Beginning of the End

I have left my site.  I no longer live in my cute little rondaval.

I am on a “weekend away,” visiting another older PCV, Marie, at her place in the Battlefields area.  I got here by taxi, with two heavy suitcases and my daypack, holding all my possessions, in anticipation of flying home very soon.  There is still a Close of Service conference to attend in Pretoria.

Saying goodbye to my South African friends and the place I have lived for 22 months was difficult.  I may have endlessly complained about everything but in the end, I realized how precious they have become.  Bittersweet.  I am ready to go home.  It is time.   But I will miss my school and my colleagues and my friends and my house and the children.

Sifundo, one of my Grade 7 boys, came by on my last Saturday to give me a letter he had written for me.  I was stunned, amazed, and deeply touched.  He stayed a while and I taught him how to play Backgammon.


Sifundo’s letter. Sifundo is in Grade 7

There was an intense “farewell and thank you” function at school on June 10, honoring Mr. Mfuzi (our well-loved former math teacher) and Mneli (our former admin clerk) and me.  Mneli couldn’t make it because she is now a teacher in Gauteng province but there was much praise for her and her work.  Mr. Mfuzi is now a subject advisor and he arrived but was late because of a required earlier meeting elsewhere.  There were honored guests (the local induna).  There was entertainment (the choir and my Grade 7 kids doing the two line dances I taught them).  There were speeches (School Governing Board, Mam Ndlovu, induna, Mr. Mfuzi, Nomvelo for Grade 7, me, Mam Gumede).  There was food (the usual braii menu).  The event was originally planned for just the SGB and the teachers but someone realized that 500 children would be unsupervised so the children joined us, brought their chairs, and enjoyed the event.

My host father, Mr. N, and head of the SGB, did not come to the event.

I had a prepared speech that I glanced at for reminders and security.  I had made thank you cards with my photo for the SGB and Mam Ndlovu and Mam Zulu.

Everyone thanked everyone and showed their love and appreciation for jobs well done!

There were moments when I wondered who this person was that they were so highly praising.  I am beginning to realize and believe that I have had an impact, they liked me, they were glad to have me, and I did a good job.  That is monumental for me personally (I have always been “invisible” in my eyes).


The induna (far left) and members of the SGB



The choir, with my neighbor, Phelele, right in the middle.


Mam Gumede reading the poem they wrote about and for me.


The Poem, Footprints.


Message from Grade 7, read by Nomvelo.


Mr. Mfuzi giving his speech.


Grade 7 doing one of the line dances.


Me giving my thank you speech.


Me, with my still fabulous principal, Mam Ndlovu.


Me, with Mam Zulu.

My last day at my school was June 15.  Mam Ndlovu called a staff meeting first thing in the morning.  There were heartfelt thank yous from her and the teachers praising my sacrifice and the work I had done for the school.  We even acknowledged the difficulties that occurred due to clash of cultures and personalities and that on both sides, we bravely overcame them.

Mam Zulu said she knew that I did not like or feel comfortable with the religious aspect of the school, having prayers at opening and closing assemblies, singing hymns every day.  She said that even though I didn’t like it, I participated and even learned a few songs.

I was also able to say how lonely it was much of the time and how long it took me to realize that Zulus don’t “invite” except to large gatherings.  I explained how Americans wait for invitations but also invite friends for coffee dates, lunch, dinner, hikes, where you can sit in small groups and talk about many things.  I encouraged them to consider this when the new volunteer arrives in September.

Although most teachers said nothing, a few were full of praise and gratitude. At the end of the meeting, I was hugged by the women teachers and shook hands with the men teachers.

Outside, after the meeting, Mam Ndlovu called morning assembly, with a song and a prayer. She then told all the learners that it was my last day at Okhayeni.

It was a hard day emotionally. I never relish saying goodbye.  It is painful. Throughout the day, I was given beautiful notes and decorated letters from children.  The Grade 6 class (my Grade 5 kids from last year) asked me to come to their classroom.  Individually, they stood up and thanked me for teaching them English and wishing me a safe journey home to meet with my family once again.  It was so touching.


Letter from child.


Letter from child.

After school, I went to my rondaval with Mam Zulu in her car to pack up and leave.  I had a bag of things to give her plus my refrigerator, kettle and iron.  I gave a blanket to my grade 5 neighbor Lungelo.  I gave all my dishes and pots and pans to Miss Mlambo, a former colleague and struggling single mom.  I gave a blanket and crayons to the neighboring Gumede girls and their gogo.  I had been steadily giving things away for the last month.  I also left many things for the host family.  Mam Ndlovu came and took the stoven for the next volunteer, her TV, and a camp chair.

I had made a card for the N family, gave the blanket I crocheted to Luyanda, gave Qhawe headphones for his phone.

Within an hour, my two heavy suitcases and daypack were stowed in the car, goodbyes were said to my lovely Nombulelo, and we drove off to Jozini.  We went to Mam Zulu’s, got her kids and grandchild, and drove to Pongola Country Lodge.

The hardest goodbye was to my dear friend, Mam Zulu. We hugged goodbye in my room at the lodge.  After she left, I walked over to Pik N Pay and bought ham, potato chips, a Kit Kat,  juice, a scone.  I walked back to my room.  Alone.  I watched TV, some episodes of The West Wing on my computer, took a shower and never left the room until the next morning.

4 thoughts on “Beginning of the End

  1. Karen, Tears while reading this. I hope you now know you were an inspiration to all those children, staff and families.

    Yes, you have left “big footprints.” I am sure you have mixed emotions about leaving. Take your time transitioning back to the states.

    Lovely photos. Great line dancing!! See you soon.

  2. Beautiful to read these appreciations and to have you see how much you are valued. You have touched so many people, kids and adults alike. Now it’s time to come home and be with those who love you here.

  3. Karen I have really enjoyed reading your blog – I joined over a year ago as a result of a link on Sue Hepworth’s blog. Thank you for sharing – I can imagine how torn you felt walking away from the people you have come to know and love yet wanting to be back in the states. Safe journey and landing – I hope you continue blogging. You have inspired me as I begin retirement – so many possibilities.

  4. Dear Karen:
    What a wonderful, moving account of your goodbyes to the many people you’ve come to care about and particularly the children you have taught. Such touching tributes and indelible memories. You accomplished a lot in the past 2 years. I hope that will continue to bring you satisfaction in your ongoing American life. All the affection and praise of the closing days at your school will surely remain with you forever. Have a good conference in Pretoria and a safe and welcome journey home. It will be interesting for all of us to hear in more detail about your experiences. I very much look forward to that, but promise not to badger you with a lot of questions. They will come naturally, in your own time and according to your wishes.


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