Monday, October 21, 2013

Lessons I've Learned: Important Update

Three weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to attend Project Management Training at a retreat center just outside of Cape Town. While I learned a lot about project management itself, the lesson that stuck with me and that will stay with me as long as I live was bestowed upon me not by a facilitator, but by a fellow workshop attendee. After one session, Yolisa was asked to pray before we made our way to lunch. With three sentences, she changed my life. “Some people got food and no appetite. Some people got an appetite, but no food. Father God, you gave us both and we are grateful.”

I can take so many different meanings from this prayer, but the first thought that sprang to mind is just how grateful I am for the “food” that I’ve received in this opportunity to travel abroad and learn about another culture. However, even with all the blessings of this trip, I have decided, with the help of my office here and the YASC office in NY, that it would be best for me to return home rather than spend the rest of the year here. The decision was not finalized lightly and only came after prayerful and tearful conversations with everyone involved. However, I do not want to dwell on anything negative because this opportunity was once in a lifetime. Instead, I’d like to share with you just a small sampling of what I’ve learned and experienced in South Africa and the “food” I was given. The experiences I’ve had here pale in comparison to my life so far and I will never regret this journey. I’m so grateful for everything I managed to learn, even though my stay was not as long as initially planned.

I have learned that even the smallest contributions can make a world of difference. A small stack of boxes in my office in Cape Town was waiting for a natural disaster to strike. Each box was filled with about 50 packets of food, and each packet would feed about 4 people. Let’s do that math. The small corner of my office can feed 1000 people.

I have learned that poverty in America cannot begin to shed light on poverty in other places in the world. Until three weeks ago, every day I got off the train and began my walk to work, I passed the beds of homeless people. They had made a home on the sidewalks lining a parking lot just outside the station and hung their wet clothes on nearby bushes so that the spring sun would dry them. They slept on the concrete ground with a blanket below and above them if they were lucky. When I returned to the station at the end of the day, I saw them lighting fires in the shrubs nearby. This was their home, in the middle of a wealthy suburb filled with gated houses and security guards. And this was nothing compared to the poverty of neighboring suburbs and townships where shacks were piled on top of one another where Black people had been forced out to live during apartheid. The nation is recuperating, but the physical separation is still very prevalent because poverty is so hard to overcome once it’s hit a group of people. Three weeks ago, everything changed and the site began to show signs of construction. At the end of one work day, I walked by to discover that the beds and floors of the homeless “homes” had been replaced by jagged rocks that cannot be slept on. I’m not sure who asked for the rocks to be there, but there is no doubt in my mind that the rocks have points facing up as a deterrent for the homeless people who used to spend their evenings lying on concrete. I hope they’ve found somewhere that will accept their need to sleep rather than push them further into discomfort. How can poverty and homelessness be overcome if we continue to not allow these people the opportunity to live?

I have learned how much I personally value personal connection. With that knowledge in hand, talk to me. When you see me walking around, stop me on the street and ask me how my trip was. Tell me what is happening in your life so that we can, if even for one moment, share each other’s lives. If you and I can connect, then what’s to stop us from connecting with complete strangers in our daily life. WWJD? That’s what Jesus would do.

I have learned that the Anglican Church of Southern Africa is extremely committed to social development. There are programs that decrease unemployment and hunger as well as help with disaster relief when local natural disasters affect already impoverished communities. The team at HOPE Africa is filled with incredible people of all ages and genders and the office is filled with life and laughter whenever we gather together to take a break from the work. This office is a blessing to all those they serve and they have taught me more than I can even begin to tell you.

I have learned that in order for projects to be successful, they need to communicate with each other. The Masikhanye Food Garden, there to provide food and computer skills training to youth and adults alike in Khayelitsha, can cut a deal with the AIDS Action Group, Abigail Women’s Movement, and the St. John’s Pre-primary School to ensure they have food to feed their patients and children. When we work together, we really can change the world, one person at a time. Make sure you ask for what you need because you never know who might be able to help and how you might help them in return.

On a lighter note, I’ve learned that the best flavor of popcorn is fruit and chutney. I have learned that I can eat sushi and fish and chips without grimacing. I have learned how to say about four phrases in Afrikaans and I can’t wait to share what a beautiful language it is with you back home. I have learned that the quickest way to a South African’s heart is to present them with Jelly Belly Jellybeans.

Huskers, I’m coming home so keep those wins coming. HOPE Africa and Cape Town, sien jou binnekort. Totsiens to all, and baie dankie for everything.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wine, Whales, and Wings

I know it's been awhile since I posted last, but you'll have to forgive me. Things have been hectic down here in South Africa and it's getting harder and harder to load pictures and videos for your entertainment.

Since it's been such a long time, I'm going back in time quite a ways to give you my days between September 20th and September 24th! Feel free to scroll down to the end of the post to see all the photos if you don't want to read through all the details!

On the 20th, I travelled with a wonderful UK resident, Vivien, to visit fellow YASCer, Keri, in Hawston, Western Cape. We planned on staying for a long weekend so we packed our bags, drove up the R43 and arrived in Hawston just under two hours later. We moved our things into our rooms (Keri lives in an old children's home so there were enough rooms for us to each have our own with beds galore inside.) We decided to drive into Hermanus, a nearby town, for dinner and drinks and were treated to listening in on the conversation of a lovely group of American college students at the table next door. While Keri and I were excited to hear our own accents, I quickly decided that I didn't want other people listening in because these Americans gave the rest of us a bad reputation. Remember, world, the college students of America are not like the rest of the grown up Americans! We get more respectful and less entitled as we grow up!

The next day was the beginning of the Hermanus Whale Festival so we wandered into Hermanus (barely a ten minute drive away), parked, and walked into one of the coolest things I've ever been to. The town was vibrant with tourists and locals partaking in this boost to the local economy. We spent some time at a marvelous craft centre (see my fancy European spelling? I'm catching on down here!) and I bought a few souvenirs for people back home. I was excited to contribute to the economy and especially excited to find a way to share this place with those back home! After walking around the shops and in the market tents, we found ourselves walking towards the bay, where whale viewing should be at its finest. It was very crowded, but we managed to push our way through the crowds and to the edge where there was a clear view of the bay. We listened for the horn of the Whale Crier, a man whose job it is to alert those within hearing distance when he has spotted a whale in the bay. On this day however, he was almost consistently blowing the horn and so we just kept our eyes on the horizon and looked for disturbances in the water. And disturbances we found.

So after a marvelous day of whales and food and drink and a quick walk on the beach, we retired to Keri's house for the evening. We awoke ready to go for our next day of fun on Sunday but quickly decided that we did not want to return to the festival. Although there were some beautiful sites the day before, it was not likely that there'd be anything new that we hadn't seen yet and there was still so much exploring to do in the Hermanus and Hawston area! We'd heard of a fantastic wine valley about five minutes from Keri's house called Hemel-en-Aarde (translated to Heaven on Earth, and believe me, it was). We stopped by the Whalehaven Winery first and it turns out they were having a grand opening so we had a free wine tasting! We sampled a few wines. ate some chocolate and jam, and I personally came home with a few souvenirs and a few more souvenir ideas for my lovely family and friends. After Whalehaven, we visited one more winery for a wine tasting and then decided any more wine and we wouldn't be able to make it back home! We went for a quick bite at a local bar and restaurant and retired home to introduce Vivien to some fantastic classic American movies. And by classic I do mean Legally Blonde and Mean Girls. 

The next day, Keri had to return to her work at the Overstrand Care Centre. Keri's YASC placement is at a hospice centre and you can see the centre through the eyes of someone who works there by checking out her blog post about it, HERE.  I shadowed Keri and helped out with some menial tasks that I didn't need any special training to do. I loved being at her job and meeting everyone she worked with. It's really a blessing getting to experience the ways in which she can make a difference every day at the centre. The hospice centre has carers that are women in the community who did not previously have jobs. The carers are paid through a monthly stipend through a program called IDT, which is through HOPE Africa (my office!). These carers take care of whatever patients are in the centre as well as some patients in the home. Keri is one of the nurses on staff that is there as a supervisor to the carers. She's had a few patient emergencies so far and it's clear to me that they are lucky to have her there! I met with the social worker they have on hand and we chatted about the different programs she is a part of. After our chat, I found myself thinking again about a potential career in social work. Don't give up me yet, Mommy! I may just follow in your footsteps!

It was a fantastic last day in Hawston and the end to a marvelous trip. The next day we just hung out at Keri's for the morning and after a final walk along the beach, drove back to Cape Town.

But the long weekend still wasn't over! September 24th is Heritage Day in South Africa and although I asked many people what the holiday was celebrating, I never really got a straight answer. It seems to be more of a holiday that is an excuse to braai. And what is braai-ing you might ask? Braai is basically a word similar to our American "grill" and "BBQ". You attend braais on big holidays and you braai meat on the braai! So on the 24th, Heritage Day, or Braai Day as they call it lovingly, Vivien and I left Keri's early enough for me to make it back to Anhouse in time for my very first South African braai. I was having too much fun to take pictures, but it was a lovely few hours. We all contributed R and were rewarded with delicious food and fun conversation! I started to learn the many different languages spoken by the people I've been living with. They are from all over Southern Africa and therefore all have different native languages that they've grown up speaking in addition to English. I'm so excited to live and work with so many different people from all over Africa. The languages and cultures that I'm exposed to are all so different from each other and I'm getting a real idea for the incredible differences that span this massive continent.

I'll stop talking now so you can get to the pictures! Check out my long weekend of Wine, Whales, and Wings!

The wonderful shop owner and her children. I bought a pretty great souvenir from this woman! 

Some pieces also in her shop. These elephants are beautiful!

So much jewelry at the craft market! This was just one section of one stand. 

This little guy kept yelling and almost kicking me head while Keri and I sat here.
I faked getting a picture of her so that you could all see the little rascal. 

More jewelry! 

What is that? A whale made out of soda cans for the Whale Festival!

One of the views of the bay where the whales are easily visible.

Mr. Whale Crier and I! That horn was starting to get annoying by the end of the day.

The best picture of a whale I can get. If you're interested, I also have a lot of shots of
some disturbances in the water as well as water that looks perfectly calm even
though a whale had just breached only moments before!

The lovely Vivien Shah from the UK. 

I have to get pictures of me in there sometimes!

Vivien and Keri at the beach right down the road from Keri's home in Hawston.

Vivien captured the two Americans bonding over America as the sun went down.

Keri and Vivien chatted all things nursing in this shelter on the beach.

This couple walked past. Maybe I'll take my future partner back to this very beach
and reenact it! I'll start saving right now and make it happen!

I ended up hiking along this coast two days later, although the lone house is still unexplained.

Footprints in the sand have also meant something to me!

This beached jellyfish was being attacked by sea slugs. I'm sure there's something negative
to be found here, but all of that sea nature is so beautiful to me so I had to capture the moment! 

Our wine tasting the next day began at Whalehaven Winery in the Hemel en Aarde valley. 

It was their opening day so they gave us a free wine tasting with chocolates and jams to pair with the wines!

The next winery, La Vierge, had spectacular views of the vineyards nearby!

I loved this statue outside the winery entrance.

The winery entrance at La Vierge.

A few pictures from my walk along the coast. Keri runs this route regularly with the social
worker at OCC. Both ladies were gracious enough to introduce me to this local wonder.

I want to find out what this bird is. Looks like some sort of crane to me, so of course I thought
of Nebraska when I saw him!

On our last morning at Keri's, Keri and Vivien went for a run along the beach.
They weren't the only ones who decided the beach was the place to be that morning!

Instead of running, I got a little artsy.

That seaweed and ocean plants makes the beach even more beautiful. 

The sand dunes look unreal! And the mist in front of the mountains in the background is spectacular. 

We found beer! 

The loo with a view at La Vierge.

More beer! This spot, Gecko Bar, became one of our favorites.

I forgot to mention, after Braai Day, I went to the Rocky Horror Show at the Fugard Theatre
with Carol, my house mom, and Melvynne, one of the girls who lives in the house
with me. It was fantastic! They even put on American accents to stay true to the original!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The English Language??

Recently in our YASC Facebook page, a fellow YASCer commented that not only is she learning the local language, but is also finding herself learning British English! A few of us quickly agreed that even the English we're hearing and speaking sounds foreign often, so I thought I'd share with you some of the fun English words I've found that mean completely different things here in South Africa!

In America, a boot is something you wear on your foot in the rain and snow. Although they have rain boots here and sell boots in shoe stores, a boot is generally a word for the trunk of a car! 

Continuing this car theme, remember those traffic lights we have in the States? Here they are called "robots". That is one word substitution that I'm hoping I can bring back to the States with me!

In New York City, you might need to take the underpass in order to get on the right Subway. But here in South Africa, you take the subway to make your train on time! Subway is another word for the path underneath the tracks that gets you to the other side of the station.

If you're lucky enough to be walking around during rush hour traffic, watch out for cars "hooting" at you, because they don't honk! On a related note, on Thursday I was hooted at for the first time and felt like maybe I was a true Capetonian!

On my first trip to the grocery store I went to buy laundry detergent and imagine my surprise when I discovered the word "detergent" does not exist down here! Instead, you can buy washing powder to put into your washer.

Also at the grocery store I noticed some interesting brand differences. My favorite is "Niknaks", basically Cheetos!

There are some interesting time differences as well. For example, "meridian", at 13h00 (That's 1:00pm for those non-military time readers), is not only a time of day but specifies a break in the day where you might have lunch or just take an hour off from whatever you're working on. At the office, it's lunch time, but I've noticed that the students I know who go to UCT all have a break at meridian even though they all have different classes in different departments.

In addition, I've discovered that the word "now" is more complicated than we think!

These differences, while challenging at first, are an easier transition than a full new language. I'm grateful that these words and meanings are the only ones I absolutely need to learn! These geographical differences are not specific to drastic adjustments in location. Over in New Jersey, they call taylor ham "pork roll", and nowhere else in the country has heard of either! Take a look at this video made by one of my favorite authors and Youtubers, John Green, discussing some of the local (United States) differences in language. When have you been taken aback by a word you thought you knew previously in one place but clearly do not understand in a new location?

Thanks for reading! Love and prayers to all those who have been following this journey of mine!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Spiritual Updates

(Note to reader: I initially wrote this post as a call to local priests and deacons who may want to support my trip. I present it now for anyone and everyone who has chosen to support this journey of mine. I cannot thank you enough.) 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17

Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:12-13  

These words are a charge, a challenge, and a call. God loved the world by giving his Son for us. Jesus loved us by giving his life for us. Jesus challenges us to love one another just as he showed love to us. Are we meant to give our lives to one another? Are we meant to sacrifice our own well-being and our own health for those around us?

As your years in seminary surely taught you, Jesus speaks in metaphors. The seeds cast in rock, weeds, and good soil are those of us raised in different environments. The goats and the lambs are those who showed compassion and those who did not. And compassion to whom, you might ask? Well, Jesus says that when you show compassion to someone else, that is symbolic of showing compassion to Jesus himself. With metaphors aplenty, Jesus teaches the ways we are supposed to live our life as devout Christians.

So back to the question at hand…is Jesus teaching us that we are supposed to sacrifice our own life or the life of our son for the sins of others? Although we can never know for sure, I believe that is not what he teaches us. But what could this metaphor possibly mean? How can we not take this teaching literally?

What would it mean to give yourself fully for another person? What does it take to accomplish such a feat? As my interpretation goes, it means understanding them entirely. Understanding what they need and want, who they are and where they come from. That same understanding needs to be as free of your own biases as possible. It’s just as important to understand yourself as well. You’ll need to know what you need and want and what your capabilities are if you’ll ever be able to love as dearly as Christ loved his people.

My first two weeks in Cape Town have taught me to slow down and truly try to understand the people around me. Not only is there a language/accent barrier, but even the English words we all use do not hold the same meaning universally. While it can be embarrassing to ask someone to repeat themselves more than two or three times, it helps my understanding that much more. No one has gotten fed up with my constant straining to understand and I am starting to get better! The accents here are marvelous and all so different, but I’m starting to not hear them and instead am listening to the words being spoken, not how they’re being spoken.

I’m not sure I’ve accomplished my full understanding of the culture here, but I am well on my way! In the office I’ve noticed an incredible emphasis on community time. While we work hard in our offices, we take breaks often to sip tea and coffee and enjoy each other’s company. Whenever I have my headphones in because I don’t want to disturb everyone around me with my music, I feel like I’m taking myself away from the office. There is constant communication between all the different offices here and constant celebration of one another’s work. I’m starting to lose my United States work ethic and am beginning to appreciate breaks during the day. Although I still want to just finish every task I’ve been given as quickly as possible, I can see the incredible benefits of being together at the office and taking time to be with each other and not just with our work.

If you ever get the opportunity to create a work environment, I strongly suggest you make breaks a part of the daily agenda. This office is happier for it and works that much harder after tea breaks. I know I plan on implementing breaks for myself in whatever work I find myself doing next. If that means scheduling classes and shifts accordingly, I will do it! Emphasis on community makes for a fantastic and productive work environment.

I wonder if God giving us their only son was a way to understand us. I wonder if God watching us from a far felt hypocritical to them, so they decided to get to know us in order to truly help us and make a difference in our lives. I wonder if God likes how we’ve turned out and appreciates our connections in communities and families. All this I wonder, but I also know that my God is proud of us. Maybe not all of us at all times of the day, but I know that God loves who we are and who we have grown up to be. I know that God supports us as long as we support each other.

Now, I haven’t been ordained and I’ve certainly not been through years of seminary and nor do I plan, so here I will stop. But whether you are religious, spiritual, atheistic, agnostic, or questioning, continue to do well for your community and support those around you. Give a hug or reassuring smile today. Thank your partner, best friend, spouse, boss, colleague, or dog for being in your life today and making you happy. These little supports and appreciations can make all the difference. I know in mine they certainly have.

Thank you for your support and love. I literally could not have done it without any of you.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Get Out The Map!

It's that time of week again! Time to blog!

I've been in Cape Town a week, and while I'm starting to find my way around the place locally, I wouldn't be able to tell anyone on the map where to find me! So I thought I'd create this short little blog where we zoom in on Cape Town and figure it out together!

So, I know I'm in Africa and I'm pretty sure we all know what Africa looks like, so I'm going to start with a picture of South Africa.

So you can see Cape Town in the bottom left corner of South Africa. Let's zoom in closer shall we?

Alright, we're getting closer! It's still there in the bottom left corner.

Alright, now we're getting somewhere! An important fact to note is the little city, Hermanus, in the bottom right corner. Keri, a fellow YASCer is spending her time in a town just outside of Hermanus working in a hospice clinic. Click on her name to check out her blog! Luckily she's only an hour and a half away from me, so she and I will reunite every now and then on weekends and sight see together!

Ok, so that word Southern Suburbs. The Southern Suburbs of Cape Town proper. I've heard people throw that around and apparently that's where I live! Let's zoom in, shall we?

Now, see that word Rondebosch in the lower right side of the map? That's where I live! I live just across the street from the University of Cape Town in the suburb, Rondebosch. And now to zoom in a bit further to see where I spend my days at the HOPE Africa office!

Ok, so At the bottom of the map you see the little suburb, Kenilworth. The HOPE Africa office is in Kenilworth, about 6K away from Rondebosch (That's about 3.7 miles to you non-SA and non-running folk.)

For those who are wondering, I do have some pictures of my commute. Check out the office!

After leaving the office, I walk a couple blocks to the train station in Kenilworth and take the train to Rondebosch Station. At Rondebosch, I walk a few blocks back to Anhouse! Here's some of my walk from the Rondebosch Station to Anhouse. 

See how close I am to the University? It's right on the right side of the road through those trees!

And here's Anhouse! 

The backyard.
The road is behind the house, but this is
technically the front door of the building.

So how's that for some Cape Town info and pictures? I'll try to remember to take a picture of the side of the house that faces the road! There's a sweet little mural created by past residents. 

Love and Totsiens to all!