19 November 1997. We arrive at the airport with two suitcases, two carry-on bags, a portable cot and a fold-up pram. I am nervous and excited. Nervous to be going to a country I have never visited and am about to make my home. And excited for the same reason. My baby girl is just two and is unsure about what is happening. All she knows is that she will see her dad tomorrow. At the check-in our luggage weighs 73kg. The airline staff member takes one look at my red, puffy face, and at the large crowd amassed behind me, and gives us boarding passes.
I have been teaching at a small Catholic school and half the school has pitched up at the airport. They stand in a group, blocking the path for other travelers who know better than to object. Someone starts clicking his fingers and the singing starts. ‘Some time in our life, we all have pain, we all have sorrow… Lean on me…’ They sing in the harmony that springs from African soil. I stand and watch and listen and cry. I know how special these people are. I know how blessed I am to have had them as part of my life for five years. ‘Take this box of chocolates, Mrs White. I’m sure you can find space in your carry-on bag.’ I fit it in.
I hug them all and promise to stay in touch. The mother of one of my girls gives me a card and a gold charm. It is a heart-anchor-cross combination. She has written that this is what I mean to her daughter – love, security and faith. I cry some more. (This picture is the replacement charm a lovely man bought me when mine was stolen, because he knew how much it meant to me.)
My family is there to say goodbye. We don’t know when we’ll see each other again. New Zealand is a long way from South Africa. We sit in one of the coffee shops, unsure of what to say. We try and joke, but we are all just thinking of the distance that is about to open up between us. My sister gives me a top and pants. ‘I’m sure you can find space.’ I fit it in.
The plane ride seems to take forever and the realisation of the giant leap of faith we are taking dawns on me. Still, time only marches forward and I have committed myself to this new life. What is in store for me, no one knows. I close my eyes as acres of ocean speed past underneath and my old life is left further and further behind.
Twenty years later, so much has happened. In a nutshell: I had a baby, got divorced, got married, got divorced, and have just finished writing my first novel. Everything else is just details. At times I wonder how I coped through everything I’ve been through, and I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time what was in store. I know I’ve changed through my experiences and I rather like the person these twenty years have made me.