Umphumulo, South Africa

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.