Well then. I’ve been gone for just about 6 weeks, been in South Africa now for about 3.5 weeks, and living at my placement site in Loskop at the Kwazamokuhle center, for about 2.5 weeks…I figure its time to get going on this blog. Hard to know where to start and what to say, so I will give a few more newsy based highlights to get things rolling.
It took a while to get to where I am (currently I’m sitting on the front porch of my flat looking out at the sun setting behind the distant Drakensburg Mountains.) Spose it started with a weeklong orientation in Chicago with all of the people in the Young Adult Global Mission program. There are about 50 or so of us scattered throughout the world in Palestine, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, the UK, and of course South Africa.
But I guess the real adventure started on a few Wednesdays back on August 25th when 11 of us boarded a plane in Chicago to set off to SA. We knew it would be a bit of a journey to get there, but man it took a while. We first flew from Chicago to Frankfurt Germany where we had a 9-hour layover. With so much time we got out of the airport, snagged a train into town and spent some time walking around and stretching our legs. To be honest many folks in the group, myself included, were on a mission to find food in the confines of an authentic German pub. We never did find that aforementioned German pub; we ended up at a quaint little Irish pub, but the food was very good as was the German beer. Following the stop over in Franky we soon found ourselves back on a plane headed to Johannesburg. From Joburg we had another flight to Durban where our fabulous program coordinators, Brian and Kristen, who run the YAGM show here in SA, met us up. From Durban we traveled to Pietermaritzburg where we had our in country orientation. All travel considered, we did not arrive at our final destination until mid day on Friday the 27th. We all got real familiar with airports, long layovers, multiple flights, little legroom and sleeping upright to say the least.
We spent about at week in Maritzburg orientation ourselves, or as Brian would say disorientation ourselves to what the next year was going to entail. We stayed in hostel within walking distance from the Lutheran Theological Institute, which served as our base for discussions and various sessions. We met with a Bishop and Dean of ELCSA as well as people representing the ELCA. I will get into what those discussions entailed and stirred up inside me but lets say for now that they were very thought provoking and challenged many viewpoints, in addition to presenting many ideas I had never thought about.
We also had our fair share of non-intellectual fun during our time in Maritzburg. We able to get out and see a few things around Maritzburg and Durban including catching a professional soccer game where AmaZulu FC took on Maritzburg United at the Durban World Cup stadium. It was really spectacular to see the actual facility that I saw when I was glued to the tele during the Cup this past summer. The stadium is really something else and we all bought ourselves some Vuvuzelas and got into the spirit of things. It took a while to get the hang of them…actually takes a little skill to make them sing properly, but by the end of the game most of us had it down well enough to make ourselves a little tone deaf.
One of the other highlights from the week also included the chance to get out and visit a traditional rural Zulu homestead, which was particularly cool for me since my placement site is primarily Zulu based. We got the chance to learn quite a bit about their culture and history in addition to sampling some very delicious food, making total fools out of ourselves trying to learn their dancing, stepping up to the challenge of the casual stick fight, and learning how to properly clean the floor of one’s home with cow dung. Great success all around.
We also took the chance to get out and take a few hikes around on some reserves located just a short ways out of dt Maritzburg. Its really pretty amazing to witness driving 10 minutes out of town to find yourself walking within a few yards of Giraffe and Zebra. We got a few good group photos with some giraffe in the background to say the least.
One of the last highlights was our first experience of a true ELCSA church service on Sunday. Within South Africa there are two Lutheran churches. There is ELCSA, which is primarily the “black” church, and there is ELCSANT, which is the “white” church for lack of better labels. The Young Adult in Global Mission program within the ELCA is partnering with the ELCSA church so on our final Sunday together as a group we drove a ways from Maritzburg to a neighboring township where we got our first taste of what church is really about…and what is should be about for that matter. Having never really been a fan of church, I think it was the first time since Christmas that I deliberately made the effort to go, I had a few doubts that this would be as amazing an experience as everyone else was prepping it up to be. In short it was a fabulous 3hr service that was filled with beautiful music, glorious singing, worship, and a pretty stellar message by our fearless leader and pastor Brian. It was very lively, and energizing throughout and this was without the usage of musical instruments, PowerPoints, bulletins, or other distracting things found in our services back home. It was just pure, simple, and really quite spiritually enlightening to see a packed church just loving the moment.
All in all, the weeklong orientation was really a fabulous start to this year in SA and I can’t wait to see what else will come about when we all get the chance to meet up again. There were many good conversations, quite a few laughs when we had to figure out what to do at night without the crutch of technology, a few off pitch notes sung out during a random karaoke effort (for all the Gusties…there was no O.C.M.S Wagon Wheel effort…though the request was made), and overall just a great few days spent together getting to know each other.
On September 6th it was time to depart from my YAGM family and head out on my own to my placement site in Loskop, SA. It was time to see what I where I would be living, meet the people I would be surrounded, and face the challenges that this year of service would present me with.
Ms. Constance and her husband picked me up and we all crammed into a small bakkie (pick-up) and set off toward Loskop. What should have been about an hour or so ride ended up taking most of the day, as we made several stops along the way. But I was in no hurry…not like I had anywhere else to be and it was nice to see the countryside along the way. We got to my flat, which is a separate “house” towards the back of the Kwazamokuhle center around 5pm. The flat is really pretty nice and is equipped with everything I really need. It has a separate kitchen, full sized bed, living room, and it has a real nice front porch that faces the mountains. No complaints.
The first couple weeks I have been getting used to where I am at and getting a sense of what all goes on at the center. The days here start around 7:00am and end by 4:00pm with the sun setting around 6:00 so it is an early start and a quick finish. I have been spending time in and around the center trying to get a sense of where I can help out and spend my time. There are 3 schools, a primary, secondary, and a school for the physically disabled just up the street so I have been visiting around and trying to get plugged in there. There is also an orphanage just a short ways down the road towards Gourton that is owned by an American couple that I will be checking out as well. In addition, there are some projects around the center that I have been getting going on including during a little mudding and painting, fixing some chairs, and helping with the grocery runs into Estcourt. The center’s main economic source is making communion wafers, which are sent throughout Africa, Europe, and even the US, so I have been observing the process as well.
If nothing is going on for the day, I just grab a kombis (taxi/mini bus that is crammed with anywhere from 16-20 people with loud reggae or African house music bumping) into town to walk around and explore. I have also done a bit of hiking around as I am in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. There have been many days where I simply just don’t have anything to do yet so I just hang around the center and talk with people as well. The first couple days were really quite lonely as people did not quiet know what to make of me yet and I did not know anyone other than Ms. Constance. I have made quite a few friends, particularly with a few high school aged chaps that live at the center, and people kinda have a sense of who I am and what I’m doing now that a few weeks have passed so they are much more engaging and comfortable talking to me.
Looking back on the first few weeks it’s amazing to see what I have already experienced. I have navigated the local taxi system to varying degrees of successfulness, made friends with local school kids at the center, gone through sleepless nights, experienced loneliness and boredom, developed a serious love for Rooibos tea and the daily 11am tea breaks, navigated the local markets, consumed my weight in bread in an effort to fill my bottomless pit, learned a few basic phrases in Zulu and when I use them around the women in the center it always brings a smile to their faces, repaired the mosquito net so that bugs are trapped outside rather than inside to buzz in my ears at night, learned to successfully do my laundry by hand, and I’ve managed to entertain myself after the day ends at 4pm and with the sun setting by 6 leaving me to my thoughts in my humble abode.
Have to say it has been a very busy and at the same time very slow first couple weeks. This upcoming week things should pick up around the center though as I am planning on finally getting started at the orphanage just down the road. I’m also planning on meeting with the principle at the school for the physically disabled early this week to have a discussion on what my role can be and what I can potentially help out with for the next 11 months or so. I am also heading off to Durban for an ELCSA Young Adults League meeting from the 23rd-26th so that will allow me to get out and see a little bit more of this beautiful country and meet up with my YAGM family. Well the sun has set so its time to retreat inside to find a little dinner. Until then… Lalani kahle, sizobonana! and salani kahle!
My postal address:
Kwazamokuhle Diaconic Center
P.O. Box 108
And a few helpful Zulu phrases: (it’s a work in progress)
Ngiyakwemukela – Welcome!
Sawubona! – Hello (good evening, good morning)
Unjani? – How are you?
Ngikhona, ngiyabonga. Wena unjani? – I’m fine, thanks. And you?
Heyi! Mngani! – Hey Friend!
Zithini ezintsha? – Whats new?
Lutho Oluningi – Nothing much
Lalani kahle – Good night
Sizobonana – See you later
Salani Kahle – Goodbye