The Solitary in Families

The Solitary in Families

The weather has turned. When I left mid-March for my first visit home in nine months, the sun blazed more often than not. Now cool breezes, clouds, and a freak hailstorm enliven our days.

The first term of school has ended; the second began three weeks ago. It is almost autumn in South Africa. Another mile-marker: As of April 5th, one third of my Peace Corps commitment has elapsed.

March blurred by with my first end-of-term exams bearing down.  Meanwhile my head was muddled with packing for back-to-back trips: first, training in Durban, then two weeks at home in the USA.

I was steeling myself for unpleasant surprises during exam week, but my principal and Head of Department shepherded me through the rigors of proctoring, marking (grading), and recording according to South African standards.

They also taught me something important about my learners: They are far more capable than I had realized. I had surrendered all hope that my Creative Arts class could even attempt the final task dictated by the national curriculum. Where would we find 3-D sculpting material for 60+ learners?

“Outside,” my principal declared. “Show them the picture, tell them when it is due, and they will do it.”

No way, I thought. No way can they do this.

Zulu pots, built from dried mud!

The 7th graders followed this feat with self-directed skits, complete with grass headdress props and a staged funeral. I have renounced all my assumptions about my learners’ capacity for independent projects.

A couple of other adventures rounded off the term:

 

Stage 1: Training in Durban

On 11 March, I commenced my great trek, destined to cross oceans before reuniting with my own bed in April.

A six hour car ride deposited me in KZN’s beach capital for the first leg. At regional training in Durban, Peace Corps bombarded us with project ideas: literacy clubs, school gardens, girls’ camps, and handmade reusable menstrual pads:

My counterpart N.G. and I amassed boxes of supplies for our learners and pamphlets chocked with intervention curricula. Peace Corps kept us well-rested and well-fed for the work, ensconced in a shore-front hotel with an exquisite buffet.

For our small group session on Creative Arts, we escaped to the beach, where we strolled slantwise through a stiff breeze, pondering best practices and swapping strategies.

Stage 2: Interim in Pretoria

An awkward rescheduling landed me in Pretoria for the weekend before my international flight, where I whiled away the hours by re-engaging our digital library project at the Peace Corps office.

For two days, I luxuriated in the lauded breakfast at a designated Peace Corps hostel: all-you-can-eat, fresh cooked bacon and eggs, with pastries, juice, fruit, and a dozen other dainties. Then I hopped a train to the airport, buckling in for my 20+ hour flight via Ethiopia.

Stage 3: Home in the USA

I fretted about visiting my family. People said I might spend the whole time wishing I were back in Africa. Or that I might refuse to board the return flight. I dreaded missing a connection or losing a bag.

“…do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself…” Matt. 6:34

After the initial pinch of reverse culture shock (American accents everywhere!), I found myself settling into the flow of life with my family. I could keep one eye on the other side of the world, knowing my learners were waiting for me, and still relax into two weeks of someplace comfortable and familiar: the land of Wi-Fi and two-day free shipping!

Once the jet lag relented, I marshaled our family forces for a tour of the new Bible museum in D.C.:

Time didn’t allow for as much visiting as I would have wished, but I jetted to my alma mater in Michigan to encourage Peace Corps applications. Back in northern Virginia, I squeezed in a few lunch dates with local friends; then the John Jay Institute hosted me for a second Peace Corps talk at Dupont Circle. Thanks to the spring ’19 fellows for their thoughtful questions!

The trip coincided with the conclusion of our family’s birthday saga: Our birth dates run from December to March, with my not-so-little brother’s on March 29th.

Something about two weeks of first world dining has inspired me to greater culinary feats:

Final Stage: Return to KZN

My return trip – from kissing my family goodbye at the airport on Saturday morning, to rolling into my forsaken bed on Tuesday night – spanned almost four days.  I confess the homesickness has hit hard since then… but my dear friends in the nearby town succored me with a new connection: Belinda and Brian, a couple originally from Johannesburg.

While introducing me to their two dogs and five cats, they treated me to a shopping trip at the nearest supermall, plus a backyard braai and traditional Afrikaaner dishes! Their hospitality cured my lonely symptoms (not to mention dosing my latest bout of flu symptoms).

The seasons are changing, but the Lord continues to show me His love through the people he has placed around me, with new mercies every day.

 

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