It takes a strong person to stand beside someone hell-bent on volunteering with the Peace Corps for two years. John did just that and more. While I was first applying I had to submit three recommendations: from a professor, a previous employer and a good friend. I decided to ask John to complete my friend recommendation after only dating for two years.
This letter would be private so he could have easily written something that would hinder my chances of advancing onto the next stage and thereby keep me home. But he didn’t. He wrote a letter so convincing of my “good character” that when a Peace Corps representative interviewed me via Skype and drilled me with the uncomfortable questions: “What if you get pregnant,” “What if he proposes,” or “What if he breaks up with you,” all I had to do was direct them to his letter. They never made my relationship an issue again.
John proved to be an even better partner while I was in South Africa. He spent an embarrassing amount of money on international calls when I was on the brink of losing it from homesickness or frustration. When I chose to summit Kilimanjaro instead of coming home for Christmas, he not only accepted my decision, but he helped raise money to make my dream of summiting Africa’s highest peak come true.
But my favorite thing John did during my time volunteer service was visit me. Countless friends had enthusiastically promised to visit me in South Africa when I got accepted, but then the realization that flights cost at least $1,000 set in and no one followed through. Except for John and my mom.
My mom flew back home and John and I continued our stay in the Bo-Kaap region of Cape Town. It used to be a township and sadly, before that, slave quarters. Today, the houses are all brightly painted, in an attempt to mask the walls’ dark history.
Then came the time for John too to fly home. It was much harder saying goodbye this time as it was now him leaving me. When I woke up the next morning, John had already left for his flight. Loading my bags into the airport shuttle, I was not looking forward to flying back to Durban and then the long day of taxi rides back to my village. But the driver knew how to cheer me up. He said someone had already paid for my way.
Between my mom and John, I was traveling back to my village with an extra duffel bag full of food. I found comfort in knowing I could taste America through Kraft Mac & Cheese, Andy Capp’s Hot Fries and candy. John’s goodies even included marshmallows and Starbursts that would allow the children in my village to try some American sweets.