Umphumulo, South Africa

Friday, June 3, 2011

Coming To An End, But It’s Not Over Just Yet…

It’s been close to 10 months since being in Umphumulo and time has surely done almost every single thing you can possibly imagine; from flying by to just staggering, but overall the time has been full of smiles and cries, laughs and frustrations. It’s really, REALLY difficult for me to just sit here and sum up how my year has been for me, better yet what this year MEANS for me. Since arriving in Umphumulo’s Church Center the people I’ve met that have turned into friends and the friends I’ve made that have turned into family are really what have made my time here unforgettable. Throughout the year I have managed to grow in a way that is indescribable, I have learned how to become a stronger independent, young woman of God, and I have most importantly learned the way, the feeling, and the smell of Ubuntu that my rural Zulu community is continuously showing me and their neighbors.

So where to begin… Maybe for me, I knew this year was about trying to figure out if I really wanted to attend medical school. Well, after volunteering at the local hospital, I MOST DEFINITELY want to go into healthcare, but maybe not in the doctoral position. I have found that as I shadowed the doctors in the Umphumulo Hospital that I do love to work with them and see the things that they can do, but the time they all spent away from their own families was a deal breaker for me. Yes! All the doctors have told me it’s not that big of a deal, but then again none of them are female and most of their wives are at home, by choice not by force I might add! I couldn’t see myself not raising my own children one day… so I’ve made my decision to apply to a Physician Assistant program once I get my feet soaked back into my own home grounds. With much discernment and taking this time to really understand what I want for myself and what God has gifted me with… I can live life being okay with becoming a Physician Assistant. Yes, I still get the shaking of the head when I tell the doctors (more specifically Dr. Pukana and Dr. Gervais) that I’m going to PA school, but with the letters of recommendation they’ve written for me I know that deep down they are so proud of who I am and will become. I’ve been really blessed to have the doctors at the hospital around too; Dr. A. Pukana, Dr. G. Kabeya, Dr. E. Rajaram, Dr. Raj, and Dr. M. Parastzak… they have all been a big part of my life and growth here in Umphumulo.

Then there’s the community… who would have thought that I would have learned more about what I want to do and who I am just by being with the community. There’s this saying in isiZulu that goes, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” In literal translation this means, a person is a person by other people. When you read the word ‘by,’ however, it’s not the ‘by’ in the tense of being a result of other people, but more along the lines of being along side or next to other people. So read the literal translation again… For me this means, you are who you are as a person, but you can’t live on your own. I’ve seen that when those who have what some may see as ‘everything,’ they still go to their neighbors home to ask for something. This is not because they are stingy, but because they want that relationship; it’s more in the tense of making sure their neighbor is okay.

After the people living around where I was living started becoming more comfortable around me and I them, they kept ‘visiting’ my home and then ask for something; whether it was onions, sugar, flour, tomatoes, etc… they just kept coming to my home for something. At first, it bothered me! But as I became understanding of how the community works… better yet how my community is with one another and not trying to bring others down, but grow together… I began to see that we help one another because we may need the help in the future; not that we are ‘expecting’ the help in the future because we know we may need it one day, but we help because that’s our humanity.

Have you heard the statement, “It takes a community to raise a child.” Forgive me as I’ve forgotten who made the statement, but what this boils down to is that we cannot have everything, ALONE. God made each and every one of us to love and to have relationships of all kinds. He brings people into our lives for EVERY reason; to explore and not become closed minded about other things. Lord knows that I have learned how to accept that the way I chop onions and the way onions should be chopped in South Africa are very different, but by accepting our differences and continuing to learn something new from each other… the relationships we make within our community will continue to grow WITH and ALONGSIDE one another.

So what exactly does my time in South Africa mean to me? It’s a time to understand the real meaning of who people are. It’s a time to see people and not just brush by them. It’s a time to greet someone and ask how they are and really mean it. It’s a time to accept God’s people and recognize that no matter where I am He shines in each and every face. As for the MUD3 group, I believe this year was a mixture of a time to become more independent, a time to understand who we are, a time to reconnect, a time to get away from troubles and pressures, a time to become more faithful, a time to get out of the rate race that was unconsciously pulling us in, and a time to understand what God wants us to do with our lives. Like stated in 1 Corinthians 7:7, God has blessed each and every one of us with our own gifts. Within the MUD3 group we each have our own specialties and after this year I think that most of us will have an idea of what is to happen when we get home. I’m not saying that I have a definite plan myself, but I’ve an idea that I can only hope will turn out the way I’d like. After being in South Africa for almost a year ANYTHING can happen; as life has its way of unpredictability!

And so, God continues to work with me and through me in ways that I may never even understand or know. Above all, the relationships I have and the people I have met along the way are signs that He is seeing by what I see, He is hearing by what I hear, He is experiencing by what I do, and He is living by opening my eyes and calling my name. I’m continually grateful and blessed to remember that wherever I am and whatever I am facing God always knows, same goes for you too! With the month I still have left, I will continue to be with my community and can only imagine what’s in store for all of us here… until next time, hamba kahle (go well)…

On and Off, On and Off…

Upon my arrival to Umphumulo (11 April 2011), where I was on an awesome adventure visiting Jessie in Kimberly and Andrew in Bloemfontein, the rain and cold weather quickly followed my path. For Umphumulo, when there’s rain that means the electricity will be going and then the running water will just stop coming out of all the taps. It’s almost crazy to say, but I’m so used to these occurrences that when the electricity goes out or the water turns into drips I just say to myself, “Oh Umphumulo… no stress, no worries.” But this past weekend, I had a nice Sunday afternoon to really think about what was happening when all of these ‘series of unfortunate (to some) events’ occur.

Let’s take a moment to get an understanding of South Africa… at least the places that I’ve seen. When it comes to the cities, like Durban or Johannesburg (Joburg), electricity and running water outages are rarely the occasion, but when this does happen in the once in a lifetime event ‘the people’ are quick to recover the problem within hours. Now let’s look at rural South Africa. When the electricity turns off… it’s not because of the shortage in the switchbox (where back at home we would just go to the switchbox and ‘flip the switch’ and then BAM! the electricity is back.), but it is the overuse of electricity in the bigger cities that is making the rural areas run dry of power. So you may think to yourself, how does she know this for sure? Well being the clever scientist that I am… and needing to stimulate my mind when the power does turn off… I thought to myself, “Is there anything else that’s happening throughout this country at the same time Umphumulo becomes even quieter besides the wind or rain that causes this bittersweet occurrence?” Well, to my surprise I most definitely discovered a common theme, but is it coincidence… I’ll really NEVER know.

What I found was when there’s a BIG sporting game being aired on TV (especially when the game is on one of the four basic channels that are aired to the entire nation)… Umphumulo is sure to lose at least the electricity. As I mentioned this to one of the Bishop’s daughters a while back, it was this past weekend where she told me that she thinks I’m right. Not only was it NOT raining at the time, but there was a Chiefs Soccer game being aired on TV this past Saturday night and after ~30 minutes into the game… POOF! the electricity was gone. All I could literally do was laugh, and I laughed even more when I received an SMS (text message) from one of the other YAGM living in Joburg telling me she was out watching the Chiefs game; lucky girl living in the ‘big city.’

Don’t get me wrong… Umphumulo is a wonderful place to live in; as it has taught me how to slow down and see people instead of hurrying up and passing people by. Life is too precious to live on your own, and Umphumulo has helped me to understand the ‘true’ meaning of what that means. But as far as the electricity and water situation goes… I’ll never really know if it IS the ‘big’ cities sucking the power from the rural areas dry, but one thing I know for sure is that Maphumulo is constantly living in the hands of this on and off, on and off game the power likes to play. Is it frustrating? Sure, but living here for 8 months now… it’s just a daily part of life, and of MY life too. So when you’re leaving your room, bathroom, kitchen, or garage I hope you take a second to turn OFF the power instead of leaving it on… and think of me! I feel like I understand my dad more as he was always telling us to open the blinds for natural light or open the windows for cool air during the summer (maybe he did this more for the electricity bill, but whichever works!)

In the mean time, I can only hope that this problem will be solved, especially for the rural areas of South Africa. It is definitely something that needs to be looked into and most definitely something to continue to look forward to in the years to come. But for now, we will all continue to just live as we are and enjoy the times we spend together… with or without electricity! Until next time… Hamba Kahle…

On the Road to Umphumulo…

Throughout my time here in Umphumulo (and everywhere/whenever I had the privilege to visit the other volunteers in Soweto, Bonaero Park, Kenosis, Kimberly, and Bloemfontein… so far!) eating, socializing, believing, praising, and just being has always been a BIG part of my experience within South Africa. When I first arrived in Umphumulo, the first major cultural custom I experienced was the traditional and everyday foods that are deliciously consumed on a daily basis; beef curry, butternut, beetroot, coleslaw, and rice. As I quietly, but politely ate my entire dish I couldn’t help but see how food brought people together... let me further explain.

These days (after 8 months as of 18 April 2011), whenever there is a meeting held at the church center I always seem to find myself helping in the kitchen… it is here where I have learned how to perfect the traditional dishes that are enjoyed daily, have felt the most at home, have experienced a sense of ‘seeing’ and getting to know the ladies that work at the church center, and have seen myself become a happier individual when it comes to cooking for 5 people or over 100. I have also been approached by random pastors asking me if I’m the “volunteer who cooks the delicious food at the church center.” As I smile and giggle, I respond with, “I don’t know… but I am the volunteer who lives here!” Isn’t it funny how when you do something for others without literally knowing it’s a good deed… it tends to turn back around and compliment you; as far as I know I was just learning how to cook these dishes so that I could broaden my love/hobby for cooking. But when it comes to food, especially here in Umphumulo, that’s where the socializing, the business, and the life begin.

I have most definitely learned when it comes to food there will always be fellowship, culture, and faith experienced at some point in time; sometimes all three will be experienced within the same meal too! As we all take part in eating, we pray before we eat, we talk amongst each other, and just enjoy the time spent with one another. To my surprise this is just merely a part of culture within the Christian community. Back home in San Antonio, we do the same things… before we indulge ourselves into the fabulous food (hopefully it’s Mexican too!) we pray and then enjoy each others company. However, it’s the food we are eating that makes each experience a specific cultural one, but when you look at the ‘meat’ of it all… it’s all the same.

The relationship between all four (food, fellowship, culture, and faith) is the ‘coming together’ that makes the experience more enjoyable. When we cook we add the spices and the ingredients together to make the meal what I like to call “getting happy,” when we fellowship we all come together to share the good news (or bad depending on the situation), when we get to know other cultures we get together by coming out of our own comfort zones to find others teaching us so that we may acquire the ‘true’ understanding of how and why things are done the way they are, and in faith we come together to praise our Heavenly Father. If I had to come up with a phrase to sum all of this together, it would have to be, “Food makes the world go round,” as food is really the center of the ‘togetherness.’

In a country where there are 11 official languages and therefore different cultures, what you eat and how you eat it really depicts where you come from. But no matter what languages I hear around me, no matter what types of food I am eating, and no matter if I am eating with cutlery or my own hands… what I have experienced in my times within different parts of South Africa was the same. I sometimes laugh when I think how each and everyone of the 11 volunteers in M.U.D.3, including myself, are really experiencing the same things but in different ways. This really has me get a hold onto believing that God really does work in mysterious ways.

As I read the story “On the Road to Emmaus,” (Luke 24:13-35), I was left with amazement because as Jesus broke the bread, he gave thanks for it and then passed it out for those to eat. But what is even more breathtaking is the conversation that was taking place, the fellowship, before they ate, and they didn’t even know they were talking with Jesus. It doesn’t matter in which order you do these things, what makes this story in the bible, the things I have done at home before coming to South Africa, and the everyday things I’m currently experiencing in Umphumulo and everywhere in between beautiful is that we are all doing the same things.

God has been with me in my cross-cultural experience surrounding food and fellowship in South Africa because I have been able to grow and learn more about myself in a very different way. For example, cooking the native foods, as a non-native and getting compliments has allowed others to see me as more open minded to learning other cultures and being respectful to it. For me, I see God working in all the faces that get to taste what I’ve made because it’s a chance for everyone to see that it’s not the appearance of a person that allows them to cook only certain foods, but the love of cooking, the open-mindedness of learning, and the interdependence of being that makes my culture and the Zulu culture I have been learning mutual… and when two cultures can become one in the same, that is when God is at work.

So, whether I am at home, visiting family in Mexico, or here in South Africa… with food, fellowship, culture, and faith the togetherness and the interdependence I’ve encountered has been an act of God working through me and the wonderful people that have crossed my path thus far. So like “On the Road to Emmaus” story, Jesus wasn’t known present until the end of the day… so was I unaware of God living through the food, fellowship, culture, and faith I have been experiencing here in Umphumulo, and I’ve been here for 8 months now! Do you see why I believe God works in mysterious ways… until next time… hamba kahle…