Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘foreign service

U is for Untruth

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I have two very different children. I mean that in the sense that they are different to each other, but also that they are, or can be, different. Atypical. Not the norm, whatever that is. And just to keep me a even higher on my toes (toe-walking!), sometimes they behave very typically, and that confuses me the most of all.

Lately in our house, we have been dealing with a lot of untruths. Cubby is a gifted story-teller, and has been from an early age. I sometimes question whether he can tell the difference between fact and fiction, so immersed is he in his alternate reality. He’ll even assure us that he is not lying as he states things that aren’t true…such as his assertion one evening this week that his school is teaching him to speak Norwegian.

Back when we were in the U.S. a couple of months ago, a lady at the park started speaking to me in Spanish, and after a couple of sentences revealed that I am not exactly a native speaker, she told me that Cubby had informed her that we came from Mexico (he has never been there) and he spoke English because his nanny (we’ve never had one) is from Australia (again, never been there).

I’m puzzled by all of this, because our real backstory is just as interesting as this one he chose to create. I struggled to find a purpose for him telling a complete stranger this misinformation. A friend suggested that it is just more interesting to him, and our reality, even one that spans the world, is mundane to him. He has been there, done that, and other locations are new to him, and therefore intrinsically more exciting.

Pudding is different. I used to believe the myth that autistic children don’t tell lies, but Pudding has disabused me of that, and many other ‘facts’ about autism over the years. She just doesn’t lie on the same scale as her brother. Her more recent untruths have been more pragmatic in nature. They have a function that is very clear to me. Unlike her brother, I understand why she lies. Often it is for the same mundane reasons of most children: she wants to avoid getting into trouble for something she knows she wasn’t supposed to do, or she wants to get something she wants.

But while easier to understand, and certainly easier to deal with than Cubby’s untruths, Pudding’s simple lies are the ones that scare me the most.

As you may know, Pudding has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. We’ve known this since she was a baby, and her whole life we’ve taught her that she must always avoid these items, as well as many other foods that look safe, but may contain items that are very dangerous to her. She has been able to say from the age of three that she is allergic, and will sometimes volunteer this information about herself to others.

While she carries an epi-pen, and her school cafeteria doesn’t offer nuts, and her classroom is “nut-free” for snacks, we still rely on her to keep herself safe. An incredibly challenging thing for any young child, but more so in the case of one with the additional mix of autism and ADHD.

Imagine then, how scared I was at this story her aide recounted to me last week. It was snack time, and one of the other girls had cookies. A most covetable item at the best of times, but when compared to the healthy choices I’d sent with Pudding (carrots and cucumber sticks with rice cakes), the temptation had been too much.

Noticing Pudding’s gaze, the girl wanted to share. But what is more, before she did, she actually asked Pudding if she had any allergies.

And Pudding said no.

A lie that could, quite literally, kill her.

In this instance, there were no dire consequences. Her wonderful aide was right there, and intervened immediately. There were no nuts in the cookies (thank you, parents who obey nut-free rules), and we know to continue to reiterate the dangers of taking food we don’t know to be safe.

It is messy, this parenting thing. Allowing our kids to be themselves, develop naturally, and yet keep them safe is the hardest thing to do. And that, my friends, is no lie.

This post is part of my A-Z series. You can read the rest by clicking >here<.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Wordless Wednesday 26 Mar 14

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Image

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

February 26, 2014 at 5:54 am

Blocked

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I haven’t blogged since Pudding’s birthday, more than a month ago.  It isn’t for want of things happening.  We’ve been having adventures galore that I need to catch you up on, from meeting penguins in Cape Town, to exploring Scotland.  Pudding has been making strides; learning how to brush her teeth by herself, and battling every kind of hand dryer in both the northern and southern hemispheres until she no longer fears them.  Oh, and I shook the hands of two more presidents.  Such a lot going on all at once.  I need to write about that.

Pudding is writing more than me these days.  From sending her grandparents her first ever email, to wandering around different countries with a pen and paper in her hand, she is writing all the time.

I find it interesting what she chooses to write.  Sometimes she is simply documenting her life around her; she’ll write the names of her school friends, or what she has done that day.  At other times, her writing is emphatic.  Frustrated that her spoken word isn’t being heeded, she’ll write out what she needs us to do.  This morning she was adamant that she shouldn’t be sent to school.  I know how she feels- I’d enjoyed our extended break too.

And now we are back, back in our routine.  Except not really, because it is hard to get back into a routine when you only have 6 months left in a place and you don’t know where you’ll be living after that.

I mean, I got stuck on the fact that I don’t need to buy the kids any more toothpaste, because we’ll leave here before it runs out.  We have more toothpaste than time left here, and nothing in place for after that.  No international school persuaded that inclusion is in fact, the way forward.  The only way, in my opinion.  No team of therapists in place for two kids who need extra support.  

Stuck.  Blocked.  I know how my kid feels.  I tend not to write about the frustrations of our globally mobile lifestyle.  I try not to bite the hand that feeds our family.  But not having an onward assignment at this point is devastating to a family in our situation.  It takes time and effort to set up for our kids’ educational and therapeutic needs, wherever we end up next.  

Still, we’ve proven we can do this, and we’re ready for another try.  Pudding keeps mentioning going to Brazil, so maybe she knows something we don’t.  I’m frustrated, angry, and all out of patience with things far beyond my control, but we’ll get through this like every other challenge we’ve faced: squeezing out one more day at a time.  

Yes, I feel better for writing that out.  That girl of mine really knows how to handle this stuff.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Worried

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I’m not worried.

Pudding is coming up to the last month of Kindergarten.  She has been supported, praised, held and loved.  And now it is time for her to move up to first grade. 

I’m not worried.

She has made friends, in her own way, and those kids have accepted her and liked her.  Perhaps some will stay in the same class with her.  Maybe she’ll make new friends.  I’m not worried.

Her current teacher is arranging for us to meet the next one.  She will prepare social stories and prep Pudding , and maybe even the new teacher, as best she can.  I wonder if she is worried.  I’m not.

Just as we’re looking at the next step with Pudding, our eyes are also a little further on the horizon.  It isn’t just next year we have to plan for, in the same school, but our next move.  Our next country.  Maybe even a whole new continent. 

And still, I’m not worried.

Because I know she can do it.  I’ve seen her, time and time again rise up to new challenges, and develop resilience, confidence, and the skills she needs to succeed.  I know now, I know, that with time, supports, and preparation, she is equal to anything.

I think I knew it even before we moved to Johannesburg- this was just testing our hypothesis.  Being prepared to run other experiments if we didn’t succeed the first time.  Knowing that there is always another way…we just had to find the best way, for her.  And we did.

And we will again.

I’m not worried. 

I’m grateful.

I’m experienced.

I’m prepared.

I’m ready.  Just like my girl.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Feeling Included

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So today was finally the day.  My nerves have been wracking for weeks as I faced up to the challenge of public speaking.  I’d been asked to participate in a conference on international inclusion, and as much as my instincts have me running away from such opportunities, I decided to follow the example my girl sets me every single day: I got out of my comfort zone.

The conference had started yesterday, but Pudding was down with what turned out to be a double ear infection, so she took priority.  Spectrummy Daddy took today off work instead so I could still do my bit.  I got talking to the lady at the table next to me, a principal of an international school.  Before long she revealed that her daughter is also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and now doing really well- not just in college, but spending a year abroad in Paris.  I felt that feeling of connection that we spectrum parents always feel when we meet.  We’re never alone.

Part of the day the conference participants were divided up into groups to see learning support in action, but I wasn’t placed in  group, so I did the “mummy tour” of just the bits that were relevant to Pudding’s education.  I got to check out “Pudding’s office” which is also known as the sensory room.  There I learned how Pudding manages her sensory needs in school (just the same as at home, really) and the awesome Ms. B reiterated how much she loved working with Pudding.

I had a bit of free time, so I sat near Pudding’s classmates as they ate lunch.  The teaching assistant for Pudding’s class was there, and we’d recently discussed how she was hoping to continue as the teaching partner in her classroom next year.  Not only that, but she was fighting with a few other teaching partners who also had their eye on working with Pudding next year!  How far we have come, from schools that wouldn’t admit her and teachers who couldn’t work with her, to a place where she is accepted and loved for who she is.

Next I moved to Pudding’s classroom, where her teacher presented a slideshow of videos about Pudding and how our inclusion project is working out.  The video ended with one of Pudding’s classmates sagely noting that “she learns from us.”  It kind of sums up inclusion in a sentence.  What this little girl hasn’t realized yet, though, is that she is also learning from Pudding.

One of my favourite parts of the day was the student panel.   A group of middle and high school students talked about their experiences of inclusion: the diversity here included South African children on scholarships, as well as those receiving learning support.  These students were incredibly articulate, and could detail the many benefits they received from an inclusive education.  It was a showcase of all that is great about the school, and fascinating to me considering that not long ago some of these kids wouldn’t have even been admitted to the school.

And then it was my turn.  I’d love to say that I conquered my nerves, but that isn’t the way these things work.  I did, however, acknowledge those nerves- it is just part of who I am, and as I neared the end of my presentation, I found that the shakiness in my voice had almost disappeared.  I talked about our experiences- both positive and negative- with special education, I talked about how this school had initially rejected Pudding for pre-K, our conditional acceptance into Kindergarten, and the incredible successes we have enjoyed ever since.

Everyone at the conference responded really positively to what I had to say.  The director of the school hadn’t known that we were initially rejected from his school, and wished to speak to me privately.  He reiterated that the school was developing and learning how to really build a community.  International schools can only really do that when they’re allowing all of us to be part of that community.

It was time to leave, but not before more I met with more educators and faculty members who told me that our story further resonated because they too were parents of children with learning differences.  We are all connected, in some intangible way by our experiences.  Here in South Africa they call it Ubuntu:  a philosophy that can be summed up by ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’  I think these international schools are going to be whole lot better because of who we all are.  And including us- as parents to speak at conferences, and as children to be educated- is going to make them the best that they can be.

Happy Holidays

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Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays- treasure your most precious gifts!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 25, 2012 at 11:18 am

Freedom of Speech

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Sometimes my life seems to have very separate compartments, and you can divide them up quite neatly.  There is my life in the foreign service: as an employee of the State Department, and the wife of a diplomat.  Then there is my home life: as a wife to my husband, and mother to my children.  Then I suppose there is the side where I write and advocate.  Most often I wrote about my children.  Sometimes I write about autism and special needs.  Other times life in the foreign service.  But this is wrong, because I’m always writing about all of those things at the same time.  If they are my experiences, they are a unique blend of my past and my present, personal history and present geography.  In moments of clarity, I understand that the world isn’t black and white, but several shades of grey (not fifty though- get your minds out of the gutter)!

On R&R in England, foreign service life seemed far away.  We visited Durham Cathedral on September 11th, and I showed the kids how we light a candle for those who can’t be with us.  Our children are too young to understand much, but I told them that when things are dark, we have to light the way.

That same day, four of our colleagues were murdered in Libya.  Over the next few days there were violent protests directed at other US embassies and consulates.  It was a strange disconnect, being away from our foreign service community at that time, but seeing images, and reading friends’ status updates on Facebook as the action took place around them.

My brain wants things to be black and white.  It makes things easier to understand  if there are sides and good guys and bad guys.  This is how Cubby likes things to be.  He needs to know who is good and bad, who is right and wrong.  But it is more complicated than that.  It is wrong to make provocative movies, deliberately dubbed to offend religions and communities, to destroy the peaceful efforts and relationship-building that Ambassador Stevens and others lived for; then died for.  And yet without freedom of speech, what do we have?  Every time I post a blog, I exercise a right that many in this world don’t have, may never have.

So too, do those who are hurt or offended have a right to protest.  It isn’t wrong to protest- it is a democratic right.  Another kind of freedom of speech.  But violence against innocents is wrong, even if done in protest against abuses.  When protests came last week to our consulate, I thought more about the fear and potential threat- the dark- than the light of living in a society that permits and encourages the right to protest.

Freedom of speech is an interesting concept to me.  Words come easily to me, and I’m safe to express them.  What then, about my daughter, whose speech does not flow so freely?  How do I protect her rights?  One way, is respecting her expressions of protest.  Pudding can refuse, or dissent, or stay quiet, or walk away.  I’ve explained to her therapists before that her needs should always be respected, rather than corrected.  At times she can articulate those needs quite clearly, when she is overloaded, she cannot.

I’m mindful that this right I have is actually a privilege.  A power not extended to all.  And so, if I abuse that power, intentionally or not, others have a right to protest.  The grey area gets murkier, because words, particularly from those in power, can have unforeseen consequences.  Every time I write about Pudding, her autism, and our lives, I’m mindful of the fact that I’m balancing my freedom of speech with hers.  We’re all Ambassadors, all the time.  When things get dark, we have to light the way.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Fan

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Back when we first started planning our trip to England, I wasn’t working.  By the time the trip came around, I was employed, and things were busy.  Not only was I new to the job, but the last couple of months are the busiest time of year, and then because of certain organizational changes, and certain people visiting, things were even busier.  There wasn’t time to think in those last few days, let alone pack, prepare the kids, and prepare the office.  Which means it was perfect timing for things to go horribly wrong.

In the week leading up to our departure, Cubby was ill, followed by myself and Spectrummy Daddy in quick succession.  We all recovered, and were feeling well by Friday, the day of departure.  I hadn’t been in the office for long when the call came from Pudding’s school that she was ill.  I raced out to get her, and out to the doctor.  She was feverish, and looked miserable, which was just how I felt.

Pudding was much more defensive than she usually is with the GP- a sure sign that she was ill.  With much patience and coaxing, the doctor managed to assess her, and promptly diagnosed Tonsilitis and a chest infection.  I must have looked how I felt, because the doctor told me she’d give Pudding some medicine, and she’d be fine to travel.  Really?  Yes, because I was her patient too, and she knows how much I needed to get away.  Pudding could be treated, and would soon be back to full health.

I asked our Regional Medical Officer for a second opinion, and he concurred.  The trip was still on, we just had to get the medication inside her.

That was easier written than done.

Pudding refused all medications, both tablet and syrup forms.  We tried mixing it into drinks, we tried bribing her, she refused.  She was not going to take that medicine!  And I wasn’t, I mean I just wasn’t going to put her through that flight without medication.  I couldn’t.  I didn’t voice it out loud, but I mentally prepared myself for not boarding.  Time ticked on, and we were sent to the gate, still without Pudding taking her medicine.

And then I saw it….a Hello Kitty fan!

Now, Hello Kitty is the tops for Pudding in terms of special interests.  But fans are the most stimtastic things for Pudding.  She learned at just a few weeks old that if she screamed if the fan was turned off, we’d turn it back on for her.  I remember Pudding not engaging in most of the assessments during her evaluation because there was a fan in the room, and she just had to keep telling us about it, and staring at it, and spinning like it.  Fans?  Fans are big.  Hello Kitty fans?  Colossal.  I instructed Spectrummy Daddy to furtively buy one.

And moments before boarding, I showed it to her.  She could have it, but she had to take the medicine.  And this time, no fuss, no fight.  She took it all.  Her temperature started to drop immediately.  And for the first time that long day, she was all smiles.

As we passed through the entrance to board the plane, one of the ground staff asked Pudding if it was her magic wand.  And of course, Pudding corrected her that it was a Hello Kitty fan.  She was right, but it was my magic wand.  And to England we did go by the grace of that Hello Kitty fan.  We ended up losing it a week or so later in some motorway services in the north of England with some other Kitty paraphernalia.

I like to think that some magic rubbed off to whoever was lucky enough to hold it next.  Because in spite of that truly turbulent start, the rest of the flight was smooth…and Pudding recovered quickly, and well, I’ll tell you some of the rest of our magical adventures another time.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Wordless Wednesday 12 Sep 12

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Pudding finds her peace looking out at Lake Windermere. We are forever endebted to those who have given their lives in pursuit of peace. RIP.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 12, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Ten Things About Johannesburg

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Johannesburg Skyline

Johannesburg Skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband likens Johannesburg to Angelina Jolie.  She is glamorous, wild, and a tiny bit dangerous.  Oh, and if I had Angelina’s income, I’d also be adopting a bunch of orphans here too.  Life in the ‘World Class African City’ is an experience in extremes.  You might love it or hate it here, but you’ll never be bored.

Ten Best Things

1. The Weather.  I may not ever again live in a more perfect climate.  The summer was hot, but not too humid- such a pleasant escape after a DC tour.  We’re in winter now, but only a couple of days has it dipped below freezing.  Oh, and the sun shines every day, restoring vitamin D levels after a rainy three years in Luxembourg.  What’s not to love about that?

2. Community.  From cups of tea and a chat, to getting together for book club and talking about everything but the book- we have felt incredibly welcome here, quirks and all.  Perhaps because it is my first time at a Consulate rather than an Embassy, or perhaps I’d just had an isolating few years, I’m especially grateful for the warm and inclusive support here that comes straight from the top.

3. Children’s Activities.  I don’t know that there is anywhere in the world that is Johannesburg’s equal when it comes to family-friendly things to do.  Just about anything that interests your child is available here, from cutting-edge art spaces, to polo.  The best part for us was finding a swim instructorwho was experienced with special needs children.

4. Dining Out.  It is very affordable to eat out as compared to a domestic tour, and just about every dietary requirement is catered to here.  But the best thing for us is having decent restaurants which not only welcome children, but often have supervised play areas too.  You could still hang out at McDonalds, but there is no reason to do so here.

5. Language.  Okay, so there are eleven official languages, and the people here rightly take pride in that linguistic heritage.  But the official language is English, and almost everybody you encounter speaks it fluently.  Much as I am a language nerd myself, I wouldn’t much fancy trying to find therapists and schools that can support my kids’ special needs in any language other than English right now.  After almost a year, I even like the accent now- which is just as well because Cubby is picking it up a little more every day.

6. Woolworths.  Woolworths is not the same as the former Woolworths of England or the US, but part of the Marks and Spencer family.  To know Woolworths is to love it.  To know their Chocolate Millionaire Brownies is to develop an addiction that makes your clothes stop fitting.  Everything you’ll ever need in one store, and it is still cheaper than grocery shopping in the US.  It will give us Hot Cross Buns at Easter, and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  Pudding appreciates it as a regular supplier of Hello Kitty products, from clothes to nut-free advent calenders.

7. Tea and Coffee.  I like my tea, and used to have my parents bring huge quantities to wherever I lived, but no need here.  Five Roses tea is wonderful.  Rooibos tea is a refreshing delight.  I can go out to any cafe or restaurant and the quality is equal to what I would drink at home.  Living in the US I developed a certain fondness for Starbucks, so was dismayed to find that it hasn’t made its way over here yet.  Imagine my delight to find several quality alternatives here, from Mugg & Bean to Vida e Caffe.  And they make babyccinos for the kids.

8. Comforts.  I’ve been known to enjoy the finer things in life, and the same can be said of the good people of South Africa.  For instance, it was a little chilly in Sunday morning, so we popped into a coffee shop where I could sip a Lindt hot chocolate while wrapped snugly in the cosy throw provided on the oversized leather chairs.  Bliss.  Did I also mention that South Africa is wine country?  If you like a glass, trust me, you’ll enjoy it here.

9. Wildlife.  Can you believe we haven’t gone on safari yet?  We want the kids settled, and a tiny bit older to fully appreciate it.  But we have been to game parks and wildlife reserves that have taken our breath away.  It is incredible to see such creatures as giraffes and lions up close.  We actually stayed at a crocodile reserve (though alarmingly, it sold crocodile skin handbags).  One of the highlights of my life so far was feeding a family of elephants, and I know we haven’t even really begun our animal adventures here.

10. Scenery.  You don’t always hear about South Africa being a beautiful country, but that just makes it even more incredible to discover.  The Drakensberg mountains are incredible, and I can’t wait to add trips to Cape Town and Durban.  I don’t think we’ll come even close to exploring everything we want to, but if we do, there is always Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique to check out, all (relatively) close at hand.

Ten Worst Things

1. Crime.  You might know that Johannesburg is considered the most dangerous city in the world before you get here, but living it is an entirely different experience.  That feeling of security I’ve always known is absent here, and for all the precautions you can take, you can’t change the amount of crime that happens.  There are sections of this city that I’ve never been to, nor will I.  Even in the suburbs I don’t feel safe at night.  A woman is raped here every thirty seconds.  There was an armed robbery right where our children play.  I’ve held a woman who had just been told her son was murdered, and not had the words to comfort her.  Crime is by far the worst thing about Johannesburg.

2. Driving.  I have to drive a lot here, so my experience is probably a little different to those who manage to avoid school run during the rush hour.  You have your usual big city lack of courtesy, together with potholes and traffic lights that don’t work.  I also have a lousy car, so I’m just grateful if I get through the day without being towed.  This is not the place to have an unreliable vehicle (see above).

3. Kombi Buses. Perhaps they should just come under the driving header, but I hate kombi buses so much that they get their own special heading.  From constantly honking, to driving on the wrong side of the road, to pulling out without looking: a day driving amongst these vehicles feels like you’re in the middle of war zone.  Needless to say, we’re not actually allowed to ride in them.

4. Growing Pains.  You’ll sometimes hear South Africans refer to their country’s struggles as ‘growing pains.’  Indeed, the post-Apartheid nation is still young, but still an interesting way to describe such deep inequality and corruption.  Sometimes living history comes at a cost.

5. Racism. Apartheid may have ended in 1994, and South Africa probably has the best constitution in the world, but there is still disproportionate challenges facing the black African population here.  When you go to a restaurant in the northern suburbs, you still tend to find that most of the customers are white, and the serving staff are black.  There is a reason why ethnic tensions still exist here.

6. Inequality.  The flip-side to living amongst these luxuries, is knowing that you are surrounded by people who will never know these creature comforts.  I find it hard living in relative wealth when I see the extreme poverty of those living in settlements or more rural parts of the country.

7. Poaching.  Rhino horn poaching is brutal and tragic, and actually increasing here.  Although the horn is made of the same material as fingernails, rhino horns nets a fortune for poachers selling to the Asian market.  Poaching is so endemic that some wildlife reserves are actually removing the rhino’s horns in an effort to protect them from slaughter.  There are few things that make me sadder than the thought of this beautiful animal becoming extinct because of man’s greed.

8. Window washers.  With official unemployment rates at 25%, and unofficial ones even higher, I can understand people looking for ways to make money.  That said, the people who clean my windscreen at the traffic lights have been unreasonably aggressive.  Driving alone with young children, I feel particularly vulnerable to their hostility.

9. Disability.  This is another world of contrasts in South Africa.  There is a young disabled black African girl who frequently sits at the traffic lights close to our home.  Who knows how many years she has been doing this, but she certainly isn’t getting a decent education.  Often you’ll see (presumably) family members leading their disabled companions through traffic to beg.  It is inconceivable that the famous disabled athlete Oscar Pistorius comes from this same country, but with a radically different experience.  Likewise, my autistic daughter’s education is entirely different to if she was born here in rural poverty.

10. Distance.  South Africa is a large country, but this is a HUGE continent.  At times it feels really far from home, and the internet doesn’t always behave as kindly as it could to the homesick.  This country has a wealth of attractions, but it can’t always compete with a 17 hour flight when you’re looking for visitors.

So there you have it.  Johannesburg is like nowhere else, but for us it feels like home.  I’ll probably never feel easy living here, but at least we’re very comfortable.  This post was inspired by a fellow Foreign Service Blogger’s contribution: Fabling.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm