I wrote this in response to a question on a local Facebook page about what it was like to live in NELSPRUIT. The response has been overwhelming so thought I should share it here too.
Mbombela (Nelspruit) is nestled in a valley and surrounded by mountains in the scenic Lowveld of the Mpumalanga province, South Africa. We are Da Bomb, de Spruit, Nellies, Naspoti, the Slowveld.
For me this is HOME.
It is a city of contrasts, a place which can swing you from joy to despair within space of a heartbeat. Close to nature, it’s beautiful and cruel. It will give you joy and bring you sorrow. It steals your worldly goods and holds your soul to ransom. It will test your faith and revive your belief in humankind.
It has the ability to make you feel like you’re living out in the sticks but its offerings compete favourably with any bucket list destination in the world. It has the bush, the mountains and the sea not far away. It will give you adrenaline filled experiences and bring about a deep sense of peace. It will push you across the borders into Swaziland and Mozambique to seek third world African adventures but it will pull you back home again like the tide of the ocean. It will force you to take long road trips to get to other provinces like Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal or the Cape because our country’s most beautiful international airport offers flights only afforded by those earning top dollar. Its suburbs are a mishmash of mansions and townhouses unless you’re living on an estate.
The weather is hot (especially in summer) but the people are cool no matter the season. It has some smelly winter mornings (thanks to Sappi – or so the urban legend goes) yet the air is clear and crisp. The humidity can make you feel weak with exhaustion but the fresh air leaves you feeling energised and strong. At the first sign of cool weather it’ll bring out its boots, leather jackets, heaters and electric blankets but brag about its lovely warm winter weather to anyone who’ll listen.
The old Nelspruiter’s (and I don’t mean only those with grey hair, I mean the generations who’ve been living here for a gazillion years) have such a strong bond that many outsiders refer to it as a clique they struggle to get into, yet everyone you meet is friendly. It buzzes as one of the fastest growing places in the country but it has a real laid-back, holiday feel. Construction is happening everywhere but there aren’t enough houses. It loves its animals and yet almost all rentals say, “No pets”.
Everything is expensive (blamed on transport) but you don’t need a lot of money to get outdoors and have fun. It’s not very wheelchair friendly but it has a deep compassion for disabled people. It has the worst drivers in the country (except if you’re in a Citibug), but peak hour traffic lasts a half hour max. It’s quite Afrikaans, yet is more than willing to speak English and embrace all cultures. It welcomes tourists from across the globe but its secret love is the Portuguese from Mozambique.
Jobs are scarce but there are many entrepreneurs. Salaries are low unless you are a specialist. Everybody complains that there is no work and yet service is so slow. Fresh produce is plenty but pricey even when bought from stubborn fruit vendors who insist on sitting in full sun on the side of the road instead of in the pavement shelters built especially for them (Nobody puts those Gogos in the corner). The fruit is apparently bought at the market but allegedly stolen from farmers. There are lots of shops but they are far apart even in the mall. People seem selfish but there are many earth angels.
It’s a city with a small town mindset. It has talented artists, musicians, authors and poets, but the corporates prefer to pay double the price for someone from Cape Town or Johannesburg. It has the best doctors and private healthcare facilities which have won awards and attracted people from all over southern Africa, yet many locals still prefer to travel to Johannesburg or Pretoria for treatment. It complains that it has too few restaurants with fine dining but it prefers to support the Prego lady in her mobile food truck in the car park. It makes the best peri-peri slap chips in the world but its exact recipe is as foreign as KFC. It grumbles about a lack of culture but when special cultural events are organised and tickets given free, it’s poorly attended but tickets for a Nataniël show at full price are sold out in minutes and the hall is packed.
The car parks filled with 4×4’s will mislead you into thinking that everybody lives on a farm or in the bush when the majority of us live in town. It has too many car guards who are brilliant at directing you in and out of parking spaces (even your husband would be proud) despite not one of them ever being behind the wheel of a car or knowing how to drive. It has wild horses close by which we all claim as our own and they’re the only horses in the country to have more rights than residents even on the main road. It has marathons with hills that will make your muscles scream in pain yet those same hills will give you some of the best views on earth enabling your spirit to soar with joy.
It’s surrounded by places with rivers, dams, waterfalls, cliffs, incredible rock formations and caves where life-size dinosaurs will lead to more questions than answers about the origins of our universe. It has homes with magnificent views yet all its restaurants overlook busy car parks and roads. It has a graveyard dead in the suburbs where a single plume of black smoke from the crematorium serves as a stark reminder to live life now. It will turn a blind eye to many injustices yet stand together to save one magnificent tree on the N4 highway. It will advertise events months in advance and hardly anyone will pitch or advertise it a day before and be overwhelmed by the rush – it all depends on the mood or weather. It chooses to display metal buffalo, elephant, giraffe and other disproportionate animals (in the name of art) when the real thing can be seen on a day trip into the Kruger National Park.
People complain about the noise but marvel at the tranquillity. It gets festive most Fridays at its local joints and even more so during its famous Innibos Festival but it also gets so quiet some days that we wonder if there’s still life out there.
In politics it has a left-wing and right-wing and something in between but when there’s a crisis the wings somehow work together to fly in perfect formation. It’s got heroes who don’t need capes to do good and haters who sit behind their computer screens trolling everyone on social media. It’s extremely proud of its unique stadium yet, when in company, sport lovers cheer loudly for teams from other provinces but will secretly still support the Pumas and Mbombela United. It has one of the best fashion design schools in the country yet anything from high heels to Crocs go for a special occasion. It has women in glamorous evening dresses at a braai and men in jeans or a khaki shirt at a black-tie event.
Like everywhere in SA, there’s crime but our private security companies are passionate about keeping us safe. It has stories of Isis terrorists in town and across the border yet the only real terrorists it sees are the mosquitoes. It can get lonely yet you will always bump into someone you know when you’re out and about. It will not fall over itself to make you happy, that’s your own responsibility, but the memories you make here will last a lifetime. There’s something in the water that keeps you coming back. Once you are settled, leaving, like a drug addiction, will kill off the best things in your life as well as the worst. Lastly, and most importantly, YOU are welcome here.