To farm in Africa…

It was just over a year ago that we arrived back in South Africa to start a new venture. We’d chosen to move back because we had a wonderful opportunity to own something of our own in the way of a business and of course, for me, there was the matter of school! I’d been ‘home-schooling’ both our children and while I saw plenty of good in it, it’s certainly not for everyone.

As we start to feel settled in South Africa, it seems a good time to reflect on our ‘journey’ of farming and living in Africa.

Zulu Women

Old John Deere Combine Harvester

Our story began before I was in the picture, with my husband’s family on a farm in Zimbabwe.

In the early 2000’s, Zimbabwe farm invasions were in full swing  and my husband and his family were forced to flee overnight after a near death farm attack and after being held hostage for 10 hours by war veterans.  As with thousands of other Zimbabwean farmers and non-Mugabe supporters, they had to leave the ‘life they knew’ in a hurry, never to return. In the years that followed, an entire nation was thrown into turmoil.  When you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did and they survived that too, finding new ways to make a living. Some stayed but many left. It was around this time that my husband moved to Malawi and entered the corporate farming world for the first time. Though he enjoyed this new experience, once you have had your own farm and have worked for yourself, ‘Corporate farming’ is often the ultimate bureaucratic challenge and quite frustrating! Since he was forced off his family farm in Zimbabwe , the desire to farm (for yourself) was still as strong as ever. After a few years in the ‘corporate farming world,’ he returned to Zimbabwe to lease a small piece of land and to grow Paprika. This was also when we got married and I moved to Zimbabwe 11 years ago.

South African agriculture

South Africa maize

78

Our first year of marriage was a challenge. I’d moved there while Zimbabwe was in the midst of ‘hyper-inflation.’ It was a time when you needed to take a brief case full of money to a restaurant and pay at the beginning of the meal because by the end of the meal, the price would have doubled! We bought things like bread and sugar on the black market. We mostly lived on Avo’s and bright pink Vienna pork sausages! And when there was no Zim money or US dollars (which was illegal to use) we had to trade and buy farm provisions with fuel coupons.  We continued to farm Paprika for as long as we could afford but in the end, had to leave simply because it was not ‘financially’ possible to stay. We moved to Mozambique and later, to Malawi where we lived as expats and where Phillip entered the corporate farming world once again.

South African farming

Silage making

Silos

I’m grateful for this corporate and expat experience. It gave us a new outlook on life. It was a very different way of life to my life in South Africa. In South Africa, I had only ever known white-Christian English-speaking people. In Mozambique, our walls were no higher than a metre and Apartheid had not existed. Suddenly, I knew when a Bandito had been caught by the village people for stealing a chicken, when someone had lost their child to malaria, when the local school children were having their T-time break, when Ramadan was on, when Diwali was in full swing, when the election campaigners or army were in the village and when our neighbour was slaughtering a goat. We made friends with people of different races, religions, nationalities and beliefs – and for a while, it was a vibrant, free way of life. Then out of the blue, we received a terrifying phone call from someone in Maputo stating that there was a contract on our family. They knew everything about us and for an excruciating few minutes we were worried that our daughter had been kidnapped. In an instant, our life came into full perspective; of what is important and what is not. All that mattered in the face of danger was that we were together and that we were safe. And so this event prompted the cogs of change to turn once again and we moved to Malawi – another wonderful and danger-free experience.

Sutherland Seedlings Cabbages

But we lived remotely and if we wanted to live together as a family, I would have to homeschool. Most people say they ‘couldn’t do it,’ but if there is no other real choice, I bet you, you can! I found that teaching my child how to read and to do Singapore Maths, to be surprisingly interesting and I can go as far as to say that I often enjoyed it. But there were also times that I was almost driven to insanity, especially when my youngest had to be taught too, at the same time! 2 different curriculum with 2 kids, both preferring to be outside than in! And  then of course, there is always that dream or desire to farm for yourself, something that comes up time and time again.

At first I thought the idea of coming back to South Africa was quite insane. Other than homeschooling, I was content with this life. But we thought of our kids and how well they’d do in a more school-social environment, the team sports, the friends and after so many years, the opportunity and novelty to live close to family again.  I thought of Phillip; how often do you get the chance to do something for yourself, a second time? And of course, I thought of myself – there would be teachers!

It’s been over a year since we’ve been back in South Africa, in a small farming community in KwaZulu-Natal. It was a surprisingly difficult move. One would think that ‘already’ knowing people (though not well) would make it easy. But if anything, it made it harder. The difference between being a ‘newbie expat’ and ‘coming back to your hometown,’ is that ‘meeting and involving’ new people is ‘expat culture and a part of the parcel,’ whereas in a small, well-established and busy community, when you do find time to socialize, it’s going to be with the people you already know and connect with. Though the people are just as nice here, it simply takes a lot longer to get to know them! ‘Expat friendship-making’ is a sort of ‘speed-dating,’ process, but in the way of friendship. All it takes is a few gin and tonics, an invite and a good banter – and there is friendship in the making! Here it takes a lot longer and most unfortunately there is no Friday afternoon ‘gin-bar’ at the school! Though I suspect the teachers and moms would be in full support of such an idea!

Ixopo farmlands

Cabbage Season

As with any move, we tend to have expectations and an idea of what a place will be like to live in. We move to a place thinking things will work out in a certain way but it often doesn’t. As with all our moves, our first year has usually been a bit of jumble and Ixopo is no different. It’s been a year and finally, we’re starting to feel a bit more settled which only comes when you start to feel that you belong and you’re not all on our own thinking of your ‘gin-bar’ friends in another country! Finally, ‘home’ is starting to feel like ‘home’ again.

Since moving back, I have dabbled in a number of photographic projects and as well as trying to ‘feel at home,’ I’ve been trying to find my direction in the way of photography and blogging in South Africa. There are so many opportunities here and I’m testing them all out! But living on a farm offers one very obvious opportunity; to take agricultural photographs for the farmers in our area! Let’s see where this goes! Who knows, maybe one day an agricultural NGO will ring me up and put me on plane to somewhere in Africa and I’ll take photos!

Other than ‘agriculture,’ there is always travel for me, something so deeply ingrained and something that I can’t not do! I must travel, often; to discover new places, new people, new ways of living and to learn more about this beautiful, diverse and extraordinary world we live in, in our short life. If I can do this, I can be happy anywhere.

John Deere

Zulu lady

This time last year, we were meant to be in Madagascar. It didn’t happen! But this time, in 48 hours, we will be!

Do excuse me for a couple of weeks while we discover Madagascar! It’s going to be one heck of an adventure for our little family! We won’t be doing the tropical, palm-beach holiday…we’re going the rustic, intrepid route to the west in a red 1987 Peugeot Station wagon!

Blog coming soon!

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

– George Bernard Shaw