I have been in the air for nearly 24 hours. The second leg of my journey is about to commence. I will be spending the next 3 days in Johannesburg before moving on to Kampala, Uganda. My time at home was short but sweet. It was much more difficult for me to adjust than I had imagined; I was only beginning to get settled when it was time to head back to Africa. The most difficult aspect of the trip was readjusting to life with my loved ones. Initially it was very difficult for me to fall back into the roles of girlfriend, friend, daughter, and sister. This felt strange considering how much I had missed them during the five months I was away. I feel like a changed person yet things at home are more or less the same. However, after a few days it became easy to resume the life in the USA that I already miss. I believe I was able to fall back into my relationships because I am surrounded by very supportive people. This break made me realize more than ever before, that many people wouldn't be as supportive of ambitions such as mine.
Leaving my homes, both South Africa and the United States, helps me analyze what aspects of my life I am content with. Every night for 5 months I had dreams about home - the people and places I missed so dearly. On the flight home I begin to wonder if my dreams would end on arrival. My question was answered the first night I slept in the states - and as strange as it seems I begin to dream of Africa. If I were able to bring my life in each country together I would be living the perfect life - I guess that I just defined the saying, "the best of both worlds". I love my work. I love living in a country as diverse as South Africa. I love the spirit and strength of the people of South Africa. However I am fortunate to have friends and family in the USA that are irreplaceable. No matter how fulfilling my life is there is always a feeling of emptiness without certain people.
While my time in South Africa has been one of growth, learning, and adventure I am ready to move on. It will be difficult to leave on Monday but my curiosity outweighs my fear and desire for comfort and stability. South Africa is an amazing place but it is not representative of Africa. While the poverty throughout the country is horrendous much of the country lives a life that most Americans don't dream of living. After adjusting I anticipate loving Uganda as much as South Africa.
"All we can ask in our lives is that perhaps we can make a little difference in someone else's" - - Lillian Davis
Monday was my last day of work. I have been trying to pack my last few days in South Africa full of tourist activities that I neglected to do in the past month. My last day at work was a spectacular but exhausting day. I planned a large Thanksgiving meal for the women living in the shelter. It was the first time I prepared a meal for such a large group - and without the proper ingredients. Fortunately the meal was successful and the women had a great time. I prepared most of my grandmother's recipes knowing everyone would be happy at the end of the meal. The menu consisted of: fried chicken, corn casserole, sweet potato casserole, baked cinnamon apples, jello pretzel salad, two loaves of dilly bread, and two loaves of banana bread. I gave a short speech about what thanksgiving meant to me and my family and the women had so many questions. One of the women came up to me as I was clearing the table after we had eaten and thanked me. She told me that this was the first "family" meal she had in ages. She didn't remember the last time she sat at a table, ate a meal that had been prepared for her, and was relaxed enough to enjoy friendly conversation. I like knowing that I am part of one of the few positive memories this woman has.
Leaving the shelter was difficult. I spent the afternoon with Modi, a woman I have become very close too. Modi is the only woman currently living at the shelter who is not from the Cape Town area. This has been very difficult for her because she does not understand most of the conversations which are spoken in Afrikaans. Modi is very intelligent and strong willed. She reminds me of my best friend at home. I spent many afternoons at the shelter in Modi's room chatting with her or caring for her child, Sisipho. My friendship with Modi reminded me of how many similarities I have with the women. Some evenings when I left the shelter I felt like I was leaving a dorm room at Vanderbilt after a long talk with a good friend. She listened to me, understood me, and even gave me advice. Modi is not just a woman from the shelter that I assisted. She allowed me to penetrate the surface. She shared her true being with me and in return I gained a true friend. Modi's husband is a police officer in South Africa. It always hurt me to hear Sisi say "dadddaaa". This is the only word she knows and she frequently expresses how much she misses him by saying the word over and over for hours at a time. I know that someday I will see Modi again. And the next time I see Sisi she will be a young woman. Wrapping up, saying goodbye, and moving on is the most difficult aspect of my trip. I am incredibly grateful to have met someone like Modi, but it complicates my feelings and work. I have met several very special people in the past 5 months. Some have made a difference in my experience in South Africa, others have made a difference in my life; their strength and courage will be with me forever and Modi is one of those people.
After leaving the shelter for the last time I felt as if I had closed a long book. A book that I didn't want to be over, a book that I knew I would not fully understand for some time. My work in South Africa was done. What had I accomplished? What had I learned? Did I make a difference? How different would the children's lives be if I had not been there? They know Rice Krispie Treats, they've seen pictures of themselves on the digital camera, and they've watched movies on a laptop-but is that it? And if that is it, why is that not enough?
I love the shelter. I love the women that are there and the staff that works so hard to keep the Centre in top condition. I am currently organizing a large goods drive in the States that will provide the shelter with many items that are desperately needed. I look forward to going back to the shelter next year and seeing a crøche full of stuffed animals, diapers, and a dvd player. If the children are at the shelter to escape violence in their own home we must find a way to turn the situation into a positive one. I hope that providing an educational environment that is comfortable and safe will help provide the environment developing children need.
"I can just see you with a baby tied on your back, barefoot and pregnant, walking in the streets in Soweto."
While this might not be a long term goal of mine, I took this remark as a huge compliment. Living in a foreign country and not being a foreigner is a very difficult thing to accomplish. Thus, when a South African friend made this remark to me it meant something. I know that it is obvious that I am a foreigner but I hope that my other friends understand how much I accept and love their culture.
Last week I was watching a television news show on CNN and they had a specialist on discussing the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. I immediately gave the show my attention and quickly became disgusted with what I was hearing. It became evident that the "expert" had never been in the Southern Hemisphere. He was speaking disrespectfully of a place that I now call home. He spoke of the uneducated people of South Africa who are spreading the virus and he described in detail the lack of workers and experts in the country. There is no argument that there is a lack of workers but that has to do with the magnitude of the problem rather than the dedication of Africans to end the epidemic. And when I speak to family and friends at home about how HIV affects my work on a daily basis it is clear that their knowledge of the virus is on the same level of most South Africans. I flipped the channel. I began to understand the degree to which my experience has changed my perception of the world - this world is no longer simply America. After watching a few moments of the show I began to feel angry - the same type of anger I feel when I hear people joke around about 9/11or comment on the stupidity and ethnocentric attitudes of Americans. My association with South Africa changed as the number of relationships and understanding of the many cultures grew. I have visited South Africa once before and I connected with people I worked and studied with. But South Africa is no longer a place where I visited and met a few friends. It is a place where I have created a life - and now I am preparing to be thrown back into a world that is vastly different than the one I have been in for the past five months. It is divine to have two countries, two groups of friends, and two separate lives that I love passionately. Publishing articles in the local paper and organizing holiday drives is my way of bringing my two lives a little closer together; it is my way of linking my life in the US to South Africa and my life in South Africa to the US.
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Read Uganda Journal, Part IV (June 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part III (April-May 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part II (January-April 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part I (January 2005)
Read entries from November 2004
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Read entries from September 2004
Read entries from August 2004