"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." - Henry Miller
On Saturday Sean and I boarded a bus to Ntjanini in 105 degree weather. We got on the bus an hour before it left (at noon) because it is the only bus from Manzini for the entire day, and fills up fast - unlike our buses to our site that run about every 30 minutes from 6am to 6pm and we can hop on anytime. We left at 1:00pm and went about an hour on tarred road before spending the next 2.5 hours on a dirt road. Again, unlike our site, just 1.5 hours on an all tarred road. It was a hot day and all transport is always hot so it was a balancing game of drinking enough water to stay hydrated but not enough to have to pee on such a long ride.
We arrived to Ntjanini around 4:30pm. Ntjanini is rural, about 1 hours from a big town (Nhlangano) and it is very mountainous. Unlike where we live, close to a town and very flat. We have no fruit trees and our maize is stunted from the drought. Ntjanini has a plethora of fruit trees yet the ground and maize is completely scorched by the sun. Both areas are full of children, have a clinic, primary and high school. People speak more siSwati in Ntjanini.
We walked about 2 kilometers down and up a hill to the Simelane homestead. The walk from our station at home is approximately 50 meters. The homestead is run by Gogo Nhlabhatsi who is 89 years of age. She was one of two wives to Babe Simelane before he passed away. Gogo speaks no English. She has a helper who lives on the property with two small children. She speaks almost no English. Also, Gogo houses 5 students who her oldest son (age 70) pays school fees for, because he believes in education. They speak okay English. Unlike our home where there are no small children, a monogamous couple and excellent English speakers.
Ntjanini and the homestead of Gogo Nhlabhatsi is the home of anther Peace Corps volunteer and close friend. We have spent the last 8 months with her, sharing in holiday celebrations, out of country trips, and the chaos of the country we chose to be our home for the next 2 years. But this was the first time to see her home. It was the first time to experience her lifestyle and see the people and the town she loves. We met her family for the first time, visited her community store, talked with the French teacher at her high school, and laughed with her neighbors.
Leaving today, in the rain, as we walked down to the station it was clear that a short visit changed things. We can picture her life when she talks from now on. We can ask more in depth questions and she can explain things easier now that we have seen what she sees. Her life is similar to ours but so very different.
So on our long bus ride back to site today, and thinking about all of this, it makes the excitement and anticipation of our families coming to visit even more appealing. Our world, our life, which is so extremely normal to us now, can be experienced together with the people we love and miss the most. We can't wait to share in this experience face to face, knowing that when the visit is over a richer experience together begins.