Five am in Arizona and I am wide awake. Ever since landing I find myself adding nine hours, wondering what time zone I’ve fallen into, wondering what our friends in South Africa aredoing, and perhaps what we would be doing were we still there.
Two weeks in a foreign place is a long time. Most of us agreed it felt like months. But now that I’m home, I want nothing more than to go back. Regret is not a word I like to use, so instead I’ll say that I have a longing for more. More time to see places, meet people, understand the chaos and division that ensnares South Africa.
On the other hand, I couldn’t be happier to be home – to get home. I’ll probably get crap for saying this, but I felt very anxious to get out of South Africa. It’s a depressing place; at least, the parts of it that we walked through day after day. We walked through houses smaller than our bedroom closets, zig-zagged through streets where skeleton dogs and roosters and chickens pecked through the mounds of garbage and mud. We talked to people who had lost family, haven’t seen family in months or years, who didn’t know where they would sleep that night, didn’t know what would happen to them in a week…and then, somehow, could still smile at us.
Aside from the normal challenges of finding stories, making contacts, asking the right questions, getting the right shots, we all faced exterior challenges I’m not sure we even thought to prepare ourselves for. In a foreign place, sleeping in a strange surrounding, keeping odd hours, eating odd food at odd times and someones eating nothing…the stresses add up. It wears on you. After two weeks I saw in almost everyone the sleep circles and the excitement to get away from the gray cloud.
We’re out of it now. Out of the dark, the quiet despair, the daily beating of the harrowing stories. We got out. Simply packed up our bags, showed up at the airport with our easily obtained passports and plane tickets, and left.
We got out.
But they can’t.
If we let it, the guilt could set in. We’d never be able to enjoy a hot meal, a warm bed, or a refreshing shower again. But as empathetic as we are to their struggles, I’m sure each and everyone of us came home to enjoy all of those things and more. We’re laughing now as easily as if it had all been but a dream.
We might have helped a few people along the way. Fighting the battle between journalist and humanitarian, our little monetary “thanks for your help” and certain “scholarship funds” may have helped.
But that, I suppose, is why the project isn’t over. We’re still trying to help, to let them know in our absence that we care, and to remain a part of their struggle.
As happy as I am to be home, I’d go back tomorrow if you asked.