The below letter by South African expat Karen Saltz was Fairlady Magazine’s winning letter for September.
Twenty-six years ago, before the internet age, I emigrated to Canada with my family. We knew next to nothing about life in our adopted land. We had no Facebook support groups to offer advice, and we learned the ropes by being thrown into the deep end in a country and climate so different from our own. It took perseverance to make Canada home.
If emigration is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to others planning to leave SA, perhaps you need to rethink your plans. Being in touch on WhatsApp is not the same as hugging your parents or enjoying a family meal together or celebrating life events with those you love. Emigration breaks up families: it separates children from grandparents and aunts and uncles, and weakens and even severs the bonds of lifetime friendships. It distances you from ageing parents, from being there in times of illness and when death needs us to be together to mourn and comfort the bereaved.
When you leave your birth country, nothing will be the same again. You will visit, but you will have to endure painful goodbyes again and again. You’ll change and move forward, and so will those you leave behind. You will build a new life and make friends who become surrogate family, but you’ll never have what you left behind again.
Ed: Thank you, Karen: a great reminder that there’s a cost (in this case, a heartbreaking one) to everything.