I woke up this morning in the bed of my best friend, in the city of Washington. I proceeded to lie there and stare at the wall, while slowly separating my eye lids which were stuck together because I had slept so hard that I basically fused my eyelashes together. “Where am I?” I wondered. “How did I get here?”
After 25 hours in transit, I had a right to be both physically and mentally confused of where in time and space I was. Yesterday, or rather two days ago, was my last day in Stellenbosch. With many of my friends and fellow students already well past finished with exams, I was one of few remaining to write for my departments. It meant a lot of scattered goodbyes, a quiet campus, and trying to process leaving while at the same time focusing on the (seemingly) 1 billion equations and graphs I needed to be memorizing for exams. I felt like I was running out of brain space for so many puzzling concepts. Having then only finished my semester on Wednesday evening, I spent my few free days afterwards sort of bumbling around town, unsure what act would solidify or best end my time there, while at the same time keeping in mind that after a year in a small town- it was more the people I would miss than things in the town itself. In the end, my last day was perfect in its simplicity. I went to breakfast with my best friend’s family, who have acted as a pseudo-host family all year and have given me a steady dose of Afrikaans language and culture since the beginning (perfectly summarized in their goodbye gifts which consisted of my own potjiekos pot and lifetime supply of rusk). I then spent the day at an organic farm exploring, in the striking heat that was hinting of summer being just around the corner.
Cue then to arriving in Washington. After making the pivotal mistake of admitting to having brought with me produce from the African continent, I lost what seemed like several years of my life to customs at Dulles airport. I started to envision that I would have a movie made after my experience called The Terminal 2. Once freed from the grasps of airport personnel, I finally took my first new steps into the United States. The sky looked exactly like what I remember a November sky looks like- bulbous and cloudy with every shade of gray included and a dull light seeping through. But aside from the sky, everything else in the city looked familiar in the most foreign way, as if I was visiting for the first time again. As if I didn’t identify with these streets anymore. As if the paths I had hammered into these sidewalks had slowly molded to someone else’s while I was away.
Spending the evening with close friends of mine, I realized that a lot of work will be involved to identify the spot where this “new me” fits back in here. Work at NGOs? Internships? Applications for scholarships? Homemade beer kits? Brunch? $20 for a meal at a burger joint? What are these things? What do I talk about? Where is the intersection between what I want to say and family and friends care to hear?
And so the process begins. I know people will tell me that I have done this before (Germany 2009-2010), and that I can do this again. And they’re right. However, it’s hard to accept that when looking at the daunting idea of condensing and packing away a year of your life into a digestible portion of your personality and then moving on from it. But I have to remember that this, this coming home deal, is also a part of my South African adventure as much as any other part. It is the part where I challenge what I truly learned there, what parts I want to keep and discard, what parts taught me lessons and which just happened and I’ll have to accept.
Updates to come later.