Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Our Incredible Journey to NZ - #3 The Decision

Disclaimer: This is our journey and the way we came to our own conclusions about what was best for us. This will obviously be different for each individual and family. We love the country we were born into. South Africa will always be in our hearts and we have family and many friends there. We wish only the best for those who are living in South Africa. This is not a post to make our decision seem better or worse than your own, please don't compare and try to feel better or worse. You may disagree with our process or our decisions, but please wish us well anyway. We all need to live our own lives to the fullest and hopefully that is what we are doing with ours and what you are doing with yours. 

If you've just started reading and would like to begin at the beginning, go to the first post about our journey or if you would like to skip ahead to the part that interests you, here are the links the my New Zealand blog posts so far:

1. The Seed

2. The Analysis

Crunch Time

We had talked it over and over and over some more. What should we do? The decision in front of us was monumental, the biggest, most serious decision we had made to date. So in true analytical style I turned back to my exam pad - pros and cons. Over the years, Hubby has joked about my constant need for an exam pad to make decisions. He has tried many apps that emulate my pros and cons ritual, trying valiantly to move me to a more high-tech method, but none has come close to my pen and paper yet. 


Stress

As I mentioned in my previous post, our stress levels were high but realistically, how would they be after we uprooted our whole family and moved 12 000 kilometres away to a country where we didn't know a soul?  Let's be honest, stress is not only in South Africa. Yes there are additional stressors to work and money, without doubt, but stress is extremely personal. It is different for everyone. 

My mom didn't believe in stress, she thought it was a made up word for modern problems. But at Christmas, at the end of the meal, when she had to put the final touches on her magnificent trifle and I couldn't find the nuts and cherries that she had handed to me for safe-keeping, her stress levels soared off the charts, although she never saw it that way. While she was frantic, I was moseying around the kitchen chatting and picking up the odd tea towel to help look, which apparently meant I wasn't helping at all, but I mean really, the packet didn't walk out of the kitchen, we were going to find it, Christmas would not die and burn due to undressed trifle. Our stressors were and are completely different. Every year after that, Hubby would make a space just for her at our kitchen counter and it was deemed the "Trifle Area" equipped with a board, knife, cherries and nuts, so that she never needed to stress again. She was relieved and grateful but never believed that he had relieved her of stress. Stress is silent and personal. Maybe our stress is as simple as dressing a trifle? Hmmm food (pun intended) for thought. But I digress....  

We know that stress boils down to how an individual relates to their specific situation. Hubby and I did both feel the increasing aggression in South Africa doing everyday activities, such as driving - road-rage caused by taxi drivers creating a second lane and driving head on towards oncoming traffic to get ahead in the queue, grinding the law abiding traffic to a halt as up to ten taxis would roar past us in the mornings.  And I won't go into the stress caused by government departments and the frustration of dealing with banking institutions. But aside from what my old boss used to call "the gentle inefficiency of Africa", we were under no illusions, that most of our stress was self-inflicted and could be changed, like jobs and houses etc. 

Our research showed that New Zealand was a calmer country, everything happens slower and there is less aggression, especially on the roads. That sounded good. Hmm so the choice was, should we change how we relate to our situation or just change the situation. We couldn't base a life-decision on stress alone, although calmer, kinder, accepting people sounded really good to us.

Family

Gordon's Bay
We decided, for this major life decision, to remove our family from the equation and only focus on our nuclear family, otherwise it would become an emotional decision and we'd never budge. Who in their right mind leaves parents, brothers, sisters, granny, grandpa, aunts, uncle and cousins? No no no. We needed a clear head.

I love beautiful places, like the Maluti mountains and rock formations in the Free State, the majestic Drakensberg, the beautiful Mac Mac Falls and Bourkes Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga, Table Mountain has so many special memories for me and I would sell my soul for the South Coast ocean, the view from Gordon's Bay and Chapman's Peak, Cape Point, the list goes on and on. All of these South African places are amazing, but far from home. We had to plan a trip to go to these places. We had done all of the beautiful day trips to the Magaliesberg, Hartebeespoort and numerous other scenic spots, but nothing breathtaking was close to Johannesburg (in my opinion) and the heat was getting to me. But did I want cold? Nooo! 
Mac Mac Falls
The Drakensberg

The reason for my family being in Johannesburg in the first place, was because almost 100 years ago my Scottish grandfather left his motherland due to lack of work, in search of new opportunities. My grandfather was lured by the promise of gold in a new Johannesburg. We are being lured by the calm of the land of the long white cloud. Isn't it ironic that he was excited about opportunities in the Gold Rush, while we are excited about opportunities away from the mad rush? 

Without the discovery of gold and the interest it generated, Johannesburg would never have become the epicentre of South Africa's business world and I was beginning to see it as a bit of a dust bowl (admittedly we were going through a bit of a drought which did cloud my vision.) I wanted to be surrounded by more beauty than I had had for the first half of my life (note, I'm living to over 92!) But we knew that we didn't have to leave South Africa to find beauty and scenery, we could move province. It would be challenging but definitely do-able. 

So although New Zealand is beautiful and calm, that couldn't be the deciding factor.


Crime

I saw these signs often
This may come as a bit of a shock but the actual crime didn't sway us to leave. Yes you read that right, we were used to living in ignorant bliss. For many families this is sadly not the case. I have heard of many people emigrating after horrific home invasions, hijackings and murders. We were so fortunate that we never had to deal with any of that type of violent crime, otherwise this would be a very different story. When I read about those families it hits home. South Africa is a violent place, but unless it has affected you badly, you're aware of it, but it isn't on your radar. BUT having to make our children aware of it and teaching them to protect themselves, as I have mentioned, wasn't sitting well with me. AND worse yet, what would happen if they wanted to follow their dreams (currently those dreams are being an artist, a baker and a pilot, they change weekly) but what if they entered a career which they were passionate about and it didn't pay enough to keep them in a safe environment? Security isn't cheap. What if they became those people who were afraid for their lives but couldn't afford to live inside the bubble? Ok the pilot probably wouldn't have to worry but the artist and baker......? I rest my case.

Seriously, we didn't want to pass this legacy on to our children, where they were destined to be the same hamsters on the same wheel as we were on, in order to be safe in South Africa. Why should they be put through the stress of carrying that financial burden before even starting their lives? Why couldn't they back pack through their own country like they could elsewhere? We had put ourselves behind bars and electric fences, security booms with security guards, but was this really the way to live? Were we the ones in jail and the criminals roaming free? 

We would have to encourage our children to seek opportunities overseas but then what? They would be on another continent, hopefully in a safer place, but we would be stuck with Rands in the bank which were quickly weakening. I remembered many years ago, when my boss moved to New Zealand, the Rand had weakened to R3 to the NZ$ and he was horrified! More recently it has been hovering around R10 to the NZ$ and has gone as high as R11. Would we ever be able to afford to visit our children and grandchildren if we were travelling overseas on the Rand? Probably not very often.
Electric fencing around perimeter walls of
all properties in my neighbourhood. 

So the crime itself was somewhat of a decider but only in a round-a-bout kind of way. The knock-on effect of feeling safe was a bigger decider but still not the main reason. We knew that if we and our family could be guaranteed of living in the bubble until we passed away, this would be a non-event and we could stay forever, as many of our friends and family will, and they will feel safe and secure, as they should. But for us, the chance of us ever being out of the bubble, made me extremely nervous. We were born in South African with South African passports, so if the proverbial hit the fan, we were stuck. There was no Plan B and if we made a Plan B for our children, we would still be stuck back on Plan A. 

Finances

This was a no-brainer. Anybody who has had a similar job for the past 5-10 years will have felt the effects of the rampant inflation. If you haven't been steadily climbing the corporate ladder or working for yourself and ensuring salary adjustments, you know what I'm talking about. Standard company increases fall way below inflation, meaning the majority of South Africans are getting poorer year on year across all income groups. There is also an unspoken first world inflation. The necessities (again in my first world opinion) - food, toiletries, medicines, Medical Aid (with the ever increasing self-payment gap), security levies and arbitrary annual increases across all services, are eating away at disposable income. The increases on these expenses overshoot inflation year on year and my financial planner was constantly wanting me to put more money away for the future as it is impossible to predict, but that meant removing more and more from the present to save for the future.

In order to have enough money to retire on, we needed to plough money into our retirement while we were earning. Now I'm all for saving and have done so all my life, but the numbers were getting ridiculous and I was witnessing retirees, who were supposed to be comfortable in their old age, starting to struggle by living on their pensions alone. We have 20 years ahead of us to earn, do we want to do that in volatile South Africa or pretty predictable New Zealand? 

With a president who couldn't decide who should be responsible for the financial portfolio of the country and kept chopping and changing finance ministers, it was difficult for us to trust that it would all just simply get better one day. What I did know from studying economics 1.01 is that when inflation increases and disposable income decreases, crime increases. Therefore the future of our children was worrying for us. This was definitely a factor.

We had researched that not only was inflation under control in New Zealand and the economy was growing well, IT and marketing jobs were in demand and they looked after their elderly. There are many free services offered to pensioners including free medical, so it was definitely appealing.


School

For the benefit of those reading this, who are not living in South Africa, let me explain the schooling situation. The majority of affluent families send their children to private schools at enormous expense because the difference in education is vast, with the small exception of some really good Government schools (public schools). 

It is estimated however, that only approximately 5 000 schools are good, versus approximately 23 000 which are not. The reason for the good versus bad? Parents pay for the shortfall in the 5 000 schools where the funding is inadequate, while at the lower income schools operate purely on government funding. Therefore, as you can imagine, getting into a good public school in your area, becomes a bun fight. 

In order to get our daughter into the only school that we are zoned for, we had to queue in the freezing cold weather, outside the school gates from 1am until 8am just to put her name down for possible acceptance. Let me repeat that, we had to queue for 7 hours in the cold and dark, on a street in South Africa, with its high crime rate, to TRY to get our child into the school that we are zoned for (the only one) and the one that her sister already attended! We were number 50 in the queue. The lady who was number 1 in the queue had started waiting from 5pm the night before. She was a single mother and couldn't take the chance of her child not getting accepted to the school close to her house, so she queued for 15 hours. Beyond ridiculous.


Click here for link to this article
Sadly, this contrast in schooling meant that the vast majority of students in South Africa were getting an inferior education due to lack of funding. The government arguably saw these 5 000 schools as unfair and there were rumblings that they were going to put a stop to this practise. Instead of increasing the standards in other areas, it seemed likely that the better schools would be brought down to the lower standard of the less privileged. While obviously the 5 000 are getting an unfair advantage (due to parents paying in,) is the best way to resolve this issue to reduce the standard of education in those schools? I don't know the answer, because to get 23 000 schools up to speed with 5 000 would take huge funding, that which the government does not have.

When our son was due to begin grade one at the same school, the registration system had become electronic, while making little difference to the mayhem behind the scenes, it did mean that parents no longer needed to queue outside the school all night. BUT it still wasn't a fair process based on zoning, purely because more children were zoned for the school than the school could accommodate. We all had to sit in front of our screens with the correct browser open so that we could hit send as soon as the site went live at exactly 8am. I misunderstood that it was again based on first come first served and we became number 358 in the queue for children "within the zone." There are approximately 150 spaces available per grade. Ludicrous.

Adequate town planning was a foreign concept and in the past 30 years there has not been a new school built in our area, but the housing has more than quadrupled with large properties being broken up into many smaller units, putting pressure on, not only the schooling system, but the entire infrastructure. Traffic congestion was increasing year on year and our tax money was nowhere to be seen. Even this didn't make our decision, although it was a factor. 

Our research showed that it would be easier for Tomato to get in-class assistance in New Zealand if necessary. The education system in New Zealand is set up for children like her. Class aides are commonplace and many children are assisted without the stigma in South Africa. Due to New Zealand being calmer and (as described by one of the school principals), "a more gentle environment," our anxious little girl may enjoy her schooling experience more, with less pressure and a reduced pace. This was a big deciding factor. Just the thought of breathtaking scenery every day and the reduced pace was appealing. School starts at 9am instead of 7:25am and there is no traffic as the schools adequately service their zoned areas. 


The Bubble

Inside the bubble, life is mostly first world. We made certain of that. We are surrounded by houses that are well-kept, excellent roads and beautifully manicured lawns. The streetlights all work  (because the trustees of our complex make it their mission to monitor the complex) and the kids are free to ride their bikes and go to the park on their own. We were guarded night and day by seven security guards with increased perimeter patrols at night. The residents paid for dedicated patrol vehicles within the estate, which became the norm, in fact the kids would smile and wave frantically at the guards passing by several times a day never questioning why they drove so slowly. The high levies we paid monthly covered the security which included state-of-the-art cameras on each corner that were monitored in the control room by a dedicated security officer. But it is all a farce and we knew it going in, we paid for all of that first world living with money that had already been taxed, supposedly to maintain roads, pavements, streetlights and security.

Because only 4% of the population pay 80% of the income generated in South Africa - yes you read that right, only 2,2 million out of 56 million people pay tax, if you want good service, you are forced to go private. We were paying tax in the highest tax bracket. This meant that 41% of our salaries were given to a government who spent the money elsewhere. We knew this. We had lived with this for years. But there's something about seeing the numbers affecting your own life, written down in black and white (on my exam pad) that made us realise how ridiculous it was.

Our non-private services, which were out of our control, were declining faster than expected - from having the cheapest electricity in the world, due to corruption, it was fast becoming the most expensive and our drinking water was the cleanest in the world but now we don't rank? Maintenance in the country was not taking place, so new roads and upgrades were rare, unless privately funded. The national broadcaster and airline were riddled with corruption and practically bankrupt and "load shedding" (re-occurring electrical black outs due to demand outstripping supply) was soon to be replaced by water-shedding. Honestly, it was all becoming very concerning. But the decline was slow, slow enough for us not to really pay attention to it all at once, until we shone a spotlight on it. Then it became quite clear how this mismanagement was impacting our lives. 


The Final Straw

Finally, after we had thought and talked and researched and talked and trawled the social media groups, we had to make the decision. There was an article that I had read that I couldn't get out of my mind. I couldn't find it for a long time because I had trouble remembering the author. This was the fundamental reason that we chose to emigrate. I explained what it contained to Hubby and I don't think he really believed me but went along with it anyway. I have managed to locate it (the memory is still there, it just took a while to retrieve.) All the other reasons had their place, but this is what pushed us over the edge.

The piece was written in April 2014 and is called "Future Prospects for South African Youths." an article by a man who is known as a futurist who I really admire and respect - Mr Clem Sunter. What on earth is a futurist you say? No he is not a clairvoyant who hauls out his crystal ball to take a look into the future, a futurist studies the future taking into account current trends and predicts the outcome. Clem Sunter became a household name and he shot to fame in the US when he co-authored a book "Mind Like a Fox" wherein he wrote about security issues in the US government and the potential threat of a terrorist attack on one of the US major cities, SIX MONTHS BEFORE 911 happened. It was if he had predicted it. 

But back to the article in question, the takeout is as follows:

The South African economy needs to grow fast, starting now, if it is going to absorb another 26 million job seekers over the next 15 years. We can’t export them, we have to create jobs for them! For this reason alone the government should be actively creating an environment wherein jobs can be easily created, they should be attempting to slow the birth rate and they should be concentrating on creating capitalistic solutions for hungry mouths, rather than attempting to instil socialistic ideas in an exploding population of young hopefuls. If they are not doing so, and to all intents and purposes it seems they are not, then SA is heading for a huge problem, notwithstanding Eskom [electricity public utility] and the rest, in that there will be more young people than there will be enough food, drink, housing, education and services to cater for them. Socialism is definitely not going to feed that many mouths and grants and subsidies will eventually cripple any future government. ~ Clem Sunter

I knew that opportunities would be worse for our children who are still young, but I didn't quite understand the ramifications until I read this whole article, which opened my eyes. I encourage you to read the full article (it's really short but HUGELY impactful.) You can read the full article here. It showed a very different South Africa, one that I didn't want my children to have to live in.

Clem Sunter
Another great article of his can be found here which talks about emigration and how to avoid it. Many many people have followed his advice and done what he suggested. He always suggests that we think like a fox, looking at situations from all sides.

For us, the writing was on the wall, but one thing we have always agreed on, is that we would never run FROM something, only TOWARDS something better. This was very important to us. I've always maintained that I would never leave South Africa. It is the only home I'd ever known. If we were going to change our lives and uproot our family, it had better be for a great opportunity, not just running away from an imminent disaster, which let's face it, South Africa is not. South Africa is more of a slow puncture than a train wreck. There is still time to stop the leak!


The Plan

I'm a marketer, so I love a good plan. Once we had decided that we were serious about New Zealand, we needed a plan and we laid out our ideas as follows:

Plan A 
Seriously look into New Zealand work opportunities

Plan B 
If Plan A didn't work, look for work in Cape Town

Plan C 
If Plan A and B tanked, sell our home and move closer to the school, downscale our lives to have less stress and expenses


Now the planning questions started. Should we all go to New Zealand to check it out first? What are the opportunities really like? We were excited. 

We were going to dip our toe in the pool to test the water. Super exciting! We weren't going to rush into anything, we weren't going to tell people yet, we were slowly going to start putting feelers out and see what we could find. 

But life has a way of showing you that you're not in control. I think this could possibly be a theme throughout our lives. 

Instead of a nice slow entry into the pool, life rushed up behind us and gave us a smack! Pushing us in with an enormous SPLASH!! 

It had suddenly become sink or swim. Not what we had planned AT ALL! 

"Flexibility" is now my middle name.

Life became a triathlon!










Saturday, December 9, 2017

Our Incredible Journey to NZ - #2 The Analysis

Disclaimer: This is our journey and the way we came to our own conclusions about what was best for us. This will obviously be different for each individual and family. We love the country we were born into. South Africa will always be in our hearts. You may disagree with our process or our decisions, but please wish us well anyway. We all need to live our own lives to the fullest and hopefully that is what we are doing with ours.

If you've just started reading and would like to begin at the beginning, go to the first post about our journey or if you would like to skip ahead to the part that interests you, here are the links to my New Zealand blog posts so far:

1. The Seed

2. The Analysis

3. The Decision


Analysis Paralysis

In order to really process this concept of uprooting our entire family, we needed to take a step back and analyse everything. What was working in our lives, what wasn't and what we were doing on autopilot. It was time to look deeper into our stressors. We began analysing our life, our dreams and goals. There were no sacred cows, we looked at ourselves under a microscope. Were we where we (say that fast three times ha ha) wanted to be on our journey so far? Could New Zealand offer us the change that we were looking for? Weren't we too old? Wasn't this too much of a drastic move? We needed to re-evaluate our lives.


Stress

Hubby and I got married on a public holiday many many moons ago. The idea of getting married on a public holiday, was to enable us to go away for a long weekend to celebrate our anniversary and plan our year ahead. The plan would include work, home, projects, any hobbies we were going to pursue that year, finances and holiday plans. It was kind of like a new year's resolution without all the hype. It was our personal plans and goals for us as a couple and as individuals for our new year together. We looked forward to our anniversary weekends and booked the time and place well in advance. It worked brilliantly because when you're away in an awesome new place you feel relaxed, so the planning was mostly quick and fun and there was plenty of time for discussions and ideas. 

We did this religiously until we had children. Ironically, we even planned our children during those discussions and yet they were responsible for the demise of our favourite tradition. The last time hubby and I went away together, just the two of us, was on our 9th anniversary when I was heavily pregnant with Tomato. Knowing that our long weekend days were over, we didn't want to kill the tradition so we went out every year for dinner on our anniversary but it was never the same. We would be rushed and inevitably get side-tracked and our goals morphed into parent goals instead of our own and projects and activities revolved around our BLT. 

Family
We knew we hadn't really focused on what we wanted as a couple and as individuals, versus what was expected of us as parents, for a long time and we were both just going through the motions of life, trying to parent children who had their own issues, give our best to our jobs, and spend as much quality time with the people we love. We had a lot of great times and I thoroughly enjoyed lecturing. But holidays became fewer and fewer due to poor prioritising mainly, coupled with Tomato's skin condition which we needed to take into account before going anywhere, so it was easier to stay at home. [see how a silly "little" disease consumed our whole family here]  Once the skin issues were sorted, we seemed to continue a largely pressurised existence. All decisions we had made up to that point, had put us where we were and we couldn't really fault them.

It was fine for a while but we had become passengers in our lives which had become monotonous by our own design. Weekends were dictated by birthday parties and school events for our BLT. Hubby's company wasn't doing well and there were some seriously toxic clients who were demanding and draining on him. He was under huge pressure and when he became the pawn in a tug-of-war, it all came to a head. The result was that hubby began to hate going to work. He used to love work. Both of us are 'do-ers' and we love the achievement of getting things done and adding value to our clients and teams, but we were both struggling to find meaning in what we were doing. Not only was this scenario creating unnecessary stress, it was creating health issues. Why were we working so hard doing things we didn't enjoy? We had put ourselves on the hamster wheel in order to support the comfortable way we were living. Why?


Crime

It's no secret that violent crime is rife in South Africa. According to STATS SA, 50 murders take place in South Africa each day. There are many more crimes committed but I'm not going to go into that because if you know anything about South Africa, you've heard how horrific the crime is and everyone has a shocking story to tell. If, like me you've lived in South Africa for many years, you're used to the statistics and the headlines. As South Africans we tend to ignore these shocking numbers and focus our attention on keeping ourselves secure.

Hubby and I are both born and bred Jo'burgers. It's a stressful place to live, but we knew no different and we had been desensitised to the crime. When we travelled overseas, we marvelled about the way we could walk around at night without fear, but once we returned home, we slotted right back into the Jo'burg way, behind electric fences and guards watching over our area 24/7 - in fact the name of the security firm is 24/7 Security. 

Crime has, and probably always will be an issue in South Africa due to the stark contrast in living standards of the enormous population, and our families were not immune. Hubby's mom had been shot at in her car, the bullet lodged in the driver's door where she was sitting, missing her by a few centimetres, and a few years later she was hijacked. My mom had a gun put to her head, was beaten and the attackers tried to get her onto the ground, but she fought back. Fortunately hubby and I thwarted the attack by arriving to visit unexpectedly and noticed the strange car in our street. The thieves fled without it turning too nasty although my mom was battered and bruised. Her wedding and engagement rings were taken together with her handbag and a diamond pendant necklace that my dad had given her. Fortunately her attackers didn't succeed in taking her car, but they did get her house and car keys. Both moms were traumatised after these attacks, but although we were all shocked and upset, we knew that they were both lucky to have survived and because nobody had been murdered, there was no police investigation.

Safety

After my mom's attack, we were all shaken. We then did what all South Africans do in this situation, we up scaled our security, moved my mom into a more secure living environment and continued living our lives in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Sadly, living in SA it is par for the course that some criminal element will darken your doorstep from time to time and although unacceptable, it is pretty much understood. Most violent crimes don't even make the headlines as the variety and number of crimes is so great that the media is spoilt for choice. These "close-to-home" incidents formed a large part of the decision we made, to work hard and save to buy land and build our dream house. We built in a security lifestyle estate specifically because statistics showed that houses "on the street" outside of a complex or estate, were where the majority of home invasions took place. We wanted our future BLT to be able to ride their bikes to the park and feel safe like we had done growing up. After ensuring we had a beautiful, relatively safe place to raise a family, we planned to have our first child. After ensuring that we were as safe as possible, we sat back and enjoyed the fantastic lifestyle that South Africa offered. And boy is the lifestyle great!

Children

Fast forward to having children...... as our BLT got older, it became more and more difficult to shield them from the harsh reality of crime and crime prevention, which we as adults did automatically. Although we had personally "only" suffered a few minor incidents, like an attempted break in inside our security estate while we were asleep, and we'd had a few items stolen over the years, crime happened to other people and we were, dare I say, pretty used to it. When stories in the media were shocking, it would stay with us for a while, but we would get over it as life got busy. Those families never got over it but we were far removed. One thing that did change after having children, is that when I heard stories about crimes inflicted on children, it made a more emotional impact, as I envisioned the terrible crime happening to one of mine and my heart would break for the parents, whereas before, it was sad but it didn't really hit home in the same way. One of the most memorable reports was when a mother was hijacked and was trying to release her child from his car seat as the car was being taken. The child was dragged behind the vehicle to its death. I sobbed for that mother and her child who was killed senselessly.

It was difficult to watch our children begin to stress about things children shouldn't have to worry about. My eldest, Tomato is a highly anxious child, so when ADT (a private security company) went to her nursery school to explain to the preschoolers about 'baddies' she didn't sleep for six months - yes SIX MONTHS! She had nightmares about the baddies. When they got older Bacon, our youngest daughter, wanted to know why her little friend at school didn't have security guards protecting her family. This was so strange to me, I hadn't thought that some people live in constant fear because they can't afford security. I mean, I knew that, but I didn't think about it until my child's friend was one of these people. We have always surrounded ourselves with security enabling us to live blissfully unaware and we avoided the news, so we were good right? Or were we? 

In one of Tomato's classes in grade 2 or 3 the students were asked to listen to the news and report back on a news story they had heard. So we put the radio on. The headline story was about a grandfather raping and murdering his 2 year old grand daughter and hiding her body under his bed! Thankfully I was tuned into a bilingual station so that news was in Afrikaans and Tomato was none the wiser. I just couldn't do it, I didn't know how to desensitise her to what was happening to children in the place we called home. 


OCD Behaviour

I realized of course that my OCD checking of my car (had it actually locked and not been car-jammed) every time I stopped the car, was impacting the kids as they began to check and re-check without me asking. My freaking out that the gate be closed behind them every time they came in or out of our secure complex was, in their minds, totally irrational because they felt perfectly safe. My kids could never understand why they had to have their car windows wound up at the robots and I blamed the aircon needing the windows closed because I didn't want to tell them that I was scared of smash-and-grabbers. The guys at the robots seemed so nice and had such fun stuff to look at. I knew the time was coming when they would have to grow up really quickly and start being more aware but even though Tomato was almost 11 years old at the time, I knew it would unnerve her and she would become insecure and an emotional wreck.


Living in a Bubble

I truly believe that the best way to live in South Africa is the way we did, by creating a secure bubble for yourself and your family. We probably lived in this bubble all our lives to some extent. Once we were grown, hubby and I always resided in a secure complex, some more secure than others. Our decision to not access the media on a daily basis, ensured that I was seldom afraid to live in Johannesburg or drive around at night on my own, in fact I enjoyed it. The doors and windows of our home were wide open all day long and some nights as well, but the gate was always closed to assist with my false sense of security as it could easily be scaled. In fact I've climbed over it myself. I therefore never felt unsafe and neither did my children. We had beams in the garden, cameras at every corner, with instant access via hubby's phone and an alarm system that activated and deactivated on a timer, so security hardly entered our minds. Of course when the alarm triggered in the middle of the night, that was a different kind of petrified as all the news headlines that we had managed to tune out, would come crashing into our consciousness, but again, that seldom happened in our bubble. 

Both hubby and I needed to keep working at a frenetic pace, running on that hamster wheel to earn good enough salaries to keep up the super secure lifestyle bubble. It was entirely possible that we may be forced to retire OUTSIDE the bubble (literally bursting our bubble!) Maybe we weren't so happy to do that. 


Finances

Due to my auto-immune disease, which is fortunately under control now, I was not bringing in the large salary that I had in the past, although I was working. This made us re-evaluate our lives earlier, purely based on what we were spending money on. We knew that inflation was growing faster than our salaries. This meant we had significantly less disposable income than the previous five years. We were struggling to understand how to plan for our financial future. It was difficult predicting where the economy would be in a years time, let alone 10 years, although many financial planners would disagreed. I won't even go into the changing price of electricity during this period. Watching my mom stress about whether she would be able to pay her medical aid each month made us concerned for our future. We would have to invest most of my salary, purely to ensure that we could remain in the bubble. But what if we lived to the age of 83 like my mom did?  I was hearing about more and more retirees who were struggling to manage on what their financial advisors had advised was a good retirement figure. 

Another concern was that hubby's company was poorly managed and the writing was on the wall, he would need to start looking for something elsewhere and he would require a much greater salary. Larger salary = larger stress. This started our questioning. Is that all there was going to be to life? Stressing out every day, rushing from activity to activity and counting down to the weekend? We were waking up just after 5am, rushing to get the kids up and out the house, sitting in traffic for an hour, just getting to school on time, sitting in more traffic to get to work or home and we were exhausted. Then we were rushing the kids through dinner and getting them to bed early so that they got enough sleep as it would be an early wake up call. Was this the life we wanted for our family?

I have always wanted to take my BLT to Disney World in the US, to see Buckingham Palace in the UK and to visit K and G, to visit my brother in Perth and my sister in San Francisco. I want them to experience other cultures and countries, but the Rand is volatile (I can hear you screaming "invest off shore!") We needed to gain a foothold but felt like we were just flailing around with no solid base to work from.

New Zealand offers free medical, free schooling and no need for security or lifestyle levies. Inflation is predictable and the services work. That would shave off almost 50% of our monthly expenses. 


School

Tomato was assessed with some difficulties due to concentration. She was struggling at school and we were sending her to many extra lessons, privately and those provided by the school. She needed a scribe and when she got one, she did well, but when she didn't, she did poorly. She felt stupid and was teased for being different. Every day homework became a swear word and we waged war to get it done. I became a slave-driver forcing her to do what was required of her. She was miserable and hated going to school. It broke our hearts. 

After this analysis, it was clear that there was massive room for change. Would we make changes in South Africa or in New Zealand. It was crunch time. We felt a little bit excited about starting fresh, wiping the slate clean and seeing what would happen if we just said "what the hell" and went. Was it even possible? 

Hubby had just turned 48. If we wanted to make a change, it had to be soon. Time was not on our side. We would have to make a huge decision in a small amount of time.



Spoiler alert:

"If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn't have done it."




Click here to see Chapter 3 of our journey - The Decision








Saturday, November 18, 2017

Our Incredible Journey to NZ - #1 The Seed

We've made the move to beautiful New Zealand peeps!

Many people have asked me why. 

Why did we emigrate? Why did we choose New Zealand? Why did hubby go before me? As the explanation is not a simple one that can be explained in a couple of sentences, I've decided to blog about it, not only to answer questions from friends and family but also maybe help others who are starting this journey or contemplating it. This series of blog posts will give you the reader, a glimpse into our highs, lows, frustrations and finally our new life. 

If you'd like to keep reading, I will put the links to the new posts at the bottom of this one. Otherwise you can sign up to follow the blog. Here goes....

In September 2015 the foundation of my world was rocked when my mom was taken from us. She had lived a good, long life, but nobody is ever prepared to lose a parent, no matter their age. I felt orphaned as my dad passed away when I was 20.

My cousin Phil flew up to Johannesburg to be with us while we mourned. During this time she brought up the subject of emigrating to New Zealand. I was a bit taken aback as I had never thought that she and her family would leave South Africa although there were some rumblings of them looking into Australia a few years earlier. Phil and her family live in Cape Town which is arguably the best run province in the country, so I was intrigued. Why would they leave? Hubby and I had often talked about moving to Cape Town (it's so beautiful there) but jobs aren't so easy to come by in the Western Cape for marketing and IT professionals and it was just a fleeting idea.

Phil told us all her reasons for wanting to move to NZ and she made some good points although we had never considered emigration, it just wasn't on our radar. My brother, Dorothy from the land of Aus and Aunty Lollipop (my sister) both hold foreign passports now, so they were easy to convince that New Zealand held many opportunities for us and they encouraged us to look into it. Dorothy shared some of his own views of the land that is just a hop, skip and a jump from his back door (well an eight hour flight to be exact, but he lived closer to the island than any of us.)  After the funeral the family scattered back to their homes around the globe and life went on. 


But the seed had been planted.

Many life changes happened between September and December (including losing great friends to the UK and Cape Town) so we decided to go and visit my family and friends in Cape Town so that I wouldn't be reminded of our usual Christmas at home without my mom. For the past 44 years I had spent every single Christmas with her. We booked a lovely Airbnb close to my cousin and the beach and had Christmas lunch with them. We spent many nights chatting, laughing, eating, drinking wine and discussing New Zealand, way into the early hours of the morning. They were seriously considering moving to New Zealand and told us all about their extensive research. It really seemed like an awesome little country. "Little" because the South African population sits around 50 million whilst New Zealand's is just over 5 million.

But was the grass greener in NZ? Well yes, because there's loads of rain, but South Africa had given us wonderful opportunities, an amazingly comfortable life and it's the only home we have ever known. This wouldn't be an easy decision.
Hubby and I had a lot of time to talk about it on the long drive home from Cape Town and we were interested but didn't know where to start. We decided to attend one of those emigration agent seminars to gain as much information as we could about this intriguingly beautiful country, that we really knew very little about. As soon as we got home I booked for the next seminar. I was astounded by the number of people who attended. As a marketer, before any public presentation, I prepare myself for the marketing angle, which is usually fear-based and eliminated that from what we took away from the presentation. We left with our interest piqued. It was all very interesting and we found out some really fascinating facts about NZ. 


We sat down and did the pros and cons list and decided we would look into NZ as a potential new home. The first step was to join a few Facebook groups with people of similar interests and then start doing our own research. We uncovered some really interesting, helpful bits of information (about everything) over the next few months and it was a bit overwhelming at times. Once we started researching, we were both up until the early hours of the morning reading, searching and discussing. We had heard and read so many stories of people moving to NZ and how hard it was. Some made it and loved their new lives, some had returned to South Africa (minus a huge chunk of change) and some were sent home by immigration against their wishes. This wasn't going to be a walk in the park.
 












Click here to see Chapter 2 - The Analysis or skip ahead to the part of our journey that interests you:


Blogs so far:

2. The Analysis
3. The Decision

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Twisted Sister

The chocolate-lemon cake
In July I was sooo excited because my sister and her family were coming to visit for a whole three weeks! Well I blinked and the three weeks disappeared and before I knew it, I was waving them goodbye with a huge lump in my throat. But we had SUCH a great time.
Making the cake
The day after Aunty Lollipop landed it was hubby Kal's birthday so that meant cake and pressies, so we set to work (actually the birthday boy made half of his own cake, let me explain....) When asked what sort of cake he wanted for his birthday, he happily replied that he wanted a lemon and chocolate cake! Gulp. Say what? I'm all for chocolate cake, but with lemon? Hmmm wasn't sure about that. So husband and wife set to work, Sis on the lemon and Kal on the chocolate, while I made dinner for twelve of us - it was a busy kitchen! And the cake turned out beautifully! Contrary to popular belief, swirled chocolate and lemon cake is divine. Did I mention that we ate a lot while they were here? Well we ate, A LOT.

The Car!
The rental car was hysterical. Identical to SA taxis. So Aunty Lollipop could do ANYTHING on the roads and nobody hooted or complained!

My bestie K was also visiting at the same time so I was in my element with all the overseas visitors. She phoned and asked what time I'd like to meet up with her on a certain day and I said "I want the whole day" haha so we all got together and went to Gold Reef City aka "child heaven." Kal noticed a printed sign on the cashier's window stating that their credit card machines were not working, which kinda makes you think that if they went to the effort of professionally printing a sign, they should just state "cash only" but that attracts criminals, so they obviously prefer the permanent sign mentioning the temporary situation. Welcome to Africa! We all had a blast, the kids rode on every possible ride, panned for gold, tried to win teddy bears and we had an "old western" photo taken of us which was pretty cool.
How many cousins fit on a trampoline?

A few days later cousin Phil and her two kids Logoff and Mistletoe flew up from Cape Town and we had a huge family lunch at the older cuzzies' house. These holidays were all about fun, family and friends and more fun. The following day we were off to the Drakensburg for 5 days. We took my car and the taxi and the kids alternated the seating arrangements every time we stopped. The kids had a blast (and the adults did too.) It was freezing but so beautiful. We arranged for our chalets to be next to each other and we walked the path flat between those two. The kids went horse riding, even Tomato who is super-allergic to animals. She loved her out ride so much that she wanted to go again! 

The Kiss
We peeked inside the hotel chapel and performed a mock wedding ceremony (I sang the wedding march) and Lettuce and his cousin tied the knot again, but this time in a church. Aunty Lollipop gave a lovely sermon. When we got outside the happy couple were supposed to kiss but they became shy so Lollipop and I were snapped showing them how by cousin Phil!

The "Quiet" Walk
After the guided walk to see the bushmen paintings, I went on a walk by myself because I love the quiet of the berg, but with 7 kids that was near impossible, so I ventured out alone. But before long I was joined by an entire entourage. They joined slowly but before long we were pretty much all on my "quiet" walk..... well except for Uncle Kal, who was busy catching the first fish that had been caught in the hotel trout dam in months. [note: there was no actual footage of said fish but apparently it was "this big" #justsaying] Brekkie was in the dining room every morning which was a huge hit, especially the hot chocolate machine. Yes, we ate a lot in the berg too. 
Pssst Cadbury
 this is what a REAL
block of choc looks like

Every night once the kids were in bed, someone would whip out a hidden choc and Lollipop would sneak away to our chalet to indulge. Lollipop and I are into green tea and we drank an entire box full while she was visiting although we forgot to take our teabags with us so we were forced to have Rooibos or coffee with our late night snacks. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the chocolate gene runs deep in our family, so cousin Phil and Logoff joined in on the feast. Logoff was quite entertaining explaining to us old folk the fascinating benefits of marijuana. He was so cute (ok he's 15 so he won't like being called cute) on the very first day he pulled out a buff which he gave to Lettuce and put it on his neck and showed him how to wear it. From that moment on Lettuce and Logoff were best friends and Lettuce was never far from his buff. He even slept in it.
Hitting the town
On the last night we bribed Logoff (with chocolate of course) to stay and babysit Lettuce and Mistletoe while us girls went to paint the town red. Ok it was one pub and we couldn't really paint it red, but what we lacked in painting skills, we made up with imagination. In the freezing cold we ordered iced cocktails of course! Well a little strawb daiquiri, moijito and margarita got us giggling and Lollipop and I tried on the lampshades and we all pretended to play pool without the balls. But we had fun and laughed ourselves silly. Photos of that night shall remain safely away from the Internet. Thankfully we didn't have a selfie stick or things may have gotten out of hand! The kids were none the wiser that we had sneaked out. 

Unfortunately we had to hit the road the next day and after some roadside shopping (every child needs a wild animal made out of clay) we discovered a blast-from-the-past - a Pikki. Do you remember Pikkis? They came in triangular shaped cardboard thingymajigs with condensed milk in them. Well here they are, so we had to have a pack each (according to cousin Phil.)

The drive home was fun. Logoff was thrilled to discover that he could sync his phone via Blue tooth to my car radio. We only agreed to let him use the Blue tooth if he played music we liked, so with loads of 80's music pumping at full volume, we ambled home and hit the sack. Cousin Phil and I shared my bed, so we stayed up talking waaaay into the night. Not a great strategy, because early the next morning I had to take them to the airport to say goodbye. Fortunately it was a quick drop-off otherwise the make-up I wasn't wearing would have smudged. So sad to say goodbye after such a fun time, not knowing when you're going to see them again.

Because Aunty Lollipop wanted to see everyone and not leave anyone out, she decided to have a "sip and see" - basically we provide the venue, food and drinks and friends pop in for a sip of something and to see Lollipop and her family. Becaue we were expecting ladies only, sis decided a tea party was in order so tea and coffee and juice were on the cards. The kids had a ball setting up the table and taking photos. We were all set for a high tea..... but when an ex boyfriend arrived with Strawberry Daiquiri mix and a bag of ice, the party got a whole lot more interesting! Who knew you could get Strawb Daiquiri in a ready-mixed box!! I need to spend more time in Tops apparently. I got the kids and uncle Kal busy on the ice crushing while I dusted off the appropriate glasses (strangely I had 12 perfect glasses, waiting to be filled with daiquiri mix, in my cupboard - how odd lol). We poured the delicious mix over the ice and I took a sip.... hmm. Ex boif was watching my reaction and asked "what's wrong?" I didn't want to upset him but it was seriously weak so I said "umm I think needs a bit more zing" to which he responded "no problem" and reached into his bag of goodies and pulled out a full bottle of Mainstay!! Awesome!!
The daquiri
The mix
I hastily topped up the glasses and took them out to the party. Oops I'd made too many, and I didn't want them to go to waste.... well after two of those (with extra zing) I was buzzing a bit. It was a good party, but being a tea party, I didn't expect people to stay for dinner so I had to razzle up something quickly (in my buzzed state) and then I wasn't quick enough, so we ended up eating 2kgs of Nigella's famous cocktail sauceages over the next few days!! If you haven't tried these yet, do yourself a favour! I also have half a bottle of Mainstay and some daiquiri mix here at home with me..... hmmmm.

Back to making it the best holiday ever, we ventured into, what I still call Town. There is an awesome science museum in Newtown Johannesburg called The Sci-bono Discovery Centre. I had taken Gramps and the kids there earlier this year and raved about it and my BLT were keen to show their cuzzies, so we hopped into the two cars and we were off on a day trip. The kids had a blast. The place really is cool with loads of things for kids to touch and see and interact with. I thought I had seen most of it the first time I went but there was more that I hadn't yet discovered. But by far the kids' favourite was building with cememt and bricks. They ended up building the whole building! We were put to work and had to help (gulp). Then once the entire building was built and the place was closing for the night, the kids shrieked with delight as they broke it down. Unfortunately when we told them they had to pickup all those bricks and concrete pieces and put them back where they found them, they were less thrilled.
Vietnamese wrap
Did I mention that Aunty Lollipop brought gifts? Well she did! Firstly she brought every type of gluten free product she could find. I'm sure my pressies weighted about 10kgs. She lugged across a 2kg bag of gluten free a.m.a.z.i.n.g. flour and every type of pasta she could find, but also chocolate.... ah the chocolate [swoon]. She also brought Vietnamese wraps and taught us how to make them with prawns, loads of veggies and noodles. They were divine and we laughed ourselves silly trying to make them the first few times. They literally turn from a hard plastic-like circle into the milk skin that firms on top of hot milk, within seconds of wetting them. This proved to be quite a challenge! Apparently it's like flipping pancakes - it's an acquired skill.

Growing beads were endless fun
Another awesome gift was my Bluetooth speakers so that I can pair my phone to the speakers in the house and tonk out my favorite classics for everyone to hear. When I wake up my BLT every morning, I scrummage around and find a good "wake up" song, put my cell phone in a cup and put the cup at the top of the stairs to make it really loud. Yes, try it, it really works! A cup gives you instant volume. Obviously Lollipop thought I deserved something a bit more classy haha.

Uncle Kal had the kids enthralled with his guitar playing. So amazing to have music in the house (apart from my cup lol.) The kids were super-spoiled with pressies from the US and even more from SA. It was awesome to watch the cuzzies playing together and the "slap yourself in the face with cream" game was surely the winner! As dinner guests arrived, they had to play Russian roulette with the "slapper" the kids shrieked as they watched their older cousins and then their uncle Ivan get covered in cream. So much laughter!

Who is Jack?
Apart from his birthday and guitar-playing, my favorite brother-in-law Kal was my ultimate hero - OMG was he fantastic - totally opposite to our family, but in a good way. We like to sit and chat and catch up and he likes to be busy 24/7. Well did I love that quality. Firstly he noticed that the tyre on my car wasn't looking good, so the day before our trip to the Drakensburg, he took my whole wheel shaft apart because the bolts had been stripped. He went to the shop, got a new bolt and reassembled the thing so it was safe. He even left me a note so I wouldn't drive. 

When we got back from our holiday, Kal got stuck into the house. Not having a man around the house for the past 16 months, had taken its toll so Kal become hubby #2. He went mad fixing and sorting and painting and cauking everywhere, yes cauking. I had no idea what he was talking about when he showed me areas that needed cauk. Eventually I just burst out laughing and asked him what the hell is cauking? Apparently it is silicone seal. With Kal's American accent it sounded like he was saying "this area needs some cock." Even once I knew what he was saying, I couldn't stop snorting every time he said it and eventually he reverted to calling it silicone to stop me being silly haha. I wanted to go with him to Builder's Warehouse to be there when he asked them where they stock their cauk, but he wouldn't let me - darn! So while we had a blast, Kal was having his own fun taking my entire kitchen sink out and measuring for new shelving, changing light bulbs, painting, sanding, waging war on the ants, the list goes on and on. What an amazing guy!
Some serious cousin baking
going on here

Needless to say, the three weeks sped by in a happy blur and the dreaded day arrived...... they needed to leave for the airport at 4pm. From about midday everytime we looked at each other we cried. We focused on getting stuff packed and sorting out things and cried.  People started dropping in to say goodbye and the rush was on. What felt like minutes later, we were trying to be brave in front of the kids but we weren't doing a very good job. 

Crumpets
As quickly as they had arrived, they were gone. Tomato started to cry. Bacon and Lettuce just hugged me and we stayed like that, waving goodbye and just being sad. Then we went back into the house to listen to some music.

Later that night I got a pressie under my pillow. I cried again.

People always ask how I coped with four more people in my house for three weeks and I respond by saying "I wish they'd stayed three more!" Such great memories.

Next meet up: Hawaii


Lettuce was not happy.
They're gone :-(