Wednesday, January 9, 2013

There's no place like home for the holidays

Another year has flown by, and now, writing you from the cozy air-conditioned room in the Gobojango Health Post, I am happy to say that I am extremely satisfied with where my life is right now.

I had the great opportunity to go home for the holidays. 

Let me tell you, there really is no place like home for the holidays…it was exactly what I needed and satiated some of my cravings. 

The most unfortunate part about arriving home is the actual travel to get there…

I started my journey the Thursday before my flight was to depart.  Since I had a doctor’s appointment that day, I figured I would remain in the capital for a few days until I had to head south to catch a flight.  Though this may sound appealing, the couch surfing situation and homelessness aspect of it wasn’t as appealing as I originally thought.  I felt like such a mooch!  (Although, I’m not going to lie, it was pretty enjoyable when I stayed with volunteers who were house-sitting for embassy workers). After five long days of couch surfing and lugging my heavy backpack around Gaborone, I awoke early the following Wednesday to hop on a bus to Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Most of the trip went well until I realized that I had originally bought a ticket for the day prior and that it had since expired.  I was informed that I was going to have to pay ANOTHER 350 pula in order to stay on the bus.  As I was frantically calling the customer service center (hoping that my air time wouldn’t run out), we arrived at the border and everyone dismounted the bus.  I stood outside, frustratingly hoping that the woman on the other end of the phone would feel the spirit of the holidays and reimburse me with a return trip.  Alas, her leniency wasn’t as soft as I was hoping.  When I begrudgingly hung up the phone, huffed to myself and walked through customs, I realized that I was the last person from our busload in line. I left the building and looked to the spot where the bus was originally parked and saw nothing but an empty parking lot. 

My eyes grew in fear and my head swiveled like a bird’s, my heart rate rose and I took a deep breath, “there’s no way they would have left without me” I thought.  But then, as I continued to look around the parking lot and see no huge orange bus, thoughts kept racing through my head such as: “The snotty woman from the customer service center called them and told them to leave without me!” and “What the heck am I going to do all alone on the border of South Africa and Botswana?!”.

I scrambled through the customs building again and they informed me that I had to continue walking about 500 meters to the south to go through the immigration office in order to get on the bus again (since it waits on the other side of the border for its passengers).  “You might want to hurry,” added the customs agent, “I think they may have left already”. 

Picture this: frantically shaking in fear of being left behind, I high-tailed it 500 meters to the next building.  While wiping the sweat from my brow, I greeted the immigration officer as she stamped my passport with a perplexed look on her face.  I then gathered all my things and sprinted over the border where the bus driver and conductor were leaning against a light pole outside.  “We wouldn’t have left you” said the driver, “you are one of our more precious cargo”. 

Haha, my life.

Anyway, the rest of the bus ride was smooth sailing and I arrived at the bus station with no problems.  When I got to the station, I realized that I didn’t have my friend Leone’s phone number saved into my phone so even if I was able to find a pay phone, I had no way of getting a hold of her.  Originally I had hoped to access some sort of wifi to get online to check the email she sent me.  Though when I asked someone where I could use the wifi and her fear penetrated to me as she said, “I would not take out my computer in this neighborhood if I were you…”, I realized that was a hopeless plan. 

Call it luck or irony, I spent about 30 minutes running around the sketchy bus station until I ran into another lekgoa (white person) who just so happened to be the friend I was waiting for.  The look of relief on her face mirrored mine and, though we hadn’t really been close friends before, we ran into one another’s’ arms as if in a cheesy Hollywood movie.

She ended up taking me to Pretoria to a nice restaurant and paying for lunch.  We spent about four hours together but were both surprised when it was already time for me to go back to the airport. 

The following 20 hours from Johannesburg to Frankfurt to Dallas were arduous and exhausting. I was drawn a lucky hand of chance and sat in the aisle seats on each flight.  Right as we were about to land in Dallas, I drank two small cups of coffee to wake myself up in preparation to meet my uncle.  Let me tell you…TERRIBLE IDEA! I hadn’t had real coffee in over 8 months (besides the instant crap) and the caffeine made me fidgety and anxious. 

When we landed, I felt a pressing feeling of urgency to do something and go somewhere but I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  Finally I used a pay phone to call my parents and then met up with my Uncle Bryce (who had just returned from Afghanistan) who had brought me a huge cup of none other than Starbucks Coffee. I sipped it carefully and calmed down into my happiness of spending a couple hours with my Uncle whom I hadn’t seen for years.

Finally I mounted the plane for the last flight from Dallas to Denver.  Though this was the shortest flight out of them all, it felt like the longest.  I couldn’t get comfortable and wouldn’t stop speaking to the poor soul next to me.  As we were landing, we saw the Denver lights; I started bouncing in my seat and felt an overwhelming feeling of ecstasy to see a breath of snow over the grass.  

I knew my parents would be waiting for me in the arrival section of the airport, but when I saw their faces amongst the sea of people, my happiness overcame me and tears welled into my eyes.  When I went to go hug them, everything felt right again…was this a dream?

We decided to continue onto Chipotle (to satiate my 8 month craving), and I was exhilarated to find my entire family waiting for me at the restaurant.  My aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my amazing cousins, even a new cousin that I hadn’t even met yet, and my best friend Casey!  Was this a dream??

Feigning sleep, I tried to keep my eyes and my smile going long enough until we arrived at my house.  My yummy-smelling, warm, cozy house.  I threw my bags on the floor and collapsed into my bed.  When I awoke the next morning, I finally realized that this wasn’t a dream, and in fact, after 1 long bus ride, 3 long plane rides, and countless hours of waiting, I was back in the USA.

The two weeks flew by, as I had feared; though I made schedules to try and meet everyone that I could.  I was able to see the majority of my friends and everyone from my family at least once.  Christmas Eve was the same wonderful bliss that I remember it being.  The best gift that I received was two huge home-made scrapbooks filled with pictures and recounts of my time being in Africa so far from my Aunt Glenda.  The care and intricate detail that was put into the books made a stunning masterpiece and I couldn’t help but cry.  This is my new tool that would assist me in explaining life in Botswana.  I could show my children this when I’m old and gray and look upon these years with vivid fondness. 

Christmas day was filled with good food, great company, and gift-giving.  We went to my Aunt Cheryl’s house and ate a delicious smorgasbord of steak and shrimp, then went and saw a movie in the theaters with the Ayala’s (as we do every year).  Unfortunately, the movie was not what I had expected and wasn’t very entertaining…but the fact that I was sitting alongside my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins gave me enough motivation to even laugh during the film.

I went out a few nights with my cousins Hannah, Natasha, Amanda, and Andre.  Tasha had asked me to be her bridesmaid so we went dress shopping one morning.  I met people from Africa at the bars, ate a scrumptious dinner with my Uncle Chris, Aunt Stacy, Aunt Cheryl, Uncle Rich, Grandma K, and little cousin Emma. I hadn’t enjoyed myself that much for many months. 

The day before New Year’s snuck up on us more quickly than I had hoped and we ordered my favorite Vietnamese food, all sat down, and ate together as a family. The next day Geoffrey and I were going to go snowboarding at A-Basin and I couldn’t think of a single thing that I wanted to do more. Unfortunately for me, I caught a horrible stomach virus and spent the majority of the night hugging the white porcelain god.  The next day, everything felt green.  Not a vibrant forest green, but a sickly pale green.  I tried to sleep in between my vomiting incidents, but am sad to say that I was unable to hit the slopes with my little brother. 

That night was New Year’s Eve and though I wanted nothing more than to curl up into my warm bed and stay there for the night, I knew that I would regret it for years to come.  So I forced myself to move past the green film and squirm into a new dress.  All things considered, New Years Eve was a blast.  Tiffany and her boyfriend Casey even came!  I laughed until I cried watching my little cousin JJ dancing on the floor; I hugged my entire family and felt a sense of warmth and concord when my brother said, “There is nowhere else I would rather be”.

Because, in reality, there was nowhere else in the world I would rather be than hugging, smiling, and laughing with the people I love most in the world.

The next day I felt better.  I was prepared to start 2013 spending time with my parents and Geoff, until I peered around the corner of their bedrooms and found them all to be curled under the covers.  They had caught whatever virus I had and were living in the sickly green for themselves.  It turns out my aunt, uncle, cousins, and cousin’s roommate had all caught the sickness as well. 

At least I left them something to remember me by, right?

For that reason, I was unable to see Tasha, Amanda, Tia Liz, Andres, and Andre before I left.  But I spent my last day in the US having lunch with Hannah and tying up all loose ends. 

When I woke up on the 3rd, I dreaded the travel I had ahead of me.  I had a panic attack at the fact that I hadn’t even started packing yet, then calmed down and was set to go by 11.  We went to Abuelita and Abuelito’s house to say goodbye, and felt pretty assured at the fact that I would be back in September for Tasha’s wedding.  My parents took me to lunch at Subway (YUM…just writing that now makes me hungry), and dropped me off at the airport. 

*Change scene*: the flight from the US to Germany was long and too much was on my mind for me to even think about sleeping. I arrived in Frankfurt, hopped on a train to Stuttgart and sat down at a Starbucks to await my friend Rainer.  I looked at the clock and realized that I had been awake for 23 hours without sleeping.

Rainer’s girlfriend, Claudia, approached me with a smile and a coffee and we waited for Rainer: me speaking my few words that I know in German and her speaking her best English.  Let me just say, the hand gestures were flying everywhere as we attempted understanding one another.  As I was getting warmed up to this kind lady, Rainer came up and gave me a great big hug.

They escorted me around Stuttgart for the day.  Rainer bought us lunch (a delicious German gyro) and we walked through castles and markets in the city center.  I was highly impressed with the beauty of the Stuttgart, even though it began to rain as we were walking.  We jumped in Claudia’s car and went to the tallest structure in Stuttgart.  Rainer refused me paying for anything and bought tickets for the three of us to ascend the elevator over 250 meters from the ground. 

As we stepped onto the platform, the wind bit at our bare cheeks and the rain cut through our sweaters, but the view was astounding.  We managed to get another poor, cold soul to take our picture, I took some pictures around the city, and we went inside as soon as we could. 

Later, we went to Rainer’s warm house, I met his family, and his mom made a scrumptious typical German meal.  I was sad to have to say goodbye and leave the cozy home, but went with Rainer and Claudia again to the train station where they bought my ticket (without regards to my refusal).  I hopped on the train again (in one of those small compartments, I felt like Harry Potter!) and nestled into my seat.  By this point I had been awake for almost two days without sleeping and my head would not stop bobbing as I fought the oncoming slumber.  Fortunately for me, I was awake long enough to hear that my stop was approaching; I switched trains and arrived safely to the Frankfurt airport. 

Since this short trip, I vow to one day visit Germany for an extended trip (who knows…maybe even try living there for a bit).  I LOVED it!

It was not in my cards to be comfortable for the final flight to Johannesburg.  I was placed in the middle seat, next to a snorer, and in front of a kicker.  Needless to say, I didn’t rest a wink that entire 12 hour flight. 

I spent the four hours I had in Jo-burg in the airport, drinking coffee and scuttling to get internet. I took (the most expensive) taxi (in the world) to the bus station and felt a lot more at ease than I had the first time I went there.  I went and sat in the waiting room and met some friendly people from Botswana and Zimbabwe. 

The rest of the trip home was easy: I slept on the bus, my friend Merapelo was standing there waiting for me as I dismounted the bus, we went to his cousin’s house and I slept for a good 12 hours. When I awoke, he drove me the entire 400+ kilometers to Gobojango, and I have been here ever since. 

The transition back to life in Bots was much easier than I feared.  I’m quite happy to be back, actually.  I feel important here, like even though there are days where I find myself not leaving my bed, I feel like I have a purpose. 

I gave my Botswana family their presents and was enlightened at the sheer elation to receive gifts from America.  Samantha put on her new sunglasses, (“Mazaza”) and told me she was going to sleep in them, Fatima cuddled her new Barbie in her arms and vowed to never take her out of the box, Lorato put her new blouse over her t-shirt and couldn’t stop smiling.  I’m so happy to be back (though waking up early for work has been a bit of a struggle…I guess I’m still adjusting to the time change). 

This Friday I will be going to Mahalapye to bid a friend of mine farewell.  Jada, another Bots12 volunteer, has decided that her time in Botswana is over and she will be moving next Tuesday.  Saturday, two other volunteers will be coming to stay with me in Gobojango on their way to the Tuli Game Reserve, then Sunday I will be spending doing laundry.

Back to slower village life.

Though I will resonate my original statement: there is NO place like home for the holidays.

In lieu of New Years, I state my resolutions:

1)      I resolve to be more direct in my interactions with people (and to learn to say NO when taking on certain projects)

2)      I resolve to continue the wellness club and participate more frequently in aerobics

3)      I plan to assist in the growth of the Big Sister’s Football Club (including fundraiser, tournament, etc)

4)      I resolve to be more present in my community (particularly on weekends)

5)      I resolve to stay in better contact with my family and friends back home

6)      I resolve to blog more frequently!

Feel a hug from Africa!
Tata for now!

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