Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Why despite everything it is still great to be South African

In the beginning of 2009, I, like so many other frustrated South Africans, left the country in search of a better one. 
Frustrated with the crime and how expensive it was to do anything, angry at the government for failing to get anything right, and irritated that I was stuck in this country when the rest of the world seemed to be having all the fun. 
So I got on a plane and left for London.

It took me less than 2 months to realise that the grass is not greener in other countries. Literally speaking, England's definitely is, but figuratively, it was the middle of the recession, so me along with the rest of the world living in London couldn't find a job. England was also struggling with political people failing to deliver and I would say I lived in more fear in London than I ever did in SA (in all fairness though, I didn't live in the most amazing area). 

It wasn't too long after this realisation, coincidentally round about the same time I started to miss decent biltong, that I realised that if all countries have problems, I think i'd rather take South Africa's! 
Come the 6 month mark of leaving the country, I was counting the days till I could go back.
I planned my return perfectly with that of the world cup preparations, something that I still wasn't too sure was a good thing that our country accepted, but being the newly patriotic person that I was, I was keen to support South Africa in anything they did.

I remember a day or two before the world cup began, at midday, every South African grabbed their Vuvuzela, flag, bafana bafana shirt, you name it, got in their car or stood out in the street and hooted and blew their vuvuzela for 5 minutes. It possibly will always be the most amazing thing I will ever experience. Grown men were calling into radio stations crying saying how proud they were to be South African. It was probably then that I realised that accepting to host the world cup was going to be a good thing. Two years later I still have only good memories of that time when South Africa really was the united Rainbow Nation that we love calling ourselves.

I live in Thailand now. I've just passed the 2 year mark. I am still as patriotic as ever, maybe even more.
I've even become a rugby supporter! 

It's possibly a lot easier staying proud of where I come from because I'm not there to see the daily newspaper with another headline of everything that is going wrong but maybe its allowed me to hold onto the good without getting so bogged down by the bad.

I just finished reading a book where one of the main characters does this thing when life sucks. She imagines terrible scenarios that could happen and then thinks about how lovely it is that her life is not that bad.
So lets try that. 

Imagine South Africa was so overpopulated that we had to have a one child per family rule. 
Imagine our government didn't allow women to go to university. 
Imagine we got tortured to death for not practising the 'right' religion. 
Imagine we lived in fear of stepping on a landmine and being blown to pieces. 
Imagine you lived in a country where stoning people to death was still acceptable.
 Imagine our president was Hitler or Pol Pot or Kim Jong II or Saddam Hussein or Robert Mugabe. 
Imagine we lived in a country where the way most people are born is not considered beautiful. 
Imagine from a young age you were told how to act, think, behave and live, until eventually you didn't even know how to think for yourself anymore. 
Imagine you lived in a country where tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and other awful natural disasters were to be expected. 
Imagine you lived in a country where it rained more often than it didn't. 
Imagine you lived in a country whose education system sucked so much you didn't know Europe was a continent instead of a country or how many sides there are to a triangle. 
Imagine you lived in a country surrounded by land instead of two oceans. 
Imagine you lived in a country with no mountains. 
Imagine you lived in a country where all of your sports teams sucked and you couldn't appreciate the Olympics or any world cup as much. 
Or imagine you lived in a country where when your olympic team walked out at the opening ceremony, half the world went, 'where on earth is that?!'.

Just imagine...

Did you know that the UK is almost half the size of South Africa but has 10 million more people than we do?! Did you know that in some asian countries there are more motorbikes than people?! And you thought our taxi's drive badly. Our president might not be perfect but he hasn't purposefully sent thousands of people to their death just yet. Or legalised stoning people to death.
We still have a lot of good.
We still have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to become what we want. 
From a young age we are, or certainly should be, encouraged to think for ourselves and choose the person we want to be, instead of being moulded into a robot who thinks the same way as everyone else. 
Today I gave my Grade 2 students paper and paint and said, paint anything you want. The entire class, with the exception of 3, drew exactly the same thing. If you asked a Grade 2 child in South Africa the same thing, I guarantee you, you will get some interesting paintings. Asian children are taught to do whatever they're told, their opinion doesn't matter.
If you get thirsty while reading this, you can walk to the tap and drink from it. I have to walk down 4 flights of stairs to get clean drinking water.
Despite being a country known for our high crime rates, we are not at the top of the list. Despite being a country known for being racist, it is illegal to racially discriminate against people. There are countries where it is perfectly acceptable to be racist. There are schools in Asia who will not even look at your CV if you are black and that is not frowned upon.

One of my favourite things to do when I go home, is to drive on that road from the waterfront back home where you get that beautiful view of Table Mountain. It often brings me to tears because it is just so beautiful. And the drive to Pringle Bay where you drive along the sea, with the mountain on the one side and the sea on the other. 

Apart from being a beautiful country, we have amazing people! 
When people ask me why I think South Africa is so amazing, I say its because of the people. There is something about South Africans. I can't describe it, its got something to do with out sense of humour and our language and the fact that we're westernised but not first world, growing up eating biltong might have something to do with it. Meeting a fellow South African while travelling is the greatest, we form this instant bond with our knowledge of our awesomeness:)

Moving on, South Africa got 3 gold medals at the olympics in case you just left your cave and we beat Argentina in rugby on saturday! And did you know I have yet to find cake better than Charley's bakery...and i've been to Paris!

I'm not saying South Africa has no problems or that they're not that big. And I don't want to offend anyone who has been seriously affected by South Africa's problems, be it crime, or not getting a job or into university because of your skin colour. And I am fully aware that I speak from a very small minority of South Africans who can actually afford to live.  
South Africa has problems!
Huge problems. And it doesn't look like we're going to solve them anytime soon, maybe not even in our lifetime.

You are most probably thinking to yourself, who are you, you left, you don't have the right to say these things. 
Or maybe it takes someone like me, to remind you that we are not the only country with problems. To remind you of the so many good things that we have that you often forget about or take for granted when you read the headlines on the way to work. To remind you that when you travel to another country and people ask you, where you come from, it is still a great honour to say that you are South African.

Why am I still here

I always go on about how much I love South Africa and when I talk about Thailand, its usually just to complain about something. So a logical thing would then be to ask, why don't I just go home, surely its that simple.
Well, the short answer to that question is, if I want to say that South Africa is the greatest country on earth, I have to have been to all the other one's! Hahaha.

But seriously, just because I love South Africa, doesn't mean I can't travel to other countries. I absolutely love travelling and the more I travel the more countries I want to travel to.
I know I won't always have the opportunity to travel so I'm using the opportunity I have now while I'm still studying to do it.
If I come home, i'll still be a student and I won't be able to get a job doing what I want (being a teacher) so why not live in a country where I can be a teacher until I have my degree and I can come home and be a teacher there.

As for why stay in Thailand specifically if I seem to hate it so much?
To answer that properly, you will have to meet my students. I did not think it would be possible to love someone that much even when you can't even communicate with them.
It's no secret that I don't agree with the thai education system or with most of their cultural things. That probably makes me a bad person, and I know its wrong, trust me i'm working on it. 

When I leave, I will most probably never see these children again, I will never know what they become, who or if they get married. I won't know if their next teacher loves them as much as I do. I won't know if there is someone to tell them its ok to cry when they're sad or that their picture is beautiful even when the others teachers are telling them its not because trees in real life are not blue. I won't know if they are getting enough hugs every day, of if they'll have someone to sing the mickey mouse theme song with, and that will kill me. 

Its probably my arrogance thinking that im the best teacher they'll ever have and I'm giving them the best education and without me everything will suck because no one is as good as me, or its probably just my bad attitude towards things here. 
Either way, everytime I see all the children being forced to say their morning prayers or being told they cannot cry when they're sad their mother isn't coming to the mother's day ceremony, or when we have to test 2 year olds on things that they shouldn't be taught yet because they should be outside playing, it makes me want to stay forever so that I can tell them that they can do whatever they want to. Because life is that simple!

That and Thailand's not all that bad. I do actually love it here. The culture and language barrier is difficult and im reminded of it daily but other than that, I've met some amazing people, been to some amazing places and made memories that I won't easily forget.

I'll be home april 2014!