maphanki died. I remember a friend and colleague telling me that I will experience a lot of firsts now that she is not here anymore; the first Christmas without her, her first birthday without her and of course the first year without her. It’s a strange feeling. For me I guess, her absence is a lot less intense as I am away from home anyway and she is not a part of my everyday life.

When I was home for a few days in March and was looking for an oven dish to bake chicken for lunch, I nearly shouted out her name to come show me when my mother now stores her dishes. That was my first time really experiencing that she is not there anymore.

I think about Maphanki all the time. I think about what she would be doing if she was still around. She was saving to buy a car and was planning to get a place of her own. I think about her every time we sing ‘the wheels on the bus’ with Neo because she had her own remix of the song that she would sing.

On the lead up to a year after her death, I have been thinking a lot more about her; trying to figure out what the lesson is (if any) I can learn from her death. Maphanki was no saint, not by any stretch of the imagination; she was human and she had faults just like any other person. But she was also so funny and had a sense of humour that always had me laughing out loud. She was insightful and had the most beautiful singing voice. She loved helping out and was a people’s person getting along with most people. She cared for her family and was protective of them to a fault. She was ambitious, caring and generous.

When I think about her and her death, I keep telling myself not to hold myself back and not to postpone living. I have today and she doesn’t and there’s no reason to not fully live.

I realised this when we were away on holiday and we hired bicycles in San Francisco to cycle the Golden Gate Bridge. I am not a confident cyclist and I was absolutely terrified of getting on the bicycle. Of course I would not give up but that’s when I realised that fear is almost always present in my life. I am afraid that I am not a good parent; a good wife or a good friend; the list is endless. I am afraid of getting out of my comfort zone and trying new and completely different things. I am afraid of too many things and really this fear has to stop because I am holding me back.

Instead of looking at pictures of Maphanki and being sad, I am pledging to live a little more, do a little more and be harder on myself. I want her to be proud of me wherever she is.

Ah Maphanki… I miss you all the time.

 

Maphanki

This is the last picture Maphanki took for her whatsapp profile

xx

Adding a bit of zing to our little corner of the internet

I decided even before the start of the New Year the blog needed a bit of work. It is our very own corner of the internet and I was beginning to feel like it was not representing me, Neo and PJ very well or that I was not taking it seriously. It was lacking personality, colour, fizz, pizazz, you name it! When I was picking my blog theme, I was thinking minimalistic but I ended up with boring.

 

Continue reading

Our perfectly imperfect Christmas

I blogged a little while ago about making our Christmas a little more South African and I am happy with how our day turned out. We had…

 

Our Christmas tree

 

Our messy Christmas Tree

Our messy Christmas Tree

 

Neo's snowman

Neo’s snowman

 

Zulu Beaded Star

Zulu Beaded Star

 

We got ours from the local florist on our high road and decorated it with a snowman Neo did at nursery, some Zulu love letters that I found in the house and my old necklaces. It was a mess and it was just perfect!

 

Gifts

We have been blessed this year and we agreed to exchange gifts and get a few for Neo too. Thanks to the Black Friday sales, I managed to get a few gifts for at a discount! Score!

 

Christmas lunch/dinner

 

We have two other friends in London who are also from South Africa and who would have otherwise spent Christmas alone if we had not arranged for all us to get together and spent Christmas together. And to eat… A gold ol’ South African braai (barbecue)! That’s what we would have been having if we were back in sunny South Africa.

For dinner we had:

  • Magwinya – Also called vetkoek or fat cake in English, this is deep fried dough bread.
  • Chakalaka – This is a relish and everyone has their own recipe of what to include. It typically consists of onions, carrots, tomatoes and can be hot.
  • Tomato and onion relish – made from onions and tomatoes and an alternative to the hot chakalaka.
  • Creamed spinach.
  • Potato salad – made with sour cream, mayonnaise and chives.
  • Mielie Pap – made from refined corn, this is a staple dish in many southern African countries and is similar to polenta or cous cous.
  • Lamb chops – seasoned just with Robertson’s Steak and Chops spice. Lamb generally takes care of itself.
  • Boerewors – a South African sausage made primarily of beef.
  • Chicken – left overnight in a barbecue marinate.

 

Magwinya aka vetkoeks

Magwinya aka vetkoeks

 

The meats - the chicken is looking a little charred though

The meats – the chicken is looking a little charred though

 

Dinner!

Dinner!

For dessert, we had a peppermint crisp tart made with cream, crème caramel, peppermint crisp chocolate and tennis biscuits.

 

Peppermint Surprise dessert

Peppermint Surprise dessert

 

At the end of the day we were feeling happy, content and a little homesick.

 

How did you spend your Christmas Day?

 

Thanks for stopping by!

 

Kgomotso xx

Making our London Christmas a little more South African

For the first time in about three years, we are spending Christmas in London. The last few weeks have been a bit rough for us and I wanted to cheer us up and get into the Christmas spirit while also wanting to be true to ourselves and our South African heritage. I have been looking at a number of options to make our London Christmas a little more South African and found a few ideas to bring a bit of Africa to our little space.

1. Alternative Christmas trees

Image from Homebase

Large Wooden Log Tree from Homebase

 

The traditional Christmas tree does not grow in the southern hemisphere, especially at this time of the year. Christmas in South Africa is right in the middle of the summer so the traditional Christmas tree would not survive the average 30 degree temperatures that you find in my little village of Majaneng in December. I thought this tree from Homebase (£24.99) is a great alternative; although it does look like it requires a lot of time to put it together.

 

2. Christmas Tree decorations

Zulu Beaded Star

Zulu Beaded Star

I looked at a lot of items online but these Zulu Beaded stars were the only ones easily and readily available in the UK from Etsy for £3 each. I loved this because they remind me so much of the Zulu love tokens – woven by Zulu maidens and sent to their lovers as a means of communication and each colour has a specific meaning. More information on these can be found on http://www.zulu.org.

 

Fabric Christmas Tree decorations (set of 5) -  Shweshwe cotton

Fabric Christmas Tree decorations (set of 5) – Shweshwe cotton

I am ordering the above for next year, they are just gorgeous and made from the Shweshwe cotton that is used for traditional South African clothing. These are also sold on etsy for £7.00 are shipped from Cape Town, South Africa.

The Shweshwe cloth has a long history in Southern Africa and was first presented to King Moshoeshoe 1,  in the mid-1800s. It is now a very popular and trendy South African print that can be seen on catwalks all over the world. The Shweshwe print is also used for accessories, upholstery and quilting fabric. Just a bit of a history lesson there too 😉

3. House decorations

Monogram hooks

Monogram hooks

There are loads of enterprising young men and women in all major cities in South Africa that sell wire animals, decorations and everything else at most major street intersections. This monogram hook reminded me of that about South Africa. The beauty of these hooks is they can be personalised with family member initials or spell out anything you want. Plus, more than just stocking hooks, they can be used for the other 364 days of the year as coat/key hangers. #winning

You can get these from Anthropologie for $22 each.

Twig Wreath

Twig Wreath

I saw this at a florist shop in Wimbledon and fell instantly in love. It is sure to stand out from other traditional wreaths on your street and can be used for a number of years. I found similar on ebay for £3.00.

4. Wrapping paper

I saw the idea to personalise Christmas wrapping paper from a blog post from as a way to add a bit of fun to Christmas parents wrapping.  With wrap.me, you can add your own photos and I thought an African print can also be added for an additional touch of personalisation.

5. Gift for Neo

A stork in a baobab tree – an African 12 days of Christmas

A stork in a Baobab tree

A stork in a Baobab tree

This book is set in Africa and tells the story of a village preparing the birth of a child. I love that it is an African Christmas story and I can’t wait to read it to Neo. You can get yours at Amazon for £11.99

This is all from me from now. What do you do with your family to make Christmas a little more personal?

Thanks for stopping by!

Kgomotso xx