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!