My last month at site before the holidays was full of good-byes, hellos, and special moments.
It hardly felt like Christmas, in this hot weather, but the end of the year did bring a different kind of festivities…
First my teachers surprised me with a belated welcome party! As usual, I was happily oblivious, swallowing the fabrications (‘a farewell party for learners… from a different school… at a classy restaurant…’) and chattering about how odd it seemed, without ever once suspecting the truth.
When the shouts of “surprise!” and “welcome!” clued me in, and I had given each teacher a hug, we sat down to a chocolate caramel cake and a round of speeches. “We now know,” my principal smiled, “that you cry when you are sad…and also when you are happy.”
Our teachers and principals collaborated again to host all the Volunteers in our cluster for a special lunch at Judy’s fabulous school. After chips and candy appetizers, sausages for lunch, and an impromptu program conducted with playful gravity, we dashed around the campus for a tour, oohing and aahing at the school’s library, swimming pool, and science labs.
Another round in a whirlwind holiday season:
Everyone in our cohort convened with local counterparts for a week of Peace Corps training at a safari hotel in Hluhluwe. Sessions ranged wide, covering technical skills like phonics and conducting games during class time, to vulnerable discussions of controversial topics like corporal punishment and AIDS awareness.
Since training spanned Sunday morning, we were anxious to find a nearby church service. The staff at the front desk gave us the good news: Christians meet to worship every Thursday night and Sunday morning in the hotel itself! The congregation welcomed us with open arms, sharing prayer requests, and introducing us to a family who has also learned Zulu while living in Mpumalanga. Given the track record of service and ministry, was it any surprise that they are acquainted with my dear friend Petra?
Our Peace Corps medical doctor, Dr. Rob, gave us a lift home. When we dropped Judy off, she gifted us each a clipping from a flower growing wild on her campus. It’s the perfect metaphor for the Peace Corps experience: start small…
Back in my home village, the community was busy celebrating the close of the year with farewell parties at church and school:
Church is central to my host family’s life, especially for uMama, so it was an honor to accompany her to what must have been a regional worship event.
We crammed into a silk rainbow tent, with pastel ribbons streaming from the ceiling, to hear messages from the pastors who oversee the rural house churches.
The program was liberally sprinkled with dance breaks, between sermons and sometimes in the middle of them! Afterwards, of course, we chowed down on plates bursting with beef, chicken, and the thick starch called “samp,” with a few veggies on the side.
As the year draws to a close, there are so many moments I don’t want to forget:
Some days, service can feel like…
…but I keep reminding myself to bloom where I’m planted. For all its challenges, the Lord has planted me in a beautiful place.
Happy New Year!