26 Nov 2013

No matter how old you get, there’s no place like home

Thank you for what you did yesterday. For being so many secret Santas for kids in South Africa. I can’t wait to deliver your gifts. I would pack you in my suitcase if I could. Because on December 9th, after nearly two and a half years away, we’re headed home for Christmas. If I could take you with me, this is what it would be like….

There’s a moment right after passengers have been told to “put your seat backs in the upright position, stow your tray tables and fasten your seat belts” and before the landing gear comes down when my heart starts to race at the anticipation of being home again.

First comes the weather: hot, dry, sunshine. Then the visuals: sky – big, warm blue, streaked with light, white cloud.

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Veld – golden, dry and a haze of heat. Smells of dust, fires, taxis, and the cologne of a welcoming embrace. The sound of family all yelling at once as they spot us coming through customs, “Here, look, there they are! Guys, guys, over here! Run, run to them – it’s ok, go!”


Bone-crushing hugs. Salty tears. Smiles. Big, white smiles buried in a brother’s little dark, chocolate face, behind a dad’s graying beard, beneath a mom’s cobalt, blue eyes.  So many smiles. I feel them in my toes.

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Hair gel, lots of hair gel still shaping another brother’s do. He runs his fingers through it as we stand and look at each other, grin, shuffle feet and renew.

Relationships have to be nurtured to survive. They require close contact to thrive. Long-distance is the antithesis to family ties. Each homecoming is a rebirth of an old relationship. It takes effort. It’s a commitment. It’s rewarded by two boys who feel themselves at home in a country they visit only once or so a year.



Screaming hugs and highways that arch and lurch exactly as I remember them. Dad’s driving that my brother still tries to correct. Hawkers who launch themselves at our car whenever the light turns red.

A steep, steep driveway over a carpet of jacaranda petals that leads up to the house. And more hugs. And tea and koeksisters, melktert and rusks.

Home is where people feed you what you’ve missed before you ask for it.

Home is a small cottage that sits side-by-side next to my parents’ house. Home is an old dog and two raggedy cats long since passed on. But their memories, their memories launch themselves at me as we walk through the door. An old ox yoke hangs on the wall. Steps lead up and words unfold themselves above each stair, words I can repeat in my sleep from a thousand times climbing those stairs, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Family pictures line the walls. My name, my husband’s, proudly on the family tree, our sons – wait, one still must be added. Our family tree has grown since I was last home. Flowers, pots of flowers in the kitchen soaking in the sink. And in the lounge a kudu head inappropriately perfect for the room looks down on the scene of suitcases scattered about, clothes unfolding, gifts unpacked and exchanged. Shrieks of delight, of laughter, of joy, of the first fights between the littlest kids reunited. A red guitar for one a green guitar for another. Rock stars are born. Parents have misgivings about the gifts.

More food, supper. Pap ‘n wors, sauces, mushrooms, mealies, cauliflower, samp, salads – oh the salads – a riot of color and texture and taste. Prickly pears for dessert. My dad demonstrates how to cut them open and peel out the sweet and juicy fruit. A whole box of litchis for one friend. A carton of nectarines for me because my dad knows I don’t like peaches. Five Roses tea for some, Rooibos for others. Amarula for everyone.

The familiar, nightly chorus of frogs begins. You can easily forget how loud they are. They almost overpower the jasmine. Almost. Because nothing can outdo the rich, heavy jasmine in full bloom on a summer night in Pretoria. Nothing.

And on a first night back home all that is left to do is stare at the stars. Because as if all the rest isn’t enough, the stars for definite will reassure you that you’re back in the Southern Hemisphere.


All photos from our last trip, 2 years ago. And if you’re in South Africa – I’d LOVE to meetup with you this December. Just click here for the details.


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Aaahhhhh. And I exhaled a huge sigh of joy for you, and for the temporary trip you just gave me back to South Africa. Have a fabulous time … and eat some melktert for my Tswana husband and a bagful of litchis for my homesick son, would you? ;-)

  2. 2

    Oh, I love this, Lisa-Jo. I’m going to keep saying it- thank you for giving me a glimpse into South Africa. I feel like I have a home 9,000 miles away that I haven’t yet been to and reading your stories adds to the anticipation and joy I know I’ll feel when we get to go (for six weeks!) to get our child.

    • 3

      Where will you be, Kelsey?

      • 4

        We won’t know for sure until we get our referral. There are orphanages our agency works with in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. It sounds like we will have to spend time in Johannesburg for court appearances regardless, though.

  3. 5

    This is beautiful, Lisa Jo! So evocative. I’ll be praying that your time at home exceeds even these high hopes and expectations.

    • 6

      Well you guys are a little slice of home in PA and we can’t wait to see you tomorrow! Off to buy pies…. :)

  4. 7

    I’m smile-crying for you as I read this. My heart is so full of joy for you and them and especially Zoe! Soak it all in and get that red dirt under your fingernails to bring home. Thanks for sharing your heart and home with me.

  5. 8

    Lekker, Geniet dit! Wish I could come but it’s a bit too far for a short visit during holidays (kids at home, no where to stay in Pretoria etc)
    God bless you guys! I look forward to reading about it. Xx

  6. 9

    That was beautifully written, Lisa-Jo! It takes me back to our summer vacations at my grandparents’ lake cabin in Minnesota where my grandma would meet us at the screen door with outstretched arms and a laugh of joy that was uniquely hers. I wish that every child (and adult!) had a place they return to each year that creates such warm memories!

  7. 10

    Your writing makes me feel like S.A is my home, too! How do you do that? I feel what you feel and live vicariously through your writing of home. Your comments about pets long gone has a haunting quality that reminds me of places that can never die in your heart. Strangely, your writing makes me yearn for S.A too!

    Wow. Great writing. Have loads of fun and catching up in December with family and friends. There’s nothing quite like home when home is the best place in the world.

  8. 11
    AineMistig says:

    “Each homecoming is a rebirth of an old relationship. It takes effort. It’s a commitment. It’s rewarded by two boys who feel themselves at home in a country they visit only once or so a year.” That was just excellent, and it describes our family situation perfectly as well — only exchange “country” for “county.” I grew up in the northern USA with snow, and we live in the south now with the palm trees. Even though we’re on the same continent, the culture, climate, and curious flora here makes me feel like we’re in a different country. I’m sure there are many others who are living with the same experience — it’s common to move away for a job. But my boys still know in their bones that they have family who love them, grandmas and grandpas and cousins, albeit far away. Your words put the experience quite, quite well, beautifully.

    But we are going home for Christmas too! On the 19th, ten days after you. I’m glad you’re getting to spend almost a whole month there, that’s wonderful. I hope each moment is like watching a dollop of syrup on it’s way to a pancake: slow, rich, and sweet.

    Thank you for sharing with us, as always.

  9. 12

    Oh Africa! Your words make me homesick, and I haven’t been there for 26 years! For me it was East Africa. But we had jacarandas, heat, the sun, the smells, bougainvillea, the noise, the traffic, the colours, mosquitoes, and rain drumming on corrugated iron roofs.

    I hope you have a lovely time. You are so blessed to have family still there, that you can go to visit. And eat melktert for me. I am blessed by having a S. African friend who has made it for me.

  10. 13

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  1. […] blogger Lisa-Jo Baker wrote in a beautiful blog post today, "Home is where people feed you what you missed before you ask for […]

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