It is the story of countless South Africans, brought about by the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic: an international holiday turned into an unexpected, extended stay. For the Symes family this meant adapting to life in the United States of America: we caught up with Dominic, Alidia, Emma and Abigail as they plan to return home to Simbithi.

It was something Alidia and her family had done several times: packed up for a year-end getaway. “We usually travel twice a year, internationally. We arrived in the USA at the end of November, last year, and were meant to stay until the end of February.” The plan, Alidia shares, was to road trip around the States. “We have been to Texas annually for the last four years and have built some beautiful friendships at Gateway Church, Southlake, our home church when we’re in America.”

When COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill at the beginning of the year, plans quickly changed. The Symes family decided to commit the uncertain future to God and found help springing up in surprising places. “Over time, we made some amazing friends. We were provided with free accommodation and free use of vehicles by people we barely knew! A couple we had known for a few weeks blessed us with accommodation, and business partners of friends we had never met gave us an all-inclusive trip to Disney,” Alidia shares. “God is definitely in the details.”

Moving six times in eight months has stretched and grown the Symes as a family, and Alidia mentions how it increased their capacity to adapt. “Our girls have had to learn to do their own washing and step up with a lot more chores than they were used to living in South Africa.”

While adjusting to life in the USA has been interesting, they have managed to create a sense of belonging in the midst of COVID-19. “COVID season has been crazy,” Alidia says. “People were very fearful at the beginning, however as things progressed most have made peace with wearing masks and the random arrows on every shopping aisle. The majority simply stayed home and took online shopping to a whole new level.” The first few months were the toughest for Alidia, and it took her a while to find her feet. “Where to do groceries and what to pay for things in dollars took getting used to. I blew our grocery budget a few times in the beginning…eish!”

Almost a year later and one can only imagine the story the Symes now have to tell. “We have made the most incredible memories,” Alidia explains. “If you know the American culture, you will understand they celebrate well.” Highlights of the trip have included a visit to Pastor Troy Brewer of Open Door Church in Burleson on his ranch in Glen Rose and attending the Gateway XO Conference where Dominic and his daughters got to attend a special father-daughter dance, and experiencing Disney World before COVID-19 hit. “Abi, my eldest, celebrated her sweet sixteen and Dom his fiftieth birthday…all during lockdown. We also managed to do four road trips through four different states.”

Preparations to return home are afoot and, If all goes well – there have been four cancelled flights to date – the Symes should be back at their Acacia Drive home in December. South Africa has been dearly missed, as has Simbithi. “We missed the beauty of SA: our beaches, family and friends, and Woolies food,” Alidia reminisces. “And, the smell of nature and greenery of Simbithi. We definitely miss the monkeys…not

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