I can’t believe it is actually our farewell today. As some of you know, I’m not a fan of giving speeches. Actually, I’ve managed to stay away from speeches almost all my life. But I’m willing to try tonight, as you’ve all come here to say Auf Wiedersehen to us, and it is the custom in this little town. And as an expat, you have to get used to customs after all! At the same time, my wife is a development worker, she helps people to get better at what they do, so I will use her skills to help me out here as well. Some people have said: You should do your speech in German! And we’ve thought about that. But most of you guys – especially Cameron Steenberg – only understand the bad swearing words. And a whole speech of swearing wouldn’t be right, I suppose.
When we came here as a family, I had never set foot on African mainland before. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I was – excuse my language – shitting my pants. Back then, I was a proper German, you know, reasonable, efficient, but not very brave in trying out new things. But I knew my wife wanted this adventure in Africa badly, and I knew she wouldn’t let go, and I wanted to make her happy, and also there’s no point in fighting your wife’s wishes anyway. So we arrived in Eshowe, the heart of Zululand. This place was just a coincidence, or maybe it was a higher hand who made the decision for us. Here we were, with a three-year-old kid who didn’t speak a word of English, with no clue about Zululand or Eshowe or South Africa. I remember flying into Durban thinking: I hope we haven’t made the biggest mistake of our lives! We had a few bags and six red boxes, mostly filled with toys for our son. We didn’t know what to expect. It was like going for a swim in Amatikulu river in the middle of the night. Could be a beautiful swim under the stars. Could also be your last swim, you say hello to a crocodile or a shark, or your car is gone when you come back.
Anyway, we did it. And from the first day, we loved the place. After two weeks in Bishops Guesthouse we moved to Eshowe Hills, and from 60 square meters in downtown Munich we suddenly lived in a huge house with a beautiful garden in the middle of an Eco Estate. Every weekend we would head to the beach or go to the game reserve, while on normal days we drove out to the mission in Mbongolwane, to St. Joseph children’s home, where Julia spent her days as the only whiteface around. Out there, she learned to appreciate the African way of life, and her people, while at the same time she was faced with a million challenges every single day. On the first day, she couldn’t go because of a toi-toi, some guys blocking the road. We were very nervous! I think the last time we had an unannounced roadblock with protesters in Germany was just after World War II! Anyway, what I want to say is: Every day was an adventure – during the week and on the weekend! There’s almost never a dull day in Africa, and especially in this area. In a few hours, you can go to the ocean, the Berg, the Game reserve or even beautiful Mozambique, which became our happy place. On a Saturday morning you can go fishing to a local dam, walk with giraffes in Amatikulu Nature Reserve, go to a Durban township, mall-shopping in Ballito or to the beachfront. It’s like Alice in Wonderland. You guys have had it all your life, so you tend to forget about it. But the closer our goodbye came in these final months, we started to get that special feeling again, the one we knew very well from when we arrived in Eshowe: How amazing it is to wake up in the morning and have all these beautiful things in front of you, there for you, for the taking.
Of course, not everything is beautiful. A lot of things don’t work, the roads are full of potholes, crime is bad, everything is always black and white, and the gap between rich and poor is often hard to fathom. Well, at least for us soft Germans. We’re not as tough yet as South Africans always claim to be. But we’ve heard and experienced a lot, and it’s true: You get used to the bad things, they become a part of you without you even noticing. Like robberies and even murders on your doorstep, at the garage, or in the shop where you buy your school supplies, or at Ikhwezi were you get your gas bottles and groceries. I must say, we have always been very aware of the dangers, we tried to stay out of trouble and not do stupid things. But we’ve also been very lucky, we didn’t have one bad situation in six years. Actually, the opposite: We left our car door open on the beach, and a random guy started looking for us while keeping an eye out for the car at the same time. We had cash in there and other stuff, just there in the open. We’ve accidently left our veranda doors wide open when we went on holiday to Germany for two weeks. Our four-year-old son went missing in a game reserve once. We’ve had breakdowns on the side of the N2. But every single time we met nice and friendly people who helped us out and kept us out of trouble.
Oh yes, the South African people. Maybe this is a good moment to start talking about this Eshowe community. Not only that we were invited for our first braai about 20 minutes after we moved to the estate. Also, on the first day of Leans preschool, we met some parents for the first time – and today we are best friends with them. We can truly say: Everybody in this community welcomed us with open arms, helped us, talked to us, invited us, introduced us to others. You know, when you come to Germany, it’s a special thing if people look up and greet you, let alone talk to you. Everybody is minding their own business there, while here, relationships are all that matters. Without them, you’re lost, because you need to know who to call for this and that problem, and you need people at your side to make it through the challenges of every day. I think we were about a year in, when we realized that we had a social event with someone else every single day of the week. Lean could speak English all of a sudden, we had friends. Wow, we had been assimilated by this beautiful group of people! The Eshowe community is a tight web, everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everybody’s business. That can be annoying at times. But at the same time, there is a very strong bond within this community, that seems to be almost indestructible. Young and old come together and actually talk to each other, do sports, meet at the country club or at a dam somewhere. If you’re in trouble, you can pick up the phone and call anybody from the community in the middle of the night, and he will get up and jump in his or her car to come help you, no matter what. Even if you don’t know them well. The support for each other here is incredible. This is very, very special.
I mean, of course, there’s a lot of craziness as well, although I won’t mention any names. Like drunk guys, nearly killing you because they don’t find the golfcart breaks any more. There’s guys running around naked in the bush, phuzaing hard and doing very awkward things. Girls having book clubs without a single book involved, and the next small-town-scandal is always just around the corner. Farmers crying for rain, even if it has poured down for two weeks in a row. There’s guys putting a helmet on you and hit you with a piece of wood when you enter a bar. Or guys catching a thief, put him on their bakkie, drive up to Babanango and leave them on some hill in the middle of nowhere with a coke and some cigarettes – just to teach a lesson. There’s gender separation at braais, so hectic, it’s like boys and girls are not meant to chat to each other. Big dramas unfolding on the school parking, because someone has said something about this one or this one. Kids falling off jungle gyms or bakkies or eating rats or doing other potential life-threatening things. Snakes lurking in your garage, tarantulas sitting on top of your TV, monkeys raiding your garden at four in the morning. Talk about this to a German, and he will probably ask: You sure these people are normal? And we would say: Well, it doesn’t sound like it, but in Eshowe, yes, it is quite normal.
So, it’s been an awesome six years, one hell of a ride, and a very good one as well. We want to thank all of you for being a big part of our six years here in this town. Thank you very much, we appreciate each and every one of you, and we’re proud to know you all. Before we end this speech, here are the top five things we have learned in Eshowe:
5) Don’t stress. Yes, it might be important, and yes, you might be in a hurry. But please, don’t stress.
4) Toughen up. Yes, there is a lot of horrible stuff going on. But put your mind on the good things, and you’ll find enough of them.
3) Drink up and eat your meat. If you want veggies, there is chicken as well. And one last whiskey, come on. I’ll sort you out.
2) Make a plan. Doesn’t matter if it’s not working out. But you always gotta make a plan.
1) Don’t ask why! You’re wondering why people do what they do? Like park on the N2 and have a braai. Or you go to a house and see a pig swimming in the pool. Or guys having a wee on the side of the road, facing you and waving at you. Don’t ask why! Africa is not the place for logic and reason!
So that’s it. Please don’t forget to leave a silly farewell message in our book, and please use the photo booth to leave a good shot of your face so that we can remember you. If we come back one day, only the people who leave a photo and a message today will be invited to our Hello-again-Party. And when you come to Germany to visit us one day, bring on some of that African sun in your suitcase with you, bottled for us. We’re going to miss the weather badly (“We need the rain” doesn’t work in Germany). But for the most part, we’re gonna miss you guys terribly. So today is not a goodbye, but a Auf Wiedersehen, which – if you read the invite – means: Until we meet again.
So that’s it. Enjoy tonight, bring your A Game and have a big jol. Cheers and thank you all!