Letting go of your future self in favour of your current self

When you decide to immigrate, you start imagining what your new life is going to be like. You conduct research about your new home and you try to put as much as possible in place. But in all honesty, no amount of preparation or research can prepare you for how your future self will handle a future life in an unknown place. I’ve been in Canada for eight months now, and I am yet to find some sort of equilibrium. I had big ideas and big dreams, but I can honestly say that I was wholly unprepared for my future self’s response to this transition.

Some people seem to have a clear sense of who they are. Or perhaps they haven’t taken the time for the introspection required to realise who they are. Either way, they don’t seem to have this internal struggle that I find myself battling every day. The struggle to know who I am and to anticipate what my future self will want and how she will react in different situations.

As someone who values order and structure, I like to have a plan for whatever I take on in life. And I suppose right there was my first mistake – assuming that a plan would make the transition easier. It did not. In fact, in some instances, I believe having a plan made matters worse, because as you can imagine, life is not bothered with your plans. What’s the saying? “Life is what happens while you are busy making plans” … This is how I’ve felt over the last eight months. I’ve been making one plan after another and it seems my life has been living itself. Or perhaps my life has morphed and taken on a “life” of its own, whilst I was trying to reign it in and “mould” (read “force”) it to my will…

What any wise person would tell you, is that when you fight against the flow of life, everything feels like a struggle. It is so much easier to give up to the flow of life. I still believe there are times, when the right thing to do, IS to fight against or to swim against the stream – the times when giving in means sacrificing your values or who you are. But on most other days, fighting against life, is actually denying your real self to come to the fore and figuring out who you are and what you want.

Typical of my ambitious nature, I had set many goals for this “new life” of mine. I was going to transform myself into a fitter, healthier, more productive and more successful version of myself…

But I severely underestimated what disconnection, loneliness, heartache, homesickness and overwhelm can do to your sense of self and your desire to even want to strive towards goals. I am an optimistic and dynamic person by nature. I have always relied on my resilience and my ability to bounce back from setbacks. And although I told myself it was going to be difficult, I still somehow believed that I would just “get over it and move on”.

I could not have been more wrong. Fit and healthy. Forget about it. Four months of the most extreme cold I had ever experienced, and incredible loneliness meant I gave up running altogether and decided to eat my sorrows away. Of course, as everyone knows, eating when you’re sad and depressed, just leads to even greater sadness and more eating. Vicious cycle. Before you know it, you don’t recognise the person in the mirror staring back at you.

Add to the mix, six months of severe sleep deprivation. Baby was struggling with this new adjustment just as much as we were, and she decided that the best way to deal with her chaotic and overwhelming emotions, was to cling to Mummy for dear life and never sleep. So, I spent the first six months of our stay in Canada sleeping no more than 3 hours a night. Being an insomniac meant that I was used to only sleeping a few hours a night, but broken, interrupted sleep is soooo much worse than sleeping uninterrupted; if only for a few hours… Eventually, you don’t know who you are anymore. Nothing makes sense and your concentration levels are below zero. You struggle to find any inspiration and eventually just give up on trying.

Four months of living in temporary accommodation added to the uncertainty and overwhelm we were feeling. It is the hardest thing to try and implement some sort of routine when you know everything you do, is only temporary and will have to change at a moment’s notice. There’s this growing movement of young people opting out of the normal routine of life and electing to become nomadic travellers. It’s a spin-off of living more minimalistically. They are just settling anywhere they end up and then only for a short period of time, before moving on. If my husband and I were younger and we did not have a baby, I would have seen this transition as an adventure – a way for us to become nomadic travellers and see more of the world. But the moment you have kids, your perspective changes. I’m not saying being nomadic parents can’t work, I just know it can’t work for us. I’ve seen how the lack of routine and security has affected our little one and I believe that children function better in a secure environment with routines in place. Now I know a lot of that comes down to you as the parent. You provide the security and the structure and the routine. But that requires that YOU have a strong sense of self and that YOU feel grounded. And I had lost my ground. I felt lost to myself and to the world.

I knew I had to be strong for the little one, but as the weeks turned into months and I felt my sense of self slip further and further away, it became increasingly difficult to find and maintain a stable and secure sense of self. Don’t get me wrong, I tried. I really did. I tried multiple times to register with a family doctor to obtain some help – six times with no success in the last eight months. I tried running by myself. I signed up for different training classes – from yoga to kickboxing. I tried reshuffling my routine about a hundred times. I read books, and blogs and watched videos and tried to “counsel” myself. I tried exploring new places. I even tried speaking to a psychologist about the fact that I’m battling to adjust. Not only did I receive no sympathy or understanding, I also found myself explaining the basics of psychology to this person who was supposed to help me. When it got to a point where I was answering her questions about basic personality types and the role of values in one’s life, I decided that this particular counsellor-patient relationship was not going to work.

So, what have I learnt over the last eight months?

First, figure out if you really know your current self. The real you. Not your ideal self or the person you tell other people you are or the person you hope to become or the person you hope to find by moving to the other side of the world – your real self. The one you are now. The person you are when no-one else is around. The self that skips the gym and chooses to veg on the couch watching Netflix instead. The self that eats the chocolate instead of the salad, because even though you know the salad is better for you, the chocolate makes you hate your life less right now.

What I always intuitively knew about myself, but did not want to acknowledge to myself, was how much I actually depend on other people. I try to convince myself that I don’t need other people. But I do. More than the average person does. As an Ennea 6, I don’t always trust my inner voice, so I often turn to others for confirmation of what I intuitively know, but don’t trust is the right thing for me unless someone else somehow validates it for me. Of course, the most important personal growth I can accomplish, is learning to trust my inner voice more and rely less on others’ validation. However, I don’t think the best way to do that, is to remove all people from your life in one instant. All this does, is cripple you and make you feel completely disconnected and isolated. In stead of finding ways to trust myself more and build my own confidence, all I ended up doing was mourning the loss of those I hold dear; wishing I was with them once more and replaying old memories over and over and basically getting stuck in the past, missing a life I had so carelessly given up without even realising WHAT I was giving up…

Second, make plans. Do research, but don’t imagine that anything will pan out the way you think it will. Be ready for curve balls. Know that the unexpected will happen and it will catch you off guard and you will doubt yourself and even regret leaving your comfort zone. But accept that life is going to happen regardless of your planning or lack thereof and that at the end of the day, you will either make a choice or the choice will be made for you.

Third, know that people back home won’t always understand. They will try to be supportive and they will try to give you “advice” but keep in mind that some experiences are difficult to relate to if you haven’t been through them yourself. Try to remember how you thought it was going to be, when you were still back home and only planning this transition and then you will begin to understand how those back home see it and why they don’t always understand. Forgive them for that, because it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. The fact that they are trying so hard to “help” means just that: they love you. And it is hard for them to see you this way and to not know how to make it better.

Fourth, it is important to find people who are in the same boat as you, who have gone through it, because they get it. But choose carefully. Some people are much further along in the journey than you are and might have forgotten what it feels like to be in the starting gate. They have left the scared, lonely and uncertain versions of themselves behind and are building new lives for themselves and your sad demeanour actually makes them uncomfortable. Find people who can be comfortable with your sadness and your homesickness. For me, personally, I avoid older South Africans who left South Africa more than 20 or 30 years ago. They grew up in a different time and they don’t have the same memories or feelings about South Africa. They don’t get me, and they don’t know the South Africa that I know. I love my country and I did not embark on this journey to run away from my home. I embarked on this journey to grow and stretch myself, for new learning opportunities and to ensure a future for my child.

Fifth, be kind to yourself. The biggest mistake I made, was not being kind to myself. I could not “forgive” myself for not “getting over it and moving on”. I would beat myself up over every little failure along the way. Eventually, I just became a shadow of my past self. I didn’t recognise myself and felt like I had no control over my life. Of course, I would berate myself for it, consequently making a bad situation worse. So, don’t set too many big goals for the first year. Your only goal should be to find a new normal. That’s it. What is normal for me in my new life? What does my routine look like? What do I like about my new life and my new environment, that I can consciously try to bring into my life more often?

Sixth, cry. Cry as much as you need to. Acknowledge to yourself how you really feel. Be willing to experience even your deepest and darkest emotions, because the only way to the other side, is through it. You have to feel the loneliness, the self-doubt, the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the despair. Only then can you move to a new sense of calm, serenity and joy. I have managed a few days of calm and joy. But unfortunately, most of my days are still filled with loneliness, self-doubt, despair, anger and frustration. I suppose, because I was trying to ignore how I was feeling and move on despite how I was feeling, I have inadvertently delayed the healing process. So now, I try to feel all of it and I let myself be sad and weak. I allow myself the space to be tired or to feel like nothing works and I work through it, in the hope that I will find release or salvation on the other side of the difficult emotions…

Seventh, don’t stop loving. Don’t give up on the one’s you love; especially if your greatest sense of meaning lies in the abstract and in things like love, connection and family – which I imagine is where it is for most people; even when they don’t want to admit it to themselves. Find ways to connect. Find ways to remain actively involved in the lives of the people you care about. Hangouts and Skype can never replace the real thing, but it can make the pain bearable.

Lastly, budget. If there is one area of your life where you MUST have a plan, it is finances. Have a budget, stick to it and use it to build a life that works for you. For me, connecting with family and friends trumps anything else. So, I give up luxuries and any other non-essentials to save up and visit home. For now, it is the only way to stay sane. Perhaps that will change over time. But I have stopped trying to imagine I know what my future self would want, and I’ve decided that it makes more sense to focus on what would bring my current self a sense of purpose or joy. After all, my current self is real – flaws and all. She is still who I am right now; whereas my future self will be shaped by the choices I make today, and I want those choices to reflect a life of purpose, connection and value.

From stone quarry to lush garden – The story of The Butchart Gardens

A weekend on Vancouver Island is not complete without a visit to The Butchart Gardens. As stated on their website, The Butchart Gardens is a must-see oasis over 100 years in the making. And what a privilege it was to take in the beauty of this place that stands as a testament to what is possible when one has a grand vision. The story of The Butchart Gardens is also one of the most interesting family business success stories never told…

It all began with one woman’s vision and passion

In 1904, husband and wife, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island in pursuit of riches through the mining of limestone deposits. With a quarry for their backyard, they built a cement plant at Tod Inlet, and Robert soon built a successful cement business. At the time, the West Coast was exploding with development, and cement was in constant demand from San Francisco to Seattle. The first sacks of cement sailed out of Vancouver Island aboard the “Alexander” in 1905.

Jennie Butchart busied herself around the estate by planting flowers and shrubbery in an area between the house and Butchart cove. As time passed, Jennie’s efforts increased, and her husband often supplied workmen from the factory to assist in the ever-growing project of gardening. By 1908 the limestone ran out, leaving a gigantic pit near the house.

The limestone quarry pit in 1912. Source: https://www.butchartgardens.com/our-story/

In an attempt to hide this hideous excavation, Jennie decided to expand her garden. The concept of a sunken garden formed, and Jennie had massive amounts of topsoil imported by horse cart to form the garden bed. The rubble on the floor of the pit was pushed into tall mounds of rock on which terraced flowers were planted. Mrs. Butchart dangled over the sides of the bare quarry wall in a boson’s chair and carefully tucked ivy into any discernible pocket or crevice in the rock to hide away all the gray.

In 1921, the project was completed. It had become a garden of immense interest to the surrounding community. Tales of Mr. and Mrs. Butchart’s fabulous gardens spread as fast as the gardens themselves. From the beginning, friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers were welcomed, as they came to marvel at the horticultural masterpiece. At one point Mrs. Butchart found herself serving 18 000 cups of tea per year – or so the story goes…

1929. The garden taking shape. Source: https://www.butchartgardens.com/our-story/

The most interesting family business success story never told…

In 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Butchart gifted the gardens to their grandson Ian Ross on his 21st birthday. Ian Ross transformed them into the world-renowned attraction we know today, adding outdoor concerts and night lighting in the summers, and the Magic of Christmas in the winters.

The gardens were then handed down to their great-grandson Christopher in 1997. Christopher began producing a choreographed firework show every year. Unfortunately, Christopher suddenly died in 2000 and the gardens landed in the hands of his sister Robin-Lee Clarke (63), who is the current owner of the gardens.  In 2009 Robin-Lee added the Children’s Pavilion and Menagerie Carousel to the gardens.

The sunken garden today. It’s hard to believe this was an old limestone quarry pit.
Rows and rows of flowers in the sunken garden
Robin-Lee’s Menagerie Carousel
Staircase to a lookout point
In 1964, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Gardens, Ian Ross created and installed the Ross Fountain. The water rises 21 m (70 ft.) in the air.
A rare sight in the gardens. The Himalayan Blue Poppy. It was imported to the gardens and only blooms for two weeks a year. We were lucky enough to see it in bloom…

The Butchart name has remained prominent in Victoria for over 10 decades and the gardens have been handed down from one generation to the next. The next in line to inherit the gardens, is Barnabas Butchart Clarke (34), the only child of Robin-Lee and David Clarke, and great-great-grandson of the founders. He currently lives in Victoria and produces dance shows.

Today, The Butchart Gardens is a National Historic Site of Canada. You can still find remnants of the original cement plant and over a million bedding plants in over 900 varieties awaiting you as you wander The Butchart Gardens. It is worth it to take a boat trip in Brentwood Bay around the gardens. Your guide will tell you about the history of the gardens as well as some amazing stories about the Pacific Ocean.

Walking through these gardens got me thinking about life in general. Often, we find ourselves in situations that are less desirable or sometimes even downright frustrating. And we can choose to sit and cry amid the chaos. We could even get angry at the dust and decay underneath our feet. Or we can decide that we want to build a garden instead and create a more desirable future. We possess the power to either fall into dismay along with the chaos around us or to choose to create something beautiful out of it. And through our focus and effort, we might just inspire others, much like the gardens have inspired people for over 100 years…


Butchart Gardens. (2018). Our Story. Available online from: https://www.butchartgardens.com/our-story/

Birds of a Feather. (n.d.). Butchart Family History – Robert and Jennie. Available online from: https://www.birdsofafeather.ca/butchart-family-history

Celebrating Victoria Day in Victoria

On 21 May, British Columbia celebrated Victoria Day. Victoria Day is a federal Canadian public holiday celebrated on the last Monday preceding May 25; in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday. We thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit the Capital of British Columbia – Victoria. Victoria sits on the craggy southern end of Vancouver Island. So, in other words, Victoria, altough it is the Capital city of the provence of British Columbia, is not on the mainlaind, but rather on an island just off the mainlaind. It is a 90-minute ferry ride through the Strait of Georgia from Tsawwassen harbour in Vancouver to Swartz Bay in Victoria.

However, the ferry ride is the middle part of the journey. Our journey from Vancouver to Victoria started with an hour train ride from Coquitlam to downtown Vancouver. From the train station we had to find a Vancouver Island tourist bus which drove us to Tsawwassen harbour. The bus boards the ferry that takes us over the water to Vancouver Island. It is amazing to see this whole operation in action. You cannot begin to imagine the size and the magnitude of the operation of this ferry. It carries trucks, busses, cars and foot passengers over the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. Below is a short video of the ferry entering the harbour. At this stage we were sitting on the bus watching the ferry dock.

This is what it looks like at the lower level of the ferry where all the cars, busses and trucks are parked
There are elevators and stairs that take you to the upper levels of the ferry
Seating on the ferry
Dining on the ferry

Once on the other side, the bus takes you into Victoria. It is still another hour’s drive from Swartz Bay harbour to Victoria city centre. So the total journey is about 6 hours. Is it worth it? Absolutely!!

Victoria is characterised by abundant parkland and has an array of outdoor activities to pursue.

A park with the Fairmont Empress Hotel in the background

The city’s British colonial past shows in its Victorian architecture.

We ended up staying in a hotel in the scenic Inner Harbour. This is right at the heart of the city and this area is bustling with floatplanes and harbour ferries.

Inner harbour
Inner harbour with BC Parliament Buildings in the background

The Inner harbour from a different angle

Another way of getting to Vancouver Island is via float plane. They land in the Inner harbour.

The city’s most famous historic building is of course the BC Parliament Buildings.

BC Parliament Buildings
BC Parliament Buildings
Statutes in front of BC Parliament Buildings with beautiful Spring flowers in bloom
A statue of Queen Victoria
The fountain in front of the BC Parliament Buildings
And of course a Totem Pole

Here you can grab a traditional horse and cart and see a bit of the city this way. It was a bit too expensive for us, but Emma got to pet the horses…

Other famous buildings include the Fairmont Hotel Empress…

The Empress Hotel

…as well as the funky Fisherman’s Wharf, with its resident seals and lemonade stands.

Boats at the docks at Fisherman’s Wharf
Floating houses at Fisherman’s Wharf. These are privately owned homes on the water.
The end of the docks of floating homes…

Everyone recommends Barb’s Fish & Chips at Fisherman’s Wharf. But of course, as you can imagine, this means that the queues are endless at Barb’s. We discovered the most amazing fried salmon at The Floating Fish Store. We went back the next day for more. It was delicious!

Best fish on the docks – The Floating Fish Store
Fried salmon and fries with coleslaw
And if you can manage it after your fish and fries, grab some mini doughnuts…

Another must-try at Fisherman’s Wharf for those with a sweet tooth, is Jackson’s Ice Cream.

Some tips if you are ever able to visit the island:

You can take your car on the ferry, but you need to book well in advance and reserver your spot on BC Ferries. We found taking the bus was less stressful, because it takes the thinking out of it. You just have to get on the bus and the bus driver manages everything else.

If you book your ferry trip on BC Ferries they often have accommodation packages as well, so you could actually book your ferry and your accommodation together and save a lot of money on accommodation. It is more expensive booking seperately. We learned that the hard way.

You don’t really need a car if you are planning to spend your weekend in Victoria. There is lots to see and do and most of it is within walking distance. They also have a hop-on-hop-off tour bus that takes you all over the city, so you can easily get to all the major attractions of the city without needing your own car.

However, if you plan to visit the rest of Vancouver Island, you will probably need a car. So you could either bring your car over on the ferry or rent a car once you are in Victoria. Keep in mind that the ferry also travels to other harbours on Vancouver Island. You could take a ferry to Nanaimo for example – which is located on the east side of Vancouver Island and which is another popular tourist destination.

Eat before you go on the ferry. This allows you to take in the scenery on your way to the island instead of having to stand in the queues at the diner waiting for food. Because we took the 07:00 ferry, we figured we would have breakfast on the ferry. We ended up waiting in line for the whole 90 minutes of the ferry ride and missed out on the trip to the island.

On our way back to Vancouver, we opted to sit outside on the top deck of the ferry. The views from here are breathtaking.

Seating on the top deck of the ferry. Make sure to take sunscreen on a hot day.
The view simply takes your breath away

It was a crazy whirlwind weekend, but it was literally the first time we actually felt like we were living in a coastal city. We had so much fun. The 6-hour transit back home is a bit tiring though, so keep that in mind. There is still so much we want to see and do, so despite the schlep of getting there, we will definitely take another trip to Vancouver Island in the near future.

Househunting in Vancouver

So, when you move to a new country, one of the first and most important things you will have to do, is find a place to live. So where do you start? And what are the factors you need to keep in mind? What housing options are available in Vancouver?

Most people who work in the city – especially those working for Amazon – prefer to live in the city centre. The benefit of course is that you are close to work and you don’t have to travel that far to get to the office. In fact, depending on how close you live to where you work, you could even walk or ride a bike to work. However, the drawback is that your only housing options are high-rise apartments; which is fine if you are single, but this can pose a problem if you have a family – especially a family with small kids. We didn’t like the idea of living in an apartment with a toddler, because we believe she needs space to run around. Besides, in South Africa we owned a house with a big backyard, so we were hoping to find something that had a garden or backyard of some sort for Emma to play in.

We made the call to house hunt in the suburban areas just outside of the city centre and not to settle in the city centre for two reasons: firstly, the need for space for Emma and the cats and secondly, because we simply could not afford the apartments in the city centre. Renting an apartment in the city centre could cost you anything between $3 500 and $6 500 a month depending on the size and location of the apartment. For those of you in South Africa, multiply by 10 to work out the price in South African rand. $3 500 (or R35 000) per month would get you a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre. Two-bedroom apartments go for about $4 000 to $4 500 (or between R40 000 and R45 000) a month!

As you move further out of the city centre, rental properties become “cheaper” and you also have more options. You don’t have to live in an apartment, you could opt for a condo or a basement suite or a full house. So how did we decide where to live? Who did we contact, or where did we look for available rentals?

How we decided where to live

In our first few weeks here, we took the time to drive around all the areas in Vancouver, including North Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

A map of greater Vancouver and surrounding areas to give you some perspective

North Vancouver is stunningly beautiful. You are surrounded by mountains and it has more of quint Cape Town type of vibe. There are smaller shops and lots of fun outdoor activities like hiking trails, suspension bridges and parks. However, it is VERY expensive. It is probably just as expensive as the city centre or a close second. Most of the available rental options that fit our budget were simply not spacious enough or were a bit neglected. There are two other things to keep in mind about living in North Vancouver. Firstly, you can only get to the city centre with a bus. There are no trains that run from North Vancouver. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since the bus is much faster. The average commute is about 26 minutes. Unless of course the bus services are on strike; which sometimes happens – yes, believe it or not, even in Canada, they sometimes strike. We have had one bus strike in the last six months of living here. The other thing about living in North Vancouver, is the fact that the streets are narrow, and the houses don’t have garages, so you are forced to park in the street – very much like in Cape Town – but there is not much space. So, if you own a car – which you should if you live in North Vancouver unfortunately, because it is the best way to get around – you will struggle with parking all the time. So again, this was a no for us. We wanted more house for our money and we wanted a garage.

Deep Cove, North Vancouver
Deep Cove, North Vancouver

Richmond and Burnaby were also too expensive, and Burnaby has a lot of old houses with old wiring and again no garages to park your car in. Surrey has gorgeous large houses, but locals here told us that it is their “dodgy” area; which we can’t imagine is anything as dodgy as some parts of Johannesburg. However, public transport from both Burnaby and Surrey are also not that great. There are not a lot of trains to the city centre, so you would need a car and we had decided from the start that Johann would use public transport to get to work and that we would only buy one car to use for emergencies, grocery shopping and travel. Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge are the more “rural” areas of Vancouver with larger stretches of land and small farm holdings as well as beautiful suburbs. The houses are huge and affordable compared to the city centre, Burnaby and Surrey. In Maple Ridge, you could rent a three- or four-bedroom home for between $2 600 and $3 500 and then you have access to the full house and a garden. However, it is very far out from the city and the average commute to work would be about two hours there and two hours back. Understandably, Johann did not want to spend 4 hours a day travelling to and from work.

So, we settled for the happy medium. We chose Coquitlam. It is in between Burnaby, Surrey, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge and has the best bus and train network; providing easy access to the West Coast Express and thus shortening Johann’s commute to work. Additionally, Coquitlam is built in a smart way. There is lake in the middle of the city – LaFarge Lake. The community centre and aquatic complex is right across from the lake. So are two train stations – LaFarge Lake Station and Coquitlam Central Station. All the malls and shops are around this area and the suburbs and houses expand from here. So, whether you want to get to the train station or the community centre or the mall, you just drive to the middle of the city. Housing options are in the middle range in Coquitlam anywhere between $2 500 and $4 500 depending on what you are looking for. There are apartments, but there are also lots of condos – especially in the Westwood Plateau and Burke Mountain areas. These two areas are growing rapidly with new developments and there are new condominium complexes popping up everywhere. And then of course there are basement suites and houses.

Coquitlam City Centre at LaFarge Lake
Coquitlam City Library

So, what the heck are basements suites?

In South Africa, most houses are flat on the ground – called a “rancher” house in Canada. You get the occasional double story house with stairs, but most houses are on one level. This takes up a lot of space on the ground and is thus impractical in Vancouver.  Therefore, in Vancouver most, if not all, of the houses are built in levels to provide the same number of rooms but take up less physical space on the ground. So, the average house in Vancouver, consists of three storeys. Because most of Vancouver is quite hilly, they can build houses where you have access to the middle level or the lower level from the ground.

So, the lower level is usually your garage and basement, the middle level is your living area; which includes a living room, dining room and kitchen and the upper level is usually where the bedrooms and bathrooms are. A basement suite therefore is where a house has a large lower level and they put up dry wall in the basement to separate it into different rooms and thus turn it into an apartment. Many people then live in the middle and upper part of the house and rent the lower part of their house out to renters. If you are new to Vancouver and strapped for cash, a basement suite is a good option. It is like an apartment but on the ground. It is the cheapest housing in Vancouver and usually the utilities are also split 70% and 30% between the home owner and the basement occupant, so you only pay for 30% of the water and electricity.

I suppose for South Africans, this sounds weird. We were freaked out by the idea of living in someone else’s basement, because remember you technically share the house and the garden with the owner. Usually you have a separate entrance, so you do have some privacy. But depending on the way the house was built, it could mean that you don’t have a lot of windows in your apartment and thus very little light coming into your house. That to me, was just too depressing. I like natural light and couldn’t imagine living in a basement on top of the already miserable, rainy weather we have in Vancouver for up to 8 months of the year.

Where do you find available rentals?

The best place to look for rentals is on Craigslist Vancouver. Craigslist is incredibly popular in Vancouver. People sell almost anything on Craigslist and most landlords list their properties on Craigslist. It is much cheaper than working through an agent; although most landlords even use agents on Craigslist. Why are estate agents a problem? Unlike in South Africa where estate agents are quite flexible and very eager for a sale and would thus accommodate your schedule, estate agents in Vancouver are swamped with requests for property and thus they dictate the schedule. They can and will refuse to see you at a time that is inconvenient for them. Some of them for example refuse to work on weekends, or only do showings and viewings of available properties in the middle of the day. They couldn’t care less about your work schedule or your urgency in finding a place to live, because they have so many potential tenants that they will just make the property available to the next person who is willing to jump through their hoops. It is incredibly frustrating, because you can literally spend days phoning and leaving messages and typing e-mails without receiving a reply.

This is where we were lucky, because we had the assistance of a company called Dwellworks. They help you settle in when you arrive in Vancouver. One of their representatives is available for three days to assist you with the matters you identify as most critical to you. So, you could for example ask that they help you obtain your social security number (or social insurance number at it is called in Canada), that they help you open a bank account, that they help you find a place to live, that they help you find an appropriate school for your children etc. But you only have three days, so you must choose wisely. If they assist with finding you a place to live, they phone all the estate agents on your behalf and negotiate the rental agreement on your behalf. All you have to do, is identify the places you are interested in.

Despite the assistance of Dwellworks, it still took us four months to find a place to rent and we considered about 106 properties in total. Most places were either too expensive, or did not allow pets, or were too far away from the nearest bus or train station, making Johann’s commute to work difficult. We ended up selecting a condo or what we would call a townhouse in South Africa. It is in a “complex” and although it looks like South African complexes with all the units in the complex built in the same style, it does not have the same level of security you would be used to in South Africa. There is no gate at the front entrance of the complex, no security guards patrolling the perimeter of the property or having you sign in when you enter the complex, no gates, no electric fencing and barely even any walls to talk about.

Each unit is 3 stories, with the garage at the lower level, the living area – i.e. living room, dining room and kitchen – on the middle level and the bedrooms and bathrooms on the top level. Each unit also has a very small patch of garden that can be accessed from a glass sliding door in the kitchen. The only thing separating you from your neighbours though, are a few small trees and shrubs and a tiny wooden gate that marks off the perimeter of your garden patch. But everyone has access to everyone else’s garden, so it is not entirely strange to find a random person transiting through your garden to his garden – especially with garden utensils or potted plants or wood beams or even furniture. It is something to get used to, especially for South Africans who are not only always on high alert for suspicious-looking strangers who might want to do you harm, but also incredibly private people who tend to prefer their gardens to be private spaces not shared with others…

What are some of the things to keep in mind when renting in Vancouver?

As mentioned in a previous blog post, most landlords do not allow pets, so it is sometimes difficult to find pet-friendly accommodation and if you do find a landlord who is willing to accept pets, he/she will charge you a pet damage deposit on top of the security deposit you would be required to pay when signing a lease agreement. So, you might end up paying two months’ rent in advance for your new home.

Leases are usually for 12 months. In rare situations you might find a lease for 6 months, but most landlords rent for at least 12 months. Others for 24 months. It is very difficult to get out of a lease agreement. If you cancel your lease before it is up, you might have to continue to pay for the remaining months even though you move to another place. Most landlords see it as breach of contract and insist that you serve out the full term of the lease, because they might not be able to find a new tenant immediately after you move out. What some people do to get out of a lease, is they find the landlord a new tenant to take over their lease, and then give notice to the landlord that they want to terminate the lease agreement.

When you sign the lease agreement and collect the keys to your new place, the landlord will expect you to provide him/her with 12 post-dated cheques for the full term of your lease. Yes, they still use cheques. And no, they do not accept electronic funds transfers or debit orders for payment of rent. Don’t worry though, they cannot cash the cheque until the date written on the cheque, so you must just ensure that you have money in your account at the end of each month to cover the cheque amount.

And then finally, one little piece of good news, most if not all rental properties are rented out with all major appliances. So, the refrigerator, washing machine, tumble drier, dishwasher and microwave are usually included in your rent. This saves you a tonne of money on buying new appliances; especially if you’ve just arrived in Vancouver after selling all your appliances in South Africa – which you must do, by the way, because your South African appliances won’t work in Canada. They use a different voltage system.

One unfortunate reason for our long struggle to find a suitable place to rent, was due to racial discrimination of all things. In certain areas of Vancouver, especially Surrey, Burnaby and parts of Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam, many of the landlords are Chinese immigrants. They have bought up most of the property in Vancouver and some of them only rent to Chinese renters and refuse to rent their properties out to other racial groups.

Although we struggled for four months to find a place to live, it was a blessing in disguise, because our shipment of furniture from South Africa was delayed several times. The original estimates we received for the shipment of our furniture was 12 weeks, but it ended up taking 16 weeks for our furniture to arrive in Vancouver. Thanks to Amazon, we had temporary accommodation to stay in and managed to get by without really needing much of our furniture. However, for people going it alone, it can cause a huge problem, since you might move into a new place but still have to wait for your furniture and end up sleeping on the floor and living off take-aways or staying in a hotel until your stuff arrives which can be very costly. So, it’s something to keep in mind.

We still don’t regret shipping our furniture though, because furniture in Vancouver is very expensive. You could easily end up spending double the value of your furniture back in South Africa just to refurbish your home. A tip though is to get rid of all your junk and at least half of your furniture before you leave South Africa. Houses in Vancouver are much smaller than in South Africa. We gave away and sold half of our stuff before we left South Africa and still ended up with too much stuff that we now have to donate or sell, because we don’t have space for it.

Looking back on this experience, although it was frustrating living in temporary accommodation for so many months, it turned out well for us. We ended up renting a condo in a beautiful complex that is child-friendly and surrounded by beautiful parks and walking trails. We have a view of the mountain and apparently, we will get to see bears in summer as they are quite popular in the Burke Mountain area.

Our complex, Farrington Park

Should you take your pets with you when you emigrate?

My two furry children, Darwin (left) and Snowy (right) with my not-so-furry child in the background. Happy care-free days in warm, sunny South Africa with them just lazing about.

For most of us, our pets are part of the family. In my case, I hand-raised my one cat. He was a feral kitten only 5 weeks old, and abandoned by his mother when I got him. He was completely wild. It was with great joy and pride that I managed to tame him enough to at least get him to behave in a civil manner towards the humans in his most immediate environment. Our second cat – imagines himself a dog – but is a lovable addition to our family, and to a great extent, they are my children. I know some would frown at this, but I also know that there are a lot of pet lovers out there that share my sentiment, and who get how easily an animal can claim a space in your heart and in your life and how difficult it is to just discard these special members of your family.

So, when my husband tried to convince me to move to Canada, one of my conditions was that I get to take my cats with me. They are my children after all, and I couldn’t bear to leave them behind. Of course I did the due dilligence and inquired from those already living in Canada whether they thought my cats would adjust to the new environment, especially considering how cold it gets in Canada. I was met with reassurance that they would be fine and would adjust quickly. In addition, Canada’s pet immigration policy is not as strict as other countries. As long as your pets are older than a year, their vaccination records are up to date and they pass their health exam in South Africa, they don’t have to go into quarantine. You get to take them home as soon as they arrive in Canada.

I took all of this as a sign that I was doing the right thing taking my cats with me to Canada. However, although the immigration process went smoothly for them and they arrived safely, they have struggled to adjust. Here is why…

There are three things to keep in mind when you are considering whether to take your pets with you when you immigrate.

Firstly, it is expensive. Really expensive. The cost of shipping a pet to another country is about double what your own plane ticket would cost you. They have to be vaccinated and subjected to medical exams and all of this cost money. Specialised crates need to be made for them to ship them and they are booked onto their own flights. The reason why your animals do not fly with you, is because the companies that ensure your pets’ safe transfer try to find the shortest possible route for them to travel with a stop over in between to give them a chance to rest and eat etc. Remember, that despite how taxing the long flight is for you, it is so much more overwhelming and traumatising for them. They are confined to a crate and are not allowed to eat on-route in case they get sick. They have no clue what is happening to them and you are not arround to comfort them. So it is quite a shock to the system. Also, animals cannot legally be sedated during long trips, because it constitutes animal cruelty. So they are simply provided calming treatments but are kept awake for the entire trip.

Secondely, when you arrive in your new country, you will have to find accommodation as a matter of urgency, and bringing pets along complicates matters, since most landlords do not allow pets. This eliminates many suitable housing options, because you have to find something that is pet-friendly. In Vancouver, landlords that allow pets charge an additional pet cover on top of your initial securing deposit, so you end up paying a double deposit on the accommodation. Most of the time the pet depost is for pet-incurred damages – i.e. pet hair, scratches or bite marks on furniture etc. – and is non-refundable. Even if your pet is usually well-behaved, they will most probably misbehave for the simple reason that they will arrive at your accommodation after a long and traumatising trip confined to a crate for many hours and then have to get used to an unfamiliar new environment. This is usually very distressful for most animals and they tend to act out, because they feel overwhelmed and confused. Our cats tore into the dining room chairs in our temporary accommodation and despite buying them not one, but three scratching posts, and various cat toys, they did not stop scratching the furniture. We ended up hiding the dining room chairs in the main bedroom walk-in closet at night while we slept and only taking them out when we really needed them. Desperate times called for desperate measures. We did not want to incur any penalties for damage to furniture in our temporary accommodation.

Lastly, if you decide to move to Canada, and you have a pet that spends more time outdoors than indoors, DO NOT believe people if they tell you that your animal will adjust to the climate in Canada. My cats are not your typical house cat. They used to spend most of their time playing outdoors or lying somewhere in the garden. They are fully house-trained in the sense that we did not even keep a litterbox for them in the house in South Africa. They had an open window for easy access to the house, but would “take care of business” outside in the garden.

Then we end up in Canada in the middle of winter and my poor cats are confined to the house for the first time in their short lives. Firstly, because we were staying in temporary accommodation when we arrived here, we did not want to let them out in case they wandered off and got lost. We decided to hold off untill we moved into a more permanent place. Unfortunately, what we did not bargain on was that our new house would be child-proof and what this means is that even the windows are childproof. They don’t open far enough for a cat to get through and all the windows are covered in guaze. Furthermore, staying in a townhouse means that we are not flat on the ground so they have quite a distance to jump if they were to get out.

I remained hopeful though, thinking we could use the window in the kitchen that goes out into the garden and at least give them some access to the garden. But there are two problems here. In winter, the snow presents an obstacle. They are not used to moving in snow and were completely freaked out by the snow. A side-note here, is that for dogs, it is even worse, because when it snows they cover the roads and sidewalks with salt to prevent people from slipping. However, the salt cuts into the dogs’ paws which means you have to get special socks for them to wear in the winter months if you want to take them outside. The second problem is that in summer, letting the cats out of the house might result in them becoming dinner. I asked locals here why we never see cats around and they explained that cat owners keep their cats indoors because the bears, coyotes and raccoons eat them. As luck would have it, we ended up renting in the Burke Mountain area, which is the prime spot for bears and coyotes in Vancouver. So my cats are still stuck in the house.

In retrospect, I find myself crying some days thinking that perhaps I did them an injustice by bringing them here. They have no clue what is happening and they don’t understand why they can’t go outside. Luckily our new house has a lot stairs and interesting places to climb and explore, so that keeps them busy and they seem to be settling in better than in the temporary accommodation.

Despite all of the frustration and trauma, these darling animals have still brought us comfort. They have served as welcome companions for my daugther who absolutely love having these furry friends to play with. She has learnt pretty quickly how to entice them to chase after a rope or a ball or any other fun object and they are spoilt with cuddles on a daily basis. As for me, having a furry friend on my lap on the days when the homesickness is strong, brings tremendous comfort. I have always felt calm in the presence of a purring cat and they have not dissappointed. Despite my husband’s complaints, both Emma and I enjoy their company and are grateful for the little bit of respite they bring. I can only hope that they are grateful to us for keeping them around instead of abadoning them to the care of someone else.

Most people are dog lovers. Most people do not like cats all that much. My cats have different personalities and are just as lovable as any dog. They just have sharper claws and more attitude. But I love them either way and I sleep easier knowing that being stuck inside, is still better than being left to their own resources, or worse perhaps facing a unceremonious end to their short little lives.

Darwin trying to find a comfortable spot in our temporary accommodation
Snowy exploring the stairs in our new house

What’s it like to drive in Canada?

Most people who live in South Africa know that driving on South African roads can be a stressful experience. Even those who don’t own cars, but utilise public transport, know that the road is a stressful place to be. Apart from poor road infrastructure and massive road maintenance issues in both rural and urban areas, driving on South African roads is stressful for two other reasons:

  1. Congestion – especially if you live in Cape Town or Johannesburg which are the two most congested cities in South Africa; and
  2. Lack of adherence to the traffic rules – or what Canadians would call “disrepectful driving“. Without pointing fingers, most of us who have used the roads in South Africa know that rules are often bent – sometimes a little; i.e. rolling over a stop sign instead of coming to a full stop before proceeding – and sometims a lot; i.e. blatantly disregardig a red traffic light and driving into uncoming traffic whilst expecting other road users to make way for you.

For those of you who don’t know, Canada has reciprocal license agreements with certain countries. This means that if you immigrate to Canada, you can visit your nearest provincial driver’s licence office and hand in your original national driver’s licence from your country of origin and they will issue you with a Canadian driver’s licence. Unfortunately, Canada does not have a reciprocal license agreement with South Africa, which means that you are legally allowed to use your driver’s licence from you country of origin for your first 90 days in Canada; after which time you have to take a knowledge and road test again in order to obtain a Canadian driver’s licence.

If you fail to complete the knowledge and road tests, you will no longer be allowed to drive in Canada and will be forced to use public transport to get around or you have to sign up for their learner driver programme, which is a two-year programme that prescribes that you are not allowed to drive by yourself. You always have to have a licenced driver with you when you are behind the wheel and you must complete a specific number of driving lessons and must wait at least two years before you can do the road test; unless you can provide reasons why your application should be expedited.

Fortunately, the public transport system in British Columbia is pretty good. See a previous blog post about this. However, as I mentioned in another blog post about buying a car, access to trains and buses depends on where you live and you might still have need of a car for grocery shopping (it is easier to transport groceries with a car – especially when you are buying in bulk), or for long distance travel and sight-seeing. So it is advisable to try and obtain your British Columbia driver’s licence. I found that because we are from South Africa, we value having our own car and being able to get around without having to depend on public transport. In South Africa, you get used to your independence simply because you are not living in a system where you have to adjust to a public transport schedule. Unreliable and unregulated public transport in South Africa, makes it the mode of transport for those who simply cannot afford a car, but not the first choice for anyone who has the means to buy a car.

Most people in Vancouver and the surrounding areas still own cars and use their cars on weekends and for road trips, but they use public transport to travel to and from work. This is the option we have chosen. My husband uses public transport to commute to and from work and I use the car for errands and emergencies. It was an adjustment but hubby seems to be getting used to public transport now. There are some nice benefits to using public transport for your commute; i.e. he doesn’t have to sit in traffic, and he can use his travel time to work, read or listen to podcasts – which is a much nicer way to start and end your day than navigating your way to and from work in the chaos that is Johannesburg peak traffic. The West Coast Express, is particularly nice for getting work done on your commute. The train is quiet and has space to work and is a fast and efficient way to get to work – with less stops between destinations. But again, you have to stay in an area where you have access to the West Coast Express.

Either way, obtaining a British Columbia driver’s licence was a “must-do” on our to-do list and because we did not want to end up in the British Columbia learner driver programme, it was one of our top priorities on the to-do list. We only had 90 days from the day or our arrival in Canada, before we would have to surrender our South African driver’s licences. It is important to keep in mind that you book your knowledge and road test online and that the system generates a test date for you. Oten your test date will be at least a month (sometimes two months) in the future. So it is important to book your test date as soon as possible and then work towards it.

Taking the tests

The knowledge test is an online test that you complete at your nearest ICBC branch, which is the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, but strangely enough also what we would call the “traffic department” back home in South Africa. You book your test date online. Then you download their road user manual to study British Columbia’s road signs and rules for driving. ICBC’s website also offers free practice tests that you can take before you take your knowledge test. The knowledge test is a multiple choice quiz that tests your knowledge of road signs and the rules of the road. You need to get 40 out of 50 questions right to pass. The tricky part is learning all the signs that you have never encountered in South Africa before.

In British Columbia there is a heavy emphasis on responsible and conscientious driving. You are required to drive cautiously and slow, but also to respect other road users and demonstrate kindness, by letting a driver into the lane ahead of you, waiting for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the road before proceeding etc. There is a whole section in the manual on sharing the road safely with other users. And here everyone abides by the rules. You start with zero points on your driving record when they issue your licence and gain points for being convicted of breaking certain traffic laws. Demerit points stay on your record for two years from the offence date. If you collect enough points, you can lose your driver’s licence. “Enough” points is 4 demerit points in a 12-month period. On the ICBC website there is a list of fines and points for B.C. traffic offences. Looking at this list, you realise that you can very easily get to 4 demerits by driving the way people drive in South Africa. Demerits also mean an increase in your insurance premium and of course you are legally obliged to take out insurance with ICBC when you buy a car. No-one can buy a car without taking out insurance, as uninsured vehicles are not allowed on the road.

The road test is a 35 minute test with an examiner. There is a thorough vehicle check and hand signals test before you start driving. After your car has been checked out and deemed safe, you start your road test. The examiner takes you through a pre-set route to test your driving skills — like turning, changing lanes, and parking. The route includes city streets, commercial areas, and highways. You also go through different kinds of intersections: ones without traffic signs, ones with stop signs, and large intersections with traffic lights. Your examiner also asks you during the test to spot and point out potential hazards and to park your car either uphill or downhill.

Once you get back to ICBC’s testing centre, you will know whether the examiner wants to pass or fail you on your driving test by the fact that he/she will either ask that you stop anywhere (fail) or that you back into a parking (pass – if you succeed in parking). After you’ve finished your test, the examiner goes over your test with you and provides you with feedback on what you did well and where you need to improve. If you did not make more than 3 mistakes, you pass the test.

So what is it like to drive in British Columbia?

The most difficult part of driving in B. C., is learning to drive on the left side of the car and the right side of the road as opposed to driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. Left turns at intersections are tricky. When wanting to turn right at a or red traffic light, you are allowed to stop and then proceed with caution (i.e. treat it as a yield sign) even though the traffic light might still be red – unless there is a sign indicating that you have to wait for a green arrow before turning. Another thing that is a big part of driving in Canada, is driving in wet and snowy conditions – something we almost never have to think about in South Africa. These were also the most tricky test questions on the knowledge test – knowing what to expect from melted ice on a bridge or how to handle skidding on slippery roads etc. – which actually happens quiet often when driving in snow.

Something to keep an eye out for, is pedestrians that cross the road without checking for oncoming cars, because they always have right of way and cyclists moving into your blind spot from bicycle lanes on the right-hand side of the road. And of course the speed limit, which is 30 km per hour in areas where there are schools or parks, 50 km per hour in the city and main roads, and 80 km per hour on the highway. The lower speed limits end up being a blessing in disguise as you try to get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, because you have more time to think before turning or changing lanes.

Mostly, once you start getting used to the weirdness of it all and relearn where all the blind spots around your car are, the driving experience is quite a pleasant one; simply because everyone follows the rules. Roads are well-maintained and on snowy days, the municipality scrapes all the snow from main roads and sidewalks, ensuring safe driving for everyone.

Canada Sevens at BC Place

Rugby is one of the three most popular sports in South Africa – the other two being soccer and cricket. So, when the only other South Africans you know in Canada, invite you to go and watch the Canada Sevens, you figure you might as well; even if only to do something that reminds you of home and for the opportunity to meet other South Africans. Neither my husband nor I are big rugby fans. We watch the occassional rugby game, but we are not die-hard supporters. Most of our family would actually consider themselves rugby fans. So when we announced that we would be attending the Canada Sevens, our families were both surprised and envious…

The Canada Sevens is an annual rugby tournament that takes place every March. It is held at BC Place. BC Place is a multi-purpose stadium located at the north side of False Creek, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and is currently the home of the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League (CFL). The stadium also served as the main stadium for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Paralympics, which Vancouver hosted.

Construction on the stadium started in April 1981, and the stadium was opened a little over two years later on June 20th, 1983. At the time of its completion in 1983, the stadium was the world’s largest air-supported domed stadium until May 4th, 2010 when it was deflated for the last time in preparation for the erection of its new retractable roof.

BC Place is British Columbia’s largest and most versatile venue; with capacity for 54 500 people. The cable-supported fabric roof is the largest of its kind in the world – designed and engineered specifically for Vancouver’s climate. BC Place is able to hold events in comfort all year round. The annual events hosted at the stadium contribute more than $100 million in economic activity.

According to BC Place’s website, the retractable roof over BC Place is a technological marvel. The retractable centre portion of the roof measures approximately 100m x 85m – effectively covering the area of the entire playing surface. Seated guests remain covered – rain or shine. The roof takes approximately 20 minutes to open or close, and before any major event, weather conditions and other circumstances are taken into consideration, to decide whether the roof will be kept open or closed during an event.

A view of the retractable roof from inside the stadium
BC Place is illuminated from 06:00 am to sunrise, and from sunset to 23:00 pm on most nights. On event nights, the roof and Northern Lights Display are lit until the conclusion of the event.

It was a spectacular sunny day on the day of the Canada Sevens, but the roof was kept closed, because despite the sunshine, it was still relatively cold outside. It was about 8 degrees Celcius outside and given the outrageous nature of some of the costumes that some of the fans chose to wore, this was perhaps a wise choice. Otherwise these fans would probably have enjoyed the day a little less. The stadium is surprisingly warm inside, despite it being an open-air stadium. We took off our jackets and scarfs upon arrival, and did not really feel a chill until much later in the afternoon.

When you arrive at the stadium, you can immediately see why it is a popular venue choice. The place is well layed out and a lot of thought has gone into, not just the roof, but also the concession stands and bathrooms. What was particularly nice for us, visiting with a toddler, is the family bathrooms that allow parents and small children to use the same facilities together. Not only are these family bathrooms well-situated between the other bathrooms, but there are officials who also point them out to you if they see you have a small child with you.

Large screens in the stadium allow you to see everything that is happening on the ground, no matter where you are seated in the stadium. The event organisers put a lot of effort into ensuring that fun is had by all, with music and roaming cameras looking to zoom in on people dancing, and finding colourful ways to express their support for their respective teams. That being said, the fun is never allowed to get out of hand. When buying drinks from the concession stands, you are only allowed a maximum of two drinks per person at any one time; effectively ensuring that no-one can get too drunk and curbing any unruly behaviour that might stem from uncontrolled drinking.

Safety officers also ensure that people have fun without endangering their safety or that of other people. If someone tries to hang over a railing for example, a safety officer will come and have a friendly chat. And these chats are friendly and civil. Something that is rare to observe, since people tend to get out of hand at stadiums in South Africa, and many sport events often end in fighting or violent outbursts of some sort, simply because people have gone overboard and drank too much.

Deciding which team to support during each match, was at times easy and other times proved more tricky. We sat with fellow South Africans and screamed at the top of our lungs when South Africa was playing.  What was amazing though, was the sense of cameraderie that we also shared regarding team Canada. We found we could support our new home with the same amount of gusto and enthusiasm. In most instances, since our arrival here, we have been welcomed with warmth, sincerity and kindness. Canadians are genuinely nice and kind people and if I had to support a team other than South Africa, nothing made me prouder, than being able to support this kind and generous nation.

I think the best game for the day was actually the game between Canada and the US. The stadium was roaring with Canadian fans who bellowed a loud “boo!” in unison every time the US team scored a try and leapt off their seats and burst into song every time the Canadian team scored. Unfortunately, Canada lost. But it only put a damper on things for a few short seconds, before people burst out into song and dance again and continued being merry and very, very silly, but in a really good way.

Despite my general lack of interest in the game of rugby itself, I haven’t had this much fun since we left home. It was awesome being among entusiastic spectators and observing people having fun without taking anything too seriously. Unfortunately, we did not make any new friends. But that is simply the impracticality of trying to strike up a friendly conversation in a stadium full of screaming rugby fans. For us, that was not the aim of the outing. The aim was to simply enjoy the day for what it was – good clean fun and merriment.

It was with a small note of sadness that we walked back to the train station to catch the train home that evening at 18:30, because we realised how we actually felt safe despite the hour of the day and the crowd of people pouring out of the stadium. It was with a heavy heart that we had to admit that we never felt this safe leaving a stadium after an event in South-Africa. Noticing the clean city streets and how people just let each other be – how someone who had had too much to drink could prop himself up against a wall and sleep off the worst of his inebriation without any threat to his safety or his life, made me feel a little sad.

Listening to conversations had by fellow South-Africans in the stands, we realised that we were not alone in what we felt since we arrived in Canada. People miss home every day. They miss their friends and families and they feel sad on happy days like these, because they do not get to share it with those they love. But the fear and the sense of desperation you often feel in South Africa, is the thing that convinces them to stay; even on the days when the burden of their loneliness and their longing for something familiar becomes unbearable.

P. S. For the die-hard rugby fans and team South Africa supporters, you can watch seven of the best tries from the Canada Sevens here.

A world of colour and glass

What a privelege to get a second opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Seattle. It was only a two-day trip, but two days were just enough to pick a bucket list activity to do in the city. So I opted for the Chihuly Garden and Glass.

It was a cold and rainy day outside, but that did not stop us from exploring.

Some history on Dale Chihuly – the creator behind the Chihuly Garden and Glass and who it is named for

Dale Chihuly was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington. He was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. Chihuly was enrolled in the first glass program in the United States, at the University of Wisconsin. He received a Fulbright Fellowship and went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice. There he observed the team approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way he works today.

You can read more about Dale Chihuly and his work here.

There is a mini-theatre at the Chihuly Garden and Glass where they feature short films about Chihuly’s biggest glass projects. In one of these videos, he talks about his time spent in Venice. He said he spent an entire year all by himself, just studying and observing. He reckons, this year spent by himself was actually more critical to the development of his creative talents than any of the other years he spent studying. I found this resonated quite a lot, considering how alone I feel right now.

There are 10 exhibitions in the Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery.

  1. As you enter the gallery, there is the Glass Forest, which looks more like flamingos on a black lake to me.
  2. The Northwest Room houses some glass bowels and beutiful woven tapestries.
  3. The Sealife Room has one spectacular centre piece that you can pose in front of for a complimentary photo. You receive a card to collect your photo just before you exit the gallery at the end of your tour. You basically use the card to identify your photo and then provide your e-mail address for them to e-mail the photo to you. Very efficient. I received my photo that same afternoon.

    Chihuly Garden and Glass
  4. The Persian Ceiling is exquisite. The entire ceiling is filled with beautiful handmade glass bowls and flowers and as the light comes through the ceiling, it scatters the wall with colour.
  5. The Mille Fiori is a beautiful glass forest filled with glass flowers, glass cylinders and glass balls. It is breathtakingly beautiful and a bit eerie at the same time. The entire room is black and the “forest” is in the centre of the room…
  6. The Ikebana and Float Boat are two wooden rowboats filled to the brim with glass works. The first boat is filled with glass balls of different sizes and colours and the second boat is filled Ikebana elements – which are basically flower-like glass stems arranged in a similar fashion to the Japanese art of Ikebana.
  7. The Chandelier Room is another room that is painted black and filled with giant colourful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It is incredibly striking.
  8. The Macchia Forest are giant colourful glass “flowers” placed on iron stands. These flowers are speckled with colour by rolling molten glass in small shards of coloured glass during the blowing process. To complete the process, a lip wrap of a contrasting colour is added.
  9. The Glass House is my absolute favourite exhibition. It is a giant conservatory with a massive glass flower display suspended from steel beams. The display weighs about 7 tonnes. It is breathtakingly beautiful and the conservatory is a nice place to sit and take in the scenery both overhead and outside. It is a quiet sanctuary where you can just sit and think or be.
  10. The Garden is a garden filled with natural trees and schrubs and interspersed with some of Chihuly’s biggest and most colourful displays. Chihuly is right when he says that when you walk through his gardens, you feel as if the art belongs there and is part of the nature scene. The display of colours both from the flowers and the glass art pieces create this beautiful other world where glass and forest meet and merge.

Once you have walked through the whole gallery and garden, you can finish of your tour with a delectable meal at the Collections Cafe, that houses some of Chihuly’s drawings.

How to survive a loved one’s birthday when you are on the other side of the world

One of the hardest things about moving to another country, is missing out on family birthdays – especially when you are part of a close family who celebrate birthdays together. Nothing prepares you for the sadness that enfolds you when you realise someone you love is going to celebrate a birthday soon, and you will not be there to join in the fesitivities. Family birthdays are sometimes taken for granted… to the point where someone might even feel annoyed at the “disruption” to their schedule…

I LOVE family birthdays. Absolutely LOVE them. A birthday is the ONE day of the year, when you are allowed to let go and be spoiled a bit. The one day of the year, that really is your day – well at least a reminder of the day that you joined the human race. Being an introvert, I am not one for big bashes and surprise parties, but I love spending time with the people I love. For me, there is no greater gift than spending time with people who value me and see me for who I am.

And if you are wondering about the Five Love Languages, yes, mine is quality time. So that is what I want. Quality time with the people that matter. Time to eat, drink and talk, and just be present. And time to take in that specific moment in time, and perhaps pause it in your minds eye to try and remember it for what it is, so that you can replay it when you need it on lonely days. Time to appreciate. Time to listen. Time to learn about other people’s dreams, hopes and aspirations or the things that frustrate them and get them down. Time to connect.

Of course, spending quality time with someone requires that you undertake an enjoyable activity together, and give your undivided attention to the other person; which is becoming increasingly difficult in a time where we are always online and always “connected” and distracted, without realising that our real connections are slipping away. There is nothing like being pulled from your comfort zone and the things you took for granted, to make you realise instantly what you gave up and how much it enriched your life. And then you realise that perhaps those little things – birthdays spent with family, Sunday afternoon lunches, talking over the phone or going out for dinner or coffee with a friend – those where the things that actually made your life meaningful, and with those things now inaccessible, it is rather difficult to find alternative ways to meaning.

So how do you survive when someone back home is celebrating a birthday and you can’t be there? You order a gift online. You have it delivered at just the right time – which is tricky with a 10-hour time difference. You send well wishes via whatsapp or Facebook and you hope they will send some photos of what they are up to on the day. You wonder what they are doing and what they are talking about and if they even notice your absence.

And then you cry. You cry until there are no tears left to cry. And then you replay those moments you recorded in your mind of past events. You mentally replay every birthday, every special occasion. You remember where you were, what you ate, who you spoke to and how you felt. And all those memories merge into one giant melting pot of smiles and laughter and the aroma of good food and the comfort of good conversation and warm hugs. And you start planning your visit home. You promise yourself that you will take in every second of every day of your visit, so that you have new memories to replay in times of sadness…

I have “survived” 6 birthdays back home already. And it is only February. This is going to be a tough year. And of course I don’t even want to think of the birthdays we will be “celebrating” here – cut off both in physicality and time from those we love and not being able to share it with anyone. The short answer is, you don’t survive it. You bear it and you celebrate the person in their absence by reminding yourself why you love them, why they matter and how they have enriched your life and then you send them messages telling them how much they mean to you…


“Take the way home that leads back to Escombe Street.
Across the water and home through Germiston.
Past the shadow that fall down whenever we meet.
Pretty soon now, you won’t come around…

If you remember, don’t hide it whenever we meet…”

– Die Breyties, Escombe Street

Trying to find the upside of loneliness

Many people suffer from the fear of finding oneself alone, and so they don’t find themselves at all.” – Rollo May

To a lesser or greater extent, this is probably true of all of us – even introverts; or perhaps even more of introverts. Extroverts have other people to drown out the noise in their inner space. Introverts find activities. We think, we mull, we research, we brood, and we stay busy too avoid having to look inward.

The psychology of solitude studies how human beings are social creatures and how we struggle to deal with long periods of social isolation. If we are alone for too long, our mental faculties degrade, leading to deep despair, and even insanity. This explains why solitary confinement is such an effective punishment and/or torture method. As social animals, we cannot bear to be cut off from social interaction for too long. All of us recognise inside ourselves the need to find the balance between doing our own thing, and building relationships with others that can sustain us. Even if we only recognise it subconsciously. We all struggle to find this balance, because although we want and need relationships, they are also often the source of our greatest stress and suffering.

Hard-wired for connection

So why do we do it? Why do we keep pursuing relationships even though sometimes they make us miserable? It’s simple. We are hard-wired for connection. When a women gives birth, her brain secretes a hormone called oxytocin that allows her to establish an emotional bond with her baby. When the baby receives skin-on-skin contact from its mother, the same hormone is released in the baby’s brain and the baby’s brain starts forming neural networks about bonding, connection and love. When we hug or kiss a loved one, or establish a deep connection with a friend while chatting over coffee, our oxytocin levels increase. For this reason, oxytocin is often called “the love hormone.” In fact, the hormone also plays a huge role in pair bonding. Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust and can even be an antidote to depressive feelings. And we are all addicted to it. We can’t help it, because once we have experienced the effects of oxytocin, we want more. This explains how people become addicted to sex for example. If they perhaps did not experience the effects of oxytocin in other ways, because they were not held enough as children or did not bond with anyone, they still need the boost from the hormone, but don’t know how to obtain it in another way.

So being cut off from the source of our connection and bonding, can be hugely debilitating and can lead to severe depression and deep sadness. However, there is a huge difference between loneliness and being alone, because being alone is often a choice. Lena Dunham said on her Women Of The Hour podcast, “I personally love being alone … what I don’t like, is being lonely. For me, loneliness, that cottony separation from the world, hollow-stomached, soul disease is most acute when I’m surrounded by people who don’t or can’t see me“. And she is right, we can feel lonely, even when we are surrounded by people, because the wrong people – people who don’t know you or who don’t particularly care about your personal wellbeing – can actually make you feel isolated and alone. It is only when we spend time with those that genuinely know and love us, that we actually feel connection, and experience the burst of the oxytocin hormone, because we then feel we belong and we are not alone.

Discovering the upside of loneliness

However, we have all experienced being alone and we all know that sometimes, being alone, can be beneficial; that is, if we can face our own demons. Spending time alone can force us to do some introspection, to discover the benefits of meditation or help us be more productive.

When you immigrate to another country, you actually volunteer to be alone and it can be hard sometimes, because being alone for too long, can lead to despair and loneliness. So how do you reap the benefits of being alone without falling into the pit of despair that is loneliness? That is what I have been trying to figure out since we moved to Canada. And I haven’t mastered it yet. I still find myself falling into deep pits of despair and loneliness and crying for hours on end about loved one’s back home. And even though we chat and maintain regular “contact” thanks to technology, it is not the type of contact I crave. Hugs and kisses are impossible, so my oxytocin receptors are not firing. Looking into someone’s eyes, holding their hand, talking face to face, sharing a meal or a cup of cofee… none of these things are possible and you have to make due with cyber coffee chats when the massive time difference allows for a sliver of time to catch up with what’s going on in their lives.

So, typical of my Ennea 6, Wing 5 nature, I research and I try to find answers and I try to make sens of it. And I read article upon article about loneliness and the benefits of loneliness and/or of being alone and none of it resonates. Until I find two articles: Kimberly Gillan’s “The Surprising Upside Of Loneliness In A New City” where she recounts how it felt to move to another city, where she and her husband did not know anyone, and how they desperately tried to slot into the new environment they found themselves in by visiting locals bars, hoping to make some friends. She says: “I now wish I’d been more mindful of the positives of quiet time and spent less time lamenting my lack of friends in that lonely year. There’s a lot to be said for a blank calendar that can be filled with anything you damn well like. You learn to back yourself in a way I don’t think would be possible if you stay in your comfort zone. So if you’re new to a city, can I suggest you utilise your loneliness to learn a new skill, soak up your surroundings or go out on a limb? You’ll quite possibly have the best experiences of your life.”

Ok Kimberly, quiet time, you say. I used to spend a lot of quiet time by myself. I am used to working from home and have no problem staying busy and being productive when I am alone. However, with a toddler in the house, it is now almost impossible to find quiet alone time. So I upend my schedule. I wake up at 04:00 or 05:00 and try to think, write and work when baby is sleeping and I end up working until the early hours of the morning after baby has gone to bed. This definitely increases my productivity, but it isolates me even more, because now I spend less time talking to my husband – the ONLY person I have here that I can connect with – and I am also a zombie during the day when I have to give my little girl my undivided attention. So what to do?

As for the blank calendar, that means nothing when you are still in limbo, trying to find a permanent place to live, trying to establish some sort of routine and still figuring out what your life is going to look like now that you cannot visit family and friends as often as you used to. I must admit the idea is not exciting to me at all. I loved spending time with loved ones simply because they were a welcome break from my busy life. I spend a lot of my time in my head and I work long hours, so taking time out to visit with friends and family was like taking a vacation.

And then there is Karan Bajaj with his beautifully written inspirational piece entitled “The Incredible Upside of Loneliness” where he discusses the rules of the ancient Yogis and proposes that loneliness could be a journey of self-discovery. He explains that you can choose loneliness by moving somewhere where you don’t know anyone and then not holding on to anything and not buying a house. Almost adopt a nomadic lifestyle then. To my adventurous 7 wing this of course sounds promising. It could be a little experiment in self-reinvention. But then he gets to the juicy bit… how you can use loneliness to change the world… and of course as a Ennea 6 with a strong desire to impact the world, I am hooked.

Bajaj suggets that loneliness can help you tap into your creativity. He says: “You tap into a reservoir of completeness when you create, touching the universal and forget your limited self. Use your loneliness as a catalyst to creation–a book, an organization, a idea, a new business process– whatever your medium and feel silent and complete once again“. And of course I had discovered this to be true even before I stumbled upon Bajaj and his writings, because I suddenly had this urge to write. I find my writers block that had developed after my arduous PhD journey had suddenly lifted and I felt I not only wanted, but needed to write. So finally, I can see my way to writing a book after years of wanting and intending to write one, but never actually sitting down and typing the first page.

Bajaj also recommends meditating in times of loneliness. In my yoga practice, I had discovered the wonder of meditation. But I have battled to get back to that quiet space for more than a year now… It is as if it is simply inaccessible right now with worries and concerns wreaking havoc in my internal space. Bajaj insists though: “Don’t fight your loneliness. Instead, use it as a catalyst to internalize that everything is a passing mind state. The sadness of loneliness, the warm glow you feel in companionship, pleasure, pain, nothing lasts. Everything is in flux. Don’t make my mistake. Fast-forward your journey by learning how to meditate or consider this incredible, accessible experience“.

So, I have decided to immerse myself in my loneliness and embrace it as a time for contemplation and self-discovery, because Bajaj also says that at some point your journey into self-discovery, meditation and contemplation will end and you will rejoin your loved ones, but with wisdom and insights to share and with the gift of your learnings from your journeys.