Land of Grace

During In-Country Orientation, Alex learned about traditional Zulu life and got to try milking a cow.

YAGM participant Alex speaks of the grace he encounters in his new community:

As I wandered along the dusty road to the Combi (taxi) stop in Masealama, I peered across the wide valley that stretches into the vast Limpopo wilderness.  This ancient land is dotted with trees and aloe vera plants and is flush with dry, thorny brush.  In terms of wildlife, not too many large and dangerous animals live in these parts, except for cattle, a few species of extremely poisonous snakes and spiders, and smaller animals such as goats, dogs, and cats.  A few hours drive to the east is Krueger National Park where people go to see the large ones! Lions, rhinos, and leopards, “Oh My!” Alongside these creatures, people have succeeded in making a living around this area for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years.  The sheer length of time that people have lived with one another in this area alongside lions, rhinos, and leopards, is difficult for me to comprehend.  Africa is indeed the cradle of humanity.

To be honest, these past couple of weeks have not at all the easiest experiencies I have ever had.  Though I have only been in Masealama for a short period, fatigue and frustration have come easily to me.  I constantly have to ask for help and direction from others, leaving me feel ignorant, weak, and vulnerable.  I can’t even speak the regional language of Sepedi, which places a huge roadblock in the way of my efforts to communicate with most people.  Though many people here do speak English, it would be much easier for me to communicate if I were able to speak Sepedi.  Not to mention, I do not know anything of cultural norms such as greetings, child rearing, religious beliefs (both outward and underlaying) and how to cook and eat food.  I’m trying to learn the language and other aspects of culture but that will be an ongoing process.  I am not very used to feeling as helpless as I have been here.

Despite these feelings of helplessness and loneliness, I have had guidance and grace from members of my community to fill my journey with humor, learning, companionship, newfound friendships and most of all, love.  I am extremely thankful to those who have showed warmth, grace and humor with me as I have struggled to adjust.  From my experiences, it seems that struggles, although in various degrees of seriousness during the situation, can be filled with humor.

While I awaited the arrival of the Combi for about thirty minutes, my friends stuck out the wait with me because they felt that I shouldn’t wait alone.  So we hung out, had a few laughs and fake-wrestling matches.  What a great and simple time it was.

In another instance, I attempted to wash my clothes in the washing machine the other day, which seemed to be simple enough.  Just load, turn the washer to the right setting, and then unload, rinse, and hang on the clothesline.  Seems easy, right?  Well I had no idea that if I did not turn the drain nozzle all the way to the right, water would spill all over the floor.  As expected, the process did not go completely right and I succeeded in spilling water all over my bathroom floor.  The woman helping me laughed and laughed as I struggled to clean up the water and prevent more from spilling out of the machine.  We spent a few minutes sloshing over the drenched floor with rags to sop up the residual mess.  Although I seemed flustered, she did not seem to mind in the least.  Why should it bother me?

Friends, grace and love are wonderful things.  Without them, we would go around constantly mad at one another for miniscule mistakes such as spilling water onto the bathroom floor.  The woman who helped me could have been frustrated and angry with me for spilling water on the floor, but she chose to laugh, shake it off, and join in on the clean up.  Wow.  How can I incorporate that sense of forgiveness into the small moments of my own life?

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Quiet!

Rachel with two new friends from Mabopane – at the Lutheran Theological Institute

YAGM participant Rachel shares a reflection of her beginnings in her community:

Quiet! by Rachel

“Be quiet!”  “Too Loud!” “Sit Down!”  “Quick!”

I would have never guessed that commands such as these would be the first few Tswana words and expressions that I would learn and perfect!   I spent my first week in Mabopnane working in a creche with my OWN classroom full of four year olds, so it makes sense!  Yup, just 10 adorable children yelling and hitting at each other, and one helpless “Mama Rachel.”  Yelling has never been a spiritual gift of mine; but it might soon be.  Although these days have been challenging, they have been generously scattered with blessings.

There are four lovely teachers at the center (one was gone for a week, hence my own classroom) and I have quickly grown to love them.  Last Friday, I watched them chatter away in Tswana, calculating and dividing their month’s salary.  Before putting her earnings in her bag, one teacher filled an envelope with her “ten percent for the Lord.”  She showed me the envelope and told me to copy down the verse that was printed on it:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and mind.  This is the first and the greatest commandment.  –Matthew 22:38”

What a testament, right?

Conversations about big issues in South Africa including HIV/AIDS, access to healthcare, and poverty have come in small but powerful bits.  I’m not sure how to share what I’ve gathered yet, but I look forward to continuing to acquire first-hand accounts of a broken and beautiful country.

I’m having a hard time getting used to the slower paced, ‘why worry today about what I can do tomorrow’ way of living.  My life as an RN did not prepare me very well!  I know that the people of South Africa have a lot to teach me about priorities and taking time to breathe it all in.  I have managed to get my internet set up due to the gracious help and transportation of my host family!  Realizing that internet is not available at the snap of my fingers was embarrassingly tough for me.  I’ve had to face the reality that I can’t depend on tangible affirmation that my family and friends are okay (ahem, Facebook).  I’ve been trusting that all is well, and hope that you have trusted the same about me!  (p.s. to all of my BFF’s… it’s sort of socially acceptable not to text someone back, since you pay for each message.  Yes!!)

A few other highlights:

– Singing and dancing in front of the congregation with the Youth Choir (luckily most of the words were in English, and I just tried catching on to the rest!)

-Judging a “beauty contest” at a local Primary School (It lasted five hours!)

-Eating with my hands (and of course, feeding the toddlers with my hands!)

-Explaining what “Gratitude” means (and demonstrating that the writing won’t come off of my arm!)

Each morning at the crech, one of the teachers says, “Fold your arms.  Close your eyes.”  And they all begin singing what is possibly the best prayer I have ever heard.  The words go:

“Father we thank you for the night.

And for the pleasant morning light.

For rest and food, and love we pray,

And others – make them well today.

Help us to do the things we should,

To be to others kind and good.

In all we do, in all we say,

To grow more lovely every day.”

The way that the sweet voices of the children harmonize with the power of the teacher’s chokes me up every time.  They think Mama Rachel’s watery eyes are funny.