I can’t believe it, but it’s finally over. We spent the last two days pretty much solidly typing to get all of our evaluation reports, project research and updated versions of pretty much every piece of documentation we received before the project finished – but we managed it! And now it’s time to head home.
It’s been a pretty strange week without the volunteers. We’ve spent most of our time running around finalising everything; running evaluation sessions to collect information on how the project has run and what could be improved, and trying to meet anyone and everyone we’ve worked with this year to thank them for their support and contribution. A whole week of saying goodbye is a pretty draining experience.
It’s surprising really how many people we’ve spoken to and worked with throughout the project. Surprising and a bit intimidating when you realise you’ve got to schedule in meetings with them all before Friday. Rachel has a slightly unnerving habit of making lists of absolutely everything, which on the one hand is good in that it means nothing gets missed out, but on the other hand it does make for slightly terrifying reading sometimes.
It was really sad seeing some people we’ve met here for the last time. Gladys Maseko, cofounder of Tenteleni, was one of them. She invited us round for afternoon tea, calling me beforehand to check that we ate fried chicken (uh, do we eat anything else here?), and we reminisced about the project. Rather worryingly, when we walked in and sat down she raised knowing eyebrows and said, ‘Hmm, South Africa likes you’ – and proceeded to gesture with arms outstretched what we’d look like if we stayed much longer. Cheers Gladys. We also had a heartfelt goodbye with Thembi and her adorable granddaughter Miya: I sat round absorbed with getting Miya to high five me again and again, while Rachel had some, ah, interesting discussions with Thembi on the topics of religion and refugees. She has some intriguing views, does Thembi. Like ‘Jesus wants us to get drunk’ – because he turned water into wine, or something. Now that’s a religious teaching I can get behind.
This week we also (finally) got the chance to meet Patrick Chamusso, long standing Tenteleni partner, and incidentally an anti-apartheid freedom fighter, and friend to Nelson Mandela. It was so incredibly interesting to speak to someone who was actually there, changing history, living through a time which has shaped South Africa. I can’t get my head around the fact that it only ended twenty years ago; that most of the people we now know and work with would twenty years ago have been segregated and separated, that they might not have been able to talk to us without fear of some kind of repercussion.
Patrick told us a story about how he tried to buy a car one day during apartheid, and how he was beaten up and arrested because they didn’t believe that a black man could have come by that amount of money honestly. It was horrifically fascinating speaking to him, hearing about a time and a place where people were treated as a colour and not a person.South Africa today is not totally cured of that attitude (and it’s kind of shocking to me that that is the case, but you hear about it quite a lot), but the pure fact that Teteleni are able to go and work in townships is proof that it’s on the way to being better.
That meeting was a real eye-opener to some of the realities of the country we have been working in for the past ten weeks. But on the whole, working here has shown me how great people can be, not how awful. We have been so welcomed by the community, and have made so many friends; I can’t believe how much I’m going to miss this place and these people. From the principals of the school and the educators we worked with, to the NGO representatives and homestay hosts, right down to the woman who sits outside Sindzawonye in a wheelbarrow and shouts goodbye to us every time we go there, I’m going to miss them all.
We had a nice send off on Saturday evening, going with Netto to a football match at KaNyamazane stadium and then at last checking out the mall in Pienaar, where the drinks are pretty expensive (by which I mean R50 – £2.50 – for a cocktail). It was pretty great. But the night was soon over, so we headed back to the hostel for the last time, and said our last goodbye, to the guy who’s helped us out the most.
It’s been a fantastic, challenging, exhausting few months on project, and though I’m going back home with a sleeping pattern that’s totally out of whack with my normal student lifestyle (6am, what’s that?), I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. But my god, I can’t wait to have a lie in.
Watch out for some seriously enthusiastic PR (@Tenteleni on instagram and twitter!) because I’m coming back to a role on the communications team, and I cannot wait for recruitment season!