What happens when a Durban girl gets tired of the NYC hustle? She takes her talents to Riyadh. Learn how Abby went from nanny to Lifestyle Concierge for the rich and (sometimes) famous.
Let’s start with your childhood. Where did you go grow up?
I was born and raised in Durban, South Africa. The first few years of my life were spent on a farm in a little town called Stanger. My first trip out of there was basically at the back of the truck when my parents divorced. My mom was a single parent who was constantly struggling to make ends meet. There was nothing left for a vacation. School holidays meant getting on a train from our mom’s place to our dad’s.
My first experience with different cultures was when I began school. My mom wanted me to learn English so she took me to an Indian school. If you’re familiar with the political landscape of South Africa 30 years ago, there were separate schools dedicated to different races. At the bottom of that totem pole was the Bantu (black) education.
My mom, a teacher, decided she’d rather I went to an Indian school because it would afford me exposure to another language and allow me to appreciate a different culture. She was, indeed, ahead of her time. It was a rough experience, trying to fit into that environment where students had little-to-no familiarity to one another. But I soldiered through. I’d say that was my FIRST immersion into a different culture, having to assimilate to something else because what I was, was simply not good enough.
What was your first expatriation move?
I was in New York for well over a decade before deciding to move to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. When I made my first move from South Africa, I still referred to it as home. I guess it’s true that once you get African dust on your feet, it never leaves you.
My NYC move was driven by disappointment. I wasn’t happy with the direction that the “New” South Africa was going. I had followed the rules: Be a good girl, listen to your teacher, don’t chase boys, don’t get pregnant, get an education and you will lead an amazing life. I did it all, in that order. But the amazing life was nowhere to be seen. My home was being consumed by overgrown grass and weeds. We couldn’t keep the lights on and we were collecting water from the neighbor’s house with buckets because ours had been cut off. I was supposed to get a job. There were none. I knocked on every door possible. Nothing.