Do GREENer CARDS meaner greene

Do GREENer CARDS meaner greener grass? Musings from South African expat in San Francisco

“The letter says WHAAAAT?” My usually-very-calm husband screamed into the phone on just another grey-sky day in London.

Do GREENer CARDS meaner greene

I was home from hospital with my first baby, sleep-deprived out of my head, so my sense that I could be imagining the words in front of me was real and strong.

Nope, I had read correctly. We had indeed won green cards in the American Diversity lottery, whilst living in London ‘just for a few years before we go back home’. My husband and I were totally on the same page. I had dreamed of moving back to Jo’burg, getting help with the never-ever sleeping baby, my friends, blue skies, Peppermint Crisps, dusty African soil, and help from my mother-in-law as soon as possible so that I could breathe again.

My husband stoically and promptly got all our paperwork for the US completed with engineer precision. Same page. Different book?

Two years and one more baby later, we live in California and my dreams are still in Jo’burg.

Living in London, for me, as a South African felt very much like driving a car. You land; mostly everything makes sense; inevitably you hear a South African accent or make a South African contact or friend within a week or two; you register with a handful of ‘South Africans-in-the-UK’ type forums/sites/groups and it’s not unlikely that you may start feeling reasonably at home in no time. And, of course, you may have already found The Safa Shop in Acton, The Bok and Rose in St Albans (on your way to eat one of those delish waffles), The Savanna shops at London Bridge/Victoria/Wimbledon/Liverpool Str, picked up a free The South African newspaper along with that colourful little tube map that you end up finding in every coat pocket you own, contacted 1st Contact or had a beer at a Walkabout (Aussie-theme but we’ll take it, especially when the Boks are playing).

Yip, London is like driving a car. It comes naturally, and over a very short time. In that case, San Francisco was like learning to drive a ten-ton military tank blindfolded on the wrong side of the road whilst appeasing two crying babies in the back. (Oh, and what’s with the ‘Right Turn on Red’ rule? Red is red, people?!?)

I felt like a South African in London. I feel like an alien in America.

I can count the number of South Africans I have met on one hand. I have searched the net, reached out, hollered for other South Africans to get in touch so that I may enjoy a friendly and familiar conversation, but alas all I got back was a trickle of ‘howzits’ (and a few ‘my grandfather was married to a South African’) and one (fantastic) Capetonian family. I admit to even having phoned the one South African restaurant that exists in the city*, just to hear our accent, disguised as ‘What time do you open?’ and ‘Do you sell pap?’

Apart from the similar sunny days and pretty landscapes, the odd familiar aloe with saffron-colored flower spikes or kalanchoe, and the beautiful diversity of people here, I haven’t found my South African mojo in this place.

Green Cards? Yes.

Green Grass? Well, its early days yet.

*Watch this space. A family outing has been planned to get me some lekker!