This is not an adventure story. When I left 8 days ago, I thought I would be writing the tale of conquering my 15th country. Traveling in sketchy public transportation buses, trying to speak the native language, and maybe getting lost in an exciting new town– these things did not happen. As it turns out, I was on a different kind of adventure. The kind that strip you of everything you thought you knew about yourself. The kind of exploration that focuses more on “self” and the new roads that lead you to the rest of your life.
Night one, sitting on my uncomfortable, hard, velvet cushioned, couch- staring at my Nokia blackberry-wanna-be phone that desperately needs a new face plate. The power is out, and a single candle is flickering on-top of an up-side-down pot lid on the coffee table. Its 8pm. I’m regretting not bringing a book. I stare at the phone a little longer, willing a new sms to come through. George has been traveling for 8 hours to Francis Town, in Northern Botswana; we have heard terrible stories about the road, especially at night, and my nerves are a wreck. I want to text him, but I don’t want to distract him from the road. So I just stare at the black screen, trying to guess when it will light up with a new message. Will it be….now? or……. now? Or…. how bout….NOW? Seconds pass that feel like hours. Minutes pass that feel like weeks. I make tea hoping to waste time. Cup. Tea. Sugar. Splash of milk. Heat the water. Wait. I sit back down, it’s 8:10pm. A heavy sigh escapes my throat, and seems to leave echos lingering in the empty little apartment.
By 9pm I can literally think of nothing else to entertain myself so I go to bed. I toss and turn. Trying to create a George shaped lump in my flat, stale pillows. The twin bed is too small, and I nearly fall off on more than one occasion. It is so quiet here. I’m wishing a dog would bark, or a car would drive by playing loud music. I lay there staring at the ceiling, wishing I had recorded a CD of George snoring to keep me company. I throw off the covers with a huff, and remember a fan in the lounge, maybe the noise will help, I think. I drag myself from the bed, and walk in a haze in that direction. I lug the heavy thing across the cold tile floor and set it up in the doorway of the bedroom. I search the baseboards for a plug and eventually find it. I reach for the cord, and stretch it toward the plug. Then I see. At the end of the cord is merely a collection of frayed wires. I contemplate shoving the wires into the outlet, but snap out of it, and crawl defeated back into bed. I stare at a fly trapped behind the curtain, trying to get into the room. Its so stupid.
The morning comes and i’m up at 6:55am for absolutely no reason what so ever- “thanks a lot George” I think out-loud to myself. I mix some instant coffee with boiling water from the kettle. I try the TV and can’t manage to turn it on. I walk around in a circle or two and decide to call George’s Auntie Joyce. “ We are blessed!” she exclaims into the phone. 10 minutes later, uncle Roland picks me up in his light blue Camry, that has seen better days.
At the house, we have more instant coffee, and a light breakfast. I hear stories for hours about George as a kid. They haven’t seen him since he was 16; apparently he was quite the lady killer. I go through his family, member by member, giving them the latest updates on school, jobs and love interests. I feel confident as I rely this information, not as a stranger would, but as another member of the family. I have met families of boyfriends in the past, but somehow this feels so different. Maybe its the investment I feel. The knowing that I will see them again, and that they are now apart of my future life. Whatever it is, it feels nice to be around family, even if it’s for the first time.
The next few days are mirrors of themselves. I bolt awake at 6:55am exactly and start my day with instant coffee that tastes like sewer water. I try to waste as much time as possible, before I summon the light blue Camry to the parking lot downstairs. I watch at least 3 hours of Church Sermons on the TV with uncle Roland, followed by 2 News broadcasts on rival stations. I try desperately to hold my tongue when topics of politics, religion or the USA , in general, come up in conversation. I am known to be feisty with these points, but Uncle Roland doesn’t seem to be one for debating- and he is family, so I sit and nod polietly.
The only break from the monotony of the week is when my phone chimes with a new message. George is updating me on his location, and even though I have no idea where Polyane is, its a comfort to hear. This is the longest we have been apart in the last year since we met. Even when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I managed to see him nearly every weekend. But now the bond is tighter, and the foreign feeling of his absence is unbearable.
Thursday I break from routine, with an intense craving for time on my own. Auntie Joyce has been busy this week with new students, and ongoing construction at the house, and I have sometimes felt like a burden that needs attention they can not spare. So after my instant coffee, I begin a 30 minute walk to the nearest mall. The weather in this place is so strange. It is near freezing in the morning and evenings, but for 2 hours at mid day it is stiffing hot. Its only 10am now, but I can feel the sweat starting to surface, as the numb cold is thawed from my finger tips. The walk is flat. Not one tiny hill. A far cry from my walks to town in Mbabane, where I sometimes wonder if a rope and climbing gear would help tackle the mountainous terrain. The flatness goes on forever, and the dust never seems to settle. I continue on the newly paved sidewalk, along a brand new tarred road, scattered with more traffic lights then I can justify. Following the footprints of the herd of donkeys that must of found this path before me, their hooves permanently set into the concrete. I pass a few people along the way, but no one seems surprised to see me here; Botswana is home to many nationalities of people. There is nothing for sale on the side of the road, except a few light vegetable stands and several dog houses, an irony I couldn’t figure out my entire trip, since I saw very few dogs.
Once I made it to the mall, I wasted no time scouting out all the shops I wanted to go to. I browsed through a few clothing stores, but couldn’t find anything I wanted. Then I went to the Mr. Price Home Store where I proceeded to go on a mini-shopping spree. New sheets for our bed, new shelves for our bathroom, scented candles and matching travel mugs. Everything was for “us”, and “our” home. Gone are the days when I thought about me only. And even so, I was never one to invest in house hold goods, I was always moving, or planning my next trip. Now filling our house with things to make it homey, sounds like the only practical thing to do- it is a change that still startles me when I say it out loud.
When friday comes, I can not manage to shake the smile from my face. George should be coming home tonight! I want to waste as much time as possible. What I do between now and then isn’t relevant- I just want to get to THEN! I feel like it’s Christmas, and i’m getting my other half as a present. The SMS’s are flying back and forth. He has meetings this morning, but if he leaves by 1pm, he should be able to make it most of the way before dark. As it nears one, I am beginning to loose hope, and then he calls and says he has to leave in the morning. And then he calls moments later and says he is coming tonight, despite the warnings about the road. I’m getty with excitement.
We spend a day together in Garbarone, and I can’t let him leave my sight. I missed his smile, his laugh, and that goofy car dance he does when Justin Timberland comes on. The drive back to Swaziland was long, but my cheeks hurt from laughter. I’ve always said that you can’t consider spending your life with someone until you have traveled with them- and George passes the test with flying colors. We played “Banana” the whole way home (I lost horribly), for nearly 14 hours. We debated about points and rules, but laughed the whole time. We pretended Titianna (our GPS) had a Swazi voice, and laughed some more. When silence would come, I would sit back and think of baby names I liked, and he would talk about how we would raise our kids. This car ride may sound like a horror to some of the single friends I know, but I admit, this is the happiest time of my life. I can feel am changing. Maybe i’m “growing up”, or “settling down”, or maybe i’m just brooding. Whichever way you peg it, i’m happy.