Take-Offs and Landings

Abby wrote this right before she departed from South Africa after a year of service:

I remember reading once when I was younger that take-offs and landings are the most dangerous parts of any flight- the time when you are most likely to crash.

As a nervous flier prone to motion sickness, I’ve never exactly been a fan of flying, but the absolute worst parts of any flights are take-offs and landings. It is during these times of rapidly changing altitude, of literally altering your place in this world and watching the ground shift beneath you, that I am most likely to feel sick (in South Africa, we’d say I might “bring up”). I grip the seat handles until my knuckles are white, take deep breaths, and pray incessantly.

This seems like an appropriate time to reflect on take-offs and landings, as I am posting this from the Johannesburg airport, about to leave South African soil. I am not only in the midst of literal take-offs and landings, but also in the midst of great changes in my life.

I have left Cape Town. This last year has been…well…. I don’t quite have sufficient words for this year. The English language fails me in trying to encompass the struggles, joys, growth, depth, breadth, and overwhelming opportunity of accompanying communities in Cape Town for 11 short months. I have learned more than I expected, struggled more than I would have guessed, and been loved more than I could have imagined.

I have taken off from my newfound home, not only in Bellville South, but in the hearts of people who welcomed an outsider into their midst with hospitality, grace, and mercy.

I have taken off, again, from my YAGM-SA family. The nine other YAGMs and the Leiseth family have been a support system unlike any other I have ever known.

I will soon be taking off from South Africa, a country that will forever set my heart aflame and a country I truly hope to return to someday.

I will land, soon enough, in Phoenix, Arizona. I will land into the arms of my family and friends and congregations who have supported me in a multitude of ways over the last year. I will land in my first home, but I will not be fully at home. I will never again experience the simplicity of having everyone I love in one place, because I now have loved ones all over the globe. I will never be fully settled in Arizona, because a part of my heart will always live on in Cape Town.

I will also be landing into the unknown. In what ways have things changed in America? What has happened in the lives of my loved ones? How will the experiences that have shaped me and remade me in this last year translate? What does the future hold?

I still don’t have all the answers. I am sitting in the muck and the mess of the unknown, gripping the seat handles of my life, taking deep breaths, and praying incessantly. There is a distinct possibility that there will be turbulence. I have to adjust to this new altitude- this new me, in a once-familiar place, with my heart spread out across the world. I am in the middle of take-offs and landings. It is my least favorite part of the journey.

I may not know what will happen, but I am not going to stay on the ground just because it is easier. I am going to take off and land, take off and land, again and again in this world.  I am going to try to remember to breathe and pray, try to loosen my grip on the handles, and try to treat others with the same grace and compassion that I have been shown through this journey. Thanks be to God.



Abby writes about her community in the Cape Town area:


IMG-20131011-00096Nope, that’s not a typo or a slur. That’s a racial category.

This blog post is, in truth, far overdue. I’ve struggled with how to write it, because the story of the coloured community is not my story to tell. I shudder to think I might give you a “single story” (check out the TED Talk about single stories here) of the coloured community in Cape Town, but you cannot fully accompany me on my journey without learning about whom I am accompanying.

Coloured is a racial category in South Africa. The simplest definition of the coloured community is “neither white nor black” or “mixed race.” But in all honesty, that gives you a dull gray blurry picture of a vibrant, colorful, beautiful, complex community.

The majority of the people I live and interact with in Cape Town are coloured. The majority has a mother tongue of Afrikaans, but many are English-speaking. The majority is Christian, but many are Muslim. Their literal skin color varies greatly, as does their lineage.

Historians posit that most people in the coloured community have ancestry from Northern Europe (the effects of the Dutch and English settling in the Cape), Southern and Western Africa, and indigenous populations (as in the Khoi and the San who were the original inhabitants of this geographic region). However, they also have lineage from the sad history of slavery in this area. During colonialization, slaves were brought to the Cape from many different countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Madagascar, India, Mozambique, and others).

So, there were all these various cultures from all these various places that were combining and changing and creating new cultures in this area.

And then, the apartheid years changed everything. Pass laws. Group Areas Acts. All of these landmarks of an era of discrimination required the people of South Africa to be racially categorized. And the Afrikaners who were making the laws also came up with the racial categories. The categories included White, Black, Asian, and Coloured. Coloured indicated anyone who did not fit into one of the other categories, including people of all the ancestry I mentioned above.

The coloured community during apartheid was given some benefits that the black community was not. They were in no way equal to the white population, but they mostly had better access to education, jobs, public services, and housing.

Since 1994 and the end of apartheid, this country has undergone so much change and faced so many challenges. The sad fact is that there is still a lot of racial segregation- it is just no longer enforced by the government.

The coloured community in the Western Cape still feels that they face discrimination from those in power. As Lindsay Johns, Coloured blogger, wrote “It seems that colouredness has been unpalatable both to the old Afrikaner regime and now to the unashamedly Afrocentric ANC.” Or there was my host mom, who said, “It used to be we weren’t white enough to be White. Now we’re not black enough to be Black.”

They are frustrated, often disenfranchised, and dream of a country that practices what it preaches in terms of racial equality.

They are my family, my coworkers, my friends. They are my community, and they are coloured. I hope that in the next six months I can share more of their stories.

I Am Because We Are

Soon after leaving her site in the Cape Town area, Jen wrote about the mark the year made upon her life:

It’s official, I’ve left Cape Town 😦

This year has been beautiful, it’s been a challenge, it’s been a mess, it’s been bigger and simpler and deeper than I ever could have imagined.

I am not the same.

People have walked into my life that have left their mark in a ways that I can barely put into words. The simple yet deeply real response I have is “thank you.” Thank you for accepting a lost American into your homes and hearts, thank you for laughing with me through the cross-cultural snafus and terribly cooked meals, thank you for letting me be witness to your lives.

Grace has truly carried me through this year. The grace of others through the ups and downs of accompaniment, grace for myself allowing my heart to feel deeply every bump in the road.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s of the beauty of community. I could never have made it through this journey alone. It’s been an adventure in itself learning to rely so much on others. The real beauty came in discovering just how powerful the love of a community can be in making us wiser, stronger, more vulnerable, more loving than we could ever have been on our own.

South Africans have a word that captures the heart of this idea, Ubuntu—“I am because we are.” It speaks to the truth that our humanity is dependent upon others to share it with, that the health of any individual is dependent upon the health of the community and vice versa. Stepping into this community so many months ago I had no idea how radically I would change. The unconditional, welcoming love of my family and others has given me the confidence to become more than I was—stronger, passionate, more open, vulnerable, rooted, loving. I became more because the quiet (yet sometimes sassy, outspoken) Ubuntu love of my community believed that I could.

Goodbye for now, Cape Town. Thank you for welcoming me, shaking up my life, and changing it for the better.