Today is my last day in my community. Tomorrow, early morning, I say goodbye to my sisters, grandmother and the rest of the family and neighbors. My host grandmother has told me 10+ times that she will cry on this day, but let’s see where the day takes us. I have everything packed into 1 pack, maybe weighing 30lbs and in a couple days I’ll be off on my next adventure. This so far includes the apartheid museum in Johannesburg, a stopover in Dubai, city life in Kuala Lampur and retreating to an island for some yoga in Langkawi! But enough into the future, let’s look at what I just accomplished!
So, 26 months later and I’m still here. About to leave but, Y’ALL, I made it!! I should be overjoyed, jumping up and down, yet I’m over here feeling quite numb. Numb to saying goodbye and trying to conceptualize the reality of never seeing my Swazi Grandmother again. She has cared for me like her own, now I just leave forever? It doesn’t seem right! My heart feels sad, but not in the way I was expecting to feel after two years. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I convinced myself that I was never going to leave, so I wouldn’t think of that as an option. OR maybe just that I’m so ready to leave that my emotions have gone numb and simply all I need to think about is getting myself from point A to point B. Who’s to say? I do know that I am so proud of myself. Peace Corps has been my hardest hurtle thus far in my life, physically, emotionally, and has challenged me in ways that no other place in the world could. I am grateful I pushed myself to stay, because in this second year I have really noticed change and growth within myself and within the community.
I’m happy to leave (some of) my projects standing tall. My library has everything ready for books to come (they arrive September 13th!!), my HIV support group garden has had three successful harvests to sell at market and to improve nutrition for them and their families, and lastly a brother of mine has been going to get tested every 6 months, after first getting tested at my testing events. I feel admiration for all my Swazi counterparts that have put countless hours in to help me along the way when they really could’ve had a billion excuses to not give their time. I came here as a volunteer and knew what I was getting myself into, yet the people I work with are not getting paid either and freely have given up their time to make successful projects for their community. I have paid them in pancakes, chocolate cake, photos & cards as I said goodbye this past week. There is some good news though! A new volunteer will be replacing my spot for the next two years! She will be moving into my house in about two weeks’ time. She seems excited and ready to work over the next two years and I couldn’t be happier for my family & community. I hope the best for her in her journey ahead!
For my younger Swazi friends & family, it’s not a goodbye; it’s a see you later!
“Nobuhle (my Swazi name), will the new volunteer love me in the way you do?” Temkulako my 13 year old sister & is my best friend here. She will be the hardest person to leave. 2 years of baking together, singing off pitch songs and hanging from our front yard avocado tree. She is so bright and I want to continue to help her in all things life, but it’s time to say a “see you later”. 10 years I tell her, and I’ll be back to visit her. I ask her what she will be doing when she is 23 years old. She says she will be studying at university to become a doctor or business women. Over these past two years I have tried my best to prepare her for life ahead, not that I’m even close to a life expert. I continually tell her to follow your dreams, to read and don’t stop, that a women can do anything a man can do, and to keep the childlike laughter in your everyday life even when you’re a teenager it doesn’t seem “cool”. I have taught her about more serious things too like how to properly use a condom, even though she still claims, “I don’t want a boyfriend yet”. Many teenaged girls here have sex very early, and I just want her to be prepared for whatever life throws at her.
My life will never be the same because of these last 26 months, and because of what it was like to live here. The struggle for life’s basic wants and needs, such as education, a successful career, a home to call their own, is so much harder to obtain than I ever imagined. In the US people use the phrase, “pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get to work”, maybe a few times in the states that kick in the pants can work, but in a developing/ third world country there are SO many more hoops to jump through to get to where you want to be. In Swaziland I have met hundreds of well educated, down to earth people that give their absolute all in their studies (yes Swaziland has their own university), or in their jobs (if they can find one) and still end up with next to nothing. This seems to be because of the lack of opportunities, finances, educational opportunities, and the probability that if you do have a career you might be supporting 10+ other people in your family that don’t have a job.
This experience has broadened my mind about the destiny of geography. Meaning, wherever your soul is placed within this world has such an impact upon how many huddles a person has to go through to become self-sufficient. The ease of obtaining self-sufficiently in your life highly depends on where and to which family you are born to.
Don’t get me wrong, although Africa has many developing countries it is the most amazing, spectacular, intimate continent that I have ever been to. Just because people in some African countries lack some opportunities that we as Americans or first world countries are so accustomed to, doesn’t mean that some Africans are lacking in anyway as humans.
Something that I’ve learned; Whenever someone refers to “Africa”, know that this continent cannot be lumped together when speaking of the people and cultures. They are 54 DIFFERENT countries in Africa with thousands of different cultures and people. Personally I see what Swaziland lacks in opportunity they make up for in richness of their people. People truly care about one another here and take time to know how you are. They have time available to them, yes maybe from the lack of opportunities, but it’s beautiful all the same.
I’m not scared of traveling, because I will not let fear stop me. I believe humans all across the world are inherently good, and we should always strive to be the best versions of ourselves. Thanks for following my journey! It has been positive, negative and all in the middle, but I am thankful for everything that came my way!
“Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.” -Sargent Shriver
Look for my blog post at the end of this week to learn more about following my adventure to come!