The dogs outside are barking, stirring me from my sleep. The shadows on the walls are foreign, the air smells different, and the mattress can’t remember the shape of my body beneath me. I’ve had the most unusual dream.
I’ve dreamt that I am getting off a plane and onto another one, and another one. I’m carrying too many bags to hold in both hands, and struggling to push a trolley stacked with more suitcases then I can see over. George is with me, and my exhaustion is mirror back at me in his eyes. I have a funny feeling that I have been here before, but the butterflies in my gut, this nervousness, tells me that something new is on the horizon.
It’s a funny thing how dreams work. The decoding that happens between the waking hours and deep sleep. The details are hazy, but the images come to you as a reminder, something like proof, of what has taken place. This is how I remember the last year. Sometimes I feel as if it never happened at all. I question how I got here, to this unfamiliar house, in tiny little country that I remember, but also seems changed. George and I have push pause on life, for 14 months. Taking time to figure things out, making new plans and having a break from doing just that, but against a ticking clock.
Cape Town is a distant memory. The parts I do remember seem like it happened in a different life, or are fragmented like a dream I once had, and can only remember snippets of detail. When the Cape Town journey was coming to an end, we saw it coming. We knew we weren’t ready to return to Swaziland, we were still craving something… something yet to be decided, but it was on the tip of our tongues. We made a plan B, not thinking that it would really happen, but a backup just in case. “What do you think about visiting the USA for a few months until we figure out what we want to do?” I ask George casually, on a perfectly normal afternoon. Within the week, we began packing up our tiny apartment on the cape. Plan B quickly became the only plan, and like a movie on fast forward we were packed, in a car, pit stop in Swaziland, saying our goodbyes, boarding a plane, and unpacking in my sisters basement in Detroit MI. My head still spins a little.
We arrived in Michigan at the end of April 2015. My sister had just had a baby, Ruby, the month before and I was excited for a chubby, thunder-thighed distraction. We spent the first few days visiting with family and making plans with old long lost friends. We had a lot to fit into a few months visit. My mom and brother bought us an old Osmobile Bravada as a means to get around, and we were beyond grateful for the gesture.
We watched tiny buds of leaves and flowers bloom on the trees, overwhelmed with delight in the spring air. By the time leaves were sprouting, George was keeping busy at a landscaping company, learning how to run with a lawn mower. I was keeping busy at home, checking emails in between baby giggles, and trips to Target.
The summer heat swept in, and George experienced his first taste of muggy, humid air. He made a few friends and fell hopelessly in love with craft beer. He fielded a host of embarrassing questions from my fellow patriots, like “ have you ever wrestled a lion?” “did you wear shoes growing up?” Do you have schools in Africa?” George took each question with more grace then I could’ve mustered, and we at least felt grateful that some people actually listened to the answers.
Summer brought a lot of “firsts” for George. We showed him the Great Lakes, went to the beach, watched firework displays from a boat for the fourth of July, went kayaking & tubing down the river. He even had his first birthday party, complete with an epic inflatable slip’n slide. We found a new hangout in Kalamazoo, at The Old Dog Tavern, which we frequented whenever possible with my mom. We loved sitting outside on the lawn listening to live music and dancing on the grass with bare feet.
At this point the Osmobile began to show it’s age, and was in the garage more then in our driveway. It ended in a losing battle, and was eventually towed back to the other side of the state. My mom instantly pulled through, and appeared one afternoon with a brand new Nissan, for us on lease. It is truly amazing to have family.
When the leaves began to fall, we knew our trip was coming to an end. But I couldn’t bear the thought of packing another suitcase, not yet. We had been bouncing from house to house; country-to-country for months now, and the thought of packing everything up again was too overwhelming a task. Besides, we still didn’t have a plan… not really. We decided last minute to extend our stay for 6 more months.
Autumn brought a chill to the air that George wasn’t expecting. He was working outside, raking massive piles of leaves for 12 hours at a time- unable to decide if he was freezing or hot. I was serving a multitude of small jobs, everything from babysitting, to data entry to keep busy and attempting to save some money to take home. We now had a reason to save… we had come up with a plan, and the plan began to take over our every thought. We were going to build a house.
By Thanksgiving the air had cooled to freezing and the first flurries came to Michigan. We had fun watching George bundle each morning, even on days he was staying inside. We were finally feeling at home. It was so nice to watch George interact with my family, and I was constantly astounded at how well he fit in. It was almost frightening that there was no hesitation on Thanksgiving when my mom started an arm wrestling competition—I loved that.
As worked dried up for us both, and the ground began to freeze over the new plan began to take shape. Hours spent online, pintresting ideas, watching building tutorials, and scrapbooking pictures of our future home. With our extended stay we had decided to ship some things home in a container, and we were stockpiling goodies like squirrels preparing for hibernation. With Christmas day, our wall of boxes doubled in size. We had acquired nearly everything needed to furnish our house… down to the kitchen sink.
We spent New Years Eve in North Carolina visiting a close friend. After 10 months in the states, this was our first excursion outside of Michigan. It was also the first place that George and I have ever traveled to together that was completely new to both of us. It was an amazing, and much needed trip away. We even made time to stop in Washington DC on the way home.
When our little vacation was over, it was time to begin packing and this time I was ready. We put as much as possible in boxes to go on the container, and left the essentials for the luggage we would travel with on the plane. It was a difficult task, and I was constantly amazed at how much we had acquired in one year.
When the boxes were delivered to the Port, it was a strange feeling. We were ready to go home, but suddenly the days were flying by. Hours felt like minutes and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave my security blanket quite yet. We had spent a year with my sister and her family—for some reason it was a completely blissful year. We co-existed, went on joint date nights. We watched Ruby grow from a tiny baby, to an energetic toddler. We spent our evenings on the couch talking to Lucy and Claire, the older girls, who were full of stories, and I suspect Lucy had an innocent crush on George, who she affectionately called “Green”. George and Jeff, my sister’s husband, also had become close, and the thought of ending their man dates tugged at my heart strings more than expected. I was also going to miss my sister greatly. She had given us the most amazing year. We wanted for nothing. Having her so close for conversation and coffee is a delicacy I had long forgotten to miss.
February was a hard month. The days passed by, like the view from a speeding train. There was an excitement about releasing the pause button, but also a mix of other emotions. There wasn’t much time left over to dwell on it however, before we knew it we were alone, standing on the curb of the airport, surrounded by towers of suitcases. Time to resume life… press play…
We have been back in Swaziland for 2 months. We have a small studio apartment. There is a gang of monkeys that hang out nearby just in case I forget where I am; they quickly remind me. Things have been moving fast, and slow at the same time since we got back. I haven’t decided if it’s because we had been re-Americanized and then dropped in Swazi-time or if its that the pause has pushed into hyperspeed. We have found a piece of land by the Dam in the community where we want to build our house and are in the process of applying for it (the “process” involves a lot of gifted beer, a few sacks of rice, a cow at the end and a hell of a lot of patience). Our dear friend Jei Jei, an architect, has designed us the first of 2 small houses, and a large one we plan on building in a few years time.
George is beginning the process of starting his own landscaping business here, and I am back to work, catching up with all my old clients. Our shipment has proven to be a bit more of a hassle than anticipated- I think we have paid for it 3 times now, with another payment due. TIA- this is Africa- how quickly we forget the little details. Some days we feel like we never left Swaziland at all. Other days, like when we cook spaghetti and realize we have one fork (because all our silverware is in the shipment) we remember we are starting over again. It’s a process. But at the end of the day, we are eternally grateful for the family and friends that have given us the gift of an entire year. As hazy as the details may seem now, we will always remember 2015 as the year that changed our path.