The good-byes really started almost 5 weeks ago, when I went to my last cell group meeting and gave my goodbyes to a group of stunning young adults who became one of my communities for the last 5 months of South Africa.
Then four weeks ago last Friday the good-byes continued. Northfield had a farewell tea and I said good-bye to the wonderful staff that I was able to work with for 5 wonderful months. Then I said good-bye to my friends at John Wesley Community. And what seemed like a normal Fran and Rachel afternoon quickly ended when I said my last good-bye in Benoni to my dear friend and mentor.
Four weeks ago last Sunday I said good-bye to Mama Judy, Papa, G, Priscilla and Prince – my family that I love and miss so dearly. I learned how to make pap one more time, we ate, we danced, we sang, we prayed, and we hugged and cried as I said one of the hardest good-byes I have ever had in my life.
And then in a flash the cleaning and sorting and packing is complete, and you’re packing up a car to go to an airport. I said a quick good-bye to the community in my building – the security that kept me safe and offered their smiles and delight every time we met. At the airport, I said good-bye again to my “South African Parents,” John and Marie – ever more encouraging and showing their love through hugs and kisses. Four weeks ago yesterday we were just six friends sitting in a food court at OR Tambo eating supper and wishing that time would just freeze. Through tears, Hannah and I said our very last good-byes (hoping that they would never be good-byes for real) at the security gate to Matthew, Lucille, Edwin, and Freddy. I remember looking through the glass with tear filled eyes waving good-bye before rushing to catch the flight before the last boarding call. And four weeks ago yesterday I cried as the plane took off, off to another world that used to be so familiar – but a bit scared of what it would be like 16 months later, apart from all that had become familiar.
Four weeks ago today (after over 24 hours of travel with an 8 hour layover!) I arrived to two very tearful eyed and smiling parents who welcomed me into their open embraces. 2 hours later I was embraced by my loving sister and brother-in-law and started to fit right back in…or so I thought.
The following 4 weeks were filled with emotions that I cannot even begin to explain or even comprehend myself. You never fully understand the complexities of moving between cultures until you experience it first hand.
There were times of great joy: in giving tight squeezes to family, in meeting and spending time with the other mission interns during our debriefing period together, and in the moments with friends when things seem to fall right back into place – as if no time had passed at all.
There were times of confusion: in training my brain to drive an automatic car on the right side of the road, in not knowing where to buy something so simple as face wash in a mall, and in hearing American accents and bad English as I overheard conversations in public.
And of course there were and still are times of grief: when I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve hugged so many people I WANT TO JUST HUG or see or be with for a while.
So then there’s the times when reality strikes. I realize that this isn’t a vacation, and I’m not going back to South Africa anytime soon. So you allow yourself to enjoy the moments you have with the ones that you love and have loved so dearly, and you thank God that you have time to be with them after being apart for so long. I suppose you have grace with yourself in times of confusion and give yourself time to adjust. I’ve decided that I need to allow myself to grieve, and be grateful for the time that I had in my home in Johannesburg for a little while. In the end, I never really said good-bye. The adventure is far from over – it’s time to look forward to a new future in Seattle. I have no idea what the next year and a half will bring, but I’m up for the surprises and challenges.
I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of it all – and I think that’s okay.