10 Loves

As Caity,a YAGM volunteer in the northwestern part of South Africa, comes closer to the end of her service year, she reflects:

The 10 Things I Love About My Community

  1. Someone will always go with me

If I’m going to the store or headed to church for some reason, I never have to go alone. Similar to my image of the American South, people sit on porches to share stories and cigarettes. I can always find someone on a neighboring porch to walk with me.

  1. Everyone is Auntie and Uncle

Showing respect in South Africa is easy, just address an older person with these titles. In Afrikaans, it is Auntie/Tannie and Uncle/Oom. It is respectful without being formal like Sir/Mam, and it gives me a chance to open conversation with an older person (not always easy but usually worth it).

  1. Raw Musical Talent

The hymns at our church are unaccompanied, and no one is shy to sing out. After years of needing hymnals/powerpoints and organs/cantors, I have learned that they can all sing me under the table.

  1. Bread

I make a lot of bread these days. I love that bread here is not the dreaded “carbohydrates,” it is just delicious.

  1. Greetings really matter

People here ask “how are you” with such habit that when I forget that part of the greeting, I still get a “fine, thank you, and you?”

  1. Everyone has nicknames

At the beginning of the year, people would give me there proper names, only for me to get completely confused later. Everyone has a name, and a nickname, a lot of people have two.

  1. Pedestrians have right of way

Unlike the rest of South Africa, where you can’t even walk in a parking lot without fearing for your life, it is great that here I can walk down the middle of the road knowing drivers will stop. It helps that there aren’t many cars at all.

  1. Windmills

There are a lot of windmills around that add some variety to the skyline and generally make me smile.

  1. School uniforms

I’m glad I never had to wear a uniform, but I think the school uniform for Rietfontein is cute. The colors, forest green or light blue, are great. It’s less of a hassle than homework, so it can’t be too bad.

  1. Someone is always playing music

On quiet nights when our TV isn’t working, it is nice to sit outside and hear the distant music drifting in from someone else’s house. Sometimes you just want peace and quiet, but sometimes it’s nice to know people are having a good time.

 

Caity (left) learns bread making from her auntie.

Caity (left) learns bread making from her auntie.

The Weather

Brittani lives with a community in the northwestern part of South Africa. Here is her weather report:

Our country coordinator recently posted a blog about the weather where she stays. The Minnesotan in me LOVES to make small talk and/or whine about the weather so I thought I’d do the same and share a bit about the weather here on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.

To start off, let me just say that it was 130 degrees Farenheit (55 degrees Celsius) warmer here than it was in my hometown on Wednesday. The one gas (“petrol”) station that I’ve found that shows the temperature on their sign said it was 47 degrees Celsius (that’s 116.6 degrees Farenheit!!!!). The forecast says the highs this week are between 39 and 42 (102 and 108) degrees, with the lows around 20 or 22 (about 70). It was like this for most of December and is supposed to be like this for most of January and February. From what I’ve been told, it doesn’t really cool off until May. I’ve told people here that the temp rarely gets above 40 C back in Minnesota, and if it does it’s only for a day or two, not weeks straight. However, back home it’s quite humid, so I thought this dry heat wouldn’t be too big of a deal. But my Minnesota-trained body is still trying to figure out how to deal with desert heat, especially when very few people have air conditioning (we call it “air con” here).

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It’s given me a whole new perspective on Minnesota winters. People who aren’t from the Midwest United States always remark how they don’t know how we handle our long, cold winters. But we just do it because it’s our home and there are so many things that outweigh the brutal winters. It’s the same with the summers here. I’m still trying to figure out what all makes it worth staying here, but just like back home, the people are a big plus. Upington people are tough and proud of their ability to withstand extreme temperatures for months at a time, just like Minnesotans.

This place has also given me a new perspective when I read Bible stories that take place in the desert. I think of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, how they prayed for God to sustain them. And of Jesus, who went to the wilderness to pray and was tempted by the devil. Some scholars say this was in preparation for his mission. I try to keep both these stories in mind to think about what mission God is preparing me for here in this desert, and remember to ask God to sustain me in my faith in this context.

I read a book recently where the author talked about how the pain of climbing a mountain made the view more beautiful. I think it’s the same with this heat, and the cold back home. The discomfort makes you appreciate the place even more when you find the things that make it worth staying.

The Day that Changed Everything

Emily served in YAGM-Southern Africa during the 2013-2014 program year. Here is her reflection about the day that changed everything.

Leading up to December 5, 2013, I had spent the previous 3 months living in Soweto as a YAGM.

During those three months, I got acquainted with my new home. I figured out the taxi and bus system. I learned a little bit of Sesotho and isiZulu. I met amazing neighbors, coworkers, kids, and random people around the community.

However, I must be honest – the first few months as a YAGM can be really hard. Despite all of the great things that happened, those few months were also very difficult for me. At times, I felt like I may have been placed in the wrong community. I kept seeing Facebook and blog posts from other YAGMs about how great they were doing and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to become a true member of my community. I doubted myself and God for putting me there.

It seems strange to say, but December 5th, the day that Nelson Mandela passed away, stands out in my mind as the turning point in my YAGM year.

Despite the agonizing circumstances, the events surrounding Madiba’s death gave me a new outlook on Soweto, YAGM, and God’s plan for me.

By learning more about Mandela and Soweto, I was able to recognize and appreciate the culture and history that is ever-present in that area. I felt proud to be living in a community that fought so hard for freedom during Mandela’s life, and continues to strive for a better future to this day.

While traveling to Mandela’s memorial service, I met people who found time to offer help and guidance to a lost, foreign, stranger. While at the service, I was welcomed into a period of mourning, despite the fact that I had no level of understanding of what Madiba meant to my South African neighbors and friends.

I finally began to trust in the fact that God sent me to Soweto, South Africa, a place just far enough outside of my comfort zone, in order to learn and be shaped in astounding ways. God knew that I would be challenged, but made sure to surround me with history, culture, and, most importantly, people who would be there to show me the way and continually provide encouragement.

And finally, I witnessed Nelson Mandela’s values of love and respect being lived out by the most ordinary, yet absolutely outstanding, people.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for your life, your passion, and your lasting legacy.

Hamba kahle, Madiba.

video board display at Mandela's memorial

video board display at Mandela’s memorial

a building in Johannesburg, lit with a message for Madiba

a building in Johannesburg, lit with a message for Madiba

Speaking English … in South Africa

DSC_0948Emmeline shares some of her early observations about English in South Africa:

So far during my time in South Africa I’ve gotten by just fine speaking only English. I know basic greetings and how-are-yous in Sotho and Zulu, but so many languages are spoken in my community that English is often used as a common tongue, plus its a big part of the South African school system.

Whether I always understand that English is another story. Not only do accents often get in the way of me understanding others and them understanding me, the lingo we use (prime example: me using the word lingo) impede communication as well. Most of the time I’m able to understand what someone means when they say something, but it certainly separates the fresh foreigners from the locals.

Here is a small sample of some of the English slang and vocabulary I’ve picked up in Soweto. Enjoy!

“How’s it?” – This is the typical South African greeting. If you ask “How’s it going?” people get thrown off.

“Is it?” – I have heard this used meaning anything from “really?” to “OK” or “yeah” in the American vernacular. This can be particularly puzzling to an American, like when you tell someone that another person is on their way and they answer “Is it?”. Also confusing when you tell someone your name and this is how they respond.

“Other Side” – If its not where you are, its likely on the other side. Sometimes this means another room, sometimes it means another building. Just try to follow where they point.

“Hectic” – If anything is at all busy, it is hectic.

“Robot” – Traffic light.

 “Now Now” – Every joke that can be made about African time has already been made. But if you say now, you really just mean sometime that day. If you mean right now, you say “now now”.

It’s a Runners World

Brittani

Brittani

Saamwerk Soutwerke

I’ve been told that loosely translated, the phrase above means “Together we can do more.”

This is the motto for the running club, Upington Harriers, with whom I have had the immense privilege of running two different races over the past two weekends. With them, I’ve already experienced this motto to be true.

I’ve been interested in running ever since we ran the mile on the track for field day in sixth grade. A few years ago I started getting into distance running and haven’t turned back. With two marathons, two half-marathons, and a Tough Mudder under my belt, I definitely consider running a significant part of my life and identity. Running is something I do not only for my physical well being, but for my mental, spiritual, and emotional well being too. Most runners will tell you that there’s nothing like the feeling one gets after a good run. I always know I can count on a run to start or end the day on a good note.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to run here until I found out that my host pastor is an avid runner.  That was honestly probably the most exciting thing I learned in the first few days here. My pastor and his running partner took me under their wings during the next few days and included me in their training runs. It was exhilarating. I got to see my new community in a different way, and I felt like I was where I belonged. Our first morning out a car honked at us in a very specific way and my host told me that that honk meant it was another runner – a fellow member of the family.

I also realized during that first run as my pastor was yelling behind me to run faster up the hill that being a runner is a lot like being a YAGM. I think running metaphors are overused so I’ll spare you the cliché. But I couldn’t help but think about how that hill will not be the only way my community will push me out of my comfort zone, shouting words of support behind me. I know that even though it may be difficult at times, I’ll be better for it in the end.

The past two weekends have been great examples both of the openness of the running community and the hospitality of my host community here in South Africa. People have gone out of their way to make me feel encouraged, supported, and included. I’ve never done distance running with a club before, but I think South Africa is the place to do it. The Harriers’ motto reminds me of another South African concept – ubuntu. I am because we are. Together, we can do more. I am thriving because we are all working together and encouraging each other. It’s a great feeling – almost as good as the runner’s high. ;)

Deep Pockets

DSC_0944Dave writes about his experience of heading to his site for the first time:

I just finished up a week of in-country orientation in Johannesburg with eight other YAGM companions, and our fearless leader, Tessa and her family. On Friday [the 29th of August], all of us departed our separate ways to our new home communities across the country; I traveled to Thohoyandou (8 hours north-east by bus from Jo-Burg). For the first time on this journey I felt alone, vulnerable, nervous, afraid, and anxious all at the same time, traveling alone in this vast country. I should also note there were a couple of unknowns before arriving to Thohoyandou, for instance, I did not know whom I would be staying with this year until I would arrive.

There were many stops before my final destination, and at the Pretoria station I still had an open seat next to me. An elder South African woman asked if she could sit next to me, I said, “Yeah, of course!” in a nervous/quiet voice. She smiled and sat down. From the first second she sat down, my feeling of aloneness, vulnerability, nervousness, afraid, and anxiousness were evaporated from my body. Even though we barely spoke to each other, I felt a connection of compassion and protection from her. She kept her hands in her pockets the entire ride, unless she needed something. She would take out a new thing every time; there was money, her bus ticket, Chap Stick, her phone, and even a salt packet for her Wimpy Fries. But most importantly in her pocket was a security blanket of comfort for a newcomer to this part of the world and brought it out when I was clearly struggling. She showed me a bright true side of South Africa, and how welcoming, hospitable, and friendly this place really is. I hope to pass on this characterization throughout my year here in South Africa, and have Deep Pockets of compassion and accompaniment.

 

YAGM-SA 2014-2015

Here they are! The new group. They arrived in Johannesburg on Friday, August 22nd.

After the group’s arrival, we spent a week together at the location of the national church office of our companion church (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa – ELCSA) where they have their church offices as well as a motel/lodge and meeting space. We got to know each other as a group and we tended to matters of beginning and orientation. We also visited some significant sites including the Cradle of Humankind and the Apartheid Museum. In addition, we learned from our hosts as we heard from Presiding Bishop Phaswana, as we attended worship at a congregation on-site, as we were welcomed by General Secretary Rev. Mathe, and as we feasted at a braii put on by members of the congregation we visited. Good beginnings all around.

On Friday, August 29th, the new YAGM headed out to their new sites. Now, they are getting to know their communities and beginning to settle in. Keep them in your prayers. It’s quite a thing to venture off to completely new places. But they are received well and cared for well by our companions. We thank God for them.

John, Adwoa, Dave, Caity, Brett, Brittani, Emmeline, Mae Helen, Hannah

John, Adwoa, Dave, Caity, Brett, Brittani, Emmeline, Mae Helen, Hannah

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