Rugby World Cup Fever (aka Bokkoors)

It’s nearly that time again. Rugby World Cup time. All rugby lovers know how, for at least a year or maybe even two leading up to a world cup, just about every conversation regarding rugby inevitably turns into a discussion about the contenders’ chances of winning. Basically as the conversations about or interest in the previous world cup start to wane the conversations about the upcoming one will start and sometimes these overlap. Well, in rugby mad circles anyway. Our house is a rugby mad little circle, always has been.

There’s never a problem for fellow rugby lovers to understand each other’s love of the game but it’s supporting the team from your country of birth after you’ve moved to another country that’s not always easy to verbalise. It’s one of those things that just IS. Because it’s in our blood. It’s not the same for everyone though. It never is. Some of us have split loyalties and some don’t because we’re all different and have had different experiences in life. Being a Springbok supporter in the Land Down Under (something I’ve written about before), brings about complex emotions of staunch support of the Boks but at the same time I feel almost guilty for it because this land has given us so much. Not that my support will ever change, it’s unwavering and unquestionable. It’s a part of who I am and I can’t change that. It doesn’t make me any less grateful for the opportunities this beautiful country presents us with on a daily basis, it just means I also embrace where I come from.

World Cup fever brings with it all the hopes and dreams of another win. We can all remember where we were when the Boks won the cup in 1995 (well, those of us over the age of about 30) and again in 2007 and we still reminisce about Joel Stransky’s winning drop goal. I also vividly remember being in Prince Albert in the Klein Karoo for a long weekend with friends in 1995 in the hotel pub amidst an eclectic mix of locals, watching the Springboks vs Canada game in Port Elizabeth on TV where the power went out in the stadium and there were no lights. In 2007 (living in Perth by this time) Bokkoors (Springbok fever) meant cutting our first holiday in Coral Bay short and coming home a day early to watch the semi-final.

We get our hopes up every time. We get up in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning and position ourselves in front of the TV with sleepy eyes but we wake up very quickly when the game starts and our heart rate goes up the tighter the game is. By the end of a close match we feel like we’ve run a marathon and if they lose we feel the disappointment so badly that we are down about it for days. Or longer, depending on how important the game was. If they win we are ecstatic. We also have a live-in expert should-have-been-ref in our house, so when the ref makes a mistake it can be heard by all around. There’s no chance the kids will be sleeping through any of those games because even the TV volume gets turned up to double the normal decibels when the excitement levels go up (which is for every match the Springboks play). So many times the kids have told Ironman that the ref can’t hear him but which one of us can keep quiet when there’s an injustice being done? We’ll sit on the edge of our seats, nibble on some biltong (or our nails), hold our breaths and maybe even move further and further away from the TV when the tension becomes unbearable. The matches will get recorded and replayed, the remote control might get hidden in case someone makes a mistake and messes up a recording and Tessa (one of our dogs) will again try her best to pacify anyone who might get vehemently upset. We might dig up old CD’s that only see the light of day every four years and listen to rugby songs to catch some “gees” (get in the spirit), we’ll deck the green and gold and get together with friends to watch games regardless of the time of day. It will be a time of high tension and emotion without a doubt.

And of one thing I’m sure: all Springbok supporters will be holding our collective (sleep deprived for us) breath for a few weeks and hope beyond hope that our beloved Boks can win that cup again. It will almost be like it’s strangely quiet as we wait in suspense similar to the way we wait to see in slow motion if a kick goes over between the poles, just a very drawn out bated breath and then there’ll either be a gutted outcry of pain or a jubilant roar of utter elation from Springbok supporters all over. Here’s to hoping for the latter. Go Bokke!

Scrum practice

Scrum practice

Springboks in Etosha

Springboks in Etosha

Afrikaners in Perth

I’m very excited today. My post about celebrating our 10 year anniversary in Perth has just been published in the on-line edition of a South African magazine after I translated it into Afrikaans. This is the link:

http://www.sarie.com/lewe-liefdes/reise/suid-afrikaanse-gesin-se-lewe-australie/

The original English version is here: https://searchingforironman.com/2015/01/23/10-years-in-this-great-southern-land/

Hellos, Farewells and Airport Emotions

Airports have become a place of emotion for me, a result I suppose, of travelling mainly for leisure or to visit family or to fetch family who are coming for a visit and also of having moved countries and resettling twice. Standing at the check-in counter heading to an unknown world watching the necessities of your family’s life which had been reduced to a few suitcases sliding away on the conveyor belt has the inevitable effect of the reality sinking in of being a bit lost between two worlds. I can’t recall the last time I felt neutral about a trip, such as one probably would with regular travel for work, moving through airports with numbed emotions. It would either be excitement that I’m feeling about going on a long-anticipated holiday or when we’re fetching a family member who’s coming for a visit, or sadness when we farewell someone who is leaving, but hardly ever are there no emotions involved.

Anyone who has family living far away will have experienced this in some way or another. Since our family all live in Southern Africa, when one of them comes for a visit I usually find myself at the airport amidst lots of other fellow South Africans when an SAA (South African Airways) plane is due to land, and as I get older I get all emotional seeing other peoples’ faces light up and hurry forward as they spot their loved one/s – whom they in all likelihood haven’t seen for some time –  walking out into the Arrivals hall, and I can almost feel their excitement and happiness at a long awaited reunion because I know what it is that they’re feeling. Likewise, an emotion-filled farewell moves me just as much since I know the feeling of airport farewell to a loved one too.

When our kids have travelled on their own there were some other emotions mixed in there as well – concern for their safety and wellbeing, trepidation at how they will fare on their own, excitement for their part since they were embarking on an adventure, apprehension at how I will cope without them, all the while reminding myself that the independence gained this way will stand them in good stead. Last year two of them travelled on their own for a month at the same time, making for an emotional mum (13 13 30). Of course the joy, relief and happiness upon their return and having them safely back (under my wing) is unrivalled.

When I’m the one travelling it’s become easier over time not to linger over farewells and to focus on something else instead to distract myself, such as things to do when I reach my destination, but it’s admittedly easier if you’re not the one staying behind. The person travelling does so with a purpose, whether it’s a holiday or maybe returning home after a visit to family and generally has something to look forward to for that reason, whereas those staying behind might feel a void left by the departure of their loved one who had to return to their own home.

On a lighter note, my husband travels a fair bit for work and though I don’t usually have to drop him off at the airport I once had to do the 80 minute round trip to take him his passport which he’d forgotten at home! On another occasion he was so convinced that he’d told me about his upcoming trip to Dubai (from Perth) that by the time he started packing his bag out of the blue and I asked him where he was going he looked at me in utter surprise and said: “Dubai, I told you!”, but I had absolutely no idea. The first I’d heard of it was when he started packing to go overseas for about a week. He was so sure that he’d told me but after a while of watching the sheer blank expression on my face he realised that I wasn’t teasing him and it was then that the penny dropped, a bit sheepishly I might add. He’d practiced a conversation with me about it in his mind because he thought this was going to be one trip too many and even practiced what my anticipated response was going to be, and then promptly forgot to actually tell me in person!

This time around we are fortunate enough to have a time of major excitement in our house again though, as my mum is on her way from Cape Town for a visit and in a few days’ time I’ll find myself at the airport again in the midst of some intense emotions waiting for SA280 to land. Ouma is coming!

SA280 just after landing in Perth

SA280 just after landing in Perth

Getting Scorched

Sunny Southern Hemisphere climates offers such freedom of lifestyle. Only for a relatively short period of time does one have to rug up with cumbersome, warm and weather proof winter clothes (and even then we get over it pretty quickly and dream of the warm sunshine to come). There’s something relaxed about an outdoor lifestyle, to have picnics in the sunshine and enjoy beautiful clean beaches, to walk out the door, get in the car and go places never having to shovel any snow, to be able to exercise and play sport outdoors basically all year round and to fiddle in the garden almost year round. I love the sunny climate, blue skies, being outside in the fresh air, balmy summer nights and to feel the warm sunshine.

Growing up in Cape Town with its moderate climate we had beautiful summers but nothing extreme in terms of heat. When I spent a couple of summer holidays in the Kalahari on my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in my university days it was a different story though. With temperatures rising to above 35°C most days it was tough working outside but the work doesn’t wait for the heat to subside so onwards and upwards we went. One particular stinking hot day a herd of cattle had to be mustered and moved from one paddock to another, some kilometres away. We were on horseback following behind and on the side, swallowing the dust the cattle kept kicking up but they were a difficult bunch and every few minutes when we thought we had them moving along nicely, one would break away to the side and one of us would have to canter off in pursuit and bring it back quick smart before any of the others noticed and decided to follow suit (which they inevitably did if you weren’t quick). One breakaway playing truant was manageable, definitely not half a herd. Others would keep in line but sneak a look to see if they could escape and if you weren’t onto them straight away either showing them that the only way is forwards, they’d make a dash for it. And every now and again one would just inexplicably stop right in front of you and if you weren’t paying attention you’d have passed it before you knew, and then it’s turn around and go back around it at full speed before it gathered pace. All of this through relatively thick bush and trees so it was a challenge to keep them in sight and not lose one or two amongst the bushes. We’d counted them before we took off and had to count them again afterwards to make sure none got left behind somewhere. Passing through gates from paddock to paddock was interesting – if the gate was open it would be relatively simple as long as we could gather them together again quickly on the other side before they dispersed and spread out into the veld, but if the gate was closed someone had to ride up ahead without scaring the herd and causing them to scatter in every direction, hop off and open it and get out the way before they got there. It was hot, dry and dusty, it hadn’t rained for a while and we were in the thick of it for about 5 hours doing some good old hard yakka but it was so much fun. It was so good to do some hard physical work. I’d done it many times before but this particular day was so hot and we were in the saddle for so long that by the time we’d delivered them to their destination, counted them through (and thank goodness they were all there as it wasn’t a small herd either) and got back to the farm house all I could do was change into my bathers, jump into the dam and float in the cool water for about half an hour. The ice cold beer after that was the best medicine and although the heat of that day has been burnt into my memory forever I’ll always remember it very fondly.

Beloved Kalahari

Beloved Kalahari

When we moved to Dubai we anticipated struggling with the heat but we were spoilt with houses, shops and offices all being properly air conditioned and our villa’s windows had double glazing which meant that the temperatures only ever affected you as you moved between air conditioned areas such as unpacking the groceries from the car and doing about five trips carrying it up the stairs of the house to the front door (carrying as many bags as possible each time to minimise the number of trips) or when I left the shops and went out to the car park in the summer heat and humidity my glasses always fogged up instantly! For the larger part of the year the temperatures weren’t unbearable and when it was hot it was a dry heat but peak summer brought with it daytime temperatures of somewhere over 40°C with very high humidity, and night-time temps that didn’t really drop much below 30°C still with incredible humidity.  After visiting our family and friends in South Africa during July/August 2004 we arrived back at the beautifully air conditioned Dubai airport in a false sense of security only to exit the airport building into a 30°C and 90% humidity wall of sauna heat at midnight. We swam so much that year but in the middle of summer the swimming pool water felt like bath water and we turned off our hot water system and used that water for cold water and the cold water tap for hot water because the water pipes were so shallow under the ground that the water used to get burning hot! The architecture and building style of the old Arabian buildings used to fascinate me with their clever design and latticed windows promoting the airflow so that hot air rose to flow out and cool air came in to keep the houses cool and spoilt as we are with air conditioners today I still find it astounding that people used to live without these luxuries in the sort of desert temperatures that I would suffer in, soft as I am.

Now Perth summers are hot, dry affairs with its share of heat waves with temperatures going up to over 40°C sometimes for a few days in a row with no sea breeze to cool things down and every now and then we get a good summer storm and I love these summer storms because they remind me of the Kalahari thunderstorms with mother nature showing off her power with loud thunderous cracks and electric lightning which usually resulted in a good downpour and much needed rain soaking into the dry earth and big fat drops noisily falling onto tin roofs. Downpours that could leave you soaked but still warm. So unlike winter storms.

A summer storm rolling in over our house a few years ago

A summer storm rolling in over our house a few years ago

When we went to support the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash semi-final in January we sat sweltering in the sun with no shelter on a 40°C day waiting for the sea breeze to come in but it kept promising to come and just as we got our hopes up and I’d move forward in my seat as if to meet it it would disappear again, such a tease, and the WACA lived up to its nickname, The Furnace. It reminded me of the cricket test I went to watch with Ironman and his brother at Kingsmead cricket stadium in Durban back in ‘96/’97. Our seats were also in the full sun but we were allowed to take an umbrella and since I was pregnant at the time it saved the day for me but as the day wore on we were being joined by more and more supporters of the opposing team who’d decided that there was plenty of room for everyone in our little spot of shade. The more the merrier, until we were so tightly packed underneath that umbrella that no-one could breathe and we gave up and went home. That day at the WACA I would have loved to have had that umbrella though, or any little bit of shade for that matter, because there was just no escaping the oppressive heat and the fun element of the exciting cricket match was being scorched right out of it and I had to admit that much as I love our summers, I don’t enjoy getting scorched!

10 Years in this Great Southern Land

10 Years ago we boarded a plane from Africa and landed at Perth airport about 9 ½ hours later, walked out the airport into the late January heat feeling quite insignificant. The realisation that we knew no-one made this family feel a bit lost and it hit home as we walked into the “Arrivals” hall amidst people being welcomed and greeted by family, friends or business associates, not knowing anyone and subduedly making our way out the door to find a taxi. Arriving at our short-term rented apartment in the city the exhausted and jet-lagged kids fell asleep sitting up in chairs in the middle of the day while Ironman went out to organise a rental car and so our first week went by in a blurr of organising all the logistics of settling down in a new place with my husband having started his new job and the kids and I driving from one possible rental house to the next looking for one that would meet our requirements. We’d timed our arrival so the kids would be able to start the new school year which left us with 10 days to find a suitable school as well as a house to rent in the same suburb which proved to be a challenge in the middle of a mining boom and accommodation shortage but we managed to sign the lease for a nice house on the Friday afternoon and on Monday morning the kids started school on the first day of the new school year together with all the other kids. Two big and very important boxes were ticked.

As we’d said our farewells to friends in South Africa they would jokingly talk about the “honeymoon period” of a move to a new country such as we were doing being about three months, but having moved to Dubai just under a year prior and absolutely loving the adventure of that I felt like the honeymoon period was over when our plane landed in Perth. Being uprooted twice in under 12 months to move continents, settle down, make friends, ensure the kids are happy and doing well at school, finding substitute products in the shops to the ones you were used to, finding a hairdresser who cut my hair the way I liked it and all the rest of it, didn’t come naturally for someone who loves being in their comfort zone but I knew that this move was best for my family so I was determined to make it work. During our visit here in August 2004 while I was still grappling with the idea of having to move away from Dubai where we’d just settled a few months prior and the exotic adventure of which we were thoroughly enjoying I was under so much pressure from my husband to like Perth that I broke down in tears one day telling him exactly that: “You’re putting too much pressure on me to like it” but walking down Hay Street, Perth, another day during that visit I realised that I would be able to live in this city and that I would be able to make it work and knowing that was enough for me at that stage. I knew that the lifestyle would be better for the kids and the whole family in the long run.

Looking back, the first year was definitely the hardest but we made good, lasting friends who became our “Perth family” over time. We found the people of Perth to be very friendly, welcoming and accepting with a great sense of humour and got used to driving on the left-hand side of the road once again, everyone driving strictly at 100km/h on the freeway (after the manic speeds on the roads of Dubai), the green of the Eucalyptus which was very different to the bright and lively green of the oaks and plane trees in Stellenbosch which was one of the things I missed at first, the idea of not knowing when exactly we’ll see our family again, hearing many different accents around you every day, total fires bans during summer because of the extreme bush fire risk, and Vegemite. I only made one illegal U-turn (in my defence, I didn’t know it was illegal) and got pulled over for it by the police – much to my absolute distress, being someone who likes to do the right thing – but they accepted my explanation that in Dubai U-turns are the order of the day and a very large part of the traffic system. Having given up a work-life of accounts, financial statements, various types of tax returns, payrolls, monthly financial reports, spreadsheets and intricate cash flow forecasts built on different variables to being a stay-at-home-mum in exciting Dubai where everything was new and interesting and something as simple as picking up the kids from school was an excursion because of the distance, traffic and some crazy road users to contend with, to being a stay-at-home mum in a quiet Perth suburb where everything worked in an orderly manner as it should, it quickly felt like my world had shrunk to a triangle of going from home to school to the supermarket and back home and repeating the same day after day, and it didn’t take me long to feel a bit claustrophobic but after a weekend away in beautiful Yallingup and Margaret River after about four months I felt like my horizons had expanded and I could breathe again. With all of Ironman’s travels for work he didn’t experience this problem but instead found interesting places of exquisite natural beauty for us to visit as a family which we started doing as soon as time and budget allowed and before I knew it I’d fallen in love with the splendour that the Western Australian coastline and bush offers. The beautiful, clean beaches; colour of the water whether it be the crisp, clear Southern Ocean around Esperance and Albany or the warm, turquoise waters of Broome; the unique charm, beauty and magnetism of Rottnest Island that makes you never want to leave there; the red pindan sand of the Kimberley, age-old forests of the South-West and the vast open spaces. I love being in the countryside and still have the need to get out of the city every now and then and breathe some fresh air and I’m lucky to have the opportunity of so many great places to visit and many more gems of places yet to see. I discovered that one could actually live anywhere as long as your family was safe and healthy. I also realised that I only missed certain things (other than family and friends of course) about our life in South Africa when I actually stopped to think about those particular things (which didn’t happen every day), but when I did a deep yearning for some of those things and places would overcome me and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d ever visit a specific spot again and I’d miss the very distinct vibe that is so colourfully part and parcel of the rainbow nation and I learnt that a photo of an African dawn or sunset still pulls at the heartstrings like no other, but life keeps us busy and there was no time or point in longing for something that wasn’t a part of my daily life as it was at that point, dwell on it or mope about it. I have been very fortunate in that my family (near and far) are all in good health but we do miss them and have to remind ourselves that lots of people live far away from their families nowadays. We have so much to be grateful for living in a safe and beautiful place that offers the kind of freedom of amazing lifestyle that it does, and the privilege of so many opportunities. One cannot but love a country that offers you the opportunity to put on your shoes and head out for a safe morning walk on your own on a quiet country road you’ve never been on and to just follow the road to see where it takes you and to keep going to see what awaits around the next bend and then as a bonus to stumble upon views such as this:

View towards Yallingup, Cape Naturaliste Peninsula

View towards Yallingup, Cape Naturaliste Peninsula

A landmark moment in my memory was the first day of the kids’ second school year, one year after arriving. After having gone through so much change during the preceding 24 months and constantly feeling like I was doing something for the first time and still learning my way it hit me on that day and I thought: “I can do this. I’ve done it before.” Such a simple thing but it meant so much at that stage. After a while we started to feel like we’re not the newcomers anymore and that we really belonged here and embraced many things about the Aussie lifestyle such as gas barbeques (after having used coal for our braai all our lives) which meant that the barbeque was ready within minutes and also that I was able to cook something on the barbie without fuss when the man of the house was away; blower vacs (a blower and vacuum combo perfect for the garden); having a bread machine and making our own preservative free bread within two hours or less; the concept of “suck it up” (just get over it); driving for hours and then looking at the map and realising that we’ve only covered a small portion of this vast country, and to say “No worries” (no problem), to stop calling a traffic light a robot as well as lots of other descriptive sayings and acronyms. We wrote the citizenship test and became citizens on Australia Day in 2009; I’ve swallowed a fly – I think that should count for at least a 50% credit towards the citizenship test – and had many more near-misses like that; started a book club together with friends which has become a close knit group of us who treasures and looks forward to book club night on the calendar every month; I’ve given up the stay-at-home-mum status and took a part-time job in 2008; I now struggle to say phone numbers in Afrikaans which had been my first language for 30 odd years (I now feel like I have two first languages); come to appreciate the Freo doctor (cool sea breeze) on a warm summer’s arvo;  we’ve enjoyed lots of sunset barbies at the beach with friends; have an annual “moving to Perth” anniversary dinner with friends who arrived within a week of us and whom we met at school on the first or second school day; done many a road-trip and love the vast beauty of this great southern land but I still catch myself sometimes as we drive home after a long trip away nearly saying we’re going back to the Cape (Cape Town) and not Perth, it must be so ingrained in me, and also discovered that it’s still heart-breaking when the Springboks lose a test match. Especially in Perth. I have a number of favourite places in WA though, from Denmark to Rottnest Island, Coral Bay and Broome, and love each one too much to choose it above another. After 10 years in Perth it’s fair to say that our experiences living in both South Africa and Australia (and throw in Dubai for good measure) have all shaped, formed and influenced us as people and I wouldn’t change it for a thing. This child of Africa will always have an unbreakable bond with Africa but is undeniably also Australian and loves living in Perth. Fair dinkum.

Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island

Coral Bay

Coral Bay

Broome

Broome

Our local coastline with view towards Hillarys Boat Harbour

Our local coastline with view towards Hillarys Boat Harbour

Perth city view from Kings Park

Perth city view from Kings Park

A Springbok in the Land Down Under

Imagine a Wallaby in New Zealand, a Puma in South Africa or an All Black in Argentina. It’s a strange feeling when so settled, at home and happy in a different country to be faced with split (or not-so-split) loyalties when it comes to sport, and for some reason especially rugby in our case. Settling in this great southern land with its own spectacular beauty, vast open spaces and welcoming people makes you grateful for the freedom of lifestyle it offers, humbled by the amazing opportunities and proud to call it home, but when a national sports team from your country of birth (that other great southern land) visits, there is but one choice and that is to deck the Springbok colours.

Springbok rugby emblem

Springbok rugby emblem

As is the case with everything in life peoples’ experiences differ and not everyone will feel the same way, not even all South Africans (otherwise a rugby game in Perth would have been like a home game for the Boks) and the memories we carry with us that helped shape us over the years are all individual. I, for instance, have vivid memories of growing up with the Springboks being an icon of national pride. Of listening to commentary of test matches over radio broadcasts on short wave before the days when sport was on live TV and also of a time when we were visiting friends in northern Namibia (South-West Africa at the time) where we were watching a local rugby match being played in the sand (it was too dry to keep a rugby pitch watered and green) and all the farmers’ vehicles were parked around the “field” and everyone was watching from their vehicles whilst listening to famous rugby commentator Gerhard Viviers commentating on a rugby test match on short wave on their vehicles’ radios, his commentary so descriptive that pictures weren’t needed.

Memories of going to school at the foot of Table Mountain next to Newlands Rugby Stadium, of Saturday afternoons spent watching rugby and eating biltong, growing up in the era of the great provincial rivalry between Western Province and Northern Transvaal, songs being written about rugby and later of the great man Nelson Mandela, our beloved Madiba, working hard at reuniting the rainbow nation and supporting the Springboks, making the 1995 Rugby World Cup and South Africa’s victory such a big part of national unity and identity.

Madiba and Francois Pienaar, Springbok captain, RWC 1995

Madiba and Francois Pienaar, Springbok captain, RWC 1995

Being married to a man who loves rugby passionately and will watch most matches “just for the rugby” regardless of who’s playing, and whose support of the Springboks meant that our social life has always been arranged around the rugby (we even turned up late at a wedding reception years ago because of a rugby match being on at the same time) did nothing to lessen my own support of the Springboks. On the contrary, I think it’s quite contagious because our kids seem to have inherited it as well. I suppose that’s not surprising considering that one of our first dates was at a WP vs Northern Transvaal rugby match – the first Friday night match at Newlands – and as such I was honoured to have cracked the nod to be invited along to such an important event. There has also been a great deal of loud “correcting” comments being made to the ref (on TV) over the years and the option nowadays to pause live TV makes for some in depth (replay and) analysis of on-field events and decisions. In his defence, I have to admit that my husband is a bit of a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to rugby and other sporting facts, tests, players, dates, scores, tries, runs, and other records and has an unreal ability to retain all those details (as opposed to detail about everyday life).

I have to confess that my sporting allegiance extends to cricket and other sports as well. It’s just not something I’m able to turn on and off at will, but I do support the Wallabies when they play all other countries. In that context the South African national anthem –  Nkosi Sikilel iAfrika (God Bless Africa) and Die Stem (The Call of South Africa)  “… sounds the call to come together; and united we shall stand…” – will always hold a most special place in my heart but I am equally honoured to sing Advance Australia Fair; “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free…”. I am proud to be a Springbok supporter in the Land Down Under.