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On December 29 2013, exactly one year after I set off on my journey across the Atlantic to Africa, I packed my bags one final time and said goodbye to the continent that I had called home for the past year. It was a bittersweet goodbye, filled with the sadness of leaving my Namibian friends behind, as well as the excitement of finally setting foot on Oregon soil and indulging in the comforts of home.
Though I was ready to move on with my life, leaving Namibia was challenging. I had grown quite fond of the children from my village and formed very special relationships with many of them. Each day, many of my little friends from the nearby primary school would come by my house for daily photo shoots, homework help and walks along the sandy village roads.
It was heartbreaking and painful to say goodbye to them, but on December 7th, I bid a final farewell to my friends, left the dusty floodplains of the Oshana region behind and headed into the next and final stage of my African journey.
Following my volunteer contract in Namibia, I decided to spend a few weeks traveling in southern Africa with my fellow volunteers. In those three weeks I spent in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, my journey took me full circle. It began with a pony trek in the highlands of Lesotho, where Mariella and I enjoyed a wonderful few days among the craggy peaks of Malealea--and effectively ended just across the border in South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains. In between, I spent time with WorldTeach friends in Cape Town, explored the country's winelands and wild coastline with Dan and visited three incredible wildlife parks.
At the end of the trip, Dan and I found ourselves back in the Drakensberg highlands, soaking up stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The addition of the Drakensberg mountains at the end of our itinerary was a last minute decision. Dan and I had been looking for a place to stay on the road between Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park and Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport for our last night in the country and, After a quick Google search, found a place called the Amphitheater Backpackers--a bustling traveler lodge not far off the route and perfectly situated at the foot of the mountains. The lodge's positioning between the national park and the airport made for a perfect stopover on our way home.
The Amphitheater Backapacker Lodge seemed to be an ideal base for exploring the area and a wonderful place to meet fellow travelers, swap stories and relax by the pool. Unfortunately, our tickets back home dictated that our time at the backpackers would have to be cut short, so we went to bed early in order to squeeze in a quick foray into the mountains the morning of our departure.
The Drakensberg mountains are dramatic and majestic. Their vibrant, green peaks rise above the mist-shrouded surroundings and contain hundreds of waterfalls that give life to the verdant valleys below.
We knew that we had very little time to explore the area, so Dan and I entered the park expecting to do a quick hike up to one of the park's waterfalls.
When we arrived at the entrance, however, dark clouds rolled in and it began to sprinkle. Thinking nothing of it at the time, I put on my raincoat and wrapped my camera in my bag. Considering the sweltering heat and dry weather I had grown accustomed to during my stay in southern Africa, the light rain was a welcome surprise. After such a long time living in a drought-afflicted area, feeling the rain against my face was a wonderful sensation.
In merely a few minutes, however, my sneakers became saturated with water and I had to wrap my camera in my raincoat to keep it safe. I began to lose traction as my shoes started skidding down the slippery path and I worried that the torrents of water would seep through my bag and ruin my camera.
Reluctantly, we decided to turn back toward the car. And while I wish I could have spent a bit more time admiring the peaks of the Royal Natal National Park, I like to think that the heavy rain was a signal from Oregon, telling me it was time to come home.
I have now been back in the United States for seven months and my life has changed dramatically since leaving Africa. Yet, not a day goes by in which I don't think about my time living abroad. After a year of teaching in Namibia, traveling throughout southern Africa and collecting a lifetime of memories, my return to the United States filled me with a mixture of emotions that I have difficulty expressing in words.
My time in southern Africa presented me with some of the most challenging yet rewarding months of my life. Throughout my year, I experienced the loneliness and isolation of living in a village away from friends and family, as well as the wonderful company of my students, the children of Onantsi and my fellow volunteers. I experienced incredible pride in my learners who made progress in English and computers as well as disappointment in those who never did their homework and scored consistently below average on their exams. I experienced emotions and feelings that I didn't even know existed.
Because of this, my time abroad cannot be easily categorized or compartmentalized. There are no words or phrases that can adequately encapsulate the emotions I felt, the experiences I had and the endless memories I accumulated.
In the days leading up to my departure from Africa, I tried to prepare a short blurb for those who would be curious about my experience, since I knew I would often be faced with inquiries and curiosity about "how Africa was." But I had no idea how to give a concise, yet comprehensive answer.
And seven months later, I still don't know.
This will be my last post about my life in Namibia and beyond as a WorldTeach volunteer. From now, this blog will take on a different trajectory and follow my adventures as a flight attendant for a major airline.
This blog will shift focus without me ever addressing the loaded question of "how Africa was," but I hope that by following along on my journey from the beginning, you at least have a vague idea. Perhaps I cannot easily give you a good answer to the question in a few words but maybe, just maybe, by reading about the ins and outs of my life in Onantsi village and beyond over the course of the last year, you'll begin to understand a bit more about my year abroad and what it meant to me.