Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saying Goodbye

Nthabi, always smiling! Who could resist?
Well, I finally have enough distance to write this post. Not gonna lie, adjusting to life stateside has been rough. Miss South Africa in many ways. As difficult as our service was at times, it came with some pretty sweet rewards. Our learners. My supportive and ever curious counterpart, Mr. Bobet Motha. Perry's HOD, soft-spoken and kind Mr. Stanley Simbini. Our truly wonderful and fast friends, Sarah and Guiomar. Guiomar's parents, Chris and Maria. The ebullient children who lived at our house, especially little Nokuphila and Nthabiseng. John Dougherty, our comrade-in-arms. I could easily go on. Ms. Thoko, Mr. Nyambi, Mrs. Busi, Mr. Chokwe.... So, so many people touched our lives and left an indelible impression. Suffice to say, the people -- and the relationships we forged -- were hard to say goodbye to. Tears were shed. Many tears. 

Since we've returned to the States, a lot of people have asked us about our experience. Many who ask seem to think we'll be able to condense our Peace Corps experience into a few pithy and meaningful aphorisms. To be truthful, this is pretty much how we expected RPCV friends to respond before we became volunteers ourselves. But I can't quite do it. I don't think Perry can, either. Profound parables, noble truths, we gots none.

Our host family
Serving was living, working, struggling, and learning alongside people whose culture was wholly different from and whose dreams were strikingly similar to our own. Many bits of service proved difficult, flabbergasting, confuddling, heart-wrenching, maddening, and demoralizing. Other bits were beautiful, illuminating, edifying, heartwarming, tears-of-joy inducing fulfillment. Imagine all the ways in which those high and low, here and there, and back and forth emotions can possibly interact to birth one experience and perhaps you can begin to imagine ours.

Zodwa and Ruth take photographs
Just when things seemed too difficult to bear, there was a learner's smile...or a song, or the just-when-you-needed-it-most "I love you." Along with all the hair-ripping frustrations were Sarah and Guiomar and their patient ears and generosity of spirit. Mentally exhausted at the end of the day, Nthabi and Nokuphila's childish delight drew us out of ourselves. Did we change the world? Did we change South Africa? Did we even change our tiny corner of the country, Sikhwahlane? Not in any conventional sense. Did we affect individuals? I truly think so. Did they affect us? Absolutely! We are not the same people who left the US in 2012...we're improved.

So, would we take it back? No way. Would we do it again? Probably. We're looking into opportunities with Peace Corps ResponseFor now, we feel so fortunate to be able to maintain contact with several of our learners on Facebook...and Sarah and Guiomar, too! We're already planning a 2017 return trip, to surprise our learners who will have advanced to grade 12. 

Kids at our house
All of NJ's learners assembled in the yard
My honors science section and Bobet
With some learners
Mr. Simbini and Mr Motha
Perry with Sakhile and Mvuselelo
With my officemate, Mr. Nyambi
Perry with his posse
...and Alfred, the tavern owner who made sure we always had beer!
Have a question we may or may not be able to answer? Please post it in the comments!

- Elizabeth