We recently had our one-year-in-Africa-versary, having moved to SA when our little girl was only three months old. What a move that was! Sleep-deprived and wide-eyed, we arrived in a new land. Moving continents is always a big deal, but we also had a brand new baby. We were brand new parents, a brand new family, leaving behind our support networks, our familiar world, and venturing into the new. Into a land of extremes: where poverty and wealth live cheek by jowl and gated communities are surrounded by relentless criminal activity.
It can be difficult to convey the extent to which the beautiful country of South Africa is tarred by the frequent, and oft-violent, desecration of life and property. We live on a church property, which has an electric fence around the perimeter. We have another fence around our home. We have gates and bars across all doors and windows. And an alarm system which we set at night, and when we are out. With beams to detect any unusual activity. All connected to a security company who call immediately if the alarm goes off – whatever time it is, day or night (In the UK, all we had were two keys – one for our flat and one for the entrance to the building!).
For months, I wondered why we had done it. Why move to one of the violent countries on earth with a little baby? What were we thinking?
One year on, I am less fearful but still find myself regularly wrestling with the realities of this new life. I often feel hemmed in. Claustrophobic. We drive everywhere. I am always, always aware of who is nearby. “Feeling relaxed” means something different here, it is never 100%, never complete. And this always-looking-always-aware-ness is exhausting. It wears you down and it wears you out.
Yet it is our new reality. A reality with some difficult, still unanswered questions.
How do we raise our beautiful little girl in this context? How do I protect her from this violence? And from fear of violence too? How can I help her to feel safe – both in herself and in her surroundings? How can she live free in a restricted society?
As she grows up, how do I teach her about this land? Both its beauty and its barbarity?
I don’t have all the answers right now.
I wish I did.