Once again, I am leaving. My short adult life has been one of constant transition, packing my bags is more familiar than filling a dresser, sharing lunch with brief acquaintances, more common than sharing a lifetime with a soul mate. Every day is a new horizon for me…I have planted some shallow seeds, have made some remarkable memories, and have tried, in every way, to live my life to the very fullest, not leaving any opportunity in the dust. I carry with me badges of ever-changing zip-codes and an armor of a lifetime’s worth of new “cultural experiences”. What I am looking for, what I am running away from or running towards, I don’t think I will ever know. My soul is reckless but my motives are true. And here I am again, I am leaving. It is time for me to once again, say goodbye.

This time, I am saying farewell to a place that has forever changed my heart and soul. It is cliché for me to express how much this experience in South Africa has meant to me. Maybe it’s the heat of the Africa sun; maybe it’s the breathtaking view of the mountains in the distance, keeping guard over the squatter villages of Mthatha; maybe it’s the ear-piercing scream of the morning “hadeda ibis” that faithfully wake me up every morning at 5:30am; maybe it’s the taste of the fresh mangoes that grow so abundantly here; maybe it’s the smell of salt in the ocean air, slowly working on my soul, washing away the sharp edges and opening me up to a life full of vibrant love. Maybe it’s a combination of many of these things, and maybe, just maybe, it is the people who I have met along the way.

Never, ever, have I met more loving , nurturing, truly honest-to-goodness human beings. From my “cleaning lady”, who scrubs her heart out before walking back to her two-room clay house to care for her family, and perhaps find some rest for her body that is ridden with HIV; to the Sisters in the pediatric ward, who act as surrogate mothers to the tiny children who are bed ridden because of broken limbs, a by-product of what it means to just “be a kid”; to the gunshot victim who every day tries “just a little harder” to make her paralyzed legs work, so that she can return to her children; to the volunteer orthopedic doctor, who shut down his entire practice at home in America, so that he could selflessly come to the back-ally of South Africa, to the people who desperately need a skillful, healing touch. These people, and so many more, have pieced together the complicated puzzle that expresses the picture of what life has been like for me here.

I have seen people celebrate life; I have watched people struggle with death; I have seen people pull themselves up from the depths of despair, to make their lives minutely better for themselves and for their families; I have received the spirit of “ubuntu” where “everything I have is also yours”; I have watched a culture of people still struggle with the after-effects of Apartheid and what it means to live in a divided land; I have seen the effects of HIV and Aids on probably more than half of the people I encounter every day; I have understood what it means to give and what it means to receive; I have cried; I have laughed; I have prayed; I have listened, and I have learned…oh how much have I learned!

The preconceptions I had of life here, the people here, who I would be while I was here, even who I am as an integrated individual have been shaken, broken, smashed and remodeled. My soul has been graciously shaped and formed by everything about this heartbreaking, beautiful, complicated and fascinating land. I will never, EVER be the same. How lucky and blessed am I that the unknown darkness that I left my home for ten-and-a-half weeks ago, has turned out to be so surprisingly pleasing to my heart, body and soul?

And so, with my soul enriched, and my heart re-formed, my short journey his is concluded. The “quarter-life-crisis” that brought me to South Africa has not been quenched, in fact it has just be even more fueled. I want to keep traveling, I want to volunteer more, I want to work with orthopedics, I want to work with children, I want to work with neurological patients, I want to keep learning. If it weren’t for my financial debt to the federal government, and intense attention issues, I would say I want to go to medical school, but I am called to really work with people, and try to help them in whatever tiny way I can. Most of all I want to be happy and make other people happy, if I possibly can.

And what next? Tomorrow, I am starting my 30+ hour trip back to Rochester, NY…my home. I will take a month to re-assimilate myself back to American life, and then I will pack up and leave again. In the very beginning of May, I am going to drive across the country and settle in Washington state for a short time. I am going to do “traveling physical therapy”, where I will work at different facilities for 12 week stints as a sort of “interim” therapist while these places look for permanent staff. I am nervous but excited about this next chapter,…it’s time to push the comfort zone once again….

Thank you for reading my blog and supporting me with your comments, thoughts and prayers. If anything, I hope my time here has inspired people to figure out what their dreams are and go after them. It may not be as extravagant as moving to a new country, it may be as small as starting a new hobby or as major going back to school. Whatever it is, please do what you can to make your dreams come true. All too often people live in fear and hide behind the “what-ifs?” in life…letting their inhibitions prevent them from living their lives the way that they should. It takes blood, sweat, time, perseverance and elbow grease, but it CAN be done. Take the time to sort out the details, dare to dream boldly, and do what it takes to BE HAPPY.

I will be posting a link to an online photo album here when I get home, so please, check back.

Much Love,
Irena

“There are potholes on the road less traveled–some deep, some not so deep, some you dig yourself. Most are filled with mud; many contain rocks. But every once in a while, you’ll be walking along and step in one a bit more accommodating–shabby, green, and pulsing with life. It’ll tickle your feet like clover.” (Ray Blackston)

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