Sandwiched between every airport goodbye and hello are millions of family members who cope with living apart.
Booking a ticket to South Africa creates family excitement on both sides of the globe. We wish time would speed up beforehand; slow to a crawl during
and we never dare think of the ending.
There is purposeful preparation. It’s important to present ourselves in the best light and squeeze the most out of every second together. A suitcase is opened here and a home is spruced there. Luggage is weighed, locked and labelled in a sacred moment of anticipation.
But how really do you pack the missing years into just two weeks?
For one of my trips to South Africa with my daughter, my parents had spent weeks tidying, painting and fixing their house to a shine. Flowers and veggie seedlings were planted so the extensive garden would impress us with joy. Surrounded by beauty, the plan was to sup on tasty home grown fare while enjoying each other’s company.
But fantasy is naive. It forgets jet-lag, weather patterns & family dramas – none of which are respecters of vacations.
Rain had eluded my parents hometown for far too long. We were met by trees and plants gasping for their last breath. The land thumbed its nose at the hours of labour my father put into trying to welcome us to his piece of Eden.
During our brief stay a few spectacular lightning and thunder storms teased us as we watched the black clouds in the distance baptise other towns, but deny us life giving water. Bush fires blazed and hot winds blew curls of ash into the house leaving black smudges on each gleaming surface that had been so proudly polished.
Everywhere was parched. For our sake my parents tried to remain upbeat but I sensed their despair.
Not only did the veggie crop fail but a family member’s personal problems were put on hold while we focussed on the joy of being together. I felt desperate to reach out but knew there was no way of containing the floodgates of emotion should they be opened.
It was rain, not tears that everyone so desperately craved.
We talked and laughed and gathered little morsels of life together to feed our memories for years to come. Time passed all too quickly.
The suitcase is always brought out at the last possible moment. Opening the lid exposes the uncomfortable sentiments we dare not voice. When will we see each other again? Will we ever?
Belongings are shoved in quickly and the lid snapped shut.
On board the plane my daughter asked “what’s wrong?”
How do you put a life time of goodbyes and separations into words?
Africa, the continent of my birth, was left behind in the distance.
Tears flowed easily;
trickled down my cheeks;
dripped off the seat;
seeped through the floor of the aircraft and were absorbed by the clouds.
It rained in my parent’s home town the following day.