Is that Zulu or Sotho?


There are 11 official languages in South Africa. Emily shares some of her challenges and vulnerabilities in learning a new language or tow:

The title of this post displays a question that I have asked more times than I can remember. From my experience so far (three weeks already – woah!!), most people in my area speak either Zulu or Sotho (pronounced Soo-too). However, I am still fairly slow at recognizing when either language is being spoken. For the most part, the people at DAM [Diaconia AIDS Ministry] speak Sotho, so most of the time I can just assume that is what I am listening to. At the mall today, however, a salesperson started a conversation with me and tried to teach me how to say “How may I help you?” This was when my “go-to question” came out. Turns out, she was teaching me Sotho, which was a relief for me because that is what most people have been trying to teach me. Rather than attempt to learn both Sotho and Zulu, I think that one new language is enough for me. 🙂

In my short time here, I have become partly fascinated and partly annoyed with languages.  I am fascinated because I have sat in on so many conversations of which I had no idea what was being discussed. There have been many times when I have been the only person who doesn’t speak the language at all. I have had people try to teach me words, then chuckle when I try to pronounce them. I am also frustrated because I have noticed that I am literally the only person I know here that only speaks one language. Every South African I have met speaks their mother tongue as well as English. The German volunteers I work with speak German and English. I only speak English.

To add to that frustration (and fascination), the English I grew up with is not the same as what is spoken here. I have created a list of a few examples, which is both amusing and confusing for me and others:

-It’s not “I have to go to the bathroom,” it’s “I have to use the toilet.”
-It’s not “over there,” it’s “that side.”
-It’s not “six thirty,” it’s “half-past six.”
-They aren’t “diapers,” they are “nappies.”
-They aren’t “french fries,” they are “chips.”
-It’s not “pop,” it’s “cold drink.”
-It’s not a “sweatshirt,” it’s a “jersey.”

These language differences, whether between American English and South African English or between English and Sotho, are both barriers and opportunities. This experience is giving me the opportunity to learn a new language (or two?!) as well as discover new ways of communicating.

I’m hoping that my time here will open my eyes and ears to the multitude of languages around me. I pray that I become more comfortable with using Sotho in conversation, and that people continue to be patient with me as I learn. I also hope and pray that people don’t get annoyed with me as I continually ask whether they are speaking Zulu or Sotho.


Relationships: Ubuntu & the Red Thread

Katie (middle) enjoys her YAGM friends during her Close of Service Retreat (July 2013)

Katie (middle) enjoys her YAGM friends during her Close of Service Retreat (July 2013)

Katie served in South Africa in 2012-2013. She writes about her life since returning to the U.S.:

Since I have returned from South Africa, I have slowly getting back into prayer meditation and Bible study to feed my soul. I found an online website run by Jesuit monks in Ireland called Sacred Space. I have started doing a daily prayer that the website offers to help out with my prayer meditation and to process and unpack my life in SA. As I was doing my prayer today, this was part of my prayer:

” I exist in a web of relationships – links to nature, people, God. I trace out these links, giving thanks for the life that flows through them. Some links are twisted or broken: I may feel regret, anger, disappointment.I pray for the gift of acceptance and forgiveness.”

I can honestly tell you that this sums up my life not only in SA but here in the U.S. as well. I think of ubuntu which means I am who I am because of who we are and I also think of the red thread which comes from China which reminds us that we all connected in relationships.

I believe there are days and maybe not only days but a lot of life we forget that we all connected to each other not just to our family or friends but to people in our nation and throughout the world. If we took the time to meditate and realize how we are all connected to each other maybe then we could realize the suffering that happens to our brothers and sisters in the world also affects us.

The prayer that I also posted reminds me that relationship on not perfect. In fact it reminds me that it always has been broken and twisted and even though it is twisted and broken it still has beauty. This web of relationships also reminds me that God is at the center of this web.

Would it be too much to ask for us to actually think about how we are all connected to each other? If we took the time to see how we all connected to one another would we view the world differently than we do now? Would we realize that the suffering that happens to our brothers and sisters throughout the world also affects us? What about how we are connected to nature and the earth?

I also know that I am not perfect with this either and I know this will be a work in progress for me but as I remember how UBUNTU has affected me and how intentional community and relationships have been a part of my life before and after SA, I have come to appreciate how we are all connected. Not only to each other but to nature and God.


DSC01233As her year begins, Hannah shares what the YAGM year is all about:

A YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) year is a year that encompasses many things. First, it is a year of accompaniment, which the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) defines as: “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. In this walk, gifts, resources, and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition to deepen and expand our work within God’s mission.” Accompaniment is being in community with the people around you and allowing life to happen naturally. There is no leader and no follower, but we each are moving together through our journeys. Accompaniment can take all forms. You can accompany someone by having a conversation (ingxoxo in Zulu), going to church with them, laughing with them, crying with them, praying for them, or sending them letters. Each person who reads this is accompanying me on my journey. Everyone at home who sends me their love and support is accompanying me. And as a Young Adult in Global Mission I have agreed to live in accompaniment (solidarity, mutuality, and interdependence) with my community in South Africa. And, in all of this, Christ accompanies all of us on our journeys in life. As we walk, there is God our Parent walking beside us. As we weep, Jesus weeps with us. The Holy Spirit works alongside us as we go through life. This is accompaniment.

 A YAGM year is also a year of vulnerability. This year I will be making myself vulnerable to my community in South Africa, my fellow SA YAGMs, and to the world at large. In this vulnerability I may feel weak and unprotected, but it will give me so much more room to grow and feel genuine love and compassion for those around me. During orientation in Chicago we spoke about being a servant and becoming vulnerable in servanthood. It is one thing to serve others, but quite another to become a servant. Serving others still allows some measure of control (deciding who, when, where and how to serve), but becoming a servant eliminates that control and makes a person truly vulnerable in that embodied service.

Fourth, this is a year of simple living within a community.  As part of accompaniment I have agreed to live on a small stipend and have limited phone and internet access. I will budget with that stipend for everything that I will need, and I will live as a part of my community. Through a year of simple living I hope to learn what it is we really need to nourish our souls: a roof over our heads, an offer of food from a stranger, communion, compassion.

In this year I will be challenged to get outside of my comfort zone so that I can grow in mind, body, and spirit. Allowing myself to be challenged will help me grow in faith and better understand who I am. This is a year of discernment where I will learn more about myself and who I want to become through these challenges. I hope and pray to come out of this year having a better idea of what I could be both in my career as well as spiritually.

My YAGM year is a year of both learning and making mistakes. I want to look at the world with wonder and simply take in all that I can take in. I want to learn the languages that are spoken around me and the way people speak to one another. I want to learn the history of South Africa and the reasons for how we got to where we are today. I also know I will make mistakes along the way, which I cannot say will be easy for me. However, I will make mistakes and from those mistakes will learn how to better live in community and accompaniment with my neighbors.

Lastly, a YAGM year is a year of stories. There are stories that we tell and stories that we hear. We have stories of ourselves and we listen to stories of others and to God’s story. As these converge we have the story of us, and that is the most beautiful one of all. This year I hope to better understand this story of us and begin to learn how to tell it with joy, love, hope, peace, understanding, and thoughtfulness.


DSC01232During In-Country Orientation, Keenan reflected upon his call to serve with YAGM:

When I first turned my application in for YAGM last September I honestly can’t tell you why. It was a program I had always thought would be an interesting opportunity, but was always too wrapped up in starting a career and being an “adult” to look much further. I think the excitement of just coming off of an entire summer at Christikon [Bible Camp] may have majorly played into my choice to turn in an application, but who really knows. Regardless, it wasn’t until the application had already been sent in that my discernment process really started. I struggled with whether or not to do the program. I think I convinced myself both yes and no multiple times in the months to follow. It wasn’t until I sat and talked with a good friend about it one day in February that I fully committed to a yes. He told me in a very excited voice, “Life’s entirely to short man, go live life and see the world.” as he lay in his hospital bed terminally ill. Craig, you truly gave me the strength to say yes to a call I had been running from for so long. For that I will be eternally grateful, and I will never forget our conversation and the joy still present in your face that day. God bless you, and save me a seat in the big house dude.

So along with the helpful words of a wise and caring friend, and opening my heart to the call, I now write this post from Johannesburg, South Africa. Our country program has been here for only four days now, and I’ve already felt a change happen in me and how I view my life. I’m slightly overwhelmed by the thought of the person I will be a year from now. At the same time I am so excited. YAGM couldn’t have come into my life at a better time, in a better place. I know without the slightest doubt that this place, this very place, is where I am supposed to be at this moment of my life. It feels right, it feels peaceful, it feels messy, it feels emotional, and it is going to help form me into the person I have always wanted to be in this world.

So why YAGM? Cause it is where I have been called to be in the world right now. Thats it. And simply being here is enough for me right now. I’m not here to fix it, i’m not here to change it. I’m here to learn, to be immersed, and to simply be. To walk along song God’s children, my brothers and sisters. Not only so I can help tell their story, but so that they call help shape and mold mine. I can’t wait to meet Keenan Weatherford in September of 2014.