At our orientation in Toronto, a lot of what was talked about in reference to what it’s like to live in other cultures seemed so distant to me at times. Those kinds of things were only conceptual to me and I couldn’t really grasp them. I couldn’t attach anything concrete and sometimes found myself lost. Now that I am here, six weeks in, I keep finding myself going back to some of those things that were said. All of these little things that I just kind of glazed over in training keep coming back to me. I keep having these moments where I think, “Oooh… so this is what they were talking about.” Today, I had a moment like that. I had dinner at Jenny’s house tonight with Jenny, Fr. Cass (a Catholic priest that came to South Africa in the late 60’s to fight Apartheid), and a woman named Victoria who is from New Zealand and has been here doing work with children’s homes and children’s rights. At one point, we were all sharing our favorite “South African-isms” and Fr. Cass said that living in South Africa is like catching malaria – there’s no cure and you will find yourself relapsing for the rest of your life. He said that there’s something about this place that will never let go of you and always pulls you back.
It got me thinking about how fond I’ve already grown of this place. At training, it was said that when you spend even two weeks in a foreign culture, you are irreparably changed. Never having been outside of the United States/Canada, I didn’t know what this meant at the time, but now I think I understand. South Africa is no longer a concept to me. It’s no longer some foreign place that I’ve only read about in books. Africa is no longer just that continent across the Atlantic. This culture and this language are no longer “other” from me. This is real. I know this place and I know these people. It is and they are a part of me now. If I left today, after only 6 weeks, my life is changed. What will the next 46 bring?