As I was driving home from the gym today I suddenly remembered I hadn’t written an October post for Expat Focus. It has completely passed me by that it even was October at all, to be honest – despite being “pinch punched” by my daughter the other morning.
The days are passing me by because, for some reason, I am even busier here in Pretoria than I was back home in the UK. Which is hard to believe because my children leave for school before 7am and don’t come home until gone 3.30pm – giving me an extra two hours of free time a day. Ten hours a week. So where on earth are those hours going?For a start there is all the extra “stuff” you have to do when you first move somewhere. Unpacking, organising, buying. Rearranging. Phones, internet, cars, bank accounts, ID’s….all these things take time. And they are all things that generally get done a lot quicker and easier back home.
But I am past the worst of these “early days” nuisances by now, so this doesn’t explain where all of my hours are going. So I decided to have a think and jot down where all this extra time might be going.First of all, back home my exercise regime consisted of leaving the house three times a week, running for 30 minutes, returning to the house, quick shower and done. I was finished within an hour from start to finish. Here, though, it’s a lot harder (not to mention a lot less safe and an awful lot hotter) to run on the streets. So I have joined a gym. Which means getting in the car, driving there, faffing around with lockers, spending time between equipment trying to decide what to do next, maybe having a chat with someone….by the time I get home, showered and dressed again I would say I have usually eaten up at least an extra 45 minutes. So added together that makes 4.5 hours.
Then there is shopping. It’s hard in Pretoria (at least at this point in my stay here) to just go to one supermarket and get everything I need. This is a common situation for expats – those of us from the UK at least are very spoiled by our supermarkets having everything we need all in one place. The shops here are great, I mean really good. But I always seem to need to go to at least three different ones to get everything I need for the week. And if I forget something, it’s a lot harder just to pull in and quickly get it – most of our shopping gets done in malls which means parking and barriers and tickets and long walks to get to the supermarket inside the mall….I think I can easily add an extra three hours of shopping a week, especially when you include the little “extras” that I have to go to separate shops for (one shop for dried fruit, another for the bakery, a third for meat).
Next up is sitting in traffic. We lived in a small town in the UK where yes, there could be terrible traffic queues at certain times on certain routes. But during the day, when I was usually out and about, it was almost always pretty quick and easy to get from A to B. In Pretoria the traffic actually isn’t that bad outside of the rush hours – but there are still a lot more traffic lights to sit at, everything is further apart and generally it takes longer to get around. So add another hour.
Socialising: I work from home so can get lonely. In the UK I would see friends every day at the school gates. So even if I hadn’t seen another soul all day it meant I got the chance to talk to someone and feel less isolated.
Here, the bus picks the children up every day and drops them back home later on. Hence I don’t see any of the other parents from the school – unless I make the effort to do so. I am trying to keep “meeting for a coffee” to a minimum of once or twice a week as otherwise there goes half my week! But even just doing this once usually takes up a couple of hours. It may sound like a luxury but believe me, actually seeing real people and talking to them – as opposed to all my “in the computer” friends – is genuinely an important part of my week. I would be very unhappy if I didn’t.
The next thing to consider is exploring. Ok, again some could say another luxury – but who wouldn’t want to explore a bit when they have just moved to a country like South Africa? I do a lot of this exploring at the weekends (and holidays) with my family – but I still do go out on trips in the daytime when I am asked. Spread out over the course of a month this would probably be a couple of hours a week’s worth of exploring. And a really valuable couple of hours a week to help ensure I enjoy my time here.
Finally – and this is one that I hadn’t really thought about until someone pointed it out – I seem to spend quite a lot of my time organising trips. This is an amazing country, in fact, an amazing region. Southern Africa has so many places we want to visit and, because we won’t be here forever, we really need to get on and organise it if we are going to see even a fraction of what is here. I am the holiday booker in this family – leave it to my husband and everywhere would be booked before he got round to organising it. I do some of it in the evenings but to be honest I am so exhausted at the end of every day I struggle to do more than the absolute necessities. Given that we have trips booked – within South Africa and to Namibia – every month between now and the end of the month, it’s not surprising I seem to spend so much time working as a travel agent.
So, with shopping, organising, driving, booking and exercising, it’s easy to see where those extra ten hours can quickly disappear. I had high hopes when I first arrived that I would get back to the novel I started (and nearly finished) writing when we were last overseas in St Lucia. It’s still on my to-do list but at the moment it is pretty low down my list of priorities. Hopefully once I get a little more organised I will find a way to carve out a few more hours a week for this project.
But until then I’ve got to go – there’s a holiday I need to book.
Do you find you have more hours to fill in your new life abroad? Do you manage it – and if so, what do you find fills that extra time?
Born an expat, in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Clara Wiggins has travelled all her life, and has lived in 11 countries on 5 different continents.
Clara has used her extensive experience of living overseas, as a child, as a diplomat and as an accompanying spouse, to write a book 'The Expat Partner's Survival Guide. From how to organise an overseas move to what to do in the event of an earthquake, the Expat Partner's Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet in-depth guide for anyone considering moving abroad.
Order your copy now.