That’s the pace leading up to a departure date. So many things to do and many of them cannot be done in advance. As my travel date approaches the list grows and the pace quickens. Until the day of departure, when everything slows, clarifies, and simplifies. Today, the big push is packing.
But I’m not just packing. I’m also re-sorting my closet and culling my clothes for another donation run. Then I’ll sort through the clothes that are left and decide what to store and which ones to take back to South Africa in August.
Once the sorting, culling, and packing, is complete I feel a sense of calm. I know that feeling is coming. However, this time the trip that is coming on Monday will be the eye of the storm because when I come back the big move is happening. I’ll have to finish packing up my apartment and put everything into storage until a future, unknown date when I have an address again.
Its funny because I feel so hectic before I leave, but once I’m headed to the airport everything calms down for me and I’m in my happy space. For a lot of people travel is the hectic piece. In the airport they are scattered and a bit harried. Travel can be confusing and disorienting, but I think that’s some of what I really enjoy about it. I enjoy the fun of discovering new places. My favorites are bookstores, coffee shops, and the perfect vantage point to watch sunsets and sunrises. I don’t buy into the “life is a journey” cliche because the point of a journey is a destination. Is death really the destination of my life? I prefer the cliche that life is music (mostly jazz). We have ideas and pursue those ideas, but so much improve happens along the way. Songs do end. However, the music is the point. The beauty of the piece lies in it being played.
Okay…back to actually packing!
A few days ago I read a blog post called The weird questions I get asked about Africa. The post was written by a young Ghanian who (rightfully so) was at a boiling point for ignorant questions about the continent. She’s developed a little trick when talking to people about Ghana or Africa more generally. After tiring of explaining from the start she is from a country in West Africa named Ghana etc. She now has a tactic of
“when someone asks where I am from, i just say Africa. Whilst some people are content with it, others who appear to be learned will then ask which country in Africa, then i smile and know, i can actually have a conversation with this one, cause basically who wants to keep explaining themselves over things which are easy to come across on the internet when you really what to know”.
Who wants to be a constant Wikipedia page for people?
Back in January I ran into more Americans my first weekend in Johannesburg than I ever have before. I’m sure that’ll keep happening because AfroPunk now has a festival in South Africa. But I kept getting asked about “traditions” and in my head I’m thinking, “Um, people are just living their lives. Not everything you see is ‘an old ethnic tradition'”. For me it was a good reminder before I met my students that I need to be mindful of the exoctification of Africa. Its the difference of traveling and helping my students mindfully learn about South Africa, from a place of identification and closeness. I think its a delicate balance because in order to do that students need to be uncomfortable, but not so uncomfortable that they shut down.
One of the many pieces I have my students read is “Can a Trip Ever Be ‘Authentic'”, that examines this idea of how global-localization has changed the very idea of what it means to be in a place. But this is the new and authentic reality people everywhere are struggling with and against. So often I’ve found that people’s idea of “authentic” is actually finding experiences that match their preconceived notions of a place. This past year I tried to push against that notion each time my students mentioned that visiting a township was ‘real South Africa’. The next program I’m designing has more space for me to facilitate those conversations throughout their time within the country. I want to try and disrupt their ideas of who and what South Africa is and keeping them engaged throughout the entire program.
I want students to understand, even if it is only in matters of degrees, that South Africa is every bit as complicated and complex as the United States, Virginia, or even their university. As Taiye Selasi argued in her fantastic TED talk [click here] you may say that you are from the United States of America, but does anyone really have a relationship with the United States, all 50 of them? Our experiences are local, specific, and more complicated than we remember.
I would love to hear from other study abroad instructors how how to keep students engaged in these difficult “in between” spaces. Any thoughts, writing prompts? or suggested readings would be greatly appreciated!
If the devil is in the details, then I have many little devils to attend to in the next fourteen days.
- Put my mail on hold
- Suspend my cell phone while I’m gone
- Add all the notes to my various accounts
- Prep my presentation
- Take both animals to the vet
- Make sure the old man has his meds for while I’m gone
- Schedule bills to be paid
- Finish collecting data for my dissertation
- and the list goes on…
This list is exacerbated by the list that I’ll need to complete before I leave again in August. Last night was the first time that these little devils danced around in my head and didn’t let me sleep. I sincerely hope that this does not continue for the next two weeks.
In Just over two weeks I’m headed back to South Africa and Botswana. I’m going to be in Johannesburg for just over a week and I’m spending six days in Gaborone, Botswana for a conference. I’m excited to go, but wanted to go as a single-bag traveler this time, just a backpack and my a purse. Traveling light will make transitioning between four different accommodations in 2.5 weeks much easier.
A couple of years ago, when I traveled to this same conference and then took time to explore Namibia and visit friends in Johannesburg, I went through several backpacks before I settled on a backpack from Tortuga. I really liked that pack and was able to carry enough in it to look professional at my conference and comfortable through the Namib desert. However, there were several drawbacks of that bag. First, it was a little too tall. If I was six feet tall the bag would have been perfectly proportioned, but as it was it was awkward for me to carry. Second, it didn’t have any weather proofing on it. So, I needed to scout out a new bag. I went back to Tortuga and went all in on a bundle they had, which I promptly returned.
Next, I went down the YouTube rabbit hole of professional bag reviewers. (Who knew that was a thing). Then I went to a meeting where someone had a new Eagle Creek bag. And I thought, I should check out the products on their web site. So, I watched videos, looked up reviews on Amazon, and watched videos on how they designed their various bags. After much research and obsessing, I decided on the Gear Hauler. As soon as I unboxed the bag, I was excited to use it. Thankfully, I had a week-long trip just a couple of days away to give the bag a test run.
Here is an inventory of all that I was able to pack in my bag:
- Five pairs of workout leggings
- Five workout tops
- Two pairs of somewhat bulky shoes
- Five dresses
- Collapsible water bottle
- Socks, underwear, and hose for five days
- Sports bra
- Daily wear bra
- Toiletries: conditioner, hair oil, deodorant, etc.
The bag was not overly heavy and I could have fit more! I cannot wait to use this bag for international travel. It will easily fit my laptop, adapters, and small notebooks. I’m planning on doing single-bag travel when I lead my next study abroad program too and this bag is perfect.