Packing

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Caity wrote this blog post in June as she was preparing to leave her community after nearly a year:

Packing. When I left the states, it was the only thing on my mind, and now it is pretty much an afterthought. Everything is just barely going to fit and I’m not so wrapped up in making decisions this time.

I was terrified that I was going to over pack and bring all of the wrong things. But I was pretty much perfect on about my packing (I’ll take my humble pie later). I didn’t really bring too much and the only thing I didn’t anticipate needing was bug spray (mosquitoes in the desert, who knew?). Each time I travel I get further proof that I can survive on a very simple packing list, but I have learned exactly how far you can go before it is under packing in a fashion forward culture.

But to be honest (and incredibly cliché) it is the non-tangibles that I am working so hard to pack.

My love of an entire new community, my newfound love of prayer and the goodbyes that may be forever. The hard won smiles from children, the friendships in spite of language barriers and the inside jokes between colleagues. My memories of bearing witness to a community that has been uniquely marginalized because of their race, of the pain that comes from years of discrimination, yet I can only carry these stories as an outsider. The stories I heard when people truly opened their souls to me and the days that were a struggle for me to be so vulnerable. All this has to fit somewhere in my heart’s luggage, and, just like my possessions, it all has to go home.

And then there are the things I am working on letting go.

The images of God that have crumbled for me this year. The preconceived notions I had about South Africa and about church. The many times when people assumed that as an American, my hands were not stained from the history and present of racism, and the moments afterward when I would relate segregation to apartheid, the present South Africa to the present United States. The anger at the year being over so soon, the disappointment with myself as a follower of Christ, and the shear pain of being away for important moments in my sending community. These are all working on sneaking their way into my luggage. Some of them will healthfully fade away and some of them will become scars.

The person who packed last August with the intention of becoming a fellow Christian to a new community is not the same person who is packing today. I learned a lot, through trial and error, about accompaniment and compassion, about walking in the places that are called “lowly.” I learned to pray in moments when there was nothing else within my control. I learned more about America that I could ever have imagined. And just as I am not the same person, America is not the same country. I am writing this on a day when Lutheran churches in America are mourning. Mourning nine people who were the victims of a hate crime driven by generations of racism and entitlement. If I can go across the world as a Christian, I cannot remain the same after all I have learned and still call myself a Christian in the United States.

Today I don’t have the answers and tomorrow I won’t either, but tomorrow the best I can do is start with myself, my passion for justice and my own experiences of inequality and privilege. Today I will mourn, but I know that tomorrow I have to be a different person.

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 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

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. 😉

Where Does Food Come From?

Elle (right) taught the YAGM group how to eat mangos at the November retreat. She brought many mangos from her backyard to share with everyone.

Elle (right) taught the YAGM group how to eat mangos at the November retreat. She brought many mangos from her backyard to share with everyone.

Elle learns from her community about eating locally and seasonally:

You can plant anything in the ground up here in Venda and it will grow. Anywhere. In your yard. Along the road side. Anywhere there is beautiful red earth.
Our backyard is a garden. The whole area is ready to house plants that feed our bodies. In September we were growing beetroot, onions, and green vegetables. When we harvested the onions I was shocked to see that we had grown over 50 onions that were now sitting in a bucket in our outside kitchen. Once we cleared the lot of onions, we planted the whole lot full of corn. There is still green vegetables growing on the ground around the stalks, and my aunt will still emerge from the edges with handfuls of green leaves to cook. We planted the corn in early December and they have grown well above my head now. I am excited to eat them soon!
There are so many corn stalks. As they grow I wonder how many this will produce. It is not just one row; there is a full garden of them. I asked mama what we were going to do with them all, eat or sell. She told me “we eat them.” I asked, “All of them!?” She looked at me like I was crazy. She told me no. We take the rest and send them to become ground into mielie, grain that we use to make pap. Our corn supply does not just feed us for now, but also for the future. Pretty amazing.
My snack at school always consists of a peanut butter sandwich and either a fruit of veg. Last year (Oct & Nov) I brought an apple or mango with me to school. This year I have carrots with me. Soon it will change to corn. It is interesting to see the shift in what I eat depending on what is available to me. It is not necessarily what I want, but more of what is currently growing.
Avocados are going to be in season soon. I am really excited for that time. My attitude on food is changing. Last year, if I wanted an avocado I would go to ALDI and see if they had any. If they didn’t and my craving was still going strong, I would find another grocery store to purchase a tasty avo. Now, I wait. Knowing that they are growing on the trees and will soon be very fruitful (I can see them beginning to grow on the trees around the neighborhood), I wait patiently to fill my belly with their goodness.
In the beginning of learning where food comes from I wanted some avocados and corn. We had them a few times when I first got here and then I did not see either of those enter the house for over a month, and I was starting to want to munch on them. On a trip to the grocery store with my mom, I asked her if I could get some avocados and corn. She looked at me and said, “Have you ever seen me buy those?” I was really confused. No, I hadn’t. But if you don’t get them from the store, where did they come from?
I have also learned that the fruitfulness of your trees can vary. Some years they produce a ton of fruit, and others not much. I didn’t know this upon coming here. Innocent me just saw a bunch of mango trees in everyone’s yard and thought since ours was producing a TON that clearly everyone else who had a mango tree was gorging themselves in mangos too. This lesson only occurred to me when my mom told me to fetch some litchis from our tree out back. There were not many litchis on it. My backyard neighbor saw me and told me to hold on. I waited and he came back and handed me a full bundle of litchis through the fence from his tree. He gave them as a gift and made the comment that last year our tree was really fruitful, but this year not so much.
Along with vegetables and fruit, we don’t buy precut meat from the store. We do buy beef from the meat butchery down the road to use for parties or braais (barbeques). But usually a brother will bring over live chickens for mama and Titi to fix, which eventually get put in the freezer for later. They cut the neck, soak them, boil them, pluck them, and then take the insides out (not to throw away because we do eat the chicken gizzard, liver, and intestine) and then divide up the meat. It all goes in a bag and into the freezer for my aunt to cook for our daily meals.
What we do buy at the store is what we don’t grow. Peanut butter, cereal, tea, bread, butter, eggs, yogurt, apples, sauces, spices, beans, muffin mix. There are a few other things that we occasionally buy, but most of what we eat is grown or bought from neighbors or friends, not the store.