Exactly three weeks from today, I will leave Soweto and head into Johannesburg to catch a bus for the last time.
Some people (read: mom) are thinking this: You are finally coming home!
Other people (read: me) are thinking this: I am returning to one home and leaving another.
Soweto has been my home for the last ten months. For ten months, the people here have been my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my community. For ten months, my little flat has been my place of refuge and of relaxation. For ten months, I have lived thousands of miles away from my “other home.”
I have heard it said that home is more than just a physical place – it is a feeling of being loved, being surrounded by people you care about, and a place where you feel safe and at peace. When I first arrived in Soweto, I was hoping that this place would become home, but I was skeptical. I was nervous, scared, and apprehensive. I was not feeling comfortable.
Despite all of these fears at the beginning, Soweto slowly morphed into my home. I distinctly remember posting this Facebook status at the end of January, after traveling for almost a week:
“After traveling, I love that moment when I see the skyline of Joburg in the distance and feel happy to be back home.”
That feeling of returning home means something different for every person. For some, it is a feeling of returning to safety and familiarity. For others, it is a feeling of excitement in seeing friends and family for the first time in a while. Others, still, think of returning home as returning to normalcy and everyday life.
For me, returning home to Minnesota means returning to the only life I knew for 22 years. It means seeing family and friends that I haven’t seen since last August. It means speaking fast-paced, American English. It means driving my own car again. It means watching my brother play baseball.
It also means leaving my South African home.
It means not being greeted by shouts of “Teacher Family!” at the crèche every morning. It means missing my coworkers and wondering what is happening at DAM at that time. It means not getting to hug my favorite OVC kids every afternoon. It means no more kota. It means no more movie nights with my neighbors.
For the rest of my life, home will not only mean rural Ellendale, Minnesota. It will also mean Soweto, South Africa.
The word home will remind me not only of my friends and family scattered around the United States, but also of my friends and family scattered around South Africa and the world.
For all of my homes around the world, I am eternally grateful.