Monday, October 25, 2010

Sights, Sounds and Sun, Oh My!

As I’m sure you’ve been able to gather from my previous blogs, South Africa is filled with amazing sights, sounds, and Sun, all of which I am infatuated with.  This is truly a gorgeous, beloved country.  Everywhere I look I am amazed by the sheer beauty of the landscape, architecture, and people.  Last week on my visit to Kimberley, the drive alone was fantastic.  Instead of forests, trees, or deer alongside the highway like there is at home, there were endless golden grasslands with cattle grazing, and occasional pairs of Ostrich.  Yes, Ostrich.  How cool is that?  And this weekend I was able to go on top of Naval Hill, a game reserve in the middle of Bloemfontein.  The views from the top are breathtaking.  You can see all of Bloemfontein, and much of the Free State.  I will never get sick of seeing a woman walking with goods high atop her head, as I am sure I could never do that myself. 
I also have quite a few roommates now.  I live with some mighty large spiders, beetles, random insects I’ve never seen, and a host of praying mantises.  I really have no qualms about it, I’ve learned to live with them peacefully, unless they are giving me a vibe.  All part of the experience!
The sounds of South Africa are exhilarating.  I have come up with a ‘South African soundtrack’, that I listen to each day.

Track 1- The kids at Lebone getting ready for school, around 6:30am every day
Track 2- The Doves, Ibis, and Rooster calling their mighty morning calls
Track 3- Children reciting their daily songs at the pre-school at Lebone
Track 4- The sound of sprinklers all around Lebone watering the fields
Track 5- The siren notifying the workers at Lebone that it’s time for tea, lunch, end of work, and dinner
Track 6- Calls of ‘Andrew!’ from the kids who get home from school, hoping to find me ready to play
Track 7- African house music, which I am becoming quite the fan of
Track 8- Dogs barking at night, protecting their respective homes
Track9- Thousands of crickets playing in their evening orchestras
Track 10- Kea Monama practicing her violin skills, which are improving greatly
Track 11- Sounds of elation from Tape’ Monama when Real Madrid scores a goal
Track 12- Pure joy, elation, happiness and praise in the singing of church members each Sunday
Track 13- The hustle and bustle of the Mangaung township on the weekends
Track 14- And pure silence, as I settle up each night to read, think and get ready for bed

The Sun is so important in Africa.  It is crucial for the crops growth.  It dictates how hot or cool each day will be.  I spend almost my entire day outside and I am working on one of the most amazing farmer’s tans in history.  My occasional use of my gumboots is also making for an interesting tan.  The sunsets here are astounding, bringing a striking mixture of yellows, oranges, pinks and reds to the sky.  The sunset brings cooler temperatures, and the Guinea Fowl come out and scurry around the fields. 

The sights, sounds or ‘soundtracks’ and African Sun are truly becoming part of my daily life in South Africa.  I like to stop and take it all in from time to time, knowing I will miss this once I’m gone.  But for now I’ll continue to relish in my experience, atmosphere, and awesome farmer’s tan.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Cars driving on the left side of the road.
Summer occurring during December and January.
Traffic lights referred to as ‘robots.’
Loud, aggressive sounding birds called ‘Ibis.’

This surely is a different place than what I’m used to.  There is not much I am accustomed to, or much I can familiarize with where I grew up.  The sights, sounds, smells and tastes are so different than suburban New Jersey.  Each day brings something new that I have never seen, done, or even thought about.  Not until last week had I ever cut steel, used a circular saw, or eaten ox tail or wild guinea fowl.  And I know a lot of my friends won’t believe I did any of that.  But I did, and it was all new to me.  Being in such a different place and doing such different things should make me feel alone.  But I’m not.  I have a new family.

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for ‘family’ states, “A group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.”  Before being on my own, independent and living in a foreign country, I only understood ‘family’ to mean my Mom, Dad, two sisters and all of my extended relatives.  Blood was what constituted someone as a family member of mine.  I have family that spreads from the shores of South Carolina to the beaches of California.  Although I may not know a lot of my family well, they are nevertheless family.  I had a ‘family’ at Wittenberg University, and the school and people will always be considered part of my extended ‘family.’  But what makes someone part of my family?  Is it the simple fact that there are shared genetics between us?  Is it that we share the table during Thanksgiving?  Or is it those that send me a card on the holidays and my birthday?  I have spent time thinking about this, and I think I know the answer. 

The four weeks I have spent here have taught me that it doesn’t matter that some touchable, seeable, tangible things around me seem alien.   What matters is that I now realize that I am a part of a new family.  I have a South African family.  One that is diverse, alike, different, the same…a rainbow of colors, cultures, and characteristics. 

I am blessed with country coordinators who love us, have an interest in us and what we do, and even worry about us when necessary.  Their voices of reason during difficult times give us a sense of calm when we need it most.

I am blessed with 10 brothers and sisters, scattered across the nation, all serving through Christ.  Despite our placements and experiences being individually different, our core achievements of accompaniment, purpose and better understanding will create an unbreakable bond for the rest of time.

I am blessed with a Moruti and his wonderful family, who take me into their home every weekend in order for me to worship alongside them.  They care for me, and have since day one.

I am blessed with some of the most amazing relationships at Lebone.  Every child here offers something different.  I am their big brother, friend, and someone they can talk to.  We walk hand in hand daily, and I am learning so much more from them than they are from me.

I am blessed with wonderful site supervisors at Lebone.  They have treated me like a son, and I look to them as parents.  Even members of their family have been there for me during times of need.

I am blessed with a parish within ELCSA that welcomes me each and every Sunday with smiles, handshakes and hugs.  Even though my singing may be off key and my pronunciation not quite right, they allow me to worship alongside them.

The list could go on and on.  There are so many people that I have met during my time here that have been so gracious to me.  But it is more than them just being nice to a visitor.  I feel as if they are welcoming me into their families.

What makes a family so special is the way they handle adversity together.  A family is strong because of the love and support they provide to those who need it most.  My family has reached some difficulties, and we will undoubtedly face them in the future.  Despite the challenges facing my family and me, I know the power of prayer and the unconditional love of God will guide us through our troubles.  I have a family here.  One I never knew I’d have.  I am grateful to have them in my life.

I have had many people ask me, “Are you homesick?  You must really miss America.”  Everyone seems to assume that I will answer, “Yes, of course I miss home!”  But, as I think about how I feel here, I have to admit that I am not homesick.  Not because I do not miss my family and some of the comforts of American life.  I would love to grab a cheesesteak tonight, or go fishing with my sister whenever I wanted.  But I now have a home here.  I understand the road signs.  I know enough Sotho to greet people, and say the basic things that make someone smile as you walk past them.  I have a job work hard each day, putting forth my part in making this wonderful place operate.  I have people that, when I am gone from them for too long, I miss dearly.  These are signs that I have a new home, a new family, and a new position in life.

There is so much that one person can experience in a year’s time, especially in a completely unfamiliar place.  And they will only be intensified from me being here.  The experiences I will undergo while here will shape me for the rest of my life.  Some already have.  And despite the many differences amongst all of my new family members, we are all united by our common convictions of love of God and love of each other.

And so, as I continue trying to strengthen the bonds I have already created and search for more to come, all I can say is, Ke rata lelapa la heso, “I love my family.”

This blog entry was written for the ELCA MUD3 blog, which can be viewed at:

Monday, October 11, 2010

It just gets better and better

No matter how amazing each week is that passes, things seem to just get better.  This past week was a busy, event packed week that surpassed any expectations I had. 

On Thursday, Lebone had their 10 year anniversary gala dinner.  We spent all week feverishly working to prepare the hall, and all the little details to make the event a success.  As Thursday approached, it was finally time.  Over 100 guests came to the dinner, in which everything was meticulously set, planned and decorated.  People came from all over the country to celebrate the last 10 years of Lebone.  The night included a wonderful dinner, speeches from those who have made Lebone what it is today, performances from the children and the announcement of a new logo, name, and website.  The Lebone House is now “Lebone Village.”  Please visit the new website and learn more about this wonderful place.

The Lebone Junior Choir performing at the dinner

On Friday, I had a braai at my cottage for 5 of the children.  Since there are over 40 children living here, I don’t get much time to spend with each child.  So I thought it would be a good idea to have a series of smaller gatherings where we can relax, braai, and get to know each other better.  The first one was a success and I look forward to next week’s!

Saturday morning I got to do something I didn’t think I’d get a chance to do for a year.  I went golfing!  Frances, Willem’s son-in-law, picked me up and we hit the course early in the morning.  Surprisingly, I didn’t do too bad.  Being able to play a round of golf in South Africa was something I never thought I’d be able to do.  I can now check that one off the ol’ bucket list.

Later on Saturday, I joined the Monama’s at their house.  Saturday night I had the opportunity to attend the Macufe cultural festival, a massive culture festival held in downtown Bloemfontein.  The festival had been going on for a week, but Saturday was the big night of music.  There were performers from all over South Africa and Africa.  I saw such performers as Tshepo Tshola and internationally known Salif Keita, whose voice would be recognized by most of you.  It was a great atmosphere, with thousands of people lounging in the rose garden, relaxing and listening to good music.

At Macufe

Sunday morning I attended church, and afterwards had a feast of a braai at the Monama’s.  After eating Vors (sausage,)  chicken (chicken,) Pap (hard to explain,) and other veggies, we headed to the Macufe Cup soccer match between Bloemfontein Celtic and Kaiser Chiefs.  The Kaiser Chiefs are from Johannesburg, and are the most followed team in the nation.  The stadium had an unbelievable buzz as soon as you entered through the gate.  There were thousands of people, sporting their striped green and white uniforms and singing and dancing during the entire match.  The winner of this game would win the Macufe Cup, a prize that had the buildup of a weeklong festival.  After 90 minutes of regulation, the score was 1-1.  The game came down to penalty kicks, which intensified the game even more!  After 4 shots by both teams, all the Celtic had to do was score and they’d win.  And that’s exactly what they did.  The stadium erupted and it felt like I had just witnessed a World Cup victory, not a Macufe Cup one.  But that is why they say the Bloemfontein Celtic fans are some of the best in the South African soccer league.  It was great to be a part of it.

Rev. Monama and I having a great time at the Macufe Cup

The weather is getting hot, and the Sun continues to be bright.  This week should be a good one, just as long as the Phillies keep winning!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Settling In

I have to begin this entry by apologizing for the long gap between blogs!  My last week and a half has been very busy and on-the-go.  I have been busy traveling and working hard to get ready for Lebone’s 10 year anniversary dinner next week.

Last weekend, I, along with 8 other YAGM volunteers, attended the ELCSA Young Adults League conference.  The conference was held at a school between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.  I was very excited to attend the conference, learn more about ELCSA and see the other volunteers.  As much of my travel has been so far, my journey from Bloem to Kwa-Zulu Natal was an adventure.  Jessie, the volunteer living in Kimberley, was on the bus that was to stop in Bloem and pick me up.  This is when I first truly experienced “African Time.”  Our bus was to leave at 6am, and we didn’t get on the road until 9:30am.  But the liveliness and excitement from everyone on the bus made it much more bearable.  People were already singing, laughing, smiling, and happy to be going to the conference.  Jessie and I were treated with random snacks, food and drink from people who were better prepared than we were.

We were the last to arrive at the conference, where the other volunteers were anxiously awaiting us.  (A bit of an over statement, but that’s what I’d like to think!)  It was great to see everyone again, share laughs and hear all about our different experiences. 
Overall, the weekend was very informative.  We got a great sense of the logistics of the YAL, what they are trying to accomplish, and how other members of ELCSA are involved in the League.  We were able to hear insight from Bishop Biyela of Eastern Diocese, Bishop Bowles of Cape Orange Diocese, ELCSA General Secretary Rev. Mathe, and even our own Rev. Brian Konkol.  In addition to learning about ELCSA and the YAL, we met many wonderful people who we are sure to see again.  And of course, being back together with the rest of the volunteers was the icing on the cake.  It was special to be able to share our stories, experiences, struggles and joys.  It was a very productive weekend.

After the busy time in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Jessie and I headed back West.  We are the furthest West out of any of the volunteers, so we are destined to share many bus rides together.  Due to some transportation issues, Jessie actually stayed at Lebone until Friday, serving alongside me and the other workers here.  I don’t know if she expected to work as hard as we did!  Over the last few days that she was here, we planted over 100 trees, built 3 tables and painted them, made over 100 coasters, moved piles of rubbish, made wooden planks for fencing, and had a braai.  Willem sure did take advantage of an extra pair of hands around!

After four weeks of living in South Africa, it still feels surreal that I am living here.  It really hits me when I’m traveling through the Free State, (the province I live in.)  The rolling Drakensburgs Mountains in the distance with endless golden waves of tall grass between each rocky protrusion serve as a humble reminder that I am actually here in South Africa. And the more time I spend here the more I realize this is not a trip, it’s not a vacation. This is my life. I am living here. This is my home. And as I spent the past weekend away from my placement, I felt me missing it for the first time. I missed the kids, the workers, the fields, dogs, sights, sounds, everything.  That means this is home, a place where I feel comfort, love and a sense of belonging.  Never did I expect to call a place thousands of miles away from Moorestown, New Jersey home.  But I'm here, and can't wait to see what the future brings.  
Sunset over the trees at Lebone