originally published August 31, 2022
Read Part V: Sightseeing in Rome
COVID testing misadventures cost me a day in South Africa. Intsead of visiting her new home, I could only spend a few hours catching up with Petra, the globe-trotting teacher who first introduced me to my community and family-away-from-family in South Africa. I regret that we neglected to take a photo before we hugged good-bye.
After overnighting at the family’s home near the city, we loaded into the car for that familiar drive up into the mountains. Long plains and rocky peaks rolled by – those scenes I watched pass so often from the window of a taxi. I had dreaded that this moment would never come, but again the Lord had laid my fears to rest with His unfailing mercies.
When we arrived at last, I sank into the serenity of the place, conscious that the family’s planned rennovations meant I wouldn’t see it again in quite the same way.
Besides languid hours of soaking in the places and faces I had been missing for so long, the family gifted me with an encore of experiential highlights from my time in South Africa: a braai (barbecue) and trip to the beach. To crown the occasion, Sylvia came to visit. The principal of the local Christian school, she often hosted me on weekends and unplanned school holidays for a breath of peace, harmony, and loving community. Now she greeted me with open arms: “Welcome home!” and blessed me with a connection in my life to come: a South African friend now settled near Kyoto.
We woke before the sun to pack for the long drive south to the Durban airport. Already wishing that I could postpone my leaving for another week at least, I lingered to watch the sun rise over the balcony that I sought so often and so eagerly during my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It will always be my ideal of natural and nurtured beauty.
All too soon, I was in the air again, winging my way back across the Atlantic. Qatar offered me a small consolation: a markedly more relaxed attitude towards COVID restrictions than the American and European airlines, plus fantastical views of elaborately landscaped islands on my layover.
Back at home I recuperated from excessive travel while besieging the knots in my hair. I hadn’t quite eradicated them before my mother and I hit the road for a weekend visit with my sister. We treated ourselves to a day at the county fair, complete with a smoked turkey leg and fried cheesecake. The excursion culminated in a demolition derby: a charmingly patriotic event with kiddie cars, riding lawnmowers, passenger vehicles and finally full-size trucks free-wheeling before a canvas of a red, white, and blue.
Shortly after returning home, I worked my hair free at last. I have to thank my mother for investing in a shelf of coconut oil jars – nothing but that sustained treatment could restore my tired locks.
Released from ceaseless hours of combing, I squeezed in a few more visits to catch up with local friends before boarding a domestic flight to Dallas-Ft Worth.
I couldn’t leave the western hemisphere without accepting a longstanding invitation to visit my friend Alexi in Texas. Right off the bat, Alexi treated me to good food — including a steak so luscious, I stopped and stared at it after the first bite. Only a night of swing dancing could top that, and Texas again delivered: a friendly crowd laid to rest the last of my fears that lockdown had killed social dance.
Alexi’s family cultivates a mini-estate with a magnificent vegetable garden and rollicking herd of miniature horses. We spun through the neighborhood on the family bicycles, passing a private residence studded with fossils. Until now, I had never pictured Texas as brimming with petrified shells and prehistoric remains.
We pursued our outdoor adventures to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Besides fountains, rock formations, and rows of exotic flowers, the sprawling park exhibited an autumn-themed sculpture collection of giant-sized insects crawling over mountains of artfully arranged pumpkin, squash, and gourds. The attractive gift shop displayed the ubiquitous “Masks Required” sign — but no one complied, or complained.
Back home for a nail-biting round of packing and COVID testing, I readied myself for the final long-haul trip of the year. I freely confess that the prospect of another overseas move, after the trials of Peace Corps and deprivations of lockdown, had robbed me of my usual eagerness. I had signed on the dotted line with JET only after a good friend’s assurance that I could return home if needed. Little did I guess what a welcoming respite awaited me.
I was grateful for the late October departure, as Virginia is at its prettiest in autumn. In my last days, the family farm flushed with ripe figs and reddening leaves.
Still I couldn’t leave home without my sister to see me off. She spoiled me with a mid-semester visit home, driving all the way from Michigan to kiss me good-bye at the airport…
…which leads us back to arriving at Narita, Tokyo.
That concludes my 2021 World Tour!
I’ve backdated all the posts from this series to save confusion; you can now view them chronologically from June to September 2021, beginning with my first visit to Cambridge and last days as a student in Oxford.