Another way that camp saved my life… (journal excerpt)

To whomever that person was at camp that taught me to put hot water in a Nalgene and into a sleeping bag for warmth, I am very thankful. It has been pouring nonstop for the past two days. I really did not expect it to ever be this cold inside my flat, and I also didn’t think about how the buildings here would not have any heating mechanisms or even be in need of them.

People have joked that I brought the rain with me. Little do they know I danced the rains down in Africa while in Chicago before making it here.

P.S. I only have one large leak in my roof at this point :)

A Sunday Stroll

After my first church experience (we will save that for a later date) and a nap, I decided to walk down the main road to see what was past the schools and church. At the end of the main road, it forks, and I decided to take the left one as there were bulls hanging out in the right fork. Two young guys in front of me saw the odd white girl walking and slowed down to walk with me. After a few minutes a taxi driver passed wanting my phone number and to marry me. I politely declined. Eventually the two guys took off on the paths to their homes leaving me on my own again. The road looked to go on forever, so I turned around as I needed to get back before dark at 6pm. On my way back a different young man asked if he should accompany me. As I was getting close to home, I told him I was okay. However, I was thinking to myself that accompaniment is what I am supposed to be doing this year, and everyone here has a better handle on it than I do. When I hit the main road I heard some grunting behind me. Four goats ended up following me home. TIA! (This is Africa!)

Walking or running down this road has become my favorite, but at times saddest, part of the day. I now see the same people at night coming home from a day of work. People now honk and wave when they pass by (just like good ole Montanans). When I reach Constance’s home, her three grandkids spot me, and come yelling my name to walk a portion of the road with me, which is always my favorite part, even if I don’t really get the workout I had planned for.

I have made some acquaintances on this road. I have been told that I cannot go past a certain point, for safeties’ sake, on this road. I have been about bitten by dogs on this road, which I don’t go past now, for my own safety. I have seen a man lying beside the road too drunk to move. I have had a person try to trick me on this road. I have seen the most beautiful sunsets on this road. I have seen the dilapidated “black” church a block away from a pristine “white” church on this road. I have seen the constant digging of new graves in the cemetery on this road. I have seen baby animals wandering down this road. I have been accompanied on this road.

At our retreat in November, a very wise man shared with us YAGMs that God will meet us on any path we set out on. I know that I have been wanting to try and follow “God’s Path” for me, but I feel that I may have been looking at it all wrong because God does give us the freedom to choose. If we trust in Him, and try to do His will, we are doing the best we can. However, why are some paths rocky and terrible, like the road I live on, and why are some paved and relatively easy? Does God choose these hardships or blessings for us or do we?  Why was I born on a paved road, while others were/are born on dirt paths?

Oh My Goodness

If anyone has spent a little time with me, they might have heard the phrase “oh my goodness” leave my mouth in many different tones. I now have a totally new appreciation and meaning for the expression…

On my first day of work, I strolled down the path lined with pine trees to the chapel for a short morning service to start at 8 AM. Chapel was in Zulu (and always is), so I just sat, prayed, and tried to follow along with the songs in the hymnbook. After a morning in the centre’s office, getting acquainted, I was told that I would be going into town with Ellen and Goodness. We crowded into the old Toyota Hilux, and I hoped for the windows to defrost, as it was a miserable day, so we would not crash. I am sure it was a sight to behold – me crammed between Ellen and Goodness in this little bakkie. Watching Goodness drive I couldn’t help but sing to myself pieces of “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” by The Beach Boys, “Go granny! Go granny! Go granny! Go!” Even though Goodness is not that old, she is a gogo (grandma in Zulu).

After we arrived in Estcourt, I was amazed to see the throngs of people in the streets and businesses. Ellen told me it was pension day, but at the time I didn’t understand. Now I do. Many people (especially the elderly and families with babies) receive grants from the government. For some, it is their only source of income. Seeing all these people, the marketplace, and the town, had my mind reeling.

As we headed out of town, Goodness decided to buckle up for the ride home, which was interesting since she hadn’t buckled up until then. The speed limit was picking up to 80 km/hr as we reached the outskirts of town. I peaked over at the speedometer to see how fast we were actually going. 110…alright. Then she started passing people, not clearing into the other lane, but just enough to skirt around. I had visions of sideswiping, however, we made it home in one piece.

I am now used to the driving South Africa, along with Goodness’s particular style with the bakkie. About two times a week I accompany her into town where we post packages of wafers, get the mail, do banking, get groceries, and do any other errands needed for the centre.

Stay tuned for the next adventure…

The Arrival

We had just finished our orientation in Pietermaritzburg, and it was time to finally travel to our sites. I guess I was pretty nervous, but overall, I was just plain ready to be there. When my bus arrived, I grabbed my bags and headed to the luggage trailer hooked up to the bus. One of the employees told me I must take my largest bag and get it weighed. “Dang it!” I thought, as I had returned a majority of my heavy items from my carry-on to my big suitcase after my flights were over with. It didn’t even cross my mind that bus companies would weigh bags. Seriously, who does that? Anyways…the man weighed two bags in front of me without having to charge them for being too heavy. However, I knew I was doomed for being charged extra – two small children could have been living inside of my bag. As the man heaved my bag on the scale, it was over the limit, but since I was at the end of the line and identifiably foreign, he handed my bag to me and said, “I will catch you next time.”  With a sigh of relief, I brought my bags to the storage trailer and stepped onto the double-decker bus. The top level was stifling, so back to the bottom floor when a lady in the front row asked if I wanted to sit by her. With great thanks I sat down and settled in.

After sitting for a few minutes, the lady introduced herself as Rosh and offered me a bag of traditional Indian snacks. I tried to decline, but she insisted. As we began to talk more, she shared that she was a pastor, and we chatted the entire way about faith, life, careers, and what on earth I was doing in South Africa. When the bus reached the exit to Estcourt, Rosh asked if those people (white people) outside were waiting for me. I answered, “No.” Rosh put the connection together. “Oh, the black woman,” she concluded with skepticism. I grabbed my bag and said, “Yes.”

Outside I was embraced by Ms. Constance and taken to her car. She drove me directly to the grocery store to buy food, which I was not expecting, so I got out of the car, crossed the street, and entered the unknown. After doing the best I could to get the essentials, I was in the checkout lane, ready to pay, when I realized all my money was hidden and giving me an extra boost, if you know what I mean? So I had to discreetly pull out a wad of rand to pay for everything. (Little did I know, many women in South Africa hide their cash there and retrieve it without hesitation.)

After leaving town, we drove for about 20 minutes until there was a sign for the Kwazamokuhle Diaconic Centre. Right off the road was a bottle store. Constance told me she didn’t want to see me there.

I was home.

What are you doing? Like do you have a job?

I am accompanying others? Or trying to? Thus far, the bulk of my “work” has been being present and willing to do whatever is needed from me at the centre. For example, a couple of days I spent writing a Bible verse, a person’s name, and their congregation (in all caps) on about 200 envelopes for a special offering for the church parish. This verse is now forever engrained as my first Zulu Bible verse – AMAHUBO 71:17 “NKULUNKULU UNGIFUNDISILE KWASEBUSHENI BAMI IZIMANGALISO ZAKHO KUZE KUBE MANJE,” which in English is Psalm 71:17. Other days I have typed out curriculum vitaes (South Africa’s term for resumes) for people trying to get jobs in a nation where the unemployment rate is around 40%. For three weeks, I packaged communion wafers (500 to a box…), made by the wafer bakery at the centre I work for, in place of a woman whose mother was extremely ill and ended up passing. Some days I do simple office tasks and run errands in town. Whatever it is that I do, I try to remember to do it with the love of Christ and remember that He is in control.

At times, as you can probably imagine, frustration and depression arise with the lack of human interaction and mental stimulation with my work placement, but I am looking forward to some opportunities opening up in the new year.

When I do get to spend time with people, it brings me so much happiness. South Africans have accompaniment down to an art. I am trying to soak up their ways.

My New Home

My Facebook page says I live in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, which is true in the same sense that if you live in Fairfield, MT, you tell an out-of-stater that you live in Great Falls, hoping they have heard of the closest booming metropolis. Also, Facebook does not recognize Ephangweni as a ‘town’, because it isn’t a town, but a rural area, so Estcourt was my closest option to give people an idea of where I am residing for my year abroad. A Disney song comes to mind, exclaiming, “A whole new world…a dazzling place I never knew.” (Don’t pretend like you didn’t sing it to yourself – everyone has seen Aladdin!) Well you can sing that again and again and again. It is not always “dazzling”, but it is always new.

Eighteen kilometers (stinking metric system) outside of Estcourt toward the Drakensberg Mountains, there is an old Lutheran mission site that has been taken over by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (ELCSA), pretty much in the middle of nowhere, which has become somewhere. This site is now the KwaZamokuhle Diaconic Centre, and it is where I actually reside. Along the dirt road I live on (which is worse than the gravel road to Willow Creek Reservoir) there is a crèche (nursery/preschool), a primary school, a special primary school for the physically and mentally disabled, a high school, a shebeen (bar), and a general dealer. When you look around, you would think not that many people live here, but there are little brick, mud, and traditional Zulu homes smattered across the landscape.

Um, why are you in South Africa?

Warning! If you got the chance to read my horrendous first newsletter, you can skip the next two days, but if you need a refresher of the basics, read on my friend.

This question has probably been in the mind of many as they have heard, one way or another,  that I was going to South Africa for a year. I have also been asking the same question. Here is my feeble attempt at how I got here and why I am here.

As of this past year, and pretty much the majority of my “senior” years, I have not had a clear grasp of a vocational calling. Most of my searching has been in the medical field, so I majored in Cell Biology & Neuroscience (Montana State’s fancy name for a premedical degree), which I graduated from in May. Many probably figured I would follow the straight and narrow right into medical school, as my high school class voted me “Most Likely to be Successful”, but I didn’t. Something was missing. I couldn’t make the commitment to at least eight more years of my life if I wasn’t completely sure. What do I count as success anyways? Is medical school a grasp at success? As of late, I have been realizing my definition is becoming more and more distant from the norms American society raised me to believe.

Therefore, if I was not continuing my education, what on earth was I going to do with my life? Something new. Somewhere new. But, who knew what that would be? One day while I was making small talk with the Lutheran campus ministry pastor, whose office just happened to be in the same building I lived in, my future came up.  I explained that I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation as I didn’t know if the commitment and lifestyle of a doctor blah blah…blah blah blah. After listening, pastors’ specialty, he told me I should look into Young Adults in Global Mission, as I am a Lutheran. Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM for short) is an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) program for 20-some-year-olds to do a year-long international mission using the accompaniment model. If you haven’t heard about the accompaniment model, well, you are in the majority. See the ELCA’s website for more info. (I know.  I am taking the easy way out right now.)

I, also, checked out the website and looked into the country programs they had available. After perusing, I knew that this could be a great option because, not only was the time commitment right, but, moreover, it was through the church that I trusted and focused more on being rather than doing. I was ready to ‘just be’ at the end of finishing the university years of ‘do do do’.  I wanted to serve – not succeed. Live – not produce. Attempt to not be selfish? I really don’t know if it is humanly possible, especially after living here about three months, but always worth striving for.

Many think I am running. Many think I am scared that I may not succeed in med school. Many think I am doing this for selfish reasons. Honestly, all of those thoughts are valid, and true in some way or another, but I hope that my main motive always remains true: I want to know and follow God. I want to experience and trust Him like never before, and it is happening – in the most unexpected ways.