„I’m always the one writing the personal blogposts“ Lukas complains, sitting next to me on a couch at the Wild Coast, Mdumbi to be precise. I laugh and offer him to write it. He smiles and refuses. This is one of the moments when I’m aware what one year means: There must have been 20 blogposts that we worked on together. I remember the first one we wrote, back in Berlin. I felt insecure and intimidated, doubting every word I wrote and using a translator for every second phrase.
And now I sit here, staring at my laptop and trying to come up with something to write about. While the sun sets over the beautiful beach just a few meters from the place I’m sitting, I try to remember my experiences and describe a year in a few words. This time, it’s neither the English nor the insecurity that hold me back. I rather try to limit myself, to one message and just a few words.
It’s not easy to talk about the time in South Africa. To explain how I find it, what my everyday life looked like. To assess what I learned or how I changed. And that’s also what scares me most about returning “home” – to Germany. I’m scared to find out how much I changed – but also scared that some things might be the same. While looking forward to it, I’m nervous to meet friends and family again.
“It’s kind of the same, but it also isn’t” a friend texted me, describing her return to Germany. “It’s weird and I miss South Africa”.
This blogpost is my first attempt to look back on those past 11 months. I know that the time of reflection is still to begin. Once I’m back in Germany, I will spend my time comparing and assessing, appreciating some things while wishing back others. Nobody else will understand what I’m going through, except the few lucky people that had the chance to taste the freedom of a year abroad, unlimited by the shackles of habitualness in the society we grew up in.
Returning to our home country will be different from arriving in South Africa. Now we’ve seen a different country, in a really different way from just holidays.
I can’t recall any problems I had when I arrived in South Africa. Lukas and I both adapted fast. We didn’t even have time to feel homesick, the new life and exciting experiences kept us busy. After three months, when we finally felt like we had settled, everything changed again. We had our first holidays during Christmas and our first low because of the empty, depressed Grahamstown.
In January our boss Anna visited us at work, filling our time with a lot of meetings, opening new opportunities for the Village Scribe Association. Then the schools started again. This time we started teaching some new groups. This was a totally different experience. Not only because the learners were beginners, which meant for us to teach them how to move a mouse and open a program. Also because we got to know these learners in a different way.
Then the time passed in a blur. We both went on holiday with our families, traveled during the Easter holidays and came up with new ideas for the sessions. In the second term we conducted a project about Powerpoint presentations and organized a Sports Day, which was fun for both the learners and the VSA team.
During the winter break we had our last big journey: We went to see Johannesburg, Pretoria, the Kruger National Park. And ended up at Mdumbi, where I am writing this text now.
We saw much of this country, its nature, its animals. And of course its people and cultures. But then it feels like we only scratched the surface of South Africa. We only really know one culture (Xhosa) and one town. Everywhere else we’ve always been tourists.
Read our article about that topic in the Grocott’s Mail, the local Grahamstown newspaper:
We created a list with all the things we want to do when we come back to South Africa. It’s true, a country you’ve lived in, even if it was just for a year, will always be special to you. And we are keen to return as soon as possible, although we’re also scared of finding it changed.
I hope that we will remember the things we loved in SA, and keep them even though we are back to our own environment and people.