I write this while traveling back to the USA for a few weeks of rest and relaxation. It is strange the thoughts one has while stuck in Economy Class for 10 hours flying from Johannesburg to Frankfurt, Germany (I’m currently waiting for my connecting flight back to Detroit). Most of my thoughts centered on the woman sitting next to me. Some of those thoughts being; why is her elbow constantly hitting me? Hasn’t she heard of the term “personal space” and doesn’t she know she’s invading mine? What kind of sociopath thinks that this is acceptable behavior? What’s wrong with me that I’m glad she has to clean up her grandson’s puke?
But I digress. July is a bit of a down time in Durban. There is a three week school holiday which means that a lot of regular activities don’t happen since a lot of people are out of town. I had originally thought I would take a road trip with some of the other volunteers, maybe to Cape Town, see other sights around the country and whatnot. After a while, the appeal of that wore off. I wanted a break, to relax and do nothing. The thought of driving around the country seemed like too much work; spending a lot of time in the car, staying in nasty backpacker lodges (I’m not the “roughing it” type of person). So…I decided, somewhat last minute, to head back to the States for a few weeks of rest and catching up with friends and family.
The question then becomes, why did I need such a drastic break? Frankly, over the last month or so I’ve gotten a little burned out. Make no mistake, I absolutely love South Africa, what I do and the people I serve and work with. But…this year has been a little tougher than 2013. I’m not the new guy any more, I’m the veteran, I know the people and the places. With that comes a little extra responsibility. More is expected. I don’t shy away from that. If anything I feel that I may be overextending myself, saying “yes” when maybe I shouldn’t (there’s a few people I seem to be incapable of saying “no” to). There’s also the emotional factor, meaning that sometimes peoples’ problems and issues hit to close despite me trying to keep some sort of distance.
The one case most recently concerns a woman from Clermont named Nana, who was an attendee of the midweek Bible class there and studying our main Bible correspondence course. She was an eager student and had a winning personality. She was also HIV positive. As the months wore on, her health worsened and she stopped coming to class. We would visit her home as often as possible and I constantly kept updated on her health via two of her friends who also came to Bible class. I also arranged for a local brother who is HIV positive to visit her after one time I saw her where she did did not look well. She told me she was not eating because she had no appetite. I thought this brother would be helpful because he knew what she was going through and could give her some good advice. Their meeting went well. Unfortunately, her condition rapidly worsened. I got the sense from talking with her that she was resigned to dying and had just given up the fight. I got word on a Tuesday that she insisted on being taken back to her family home south of Durban where she could go to die. She passed away on Friday.
Despite the sadness of the story, I take heart in: 1. that I got to know her. 2. it shows to me the power of this country that I could be affected by something like this. There are countless other stories out there in South Africa; with fully recharged batteries, I can’t wait to find more of them. Now let’s hope that the person sitting next to me on the next flight doesn’t have such pointy elbows.