Dr. Amel Karboul

Sabbatical in South Africa

Last year, I packed up my two daughters, along with a few items of clothing and two Barbie’s and moved to Cape Town for some months. My husband was there already three weeks before we arrived. After 15 years of hard work and 2 difficult childbed experiences, I longed to have a creative break from ‘life’. It took me so long to take this decision – why do we invent so many psychological obstacles to prevent us from following our desires? Once I had made my decision, I was amazed how easily things fell into place. My husband agreed to join in this experience, the girl’s school embraced the idea of them joining a South African school and we set up a weekly email contact with the teachers back in Cologne so they would not loose touch with their classmates. We even were fully booked for the time after the sabbatical, so God did send us all this to take the pressure off and allowed us to truly enjoy our time away.

Our Journey was quite exhausting, starting with my youngest vomiting in the Taxi to the train station, then a snow storm, followed by closing of the train tracks, us hanging around in an old train up to Mainz before making it finally to the airport to miss our flight by 2 minutes. We got the Johannesburg flight to find all flights the next day from Johannesburg to Cape Town fully booked. We made it to our new home after 30 hours. Our luggage was not there yet (made it there only 6 weeks later) – not quite the perfect start you would say. However our kids enjoyed their Christmas presents in February!

From then on everything was perfect. The nursery and the school we found were superb and totally open to host our girls. Many people were questioning our decision and even some found us selfish to drag our daughters to South Africa and take them from their so loved ‘routine’. They settled so perfectly well. An added bonus was that they learned English and Afrikaans, excellent gym and outdoor activities, African dance, as well as engaging with another culture. The highlight was that they could go to school bare foot – a matter that made their classmates in Germany really jealous. They rode on elephants, saw whales, swam almost everyday after school with peacocks and Haddida (not sure what they were, this is the name our daughters gave them) as companions.

For our part we made some fantastic new friend. Cape Town is an amazing city, we felt welcomed from the first moment. We found a clarity it would have been hard to obtain in daily routine and helped us define new goals for the next years. It helped us see what we want from life and it made it possible for us just to enjoy life. We met a bunch of people too from all over the world who came to Cape Town in order to fulfill a creative dream. We marveled everyday at the magical sounds and sights of the city. The sky changing colors were our daily highlights. We also lost many fears. We lost the fear that our client would miss us, we lost the fear of letting go, we lost the fear of not being able to live elsewhere as a family, we lost the fear of asking ourselves: what do we want in life?

We also found an objective view into our life. A sabbatical with small children is not a meditation retreat or a let’s live a loose day after the other. You organize a house, a nursery, a school, a nanny, a car, a doctor, homework and sport activities and play dates. After four weeks, I called my best friend back home totally shocked telling her: “ can you imagine after four weeks we recreated the exact same life we have in Germany – how come, are we mad?” She was a gift from heaven. She just reframed what I said: “ Amel, you just created the structure you need to be able to have some free time while having a family sabbatical!”. And she was right. While the kids were at school we had often 3 hours lunches in great vineyards, had nice coffee on the waterfront or went to yoga classes. We spend some time with an NGO in one of the biggest slums, organized birthday parties and braais for our new friends. It happened however that at a magical moment, on the top of a hill, watching a sun set and starting to shift into a Zen mind, a 2 years old suddenly calls out: Mama, Pipi! You start laughing then and learn to be in the moment.

And now afterwards asking ourselves: did it make us happy?
Yes, it did!