However, it's lucky that I have a few friends who work quite well with their hands and came to school with me over school holiday and built the roof and its frame out of the goodness of their hearts. The following Monday my manager friend from the hardware store sent two of her best builders to complete the final steps of door and window frames, and the store room was a usable space.
The library soon started coming together: shelves were scrubbed, books were stocked, Library Helpers from Grades 5, 6, and 7 were selected. It was kind of a whirlwind; a wonderful, victorious whirlwind of something that I care so much about actually taking shape.
And now it's July 29th. My last week of school. The hardest week of my service, and arguably of my life so far. I've never spent a period of time this long away from home, or been so deeply accepted into a different family and school and culture. I have become an honorary Mngomezulu daughter, a Libuyile Primary School educator, a witness and participant to Zulu celebrations, a part of life in Thengani village and not just another white person passing through on their way to the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen.
I get greeted everyday by forty screaming kindergarteners who want to show off their tiny knowledge of English and throw up their arms when they yell "and. How. Are. Youuuuuuu?" I have Grade 7s coming to me almost everyday asking "Miss, please borrow me your library books." And then I get shy smiles and little waves from everyone in between. Teachers say hello in the morning by calling me Thandi, or umngane wami (my friend), or sisi (sister). And this whole week just makes my heart hurt.
I'm on the verge of tears half a dozen times a day. When the high school English teacher that I worked with last year that this Friday is my last day at school, and she looks at me with tears in her own eyes and says "Thandi, I blame myself. For not spending more time with you. Because I love you." Cue waterworks. When a learner who has struggled for the past two years writes me a goodbye letter saying things like "today I know a English because of you Miss Diana." Again, tears.
The other day when I was washing my hair upside down under the tap in the yard (it's grown so long since I shaved it two years ago that I have to hold it above the ground so it doesn't sit in a mud puddle while I'm rinsing it) I thought, "this is my last Monday doing this." Same thing when I filled and hauled my 15-liter bucket of water to my stoop. And I'll say it again when I'm washing my clothes by hand and trying not to get a sunburn while doing it. I won't miss any of these particular things, but they've become so much a part of my routine, it will feel weird when I don't have to do them anymore.
I have never wanted to hide away and wait for a period of time to pass until now; I partially wish I could just wear a mask or go stay with a friend, because I feel sick to my stomach most of the time. It's the looks on people's faces and the words that come from the bottom of their hearts that rock me to my core. Sometimes I ask myself why I put myself through this if the end is so difficult to cope with. If you're crying or almost crying while reading this, you've got a fraction of an idea of how I feel. But when all is said and done, this reaction on my part and from everyone I love and care about around me shows that I must have been doing something right these past two years.
Today was the first day that I didn't tear up at school. (Most of this blog post was written earlier in the week when I was kind of a walking disaster.) Not even when this happened: A Grade 7 boy who I only met this year was asking me about going home and if I'd come back to visit. I said yes because there are so many people here that I love. He looked back at me and said, "well we love you too, Miss." Or this: Grade R gathered around me and sang a song about how they will never be left with nothing as long as they have their education. Or this: the Grade R teacher told me that she wished the sun wouldn't rise on Friday so I wouldn't have to have my last day at school.
And the dreaded day finally arrived. I did pretty well for the first part: no crying, and pretty regular conversation and tasks. After break the whole staff was brought into the office while I was brought into the room next door to be dressed in my new Zulu attire. The tears didn't begin until I re-entered the room and was greeted by applause. My counterpart GB spoke on behalf of the teachers, citing "the tangible as well as the unseen evidence" of my work at school; namely the library as tangible and the grade that I worked with as stronger English students than the one from the year before. She said that I reminded her of herself, in that I'm a fighter and will do what needs to be done until I succeed. This is why she was the most wonderful counterpart.
I walked outside into a mob of learners with dropped jaws at what I was wearing, but with appreciation in their eyes. Various grades had prepared dances and songs and speeches for my final day, and we spent the rest of the afternoon. I lost it when a group of Grade 4s read a speech about how I'd helped them learn English and how to use library books, and was asked to address the school immediately after. I explained that I was crying because I was happy, and that it was difficult to leave so many people that I love. I ended with saying that when I return someday, I hope they will greet me and tell me how they're doing.
This culture is not one that cries very often, which often makes me feel like kind of a fool because I am an emotional person. When hugging teacher friends and special learners at the end of the day, my crying lead to some of my learners crying, which I'd never seen or imagined I'd witness. They wiped their eyes and stared into space as we wished each other well for the last time face to face. One of my favorite boys, Siyabonga, said "please don't cry Miss, everything will be alright."
And it will all be alright. This wound needs a little bit of time to heal up. But it will. Earlier in this post I talked about asking myself why I was punishing myself by going through this pretty miserable week. But if this week and all its pain are to be a representation of what I've done these two years, I think it was worth it.