South African expat Jenni Baxter, Co-founder and Chief Editor of SAPeople.com, speaks about her first trip back to South Africa in five years and how after expecting the worst, South Africa took her breath away.
The last time I was in South Africa was five years ago for Christmas… but a few weeks ago I stepped aboard South African Airways’ new Airbus A330-300 to head home for a week’s holiday.
Based on news reports, I was expecting the worst. But what a joyful surprise it was! Both SAA and SA. Nobody does hospitality better than South Africans!
I was moved to tears on the plane and at least once a day during my holiday. From the sheer, authentic care of SA people. I didn’t know the ‘rules’ – how to use a car guard, how to use the Gautrain, who packs the shopping and who should push the trolley? But every person I turned to for help, not only helped but asked me first “how are you?” … and waited for a reply.
South Africans have an earthy genuine-ness that you just don’t find elsewhere. Like they really care. And I LOVE the rest of the world. Like many expats, I can’t decide whether I prefer living in London, Sydney or the South of France… but South Africa is forever etched in our hearts, and going home – particularly on our national carrier – breathed new life into my soul.
For a homesick South African… you’ll know, the second you step into the SAA cabin, you’re home! The accents. The welcoming smiles. The SA wine!
My lovely air stewardess, Siphokazi Luxomo. South Africans are the best at warm welcomes!
And after a scrumptious dinner (with non-plastic utensils!), I leaned back to watch a Charlize Theron movie… to truly immerse in the spirit of South Africa.
Even a snoring gentleman in the row behind turned out to be a blessing in disguise – allowing me to chat to my Canadian neighbour who was so excited to be venturing on her first trip to southern Africa.
South Africa took my breath away.
While government corruption and mis-management has hijacked the headlines, private enterprise has been flourishing. Sandton feels like Sydney. And Rosebank feels like Sandton (it’s the fastest growing area in SA). And Joburg city centre feels incredible. So much art, so much history, so much growth. Maboneng should be on every visitor’s bucket list.
On the first evening, I watched the sun set from a high-rise building in the CBD… and I knew I was in Africa.
In South Africa.
It was so good to be home. I ate biltong everyday and mountains of avocado… in the land where avo toast was normal before Nigella Lawson made it cool.
I spent time with old friends – friends who know you, who understand you without any need for explanation, friends who’ll give up their own bedroom for you and drive you proudly to every new (and old) spot in the city.
I talked to everyone. Taxi drivers, uber drivers, waiters, kids, moms, dads, CEOs, artists, nurses, teachers. South Africa is amazing. Our people are amazing. While we’re spreading our wings overseas – they’re in SA doing it. Day and night.
I was not expecting the incredible friendliness. Everyone I spoke to – black and white – wants to savour life and enjoy it. They’ve got a good thing going in South Africa… and, if we can, we should help them keep it, nourish it…
South Africa needs us.
And we need South Africa.
If you’re an expat like me, I encourage you to not just read the headlines, but to head home and see for yourself how wonderful and positive and vibrant and beautiful South Africa is… and take the message back to your new home. The more of us that support South Africa, the more it will flourish and prosper into the country we all know it can and should be…
When the taxi driver dropped me off at OR Tambo International Airport, he saw the tears start welling in my eyes. “Take care,” he said. “God Bless. Come back soon…”
Thank you. I will.