Goodbye Mbalenhle

July 14, 2013

Oliver and I are finally at our last few days at site.  We will be picked up by Peace Corps on Wednesday to begin our journey home.  We’ve sold all of our belongings except what fits in our bags.  We’ve handed off projects and everything has begun operating without us.  We are eating the last few handfuls of rice left in our kitchen.  Our trip home is all planned and booked.  This is it.

On Friday, the school honored us with a farewell party.  School functions can be hit or miss.  Usually, planning happens the hour before the event.  But in the last few weeks, there have been an abundance of secret meetings at the school, usually given away by the kids—‘Mrs. Zornow, uh, you need to leave now.  We have to practice a dance for you.’  We were touched by all the effort the school was putting into this event.

The day of the event began with everyone setting up.  The art club and I hung the art club projects in the grade 7 classroom for the other students  and teachers to see.  Oliver set up a slideshow in the computer lab with pictures from the last two years.  People were cooking and students were rehearsing last minute before their big performance in front of the whole school.

The school staff and some guests from the ministry of education and neighboring schools sat on the verandah of one block of classrooms while the teachers helped students set up chairs on the green.

The event was kicked off by a group of some of the youngest girls in the school dancing and singing in traditional attire.  There was one moment between songs when they started arguing amongst themselves about where they were supposed to stand but the music and dancing was great otherwise.  We’ve seen the traditional dancing before but it’s always fun to see our own students dressed up to do it and for this event they even incorporated our name into the songs.

The head teacher gave a speech commenting on how ‘contagious like a cold’ we were.   It was said with affection so we’re taking it as a compliment.  And he remarked at all the changes the school has been through over the last two years.

Then the boys of all ages came out to dance, including Oliver.  Oliver’s co-worker who is taking over the computer lab gave him the beaded necklaces and goat skin anklets he needed to complete his outfit of traditional wear so he was able to put them on for the dance.  The boys sang and danced to a few songs and Oliver even got some of the steps right.

Two of my  closest students put on a drama after the dance.  Nomvula and Nomcwasho have lived in the hostel the entire two years we’ve been here and so we’ve spent countless hours getting to know them and their sense of humor.  Once they walked out, I knew something was up.  Nomvula was dressed up as me and Nomcwasho had put on jeans and a cowboy hat to be Oliver (though he’s not really a cowboy hat type of guy).  But the key was the backpacks they were both wearing, once I saw that I knew it was supposed to be us. They pretended to be at the airport flying out of Swaziland and said things like ‘wow the students really enjoyed the lessons and learned so much’ and ‘I think the students will miss us so much.  Everyone’s favorite part was at the end when ‘Oliver’ said ‘Let us go back to America for 5 years before we return to Swaziland for good’ and ‘I’ said ‘Yes, let us go so we can return in 2019.’

We heard another speech, and then, poems from more of our students.  I was really touched by Sindi, another student that we have spent a lot of time with, when she read her poem.  The first part talked about how much she appreciated us coming here, especially because she understood that we had to leave our family and jobs behind in America to do so.

Oliver and I gave a speech in Siswati that some friends helped us with.

And then, came the dance to the song I had been hearing at school all week during secret rehearsals.  Some of the older girls choreographed a dance with the help of two of the teachers.  It was listed on the program as ‘African Dance’ but it definitely wasn’t traditional.  I had a great big smile on my face as I watched art club members and students I had in library, perform something that took a lot of creative thinking and bravery to put on because people aren’t used to seeing something different here.  Another set of older girls came out to do the traditional dance and we all had fun watching parents and some of the boy students, leave gifts at the girls’ feet for their expert dancing.

After another speech, Oliver and I were presented with two bowls as a gift from all the students and we were served a meal.

It was definitely one of the most beautiful mornings of my life.  Everyone really took the time to make us feel special and appreciated.  I cannot believe I will be leaving this school in two days.  We’ve exchanged addresses and e-mails and said goodbyes but it is hard to believe that this is truly the end of this great adventure.

-Rebecca

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