Well, it's almost the end of my South African adventure. I can't believe I will be saying goodbye to everyone on Friday! My heart is full but heavy. I am so so thankful to have my parents here with me at the end of my journey. Having them here will make the goodbyes a little easier and the journey back a lot better. They arrived on Thursday evening after a full day of not hearing from them. A little after the time they told me they'd be pulling in and still not hearing from them or being able to get a hold of them, I was beginning to think they missed their flight or something. Just as I was about to prepare for another night on my own, I saw my dad walking behind my room. It was the most startling and disorienting moment because I knew they needed me to open the gate for them to get in! Turns out, they didn't have cell service or wi-fi on their phones the whole day and had no way to get a hold of me so when they pulled in my dad resorted to climbing the fence. Leave it to my dad. I was overjoyed to have them finally here and they took me to dinner in Franschhoek that night for dinner. I stayed over with them that night and the next morning they brought me to the school, bright and early for assembly. I'm really glad they got to be there for that and meet some of the kids beforehand. That afternoon after school they came back and hung out with the kids for the rest of the day just taking pictures and getting to know some of them.
Saturday was Caregiver's Day and I'd have to say, that day was one of the highlights of my time here. That day, almost every student got to see one of their relatives or friends who takes care of them at home. All of the caregivers arrived at the school on a big bus and I can't even describe the excitement the kids had when the bus pulled in. My dad was able to take some wonderful pictures of the arrivals and each student with their caregivers. It was so awesome to have my parents and I there to meet Zenande's adorable grandmother and for me to meet the caregivers of all the kids. The students got to show their caregivers around the school, introduce them to all their teachers, and eat with them before the entertainment began. After lunch, some of them performed a skit for them in Xhosa which was incredibly fun to watch even though I couldn't understand anything. After that the dance team performed, followed by an incredibly touching choir performance. Hearing those kids sing in perfect harmony always gives me chills. Their voices are what stay with me when I go back home. I still remember from 2006 when I came here the first time the kids singing Bambalela (Never Give Up) together and those being some of my favorite moments. Whenever I thought of South Africa, that song would come to my head, and it was as if it was calling me to come back. Since I've been here, I hadn't heard any of the kids sing it, which bummed me out a bit. But yesterday after school when my parents were working with some of the kids in the classroom I usually teach in, I ran upstairs to grab something and when I came back down I could hear some of the kids singing it, and as I entered into the classroom I saw that Azile, one of the 12th graders who has a BIG place in my heart leading some of the girls in the song. I was so overwhelmed with joy to finally hear it again from coming from kids I have grown to love so much that I wanted to pinch myself as it was happening. It brought so many memories back, and immediately I was overwhelmed with emotion. I sat down and as I was watching these amazing kids singing that song together and knowing I'd only get a couple more days of this, I started fighting back tears. I think my dad caught a glimpse of my near emotional melt down but I think I got it together before any of the kids could see. It was one of my top "pinch me" moments I've had here, and I know I'll always carry it with me.
After Caregiver's Day, my parents and I headed to Cape Town for a couple days. It was so great to get out and explore more of South Africa with them. I had been there before but never stayed there. We had an ocean view from our hotel and the weather was perfect. The night we arrived we had dinner on the Waterfront at sunset which was incredible. The next day we walked around the big outdoor market and bought a lot of gifts and souvenirs. And that night we got to have dinner with Sinethemba, one of the original Bridges students our family got close with during our two visits here. He has since graduated and is now attending the University of Cape Town. I got to see him in January here, but it was good seeing him again. My parents love him and I know he looks up to them a lot. I'm really glad we got to do that. Then the next day we headed to Stellenbosch, where my parents are staying for the rest of our time here. Today was a holiday, so the students didn't have school and my parents and I came over and spent time with some of the kids. My mom has been teaching sewing to a few of the girls and my dad has been doing art with some of them, but today he mostly hung out with the boys (who had specifically asked that my dad hang out with them and not the girls, so cute) and took pictures and helped me start to pack. Tomorrow we have one more full day of school before the kids head home on Friday. My parents and I fly out on Saturday, so I'm starting to pack up as much as I can so I don't have to do it all on Friday after the students leave. My mom had a good point that I should start packing up and taking stuff the kids made me off the wall so I won't have to do it after I say goodbye to them and am already sad. I think that would make me even more of a mess that I already know I will be.
I can't even begin to describe how my heart feels right now, but I know it will never be the same. God has allowed me to grow and learn so much here, and has filled my heart to the brim. I know I will come back. Whether it be in a year or two or five.... I have to. I will leave a piece of my heart here. I knew that after my first trip here, but I know it even more know. I am so thankful for all of you who have supported me in and through this venture. Thank you for your financial support, prayers, and encouraging words. Without all of it, I probably wouldn't be here. I'll try to update you all about my journey back after London when I am back home. Until then, I am sending my last greetings from South Africa!!!
"You will go out in joy and be lead forth in peace; The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." --Isaiah 55:12