By Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit
Moving to the Karoo is like emigration on trainer wheels. Your friends and folks are easily accessible in Johannesburg or Cape Town, the folding money still looks the same and we mostly speak South African languages in the Karoo – although we tend to mix them up a bit.
But don’t be fooled by all that. You are, in effect, moving to another country. And it’s a wonderful place. So here are some basic survival tips for moving to and living in the Heartland of South Africa.
Research, Research and Research Some More
On-line: Visit Karoo Space and poke about the Features sections and the Karoo Central department. Then consider our great e-book three-for-two offer and you’ve basically got the Karoo on your computer, tablet and other laptop device. Your Karoo trio of e-books (for a steal!) includes Karoo Keepsakes I, Karoo Keepsakes II and 101 Karoo Towns.
Real time: Once you’ve found six places that have caught your fancy, come down and visit them for a few days. Find the town that is the right size and fit for your stage in life.
A Chance to Re-invent Yourself
Stockbrokers become rose growers. Company mavens become cheese-heads. Former coal miners now make forest fairies for a living. Old journos become wine-makers. OK, that’s not much reinvention but it’s something.
The point is, both husband and wife can chase their dreams out here and do The Thing they’ve always dreamt of doing.
In our 15 years of freelancing for South African Country Life magazine (in fact, this publication should really be your first research pit-stop if you’re looking to find out about life in the SA countryside), we’ve met hundreds of couples who have successfully undergone this transformation.
Your Work Plan
This town you’ve settled on, does it support your professional work plan? How is the broadband connectivity? Do the courier companies deliver every day? Who is your client base?
This is a good time to take off the rose-coloured spectacles and look long and hard at how you’re going to make a living in the Karoo. The trick, obviously, is to bring your clientele with you in the move.
Your Social Network
Make sure you have someone to talk to, to get drunk with, to pray with, to take on projects with or to share a good book, movie or song with. You don’t need a big posse. A couple of couples will do. You cannot live in isolation, no matter how big or flat your TV screen is.
Your Support Services
In small towns, things still get repaired. There’s always a handy guy around, a Mr Fixit who takes in your toaster, your heater, your hoover, your kettle and gives it back to you tomorrow as good as new – for a very small charge. And you’ll probably find your Mr Fixit used to be a Randlord or something.
Everything drops down to human scale. You know the person who works on your water mains, who does your taxes, who fills your teeth, who takes your pulse, who massages your back and who sells you hardware. You see them around a lot.
Make sure your town has at least two computer geeks – they’re pure gold when your PC goes down.
Your Energy Backup Plan
We have a power failure back-up plan which involves (in winter) a roaring fire, a lustily played Spanish guitar, lots of blazing candles, cheese, crackers and bottles of red wine. This plan is often put into action, and when the lights come on we simply switch them off again and carry on warbling.
Others might want a more reliable and sophisticated set of backups, like generators, solar panels, wind pumps and rainwater tanks – all well worth the effort.
Your Medical Needs
Check out the local hospital. Any good? Or just another depressed germ factory? Now work out exactly where you would go in a medical emergency. Find out if there’s a private ambulance service running to a big city or a good hospital in another town, and if your medical aid covers it.
Teach Your Children Well
How is the schooling system? A working set of all-inclusive schools brings business to the town, good will from parents, it speaks to the future of the community and its faith in being here – its sense of place. There’s nothing sadder than a deserted schoolyard – and few things more pleasant than a grandstand packed with ardent supporters at a high school rugby game in the country.
Your Cost of Living
Rentals are lower, local hire doesn’t put your overheads through the roof and, in general, the cost of living drops radically – along with your insurance rates. But just remember: the freshest vegetables are always sold in the cities. That weird truth is right up there with why the braai smoke always follows you around at a party.
The Town Champion
It really helps if a town has a local champion. In the rural areas, one person can indeed make a difference. That person is normally the tourism firebrand of the town, someone with a passion for restoring the local heritage, someone whose blood boils at the sight of litter all over the place.
Break bread with this person. And lend a hand when asked to.
The Town Story
This might sound trite to some out there, but look out for a town that tells its own story well. It’s normally a place with a lot of festivals, tour guides and raconteurs. However, drive past the towns that have become too precious. They do not need your intellectual capital.
Watch out for dirty towns where no one likes to drink the water. Litter and bad water management are often signs of deeper damage, and that trail leads right up to the front steps of the local municipality.
If you can find a town where the chamber of commerce can actually sit down with municipal officials and work something out for the good of all, you’re onto a winner.
Want to know more about the Karoo? Check out the Karoo Space Ebookstore HERE. You will find lots of illustrated Ebooks and very good package deals to boot.