Freedom Isn’t Free

April 22, 2009

Folks have asked me over the past few months what it is that I miss the most about the United States, and I usually respond with “pizza”. This usually raises some eyebrows and causes a general sense of defensiveness concerning the doughy substance covered in some approximation of tomato sauce, mozeralla cheese, etc. that is served up here in the malls. You need to keep in perspective that I say that I miss pizza in rural Virginia as well. I’m from New York, and we New Yorkers take our pizza very seriously and, sorry, but South African pizza is not the real deal.

I usually wink and tell them that after pizza what I really miss is my freedom. This usually raises the eyebrows even further. “What are you talking about”? is the most common response.

I miss not having to always be looking over my shoulder nervously, checking and double-checking to see if the car is locked, if we have hidden the cameras/computer/wallets every night, if we have armed the alarm properly, if my office door is locked every time that I leave, wondering whether I should drive with windows down, wondering whether a street that the GPS is suggesting that we should turn onto is safe, quickly and seldom using the ATM, nervously watching and admonishing the children constantly when we are out, and the list goes on and on. There is a degree of low level anxiety every day while living in South Africa. The US Consulate lists the safely threat rating in South Africa as “critical” for embassy employees…the highest rating possible.

That said, nothing has actually happened to us individually or as a family, although there seemed to have been a close call a few months ago. This pervasive feeling is a constant reality of life. There are certainly days when we let our  guard down and wonder whether it is all overblown, but then we drive through Pietermartizburg and see all manner of dodgy things happening and hear the stories. Everyone has a story of a friend or a family member or themselves that were victims of a crime.

We have felt freedom on a few occasions, and that is when the homesickness really sets in. At Hluhluwe we could walk out onto the back porch and leave the doors open. In Swaziland, the crime did not nearly feel as palpable, and in Shakaland, it felt like we were safe. However, even in these places of relative security, we felt more like we might feel in a larger US city…cautious but not threatened.

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I don’t go running at night any more. That may not seem like a big deal, but I have still not been able to figure out how to make running work with my schedule. The “safest” time is to run early in the morning-5:30 am. I’m not really a morning person, and the times that I have tried to get up that early and run have usually resulted in me waking the entire house up by the time I disarm the alarm, and unlock the two gates and the front door to get out of the house. Running at night is out of the question. When I tell people that my usual running time in Virginia is 9:30 pm after the children have gone to bed, they immediately respond with “you musn’t do that!”

I have stopped riding a bike. The first reason is that I don’t have one, but that problem could have been overcome as I was offered one when I first arrived and told the person that I have been training for a triathlon. I don’t want to ride his bike. The drivers are dreadful, the roads are narrow, and I don’t want the responsibility of the relatively high likelihood that the bike will be stolen.

There are so many things to love about this country. The people are wonderful, the scenery is magnificent and there is so much potential here.

But on this election day, I miss my freedom. And a slice of meatball pizza.

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One Response to “Freedom Isn’t Free”

  1. emily Says:

    Brian,
    I am really enjoying your blog, insights, things missed, etc. Sometimes a break from training is good for you, gives you time to remember why you really like running, biking, etc. You’ll enjoy it all the more when you get back! I hope that your teaching is rewarding as you share your knowledge & experience.


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