Back at the end of 1994, when I emigrated to the Netherlands with my two kids to live with my mom, people thought I left the country because Nelson Mandela had won the election in April of that same year. I left because I fled from an abusive relationship, but looking back on it now, I am glad I got out of South Africa when I did. It is not the same country anymore as the one I grew up in.
I grew up with the South African culture, speaking Afrikaans and English, but when we went to my grandparents, we heard Dutch. We understood it, but we never spoke it. When I came to the Netherlands it was still the same. I had to learn Dutch, and being more Afrikaans than English, it was incredibly difficult to learn Dutch as Dutch and Afrikaans are almost the same language. Afrikaans is just a lot more simple than Dutch and where there are a lot of words that are the same and also mean the same, there are also words that are the same but mean something totally different.
In my first years in the Netherlands, everyone could hear that I was a foreigner. They couldn’t always place my accent though. Some of them thought I came from Russia or Hungary. Others were surprised that my skin is so light, when they heard I came from South Africa.
Even though I sounded like a foreigner, I never felt like one. From the day I arrived in the Netherlands, I felt like I have come home. Back in the time that I lived in South Africa, it was an incredibly conservative community. Sex was not spoken about. Sex was not experimented with. Damn, I think some people didn’t even have sex (just kidding!). I always felt like the odd one out; felt that I was different from them, because I wanted to talk about sex, have sex, write about sex. Believe me, I tried to find like-minded people, but I never did. I had the feeling that everyone was talking about me. They probably weren’t but in a way it felt like that because I just didn’t properly fit in.
That changed a lot when I came to the Netherlands. Over here no one gave me the feeling that I was different. I just blend in with the rest, which was quite enjoyable. Yes, there were people I talked to about sex and my fantasies, but no one thought I was strange. The attitudes here were just so much more liberal than they were back in South Africa. Sadly that has changed over the last couple of years, as if people here are returning to being more conservative, but less so in the ‘circles’ we move around.
Not being treated like a foreigner made me feel at home from the first day. I think we are all foreigners at different times of our lives. It’s not limited to moving from one country to the other, but you can also be the foreigner when you start a new job or when you enter a new relationship. What do you do when you meet a foreigner? Do you avoid them because they are not ‘your people’ or do you welcome them and try to help them to adjust to the new situation they are in?
I tend to do the last, because I have always believed that it is better to treat people the way you would want to be treated yourself.
Even though I still have a slight accent and some people pick that up, I don’t see myself as a foreigner anymore. I am Dutch – 50% by birth, but 100% by feeling. I have always felt a lot more welcome in my mother’s country than I have ever felt in my fathers. Africa will always be in my heart, but I will never return there. The Netherlands is where I belong, and returning to South Africa will only make me feel like a foreigner, and not like one of Africa’s children returning home.
© Rebel’s Notes