One of Jenty’s recent posts inspired me to pay attention to my blog again. She is sad one of her really good friends is emigrating to New Zealand very soon.
I’ve emigrated twice, first from South Africa to the UK and then from the UK to the USA. Ten years ago last month, Jenty said goodbye to me too. It’s taken me years to fully understand what that leaving did to the friends and family I left behind.
I very nearly lost a dear friend forever (not Jenty) because of the resulting sadness and anger. We fixed it though and reached a new level of understanding between us and our relationship has grown because of it, but it was scary for a while.
I bitterly disappointed my Dad and Step-Mom when I left the UK – they were in the process of emigrating from South Africa to the UK to be with their newly born grandkids and all us kids who had made our way to the UK – and then I left to go to the USA. Of course they “understood”, but the feelings were raw and I think still are to a degree.
In many ways, it’s easier to be the one leaving. You have so much to look forward to, so much to think about, you don’t have time to really dwell on anything. It’s sad for the person leaving, but even sadder for the people left behind.
But it changes.
The people left behind get drawn back into their regular lives and although they miss the person, their lives are pretty much “normal”. Slowly, the resulting gap is filled back in, albeit with tiny air holes. Because, let’s face it, that’s life. People may not leave an area, but interests change and friendship dwindle and new friendships start. It’s a natural process, but generally a slow and relatively easy progression. The hurt may always be there, but it gets mixed in with normal life.
For the person who left though, those gaps are never filled in. Because it’s not just one gap, left by one person. It’s a whole family gap, a whole friends gap, a whole time gap, a whole history gap, a whole philosophical gap, a whole culture gap, sometimes even a whole language gap. You no longer have the attitudes, beliefs and norms, which you pretty much absorbed as an infant, as your security of being and assurance of your place in the world. You have to learn all that again, as a conscious adult. You likely sound different from the people around you. Your difference is always noted. Your loss is always there, just under the surface, waiting to have its scab picked at by people around you who are excited by your different-ness. You try to fit in and do fit in – mostly. But there is always a difference and beneath the difference lies the pain of homesickness.
Of course, I speak from my own experience. Others may not have experienced emigration this way, but I have also observed it time and time again with other expats.
I never expected this. Ten years after leaving my homeland, the pain is more bitter, more intense. I regularly break down in tears because of it — like now.
So why, you ask don’t I just go back? Because I can’t. Physically, I am safer here than in SA. My kids will have a safer and happier existence here than in SA. I have made a life here – I have fought for a life here. By the time I realised this pain would intensify and not diminish over time, it was too late. I was too deeply entrenched in life here with my american husband, step-kids and wonderful soul-sister friends.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the US – for so many reasons that will fill a few posts one day. But my heart aches and yearns for stark, raw Africa, the land of my birth, childhood, teenage-hood and early adulthood. And even though I only lived in the UK for 5 years, I miss that precise shade of green that I’ve only ever encountered in rainy England and the ancient European history that just oozes from every town and village. But mostly, my heart justs aches to be with my immediate family who all live in the UK now and my friends who are now scattered around the globe (OZ, NZ, SA).
Jenty, I am so sorry for your pain. I know that every friend or family member who leaves just adds to the hurt and amplifies the old hurt again. As someone who commented on your blog said, at least we have the internet. It doesn’t make it all the way better, but it does help some.