Last July, I made a list of things I’ll miss the most about America. Now that I look back on it, I can’t help but laugh because ironically a lot of the things I said I’d miss I have easy access to – like texting, internet (although it’s slow and expensive) and avocados. I have a new list of things I miss – many of which I did not expect I’d miss as much as I do.
What I actually do miss:
1. DIVERSITY. DIVERSITY. DIVERSITY. My cohort is predominately white and I still live in a segregated part of South Africa (I am one of six white people who shop in my town with the occasional white tourists coming in and out to stay at local lodges). This was hard to adjust to after coming here from Los Angeles — a global and extremely diverse city. I’m confident who I am is part of a diverse picture of people from all different walks of life – culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, whatever. I need diversity to thrive. I cannot wait to throw myself in a diverse environment again as soon as I close my Peace Corps service.
2. Privacy. The concept of “alone time” here is odd to South Africans. Thankfully, my host family has gotten used to my individualism, but village kids will never understand that. Here’s a glimpse of what happens at least every other day: kids standing at my door for five or so minutes whispering to themselves, peeking through my windows, or trying to come into my hut. After greeting them, I always say, “Okkkkaaay, bye bye!”
3. MEXICAN FOOD.
4. Thought-provoking conversations. I’m scared my brain is rotting. I miss having face-to-face intellectual conversations with people or engaging in a lecture/discussion setting. The most I get is text conversations with my fellow PCVs, but it’s not the same as a personal conversation. Reading and studying for the GRE aren’t a match either. I need to go back to school in a year and intellectually challenge myself. I seriously want to jump off a plane and go to grad school the next day.
5. Quiet time. Anywhere and everywhere I go, it’s loud – yelling, music, talking and singing. Zulu is a loud language; South Africans love to bump their beatz and sing, which is beautiful but can sometimes be too much for me. The way to call someone is to scream their name at the top of one’s lungs across the village and keep screaming, over and over again, until someone maybe responds. My headphones might as well be my best friend; I can’t face reality until my large cup of coffee has settled in.
6. Being an absolute nobody. Anywhere and everywhere I go, aside from areas of some cities, all eyes are on me. I am always stared at and the center of attention – people even look at my grocery cart to see what I’m buying. I miss walking down the street or going somewhere and people don’t even look at you.
7. Californians. We’re a different breed of people; we just get each other. I’m beyond grateful one of my best friends here is a fellow Angeleno.
8. Iced coffee. Ice isn’t a big thing in South Africa, even in the cities. Every time I’m in a city and ask for a cup of coffee and a large cup of ice, people say, “You’re American, aren’t you?” Yes, and I need me some iced coffee! Sometimes if you ask for “extra ice” that means two or three ice cubes in your soda. For reals?!
9. Reliable public transportation. I used to hate the Los Angeles Metro because there were so many transfers and it took forever to get from point A to point B. I will never complain about public transportation again. I can wait up to two hours in my village for 20 minute taxi ride to town to buy groceries. Or, better yet – I can wait up to four hours to wait for a taxi to fill all 14 or so seats to head to a neighboring town or city.
10. Customer service. In America, the customer is always right. In South Africa, the customer is always wrong. Pick your battles wisely.
I may miss these things, but I know that they are part of my Peace Corps experience and host culture. To accept these things is to take huge step out of my comfort zone. I have learned to value differences, acknowledge I miss these things and know I’ll be reunited with them again in a year!