Well…I finally made it home! My one suitcase made it through my countless times moving from place to place and on a number of plane rides. Although at one point I thought it was going to rip apart because of all the stuff (luckily I had some duct tape my mom threw in my bag at the last minute which I said I would never use). I said goodbye to some of the most amazing people that I have met, some that I will see again and having lasting relationships with and others who came in and out of my life quickly but nonetheless taught me some very valuable lessons. The people that I met during my time abroad really made the whole experience worth it.
Over the last week my mom and I traveled around. We started in Cape Town where we did the typical touristy things like climb table mountain, visit Cape of Good Hope, go to the beach, eat delicious seafood, visited Bo-Kaap (a muslim neighborhood known for its incredibly vibrant colored houses), and did some wine tasting! It was all a lot of fun. From Cape Town we flew to a safari park called Thorneybush. We stayed in a lodge there for 2 nights and went on a lot of game drives which required us to get up at 4:30 am every day and then go out again at 4pm. But I wasn’t going to complain because we saw a TON of animals. We saw lions, rhinos, impala, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, a leopard and much more! We drove right up to the animals. If I wanted to, I could have reached out an touch them but I knew better! Other than game drives, we relaxed and ate food. It was wonderful! The most spoiled I had been in months. From Thorneybush we drove to another lodge called Arathusa (in the Sabi Sands) where we went on more game drives. We say mostly the same animals but there were a few highlights that we didn’t see previously. We got to see a lion eating a buffalo that it had just killed, chomping down and ripping it apart very violently. I kept saying how I wanted to see a leopard in a tree, thinking that it would never happen. Then, on the last day my guide asked me what I wanted to see before I went home and I told him, again thinking that this was a long shot. Finally, after two hours of searching, he got really excited about something over the radio and then sped up, driving really quickly. He stopped and said, look up, so I did and low and behold…a leopard in a tree! I was amazed and had to contain myself from yelling with excitement! It was the perfect end to a wonderful week of game drives.
And now the long journey home began…we packed up our bags, after having been up since 4am and drove to the airport. We took an hour long (extremely turbulent flight where I thought we were going to fall from the air) to Johannesburg. There, we had a 5 hour lay over because our next flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 9pm. We got some lunch and then sat and waited for our flight. We had heard that it might be a little delayed because of a catering issue but we didn’t realize what was in store. We started to see that all of the flights before ours were being delayed, but so far no information about ours. Finally, around 8pm when we were supposed to start boarding, they made an announcement that our flight was delayed. We figured out that the catering company (the people who provide the in-flight meal service) had gone on strike. I was angry, anxious, and all I wanted to do was get home. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. Finally, at 10pm they announced that we were going to board. An hour later, we were on the plane and at 11:30pm we took off! I got dinner around 12:30am and then around 1am I was able to fall asleep for a little while. After 16 hours and 45 minutes of sleep, tv, movies, and books, and sitting uncomfortably, we landed in Atlanta! Our delay caused us to miss our connection home but we got on a later flight and finally made it back to Washington! I am home, safe and sound but already missing South Africa.
I am so grateful for the experience I had. While I was skeptical at first about my program and Durban, choosing SIT and South Africa was probably the best decision I have ever made. I learned from everyone I talked to, and I have countless memories to hold onto now. I have learned more about public health in a real life setting which will be incredibly valuable for my future. If you ask me about what my favorite part was I would have to say my first rural homestay experience. Learning Zulu dances and eating meat right off the bone in a cold, damp hut showed me that you don’t have to have a common language to communicate. Laughing and singing and eating with my friends and “family” was our communication. While I may not have fully digested my experience there, I do know that it has impacted me. I have learned more about myself than ever before. It may take weeks, months or even years to figure out what this experience has taught me and how to make meaning out of it. But for now, I sit back and realize how fortunate I am and how fortunate I was to have met all of these wonderful people in South Africa.