Leaving Port Elizabeth involved a second set of emotional goodbyes. During my stay in Riemvasmaak, I spent about 5 nights per month in the “volunteer house” where a group of constantly shifting Dutch volunteers stayed. I had come to treasure my relationships with the Ready 4 Life (the NGO I worked with) volunteers almost as much as those in Riemvasmaak.
There were two other volunteers leaving the same day as me, so we did the South African thing and had a braai. It’s a nice “go to” tradition; you don’t have to wonder or worry about how to mark a special occasion. It’s standard: you braai.
We all stayed up late, ate a lot and drank a lot. The evening ended when the electricity went out while we played “Hearts.” In South Africa, you have to keep careful watch over your electricity meter, as it works on the debit system. You have to buy wattage in the form of vouchers at any supermarket. If you run out in the middle of the night, like we did, you’re out until the next morning when the store opens. An ancillary effect is that the alarm doesn’t function, another South African no-no.
I gave everyone photos with a message written on the back. As I left, Frank told me, “You’ve made me change my mind about Americans. I used to hate them all.” It underscores the impact of meeting people and forming individual relationships.
Port Elizabeth will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a place of unique opportunities, if also anxiety over sharp changes of plan. Yet, everything that went awry turned out better than could possibly be expected. Without my car breaking down there on the way to Mozambique, I never would have spoken to the PE Rotary club. Without speaking to the PE Rotary Club, I would never have met Marieke. Without meeting Marieke, I never would have heard about Ready 4 Life. Without Ready 4 Life, I never would have had the opportunity to live in Riemvasmaak and become part of the community there.