Small Town Life: What We’re Loving So Far (Plus, an Epiphany)

It’s been two months since we untethered ourselves from city life (and all its creature comforts) and set off on our mission to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Although truth be told, at the time we didn’t realize that was our mission.

If we had, we’d most likely still be in the Mother City quaffing wine on Café Neo’s deck and marveling at the spectacular view.

Instead, we find ourselves getting to grips with small town life (in the middle of the Karoo, no less) because I answered an ad on Gumtree. Weird how that happens sometimes, right?

One minute you’re just mulling over an idea and the next thing you know you’ve agreed to ‘house sit’ a permaculture farm, and dog sit a Great Dane, a lab, and a collie mix for the next four months.

Because why not?

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Adjusting to Small Town Life

Ang and Sporty getting excited about discovering vegan cheese at the local grocer. Small town life at its best.
Vegan cheese in a small town. Whaaat!?

When we first arrived in Oudtshoorn a month ago we were all big-eyed at everything the town had to offer. Having just spent the previous three and a half weeks living off the grid on a permaculture farm outside De Rust, it’s safe to say the bar was set pretty low (read: floor height).

It’s all relative. On Wednesday we went to George and behaved as if we’d just arrived in New York for the first time. It’s no buzzing metropolis, but it has a mall and movies, and the local Pick ‘n Pay stocks vegan cheese. ‘Nuff said.

Shout out to the forward-thinking manager of that store. Whoever you are for president.

In Which an Epiphany Was Had

I’m not going to lie, we’re missing Cape Town. A lot. I knew I would, but then I’ve always embraced my inner city girl. Poor Sporty, on the other hand, had a rather unfortunate epiphany during our time on the farm.

She’d always imagined herself living out her days on one of those co-owned hippie off-the-grid places where everyone has their own house but you all work together tending the veggies and selling eggs on the side of the road. (I’m not sure where she saw me in this fantasy.)

Anyway, we were about a week into our farm-sitting gig when she approached me with a rather crestfallen look. I immediately assumed she’d accidentally stepped on a spinach bush, but the truth was in fact much worse. (For her, anyway.)

“I’m a city girl at heart,” she said sadly, while at the same time gazing distastefully at her grubby fingernails. (Sporty was in charge of keeping the garden alive, while my responsibilities included cooking, cleaning the pool, and cycling into town to fetch wine.)

The Benefits of Unsettling Yourself

That’s the thing, though. If we’d just continued living our old life, she’d never have discovered that farming wasn’t for her. Purposefully unsettling oneself is scary in the extreme, but it’s also remarkably satisfying.

It allows you to test your mettle in situations you wouldn’t ordinarily find yourself. It teaches you patience, acceptance, and tolerance and it shines a spotlight on your character. Which, it must be said, can sometimes be a little more revealing than one would like.

Also, it’s a wonderful opportunity to keep one’s sense of humor shipshape. The ability to find the funny when things get tough is of paramount importance when you’re spending most of your time outside of your comfort zone.

Appreciating What Is

As much as we’re both longing for the Big Smoke, there’s much to appreciate about the ostrich capital of the world. For one thing, it’s not nearly as noisy. People almost never hoot here and that includes the minibus taxis.

Everyone greets you, whether they pass you by on foot or in a vehicle, they’ll say hi, wave, nod or something in between. Interestingly, we get stared at less here than we do in Cape Town. Even Sporty’s minimalist shoes don’t warrant a second glance.

We’ve heard a couple of stories of petty crime incidents, but overall the town feels really safe. The teenagers look like thugs but then greet you politely as they walk by. It’s a little disconcerting until you get used to it, then it’s just sweet.

Oudtshoorn has more churches, funeral parlors, and graveyards than you’d think necessary for a town this size, but maybe there’s something we don’t know [insert soundtrack from The Shining].

We’re a month in and it’s safe to say we’re both really happy I responded to that Gumtree ad. We’ve made new friends, we’re more sociable than we’ve been in a long time and we’re even trail running again.

We’re also doing a fusion butt-kicking class twice a week that invariably leaves us hobbling around like a couple of old ladies. Randomly, the instructor is from Ohio in the US. Strange but true, doo da loo da loo doo.

We still sometimes feel like we’ve landed on another planet, but for the most part, life is good. I mean, how often do you get to see a baby porcupine scampering into a cemetery at five in the morning?

All strange and terrible events are welcome, but comforts we despise. —Cleopatra