Before I start, let me say that I am safely settled in my host community. I’ll post more soon about how incredible that experience has been, but I wanted to briefly introduce you all to my new YAGM family!
Less than five months ago, I was introduced to nine strangers. As we all physically collapsed under the knowledge that we would be moving to South Africa together, I couldn’t help feeling a little overwhelmed (a feeling I’ve come to feel comfortable with over the last few weeks). Not only had I signed on to travel to and live in a completely different universe from the one I knew, I felt an expectation to become so close with these people, so vulnerable to each and every one, that we would consider each other family. I like to think that making friends comes easily to me, but faced with nine complete strangers, nine intimidating strangers, I had my doubts.
I had no idea it was going to be so easy.
I say intimidating, because as I get to know these incredible people, I’m constantly awed by how amazing they all are. There’s Abby, who’s lobbied for her convictions more times than I’ve even expressed mine, who can cuddle, laugh, and dance with you all at the same time; Hannah, who’s incredible passion for those considered as outsider, as other, shines through in every question, conversation, and loving hand-hug; Brent, who’s quiet wit and charm will have you rolling on the ground in hysterics; Luke, who’s selfless manner is so glaringly obvious in all his hushed wisdom. There’s Keenan, our Montana Mountain Man, blazing a trail of self discovery while constantly folding us all into teddy bear hugs; Emily, who’s endearing playfulness reminds me so much of the goats she adores; Joe, who’s passion and talent in all things musical manifests itself in a constant soundtrack to our ever changing reality; Kelly, so like the jolly ranchers she pulls from every pocket, is all sweetness, but with just the right amount of tart to keep you laughing; and Elle, who is so full of light and laughter that she is constantly overflowing, erupting into giggles and impromptu hugs.
And yet, as intimidating as each one of my new siblings is, each one has been blessed with a heart so big that I can’t help but think of the image of the Grinch on Christmas morning – each heart so large that it destroys the Suessian heart x-ray. Almost instantly, we loved each other, willing to forgive disappointments and celebrate victories. As we’ve grown to understand one another, we’ve only grown closer, laughing now at inside jokes and shared humor – so much laughter that our country-coordinators’ daughter once asked us, in childhood exasperation, if we ever stop. As we say our goodbyes and spread to every corner of this incredible country, I’m heartbroken, but comforted by the fact that in less than five months, we’ve grown so close. I’m so excited to see the amazing work that each one of my new siblings will work from within their communities, the changes that will be forged within them, and to see how far their big hearts and open eyes and willing feet will take them. And so very grateful for every smile, tear, hug, and song that has forged us into soul mates.