The day had finally come; I was leaving South Africa and heading back to the States. I was anxious, I was excited, I had a whole lot of unknown lying ahead of me. The last time I had lived in Africa I had a pretty awful time re-adjusting to life in the States, as I am all to sure my parents and friends remember. I boarded the plane at Johannesburg airport sure that I was making the right decision to go home, but bracing myself for impact.
The transition back into the U.S. after living abroad is always a little daunting. Everyone wants to hear all about what you’ve been doing when all you really want to do is get some sleep and work on that jet lag you’ve acquired. How do you even begin to sum up what it is like to live in another country, and in my case to live in a rural community in South Africa for so long? It takes more than a few sentences and for some people they may never be able to fully understand.
Yet, there’s also a lot of excitement! All the people, places, and foods that you’ve been missing for so long. A nice bed and running water were high on my list of things that I was looking forward to enjoying. I enjoy waking up to the sounds of the city, and couldn’t wait to be far, far away from the sound of cows, roosters, and donkeys.
But first, there would be the long flight back to the State. Twenty-two hours, five passport checks, one bomb substance search, the emptying of my carry-on twice, and a seat in the last row that didn’t recline. I arrived in Chicago exhausted, I couldn’t find my parents and I couldn’t get my cell phone to work. Was this trip home some kind of eerie foreshadowing of what was to come?
At the airport I was overwhelmed by the sound of so many people speaking a language that I could understand. For a year and a half I had become accustom to simply ignoring what people around me were saying since there was a good chance I wouldn’t understand. Now there were so many conversations to overhear, so many distractions. As I drove home with my parents I was startled by the size of buildings and the diversity of people on the streets, but somehow comforted by the familiarity of it all.
Now I have been home for nearly two months and feel more or less “adjusted”. It is hard to explain how wonderful it feels to be at home, but at the same time the incredible distance that I feel from the life that I lived for the past year and a half. Some days it is almost as if it just didn’t happen.
Some things are so much easier, being able to walk to the grocery store, understanding the language of people around me, being able to call my friends and family. In general I feel like life in the U.S. is much easier and it makes me appreciate being here all that much more. Yet, every now and then, especially if I am in a rush I revert to how I did things in South Africa. I have tried to greet people in SiSwati, I have nearly left the house without shoes on, and I sometimes think that the knots in our wood floor are cockroaches.
It’s been hard for me to process all the changes that have happened since I returned and just how different my life it now, so I made a list. A list of things I miss and a list I things that I don’t. Something to help me remember the good, the bad and the annoying. Hopefully, over the next few months I will feel fully adjusted, but maybe if I’m really lucky I never will and I will always carry South Africa with me, forever.
5 things I miss about South Africa:
1. The stars, the moon, and the mountains.
2. Time to read, write, and reflect.
3. Listening to the women I worked with sing every morning.
4. The casual way women hand you their babies to hold.
5. Gogos (grandmothers).
5 things that I don’t miss about South Africa:
1. Being harassed by men.
2. People not stopping their cars to let you cross the road.
3. Long distance trips in kumbis (public transport).
5. Trying to cook on an electric burner that never really gets hot.
South Africa besengini khumbulile.