365 Days in Jozi

I moved to Joburg a year ago yesterday. Exactly 365 days ago at exactly this time, I was sitting in the sun on my new back porch, publishing my first post from South Africa. (Here’s that post, if you’re curious.)

Sitting (and sleeping) on that porch has since become one of my favorite pastimes.

Yesterday afternoon, catching a snooze. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

It’s been an emotional weekend, thinking back on how I got here and what’s happened since I arrived. So I’m going to veer from my normal blogging style and indulge in some introspection.

Eighteen months ago, I made a terrifying realization. I realized I’d spent my first 35 years drifting through life, not really thinking about who I was or what I wanted to be. On the outside, I was happy and successful and fulfilled. On the inside, I was wishing desperately to be somewhere else.

I had two options. Option #1: Maintain the status quo and continue to live a comfortable yet unfulfilling life, knowing that I would go to my grave wondering how I could have done things differently. Option #2: Give up everything and start over.

I chose #2.

Making that choice, and taking the necessary steps to follow it through, was like walking through thick walls of fire. Each time I passed through one fire wall, gasping for breath, another wall loomed ten feet ahead of me. I kept going because there was no turning back.

Six months after making that choice, on 6 August 2010, I landed at OR Tambo International Airport. Joe was waiting for me in International Arrivals, hefting a 15-pound bouquet of flowers with one arm and fist-pumping the air with the other. Seeing him standing there was like passing through the thickest fire wall yet. But it wasn’t the last.

My first year in Jozi has been the most incredible year of my life. You’ve read about plenty of it on this blog. But there have been lots of hard times — fu@&ing hard times, if you’ll pardon my language — that I don’t have the courage to write about yet. Times that made me sob and scream and hurl things against walls. On several occasions I was on the verge of booking the next flight home to D.C.

[Note: I’m sure lots of you are wondering what the hell I’m talking about and wishing I would just spit out the whole gory story. But I can’t, yet. The story is too long and complicated. Someday I’ll write a book, I promise.]

A year on, I’m still here and not planning to leave. I’ve stayed for three main reasons: I love Jozi, I love Joe, and I love this blog. Seriously. Maybe this sounds silly, but I can’t imagine life without 2Summers. And I can’t write 2Summers from anywhere but here.

I have lots more fire walls ahead. I’m still trying to expel the demons of my past and create my future. It’s still fu@&ing hard. But I’ve found a home in Jozi — a home that I sought out for myself, rather than just drifting in without meaning to. I love my life because it’s the life I’ve chosen, and I’ve chosen to live it in one of the most amazing cities on earth.

I thought about my choice yesterday afternoon when Joe and I visited Ernest Oppenheimer Park, a place that epitomizes what I love about Joburg. Like many other parks in the city centre, Oppenheimer Park used to be a nice little piece of green space, then became crime-ridden and filthy. Last year it was rehabilitated and re-opened, incorporating characteristic “New Jozi” style.

Basketball in Oppenheimer Park. In the background you can just see the tower of the Rissik Street Post Office, one of Joburg’s most historic buildings, which has long stood unoccupied and was gutted by fire last year. The post office is currently surrounded by scaffolding, a hopeful sign that it might soon be renovated.

Cast-iron impala statues watch over the basketball court. This used to be the site of an older, more famous impala statue, which was vandalized and eventually moved to Main Street. (Here’s my pic of the old statue in its new location.) I’m quite fond of both the new and the old statues.

I don’t have all the answers yet. But in Jozi, nothing is impossible.

I thought about my choice yesterday evening, when Joe and I took an anniversary self-portrait in front of our aloe barberae tree in the back yard.

We don’t usually do posed portraits like this but yesterday was a special occasion. Joe thinks we look like pioneers.

I thought about my choice this morning, when Joe and I got up at dawn and watched the sunrise from the water tower on Northcliff Ridge, one of the best lookout points in Joburg. (Read about our last visit to Northcliff Ridge.)

Photographing the Jozi Water tower on a chilly anniversary morning. This is another thing that’s kept me here this year — my love of photography, which I wouldn’t have discovered without Joe. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Angling for the perfect sunrise shot. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Got it.

Life here will never be easy. This is Africa, after all. But I’m happy with my choice. Happy anniversary to me.

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46 Comments

  • Reply tomorrowslices August 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Congratulations on your “anniversary”/milestone – a year in Africa is not for the fainthearted, but once Africa gets into your blood, it is difficult to imagine a life outside of it. Thank you for sharing your journey – looking forward to hearing more and seeing more about your “not-so-new” home! I am sure that there are many untold stories and pictures that are waiting for you to write them and capture them on film…..

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm

      Thanks so much and thanks for reading! There are indeed many more stories to tell – I’ll never run out.

  • Reply Derek Smith August 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    A very nice post. Although I’ve only met you a few times you’ve become one of my favourite blog-friends. I’m glad you chose Jozi to make your home and maybe the demons will let go in this city with its rough Heart of Gold. Happy Anniversary!

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks Derek, that’s really nice of you. Hope to see you soon!

  • Reply miadidthis August 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Happy anniversary! There is something about Jozi, and South Africa in general, gets into your heart, under your skin and your nails. When I landed at O.R Tambo on Saturday I knew I was home again. So glad to be back. Looking forward to meeting you Heather, here in the heartland.

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Welcome back, Mia! Looking forward to meeting you too.

  • Reply Tilly Bud August 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Happy anniversary!

    I don’t know your personal history, of course, but I had difficulty adjusting to living in SA, and I expect that’s part of it.

    I was eighteen and didn’t want to be there. You made the choice to be there and that must help with what you are going through.

    All that comes through your blog is your love of life and Africa. I expect you’ll be writing 2summers for a long time yet. 🙂

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks, Tilly. Adjusting to SA life has certainly been part of it, along with a host of personal things and general uncertainty about life. But I’m a better person for it and I have no regrets. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply Owls August 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    A whole year of reading wonderful 2Summers. I can’t believe it! Thank you so much Heather!

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Thank YOU, Cousin Drury, for reading from the beginning 🙂

  • Reply Nina Neubauer August 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Quite a journey Heather. You are brave and courageous and making your way. I look forward to hearing more of your stories/adventures and having some with you. Happy Anniversary!

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      Thanks Nina! You’re a brave and courageous woman too. I’m sure we’ll have some adventures to share. 🙂

  • Reply Jen August 8, 2011 at 2:56 am

    Wow. A year? It seems like yesterday and like a decade ago all at once. Congrats on being able to articulate your dreams and following your heart, my brave friend — although of course, selfishly, I miss you! I love this post and how you’ve written it.

    • Reply 2summers August 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

      Thanks, JMG. I miss you too.

  • Reply Ryan August 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Hi I’ve just stumbled across your blog for the first time, it looks fantastic. I’m not surprised you have settled in Joburg, it seems like the lifestyle really suits your needs.
    Happy anniversary.

    • Reply 2summers August 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks Ryan. Glad you found the blog and thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough August 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I know about challenging moves and life challenges, as well. I will be waiting to read when you are ready to share more. In the meantime, congrats on an amazing year in SA! Cheers, my friend!
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers August 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Thanks Kathy! And thanks for being one of my most loyal readers.

  • Reply thirdeyemom August 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    What a beautiful post Heather. I loved it. I wish I could learn more about your story and how you got to Joburg. It sounds fascinating! I agree that you have to go for it in life as you’ve only got one shot so it is so wonderful that you took a leap of faith and found happiness. I look forward to hearing more of your story! Thanks for sharing this personal post!

    • Reply 2summers August 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks Nicole. I’ll tell the whole story eventually. It’s difficult though, not only for me, but because there are other people who could be hurt if I decide to ‘go public’. But I’m getting there, little by little 🙂

  • Reply Ingrid Koch August 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I happened to come across your blog a few months ago whilst doing some research for my own fledgling blog about living in another continent, country and culture. Your blog caught my eye because you are living in my home city that I left in March 2010 in order to make, what sound like, the exact same changes and go through many similar walls of fire as you have done. I have been in Chile for nearly 18 months now and feel more alive every day and happy with my decision to change everything. I loved your post about your one year anniversary and it bought back my own happy memories of celebrating 365 days in Chile in March this year, high in the Andes mountains which I love. But naturally I miss my own country and city very much and thus your blog has been a happy reminder for me of Jozi. Thanks for giving me a little bit of my wonderful city when I feel so far away!

    • Reply 2summers August 8, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      Hi Ingrid,

      Wow, what a nice comment. And I’m going to check out your blog too — looks very interesting. I love getting comments like yours because it shows me that people I don’t even know are getting things out of my blog, without my even knowing it! Good luck in your new life.

      -Heather

  • Reply Tara August 9, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Hey there!
    when i read your post and came to leave a comment i was thinking I know I have to wish you but wasn’t sure of your name.. the lovely comments above however gave that out to me.. So Heather 🙂 so nice to have found your blog.. I came here thru Sine. Me n my husband are exploring a move to joburg which will be our second hop after around 3 years of living in middle east(Dubai).. blogs like yours give me hope that inspite of life not being a piece of cake there, eventually it makes you love it. I hope to read and learn more of your posts and make a bond..
    I am visiting sandton next wk for 10 days with my husband who has some meetings there.. what would you suggest me in terms of must do during those days(If I could ask, obviously)

    & yes, Congratulations and Happy Anniversary.. belated though.
    Cheers
    Tara

    • Reply 2summers August 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

      Hi Tara,

      I’m so glad you found the blog and it’s helping you to plan your possible move. What kind of things are you interested in doing? City tours, safaris, drives through the countryside? Sandton itself is not very exciting but it’s a good base for exploring different areas around and outside of town. At any rate, regardless of what you’re interested in, I have a tour guide friend who can help you out. His name is Chris Green and his email address is chriscashan@gmail.com. Feel free to give him a shout and let him know I sent you. And let me know if you have any additional questions.

      Good luck!
      Heather

      • Reply cashancountry August 10, 2011 at 10:35 am

        Hey Heather and Tara! Thanks for the punt and be sure to contact me Tara. We have a great city as you have seen from 2summers blog. I cover many of the areas Heather has written about, and safaris too!
        Chris

  • Reply cashancountry August 9, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Heather, this is an incredible blog – all the posts are well considered and fresh, your honesty and humility are amazing. You and Joe are an amazing couple. The struggles of life never really leave us, nor we them. They just change. We have control over our choices though and the courage and determination you guys have are an inspiration, and the great photos! Thanks for the blog and so glad to know you both.
    Chris

    • Reply 2summers August 9, 2011 at 10:46 am

      Thanks so much, Chris. That all means a lot coming from you. And thanks for all the help you’ve given us over the last few months.

      • Reply cashancountry August 10, 2011 at 10:30 am

        hey that’s cool, no worries! You two are good friends! Keep on truckin’!

  • Reply Yashik Nanan August 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Congrats on yr first anniversary!!! All the Best!

  • Reply Rebecca August 10, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Congratulations! What a hugely exciting year – here’s to another 365 days!

  • Reply Bunny August 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    What a brave, wonderful thing you did and it looks like it paid off 🙂
    Congrats…

    • Reply 2summers August 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm

      Thanks Bunny, and thanks for reading.

  • Reply paulphillips17 August 12, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Really nice post, thanks.

    I understand some of the feelings that culture shock brings and the unexplainable frustrations and mood swings that comes with it having lived in Poland for two of the past five years.

    I’m already looking forward to the book and I enjoy hearing all about a country I hope to one day visit and spend time with. I also love that my Twitter keeps mentioning you in it’s posts!

    • Reply 2summers August 12, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      I love your Twitter mentions too – thanks so much! And thanks for reading my blog. Hope you make it down to visit soon.

  • Reply Ashley August 15, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Heather, I love how your voice comes through so clearly in every single post. It is as if my old friend is–as usual–telling it like it is. Your honesty is sometimes hard to read because it probably reminds us all (or maybe just me!) that we should be doing a little more soul searching.

    You are an incredible woman.
    Fire walls be damned.

    -Ashley

    • Reply 2summers August 16, 2011 at 7:56 am

      Ashley! It’s so nice to hear from you and thanks for the nice comment. I miss you, girl. Hope you’re doing well.

  • Reply Joburg Expat August 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Heather, thank you for this post and giving us some insight into your history. I’d love to find out t he rest once you’re ready to write about it. And thanks for crystallizing something for me that I didn’t realize until you put it into words: The main reason I love it here in Joburg at the moment is my blog – I can’t imagine being without it and Jozi is the only place it exists! Kind of scary…

    • Reply 2summers August 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      Hey, I’m so glad someone else can relate to that. Joe just thinks I’m a blog addict. But I can stop any time I want. Really!

      • Reply Joburg Expat August 18, 2011 at 9:56 am

        Noisette says the same thing about me. He also thinks I’m a Facebook addict though lately I keep getting these messages from them that “you haven’t visited in a few days and have notifications pending”. He has no idea what kind of real addicts are out there!

  • Reply Majuba October 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for the news on the old Impala statue Heather
    I remember it in it’s old location in what was once the JHB CBD
    A real oasis of calm within the city centre.
    I am glad to hear that the statue was saved.
    I thought it had ended up in a scrap metal yard just like the manhole covers, railway lines, telephone cables etc. in The New Rainbow Nation RSA

  • Reply Tonito November 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    “Life here will never be easy. This is Africa, after all.”

    True! I liked the post as it not only about a year in South Africa, but also about how the new beginning was the best thing you did. I’ve plunged into the unknown four times already and not once have I regretted it, as it was, after all, my choice.

    BTW I totally know what you mean when you say you love your blog. I love mine too! 🙂

    Great stuff, will be subscribing and checking out the rest of the blog!

    • Reply 2summers November 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      Hey, thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. Yours looks great too! Looking forward to following along.

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