All of us South African immigrants, 17 women flew in from as far away as Perth and New Zealand to reconnect and, as it turned out, to re-centre ourselves.
Gone were the hormone-infused teenagers and plump-faced young women filled with self-doubt and needless insecurities. And hello to a bunch of beautiful, self-confident women who’d navigated a substantial stretch of our journey through life, and arrived with humour and incredible stories we wore proudly on our faces.
The years had flown by faster than we imagined, and the rush of memories made 35 years seem like yesterday. What was fascinating to see was that we’d remained basically the same young girls we were all those many years ago. Looks barely changed and essentially we were the same. The smiles and our eyes, our voices and the way we expressed amusement, and our mannerisms – that was unchanged. We are just gentler versions of ourselves, more loving and honest, less competitive and better at accepting life and its challenges. Our skins were softer, but so were our hearts.
Oddly enough, some of us were only together a year or two, and at the time, we might not even have been that close. But with the passing of time, and in a foreign country, they felt so warmly familiar – like a cuddly childhood blanket on a chilly evening.
Atop the rooftop garden of a Sydney apartment overlooking Sydney harbour with the iconic bridge and multi-lighted buildings soaring into the sky at our backdrop, we majestically draped the GHS banner. We ate melktert and biltong, wore our old GHS badges with pride, danced to the cheesy 80s songs, and laughed and cried and talked from noon till late into the night.
We took home beaded green South African elephants (I kid you not!), commemorative glasses, and Christmas tree decorations to remind us at that special time of year. Even the delicious cupcakes had our school badge with its naff motto “industry with cheerfulness”. How we mocked and laughed at that annoyingly perky slogan when we were young girls, but now, after a few decades, we have come to understand and appreciate that wisdom.
We are, I think, a lot wiser. We are old enough now to be survivors. Most of us have experienced deaths of loved ones, buried dreams and loved ones, and lost our innocence along the way. We’d probably been indescribably happy at many points in our lives. But we’d also suffered. We’d all been through some dark tunnel of pain, and come out the other side, stronger than ever before.
Lots of us were widowed or divorced, some more painfully than others, and some have found love again. Among us were those who had outlived our children, miscarried, battled personal demons and some had faced financial difficulties. Some beautiful women were still happily married to wonderful men they still loved. Even the marriages had happy endings – with us being happy mothers, and the luckiest ones were now even grandmothers.
But what was clear is that we all now fully appreciated life. We realised that at the end of the day, it was friends and family that really matter. We were now finally better equipped to live in the moment by not sweating the small stuff.
And every person had become a wealth of interesting experiences. Each one of us was special with a fascinating life to be caught up on. Really!! One friend ruefully told me she felt her life had not been packed with as much excitement as others – “I just live a quiet life doing normal stuff”. Yet, it turned out she’s been married forever to the SAME man, a mother of two beautiful grown children, has a job as a Centrelink officer where she spends her days interacting with the most interesting and crazy people Australia has to offer, and spends her holidays racing off in her 4X4 RV and trailer camping off the beaten track. So not boring.
In such an uncertain world – especially one in which we’d left our families and friends and immigrated so far away – it was so healing to spend time with women who fundamentally knew us, understood where we came from, and therefore got the essence of who we were as South African Australians.
It was like coming home. And it felt good and powerful.