Two years ago I went on what I assumed was a once in a life time trip to South Africa with the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 2014 program. I said “goodbye” to Felicia, Sharnee, Cecil, Uncle Cyril, Andy, and my learners anticipating that I would never be able to see them again. Now, two years later, I surprised not only myself, but all of them with a return visit. While some took a couple of days to recognize me, some – such as Felicia, Sharnee, Mrs. Jacobs, and Nazlee (a student who worked with our 2014 cohort) – immediately knew who I was regardless of my different appearance. To say the least, this recognition caught me very much so by surprise.
The experience reconnecting with people in South Africa has challenged me to understand and to revisit parts of myself that were laced with cobwebs of loss and that had fallen cold in corners of a room thats light bulbs had long since burnt out in. What happens when flash lights dance across forgotten sensations and intricate emotions intertwined in past components of one’s identity? The only explanation is that, like many experiences on this trip, the sensations I have felt are beyond the capacities of both words and pictures. Embracing Felicia after two years apart and knowing that she recognized me felt like warm sun light piercing through a dark storm laced with cold rain; the embrace was unexpected, but incredibly warm hearted and powerful. I would describe many of my experiences reengaging in South Africa in a similar fashion; every experience, whether it be reengaging with a past relationship with a physical space (a museum, a mountain, SHAWCO house, a restaurant, or even a street) or a person, has felt enchanting and almost surreal since I never thought I would be back.
With all of that said and expressed, returning to South Africa for a second time has also challenged me to learn in different ways than previously. While the 2014 trip taught me to think differently about the world and my placement in it, this trip has challenged me to be more self aware of both my talents and weaknesses while learning to balance self care with being there as a resource for others. As a hopeful future social worker, these boundary related skills and having a heightened sense of self awareness is absolutely essential. If you do not know yourself and understand your own needs, being there for others becomes much more challenging. I am so incredibly thankful that I have been able to share my first teacher apprentice experience with such an amazing group of students and with such superb staff and faculty members.
A final note for the group:
Thank you for bringing me with you on what most would assume to be a once in a life time trip. I have enjoyed all of your presences profoundly and getting to know each and every one of you more. Thank you for being open, honest, and deeply thoughtful on what has been a fantastic trip to South Africa.