And finally, rain.

And then, one day, as if it had always been, the rains came.

For the past two years I have been living through a drought in my north east corner of the Mpumalanga province in SA. The dry dust and dirt have been my constant companions. The warm, beach-like sand that invades every crack between my toes and sandals tells me that my feet have found their way back home to ole Pinkie. The dark, hard earth beneath my feet when I sit on my porch helps me to feel grounded and back to a place that holds so much love. When I look down to my discolored arms, my hands, my feet, anything that was exposed on my walk, and I exhale, blowing a layer of dust into the air, I know that I have been in my community, working, learning, exploring.

December was a crazy time for me. It held my Close of Service conference, where my cohort gathered together for the last time to prepare our last few months of service. I count myself extremely lucky that throughout my life, on adventures abroad and within the states, I always seem to end up surrounded by the “special batch” of individuals. My cohort and cluster were no different. The SA 35’s are an extraordinary batch of individuals that have come together to support and be family to each other the past two years, from those still here in SA, to those home and abroad. Each and every person has inspired me in one way or another. This diverse group of passionate, caring, dedicated, fierce individuals exemplify so much strength and wisdom, that it has been an absolute pleasure serving with them. We may have started out as government assigned friends, but know as I finish with PC and begin the next chapter, I will be doing so with a new extended family.

December also marked the first time that I was able to visit home. It was as if everything and yet nothing had changed. The trip itself was divine. After an hour layover in Queens and a much missed and highly appreciated bagel, Brad and I hopped a flight down to Birmingham, Alabama. It was then, that after 30+ hours of travel, we quickly changed and headed to the rehearsal dinner. He met, and I got to reconnect, with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins, siblings and parents. This highly anticipated moment was everything I had hoped for and more. It was amazing to be back around my family, and lovely to have a chance for Brad to meet everyone! What a good sport meeting the entire extended family after all that travel.

A few hours of sleep later, and we were on to the next day. It was a beautiful wedding to see, and we couldn’t have been happier for Austin and Jarihope! After our whirlwind trip to Bama wrapped up, we hopped another flight with my sister and her hubby to spend a few days with them at their home in Durham, NC. We celebrated birthdays, introduced Brad to the magic that is the Whole Foods cheese section, and experienced some magical foodie places. Just in time to finally settle in to NC, we headed to DC by train. The next few days was spent bouncing back and forth between DC and Reston at my parents place.

In our short little time in my old city, we put our walking shoes (and by that I mean semi comfortable heeled boots)  to the test! We walked to all of the monuments, both at day and at night, explored the mall and hit a few of the Smithsonian museums. Living in and around the DC area for most of my life and going into those museums more times than I can count, I am still so far from seeing it all. We are blessed to have free access to places of learning and history. We don’t get everything right in the States, but that is something that I am very appreciative of.

A comically oversized bottle of Montepulciano and a few thousand rounds of catchphrase later, we said our goodbyes to my family and took the train from DC to NYC to round out our vacation for the last two days. We yet again put the Fitbit to the test, wandering around Central park, most of midtown and lower Manhattan, and the financial district. We grabbed a slice and had two more delightful bagels before wrapping the trip up with a bucket list item of mine: Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. It was a beautiful night that I will cherish for many years to come, along with this whirlwind trip back home.

Whether it was failing to spit out my correct Starbucks order before the barista had already produced my drink, or overly greeting the checkout clerk who stared back at me in wonderment, there were many points on this trip where I either felt a little out of place or was experiencing some reverse culture shock. The amount of English speakers in my vicinity was overwhelming! I could hear, and understand, everyones conversation around me. How did I ever focus or concentrate before?

At least I was doing a little better than Brad. My poor South African boyfriend had trouble getting people to understand his accent almost everywhere we went! The size of the buildings in NYC stunned him, the majestic monuments of DC took his breath away, and the push operated water fountain after ten days of hand motion operated appliances left him looking rather silly as he waved at the water fountain waiting to quench his thirst. But congrats America, you got a positive review from the visiting SA man, and he promises to see you again some day, hopefully sooner rather than later 🙂

And with a flash and another 16 hour flight, we returned to dear SA, welcomed with a smothering hug of heat and humidity. Yippe!  The welcome back to my village however was a super sweet one. Brad came to meet my dear Gogo for the first time, and get to know my home in SA. This whole time was so transformative for us. In the span of just a few weeks, he got to meet and see much of what made me the Alyssa he knows, followed by getting to meet and understand Sphiwe that I have been for the past two years. All of these combined experiences have made me who I am today, so it was very cool for him to get to see more pieces to the puzzle. (and trust me, a puzzle it most certainly is)

Introducing him to my life here in SA was arguably a bigger step than introducing him to my American life. While he is South African, who grew up and lives just a few hours outside of where I live, they were very different worlds. It was a great experience for both of us to have that time, and he has since been coming to visit me in my Vil each week. I love cross cultural introductions, information sharing and relationships 🙂

The biggest, most alarming change to my return to the village was all of the green! Finally after years of drought, when I was gone in December, my wonderful community was finally blessed with a few days of rain. The earth welcomed this change by new blooms, buds and blossoms filling every corner of space they could! The trees, the grass, the bushes, they all looked happy. Yes, I am choosing a personification of these things because I tell you, I promise you, they were happy.

There is a bridge that I cross over whenever I go into town. And for two years, each time I cross this bridge and looked down into the dry dessert below, I have wondered about what used to exist here that there was a need for a bridge. Was a vibrant river once flowing strong under this road? Did it hold a damn or watering spot for animals around? I can excitingly say that after all this time, when I now cross the bridge, there are three little collections of water waiting below. Thank you for the rain.

Thats all for now. I have another 15 pages of updates that I owe to you all, and promise to attend to, including tales of my plans and next steps.

Lots of love to everyone, and some extra positivity for anyone who needs it. 🙂