Thursday, February 24, 2011

Prickly Pears

I have discovered my new favorite fruit.  And the winner is: A Prickly Pear!  Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering, “What in the world is a prickly pear?”  Well, some of you may remember a little something about a prickly pear in the Disney classic, The Jungle Book.  The following lyrics can be found in the song, The Bare Necessities:

“Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue?

Now Baloo has a point when singing about the prickly pear.  The Prickly Pear is actually the fruit that grows on the cactus plant.  The fruit comes after a transformation of the buds and flower of the plant.  The fruit itself is also covered with countless painful little “hairs” that can easily become imbedded in clothing, skin, or anything else it comes into contact with.  You can read more about this interesting fruit at

Thankfully, by the time the prickly pears reach the average consumer, they have been cleaned of all the dangerous hairs.  However, it is inevitable that you’ll end up with one or two of the painful hairs in your skin after cutting the pear open.  But the pain is worth the reward, as the fruit is absolutely delicious.  (In my opinion.)  The fruit is very juicy and succulent and contains hard seeds that are better off swallowed than bitten into.  This fruit is plentiful in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, but can be found in other desert-like climates. 

Once again, I have found another thing that I truly enjoy here in South Africa.  Seemingly almost every week there is a new food that I try, and usually enjoy.  I look forward to seeing what’s next on my delicious and unique food journey in South Africa. 
The Prickly Pear
The wondrous fruit

The Effects of the World Cup

I have had a lot of people ask me what South Africa is like now that the World Cup has come and gone.  So I’d like to take some time explaining my observations.

The FIFA World Cup 2010 was one of the most exciting, passionate times for South Africa in its history.  The 2010 World Cup was the first held on African soil, and the excitement filled the stadiums, streets and homes of this proud country.  Not many South Africans would have believed that only 16 years after the end of Apartheid and many international sports sanctions, they would be hosting the world’s most popular and prestigious tournament.  However, South Africa was chosen as a host and had prepared for years for 2010.

In the short-term, the World Cup brought the obvious economic boom for South Africa.  There was a massive influx of visitors to the country, and there were increased profits in many of the host cities.  New stadiums were built in many cities, including the state-of-the-art facilities in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  Roads, airports and other forms of infrastructure were renovated and improved.  For example, the Bloemfontein airport experienced a serious makeover, which has made me a happy traveler when using it.  There were many construction jobs created, as well as security and other miscellaneous jobs pertaining to the World Cup.

During the month of the tournament, South Africa was united.  Whites, blacks and coloureds were no longer defined by their race, but rather by their national identity.    Although Bafana Bafana, South Africa’s national team, did not progress to the next round, there was still immense pride in being hosts to the world.  I have heard countless stories from people who explained that during the World Cup, there was so much pride, happiness and excitement surrounding the tournament that there was barely any crime committed in many areas thought to be dangerous.  The tournament went off without a hitch, and the example South Africa set is now being followed by future host nations.

 Half a year after the tournament, there are still many reminders of the World Cup.  Almost everywhere you go there is World Cup 2010 paraphernalia being sold.  In every city and neighborhood you will find people sporting their yellow Bafana Bafana jerseys, and wearing them proudly.  The World Cup’s theme song, Waka Waka, is still as popular as ever and can be heard daily when in town or any public place.  The effects from the improved infrastructure has left many roads in excellent condition and travelling safer and more comfortable.  However, there are still some effects from the World Cup which haven’t been as positive as others.  Many businesses and municipalities had forecasted too much of an economic impact, and some businesses are hurting after anticipating a huge rise in sales, profits, etc.  There is also the threat that some of the World Cup stadiums may become ‘white elephants’ due to their large operating costs and lack of events being held in them. 

Yet despite some setbacks from the overall impact of the 2010 World Cup, the positive effects far outweigh any negative ones.  South Africa has a new look and proven that South Africans are capable of doing great things.  The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be an event cemented in South Africa’s history, and one that will remain in the hearts and minds of South Africans forever.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Over the past several months, I have been living with the wonderful Monama family in their home in the Fauna neighborhood of Bloemfontein.  And over that time, I have acquired a nickname from my host father, Rev. Monama.  He now calls me Motlalepula, which roughly translates into “the one who brings the rain.”  This nickname has come about because it has seemed that no matter where we traveled as a family, whether it is my travels outside the Free State Province or when I returned home, it always rained wherever I was.  And as in much of the rest of the world, the weather this year has been extraordinarily odd in South Africa.  We have had record rainfalls in much of the country, and there has been major flooding in almost every province in the country.  So it seems, for better or worse, that I have been the Motlalepula for all of South Africa.

For many North Americans, the thought of someone who brings a lot of rain would come with bad connotations.  In the United States, we see rain as something that ruins a wedding day, cancels baseball games, or makes it difficult to walk our dogs.  No matter the time of year, the majority of us look at rain as being a nuisance and something that inhibits our daily life patterns.  But here in South Africa, rain is actually prayed for and celebrated.  Pula, (rain in Sesotho,) is something that brings happiness to people here.  It is said that if it rains on your wedding day, the marriage is blessed.  If it is rains on your birthday, you will be blessed for the year to come.  If it rains on your funeral day, it is a powerful sign of mourning but also of celebration of your life.  In a country where agriculture is so important, so too is rain.  For many people in South Africa, especially those in rural villages and communities, rain is needed for survival.  It has been so amazing to think of something as simple as rain in such a different way.  But seeing rain in a different light in South Africa has made me realize other differences in humanly similar instances.

In South Africa, the belief in Ubuntu is strong, and is something that people of all races live by.  Ubuntu is a Bantu language word that means “People are people through other people.”  This is evident in so much of my daily life.  During my time at Tshepo Day Care, the feeling of Ubuntu is strong among Petro and Peter, my supervisors, as well as the staff and children.  There is a common feeling of purpose and collective compassion, something that shows in the smiles of each of the 140 children at the day care center.  Ubuntu is also seen in the Monamas at home.  Over the past couple of months, there have been several college bound young adults who needed a temporary place to stay in Bloemfontein as they searched for schooling.  The Monama’s opened up their homes to some people they barely knew, simply because they are people who love other people.  Seeing Ubuntu in action has been powerful, especially considering it is such a rare occurrence back in the States.

South Africa also differs from the United States when it comes to their ways of showing hospitality.  In South Africa, if someone is visiting, for any reason, the way of welcoming that person is by bringing them to your home and providing a home-cooked meal.  People here believe that someone should see who are you and where you come from in order to really know that person.  In the United States, the common way of welcoming someone to a new community or to your presence is commonly by taking them out to eat at a restaurant.  As nice as that is, it is less personal and not as intimate as bringing someone to your home, your special place.  Here, there is so much pride in each corner of the house, and being able to spend an evening with a new acquaintance in your home is a very beautiful thing.

One of the “similar differences” I have experienced comes during offering in church.  Back home in the United States, offering usually consists of offering plates being somberly passed around the pews, with soft singing and not much enthusiasm.  However, at my church in South Africa, offering is a time of celebration and excitement.  For the offering, songs of praise and joy are sung as people dance up the aisles, smiling brightly as they place their gifts into the baskets.  People are so happy to give to their church, and celebrate the opportunity to do so.  I’m not saying that people back home aren’t happy to give to their churches, because many people are very generous givers.  But seeing offering as a time of celebrating the opportunity to give to God is something that will always stick with me.

So as I experience some of the cultural and societal differences here, I am beginning to absorb the South African way of life.  I thank God for the simple gracious gifts in life, that before I either never noticed or took the time to be thankful for.  When I see large rain clouds rolling into Bloem, I smile knowing that it is actually a sign of good things to come.  I am more comfortable when meeting visitors and people for the first time.  I try to live each day in a meaningful way of Ubuntu, whether I am on a taxi, in a classroom, or at home.  The wonderful warmth and love in so many people here is surely contagious, and I look forward to carrying the South African hospitality back home with me.  This year has taught me so many life lessons already, but each day I seem to learn something new.  Seeing things differently and living with a twist of opposite ideologies has already shaped me into a different person.  Hopefully experiencing more exciting cultural differences will not only continue to shape me, but also redefine how I live my life here and back home.