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.