June 16 – Youth Day

10441327_10154285774145074_2456973897392330603_nLast week was Youth Day in South Africa. YAGM Alum Emily D. writes about her memories of being in Soweto, South Africa, on Youth Day in 2014.

June 16, 2015

One year ago, I was living in Soweto, South Africa. The organization I worked for, Diakonia AIDS Ministry, was holding an event that we had been working hard to plan for weeks. I was wearing a Morris Isaacson school uniform and marching through the streets of Central Western Jabavu. I was watching the youth I worked with sing songs, perform dances, and have a live debate. I was cooking kota and working in the kitchen. I was exploring a newly-opened museum in my neighborhood. I was taking pictures with friends and having the time of my life.

39 years ago today, however, was a different story. School children in Soweto were having laws forced upon them that made learning difficult, if not impossible. These same students were planning and executing a peaceful protest of these laws. Police were reacting to the protest in hurtful, intimidating, and deadly ways. People were upset, angry, and scared, but not defeated. The world was slowly starting to realize what was happening in South Africa as a result of Apartheid.

Now that I have been back in the United States for almost a year, I realize that my memory of June 16 in Soweto is seen through rose-colored glasses. For me, June 16 was a day to learn more about the history of my community and spend time with my friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Overall, I would call it a wonderful memory.

For many people, however, June 16 is a day to remember the heartache, pain, and suffering of that day in 1976. For many others, it may bring up memories of the apartheid era in general. Still, for others, this day may bring up feelings of pride and honor. June 16 means different things for different people.

Having grown up in a small town in Minnesota and not being born until about 15 years after the events of 1976, I cannot even fathom what the youth of that time were going through. I also cannot understand what June 16 means to a native Sowetan. Despite having lived in Soweto for a year, I know that I will never truly understand what June 16 is and what it stands for.

These feelings of not completely understanding June 16 are frustrating. I want to comprehend people’s feelings of hurt, pride, pain, and joy. I want to be able to articulate what Youth Day means for Soweto and South Africa — but I know I never will.

What I do understand is that June 16, 1976 is not only a day to be remembered and commemorated with a national holiday. It is a day to be mindful of and to learn from. It is a day to listen to stories and learn more from others around you.

For me, June 16 was, and still is, a day to celebrate the power of youth. It is also a day to remember the wonderful people I met in a South Africa. It is a day to think about my second home in Soweto and the history and culture that makes that community unique and vibrant. It is a day to appreciate people of all ages and their individual and collective capabilities. Finally, June 16 is a day to be thankful for those brave enough to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the cost.

Thank you, Soweto youth of 1976.

Home

Hannah, second from the right, stands with members of her community at her service site.

Hannah, second from the right, stands with members of her community at her service site.

Hannah lives and serves in rural South Africa. She writes:

I believe the writers for Disney are geniuses. Disney movies entertain the youngest child to grandparents. They know how to use words to make us laugh and to wrench our hearts. From “Some people are worth melting for” to “I thought we all were the children of God” and “I love you,” the Disney writers know how to capture our hearts. Growing up watching Disney movies and now watching them as a young adult, I can also see the deeper messages in them: love, family, acceptance, personal growth, forgiveness, and so much more. A line I used to laugh at when I was younger is Pumba’s “Home is where your rump rests!”

Lately, I have been struggling with the concept of home. What exactly is home? I know it’s different from the word “house” which refers to a physical structure, whereas the word “home” seems to have more of an emotional attachment. I realize I have moved around a lot since I turned eighteen. A new place every year during college. An apartment in Philly for a semester. The house I grew up in during the summers. A house in Matsulu for 4 ½ months, and now a house in Langeloop for 5 ½ months. But were any of those home? Or were they just places I inhabited?

As my time here quickly moves to the end, I think about going home. But I’m not sure what that means. I’ll spend a month at the house I grew up in before heading off to school again. So what do I mean when I say I’m “going home” again? What do I mean when I sometimes say I’m homesick? What is the “home” I keep referring to?
At first when I thought about Pumba’s definition, I viewed it as one place where you put roots down. But what if we think of it in a more general sense? How many different places does your “rump rest” in a day? A week? A year? Is your home the comfy chair in your living room? And maybe also the window seat in your favorite coffee shop? What about the church pew?

While I like thinking of home as a literal place, I also wonder about the roots of our homes that we put down that aren’t attached to a place. What about the roots we plant in people’s hearts? What if my home is my people? My mom, dad, brothers, and sister; my college friends scattered across the US; my church family; my theatre and dance families; the YAGM across the globe from Hungary to Madagascar; the YAGM all over Southern Africa; my host pastor and first host mom; my host sister in Joburg; my friends in Matsulu; my host family in Langeloop; the volunteers at the drop-in center; the kids at the center. These are my home.

My home may never actually be a place, a space I occupy, but my home is all of the people around the world who care for me and I for them. You are my home, and I carry my home in my heart wherever I go. In a few short months, I will return to my, my friends and family in the US. But I will also be leaving a part of my home behind. My home will forevermore be partially in the US and partially in South Africa. My home has been stretched across two continents. While I am excited to return to my home in the US, I will shed many tears for my home here that I will not return to for an indeterminate amount of time, maybe ever. But for the next few months, I will cherish my home here and look forward to returning to my home in the US. I guess the cliché is true for me: home is where the heart is.

It Takes a Village . . .

11265114_10204250799247023_2087251582728663855_nFor as long as I can remember, community has been a reoccurring theme in my life. Since arriving in South Africa in August, that theme has only been strengthened. When thinking about the importance of community and supporting each other, I am reminded of John 15:4. Jesus tells us to “remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remind on the vine.”

While Jesus was telling us to remain in his and God’s will, I also wonder if we can take this with us in regards to community. So often we are told not to forget where we came from, but possibly there is truth to that.

I have noticed that people do not forget their roots in South Africa. Even once they move away, some people that I have met try to stay entrenched in their communities (past and present) in any way that they can.

I want this for my people and for myself, for what better way to remain in Jesus, than to remain committed to those who have always been committed to you? Be that in spirit or any other way. We must be the branches that bear fruit.

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”.

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