Well, it has almost been a week since I have re-entered back into the United States and let me tell you, it has been a lot weirder than I had previously anticipated. My sleep schedule is still a little bit off and I keep dreaming as if I am still in Africa. There have been a number of times where I wake up confused about where I am and where everybody else is, which is something I have never experienced before. As happy as I am to be back and to see my friends and family, I am also very sad because my experience in South Africa was so amazing and I would be lying if I said I didn't completely fall in love with the place. Everything we did from when we first stepped foot in the Minneapolis airport to begin our journey to when we first stepped foot in the Minneapolis airport to end our journey touched my heart in one way or another. The memories, friendships, and bonds that were made on our journey are ones that will never be forgotten. My trip to South Africa and submerging myself into another culture, trying to look through eyes other than my American ones, was the best thing that I think has ever happened to me in a long time. It really opened my eyes to what is out there in the world, good and bad, and it motivated me to continue doing so. I want to keep educating myself and learning about other cultures, people, issues, and places of the world and how to take on "responsible service" throughout the rest of my life. Traveling, stepping outside of the American ways of life, submerging oneself in other cultures, and actually listening to people's stories is something I encourage people to do--I know it is a decision one will not regret. I cannot yet put into words how this has been a life changing experience because it will take time until I am completely re-integrated into life back here in the States to fully understand, but I do know for certain that it has been life changing in more ways than one and that is something I am truly grateful for. And of course, I am so thankful for Nate, Sarah, the whole gang, the great people at Interstudy and Afrika Tikkun, and everyone else we met and spent time with South Africa because the experience would not have been the same without them. My time spent in South Africa was hands down the best experience of my life thus far. It was so unbelievable...I still feel like I was dreaming.
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Two days ago was, very sadly, our last day with Afrika Tikkun in Delft. For the first half of the day we helped out around the complex. Some people painted the offices, some cooked delicious food, and some others and myself unpacked boxes full of donated items and organized them into the storage area. What we accomplished in roughly two hours was amazing. Afterwards we went to the township Guguletu and enjoyed lunch together at Mzoli's. The food was served family style and was absolutely delicious. That evening we went to a jazz club to have some dinner and listen to Joe, our guide through District 6 and talented musician, play. It was my first time and a jazz club and certainly not my last. We all shared such a great day together, which I am very thankful for...good food, good fun, great people.
Last week we started working the township, Delft, with a non-profit organization named Afrika Tikkun. It has been an eye opening experience, to say the least. The first day and some of the second day we helped out around the Afrika Tikkun buildings pulling weeds and cleaning up the gardens. We spent the rest of the second day at the clinic, or hospital, in Delft. This was a very difficult and emotional experience for some others and myself. The clinic was very different from ours in the States and it was hard to understand and to look at in a positive light. By the end of this experience the people of the community and a few who worked there really opened my eyes to the positive, the beauty, and the passion within the Delft community and the clinic, which was truly amazing. One of the biggest lessons I learned that day is that history books, photos, and articles don't do things justice--you need to experience them first hand and see things with your own two eyes to even begin trying to understand. Educating yourself about what's going on around the world is also extremely important. And lastly, once you feel motivated to help out in the world, you need to make sure you do it right...which is an extremely complicated thing to figure out.
We are 9 days into our South Africa trip and literally everything has been absolutely amazing. It has taken me so long to write this blog because it is just so much to take in. Anyway, as others have already mentioned in their blogs, our first weekend here was up in the mountains about 2 hours away at Educo Africa. The retreat at Educo was amazing. We were completely disconnected from time, technology, and all other things that we tend to consume our daily lives with. We hiked through the mountains and found small creeks that we all swam in. The water was so pure that we could refill our water bottles right there, and let me tell you, it was the best tasting water I think I have ever had in my life. At night we would sit around the campfire, play games, or just relax. You could see the stars so clearly at night you could literally see them twinkling. We also had the best and brightest view of the Milky Way, which was amazing. All in all, Educo was a very "freeing" experience for me and also a wonderful bonding time for the group. It made me realize the important things in life and how it's the little things we need to be happy and not the material things. When we left Educo, we got up for the sunrise and literally stayed up until sunrise the next day. Why? Because it was New Years Eve, so of course we had to. We all went to downtown Cape Town, had some appetizers, and enjoyed the unfamiliar surroundings. Long Street--a popular area for bars, clubs, etc.--was closed off to cars so a good majority of the celebrating was out in the street. There was also a huge parade after the ball dropped, even some small fireworks. It was a New Years Eve celebration that I will never forget. I am having the time of my life...I never want this experience to end.
I never, ever thought that I would be going to the African continent, but three short days from now I will be making the trek to South Africa to begin a three week life-changing journey. This is something that I have been looking forward to for months and the fact that it is only three days away is completely surreal to me. I am feeling a great mixture of feelings from excited to overwhelmed to nervous--but mostly excited. When I was looking through the global seminar options for this winter they all looked awesome, but for whatever reason Cape Town really grabbed my attention before I even began to read into the program details. After extensively looking into the details and exploring Cape Town via other Internet resources, I knew that this program and country was going to give me the best learning experience and memories that will stick with me for a lifetime, which was why I chose it. More specifically, I chose this program for its vast mixture of experiences that it, and the country, engulf including all of, but not limited to, the following: the Apartheid (and all that it encompasses--past, present, and future), the great human diversity of South Africa, the cultural landscape, Educo Africa retreat, MaT Service-Learning, talking circles, District Six Museum, Robben Island, and so much more. I don't really know what to expect for this three week journey and everything within it, but I do know that I am going to embrace it all with open arms--every high and every low--which is something quite new for me personally. I hope to challenge myself like I never have before throughout this adventure. I hope to overcome my fears. I hope to grow. I hope to make new friends, connections, and memories that will last a life time. I hope to have a new appreciation and understanding of life and everything within it. I hope to learn things that will be valuable as I head into the "real world", for graduation is approaching fast. The compassion that I have for this trip is difficult to put into words. Nonetheless, I hope for and look forward to so, so, so many things.
South Africa...I never thought I would be meeting you. But I can't wait.