‘n boer maak ‘n plan. This South African proverb, which translates as ‘a farmer always has a plan’, refers to the ability of South African farmers to creatively solve any problem or challenge they encounter. This also applies to Marianne Vinck, a chocolate-loving expat. “In South Africa, things rarely go as planned. If I can teach my children anything, it's that it's never too late to reinvent yourself.”
Daring to take the plunge
Marianne left for Stellenbosch, South Africa. "I wanted my children to finish their studies first, but my husband preferred to leave straight away. ”So they made their dream come true and left earlier than expected. "Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and go for it.” Before leaving for good, Marianne and her husband spent two weeks in South Africa. "I immediately had the feeling that this was where I wanted to live.”
Switching to chocolate
Marianne had been working as an employee in Belgium for 30 years. "My job didn't bring me closer to the person I wanted to be," she says. After quitting her job, she decided to start making chocolate. "I was still too young to retire. I wanted to be a chocolatier so I could bring something from Belgium to South Africa.”
At first sight, Marianne wasn't really the type to become a chocolatier. "I've always worked in an administrative role and … I have two left hands. So to my fellow students it sounded like a crazy plan. But I carried on. That's also what I pass on to my children: it's never too late to change. The magic ingredient? Willpower: where there's a will, there's a way.”
Training is not the only safety net she created for herself. Before leaving she also joined the Overseas Social Security (OSS). "For me, it's the equivalent of Belgian social security, but for people working outside Europe. I wanted to keep a foothold in Belgium, as you never know if your expat adventure is going to work out or not.”
Bye bye to complaining Belgium
"In hindsight, I also left because I was a bit fed up with the Belgian mentality of complaining about everything when in fact, they have little reason for complaining.” Marianne thinks the quality of life is better in South Africa. "If you ask someone how they're doing, they'll always say ‘100%, never better, no complaints’.”
Mentality aside, Marianne felt that her work in Belgium was losing its meaning. "I used to plan ahead a lot, mainly because of my job in production planning. But I realised that this didn't really make me happy. In South Africa, people live more in the moment, confident that everything will work out in the end.”
Marianne sometimes thinks about the time and energy she has wasted on non-essential things. "I'm not saying I don't plan ahead anymore, but I've learned to find a balance."
Selling chocolate during COVID
Once settled in South Africa, Marianne expanded her own chocolatier business. "My biggest customers are vineyards. They use my chocolate at wine tastings."
In South Africa, wine and chocolate go hand in hand. The biggest challenge is the power supply as it is essential for chocolate manufacturing. "South Africa has a shortage of electricity." So Marianne invested in an inverter and solar panels.
When COVID broke out, South Africa went into lockdown like the rest of the world. "Only essential shops were allowed to stay open while selling alcohol and tobacco was banned. The vineyards were forced to close. No customers meant no orders, so I stopped producing chocolate.”
"We didn’t know what the future would bring but we managed to stay positive. Like many South Africans we found creative solutions, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to continue my business. Here in South Africa, ‘n boer maak ‘n plan, meaning ‘we take life into our own hands’."
Besides thinking about how the chocolate business could survive uncertain times, Marianne and her husband also took time to enjoy themselves. They focused on nature and gardening. "After the hard work, we enjoyed a glass of wine from our wine cellar. Selling alcohol may have been prohibited, but our wine cellar came to the rescue. We didn’t know how long COVID would last, so we tried to make the best of it."
After rain comes sunshine. "Towards the end of the COVID crisis, my business grew tremendously. People could not travel during lockdown so they discovered the hidden gems at home. Not only tourists found their way to the wine estates again, but South Africans as well, as they rediscovered their own country.”
Forever South Africa
"Today, I feel more at home here than in Belgium. In South Africa, I'm very conscious of the need to live in the moment. Being self-employed, I now work 6 days a week, but I see it more as a hobby that got a bit out of hand. What's more, thanks to the OSS, I can continue with peace of mind, without worrying about my retirement or my health.”
Not sure we'll be seeing this couple back in Belgium any time soon...
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