Happiness is a small town where everyone says hello
How life changes when you leave the stresses of the big city behind.
How life changes when you leave the stresses of the big city behind
“Welcome to our town,” said the next-door neighbour, a friendly old lady with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “We are so happy to have such a nice family move in to our lovely street.”
We had just arrived at our new home, a small country cottage in the Overberg town of Swellendam, exactly half-way between Cape Town and George.
My wife and I had long held a dream to move to the country, but couldn’t picture how it would work without some drastic lifestyle and possibly career changes.
We had lived in Cape Town for 20-odd years, and had become disillusioned by the noise, the traffic, the crime, the constant looking over one’s shoulder.
We craved a simpler life where we could breathe easier and enjoy the beauty of nature.
I had started a small consulting firm in 2016, out of near desperation, after the company I worked for closed down a few months before our second daughter was born.
When the first lockdown was announced, we were lucky that our services were in demand.
Despite losing 60 per cent of our revenue overnight, we recovered enough to be able to put a deposit on a small home in the countryside.
We sensed that the world as we knew it had ended, and that amidst the existential dread of a global health and financial crisis lay an opportunity to radically change the trajectory of our lives.
Swellendam always held a special place in our hearts. It’s the country’s third-oldest town, dating back to 1743. It is a place of rolling hills, rivers, and forests, watched over by the Langeberg mountains.
Visiting here over the past few years revealed a slower pace of life, where kids could freely and safely roam the streets, neighbours were friendly and welcoming, and the general tone was one of contentment.
There were also a lot of horses, a key requirement for our two youngsters.
For all its history and heritage, Swellendam is one of the best-run municipalities in the country, supported by a vibrant and involved local community and an efficient council.
People are friendly and polite. There are no traffic lights, and stopping at an intersection usually initiates a friendly exchange of head-nods and hellos.
I can’t remember the last time I drove or walked past a local without us greeting one another.
Tiekie, the aforementioned friendly neighbour, regularly visits with a baked goodie or a jar of her latest batch of jam.
In exchange, we send a plate over when we braai a tjoppie (her favourite), although I get a fair share of “constructive feedback” on my excessive use of garlic.
Our kids have weekly horse riding lessons on a beautiful farm five minutes from our home. Nearly everything in the town is only a five-minute drive away.
In the seven months since our arrival, we have been welcomed into a lovely community, full of warmth.
While I miss some of the conveniences of city life — no Woolies, no fancy clothing stores, only one bookstore — we have gained much more than we lost.
We have explored the nature reserves, hiked into the mountains, swum under waterfalls, and met giraffes up close at a guest farm.
We still enjoy a steady stream of work, enabled by a decent fibre connection.
I remember that night the first lockdown was announced and our lives changed. But the stress and anxiety are drowned out by the gentle lull of life in the countryside.
I am sure ours is a story that is repeating all over the country, as more and more people take the opportunity to seek a simpler life.