There are a lot more to do before any of the hellos start and I have to say that it is tough. I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by and there is still so much to do. By the same token, it would be hard to look around and not see the influence that volunteers have had on this village.
The new volunteer has been to the site to make sure it will work for him...yes, him. A young man will be replacing me and the kids are pretty excited for something new. The boys at least have already started to emulate him and he’s gotten a taste of the favorite Saturday activity—funerals. We had a very busy 3 days here and he will return in a week to begin his service after the group of trainees is sworn in at their graduation ceremony.
I think it is de rigueur at this blog point to say what I’ll miss and what I’m looking forward to becoming reacquainted with. You might think that the thing I’m most looking forward to is flush toilets or running water, but it is pretty easy to become accustomed to pit toilets, bucket bathing, and washing my hair less frequently. Having fewer conveniences makes life much simpler in many ways although all the jobs are definitely harder.
Of course it is always the people that affect me the most and they will be the things that I will miss the most. I said that I was only planning to take home a lot of memories and to that end, the kids have come by to collect all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the two years. I hope I can remember to keep life a little simpler and slower. And although I’m terrible at the practice, I hope I can remember to take the time to greet people before I ask for the thing that I want to borrow or the task that I want to complete. People here will always ask after you, your family, and your friends long before they ask to borrow a cup of sugar. It is nice to say hello to everyone and usually makes me smile as I walk through the village.
Despite it being the same sun, the sunsets here are gorgeous and I’ll miss the sky. At night, all the stars, satellites, planets, shooting stars, and the Milky Way are incredible mostly because there is no light pollution. Orion and Scorpio are upside down and the Southern Cross points the way in the same way that the Big Dipper does. Of course, the Kalahari sands and the smoke from burning fields or trash that gives the atmosphere enough pollution to make those gorgeous sunsets also makes it just a little bit tougher to breathe, but the positives outweigh the negatives for me.
I’ve gotten used to African time, but it will be great when people mostly do what they say they will do on time. The people in my village have mostly gotten used to me saying the things that need to be said and laugh at my directness. There are a few who don’t appreciate it, but usually something positive has resulted.
I love the way people here are friends. People don’t always get along perfectly, but you won’t find any whining, squabbling, or general nastiness from people. Men also aren’t afraid to show friendship to other men. In other words, I haven’t seen what I’d call homophobia that seems to affect American men. Men here hold hands, hug, and share what they’ve got. I like that and mostly feel sorry that the men I know at home mostly don’t have those kinds of relationships. I’m also sure that I’m not going to be able to tolerate kids who have so much stuff and still want more. Kids here really have nothing to call their own and consequently, they share everything.
I’ll miss the taxis. The funniest stories come from the taxi experiences. They break down, they crash, they get stuffed full, they take hours to fill up, they are hot, the music is loud and bad, hawkers bother you or want to marry you, they are cold, your lap is community space, it is easier to crawl out the window, and bunches of other things, but I’ll miss the helpfulness, the queue marshals, the lady who watches the bags, the Cool Times, and the funny stories that we all share about the taxis. If only the guidebooks could give one a crash course on how to ride the taxis because they are truly an adventure.
I’m going to miss my little house and my cheap aluminum pots and pans. Those pots are about the shabbiest pots I’ve ever bought and yet nothing sticks to them and they cook great even on my mostly defective Easy Bake Oven stove. And I’m going to miss my little refrigerator that actually freezes everything. I like the way food is simpler here. If I can’t carry it for a pretty long way, then I don’t buy it. Hence, I’ve eaten a pretty vegetarian diet here. Plus, it turns out that I don’t like meat if I had to feed it or pet it or hold it. I like my meat anonymously packed by the lovely butchers at Whole Foods, wrapped in nice white freezer paper. And I get lots of exercise walking from place to place. I miss swimming laps so the swimming pool is going to be a treat for me.
I’m not going to miss ants or roosters. I think ants are going to take over the world some day. At least they are hardy, but on a Peace Corps stipend, I can’t afford for them to eat my bread or cereal. And they bite. And roosters...let’s just say that they tell all their brothers about their success with women at all hours of the day or night. I won’t miss them.
I’m looking forward to getting back into the music scene in Austin. You’d think that there would be great music in Africa, but House music sucks. It is just cacophonous to me and I’ve mostly banned it from my house. I have to say that I’m also not more enamored of Rap or Hip Hop either. All of it now just sounds like trashy noise to me. So at this point just about anything that might be at Shady Grove or Blues on the Green will make me very happy.
I’m also not going to miss the low expectations that people here have for themselves. I think that shooting for the stars and mostly making it is a better way to go. The low expectations make it awfully easy to get stopped by just about any obstacle. In America, people seem more determined to get what they want and it is much harder to get Americans to give up.
One thing that I’ve always disliked is doing laundry. I have been known to go buy more underwear instead of washing the ones I’ve already got. Laundry here is much worse starting with hauling the water. I’m sure I won’t like laundry any better once I’m in America, but I vow not to complain about it because how hard can it be when you just have to push a button. My hands will be downright happy about it in the winter.
I’m also looking forward to easy access to information. I was always a NPR hound, a big reader, and had a fondness for independent movies. It isn’t easy to get any of those things here except books. Friends have gotten me hooked on The Big Bang Theory and a couple of BBC shows so maybe I’ll watch more television moving forward. Maybe not...But in terms of news here, I’m living under a rock and coming out will be nice. A big thanks goes to my good friends, the Mphumelas, who have been easy enough to convince that we need to drive 3 hours one way to see the Harry Potter movies!
And once again, I’m really excited about seeing friends and family that I haven’t seen in more than 2 years. The Hunter’s have been absolutely fantastic sending me care packages all this time. Mail day is truly a treat for all of us because of their kindness and support. The workers at the post office enjoy packages as I try to remember them with a few treats from Canada. Nearly everyone else has sent something at least once or twice during my stay here in South Africa and I can’t tell you how much pleasure that has given me. It will be great to reconnect with everyone and worm my way back into his or her lives. I’ve got lots of cross-stitched pieces that need framing.
So I’m winding down my time in the village. There is a big party planned and I’ve got my speech in Setswana to give. It is going to be a very difficult week coming up when I say all the goodbyes—the kids have already had me in tears a couple of times. Then I’ll be in Pretoria for a couple of days doing paperwork and checkups before I fly out on Sept. 16th. I’m headed to my brother’s place in Norfolk, VA. I’ll pick up my car and head home with visits along the way.
So this will be the last blog from Africa. Some updates and pictures on FB, but you’ll have to contact me to know more. I’ve got a 10-minute video of my two years here and it just doesn’t even begin to capture the experience I’ve had here in South Africa. A huge THANK YOU to Lorry Arvelo, a longtime friend, who has put all these blog entries onto the web so all could read. I definitely wouldn't have done it without her!
So until we meet again, Sala Sentle!