A few days ago I was with my mother in Key West, Florida, watching the sun set from the southernmost point of the United States.

Sunset and boat

Key West is famous for its sunsets. I can see why.

I was initially a little disappointed in Key West. When we first arrived I struggled to see through the oppressive humidity and the grimy, booze-soaked, touristy-beach-town feel of Key West’s main drag. But like a lot of other places, Key West grew on me when I looked closer.

Sloppy Joe's

Sloppy Joe’s, the most famous bar on Duval Street. It looks pretty on the outside but I couldn’t bring myself to go in — the smell of stale beer on a hot Florida afternoon made me gag.

Anglican church

The Anglican church in Key West against a backdrop of spectacular clouds.

Cat on chair

A six-toed cat at the Ernest Hemingway Home. Hemingway once lived in Key West and his house is now a museum. Hemingway favored polydactyl cats (cats with six toes), and the house is still crawling with feline Hemingway descendants.

Cat at pool

One of the prettiest cats at Hemingway House. 

George and Coconut

Street performer Cowboy George and his dog, Coconut. George and Coconut are ardent advocates for the legalization of marijuana. As you can see, Coconut is “on grass”.

Rooster

Chickens wander freely in Key West. I encountered this chicken (crossing the road) on my morning run.

Sunset festival

Key West hosts a sunset festival every evening, with street performers, portrait artists, vendors, fire-eaters, etc. I saw a pan-handler carrying a sign that said, “Why lie? I need beer.”

Sunset

The crowd applauds as the sun dips behind the horizon.

That’s where I was a week ago. Now I am back in South Africa, suffering from jet lag and an unexpected attack of culture shock and anxiety about life.

Before I left for America, I worried about how I would adjust to life “back home”. But I was so focused on going there that I gave very little thought to how I would feel when I got back here.

I’ve been back for about 24 hours and everything is foreign. Things that were so familiar to me before are now unfamiliar. The way people talk, the way people drive, the music on the radio. Summer descends quickly in Johannesburg; the climate has changed since I left. Trees that were bare three weeks ago are now decked out with leaves. Areas that were sunny are now shady. The air smells like flowers. The sun rises early and the sky is eerily bright.

Even the Melville Cat, who to my great joy was waiting in the house when I got home last night, looks different than I remember — bigger and darker and fluffier.

Melville Cat on steps

Certainly no less beautiful though.

Nothing is different in a bad way. But everything is different. I guess I’m different too.

I woke up this morning and momentarily forgot where I was. When I remembered I was home, alone in my house in Joburg, I was paralyzed with panic.

I lay in bed and asked myself questions. How can I go on supporting myself here, with no family, no financial stability, no defined career and no particular plans for the future? How did I acquire such a strange lifestyle, living in a permanently half-furnished house and driving a dilapidated Rent-a-Wreck that isn’t mine? Why do I live in Joburg? How could I live anywhere else? Who the hell am I, and seriously, how the f*@k did I get here?

I’ve asked myself all these questions before and I know that there aren’t any answers. Actually, let me rephrase: These questions have answers but I don’t know them yet.

Deep down, I believe that every question will be answered in time and I just have to be patient. But when I get tired and fearful and insecure, I torture myself by asking.

A couple of months ago I thought I had things relatively figured out. I should have known better, as I’ve been through this cycle several times. Once again, my brain feels like a washing machine.

I’m not unhappy to be back. Just scared.

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