Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cape Town, the Mother City

Last week I was fortunate to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, for 3 days of travel including the USA/South Africa friendly soccer match.  It was so exciting to travel to another part of South Africa that I’ve never seen before.  As my flight from Bloemfontein was approaching the mountain ranges of the Western Cape, the view from my window seat was amazing.  Despite being thousands of feet from the peaks, it seemed as if we were flying just above the mountains.  The rigid mountain summits were juxtaposed by long winding walking paths, to and from rural huts and villages amongst the mountains.  It was beautiful. 

I met Josh, a fellow YAGM volunteer serving in Escourt, at the Cape Town airport and we headed into town.  We arrived at the apartment we were staying which was conveniently located downtown on St. George’s Mall.  Our accommodation was arranged through the Couch Surfing travel’s network, which offered us a free place to stay.  Our host was very gracious and welcoming, which made our stay quite comfortable and stress free.  After settling in, we met with a friend of mine that I knew in Lesotho during my trip there in 2009.  It was yet another example of how this is truly a small world after all!

Wednesday was the big exciting day.  We got up early and hiked Lion’s Head mountain, the peak mountain next to the famed Table Mountain.  It took us about an hour to hike the 3km trail to the summit, and the view from the top was amazing.  You could see the entire city, Robben Island, as well as the other mountain ranges.  After our hot day of hiking, we headed down to the beach.  We hopped in the frigid water and relished in the moment of riding in the waves in Cape Town.  After resting up after a long day, we walked to Green Point Stadium for the USA/South Africa soccer match.  The stadium is was outstanding, and the entire city was buzzing with excitement.  The game was fully sold out, and the loud constant hum of vuvuzelas went on the entire game.  Despite rooting for both teams, the USA won the game 1-0.  It was an amazing international experience! 

The next morning Josh had to leave early for an earlier flight, so I had the day to myself.  So I decided to follow the recommended walking tour mentioned in my ‘Lonely Planet: A Guide to South Africa,’ book.  I have always been interested in history, and the walking tour took me across parts of the city that I may not have normally have seen.  I got to see the Castle of Good Hope, (the oldest known building in South Africa,) old public squares and churches, as well as important historic sites.  The end of my walking tour brought me to the first Lutheran church built in South Africa, which was located in town.  It was a beautifully built church, which was originally disguised as a barn because they were barred from worshiping at first.  There was a striking pulpit built by the master German sculptor Anton Anreith, and everything was still original.

My trip to Cape Town was short, but very sweet.  The weather was great, the people were kind, and the experiences were some I’ll never forget.  I can’t wait to see more of this wonderful country and experience all it has to offer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Descriptive Answers

So, as I have been living my life in South Africa, I have encountered numerous questions ranging from the weather, to the food, to my living conditions.  I will attempt to answer some of these questions as I describe things in this blog.


Well as many of you know, I am living in the southern hemisphere, which means our weather is opposite that of the United States.  So as many of you are turning to your scarves, sweaters and pea coats, I am turning to more SPF 30 and flops.  It is spring here in South Africa, which isn’t much like the spring I am familiar with at home.  The daily average temperatures here have been in the upper 80s and 90s.  The sun is hot, and bright.  From the start of the day, the sun is strong.  As it reaches mid-day, you feel as if the sun is getting closer to the Earth.  But for as powerful as the sun becomes during the day, it subdues into a calm rest during sunset.  The sunsets here provide a beautiful sight, and a comforting change in temperature.  The day winds down, the soft breeze blows through the trees, and the Guinea Fowl come out to attempt to eat our newly planted corn.  The complete opposite of the calm sunsets are the intensely aggressive storms here.  I’m not sure if it’s the semi-desert topography or the simple fact that everything is more intense in Africa, but there thunderstorms here are unlike any I’ve experienced.  The loud cracks of thunder seem to be continuous during the storms, and the bright flashes of lightning are so incredibly vivid.  I have already experienced three hail storms, which bring a chorus of their own to my tin roofed cottage.  I am truly thankful and blessed to have a comfortable, safe, secure and sheltered place to live while here.  My heart feels for all those without proper shelter that I’ve seen since being in South Africa.


The food I have been eating hasn’t been too crazy.  I have certainly been eating more fruits and vegetables than ever before.  I have also been eating a lot of ‘Pap,’ (pronounced Pop), which is a staple food in South Africa.  It is essentially melie meal which can be made into a variety of ways.  At Lebone they cook it so it has a dry texture and is a bit crumbly.  However the Monamas cook it the way they used to when living in Limpopo, essentially harder on the outside and soft on the inside.  It’s a bit difficult to explain, so I am learning how to make it so I can explain by making it at home!  I have also taken Kristen Konkol’s advice of trying to eat things closer to the ground, which means it’s healthier!  I feel healthier, and even though I am without a scale, I am pretty sure I have lost some weight.  The large grizzly beard I am growing makes it hard to tell though.


I am only going to touch on the animals I come in contact with while at Lebone and in Bloemfontein.  As I mentioned in previous blogs, I have become accustomed to living besides insects of all shapes, sizes and colors.  I probably only know what 30% of them are when I encounter them.  The spiders here are as intense as the thunderstorms.  There are also a plethora of birds at Lebone, which love the various canopies and treetops they can live in here.  I’m not sure what many of them are called, but I do have a nemesis in the Ibis, or as I call them, the ‘Pterodactyls of the sky.’  (First time I have ever spelled out Pterodactyl and am honestly amazed by the proper spelling.)  They look and sound like prehistoric annoyances that terrorize you early in the morning.  There are also Quail and Guinea Fowl in this area, which bring a lot of entertainment to the kids here as they chase them around the fields. 

Ibis...don't get too close!
My cottage

At Lebone, they have a 3 bedroom cottage for volunteer housing.  They built it a few years ago and have had visitors and volunteers stay here from time to time.  One of the bedrooms has been converted into a study room of sorts, with a table and chairs.  There is a full bathroom and a full kitchen.  There is also a living room space, with a couch, loveseat and chair.  It is quite comfortable living.  And thanks to Morgan Freeman during the ‘Bikers for Mandela’ trip this past summer, the cottage is fully furnished.  As Morgan Freeman and company visited Lebone last July, they came to serve as well as donate some wonderful things.  And thankfully they came with beds and furniture, allowing me to stay in this wonderfully accommodating housing.   
One of my roommates

Hopefully this clears up some imaginative thinking for most of you.  If not, please don’t hesitate to ask me anything about everything.  I am looking forward to sharing more experiences with you soon, as I will be heading to Cape Town in a week to see the USA soccer team play South Africa in the Nelson Mandela challenge!  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Selfish Spirituality

The other week I received an email from a friend, basically asking how I was and also shedding light on what my experience meant to her.  She was very gracious with her outpouring of spiritual honesty and humbling notions.  By no other means but her own gatherings, I believe that she grasped the term accompaniment, and can understand why it is such a focal point for me as a Young Adult in Global Mission.  I was elated to hear from a YAGM outsider who understood the importance of simply being, loving and being peaceful in my foreign surroundings.  But, whether she knew it or not, my friend alluded to things about herself that I began to see in myself at home and here in South Africa. 

In the email, my friend discussed how she has never really been outgoing in her Christianity and faith.  She tends to internalize it and that God means so much to her that she really keeps her feelings close.  The term ‘selfish spirituality’ was used, which automatically triggered a thought process for me.  Is there such a thing as ‘selfish spirituality?’  I had to sit back and think about this one.  I had never thought about being selfish in terms of my faith journey, or relationship with God. 

Despite being a PK-squared, (Pastor’s kid) I haven’t been one to wear my faith on my sleeve, or anywhere else for that matter.  I just have always had a more personal relationship with God, and have always internalized the spiritual things in my life.  I, like many other people, have had my ups and downs with my faith.  I have experienced things that made complete sense to me, and others that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  A turning point in my faith came when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2009.  My first reactions were to run to God, looking for an embrace of comfort and peace.  But my longing for comfort quickly turned into anger and confusion.  Why?  How?  WHY??  As I finally began to settle down and realize the strength that was going to be needed by our entire family, I began to open up.  My spirituality became the opposite of internalized.  My sisters and I shared Biblical texts that helped us get through the tough days and sleepless nights.  Every minute of every day was spent praying, calling on the Lord to bring strength to my hero, my mom.  During those 6 or so months, I found the comfort, embrace and strength of God through prayer and my open spirituality.  It was refreshing to share my feelings with others, and together we prayed and proclaimed our faith in Christ that my mom beat her sickness.  And thanks to the grace of God, my mother was healed of her cancer and has been healthy ever since.  However, as her health has increased, my public spirituality has decreased. 

That is, until I started living in South Africa.  It started with having two country coordinators who have wonderful, intellectual, common-sense yet intricate ways of explaining their faith and beliefs.  I have been able to share my thoughts and beliefs with the other YAGM volunteers, and we have had meaningful discussions about the topic.  I then arrived at my placement site, an orphanage deeply rooted in faith and not afraid to show it.  My supervisors at Lebone are people of loving faith who give it all up to God and have faith that it will work out.  And then there were the ELCSA services each Sunday, entirely in Sesotho without any English at all.  Was it by pure design of the program that I was encountering such circumstances?  Or was it simply the way South Africans are about their faith, open and external?  I think a mixture of both. 

There are certain things that a program can plan, such as placements in faith-based organizations with good spiritual intentions.  But there has been so much more that a program cannot plan for that has happened to me while being here.  The YAGM program cannot plan for complete strangers to be so welcoming to me, and so willing to join me on my faith journey.  The YAGM program cannot plan for women in church taking notes on the sermon, and then showing me the notes which they write in English so I could understand.  The YAGM program cannot plan for such euphoric actions of praise and worship on Sundays and the smiles and happiness in each of the people’s faces in church.  Yes, the YAGM program is one well planned, organized and articulated, but there are surely things no one but God can plan for.

As I am now settled into my site and have been living in South Africa for two months, I can express myself spiritually and feel comfortable doing so.  I now feel comfortable dancing and clapping in church, although you probably wouldn’t call what I do dancing.  I also look forward to experiencing prayers over meals with people that are important in my life here.  I can’t help but smile every time I share in a spiritual experience with someone here.  I am overtaken with the joy and blissful emotions when I hear people describe their love of God. 

So as I continue on my faith journey, ensuring accompaniment is my guide, I am no longer hesitant to shout ‘Amen!’ in church, dance my way up the aisle to give my offering, or join in on a popular Christian chorus with some of the children at Lebone.  I am here to learn from the people around me, which I absolutely have thus far.  And one of the major things I’ve learned is that ‘selfish spirituality’ doesn’t exist in South Africa.  Learning about my spirituality is an ongoing process, and will take its twists and turns with the twists and turns of life.  And as I have transformed from spiritually internalized to spiritually externalized, I can now rejoice and look forward to the time when my dancing in church improves.     

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