Saturday I left what has been my home for the last two years. It really is an unreal feeling and I’m not totally sure how to deal with the emotions. It was a long and slow last couple of weeks, passing each day pretty much the same as the one before it, all towards the inevitable end.
Our last day in Murrupula could not have been more perfect. We passed the early morning finishing packing, cleaning the house, and tiding things up. Then my favorite group of kids came by for our last play date. We blew up balloons and hung them from our patio (much to their excitement), we gave them toys and gifts like toy cars, bouncy balls, and hair clips, we danced, made paper airplanes and bracelets, colored the last pages of the coloring books, and made a cake. It was the perfect play day. The kids were amazingly well behaved and extremely grateful for the small gifts we gave them, even saying thank you, which can be a rare sentiment at times.
Later in the afternoon, Adrienne and I walked around, distributing the remainder of our toys to other children in the neighborhood. As expected, upon returning back to our house, several groups of children came over asking for more toys, somewhat putting a damper on the whole experience, but, you learn to brush that kind of stuff off after two years.
We spent our last evening with our closest friends and colleagues, Professor Shek, Iassito, Rilton, and Herminio. It was the perfect meal, filled with taking pictures, reminiscing, and chatting with great friends. The most touching moment was when Shek prompted a discussion in which each person mentioned something we had given or taught them during our time here. Shek said he had learned to be punctual and the value of volunteerism. Rilton said he had learned to be patient with children and now greatly enjoyed spending time and working with kids. Iassito mentioned how, just through listening to his ideas, we had given a value to his organization and to his dreams, not just arriving and dumping American ideals on them, but really listening to their own ideas and working together. It was really a touching moment that I will always remember. I am leaving knowing how greatly this experience has affected and changed me for the rest of my life, but you always wonder how or if you affected the people around you. And to have this great group of friends, an amazing group of individuals that I have come to greatly respect, say such kind and sincere words was a really special moment.
On Saturday morning, after a last night sleeping without electricity (of course), I awoke early, opening my door to a bright orange and pink sunrise, hearing the neighbors just starting to get up and begin sweeping their yards, taking a second to take in all the sounds around me for one last time. I walked over to where all my children friends live and the emotions that I had been suppressing over the last few weeks suddenly hit me. I gave a big hug to one of my favorite girls, Merina, telling her to find the others and come to our house to see us off, fighting to hold back the tears. For about an hour, we sat with a group of 15 kids, making some last paper airplanes, as we waited for the very generous school secretary who had offered to give us a ride to Nampula. Finally, the car arrived, we loaded our bags, gave one more last hug and got in the car, waving goodbye to the children as they ran alongside the car. Fighting to hold back the tears again, it was really strange to drive away from my town for one last time, not truly believing it, or maybe just not wanting to believe it, that the last day had finally come after such a slow few weeks.
I still remember my last night back at home in September 2011, stressfully packing my two bags, trying to stay in the weight limits, trying to figure out what I would need over the next two years, having no idea what to expect. I remember spending time in Philadelphia, first meeting the other volunteers, people who now have become my close friends who I hope to always stay in contact with. We spent ten weeks in Namaacha, struggling to learn Portuguese, how to take bucket baths, cook, do laundry. I remember arriving in Murrupula for the first time, first opening the doors to my new home, greeted by only a wooden table, a wooden shelf, and a few wooden chairs.
As I shut my door for the last time, I imagined what it will be like for the new volunteer to arrive there on her first day - opening her new door to be greeted by bright blue walls and a painted giraffe and elephant. What a difference!
Right now it feels a little like I’ve been thrown down into the middle of a sprint, these next few weeks packed with turning in final paperwork, medical tests, and saying some last goodbyes. Then I’m meeting my mom in South Africa before out Botswana safari adventure. Then I’ll be back home in California to celebrate my first American Christmas in two years! I think once I’m back, I’ll have more of an opportunity to reflect back on this experience, see how it’s affected me and will affect my future.