Umphumulo, South Africa

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Living Simply or Simply Living…

To have been posted sometime early this December...

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I passed by this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson when reading a newsletter from a fellow YAGM and thought it coincidental because of what has recently happened at my placement site. I find it continuously intriguing on how comfortable I ‘think’ I am with knowing, being, and living in Umphumulo’s church center when this mysterious place can never really be predicted. But it is this unpredictableness that continues to define me.

Last week was probably the MOST eventful 5 days since being here for over 3 months at the center, but not in the sense of having to be here or there as an agenda is at hand… more in the sense of where are we going to get water, where are we going to cook, and how are we going to retrieve hot water to bath ? Now, I’m quite used to the occasional power outage that Maphumulo gets due to the aggressive rain and thunder or high winds, but there’s still the running water OR even the mysterious reasons as to why the running water isn’t working, but there’s still the electricity. However, as I dreaded this ever happening, you guessed it! Someone somewhere, somehow cut the electrical wires that provide electricity to the church center and since the water connections are, for a reason I still don’t understand, connected with the electrical wires… the church center was out of running water too. It became a dim Friday afternoon after hearing this news with Nomfundo, but that really didn’t bother us as we always find a way to entertain ourselves in these kinds of rural Maphumulo ‘living simply’ situations.

Saturday morning came and the situation at hand was still no big deal, but then Nomfundo heard from Dlamini, the handy-man for the church center, that it was going to be like this until someone could come and diagnose the problem; this meant we had to wait until Monday before anyone could do anything. I thought to myself, “Ok, no big deal. It will only be the weekend.” So, before Nomfundo and I went along with our plans for Saturday, I decided to call Baba and Mama Mabaso and let them know of our situation and see if we could stay at their home, the electricity and water only being a problem for the church center. With the gracious and hospitable family the Mabasos are, luckily they said Nomfundo and I could stay with them, but the church center’s situation was only about to get a bit dimmer.

Come Monday, of course the first thing everyone was paying attention to was the electricity and water; how can a business run without either? Unfortunately, with all of the phone calls and talking to people that was done on Monday, no one could come to the church center until Tuesday morning… another day. So everyone living on the church center premises had to endure the situation at hand still. This included getting water to fill our buckets that were loaned to us by Samu, the church center’s Center Leader, and then figuring out how we were going to cook… this really did take all evening. Tuesday came, and sure enough the electrical guys came to look at what was wrong. Well, it turned out that the parts that were needed to fix the wire had to be ordered due to not having them at hand. In the end, no one knew how long that was going to take as it could be days, weeks, etc. At this point, I was frustrated with how the situation at the church center was going and I was upset because all I wanted to do was wash my hair; crazy to admit but it’s true! After explaining and venting to Nomfundo, she ended up being very understanding towards my ‘cultural differences,’ and told me to not worry. She then jokingly told me that we were going to check into a hotel tonight anyways. This then made me feel terrible with myself because I began to feel like I was acting selfish; knowing most of the families living around me go without running water and sometimes electricity daily . Nomfundo, again, told me to not feel bad or terrible or even upset with myself because it’s just new and different, and she made a good point in stating that the electricity and water was totally out of our control anyways. You see, it is sometimes the unexpected situations that are out of our hands that can make us or break us, and after my ‘cultural breakdown’ I began to look at the entire situation differently… this is Umphumulo’s ‘simply living.’ It also made me think… at least I’m not having to go through all of this alone . Nomfundo and I, once again, spent the evening getting water and figuring out how we were going to make dinner, but overall by the end of the day I was just astonished at how much of an understanding, blessed, and strong woman Nomfundo is. Being friends, sisters even, with her has been one of the utmost gifts God has ever sent to me and I am continuously learning through her, with her, and alongside her.

Wednesday… day 5 (at least for Nomfundo and me). I woke up this morning with a new attitude and a new mind, and we all went to work with everyone leaving at 1pm, as there was still nothing anyone could really do without electricity. After work Nomfundo and I walked towards the guest house to visit Mandisa, a new visitor staying at the church center for the weekend who just happens to be a pastor too. The three of us were just having a casual conversation that turned into a little bible study; I love these random acts of God. Mandisa turned her Bible to Psalm 92:2 which states, “proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,” and as we read the verse aloud we each took turns to explain how we interpreted it. After what turned into an hour or two of talking about this lovely verse, we all noticed how late it was getting and we still needed to fill up our buckets with water and make dinner, something that was beginning to feel like a daily part of life. As we all headed out of the room and into the hallway, I turned to my left and BAAAM! Like when you walk into a room and everyone screams “SURPRISE!” I noticed the hallway light was ON! As I started jumping up and down and screaming, Mandisa and Nomfundo were soon to join in on what epiphany I was most definitely having. We then started hugging each other as the jumping and screaming continued for what felt like 10 minutes, no joke! I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life and I will never see electricity the same way again. We then rushed out of the guest house to check our own homes on the church center premises to discover that the electricity was REALLY working. The next thing that was needed was the water, but with the electricity working the water was soon to follow.

The following days in Umphumulo have been very thankful, rejoiceful, and charismatic… especially from me. Some may think it’s just another casual day of work, but for me it’s another day “to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that [I] have lived and lived well,” like Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it. It’s having the opportunity to thank Him in each morning that passes and then giving all of my faith to Him to watch over me in every situation that comes and goes, like stated in Psalm 92:2. It’s being able to see the wonderful people that fill up my life here, and it’s even being here in my so called ‘living simply’ life that I am noticing how challenged I really am, how blessed I really am, how faithful I really am, how enduring I really am, but most importantly how true to others, myself, and Him I really am on a daily basis. I can’t really put into words how different I feel or changed I have become after the past week without electricity and water, but as the unpredictableness of Umphumulo still staggers around all I can do is smile and continue on with the day. I am living simply, but I am also just simply living… whether on my own or with my ‘partner in crime,’ Nomfundo.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When the day is done...

(December 6, 2010 posting)

Title copied from an excerpt in the song “You are all I need” by Bethany Dillon

It’s the beginning of December and the days are longer, the sun is shining brightly, the grass is green, and the natural life around Umphumulo is even more vibrant than ever… however the randomness of weather is still ever more present as yesterday was above 30ºC (86ºF) and today is around 24ºC (75.2ºF)! This is all still taking some getting used to as around this time the days are supposed to be getting shorter, the weather is supposed to becoming cooler, the leaves are supposed to be falling off the trees, and the natural life, at least around San Antonio, is supposed to be bundling up. However, even with all of this new environmental change, coming back to Umphumulo, after the first retreat I had with the other tenYAGM, was a bittersweet happiness and I’ll explain why.

I packed my backpack on November 23rd to prepare for a retreat I knew would entail seeing all my MUD family, but I now know it to also be a LIFE-CHANGING and EYE-OPENING experience, adventure, and maybe even once-in-a-lifetime event. I woke up on the 24th with an unexpected pouring rain, but knew that this was not going to stop me from getting to Pietermaritzburg (PMB) by kombi (taxi) where all 11 volunteers were meeting at the Sleepy Hollow Adventure Backpackers. Now, kombis are not the most intimidating means of public transportation in South Africa, but due to the unexpected and crazy rain… I was a bit intimidated this morning and prayed for all of my kombi drivers (as I had to take 3 kombis to get to PMB) to get me to each destination safe and sound. Well, I did make it to PMB around noon where I was fetched by my country coordinator, Brian, and his dad, Mr. Konkol, with the rain still following me but with a BIG smile on my face! After being reunited with the other volunteers on Wednesday night, we all stayed up late to just take what I’d like to describe a moment to look around and rejoice at seeing each and every person in the flesh for the first time in 3 months! The next day, Thanksgiving Day, was when the ‘real’ retreat began for me.

So in the morning, we all woke up… with ironically the same routine as when we were in PMB for in-country orientation; by this I mean I was the FIRST to roll out of bed as waking up early has always been a ‘dilemma’ of mine. We then cramped all 11 of us in the rented kombi to head towards the PMB soccer field for the annual females VS males soccer match, swimming in the pool, and then Thanksgiving dinner at the Konkol’s home. Unfortunately the females did not win this match (so now we are 1-1 in soccer matches), but the dinner was fabulously made by Kristen, our other gracious country coordinator, and then eaten delightfully by all 11 volunteers, Brian’s parents, and Brian and Kristen themselves!  Although away from home, Thanksgiving turned out to be almost the same (I still missed Tio T’s pineapple ham and candied yams, the traditional pecan pie, and Granny’s banana split cake), but all in all a Thanksgiving to be grateful for and one that I was blessed to be present in sharing with my fellow YAGM members, country coordinators and family. After stuffing ourselves to no tomorrow and watching highlights to NFL and NBA games (still trying to keep up with my San Antonio Spurs even though I’m limited in resources… GO SPURS GO!), we all returned to the backpackers to get ready for a great journey towards the Drakensberg Mountains the next day, Friday.

When Friday came rolling around, we all got into the kombi and took a nice journey towards the Amphitheatre Backpackers that had a MARVELOUS view of the Drakensberg Mountains in the distance. We all checked into our room, a nice building that we all thought to resemble the Bearstein Bears home-remember that book??? Around noon, Brian then drove us to the Royal Natal National Park where we took a nice, long, and slippery 5hr or so hike. This hike was my first hike ever and I think I did alright with keeping up with everyone… as my legs are the shortest and not really knowing what to expect as the muddy paths were not always stable. Luckily, I only slipped one time heading back to where the kombi was parked… but hey we can’t all have ‘graceful’ hikes! Getting to the destination of this hike was amazing and something I never dreamed of seeing with my own eyes. I know Umphumulo has some great scenes, but this one in the Drakensberg Mountains was so very unique, different, and unexplainable; maybe it was the different feel of the place, maybe it was the fact that it took a long time to get there, maybe it was the fact that it was my FIRST hike, or maybe it was knowing that I was with my MUD family… no matter the case it was an experience, adventure, and once-in-a-lifetime event to remember. This then led to Saturday.

Saturday was the hike in Lesotho, and I have to say, that this was the day that made this whole retreat life-changing and eye-opening for me. As we headed towards Lesotho, having a nice journey that included great scenes, having to cross South Africa’s border into Lesotho (this time NOT Mexico!!), and an unexpected soggy and muddy road (our tour guide, Josh, was a beast at tackling this path with all of us in the kombi and it included a fun ride in the mean time!). Our kombi ride ended at a school in Lesotho where we were informed that this was the primary school that the Amphitheatre Backpackers is helping to fund. We were all able to go inside the school, see the simple-ness of the building and for me, become humbled at how the school’s children learn. But it didn’t end there. After seeing and learning a bit about the school, we all started our hike that included a nice Basotho (what the people of Lesotho are called) history. When we arrived at the spot where we were to have lunch, Josh (the tour guide… not to be confused with our fellow YAGM ) informed us that we could put down our belongings and head to the top of the mountain nearby without him if we wanted. Well, with the determination of more than half of the group… we all headed up this path that turned out to be so steep that in the middle of it I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As I felt myself getting tired, I stepped to the side to allow everyone behind me to pass. After a good breather, I began up the same vertical path everyone else was going but then began to notice that everyone else was still going too fast for me… so I stopped again. Well, just as I was about to head back down this path that all of a sudden turned into a steep and smooth rock path, I thought to myself, “I can’t do this.” But then, another fellow YAGM stayed behind with me and encouraged me to keep on going and directed me up this slick transition that everyone else seemed to do with no problem. So, with the encouragement of AMANDA (love you girl!), my endurance and determination (which came out of nowhere), and the grace of God… I MADE it to the top! And this turned out to be one of the most breath-taking scenes I’ve ever seen. Not only was I on top of this mountain that entitled me to go through physical and mental strain, but the prize at the end was worth it all… for me to BE at that spot where I stood, look around and smile with my MUD family, hold my hat so the wind wouldn’t take it away, accomplish and cross several ‘borders’ in my own life, and just BREATHE IT IN.

The rest of the hike in Lesotho was just as amazing; learning about its history, eating pap and spinach, getting to rejoice with a Basotho family, buying a traditional Basotho hat, playing with the Basotho children as they saw us passing by, and then waving goodbye to them as the kombi drove back to the border… this time going into South Africa. In addition, that evening at the Amphitheatre Backpackers I received an unexpected phone call from home!! It was nice to get to talk to some family, especially after that crazy hike… a bit of icing to the cake I might say. Then, as everyone was getting prepared for dinner, one of the most MAGNIFICENT sunsets off the Drakensburg Mts. was in action. We all ended up standing on the balcony outside of our room and just watched the sun go down… this made us a bit late for dinner, but totally worth it!  After dinner, the other volunteers and I ended up talking with one another, stayed up late, and then as I walked back to our room, I noticed the BEAUTIFUL view of the stars from above. I remember thinking to myself, “what a day,” and then to end it with this. This day, Saturday, November 26, 2010 is most definitely a day to remember!

Once Sunday came, we checked out of our room and then had a nice Sunday service, in ENGLISH I might add, amongst the group and Mr. Konkol thanks to Brian. Then we all piled back into the kombi to take our lovely journey back to PMB where we all prepared for our travels back to our placement sites come Monday. Once arriving back in Umphumulo on Monday and then starting work on Tuesday, it’s funny to say, but I was greeted with such love, joy, and excitement Tuesday morning in the SED Office as if I had just arrived in Umphumulo my first day. It was overwhelmingly nice to have such a welcome from my coworkers, and as I was a bit under the weather with having to say, “Hamba Kahlle (go well)” to my MUD family on Monday… I was anxious to be back in Umphumulo. I even received SMS’s (text messages) from some of the doctors at the Umphumulo Public Hospital making sure I arrived back to Umphumulo safe and sound, as before I left I let them know when I would be back in Umphumulo from PMB.

It’s awesome how God works through us all; He helped me get through some challenges this past retreat that I will never forget, but above all He has guided me to be here… South Africa. I’m thankful for the people He has placed in my life too, because it is being alongside each and every one of them that I am growing, learning, and sharing. With Thanksgiving just passing by, I’m thankful for all of the people in my life, physically alongside me or not, I’m thankful for the renewing of each new and mysterious day, and I’m thankful for the breath of life He gives me… because “when the day is done” it is He that continues to watch over us, it is He that continues to allow us to prosper, and it is He that continues to give us hope (Jeremiah 29:11) with each new experience, adventure, or maybe even once-in-a-lifetime event.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Same Country, Different Homes…

Again sorry for the late posting, but this should have been posted on Weds, Nov. 24, 2010... Thanks again for reading!

South Africa. When I first thought about this country there were tons and tons of things that just entered my mind, with the obvious being zebras, giraffes, and lions! But as I have now traveled around a bit I am beginning to ‘see’ South Africa in a whole new light. This past week I found myself in Soweto where I attend the Diakonia Aids Ministry (DAM) Gala Dinner that Joy, another YAGM volunteering for the ELCSA’ s Central Diocese and DAM, had invited all the other YAGM to. Being in the Umphumulo Hospital and volunteering at the HIV& AIDS counseling center, I wanted to be present at this event to see what the DAM was about and then be able to volunteer with Joy for a part of the week I would be in Soweto. Soweto is very different from Umphumulo; as cold is to hot and slow is to fast, Umphumulo is to Soweto.

I spent all day Saturday getting ready for the Gala dinner; sweeping the entire auditorium in which the dinner was held and then peeling, chopping, and mixing all kinds of foods to prepare for ~200 people. After the dinner, which was full of traditional dances, choirs, and fun conversation, I stayed in Soweto to volunteer with Joy; Amanda, the YAGM volunteer in Bonaero Park, stayed with both of us too! Monday through Wednesday began with meeting all of Joy’s wonderful colleagues, working in the DAM office, and then left the evenings to venture out into Soweto. One of the first things I noticed about Soweto was how to catch a kombi (taxi). I quickly looked to Joy and asked, “What is everyone doing with their hands?” You see, kombis in Soweto go to various places due to having several things to do. So in order for the driver to know where you’d like to go, hand signals are key. So to get to the Hector Pieterson Museum, a great place to learn about Soweto’s history and the historical riots that were held there, Joy put her pointer finger up to indicate we were heading more into town. There are about four to five different hand signs to catch a kombi in Soweto, and I was so excited to just learn two of them! In Umphumulo, to catch a kombi you just flag down and get in which ever one is passing by or you wait in one until it becomes full due to only going to one destination, Maphumulo or Stanger.

Another fascinating experience I encountered while in Joy’s community was the neighborhood. In Soweto you actually have a neighbor that is not at least a five minute walk up or down hill. You can just yell a simple, “Hello! How are you,” right to the other side of the gate and get a response with a wave too. The welcoming of the neighbors is the same, but instead of isiZulu you hear more Sesotho; finally another language to hear and learn a bit of! Also, I really enjoyed seeing the man pushing a shopping cart down the street while he rang a bell to sell vegetables; this was just like the paleta man at home in San Antonio (as you hear the ringing of a bell down the road, you quickly gather your money as you see the paleta man pushing the freezer box selling a special kind of Mexican ice-cream bar coming along). It was also nice to see the kids playing in the street as they raced with a tire to see who could roll the tire to the end of the road first or as they played a game with what looked like dice. Just having the noise around was very different, yet exciting all at the same time. In fact, just to have noises of all kinds made Soweto very different from Umphumulo. After volunteering with Joy on Wednesday, the three of us (Amanda, Joy, and myself) headed towards Bonaero Park where Amanda was volunteering. Thursday and Friday we volunteered in the ELCSA’s head office and helped out doing random things for the meetings that were being held at the lodge Amanda also worked. We also met several of Amanda’s co-workers who greeted Joy and myself with open arms, smiles, and warm hearts—which made me understand that no matter where I go in South Africa, feeling like I’m at home is just a part of their culture. Like Soweto, Bonaero Park is full of all different kinds of noises and there is just something always going on. Also if you take a walk down the road, whether in Soweto or Bonaero Park, vehicles of all kinds are always passing by; unlike Umphumulo where you’ll see a vehicle passing by every hour or so.

The three of us also ended up attending a Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates soccer game in Soccer City (Soweto). Just to give you an idea of how HUGE this game was, the Chiefs and Pirates are two of the biggest soccer clubs and rivals amongst the soccer fans of South Africa. Getting to the soccer stadium by kombi, was one of the most cultural things I have ever witnessed in South Africa. You looked to the left and there was a kombi with chiefs and pirates fans yelling out the windows for their team, you looked to the right and you could see another kombi with flags favoring the chiefs or pirates waving outside of the windows, and you looked behind you and you could see and hear vuvuzelas, more cheering, and amazing spirit from the fans; we were all South Africans as we rode along in the kombi joining in on the spirit. As soon as we saw the stadium, you could literally see the crowds of people going into the stadium and you could feel your heart beating faster as the cheering from the fans was heard from the distance. As we walked closer and closer to the gate, I began to feel the spirit of the stadium even more. Throughout the entire game the spirit of the fans, which included cheering, dancing, singing, jumping, and blowing vuvuzelas, was one of the most EXCITING things I was able to witness and be a part of myself!! All in all, being in the totally different environments of Soweto and Bonaero Park, which are both a part of Johannesburg (Joburg), has allowed me to see and remember that South Africa is more than just a peaceful, relaxing, and slow place; it is also a place of development, significant history, and different languages and cultures. Now I can understand why Joburg is mentioned as the ‘heartbeat’ of South Africa… Go Chiefs!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

No Plans for the Weekends...

Note: This blog should have been posted on November 5, 2010... Sorry for the long delay, but enjoy!

The past week or two in Umphumulo has turned out to be mysterious, joyous, and full of laughter and I’ll tell you why. Two weekends ago I found myself with no plans, but with the wind of fate, Samke, the Receptionist for the ELCSA SED Office, invited me to stay with her at her home in Msomi Village, about a good 45 minute walk from the church center. Being the loving Umama (mom) Samke that she is, she looked at me and said, “You can’t stay here alone. You must come with me and I will show you my kids.” So of course I accompanied her, but she also gave me no choice but to say, “giyavuma,” (I agree) as she knew I would be staying at the church center alone. So let me start here…

Being Friday, we all left the offices at 1pm for the beginning of the weekend. I now know the offices close at 1pm so that others can have enough ‘sun-time’ to get home in other towns for the weekend. On our way, it suddenly began to pour, become very windy, and cold. With the umbrella I borrowed from Baba Khathi, we walked really close to one another, laughed together, walked even slower than the slow walk we were already doing, and held somewhat of a casual conversation. When we arrived at Samke’s home, drenched from the knees down, I found out that the kids she had been talking about were her chickens that she raises. As we walked through the gate to her home, they all came running towards us and she stated, “We are not feeding you now! Go run around in the rain and play!” I could do nothing else but laugh. As we walked into her home, taking off our muddy shoes and wet socks first, she had me sit down and commanded that I changed out of my wet pants into something dry so that I didn’t get sick. So I did exactly that. We ate a nice hot meal, boiled white rice and dry beans, for lunch and then noticed the sun beginning to shine. Finally I could get outside and see things. We went straight to her chicken pen, where she put the chicks back into their home (cage) and she checked for other random things to fix that were rearranged due to the wind and rain. She also showed me her garden, which isn’t small by the way, and mentioned to me that we were going to plant some seeds the following day since the soil was nice and moist and ready for planting. Then from afar, we saw Phili (short for Philisiwe), the Bishop’s Secretary for the ELCSA SED Office, who was getting ready for a Labola celebration at her home the following evening. By the time I got to look around and see a bit more of things the sun began to set and Bongi, Samke’s daughter-in-law, just arrived home balancing a 5 kg (11 lb) bag of chicken feed on her head. The three of us had dinner, talked about how I was going to balance the bag on my head next, enjoyed each other’s company, laughed like there was no tomorrow, and slept until who knows when.

When Saturday came around, Samke and I woke up with the sun to feed the chickens. How exciting! I ended up playing around with the roosters and hens and laughed as they ran from one side to the other fetching the chicken feed that I had tossed in every direction on the ground. We then had porridge and then got back into bed as Samke said it was too early to be up on a Saturday. We ended up singing from the Zulu hymn book. As we sang each song all I could remember was how relaxing, at peace, and beautiful the very moment was. And when a couple of hours passed, and we could now get out of bed, I remember Samke telling me, “I’m so honored to have you in my home. I can’t put into words, into English words, how thankful I am to have you here with me. Oh, Vale! (my nickname since most can’t pronounce my name) And you sing so beautifully too, no wonder you’re in the choir with me!” It was then that I began to feel the warmth of family and home in a place that was nothing like I had ever imagined being.

So when we got out of bed, Samke began to gather her butternut and maize meal seeds, her “hoo” tool for digging up the soil, and she put on her boots that looked like rain boots but tougher. As she made holes in the garden, she told me which seeds and how many of each to put in each hole. When we were done, she fetched the fertilizer (which was the chicken waste mixed with moist soil), we placed it on top of the seeds, and then covered the holes with the soil Samke had just dug up to make the holes. Then we stood together, mud on our hands, clothes, and skin, and prayed for our crops to grow nice and strong so that it may provide us food later on. I was honored to stand beside Samke. I wasn’t even at her home for a full 24 hours yet, but to feed her kids (chickens), to sing with her, to plant in her garden and be in the mud, and to hold her hand, pray, and smile, was a part of life that I didn’t even know I was missing until that moment. We then had “breakfast,” what I would call “brunch,” took a bath, and then headed our way towards Mama Samke’s home, Samke’s mom.

On our way there, it began to rain heavily; another adventure just ahead. With the shoes we were both wearing, we might as well have danced our way down the muddy paths with all of the slipping and sliding we were doing, but with the grace of God neither one of us fell down and we made it with only mud on our shoes. Mama Samke didn’t know English, but with the isiZulu I knew I made sure to use each and every word… and smile at the same time too! As I watched her talk with Samke, I felt honored to visit with her, be in her presence, stay in her home for a bit, look around, and feel the presence of being a bit deeper in Maphumulo and its people. By the end of our visit, Mama Samke gave me a heart-felt hug, placed her hand on my chest (as if to feel my heart beat that would make me become one with the pulse running through her hand), and then told me to come back soon (of course knowing she said this with the help of Samke as our translator). In a big smile I replied with, “Yebo (yes),” placing my hand on her elbow and then said, “Sala khalle (goodbye).” With the big smile and great laugh she gave me, due to speaking isiZulu I’d suppose, she responded with, “Hamba khalle (go well),” and Samke and I were on our way back to her home, in the never-ending rain, up another muddy path to begin another dance.

The rest of the day was just more time to spend with one another until Bongi returned home from working at the hospital. When she arrived home, the three of us had dinner (uphuthu and beef stew, yum!), and then Samke went straight to sleep probably due to the fun we all had the previous night. Bongi and I ended up staying awake for a while. She mentioned to me that she had seen me in the hospital several times and asked me why I was there. I told her that I was a volunteer there following the doctors, and with that said we ended up going through her nursing materials and studied together. By the time we both began to yawn, she ended up telling me that I had to come over more so that I could help her study, especially for a nursing exam that was coming up soon. We then went to bed and the weekend soon came to an end.

This past weekend was another weekend with nothing planned, and with that said I ended up having another mysterious weekend. I ended up going to an unveiling at the Umphumulo Cemetery with Trevor, a friend I had made heading towards the Young Adults League Conference a while back, Saturday morning. An unveiling is where family and friends come together to witness the ‘unveiling’ of the tombstone for the family member or friend who had passed a while back. At the Umphumulo Cemetery, not all burial sites have a tombstone, but when the family is able to purchase one a ceremony of blessings is done. Since arriving in Umphumulo, I have found myself attending more funeral type services than anything else, but I’m not really complaining about it either… ironic, I know! Actually, it is here that I am getting more into the Zulu culture, meeting new people, having a good conversation, and most importantly not being at the church center alone. The whole environment of these types of services is very optimistic, full of singing, clapping, and dancing, and full of colors! Also, whether a funeral or an unveiling, these types of services are more celebratory than anything else; yes there are those who cry and those who mourn and feel the emptiness of the one being remembered, but the aura that is made amongst the family, friends, and rest of the community that has come for support, is just not the same. One thing I find very impressive, is that the community from ALL directions come; they come jam-packed in vehicles or in little crowds by foot making the support a bigger deal than the distance. Also, death is more about being home, retrieving the feeling of happiness, and knowing that life goes on. It is amazing to be a part of something so celebratory that maybe shouldn’t be, but should something like this be so sad? After the ceremony there was a lunch at the hall next to Baba and Mama Mabaso’s home, Baba Mabaso is the local Baba (Father) for the Umphumulo Lutheran Church. Here I had more of the delicious South African food; beef stew, fried chicken, cole slaw, chutnye (a mix of tomatoes, onions, and green chilies), chakalaka (a mix of fried carrots and onions), butternut pumpkin (my favorite!), rice, and tripe (not really my favorite in the South African style, but in Menudo-Mexican style- it’s delicious!). After eating, was more conversing and getting to look at and adore the African dresses worn by the women. Hopefully I can get one made for me soon! Trevor had then introduced me to Doyo, who I found is a twin too! So she and I spent lots of time getting to know one another, talking about home, family, and friends. Then as the rain was beginning to come again, the three of us (Doyo, Trevor, and me) headed to a home nearby to have more food, conversations, and for me I learned a bit more about “Ubuntu.”

As people arrived, they either conversed in circles inside the kitchen (no, not in the living room!), outside by the vehicles, or outside in the garage; I found myself following Trevor and Doyo to the garage. As I sat on a crate I found myself feeling like I was at home or even in Mexico; seeing people gather in the kitchen/dining room instead of the living room (I’d guess it’s because of the food, but nothing wrong with that in my eyes!), sitting in a circle on anything that could withhold a person outside, watching people come and go, observing the circle getting bigger and bigger as the time kept passing, loud music coming from the small store across the street, and listening to the stories and jokes shared by each person. It’s things like this that make people feel more than just an everyday person; in Spanish it’s “la raza” (the brotherhood) and in Zulu it’s “ubuntu” (humanity).

Being in Maphumulo, South Africa, ubuntu is like a single oxygen atom floating around in the air waiting to attach to another oxygen atom so that its people can “breathe it in” making it a supplemental oxygen molecule. South Africans breathe in this oxygen, let it fill into their lungs and circulate into their bloodstream, and then exhale it into the air to share it with another. Now, I can compare this to what it’s like when I reminisce about being at home with my family or during family get-togethers in the States, and I even get more of a sense of it when I reminisce about visiting family in Mexico too. Maybe it’s this ubuntu that has made me feel at home because what it is here is what it is like where I have already been. I’ve grown up being a very family oriented person, that here the sense of family is everywhere. Maybe that’s why a part of me has felt homesick, but most times it just quickly diminishes and isn’t there.

Humanity. Brotherhood. Family. Whether here or there, it feels like the same kind of environment and way of living amongst its people, but the air has its differences. It’s kind of like being an identical twin, like myself. We may look exactly the same, but once you get to know us we are just different in our ways. The underlying moral of what ‘ubuntu,’ ‘la raza,’ and ‘family’ is, for me, is the same, but they have its differences. Being alongside the community here in Maphumulo and being able to get a bit deeper than just what one sees, has allowed me to taste the sweetness of ubuntu. From here on out, only the Lord knows what lies ahead as I begin to breathe in more of the community and share more with my family, here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Philippians 4:13…

“I can do all things through Christ who STRENGTHENS me.”

I sit down on my bed looking out my bedroom window and what do I see? Being in Umphumulo, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen with my own eyes, I see the sun sitting on top of the mountains, which are literally so close that I almost feel like I can touch if I reach my arm outside of the window, and I see the sun rays of bright yellow and bold orange and red surrounding the sky above. I see the birds flying around, going to their homes I suppose, and the trees doing the same vivid dance and song as the wind blows between their branches and leaves… and I sit here and can only be so thankful. This past week has probably been the MOST eye-opening and eventful weeks I’ve ever had since being in South Africa, and what lessons I’m learning and growth I’m gaining.

I think it beautiful how God knows who to place in our lives, when they enter and go, and how there’s REALLY a time, a season for things to happen throughout it too. It has been a blessing to get to know the people I’m living around, more specifically, Nomfundo. The more time I spend with her, get to know her, and understand her, I’m learning more about myself that I did not even know, but at the same time I’m allowing myself to see that I am not perfect either. Here at Umphumulo, my life has been introduced to a side of things that my mind has never thought of, and it’s just the reality of life here. It’s a bit surprising too because you’d think I’d feel bad or want to change what’s going on, but I feel more like reassured yet humbled, like getting to the main idea yet not even knowing what it is, like knowing what I’ve taken for granted and then learning how to be without it completely, like knowing HIV/AIDS exists yet still living life like it has never existed… it is growth and learning by listening and observing.

For a week now, I’ve been having this problem with the running water at my home; now knowing that the running water here at Umphumulo has a mind of its own. Well one day, my hot water wasn’t getting hot, so as I gathered my pots to begin boiling some water to bath (something I have found to take 15-20 minutes each morning), my “hot” water began to stop running. Then as I turned on the cold water, it slowly stopped running too. The only thing I thought of was to try the faucet outside and keep my fingers crossed that whatever was wrong with my connection wasn’t going on with the outside faucet. To my luck, I was able to fill my pots up two times each to make some hot water for my bath, but out of nowhere that began to stop running too. So, with the only pot of cold water I had, and feeling the coldness of the weather outside (yes, it’s still cold and wet in the mornings here!) I decided to make porridge; at least I could enjoy a hot breakfast. As the water began to boil, I added my oats and noticed I had too much water. So, I took my pot to the sink. Well, I guess I didn’t push down on the lid enough that as it drained, the lid slipped off and most of my porridge fell into the sink too. “GREEAT!” So as I turn the cold water faucet to clean up the mess, NOTHING comes out, well only because the running water isn’t working, remember?!?! I’m about to just flip out and become frustrated, but instead find myself closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and praying. I think to myself, I’m sure Dlamini, the handyman for the church center, can help me find a solution to the running water and thank the Lord for what porridge I have knowing that some don’t even have a taste. Patience. Problem Solving. Prayer. The three P’s in my life right now, and I’m getting to see a side of myself I’ve never deeply experienced in this way.

Talking with Nomfundo, I feel like we have so much in common; our ideas and opinions on certain topics just seem to be on the same frequency at times and there have been several occasions where we don’t have to explain things to its fullest because we already know what we are trying to explain to one another, and this brings us to laughter because we know we do it too. But with this reoccurring event, I think to myself, of all the places in the world, God has brought me here. Out of all the people in the world I could be connecting with, the one person He has sent to enter my life and impact it in such a different way, is Nomfundo. Of all the places we both could have been, we are both here at this time with each other… learning, listening, and just being here for one another as life takes its toll on each of us. We both have our different cultures, appearances, and backgrounds, but the love of God we both share is what brings us to where we are… with each other.

I’m not obligated to explain Nomfundo’s story, but know that she took a halt in her civil engineering career to work for the church, and me, I’m taking a pause in my healthcare education and career to find myself, my specific career, and get a different view of what the world is like; doing this for the FIRST time without my family. But I feel even though I left my family in the States, I had a big sister waiting for my arrival in South Africa. With the turns, yields, and sudden stops God has put in both of our lives, Nomfundo and I have found each other. I see this as a gift from God, and it reassures me even more that God places people into our lives for a reason; He just knows who we need. It is this gift God has blessed me with that helps me get through times when I feel homesick or alone, or times to share like making my first African meal, singing acapelo at home, or laughing hysterically at something that happened the previous day. How ironic this has all happened because I was intimidated of the unknown at the beginning, but I left it all to God.

Nomfundo has even found the words to help me through something that I never hoped I would have had to go through while away from home too. God has this way of testing our faith by placing circumstances in our path at certain times, but it is how we persevere that defines the meaning of our true faith and allow us to know the love God has given to us. There was an unexpected death in my family, and I remember as I read the emails sent to me by my sister and father how full of shock, sadness, and homesickness I was feeling. I remember telling Nomfundo how I felt helpless and far away, but that my older sister told me to not worry, stay focused on why I’m in South Africa, and that everyone understands why I’m gone. Then my dad’s email said everyone is comforting each other so not to get too sad, but being so far away, that’s a big part of what I was feeling. As I recalled these emails to Nomfundo, after work in my home, she told me to just cry. That even though she knows I’m a strong, faithful young woman, it’s okay to cry. As she continued to talk, all I could remember was a story she shared with me about burdens. It goes something like this:

One day there was a woman who came to God carrying a cross. And she came to God complaining about how heavy her cross was. So after hearing the woman, God allowed her to trade her cross with another cross that was there before God. So the woman put her cross down and began to try all the other crosses, but as she tried each one, each cross seemed heavier than the other. But, when she finally picked a cross from the bunch before God, she said to God, “I pick this cross, Lord, as it doesn’t seem as heavy as all the others.” So, God granted her to take that cross, but only to tell the woman she had picked the cross that was originally hers.

I thought of this story because there are burdens, trials, and challenges at times in our lives we feel we can’t handle because of EVERYTHING that just seems to go wrong or happen all at once, our cross is too heavy. However, going through all of these things makes us human and, through my own experiences, at times we all fall short. But it is our faith that guides us to handle the circumstance(s), and this is His mercy and grace given to us that allows us to realize our cross isn’t so heavy after all; as stated in my FAVORITE book, James 1:2-4, 12 (pick up your Bible or Google it, and read it!). It is Nomfundo who has helped me to become even more open-minded than what I am, she has helped me become patient to differences, she has helped me know and even admit to myself that I am NOT perfect, but above all she has been my family knowing that my family is so far away. She has helped me to see EVEN MORE that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” as stated in Philippians 4:13. Then out of nowhere Gogo (Grandmother) Jabu, the bookkeeper here for the ELCSA SED Office, came to me and asked if I would like to lead the morning devotion in the chapel for Wednesday, this is an event that is done every morning at 8am since I’ve arrived in Umphumulo. Knowing that I was not myself, I think this was the only way Gogo Jabu thought to help me, but in all regards I decided to tell Gogo Jabu, “Ok,” thinking in the end, if I can’t be with the ones I love, then I will do something for the One I love.

I decided to read from the book of Luke chapter 12 versus 22-34, under the title ‘Do Not Worry,’ and shared an in depth prayer that I have never done aloud to more than my sisters or my mom, and I want to share it with you too.

Dear Heavenly Father,
We are thankful for the breath of life that You have provided us today, for the opportunity to be here together, and for the friendships that we have with each other, and thank you, Lord, for the rain too! Lord, I ask that you watch over each and every one of our families as they go through their own trials, tribulations, and joys. It is with You and it is because of You, Lord, that we are all able to grow. We are thankful for the love You have given us and ask You to help us remember that the challenges we face are tests of our own faith, because the testing of our faith develops perseverance, which allows us to know the love You have given to us. I ask that you continue to bring peace and walk with us, our families, and friends today, tomorrow, and always.
Amen.

As I learn, as I grow, as I find who I am through the three P’s, and as I breathe it all in… I remember that He is always with me, comforting me, supporting me, and guiding me. “34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” As I continue to be accompanied by my fellow South Africans, I close with part of a song by JJ Heller called “Your Hands.”

I have unanswered prayers,
I have trouble I wish wasn’t there,
And I have asked a thousand ways,
That You would take my pain away.
I am trying to understand,
How to walk this weary land,
Make straight the paths that crooked lie,
Oh Lord before these feet of mine.
When my world is shaking, Heaven stands.
When my heart is breaking, I never leave Your Hands.

In the words of Rev. Brian Konkol, my gracious country coordinator, may the Lord’s peace rest within you and be with you this day and always…

Friday, October 1, 2010

Identity...

It has now been over 3 weeks since I arrived in Umphumulo, and now that I have been here for some time I’m beginning to experience more of the realization of who I am in South Africa. Nomfundo, my adopted big sister who lives the closest to me, has really taken me under her wing; she took me home with her one weekend in Ulundi, she cooks for me, we laugh ALL the time together, we have really in depth conversations about life, Christianity, and relationships, and it was her and her friends that gave me my Zulu name… Thandeka, meaning loveable; which I LOVE dearly! But it was this past weekend at the Young Adults League (YAL) Conference in Intshanga where I was faced with something I did not even think I would have ever had a problem with… who I am.

Being at the YAL Conference turned out to be a blissful yet challenging weekend; blissful in the fact that I saw and spent some time to catch up with 8 of 11 YAGM, but challenging in the fact that we experienced a league full of praise and worship in ‘growth.’ By this I mean the procedure of things were very pleasant, full of God, and orderly, yet there were minor details throughout the sessions that were continuously noted and discussed. In the end, the board of the YAL, the religious leaders present, and members of the YAL all had a positive outlook to fix and/or improve the league. I believe it was Bishop Bowles, a religious leader for the YAL, who made a very important point and concluded, “Brothers and sisters, there is one common ground which brings us all here to work on these problems, and that is God. If we did not believe in God, if we did not LOVE God, then we would not be here, but we are. This, brothers and sisters, is what makes us ONE no matter what we think is right or wrong.” The theme for the YAL Conference was ‘Unity in Diversity,’ and with this theme there were definitely things that were pointed out to be different amongst the people, but it was fixed, noted, and left for improvement… ending in unity. What I also thought was a great blessing in disguise was the fact of knowing all 11 official languages of South Africa were present at the YAL Conference. Getting to listen and hear the differences and similarities of the languages was GREAT, and it made me feel good to know that I could understand ONE of them!! Even though I only know a small bit of Zulu, this just leaves room for increasing my Zulu vocabulary; which is always increasing with each passing day… Yebo!

But what I want to touch base on is something that I have found South Africa to bring me to reality with. Since a situation that happened while attending the Conference this past weekend, the idea of who I am in South Africa and to its natives has made an even more apparent ‘itch’ on me. Since visiting Ulundi with Nomfundo, I’ve heard a common phrase that has been stated towards me, “mlungu.” In English, this means ‘white person,’ and I have not taken it offensively, but it has made me think to myself, “I’m not even white,” and I have been dealing with the issue of being called a ‘white person.’ In the States I am Latina, brown, a minority, and I know and have been through certain struggles, but for the FIRST time in my life I am white to those around me and, to some, I am stereotyped in this white American category which I have never lived, experienced, or known. This has been a bit of a struggle for me, and I know being stereotypical is not the ‘right’ thing to do, but they are there and people are human; whether South African, Mexican, American, or from any other country, and we all fall short with the mercy of God.

As a minority in the States and then as something very different in another country, it IS a struggle for me because it is a concept that I have never experienced myself. I am a bit disheartened being placed into this group, but it also reminds me that apartheid was a SIGNIFICANT part of several older black South Africans still living today. Therefore, I do not automatically take into offense the statements that are being stated towards me or the situations that I have gone through with certain adults. I listen to them, kindly give them an understanding of who I am and why I believe this, and then go back home and pray. Being human, the fact that I have to deal with this struggle frustrates me, but because I am a minority, my family struggled, and my family is where we are today because each generation worked hard for themselves to progress… and it is still continuing. This is what I feel is the idea which is being fulfilled or TRYING to be fulfilled within black South African families. And through a process of change, now the same quality of education is provided, there are no signs or barriers as to who can or can’t walk along certain areas of the beach, jobs and even the same ‘top quality’ job titles are offered, and the list goes on and on… but then again all of this is offered to some degree. This brings even more questions because as I was traveling with Baba Khathi, my supervisor at the ELCSA SED offices, towards the YAL Conference I remember him sharing with me how even though apartheid is ‘extinct,’ some private schools increased the pay for tuition to keep blacks from attending, and so there are still some ways in which white South Africans have “out-smarted,” according to Baba Khathi, the change of South Africa no longer being apartheid. In my own experience, there are private hospitals and public hospitals which see either a majority of white or a majority of black South Africans. From volunteering at the Umphumulo Public Hospital for over 2 weeks now, I see that I am the only nonblack young adult who walks through the entrance gate, and I wonder, are the HIV/AIDS patients I’ve seen even getting the same quality health care a person being seen at a private hospital is receiving? Due to sitting in on some circumstantial doctor’s meetings, I’m only led to believe it is not so easy working in a public versus working in a private hospital with what is being offered instrumental and medical wise… and this list goes on and on.

So getting back to my point, I’m struggling because I know who I am, but while in a third world country, who I am is NOT who I’m seen to be. While a minority in the States, I am also still a minority in South Africa, but in an entirely different way and with privileges I’ve never had. Who I am is nonexistent due to history here, and it is this reality of ‘not being me’ that frustrates me. Because if being who I am was a reality, then I would not be put into a group that has NEVER been something I’ve been defined with. So I want to share with you a struggle I have been faced with, a situation that has opened my eyes, and altogether, as ‘being’ with the South Africans, we are learning from each other because I am not just accepting it either. After talking with Nomfundo about it, I see that I am learning that as this country changes and its people change, that in due time… in His time, things will become better because majority of its people are changing too. Again, this reminds me of the drive towards the YAL Conference, when Baba Khathi told me that the country will see a better change when his children, his grandchildren, and so on, become older and start making decisions for this country that will allow this change to become easier. This is because they did not witness apartheid as a first hand event; they will have only heard stories from their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on, and the change will not be as hard. Baba Khathi stated, “I feel because I have witnessed apartheid and I have been racially discriminated, that even though apartheid is no more I still have that little sense of not trusting anyone other than blacks. But because I know apartheid is no more, I find myself having to struggle with something that I have, for the majority of my life, known to be true. And that my dear friend, is just the reality of me.” And then I remember talking with Nomfundo who stated, “Even though I have not experienced apartheid first hand, I feel we still feel like [white South Africans] have that existing power over us even though it’s not like that anymore; maybe it’s just in our blood. It just seems like even though they are white and make a statement it should just be done. Or [in the reverse side] if you see a white person in a humble home or maybe begging for money you think to yourself ‘what is he doing?’ And that’s probably why when a black South African gets into a high office and he makes a statement, that he feels he needs to make a strong statement, especially if mlungu is around, so that he CAN be heard and taken seriously. That’s just the way it is for some reason.” After these words were stated, my eyes were opened, and I completely respected the reality of what Baba Khathi, Nomfundo, and probably several other black South Africans thought, and it was that moment of the ‘light bulb’ turning on.

I can only ask the Lord to help me understand these concepts being put on me in another country. Who I am, may not be my identity to others outside of the States, but being ‘white’ when I have always known to be ‘brown’ is becoming a battle within myself right now; especially for the FIRST time ‘being’ (however you want to take it) this far away from home. In my heart, I do not just want to accept it, but help others to see that I am NOT what they automatically think. However, because of where I am, I am trying my hardest to be patient when I just want to know why, be considerate towards their truths, be accompanied by my hosts, and allow the Spirit of Christ to work to and through us because it is He, in the end, that allows us to have a greater understanding and be at peace. Again, I ask for guidance from Him as I toss and turn identity in a place that is NOT home, but in several ways still feels like it…

Monday, September 20, 2010

New people, New life, New adventures… But the environment still feels the same…

So it’s been over a week since I first arrived in Umphumulo and the adventures I have been experiencing have all been happening way too fast! The one thing that I find so surprising and yet relieving is how close to home everything around me, well… IS! The people who have accommodated me have been so helpful that it forces me to reminisce being at home in San Antonio, Texas as well as visiting my family in Mexico; no matter who you are we treat you like FAMILY even though we may have only known and met you that very instant. That is how it has been like for me, and I’ve been blessed to have entered such a wonderful place that is so far from home, yet so close to my heart.
This past weekend was my first weekend away from the other YAGM, but it was most definitely a weekend to remember. The King of the Zulu Kingdom/Nation, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, was turning 62 years old and to my surprise Bishop Buthelezi took ME as his guest. So why didn’t he take his wife, you may ask. Well it turns out she had a prior commitment so I just got lucky! Taking into consideration the fact of just going without knowing what I was getting myself into, I just said, “Okay,” without any hesitation or explanation. So starting from Umphumulo, Bishop Buthelezi and I began our 4 hour drive to Nongoma, the city of the royal family, to this once in a lifetime event. But it was during this drive that I began to see and realize the outside reality of South Africa. This place was so beautiful but on the flip side it was so harsh. As Bishop Buthelezi told me story after story it was then that I realized the growth I was beginning to gain.
You see, even after the 2010 world cup there is still so much poverty and work that needs to be done for South Africa, and when the visitors came from different parts of the world they failed to get outside of the developed cities. So, the world may still be blinded by what majority of the country is still really like and the help that is still needed. This is also true when visitors come to the USA; foreigners tend to visit the developed cities (like Chicago or New York City) and believe the whole country to be fortunate, but that’s another story. Something I really held onto from what Bishop Buthelezi stated in our long journey was that it was good that I came here from the United States. He told me my experience will make me wiser because I will have seen something more or nothing than even my own family has ever experienced. I know I have family serving in the military that have been overseas or who have spent their time for the military, but everyone’s reasons for going and experiencing is different, right? So, Bishop Buthelezi and I talked about several things going to the King’s birthday dinner and it has led me to realize this is only just the beginning of my journey here, in South Africa.
On a not so serious note, I’ve come to realize that food is a big part of socialization and culture here, too! Being the food fanatic that I am, this has been my favorite part of my visit to South Africa thus far. Learning to make native South African dishes and then sharing some Mexican dishes that I’ve learned back home has been a great way for me to get to see new faces, to know other people, to laugh and smile and make mistakes, and just listen to what others have to say. I don’t know if it’s because I feel ‘safe’ in the kitchen, but having this opportunity to do something both cultures share has been a blessing in disguise. Even when entering the South Eastern Diocese’s (SED) office, where I am volunteering for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA) for Bishop Buthelezi, the other workers are so happy to see me and my SMILE every morning (I only know this due to the compliments I have already been given). I’ve been so welcomed by them that I feel like I’ve been volunteering here for years already, and the thought of feeling homesick, once I left on August 18th, has just been thrown out the window; I only have God to thank for sending these heartwarming South Africans in my life too.
So far, I have already begun to volunteer at the hospital down the road from the Diocesan center and I’m attending the local choir practices. Just by getting to know the other workers and letting them know what I am interested in TRYING, because the Lord knows I’ve not done everything that is done around here, I have been able to spend my time wisely and experience what this beautiful place has to offer. Soon I will be going to my first soccer practice and maybe helping to teach mathematics at the high school here in Umphumulo, but as the time keeps flying by I am constantly reminded, during my morning run, why I am here… to just be and focus on breathing it all in.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Here I go...

The one week or so of "in-country" orientation located in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa has been a week to remember... so far. The whole group (11 total) will be heading off to our placement sites this Monday, September 6th... and what a day full of excitement, anxiety, and craziness that will be.

Our orientation, here, has been great. Talking with a Bishop and Dean within the ELCSA, has really opened my eyes to things I never really put my mind to... but actually does exist in this world... even at home. But being here hasn't ALWAYS been so serious... we went to a couple of natural reserves where we had the chance to see what Africa has to offer! From zebras, to giraffes, to beautiful scenery, to everything in between... it was all there! But, for me, what has made this orientation most worth while... and probably just making the time pass away... is the conversations that I've been able to have with the other 10 YAGM here, enjoying every minute with me. Whether it was a one-on-one conversation... or all of us just enjoying each others company... I have enjoyed the quality time that we have shared to actually get to stop and listen to one another, comfort each other, laugh with or even at one another, and just again BREATHE each other in. We've talked about the most random things too, and the fact of not having any internet or technology... has really allowed us to have that. Maybe the fact that where we are staying, the internet is NOT working well, is because God wants us to enjoy one another and not become preoccupied with everything else. What a blessing of fate...

Each and every one of us here... has a gift, a background, a story... but in the end we are all here together. I can't wait to see what the path of Accompaniment has to offer each and everyone of us throughout this coming year. Combining SOLIDARITY and INTERDEPENDENCE to form MUTUALITY... this has been the general idea of orientation. What a beautiful way of being...

So what's in store... Sunday we are to go to a service that is supposed to be a service to remember... and then we will be getting ready, AGAIN, for another travel, but this time on our OWN. As long as it's NOT in an airplane, in small cramped spaces, or have to do with any airports... I'm ready for traveling, learning, listening, and the new surroundings. I'm excited, yet nervous... complacent, yet anxious... but I'm leaving the unknown in God's hands... because I know His hands are the safest place to be.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Before The BIG Day...

So... I'm leaving tomorrow from Chicago at 10:30pm... on a two day trip to my final destination in Johannesburg, South Africa. From here, me and my fellow YAGM companions will meet our country coordinators where they will take us to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa for an 'In-Country Orientation,' which will last until September 3, 2010. On September 4th all 11 of us will be heading off to our individual placement sites; mine in Mapumulo, South Africa. It seems like the long wait has finally come and believe it or not I am still having feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and excitement. All of the alums I have met here at orientation in Chicago... want to go back... and it makes me feel uncertain as to why I am feeling this way. I know I will struggle with the fact that I will not be able to see family and friends as often as I have ALWAYS been able to, but I am reminded by my mom and sisters that this is a blessing. God would not send me to do this... if I wasn't ready, but I am.

I am nervous and intimidated of the unknown, but I know God walks beside me. That when I am alone, although still difficult to fully believe, He will keep me secure and safe. He knows what paths I will take, He knows the challenges I will face, and He, most of all, knows me... So I will go, for Him.

At the closing ceremony here in Chicago Orientation for the 2010-2011 YAGM, there was something read aloud that really moved me... and I want to share it with you too. It was during the 'Anointing of Hands for Service' and it was written by Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world;
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good;
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.

Being here at orientation... has not really been the easiest of times, but in the end I am reminded of why I am here... for others. I have been called by God to do this. The Lutherans have this practice called 'Accompaniment.' Which I have understood to be like intertwining SOLIDARITY and INTERDEPENDENCE to form MUTUALITY... which is beautiful. All 44 of us are missionaries, but missionaries in a sense of taking a 'breath' of our foreign friends and our new friends taking a 'breath' of us... in. The differences we have, in the end... turn out to be a sense of oneness, a sense of being more similar than we thought, and a sense of finding a mutualistic part in us all.

Am I nervous, scared, afraid right now this very second before I go? Automatically I think yes, but when I reminisce on all of the things we have all shared and learned this past week... my response is, "I am ready."