On Returning

Back. Back in the land of cuddly puppies, frozen yogurt and rapid-fire English. Back to driving myself around, blasting my own music or podcasts, no longer at the mercy of taxi drivers booming gqom or gospel. Back to yoga sessions sweaty from a heated room rather than a baking under my tin roof, back to family, back to friends, back to almost familiar ways.

But also gone. Gone from greeting everyone and acknowledging their basic humanity, gone from embracing the still, slow pace of the village, gone from my learners, my families, my friends.

Returning and reintegrating into the states proves incredibly difficult. My mind is unused to processing English at such a quick pace, my cultural frame of reference is wildly out of date, and my proxy for what behaviors might be anticipated from my fellow humans is way out of sync. Coming home you inevitably expect a sense of ease, as you go home you don’t expect to have to relearn how to function, how to speak your own language “normally”, how to keep the newfound hole in your heart from eating you up.

Going home. What does that even mean now? Where is home actually? Every place I have been has latched a piece of itself into my heart, but South Africa carved a large space. A constant reminder that homes cannot be erased or forgotten, and that despite the distance a part of me will always be South African.

As joyous as it is to spend my days sipping on Starbucks, melting under hot showers and throwing my clothes into a machine that miraculously washes them for me, I feel the distinct absence of my trusty buckets, of cheap public transport, of long days playing soccer and netball under the blazing African sun.

So I’m back. I’ve returned and yet I am a newcomer to this country, struggling to adjust to the sight of legs in shorts, pampered pets eating fresh cooked food, and the distinct lack of South African accents babbling away in a plethora of languages. Don’t ask me how long this re-adjustment thing is going to take. I assume that one day it will simple be easier, day to day activities will become natural, until South Africa is just the words in my head spewing “shame”, “is it?”, and “yebo”, a reminder of a glorious time under molten and star-studded skies, of life at the bottom of the world.

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