What a super amazing experience!
The second weekend in April, the Facebook group, South African Woman in the United States and Canada (or SAWITU for short) had their first Awards Gala event and made a whole weekend out of it in one-of-a-kind Nashville, TN. SAWITU is the “baby” of Antonet Lombard de Ridder, a South African ex-pat, who felt the need for local family and sisters after she immigrated to the United States. We all know that picking up and moving is not easy. And moving 8,200 miles away, to a whole different country, is even more difficult. That need for a space to belong is very high on a new Expat’s to-do list.
When I joined this Facebook group a couple of years ago, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. We are all part of social media groups here and there, and we all decide what we get out of it in the end. How involved do we want to be? How much do we want to give of our time? And how much of ourselves do we want to expose to “strangers”? Like I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I did find was a group of ladies JUST LIKE ME! We’re all from somewhere else. We’re all homesick from time to time. We all just want to leave a note or two, hear that everything will be ok when we are feeling down, and give assurances and advice when others are in need.
SAWITU has grown over the years and currently has more than 6000 members. Pretty impressive, if you ask me!
Thinking about Going
My friend Cornelia (originally from just outside Johannesburg in South Africa) and I started talking about going to this event in January. She just came back from South Africa after a family visit and it sure sounded like an exciting opportunity for a weekend away. Cost-wise, we needed to budget for the Gala on Saturday night, our hotel stay, gas (it is close enough to drive) and food & drinks. Well, and of course add in a proper dress (nope, I didn’t have anything in my closet that was going to work), and then various “mooimaak” costs like hair, nails, etc. It sounded very doable, so we decided to go for it and booked our Gala tickets.
The event felt so far away when we started talking about it in January, but as usual, time flies when you are having fun, and we were soon busy with dress shopping and our general planning. Now, I’m not really someone who makes a fuss about these types of things. But I rallied and got excited about getting everything ready for the event and the weekend as a whole. Dress A arrived and was returned almost immediately. I asked Sidney (who herself was busy dress shopping for prom) for advice and together we picked out Dress B from a different store. Cornelia shopped online as well, but we did go to the local mall so she could try on a couple of different options.
As for the rest of the planning, it included a much-needed haircut (and color, because grey) for me, we both needed our nails done, I realized having a dress is not enough, I needed a handbag that will go with my shoes (those at least came out of my closet) and of course – jewelry. Now, we were going to be away for a whole weekend, so other outfits had to be discussed and put together too. And I almost forgot, of course, we would need a place to stay when in Nashville, so Cornelia used their hotel points and booked a hotel room close to the event location. We were all set.
Friday: Time to Hit the Road
I love road trips. And I love driving. And I love road trips where I can be the driver 🙂 This worked out perfectly for the two of us. Nashville is a 4-hour drive away and having our own transportation meant we could pack what we wanted and not worry about airplane luggage rules and restrictions. Cornelia put together awesome snacks for the road, including some freshly made biltong and sausage rolls.
We left Suwanee just after 10am and set off for Nashville. Roads were busy, but not too bad. Traffic around Atlanta is always a mess, and more so now with all the construction, but we had plenty of time and weren’t in a rush. The driving is part of the weekend fun. Just north of Atlanta, the Ziplock bag with our pre-cut biltong came out and between that and the sausage rolls, there was no need to stop along the way for lunch!
We did stop for a couple of minutes at a travel rest stop west of Chattanooga to stretch our legs. By this point, the weather was already changing and blue skies were turning grey with rain on the horizon. But no amount of rain could dampen our spirits. We were on our way to Nashville after all!!!
Our first stop in Nashville was the hotel to check in and unload all our luggage. We were a bit early, but the friendly staff got us squared away in minutes. I was even able to park my car in the safe and secure underground garage, so bonus! Up in the room, we unpacked gala dresses and weekend outfits, makeup bags and hair products, and shoes! We were ready to meet some SAWITU ladies and were keeping an eye on the Whatsapp group chat to get up to date information on meet up locations and times.
I have to say, Friday night was a cold one in Nashville!!! So cold, that we skipped the originally planned bridge meetup (brrrr) and had the Uber driver take us directly to the Wildhorse Saloon. After some searching, we found the ladies close to the stage and settled in with some drinks and friendly conversation. We weren’t there for very long before Cornelia recognized a friend from Atlanta and soon we were chatting away at our own table.
The Wildhorse Saloon is known for its free line dancing classes. Every hour, on the hour, starting at 6 and ending at 9pm. The ladies were just humming with anticipation for their turn on the dance floor. This is my second visit to the Saloon – on the first visit I tried my hand at line dancing with my friend Karin and my sister-in-law Willet. I was more than content to sit this round out and observe. And so were the other ladies at my table. We chatted away (as much as the music allowed) and soon started planning on where to go for dinner.
Our group of 4 turned into a group of 6 and after enjoying the sights at the Saloon, we headed out to find a dinner spot. Elsa knew of a nice restaurant further up Broadway Street, and so we headed there to get a table. Now, Broadway and any restaurant or bar in this area are always busy. And this was Friday night. So of course we couldn’t get a table until 8pm Nashville time. I thought we only had a 40-minute wait, but my watch was still an hour behind. Oops! So we split up and walked around some more. Places were packed. Everyone looked friendly and excited to be out and about on the streets, despite the cold. Our group of four ended up at the food court where we found a table to sit and people-watch for a bit. Everywhere is live music (yay Nashville) and activity and energy.
Dinner at Merchants was great and even though our group size went down to 5, we had some drinks with our dinner and chatted our hearts out. Afterwards, our group got smaller again and 3 of us tried going to Honky Tonk (too long a line), then to the Coyote Ugly Bar (temporarily closed), so finally back to the Wildhorse Saloon for some more live music and people-watching.
We stayed out until after midnight before returning to our hotel and calling it a night.
Thank you Cornelia for letting me use your photos! Keep on reading for Day 2 and the main event! Roadtrip – SAWITU Gala Weekend in Nashville (Part 2)