Expats Confess

Date : 04 June 2006
Producer : Nicola de Chaud
Presenter : Benedict Maaga
Researcher : Quereshini Naidoo

Karen - France: 'I am giving this another try, okay? So…'

Robert - Ireland: 'I am trying to film this. It is my third take now; I am having trouble with the sound quality…'

Charles - Canada: 'Greetings… my name is Charles. I currently live in Milton in Ontario, Canada.'

Robert: 'I left South Africa in 1999.'

Renee - Netherlands: 'I think that we left South Africa because we wanted to do something different.'

Yvette - Australia: 'It was probably the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life.'

Neil- Australia: 'It was hard coming across here.'

Debbie - New Zealand: 'It is an odd feeling, this no roots thing.'

Karen: 'We were regarded as something exotic.'

Debbie: 'It is great because I am like a global citizen, but it is a little sad, I suppose.'

These are the confessions of ex-pats… over 500 South Africans scattered around the globe who contributed to a book created in cyberspace.

Ted Botha (Author): 'For me, it's kind of emblematic of what happens with ex-pats, especially with the internet and this technological society we live in today; that is how ex-pats are making contact and finding each other.'

Ted Botha is a journalist living in New York City.

Ted: 'This is my apartment. Around the kitchen… and that's how we live in New York.'

He met up with co-author, Jenni Baxter, via the Internet.

Ted: 'We connected somehow.'

She lives on the opposite end of the earth.

Jenni Baxter (Author): 'This is Australia and this is my beautiful family.'

Ted: 'I was single in Manhattan, and she was married with children in Australia. And there were so many differences that we had between us, and yet there was so much we had in common.'

The two soon became fast friends.

Ted: 'She one day said we should really write a book about being an ex-pat because a lot of people feel the same way we do.'

Jenni: 'I said, 'Would you like to write the book?' and he said, 'No, let's do it together.'

Benedict Maaga (Carte Blanche presenter): 'The Ex-pat Confessions was born out of high tech communication tools such as email and the Internet.'

Jenni: 'Thank goodness for Word. Ted would change what he wanted to change and email it back to me.'

Ted: 'We never spoke to each other. Even through the actual writing of the book we never made verbal contact.'

Jenni: 'It was working so well to not know each other.'

Benedict: 'Similarly, we have had no physical contact with most of the ex-pats that contributed to this story.'

Rick - USA: 'I have never really thought of myself as an expatriate.'

David - USA: 'The toughest thing for me is the tag around my neck that I am an expatriate.'

Rick: 'I suppose I am. But expatriation to me has always sounded so negative and leaving South Africa was a positive choice for me.'

David: 'I am not an expatriate. I am still a patriot.'

Benedict: 'As one anonymous ex-pat put it, leaving South Africa is definitely not the chicken run. In fact, it is definitely not for the faint-hearted at all.'

Charles: 'I came here as a single parent with three children and six thousand dollars in my pocket, which was probably one of the more insane things that I have done in my life. But it is one of the insane things that, in the long term, has turned out for the best for all of us all round.'

Caryn - London: 'My mother read '101 Dalmatians' to me when I was five years old and I wanted to live in Primrose Hill in London, which is now home to all the superstars and film stars, so I can't afford to live there. But I love London and I have lived here for sixteen years and it is still a city that fills my heart and it is easy to get everywhere.'

Benedict: 'Jenni, tell us what your book is actually about.'

Jenni: 'The Ex-pat Confessions is all the things that the ex-pats have not been able to say, sometimes to their families and friends, for fear of offending them.'

Robert: 'I feel perhaps more integrated here than I ever did in South Africa, and just generally more comfortable.'

Rick: 'However, there is a downside. For me, that downside is losing that sense of home.'

Yvette: 'Out of the four years, the first two years were probably the hardest. Lots of tears were cried, lots of wishing that I could go back to South Africa.'

Karen: 'And it took a while. It took me four years before I began to understand and feel a little bit at home.'

Ted: 'I think a lot of people that leave South Africa don't realise the implications psychologically. They might not think of the fact that people in an English-speaking country might not speak the same kind of English as you; they don't speak in the same idiom.'

Jenni: 'You feel like English is your second language.'

Ted: 'People still don't understand my sense of humour.'

Jenni: 'You have to learn these new words and then you feel a bit fake using them.'

Ted: 'So you have this constant assault. It is an unintentional assault on your sense of belonging to a place. And you know back there, ten thousand kilometres away, is your home.'

Ted comes home regularly. He left South Africa more than a decade ago, because he felt career opportunities as a journalist were limited.

Benedict: 'Do you ever think about coming back home for good?'

Ted: 'Believe me, I strategise in my mind all the time that I am going to do it. But when I leave New York I want to leave not to go back. I don't want to go back to South Africa for the wrong reasons. I know I miss it and I know I love it here when I am here. But I want to make sure that when I move here I move here.'

Jenni: 'Here is the beach…'..soul as well.'

Jen the other hand is gone for good.

Jenni: '…it's Monday morning. The girls are dressed; they have got school today…'

She and her family have set up an idyllic life on Australia's Gold Coast.

It looks much like regular suburban South Africa…

Jenni: '…we are on our way to Mike's Kitchen.'

Benedict: '… with one glaring difference - safety and security.'

Jenni: 'The lifestyle of going to visit people in gated communities and gated homes and gated passageways did not feel comfortable for me.'

Neil: 'Well obviously personal safety and security is probably the biggest plus that we have had, coming here.'

Pauline - New Zealand: 'We don't have burglar bars on our windows. We sleep with our windows open at night.'

Neil: 'The children are free to use public transport.'

Pauline: I cannot explain it to somebody who hasn't lived outside of South Africa… the feeling of safety. As much as I love my family and friends in South Africa… I miss you all terribly… I will come back to visit, but there is no way I will ever come back to live in South Africa.'

Benedict: 'Do you find that there is a love/hate thing with ex-pats?'

Jenni: 'Not with all. Some there is definitely a little [of] resentment that, were things different, they would not have to be ex-pats.'

Ted: 'You come across some pretty nasty remarks from people who are angry. They are angry and they answer ' I am glad to be where I am. I never want to go back, I am glad to be where I am. There is nothing that I miss about South Africa'.'

Gary - Australia: 'There is a whole world to see and I would rather be travelling around Europe or South East Asia or America, Canada than have to go back to South Africa.'

Ted: 'And the people that have that passion and have the umbilical cord attachment, they do everything. They tell their children about South Africa. They introduce them to South African sayings. They try to keep up to date with South African politics. They keep the connection going.'

Renee: 'We took the plunge coming to live in the Netherlands seven years ago. Having access to all of the cities in Europe and to travel, it has been a great experience. But, of course, with all of that we have gained we have also lost a tremendous amount. I think that the one thing that I feel that we have lost the most is the fact that I can' t give my children some of the same things that I had as a child. They don't have a big garden to get lost in. They don't have a garden at all. They go to a big inner city school and come home on the tram. But even though they maybe lost the freedom of an African childhood, they have gained some of the freedom of a European childhood, which is to play in the street and to live a maybe… a more carefree life than a lot of South African children live now.'

Benedict: 'So answers the question what do ex-pats miss most…'

Ted and Jen spend many hours sharing memories via the net.

Ted: 'She would remember things about Natal; about the weather, about the beach, about the sea. I would remember things about the Karoo and about Johannesburg and thunderstorms in the afternoon.'

Karen: 'It is the tiniest little things that can bring on a huge ache.'

Ted: 'It is very sensorial perceptions that you miss.'

Karen: 'If there is a really strong wind and the washing is blowing I think of Cape Town and I get this huge wave of nostalgia. Miriam Makeba was right… ' Home is where the umbilical cord is buried'.'

Ted: 'Jenni and I always felt that something made South Africans different. Maybe it was the political background - we had all been through so much over the last three centuries together, and I don't think any other country has that mix.'

Is there a difference between how South Africans perceive their ex-pats compared to the way some other countries do?

Ted: 'South Africans think once gone, gone forever, and other countries don't think like that. In America they don't think an ex-pat's gone forever; they don't even talk about ex-pats really. They just say that so-and-so is living in another country.'

Jorge - UK: 'The UK is my home and I see South Africa as being the place where I was born and raised.'

Caryn: 'I have a global job. I can get to Cape Town easily, I can get to America easily and I love it.'

Ted: 'It is part of the ebb and flow of what nationalities do. It has become a lot easier for people to do that now.'

Robert: 'Life is the same wherever you live. I go to work, I have a house to look after, etc.'

Ted: ' And I think it's just the way the world has become.'

Karen: 'Don't know what else to say really, so I am just going to stop.'

Robert: 'That's it, thank you.'

Charles: 'Cheers.'