Recently I’ve seen a lot of posts with the #imstaying in my feed. Some friends even invited me to join the Facebook group created for South Africans to share positive stories and their reasons for ‘staying’ – knowing perfectly well that I’ve lived in four other countries since 2012.
Perhaps they knew I’d love reading these stories anyway. That I would add them to my list of reasons why I have so much hope for the beautiful place I get to call ‘home’.
Long before the hashtag, I’ve noticed how many of my South African peers are stepping up and using their gifts, knowledge, and resources to make a real difference, not limited by the borders of South Africa. I see them going the extra mile because they truly care. Doing the best they can with what they have to improve the quality of life of those around them.
They inspire me to have the same mentality in this corner of the world.
Because you don’t have to live in South Africa or be a South African to find yourself in a place that is less than ideal. A situation that may seem hopeless or circumstances that are out of your control, but still negatively affects your life.
This can be anything from a recent diagnosis to a life-long battle with depression or anxiety. Environmental factors, a difficult marriage, debt, children with special needs, the loss of someone you loved more than life. The list is endless.
Of all the ways people try to escape the negative realities of life, immigration is only one of them. And after all the administration hoops we had to jump through recently I can confirm that this is not the easiest option. Some argue that by definition you can only claim that you chose to ‘stay’ if you had the option to leave.
Along those same lines, I’m thinking that just because someone is physically present doesn’t mean they didn’t ‘leave’. We often ‘check out’ mentally and emotionally long before we pack our bags, sign divorce papers, quit our jobs or plan the final attempt to end it all.
Choosing to stay is a choice each of us has to make at least once in our life – if not daily. Choosing to be present and make the most of any given situation with a positive attitude, instead of;
- using substances to numb
or escaping into a virtual reality that can look as innocent as playing online games or reading romance novels.
Choosing to stay will look different for each of us.
For some #goingback may feel like the ‘easier option’. To go back to a place with sunshine and blue skies where people speak your first language and share your values. Where you can get together with friends for a ‘braai’ and find milk at the grocery store that didn’t expire four months ago. Not to mention being able to work in the profession you studied for, instead of having to go to extremes to prove that your marriage certificate is real so that you can legally be a ‘housewife’ and nothing more.
For me choosing to stay in this season means choosing to support my husband and raise two lively boys in a Chinese city apartment. Having to learn at least the basics of a new language and culture without getting lost in it. Finding ways to keep reaching out and connecting with family and friends while remaining open for any opportunity to learn, grow, serve or connect with others in my local setting.
I don’t always do this well, but for me choosing to stay is choosing to hold on to hope. To have faith that there is a reason why I am here right now. And that when my time comes to move onwards or upwards, I’ll leave this place a little better than I found it.
I think this is the heart of the #imstaying movement (or at least it should be).
However, like many good intentions, it can be twisted and turned and even used as a tool to hurt. In this case to shame those who ‘left’.
When opportunities to say “me too” (the two small words at the heart of human connection) is already at an all-time low, the last thing an expat needs is to feel even more excluded.
Because not everyone who physically ‘left’ ran away.
Some were simply obedient to the call to ‘go’. Others said “yes” to opportunities for personal or professional development, or embraced adventures. Maybe better salaries and promises of ‘safer’ work and living environments played a big role, but who can honestly say that they do not care at all about the comforts and luxuries this world has to offer? Or would you say no to an opportunity to explore some of the most beautiful places in it?
Only God knows the true intentions of our hearts and the motives behind what we do.
All I know is that South Africa, and every other country in this world, need people who are willing to stay and do the much-needed work of building others up through their words, kind deeds and the stories they choose to share.
May you be one of them.
May your life be a testimony that is so much more than that one time you joined a Facebook group and wrote a post about all the reasons why you are staying.
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