Saturday, October 13, 2012

Swaziland Remembered

Not a day goes by where I don’t think about my brothers and sisters across the world. Sandile, Kholiwe, Danele, Colile, Takhona, Gizy, Tlamiso, Dumsile and dozens of other names and faces run through my head as I go about my daily activities. It’s been almost three months since I left for Swaziland and I’m still processing. I’m still on that struggle bus.

When I first got back to the USA, everyone I came across flooded me with questions about my trip. They asked what I did, what I saw, what I learned, what I accomplished, how I changed. For two or three weeks I was constantly reminded of what I had experienced. I was forced to pull up memories that were both beautiful and agonizing. My heart stung with grief every time I had to recall what I had left behind, but I was glad to tell everyone so many stories and details from my trip. During those first weeks home, I felt like I had the power to impart on people what I had encountered, the power to change their minds and their hearts, to make them realize what lies beyond the American reality.

But just as I began to feel this sense of power, the questions started becoming less and less frequent. Until, somewhere around week four, people stopped asking me about Swaziland all together.

My power, my strength, was just an illusion.

The only thing harder than telling people about those heartbreaking stories from Swaziland, is not telling them. I feel like my experiences are stuck inside me like an oversized animal in a tiny crate. I walk around carrying this knowledge of the grave reality of Swaziland, and the people in my American life have all but forgotten that I even went there.

At times I feel sucked into what our culture calls normal. I complain about long lines and lunch menus. I spend far too long picking out the perfect shining piece of jewelry to go with my far too clean clothes. But there’s a part of me always whispering, “Why are you doing this? This doesn’t really matter.” There’s a part of me that can’t ever truly live the American dream, a part that was shaken awake, a part that can’t close its eyes or turn away from what’s uncomfortable to think about.

People have forgotten my summer in Swaziland. They have forgotten because to them, it’s just stories. They haven’t seen the children with legs caked in red dirt smiling up at them, they haven’t felt the dry wind in their faces or the warmth of a tiny dusty hand glued to their own, they don’t know the absolute joy and terrifying pain that pervades a tiny nation far away.

Sometimes I wish those things were just stories for me. I wish I too could forget, that my experiences in Africa could fade away like sidewalk chalk on a rainy day. But they can’t. My experiences still cling to me. They comprise me. And every time I try to rinse away what happened in Swaziland from my mind, God pulls at my heart and says, “Remember. Remember Swaziland.” And so I hold fast to my memories, to my experiences, to the exquisite beauty and devastating pain of it all. I remember. I remember Swaziland. And I know He does too.