A view of Pretoria from the New Zealand Official Residence. © Felix Geiringer
In January, I moved to South Africa with my family. The move came about after my partner was appointed New Zealand’s new High Commissioner to South Africa.
The question of what I will do while we are here has multiple answers. But, in a bout of unoriginality, I thought part of the answer might be to try my hand at blogging. I even set up a platform for the blog before I left.
Weeks passed, blogless, while I struggled with the reality – moving my family to South Africa was much more challenging than I had expected. And this is not my first rodeo*. [*Move to a foreign country.]
I don’t want to tire you out with the trials and tribulations of my telco entanglements, or bore you with the banalities of the ‘Bok banking bureaucracy. But to give you a flavour of how a move like this can surprise with unexpected challenges: here in Pretoria (the SA administrative capital), water does not boil at 100 °C! In fact, at our house, the boiling point appears to be pretty close to 95 °C.
Now that might seem like a small thing – perhaps a good thing. Before I realised what was going on, I was very impressed at how quickly the house kettle seemed to be able to do its job. Then I tried to boil a 3-minute egg. A 4-minute egg? Nope! A 5-minute egg? Still nope!!
It turns out it is a lot more complicated than just extending the time. The internet is full of chilling then cooking or cooking then chilling instructions to try to duplicate, at altitude, a cooking job that in Wellington had seemed as easy as toast. This is a problem I have still not overcome. Then I discovered that there were no egg cups in the house. Then I discovered that no one at the local shops even knew what an egg cup was!
Even if I could overcome the egg cooking challenges of this new home, what sort of a blog would this be? An exposé of the life of a diplomatic spouse? A travel journal for all the exotic African locations we were going to visit? An on the ground exploration of the socio-economic realities of modern South Africa? Or perhaps one of those sites where a bitter ex-pat moans about how much better things were in their home country?
And then COVID-19 came. From as early as February, the disease became the overriding reality of our existence. It is our alpha and our omega. Travel plans – cancelled. Diplomatic soirées – cancelled. Getting to know our new country – cancelled.
Our kids’ school closed down for a short break at the start of March and has not reopened. My partner’s workload skyrocketed. My workload skyrocketed (while my income disappeared). And all thoughts of writing anything went out the window.
Even now that I finally come to put pen to paper, it seems impossible to write anything other than a story about life in the time of the virus. And who wants to read something like that?
Front door with a COVID-19 sign. © Felix Geiringer