As you read this, Adam and I will arriving back across the pond, to that home that we left exactly one year ago today. As Adam described in the previous post, this decision was one of our toughest and, since I’m writing this post prior to our actual departure, I won’t attempt to make any conjectures at our current thoughts or emotions. Rather, I would like to conclude our blog with a post dedicated almost entirely to our fellow PCVs, in addition to serving as a reminder of that those memories that I will bring back home with me.
It’s true, as the saying goes, that "you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff" – that is, if they’re the tough parts. But if I had to choose just one thing that a year in South Africa has taught me, it’s that the ‘small stuff’, at least the happy bits, are the things that often get me through the day. And when I’m literally sweating – drenched from head to toe in front of a not-so-functional fan – it is this 'small stuff' that makes me smile and reminds me why this place will forever have a spot in my heart and mind.
So, to all our friends still in South Africa, and to our future selves, I give you my entirely haphazard and potentially nonsensical listing of the ‘small stuff’…
African Time. Baby cows, baby donkeys, baby goats… baby everythings! Coombie rides when you get the front row seat with all the leg room and space for groceries, packs, and other belongings. The sky – its vastness, its bright blue, its enormous clouds that seem to be only a few meters out of reach of your hands. Tea breaks at work. The sound of marshmallow frogs croaking before the rain comes. Care packages. Waves and smiles from total strangers. Casually walking alongside herds of cattle on our walks through town. The smell of litchis as we pass the citrus groves. Gray skies on a hot, hot, hot day. Greeting our friends and coworkers at Thembalethu each morning. Our conversations with our two-year old host brother. Brownies… yes, the batter and the final product. The color green – the unimaginable and innumerable colors of green after the rains come – the pale green of the acacia trees, the goldeny-greens of the whispy sugar canes, the bright green of the banana plants, the soft and endless greens of the hills, the dark greens of the shrubs and cacti, the everywhere greens of Nkomazi during the Summertime. A pit latrine without any flies. Hearing mothers say “Sorry sesi” [sister] or “Sorry bhuti” [brother] to their little babes when something goes awry. Our quirky, little, two-room home. The drive to and from Malelane, with the most incredible views of the foothills, mountains, sugar cane fields, and banana plant farms. Doing little chores together – scrubbing the dishes or washing our laundry – the tediousness, lengthiness and frustration of the process that gives us a sense of some small, well-earned achievement. Monkeys hiding in the groves alongside R570. The soft touch of our host mother’s hand when she reaches out after a joke or story.Waking up to a house that is dry after a nighttime storm. Short lines at the post office. Hearts and Spades, while listening to our card soundtrack of The Fleet Foxes and The Fits & Tantrums. Red dirt roads. Our house lizards, when they do their job and catch the cockroaches. The enormous eyes of the Crèche kids as they stare up into your face. Our thermometer – when it reads anything less than 36C. The feeling of sitting directly in front of a fan, on high. Successful meetings with project staff. The shy laugh of our teenage, host brother. Getting free rides from random workers who want to meet the new, white people. Actually needing the comforter on cooler evenings… and sleeping in on cooler mornings. The sound of birds at dawn (excluding the roosters). The smell of the air and the ground when the rains have passed. The gloriousness that is Kraft Mac n’ Cheese sent from home. Our walk to work together – getting time to chat about our projects, our service, our plans, and life in general. The excitement of community members when we try, never-so-successfully, to converse with them in SiSwati. Dried mud that you don’t have to sink into on your walk home. Pot-popped popcorn. End of the month text messages to say we’ve been paid… and even better, that we got our quarterly MTA with it. Our host father’s deep, throaty, chuckle. The accomplishment felt when all the water buckets, jugs and basins have been filled for the day. The sound of the main road in Schoemansdal when there are no cars in early morning. When the internet symbol on our phone says 3G. The sound of ritual drum sessions in the distance as evening approaches. Commiserating and celebrating with fellow volunteers. The feeling of the cool breezes that blow just before a big storm. The smell of laundry drying on the line. Women walking home with their firewood twigs atop their head. Meeting in our shopping towns with fellow volunteers for the luxuries of a flush toilet, a shower, air conditioning, Chinese food & sushi, and a movie that is not on a computer screen. The immense curiosity of children in our watches. Bakkies filled to the brim with family, friends and coworkers on the way back from the fields. The surge of excitement when the electricity comes back on. Eggs and hashbrowns for dinner. Hopping into freshly-washed sheets after a long, refreshing bucket bath. The slow, overly-enunciated greeting of the fruit and vegetable lady at the end of our road each morning, en route to work. Sleeping under our mosquito net, protected from all the big, bad bugs that Africa has to offer. Questions about America (“No, we are not close friends with Obama or Beyonce.”) The yellow and purples flowers on the hillside. Our fellow SA21s. Toothless Gogos. Huge, thunderous, thunderstorms (when the house isn’t flooding). Travelling anywhere here. Little ones – the littlest of them – staring silently in awe of your complete non-Africanness. Our host brother and sisters’ faces when we gave them their Christmas bikes. Sunsets over the mountains facing Swaziland. The stars – the bright, bright, bright stars… Okay then, goodnight South Africa.
Before ending this post, I’ll add just one last thought – actually, a quote from a fellow Peace Corps couple that COSed at the end of 2010, a quote that I feel sums up much of what I am unable to quite put into words at this time – he wrote: “…so if it happens that we don’t seem to be 100% there, or if one of us is looking off into the distance when there’s nothing really to be seen… please be patient with us.” And I speak quite truthfully for myself when saying, as many of our RPCV friends have, that I may feel as if I am living in more than one place, at least for a while… Because even though South Africa may never have become the ‘home’ that we were hoping for on that first flight over, there is so very much of it that has found a place it can call ‘home’ in me.
Salani kahle everyone… we’ll see you on the other side.