I have been living in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre (voh-loo-veh saaN pee-air) for a month now. Even it’s name is extravagant, and I soon had to learn that if you’re speaking to a Dutch-speaking person it’s “Sint-Pieters-Woluwe” … I know right. That goes for all the street names too.
Town hall, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre
Brussels is the heart of the EU, and Woluwe happens to be where most of the ambassadors live. We have Netherlands diagonally across, Pakistan House across the road, and some relative of the King of Belgium our direct neighbours (although neighbours don’t interact here, and even a shy acknowledgement and ‘Bonjour’ when leaving your house is awkward ). We live in a house belonging to the German government, and was built in 1932. Echoey wooden floors and plenty of space for children to run around and scream, not to mention the garden most children dream of. Bordering a beautiful forest brings squirrels and crows and a resident fox I was so excited to spot running down the road.
This is where I live now. This. is. where. I. live.
That is something I kept having to tell myself. But why could I not stop thinking about Missionvale? And why did I cry every time I compared the children I spent the last year interacting with, to the ones I’ll be spending the next year with? Have I made the right decision? These children have so much, why did I leave the ones at home who have nothing?
Missionvale is a township on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, and where I worked at a Community Psychology Centre for 12 months. It has no running water, is ravaged by poverty, gangsterism and HIV, and drug and alcohol abuse is a huge problem. This leaves little hope for the children of Missionvale, who come to our Psychology Centre for either hopes of getting into a school suitable for their, often low, intellectual abilities or for one of our employees to try to piece back the little human character that has been damaged by abuse, neglect or grief. Adults came to the centre too, and I was often the first person they shared their story with. I was exposed to so much, and I grew so much. But my time there came to an end, and I now needed to take all I’d learnt and expand my horizons.
Missionvale, Nelson Mandela Bay
To say the first month has been overwhelming, would be an understatement. I was thrown into the deep end, and told to win the 100m Butterfly. Finding your way around (on foot), trying to figure out public transport (when you’ve been driving independently your whole adult life) and the massive language barrier… With German and Farsi being spoken at home, and French & Dutch being spoken on the streets, my brain is in overdrive, but it’s amazing how fast you can adapt.
One thing I was not going to adapt to was the tantrum-throwing episodes the children threw for not getting their way, or jealousy over how many toys the three year old sibling has. That should not be condoned behaviour, and I made very sure they were aware of that. “Maybe I don’t actually like children” and “what the hell am I doing here?” was something I asked myself about 4 times a day. A month later I have those thoughts about once or twice a week, so it will get better. I keep reminding myself that this process has never been easy, but God put me here for a reason – so vasbyt
Moving to a new country is not for sissies. I have opened a bank account, been to town hall about 4x and will finally receive my Belgian foreigners ID card. I have registered at an Adult Learning centre and attend French lessons once a week (will be adding Dutch to that soon) and I am actually pretty confident catching a tram or metro to get from here to there.
When taking the youngest to school and back I walk an average of 7km per day, which is great news for my body and my ten thousand steps goal, especially with all the chocolate around. I’m also getting to experience my surroundings in a way I don’t think many living here have. I have got lost in the forest, found short cuts to the town centre of Saint-Alix, browsed through French bookshops just because I can, and stopped to have coffee and chocolate cake at a little bakery in Stockel Square just to watch the people buy their fresh fruit and vegetables at the market in the square. I also really enjoy walking or running through the forest. It’s here where people seem more relaxed, walking their dogs or doing their daily commute. The forest is cool, and alive, yet has a sense of calmness. Trees seem to have that effect on people. It is here where my greeting is always returned, and dog-owners love for you to take an interest in their pampered pets.
I also cook dinner for the whole family every night, and I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I do (although most days are spent texting my mom asking how to cook this or what to make with this – thank goodness for Moms). Grocery shopping in a foreign country is one of my favourite things to do, and soon I’ll be adding some plant-based meals to the mix. Meat is horribly expensive here, and as a meat-eating South African I need to start getting creative.
I found a gourmet burger restaurant and savoured every bite (things we take for granted in SA)
Sure, I really miss South Africa and all that it entails, but I carry it with me everywhere – and this is where I live now!
PS: weekends are spent in Keerbergen with Michael and his family, and if it wasn’t for them I’d probably be typing this from my home in South Africa. But that’s a post for another day. Just know that I’m happy and healthy and filled with so much love.