What started out as a glossy adventure, soon faded into mundane reality. To avoid cabin fever and get the children into the fresh air, I bumped the pram down the stairs from our first floor flat each morning, sometimes just to sit in the communal garden, other times for a walk to the shops where I could see other people.
I always knew we would be going home after two years, so I didn’t make any real effort to make friends or to get involved in anything. I couldn’t speak Afrikaans, and didn’t really see any point in learning a language I would never use again, or so I thought.
I focussed entirely on the children, escaping into the fantasy world of books at every opportunity. I was dimly aware of Apartheid, but ignorantly absorbed the propaganda we were fed. We weren’t going to be there for long enough to change the system. I knew there were some bad things, but like all the people we met through Michael’s work, I didn’t delve beneath the surface. I naively believed the media coverage we received and thought I was alright as long as I personally didn’t treat anyone badly. It didn’t occur to me that just by being there I was taking advantage of an elitist and immoral system. Those thoughts only came much later when forced into a confrontational situation.
I lay in the sun at every opportunity, turning my fair English skin into a tough leather hide, enjoying the novelty of constant warm weather. Of course, we froze at night in winter, but by ten o’ clock the sun was shining and the layers came off.
My lifeline was the mail, bringing contact with the Northern World. That was back in 1980, before we owned a computer and dreamt of the World Wide Web.
Unfortunately, the mail service was a bit unreliable. My parents were the most wonderful correspondents, as they both wrote an aerogramme every single week, and I felt very let down and sorry for myself if I didn’t find my blue envelope every Tuesday and Friday.
During our two-year stint we lived in several different places. Our first flat became too small when a friendly neighbour took up residence at my kitchen table. I had looked after her family while she was in hospital having a hysterectomy. But as her health returned, so did her need for company. She would walk into my kitchen five minutes after Michael left for work every morning, and leave five minutes before he came home in the evening. As my need for some personal space increased, my manners and hospitality took a downturn. I became quite rude in the end, but she still didn’t seem to get the message. And so, after only a few months, we moved.