June 17, 2008

Long Weekends

The number of “firsts” I’ve racked up while here is truly impressive and my list of new experiences keeps growing. Recently, I added something else to that list: for the first time in my life, I found myself NOT looking forward to a long weekend.

Monday was Youth Day, a public holiday commemorating the 1976 Soweto Uprising. In the weeks leading up to it, I found myself deeply wishing that I could just go to work in Itipini and not have a holiday. It’s not that I am particularly devoted to the people in Itipini and feel I can’t take a day off; nor is it that I want to squeeze in as many moments there as possible before my break in August; nor did I have any pressing projects or commitments that couldn’t be set back a day. Rather, the root of my desire was much simpler: I was feeling lonely and craved the social interaction of a day at work, rather than what was shaping up to be a quiet weekend. I can handle two days of a quiet weekend but three is pushing it.

In the past few weeks, I cast around for a plan to fill my time but nothing was generating much interest. There aren’t any other volunteers in town and a trip to the Wild Coast alone was unappealing. The price of gas is so high right now that driving to other towns to visit friends and fellow missionaries is not feasible. The bus schedule is such that it takes a lot of effort to get to those places for what would only have been a short visit. So I prepared myself for a long and quiet weekend.

Fortunately, fate intervened at almost the last minute and I was able to work out a very stress-free and cheap trip to Grahamstown to visit two friends. We did almost nothing of note, and almost nothing I wouldn’t have done had I stayed in Mthatha. But the fact that I was doing it with someone else made all the difference and made my holiday a rejuvenating experience rather than an isolating one.

I’ve written about loneliness before and called it the ever-present reality. That’s true but the degree and severity with which it is present, I’ve learned, varies substantially over time. Some (many) days I feel like Mthatha is a great place to be and wonder why I would ever want to be any place else. Other days I find myself counting down in earnest the days until I can go home for a while.

P.S. There’s another kind of people who don’t look forward to public holidays: the people in Itipini who earn their living by trying to find work in town every day. Some men in Itipini push modified grocery carts into town every day, hoping to make money helping people carry groceries and other loads around town. But when the shops are closed for a holiday, they’re out of luck and without savings to fall back on. Even had my quiet long weekend materialized, it still would have been better than how they spent their day off.


löki gale said...

You were the Nome Nugget last week, announcing your intentions to stay.