*** Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps. ***
Two years ago Peace Corps dropped me off to the “li li li li li lis” of chanting gogos and host families as they danced their way up the aisle to meet their new host children. Two years ago I was plopped into the middle of rural (ish) Mpumalanga, introduced to a family, and left to (hopefully) become part of it. Two years later it’s clearer than ever that families are not determined by blood, language, skin color, or traditions.
Amongst the swells of bellowing Setswana and the perpetual swish of sweeping sand I have found a comfort and ease of life previously unknown. Peace is sitting on the patio watching my host mama hand wash her pristine whites as her sister rakes away fallen mango leaves. Here in the ever-growing village of Marapyane I visit as often as I can, easily slipping into days of piping hot mugs of tea, braying donkeys, and deep concern over whether three blankets or a heaping plate of food were possibly enough.
I love my host family at site. They have cared for me, allowed me to be part of family celebrations, taught me netball and created a safe and happy environment for me to live in. But there is nothing quite like that first home. The first place you found safety and ease in a land so different from your own- the PST family that taught you how to be a functional human in South Africa. There is nothing like your host cousins shouting “siana! ema!” as they beg you to play red light green light or chanting “baby shark do doo” despite the months that have passed since you last sang to them.
Home is our dog basking in the weak winter sunlight and begging for my leftover chicken bones. Home is never forgetting the remote sandy paths to the local Spar and knowing exactly where the pots and pans will be waiting for you. Home is the warm embrace of family members and the simplicity of picking up conversations about work and community as if you never left.
I have visited my PST host family several times, celebrated birthdays, Christmas and New Years with them. Together we have attended church, shared recipes, and sat for hours over biscuits and cold drink.
As I reach the end of my Peace Corps service it’s hard not to feel bittersweet on this last of visits. It’s hard not to wonder when the next time will be that my eyes will light up at the sizzle of cabbage and chicken topped with atchar. It’s hard not to think about how my young cousins’ memories of sesi Reya will undoubtedly fade away until they are just stories of some American stranger who brought gifts. It’s hard not to think about how different this place will be, its constant evolution reflecting the immense growth of greater South Africa.
It’s impossible for me not to think about the difference in myself. From a keen 21-year-old embarking on an exciting new adventure, eager to please and soak up as much information as possible to a more informed volunteer, perfectly happy to honestly set boundaries and yet fluidly easing into the restful calm of village days. These people, this place ignited my Peace Corps journey. They shaped my love of South Africa, kindled a desire to complete my service, left me eternally sure that chosen family is of the utmost importance. And so today as I watch Marapyane shrink away from the rear window of a kombi until it is swallowed into hazy grassland I will undoubtedly feel a deep sense of loss, but also a sense of permanence. I know that our bonds are strong enough to weather time apart, that whatsapp messages and pictures will continue to connect us, and that one day, eventually we will meet again.
Of this, I am sure; my journey with my PST family has come full circle. They have nourished me and provided me with renewed energy for service and fresh joy and confidence in myself. They have provided me with perspective on service and a deep understanding of the unique difficulties faced in my more rural site and they have kept me on my toes testing my fluency in Setswana. I owe so much to these people. So much to those who will shrug it off and say it’s simply the job of family. So on a brisk May afternoon the only thing I can say without dissolving into tears is the most sincere ke a leboga.