A Day in the Life of a YAGM

Alex with the Youth Center in the background

Alex with the Youth Development Center in the background

Alex describes a typical day for him as he serves in a rural village in the northern part of South Africa:

At the break of dawn, at around 6:15am I’m up and at ‘em! Every morning I awake to the sound of the “cocka-doodle-doo!” of roosters that belong to my neighbors. Not to mention the great and colorful variety of birds, of which not two have the same chirps. What a tapestry of sound it is to be woken up by! I slowly gather myself to make coffee and sit down to write letters or  read a book to prepare for the day. Before long, after a couple cups of coffee and a few spoonfuls of strawberry yoghurt, muesli with raisins, and a banana, it is almost eight o’clock and I am in a frenzy to get to the crèche, the local daycare centre. Along the way to the crèche, I greet and am greeted by anyone and everyone in the village: children on their way to school, women walking their children to the crèche, people fetching water from the local water tanks, and elders taking their morning walk. I start with a friendly “Thobela (Formal hello)! Le kae(how are you)?”, the person will then respond with a smile and a “Ah, Thobela! Re gona (I am fine)! Le kae?”. Such a greeting is short and joy-filled. It always makes my morning just that much more bright. A short distance from the crèche, around eight am, I am greeted by the sounds and workings of my day ahead. Crying babies to be attended to, the screams and yells of children playing on equipment and, what especially makes the caffeine from my coffee seem a little more special, are the laughs and loud chatter from the women I work with at the crèche. What a joy! By one o’clock p.m., I am finished at the crèche and take the five-minute walk up the hill to my house. I’ll spend a  couple of hours around the house refilling my water bins, due to no running water in the village, cleaning the house or more reading and writing. After the time at the house I will go to the Youth Development Centre, and spend time playing games with  more kids. Children are around Masealama at all times of the day, and that has been such a joy. Our group of eight ELCA volunteers in South Africa for the year 2012-2013 work through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA). Specifically for my time in Masealama, this means any number of things. I have been spending time at church on Sundays, attending Youth League (council for youth members) meetings, and singing in the local church choir. I have also enjoyed singing in a youth church choir through the Turfloop parish, which is in the nearby town of Turfloop. Singing in the choir has been a great way to meet others my own age and with similar attitudes! Traveling to nearby cities, such as Polokwane and Tzaneen has been a great way for me to get to know the area and to become more culturally adjusted.

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.