Umphumulo, South Africa

Friday, June 3, 2011

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…

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