Written by Laurrel Allison
When I left the United States in 2014, I wasn’t prepared for what would transpire. I wasn’t expecting to become an expat, whittle my belongings down to one suitcase, or meet my soulmate. But I did each of these things over the course of the following three years.
Between 2014 and 2017, I visited nine different countries. I traveled around Africa and Europe. In early 2017, I moved to Taiwan. But I definitely spent the majority of my travels inside South Africa. I lived near Cape Town for two years and am soon returning there for a short while.
Embracing the Art of Contentment
I noticed many things when I lived in South Africa. One of things I felt was that many people practiced the art of contentment. But what exactly is the art of contentment? The way I see it, it’s all about living outside of corporate culture. It’s about rejecting the idea of “the next best thing” and instead being happy with what you have. It’s embracing the things that give you passion in life. It’s about obtaining what you want at the speed you desire. Basically, I noticed a lot of people truly enjoying life. They weren’t just on their phones. They weren’t glued to computers or television screens. Most of the people I met were enjoying the moment they were in. But maybe that’s just Cape Town. Confessedly, I spent a much shorter time in Johannesburg and Durban while I was in South Africa.
But back to Cape Town. . . There’s a beauty in it. But you have to choose the right moments to relax. Walking down Adderley Street, Long Street, or other main streets in Cape Town could find you the victim of unsavory company. It’s no secret that there is a problem with the homeless and beggars. Even those who are neither might still take a risk and try to relieve you of your cell phone or wallet if it’s within view. However, there are plenty of safe havens in Cape Town where you can revel in the art of contentment. Coffee shops, tea houses, book stores. Two-story restaurants with views of the bustling streets below. It’s all there. It’s all wonderful.
Time is Imprecise
The biggest difference that I noticed about South Africa in comparison to my home country was the speed at which things happened. If you ordered a meal in a restaurant, it may not arrive as soon as you expect it. Schedules are far more flexible. People take their time in South Africa. The aspect of “time” is viewed much more leisurely. If you have an appointment with a friend, they might show up half an hour later than the agreed-upon time. It was frustrating for me at first, especially because I can be quite fussy about being on time. Additionally, most places close by about 6 or 8 P.M. This boggled my mind at first. I was used to having 24-hour restaurants and shops open til at least 9 P.M. so I could grab my late-night snack fixes.
But people are just living their lives. Doing their thing. They’re not bogged down with tight schedules, heavy workloads, or even rigorous schoolwork. Perhaps the latter is because South Africa isn’t doing so hot with their education system. Regardless, people generally seem quite laidback in South Africa.
Trends are Infrequent
Scrolling through Instagram, it’s easy to pick out who’s diving head first into the latest trends. My friends sport cute t-shirt dresses, skirts with high slits, and unicorn-esque hair colors. All of which are easily noticeable trends in the States. And perhaps it’s just because I haven’t figured other trends out yet, but South Africa doesn’t seem to have as readily discernible fads.
I’d like to think that the majority of Millennials in South Africa simply don’t follow specific fashion movements. Rather, they each have their own styles and preferences. But I actually do think it is my own ignorance at display here rather than their lack of trend-following.
A Lower Cost of Living
Jobs don’t pay as much in South Africa than they would in other parts of the world. But on the flip side, the cost of living is far cheaper. Restaurant, store, and grocery prices are a lot lower than in the United States. There may not be as much disposal income available in South Africa as there is in the States, but that doesn’t seem to bother the people I met during my travels.
One of the things I realized when I was there was that I didn’t have to be tied to a job I didn’t like, let alone love. When I was touring Tanzania with a group of volunteers, I was given my first opportunity to write. It was for a company I had long been admiring. It was like everything had finally begun to align for me. I barely had wifi or even running water, but I was elated because I finally had the chance to pursue something I loved.
Finding My Niche in the World
I’m not sure I would have had that same opportunity in the States. Everything moves so fast in my home country. In my constant fight to stay afloat, my own happiness ended up taking a seat in the back. I bounced from job to job effortlessly. But almost nowhere did I find satisfaction with my circumstance. The idea of writing was very far from my mind. But somehow, I was able to cultivate that ability into something much more than just a hobby.
South Africa is a wonderful country. Getting used to the “robots”, the lack of Taco Bell, and the super cheap movie tickets took some time. But I did it! I am grateful for the years I spent there. And I’m even more excited to return. Living a nomadic lifestyle doesn’t really leave room for having a “home”. But for a while, I suppose South Africa is as close as it’ll get for me.