New chapter. New season. New adventures!
Cue Disney’s Aladdin and Jasmine singing, “A whole new world.”
You may or may not already know that my husband is Canadian and I am Congolese. When we had first started dating, we had agreed that if we were to get married then we would go back and live in Canada-at least for a period of a few months where we would busy ourselves with raising enough support and financial aid in order for us to then return to South Africa as missionaries and continue working for the organization that we were both contracted to at that time. Well, the marriage happened and soon enough the babies started to come. Now because we were both foreigners living in South Africa, we often found ourselves in “interesting” situations as far as our paperwork was concerned. It almost always felt like we were caught up in a never-ending battle with the South African Department of Home Affairs with regards to visas’ being renewed and birth certificates being issued. Needless to say that this delayed our plans…by roughly 3 YEARS!
(This (by the way) is the MUCH abridged and drama-reduced version of events! The blow-by-blow account may come in a future blog somewhere down the line but for now, suffice it to say that there were MANY days and nights filled with uncertainty, tears (of which 100% belonged to me!), the fear of our family being separated over international waters because of dumb politics, LOTS of prayer, big opportunities to trust God and even bigger miracles from His hand! Back to what I was saying before…)
From January 2013 when we had first gotten married, we knew that we’d be heading to Canada after applying for my Canadian permanent residency. We didn’t realize at the start that this step alone would already delay our plans by about a year because that is roughly the processing time permanent residency applications to Canada take. The processing time takes so long owing to the fact that the application process itself is very rigorous and thorough. You give them a lot of information throughout your application which they, in turn, need time to sift through and analyze and so that basically means that applying for permanent residency is going to be time-consuming and there really isn’t much you can do about it.
"D-Day was Wednesday, 30th November, 2016 and our flight was scheduled to take off just before midnight. As that day was approaching both too fast and somehow not fast enough, we busied ourselves with wrapping up our lives in South Africa and looking ahead to life in Canada."
To make matters kind of worse, we further delayed in applying for my permanent residence straight after getting married due to the “difficult pregnancy” we had gone through with our first child. A few months after the birth, we began applying for my permanent residence and actually submitted it only to find out that my medical exam was expired by the time my application was ready for processing and I had to do it again-the medical exam that is. Now normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal except by the time they had gotten back to us to tell us this, we were already pregnant with baby number 2!
Again, this shouldn’t have been too big of a deal except for the fact that:
1-I got just as sick as I did with our first pregnancy and that meant that doing basic chores and tasks was already extremely difficult, never mind repeating doing a full medical exam!
2-there where certain parts of the exam that weren’t safe for me to do while I was pregnant. This basically meant that we could only do the parts of the exam that were safe for me to do while pregnant and then wait until our baby was born so that I could complete the rest of the exam. In short, we faced another delay. We’d have to wait even longer for my application to be processed and hopefully approved but this delay was worth it because we had a gorgeous baby to look forward to! It was worth the added time!
Skipping through A BUNCH OF DRAMA that I will save for a different blog on a different day…we FINALLY were able to get all of our documents straightened out and together as one big happy family, we were able to immigrate to The Great White North!
D-Day was Wednesday, 30th November 2016 and our flight was scheduled to take off just before midnight. As that day was approaching both too fast and somehow not fast enough, we busied ourselves with wrapping up our lives in South Africa and looking ahead to life in Canada.
Kirk started concluding projects that he was dealing with at work and I was packing up the house. We saved as much money as we could, sold what we could, gave away what we didn’t need anymore or wouldn’t/couldn’t take with us to Canada and moved out of our apartment.
"I truly loved our apartment and to one day see it be so bare and empty when some of our most precious moments had taken place in it felt...almost...wrong! Don’t get me wrong, it was exciting that the day that we had so often looked forward to and dreamed about was finally dawning but the cost at which it came was...sobering."
I truly loved our apartment and to one day see it be so bare and empty and devoid of life when so much of our life’s most precious moments had taken place in it felt…almost…wrong!
After giving birth, we had brought our son home for the first time to that apartment.
Both my kids had taken their first steps in that apartment.
We had celebrated birthdays, Christmases and random family gatherings in that apartment.
We had often loved to host both family and friends at our table where we shared a good meal and even better conversation and company.
We had often stood on our balcony and watched the world do by in a frenzied pace outside as we were winding down from another busy day. Sometimes, we stood on the balcony at night and enjoyed a cool Summer evening breeze as we talked about one day leaving for Canada and what life would be like for us once we got there. We would glimpse aeroplanes flying in the star-speckled night sky and long for when we would one day be among those onboard headed to our dream destination.
We had begun our podcast in that apartment.
I had begun my blogging in earnest in that apartment.
These moments and so much more had taken place in that apartment!
There had been so much life lived in this apartment!
Now don’t misunderstand me, it was exciting that the day that we had so often looked forward to and dreamed about was finally dawning but the cost at which it came was…sobering.
I remember the last time that I set foot in our apartment was when I was watching the moving guys take our furniture to the people we had sold it to. I stood there watching them take what was once our comfortable bed that I literally loved getting into every night; they took the fridge and washing machine that we had bought when we were first setting up house during the time that I was heavily pregnant with our first child; the ugly olive-green couches that we had always disliked and complained about were now leaving for good but I was having trouble seeing them go, the TV stand, the coffee table, the dining room set….
All our stuff was leaving and as I watched it all go, I remember standing there with conflicting emotions stir in my heart. “I’ll miss our bed!” I had thought and entertained other such thoughts.
The movers left and as I stood alone surrounded by the four walls of what is now officially “our old lounge”, I could hear my children’s laughter and voices echo in the bedroom they had once shared. A room that also stood as barren as the lounge. While the house was physically empty, my mind’s eye could still picture and place everything exactly where they once had stood: the chest freezer in the right hand corner of the dining room, the dining room all set up and the lounge with the huge almost floor-to-ceiling windows on the left hand side of the room that invited in a most beautiful breeze on hot Summer days. In my mind, I still saw my kids laugh hysterically as they chased each other round and round the dining room table and down the hall and into the kitchen. There, they would entertain their father with some funny antic as he did the evening’s dishes while listening to a podcast and upon succeeding at making him laugh, they would dash out of the kitchen with his laughter still trailing after them. Again, they would tear down the hall and fly into the lounge or find me in their bedroom where I would be laying their clothes for the following day.
I also remembered viewing our apartment for the very first time and instantly falling in love with it because of the awesome view we had of the landscaped garden and communal pool and because of spacious it was! We had been on a house hunting mission for a long time (click here to read all about that “fun” experience!) and while we were quite particular about what we had in mind, we were also beginning to get tired of looking for the “perfect home” namely because the “perfect home” seemed impossible to find…until we stumbled across this gem! The apartment was sunny, well aerated, well kept, very spacious, the rent was super affordable and the cherry on top the cake was that the apartment block was literally located across the road from where my husband worked! Like, LITERALLY! Kirk would walk to work and back and he even came home for lunch breaks. On hot Summer days when school was in session and Kirk was home for lunch, we would occasionally go down to the pool for a lunch time swim! We’d set out our picnic blankets, eat our lunch and then head into the pool for a nice calming swim. And the best part was that we’d pretty much have the pool to ourselves during that time of day!
I know, right! Could this place be any more perfect?
We had searched high and low for a good place to call home and that process had been a long road filled with challenges but this apartment had been worth the wait and was truly a God-send!
I remember giving my husband a huge smile and the thumbs up that this apartment was “the one” when we went to view it and he agreed. It was love at first sight for us and on the spot, we told the caretaker that we would be taking it!
We didn’t even need to discuss it!
At the time, we only had our daughter and I remember thinking, “She will love crawling around this huge place!” And boy, did she ever!
In my mind, I remembered afresh the evening when I found out that I was pregnant again for the second time. It was the middle of the night and I woke up needing to pee (sorry for the overshare!) I had been excited to do the pregnancy test from the second that we had bought it earlier in the day so, impulsively during those wee hours of the morning, I decided to take the test! Alone in the bathroom, I paced across the floor while waiting to see what the results would be. The second that positive sign appeared, I smiled dreamily and took the test into the bedroom so I could tell Kirk that what we had begun suspecting was indeed true.
"As I took one last walk through our apartment and savoured my last moments in each room I knew deep in my heart that I would never again set foot in that apartment ever again. That season of our lives had come and gone and I drew comfort in the knowledge that we had made the most of so beautiful a time! "
I woke him up as gently as I could and told him that he was about to be a father again to which he groggily said, “Wow, that is so awesome!” He hugged me tight as we both drifted back to sleep with smiles on our faces.
I remembered the tough pregnancy it had turned out to be, the constant nausea and relentless vomiting, the gruelling pelvic and back pain that often times left me barely able to walk, the deep depression that set in for those long nine months, the joy that our daughter brought to us during those trying days and the wonderful help that we got from my mom and sister during that time.
I remember the evening before our son was born and how that night we were so happy that we would be meeting him in the flesh after so long and agonizing a wait. I remember when I gave birth to him and when we were finally able to go back home with our boy. He was a sweet, tiny little thing! We got to our apartment and our daughter came charging to meet us. She suddenly looked so grown up and capable and strong! It was exciting to see and yet it made me feel kind of sad that she was growing up so fast and losing her sweet “babiness.” We walked into our apartment with our boy and into a new season of life as a family of four.
I remembered his very first bath, his very first smile, the very first time he rolled over on his own, his first steps in that apartment, the first time he and his sister played together. Our first Christmas as a family of four…
Yes, so much life had happened in that two bedroom apartment that to see it be so empty and lifeless brought tears to my eyes. As all those memories were running through my mind, I couldn’t suppress the soft smile that played on my lips in spite of my tears.
“Our time in this apartment may be up,” I mused, “but at least I’ll always have these memories to enjoy!”
I don’t know how long I stood in that empty lounge while my mind replayed those treasures but the time to leave was nearing and I needed to get a move on so I forced the daydreams to stop. I took one last walk through our apartment and savored my last moments in each room. I knew deep in my heart that I would never again set foot in that apartment and this fact truly saddened me.
That season of our lives had come and gone and I drew comfort in the knowledge that we had made the most of so beautiful a time! I can only hope that whoever’s moved in there after us would come to love the place as much as we did and also seize the opportunity to make some precious memories of their own…
My husband called saying that he was waiting for us downstairs and so I checked empty cupboards and wardrobes just to be doubly sure that that nothing was forgotten or left behind, gathered the kids, looked one last time at the place I had lovingly called home for exactly 2 years, and with a deep sigh that was a mix of sadness/joy/excitement/nerves and anchoring peace I closed and locked the door on a well lived, well rounded and fully satisfying chapter of my life.
"We went away for four days and for that time, we were able to forget about the last of the packing that we needed to do and the last goodbyes we still needed to say. We were just able to enjoy the sun, the sea, the waves and each other."
With that move, we began saying many gut-wrenching goodbyes! Family, friends, colleagues and our beloved church were all really hard to part with. I did my best not to think about the approach of the 30th but it was almost impossible not to when my mind persisted in reminding me that it was keeping a mental countdown by its own volition. Every morning when I would wake, my first thought was always, “Today is the…(insert date)…(insert number of days) until we leave.”
So for example, “Today is the 20th. 10 until we leave.”
Every morning and every day without fail, this countdown would keep ticking in my head and on the morning of the 30th, the sirens went off! But more about that little further below.
(Yes, I know! Lame of me to insert a cliffhanger of sorts.)
"We couldn’t help counting down our last five nights in South Africa and on the morning of the 30th we woke up to a day that was going to be like nothing we had ever experienced before."
One last South African beach vacation before heading to Canda!
I don’t know if it is possible to have too much fun, but what I do know is that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!
The impending 3.0. had this amazing knack of always popping up in conversations with family and friends. To help ease the angst we treated ourselves to one last vacation. We took a merry trip down to the coast right in the middle of the month of November 2016. We were away from packing and planning for four days. For that time-even though it was brief-we were able to put immigrating from our minds and forget about the last of the packing that we still needed to do and the last goodbyes we still needed to say.
We were just able to have fun and enjoy the sun, the sea, the waves and each other. We had taken my mother with us on this last vacation and for two of the days, we enjoyed visiting a water park called uShaka Marine World. We walked around huge aquariums, watched a dolphin show, had fancy dinners and played like kids!
In fact, we even convinced my Mom to go down one of the sides and she had a blast!
But it was over all too quickly.
We bid the sea farewell but promised to be back as soon.
And that’s a promise that we intend to keep!
Once we came back to the “real world” our packing continued and so did the goodbyes. Each passing day brought us closer and closer to the 30th and we honestly couldn’t help counting down our last five nights in South Africa.
On the morning of the 30th, we woke up to a day that was going to be like nothing we had ever experienced before!
(Remember those sirens I talked about earlier? Just go ahead and insert them here!)
I remember us waking up the morning of the 30th and looking across to my husband who also happened to look across to me. We both smiled and said, “It’s the 30th!” and then proceeded to hug each other tightly before we stepped into this day that would be unlike any day we had yet to experience…
The gravity of this day was lost on the kids and they proceeded to set about their usual activities of play times and naps without skipping a beat.
They had their fun.
We finished packing.
Some of my family came over to have one last playtime with the kids and to share one last visit and chat with Kirk and I while we wrapped up packing. This was basically the start of saying goodbye. We had planned for weeks in advance that on this day, we would go to a restaurant and share one last meal together as a family but when the time came, I think that we all wanted to spend as much time together as we could before the inevitable happened. I welcomed my family’s presence on this day and savoured each second!
These last moments together have been deeply carved into my heart!
My oldest sister asked to bath my kids and even though it was in the middle of the afternoon, I let her. We had a long journey ahead of us and so the fresher the kids could be for the trip, the better! Also-and dare I say that this was the most important and most significant reason of all – this was her last opportunity to perform this act of love for them! She had given them may baths in the past along with changing diapers and feeding them while babysitting for us but this bath time was different-it was her last time and last opportunity to say goodbye privately and in her own special way.
How could I not let them have that special final moment together?
With the last of the packing done, we were now finally ready to make our way to the airport. We called our Uber and once it arrived we loaded up our car with all our luggage-15 bags, to be precise – and drove in convoy with family to the airport. The ride to the airport was fairly short but I keep thinking to myself as we drove there, “Oh my word! This is really happening! I’m not dreaming…this is really happening! This day that we have dreamed of and longed for is really happening!”
It felt surreal…
Once at the airport, we met up with the rest of my family (who hadn’t been at my house earlier in the day) and some really close friends so that we could share one last meal together as planned. This sweet time seemed to go by too fast because before we knew it, it was time to check ourselves in and finally say the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had to say in my entire life!
I wept bitterly that evening and even as I write these words a lump forms in my throat as I remember that evening’s events…that night was quite something…
You know, I don’t think we realize just how for granted we take them. We hug friends and family and in some instances, we may even hug someone we’ve just met but we never -or at least I never think too long and hard on just how significant and precious that physical contact can be!
A mother's touch!
It has been a long time since I have been held in my mother’s embrace.
And even though I am good at writing words, I cannot find ones that can fully convey just how much I miss her!
But that night, as I hugged my mother on last time, my heart broke at the knowledge that I had sometimes taken this gesture with her for granted.
How many times had she come for a visit or a sleepover where I would absentmindedly hug her as she entered the door and then proceed to do something else while she settled in?
And now, here I stood wishing that her embrace wold last forever…
I hugged my Mom with all my might and I hugged my sisters and brothers with equal vigour and wept at the pain of being parted! You see, I come from a really big family-8 kids in total (don’t worry, you read that right!)-and we are fierce!
Fiercely loyal to each other! (Day or night, no matter what is happening we will always be there for each other!)
Fiercely protective of each other! (Mess with one of us and it’s on you what happens next!)
Fiercely loving! (We’re not mushy and emotional. We never were the “I love you” saying family. Not because we didn’t love each other because we did, and still do, but it’s just that we never said it. And honestly, it’s only as we’ve gotten older that we’ve “gone soft.”
Now don’t get me wrong, by no means were we a stoic and unfeeling family but we just weren’t outwardly and overtly demonstrative of our affection for each other. It may be hard to get but just trust me on this.)
All this to say that we are a very close family and so leave behind these people who I love dearly, hurt like mad!
It had never really crossed my mind to one day leave my family. Sure, I had thought about traveling and seeing the world but my immigration was not traveling! My immigration was immigration! I was straight up packing my bags and leaving! This was honestly something that I never considered doing…EVER! Yet here I was getting ready to board a plane due to leave within an hour or less…
I would board the plane and leave behind my baby brother who by the way is, in fact, a grown, big, burly 24-year-old, black man who is strong as an ox, built like a house and taller than me by quite a few inches, but for all of his height and physique, he will always be my baby brother! He and I have always been close and we’ve been looking out for each other since day 1! We have jokes only we get and can talk and laugh for hours! We’ve been through some serious stuff together and we always have each other’s back! He’s my homeboy and when I was getting married, there was never any question that he was going to be the one to walk me down the aisle. So, to leave him…yeah, that was something else.
And then there were my two older sisters. You know how people #SquadGoals, well, they’ve been my squad since 1988 and we are our #SquadGoals! Jokes aside, I can’t even begin to put into words the mad love and bond my sisters and I share! We are so close that our husbands joke about us having a “collective conscience” and I’ve got to admit that we are as crazy as that sounds! We’ve borrowed each other clothes and makeup, done each other’s hair, talked together, laughed together, challenged each other, fought like mad, been there for each other, defended each other, cried together then laughed together some more and that’s not even the half of it!
Man, it was excruciating to have to hug each of my sister’s goodbye!
And the same is true of my brothers. They’re the strong and silent types. Not much phases them outwardly but they are men of deep feelings and even deeper character. They are the definition of tall, dark and handsome but are also incredibly strong-both physically and in character. And why they aren’t really the huggy type, I’ve never doubted that they love me. Just mess with me or my sisters and these five lions will give chase! Trust me, you don’t want that…
We have always been close and had always been together that I had never dreamed that we would one day be apart. We have been through a lot as a family and have faced tough times and trials that I think could tear any family apart, so the fact that we are still a close family in spite of all that we have been through is a huge testament to what God has done in our lives! We’ve made it through some bleak days together and were there for each other during dark days. We have been through so much together that I honestly never given any thought to ever parting with my family. I mean, sure I had one day hoped to marry and have kids but I had never dreamed that I would then one day take my husband and kids and move to go and live in a completely different country!
That was a ridiculous thing to do and an impossible dream to dream!
And yet somehow here I was years later, doing that very thing I had once deemed impossible and ridiculous. I, Rachel, the baby sister and second last born child, was leaving to go to Canada with a family of my own…
What a crazy moment!
What a heartbreaking moment!
Oh yes, I wept bitterly at the pain of being parted from my beloved family but I do look forward with great joy and anticipation in my heart to the day when we will get to see each other again!
God, please make that day come soon!
Back to the airport…
After lengthy and weepy goodbyes, last minute hugs and kisses and promises to stay in contact and to Skype frequently, I mustered a brave face (albeit tear-stained and red-eyed) and donned my carry-on luggage then together Kirk, the kids and I made our way to airport security. We made it through security and passport control with minimal fuss and as we walked away from passport controllers booths, Kirk and I hugged and thanked God for that amazing moment! That moment felt so crazy and almost dreamlike. It’s like we walked but our feet never hit the ground and we glided along with giddy joy and excitement on our way to the boarding gates. We were entering into the uncharted waters of a new season of our lives and while we had yet to know what these seas held for us, we determined that come what may, we would make the most of it!
God is with us so we have no need to fear.
I kept all family and friends updated almost right up until takeoff. As our plane sped off the runway and sailed up into the night sky, we couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing journey God had brought us on. In fact, as the plane was taking off, Kirk and I looked dreamily into each other’s eyes and shared knowing smiles. We laced our fingers together while silently taking in the magnitude of that moment and reflecting on how incredible the last 3 years have been. We were speechless as we caught glimpses of the Johannesburg city lights as they began fading into the darkness of the South African night. In those moments, even though it was mind blowing and emotional to be leaving behind the comforts of our former life, we also had absolute peace that being on that plane was exactly where God wanted us to be and that knowledge gave us great comfort and strength.
For the love of selfies!
The last picture we sent famiily and friends just before take off!
It was crazy that we had finally begun this journey that we had been longing for and looking forward to, and while it may have taken us almost 3 years and an additional twenty-six and a half hours of traveling, the warm welcome we received at the end of the trip was absolutely worth it!
Do you wanna build a snowman?
The joy of a Winter Wonderland…
Page one of the new chapter of our lives dawned Thursday, December 1st, 2016. It was a cold day in Canada but you wouldn’t have known it from watching the happy reunion taking place inside Kelowna International Airport. We hugged, we talked, we had Tim Hortons (random aside: Tim Hortons’ white hot chocolate is life in a mug and Timbits are the future!) and then we drove home to begin writing what is so far turning out to be an exciting season in our lives!
It’s still kind of crazy to me that as I sit here and write this, every time I look up, I can see our melting snow covered yard and the remnants of the kids and my first ever snowman! I can see some snow covered trees on the mountains in the distance and semi icy roads and every so often, it hits me:
“We finally made it here! We’re finally home!”
It’s both surreal and yet normal… Crazy but good…
And so begins the adventures of this African abroad…