A favorite song of mine from the musical Rent, asks, “How do you measure a year?”
Hum along if you know it……
“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife…..”
With the advent of 2012, it seems like Ryan and I have been hearing more and more from our friends here and back home, “Now when do you go/come back?” While we’ve had an amazing experience here in South Africa, and truthfully don’t want to think about leaving, these questions from friends have given me pause to reflect on our time here. We’re now 7-month residents of Pretoria, and have learned a lot.
But, how do you measure a year? When I went home for a short time for Grandma Chum’s funeral, I was stymied by well-intended questions like, “How’s South Africa? Do you like it there?” and, “What’s it like?” How can you sum up, at this point, 7 months of new experiences, trials, tribulations, victories, riddles, wonderment, learning, love, friendship, and sometimes a little disappointment and homesickness (Yes, I said it, Mom.)?
Back to the song “Seasons of Love.”
Maybe I could measure our year in orange and pink South African sunsets we marveled over in game parks like Nkomazi or just up the hill on campus where Indie chases dassies.
Or maybe in cups of coffee…..in the dozens of macchiatos Ryan and I drank with Gary and Peggy Ifft in Ethiopia. Maybe I could measure our year in the travel mugs of coffee I’ve carried with me on the bus to my department at the University of Pretoria. My colleagues think I’m making my own Starbuck’s at home–isn’t that what Americans drink? It’s true the genteel cups and saucers in my department are lovely, but how can I get enough caffeine only 6 – 8 ounces at a time?
Inches and miles are not the way to measure time spent in South Africa. Try centimeters and kilometers. I’m making my housekeeper’s little girl an outfit to wear at her 5th birthday party, by measuring her tiny waist in cm, and buying a meter of pink polka dot fabric. And we’re now fully accustomed to asking how many “k’s” away the restaurant or a friend’s home is.
Laughter may be the way to measure our year. We laughed at our mistakes in asking for napkins (ahem…feminine products) with our popcorn at the movies. We giggled at our South African friends’ and hair stylists’ imitations of New Yorkers and Southerners. We roared at other Fulbrighters’ (Anna and sheRyan – you know who you are ) stories of crooked cops, quirky menu items (anyone for a burrito with raisin chutney?), and tedious customer service experiences, where we we wondered, “What actually happened back there? Was it because of our accents? Did I speak too fast (common for me, but not for Ryan)? How did we end up with a whole bottle of wine instead of a glass? Why did that man insist we just come back tomorrow and try again? Why is this place closing at 2:45 on a Tuesday?”
There has been a whole lot of laughter and not a lot of strife, and when there was strife, we laughed about it later.
Seven months, that is, three hundred six thousand, eight hundred and three minutes, spent in South Africa so far. We’ve most definitely had and continue to have moments so dear. Two hundred nineteen thousand, one hundred forty-five minutes to go.