Friday, December 28, 2007

The Evolution of Culture Shock

I've decided that there are phases to culture shock (at least for me) coming from the United States to South Africa. Here they are, in sequential order:

1. This country is cool! Everything is so different! Life is an adventure! Hey, check out this frozen tub of chicken livers!
2. I'm confused! Everything is so different! People are either laughing at me or mad at me. I don't know how to do anything "right". Ugh - how many tubs of chicken livers does a person need?
3. I feel guilty for having so much while others have so little. It's jarring to go to a shopping mall, and then drive by a squatter camp. Wow, things are really different here. I miss home and I could just about eat that tub of chicken livers.
4. I am utterly overwhelmed. If I were to work 24/7 for the rest of my life, what I do would only be a drop in the bucket. There are too many orphans, too many who live in poverty, too much heartache. How can I go back to my house and enjoy Christmas? Nothing is the same. I'm not hungry.
5. I can only do what God asks me to do - and that is sufficient. Everything is different, but that's okay. I can't do anything "right"...YET. It's okay to have a house and bed; just be a good steward. And chicken livers aren't so bad.... as long as they're covered in chocolate and peanut butter!

"For He Himself is our peace." - Ephesians 2:14

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More Road Obstacles

My only advice? If an elephant wants to hog the road, let him! When they become grumpy, they become REALLY grumpy!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"I'll Be Home For Christmas...

...if only in my dreams"

I was fine, I was doing really well, until I decided to play a Christmas album to get into the Christmas spirit, since it's hot and summer and not at all Christmas-y. When the song, "I'll be Home for Christmas" came on, I lost it. Funny how a song is suddenly applicable after years and years of ignoring it.

I miss my family and friends terribly. I miss cranberry sauce and singing Christmas carols in church all month long and eggnog lattes. I even miss the California fog. I'm sitting here with my "cool drink", wearing flip flops and dodging neighbourhood children who keep running through our house in swimsuits, leaving trails of dripping water and melted popsicle.

For all of you who have touched our lives indelibly, we wish you a blessed Christmas. We will be celebrating with you in spirit, here on the other side of the world. You are loved and missed.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

South African Road Signs

South Africa has some amazing road signs. The "Dung Beetles Have Right of Way" and "Hi-Jacking Hot Spot" signs are just two prime examples. Other interesting road signs:
  • "Pedestrian Crossing Next 2 Km", posted along the highway (how on earth could a pedestrian cross the N3 highway? Add to this the fact that there is nothing on either side of the road!)
  • "Warning - Cow and Pedestrian Crossing - No Fences!", also posted on highways (because you just can't keep those cows and people fenced in!)
  • "Ostrich Crossing", "Springbok Crossing", and various other animal crossing signs
My favourite, though, is a sign we came across today on our way from Pretoria to Johannesburg. As we were driving along the N1, there was a sign posted on both sides of the highway saying, "Dynamite Blasting on 20 December at 14h00; Drive Responsibly!". Dan said, "That's today, isn't it?" Suddenly our eyes widened and we both looked the clock. It was 1:50 p.m., ten minutes before the scheduled "blast". Just where they were going to blast and how this would affect traffic, we could only guess! But it made for an interesting drive....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jeans for Two

Someone donated this pair of jeans to the mission organisation I work with, but I don't think they're going to fit any of the orphans here. My coworker and I decided to have some fun with the jeans, but now I've become philosophical and introspective, and I'm not sure what to think. Any ideas?

Bunny Chow

Bunny chow is an invention of the Indian population here in South Africa. It's any type of curry served in a bread bowl. But here's the cool part: it's Afrikaner bread. ("What's so cool about that?" you say. Let me tell you....)

Throughout the history of South Africa, Indians have been caught in the middle of the race wars, either "too white" for the black government, or "too black" for the white regime. The amazing thing is, they've survived. South Africa has the largest Indian population outside of India. But back to bunny chow...

Afrikaners are famous for their bread. Any time of day you can walk into a grocery store and buy a loaf of fresh baked bread (still warm). Indians are famous for their curries. You would think the two groups would have nothing to do with each other, given the history. But somewhere along the line, someone said, "Hey, you're good at baking bread", to which the reply was, "And you're good at making curry. What do you say we get together and...." Bunny chow was born!

I am not the sort to find spiritual analogies in everything, but I can't help thinking that maybe we ought to focus on what's good about each other - what each person does really well - instead of what drives us nuts about each other. If we did that, maybe we'd end up with a lot more bunny chow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Week in Numbers

Number of trips to the immigration attorneys in Johannesburg: 4
Number of days without electricity: 4
Number of days without running water: 1
Number of trips to the emergency room: 1
Number of stitches: 8
Number of orphans met: 43
Number of tears: innumerable
Number of blessings: also innumerable
Number of times we've wanted to pack up and go home: 0

"Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked."
- Psalm 84:10

A Bad Day

Yesterday we went out to Soshanguve to deliver food parcels to orphans, and to work on gathering orphan profiles for child sponsorship. While there, Ben was running and fell (I think on a rock), splitting his knee open. Dan was on his way to Johannesburg to meet with immigration attorneys, so I was stuck in Soshanguve until some of the AFnet team could pick me up and drive us to the hospital back in Pretoria. By the time we got to the hospital, it was two hours later. Add to this the fact that our power and water has been off and on all week, and by the time Chris came to pick us up and take us to the hospital, I was really feeling indignant and grumpy. But then, as always, the Lord gently reminded me of something (only this time it was more like a whack on the head!):

What we experienced yesterday was regular life for those out in the townships. Who am I, to think that just because I'm an American I should always have access to a car, medical care, electricity or running water?? It is not suffering, to experience for one day (or even one week) what others experience for a lifetime.

And another layer of my American worldview fell off yesterday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

He Knows My Name

More thoughts from our trip to Swaziland...

We spent the weekend with a missionary couple in Mbabane, Michael and Robin. Together they run several homes for abandoned children in Swaziland. They were so hospitable and gracious, allowing us to stay in their guesthouse (we were strangers to them).

On Friday, Robin took me to see a few of the homes. Dan, the kids and I spent the afternoon playing with some of the children. I can't tell you how memorable it was for me. All of these children had been abandoned, and one way or another ended up at the government hospital in Mbabane. No one knew their name, their parents, their history, or even their birthdate. Many of them arrived at the hospital near death, suffering from malnutrition and illness. One child had been found "discarded" in a black garbage sack in the forest, with umbilical cord and placenta still attached.

Michael and Robin take these children in, give them a home, a name, a birthday, and the love of Jesus. You should see how they are growing and thriving; it is amazing what Love can do.

As I was playing with them, I was suddenly reminded of our church back home in California, which put on a Christmas program called The Journey of Grace. The idea is that there are no orphans with God. In it they perform a song called "He Knows My Name". I looked around me at these children, of whom only Jesus knows their real birthdate and name, and could only imagine how tenderly Jesus looks upon them. I wish I could convey to you how precious they are. I looked into their eyes, eyes that were carefully fashioned by the Hands that made the Universe, and my heart ached for them, for when they grow older and grieve their history and loss. I pray that they will find their value and identity in Jesus, for He alone can give them Hope.

And my heart aches for the many, many more children who have not been "found", who have neither a place of refuge nor Hope. As we drove back into Pretoria, I barely noticed the Christmas decorations all around me. I haven't the stomach for Christmas this year, at least not the cultural aspect of it - trees, lights, candy, gifts. I care only about the hope of redemption, hope of salvation, and hope in a loving God who knows the names of all of us.


This last weekend we had to leave the country, as our temporary visa expired. The plan was to drive to Swaziland, spend the weekend, and come back in to South Africa on another visitor's visa, while we wait for our long-term work visas. Funny how one weekend can change your life (more on that later).

The countryside on the way from Pretoria to Swaziland is breathtakingly beautiful; I felt like I was in The Sound of Music movie! It was green - SO green - mountainous, and cows were grazing along the side of the freeway (or meandering across the freeway... there are no fences to keep them out). I was looking out of the window, trying to take in the scenery, when I decided to turn my head and check out the view through the other window. When I looked, I drew in my breath sharply, for on the other side of the freeway was a township, with row upon row of tin shacks, almost touching each other. The poverty - the lack of running water and proper plumbing or garbage services - were so overwhelming that I got physically nauseous. I found myself wanting to turn away and look back on the other side of the car at the beautiful mountains (how can such beauty and such squalor live side by side, with only a road separating them?).

But no... the Lord was telling me gently that not only must I look upon it, I must also walk among it, smell the stench, taste the anguish, touch the sores, hear the cries, feel the pain. For surely that is why we're here - not to enjoy beautiful scenery, but to love the country's greatest resource, its people. And my heart broke a little more that day, for the people of South Africa. I cried all the way to Swaziland.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It tastes like chicken

I've discovered three new fruits here - naartjies, granadillas and marulas. Naartjies are a type of tangerine, I guess, but the other two are not remotely similar to any fruit I've had before.

It's funny how we try to describe a new taste by comparing it to others, as though it is inconceivable that there are new flavours our tastebuds have not yet encountered. I could say that a granadilla looks like a pomegranate (sort of) and tastes like a cross between and orange and a pineapple (sort of), but that wouldn't be doing it justice. A granadilla tastes like... a granadilla, and there are just no comparisons to be made.

Or take meat. People say that crocodile tastes like chicken and that ostrich tastes like a leaner version of beef. Why can't ostrich just taste like ostrich? Why do we have to convince people that it tastes like something familiar in order for it to be acceptable enough to try?

I think sometimes we do that with Christianity as well. Must we all "taste like chicken" in order to be accepted in the church? Why can't we seem to accept that everyone has different gifts and different roles within the Body of Christ. That's what makes the Church so amazing. I can't help but think we've watered down the vibrancy and effectiveness of our witness by valuing conformity. "If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be." - I Corinthians 12:17-18

I dare you... no, I triple dog dare you... to be who God made you to be! Stop tasting like chicken and dare to be your own unique flavour. God knew what He was doing when He made you.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

You know you're getting used to South Africa when...

  • A tractor blocks the only lane of traffic for half a day, and to get around it you either have to drive on the sidewalk or into oncoming traffic, and it doesn't even phase you
  • You have forgotten about Starbucks
  • You still don't have a phone line or internet access at home, but it will happen eventually, so why get impatient?
  • You can greet the guards at the gate in English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho and Ndebele
  • You crave a good rugby game, Bovril and butter on bread, warm maize meal and some cordial
  • You know the difference between "now", "now now" and "just now", and that none of them actually mean "now"!

Basking in God's goodness

I have been pointing out the differences between South African and American culture here - the funny, the strange and the frustrating, but it's time to tell you what I love about South Africa.

South Africa gets into your blood. The red clay soil, the big sky and awesome thunderstorms, the many bird species - even the thorny acacia trees - are slowly seeping into my system and I find that in every breath I take, Africa is becoming more and more "home". Yes, violent crime is a fact of life and AIDS has hit harder here than in most countries, but the earth is still full of the Lord's glory, and I see it here every day. Everyone I meet - white, black, purple, green or blue - is made in the image of a Holy God. Every lizard that crawls on my walls bears testimony to a creative God. Every sunset points to the greatest Artist of all time. Every tear-stained face reminds me that we have a Father in Heaven who is full of mercy, compassion, and a love we can't even fathom.

What a gift to be able to bear witness to the goodness of God here in South Africa. I am SO blessed!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. Of course it's not celebrated here in South Africa, being an American holiday, but it's one I simply could not give up. We had to go to work (and school) that day, so we celebrated Friday night and invited a few friends over. Our guest list:

John, a Danish man born to missionary parents in Zambia. He has served the Lord all his adult life in Zambia, Tanzania, and now South Africa. He is fluent in Swahili, Danish, Engish and Zulu. John is a gentle soul and exudes peace.

Jack, an amazing black South African pastor. His mother was a sangoma (witch doctor), and Jack was to follow in her footsteps. He instead became a Christian and now serves the Lord in Soshanguve, one of the townships outside of Pretoria. If you ever get a chance to meet him, ask him what happened to him during apartheid years.

Ann, Jack's wife. A very quiet, very shy, very lovely woman.

Beatrice, Jack and Ann's friend. When you invite someone over to your house here in South Africa, they almost always show up with other people in tow, which makes setting the table a fun guessing game. You never know who (or how many) people will show up. So Beatrice joined our Thanksgiving feast, and quickly went from stranger to friend.

I find that too often when I pray, I give God a giant "to do" list, asking Him to do this and that, fix this, change that, heal this, etc. Rarely do I just come to Him in praise and adoration of Who He is. I am convicted in this moment of bossing the great I AM around. Let's devote today (even though it's a week after Thanksgiving), to just praising God, "who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things." - Psalm 103:3-5

School Uniforms

Beginning in January, my son (my SON!) has to wear knee socks to school - brown knee socks with an orange stripe around the top. It's like the tube sock's evil twin, separated at birth and sent to where all the other black sheep from the leg warmer family go.... South African public schools.

Did I mention the brown polyester shorts, white dress shirt and brown dress shoes? It's the sort of thing Benjamin would get beat up for wearing in the States. Here, it's quite normal, and standard uniform for boys. The only difference is the colour, depending on which school you attend. My son's school colours are brown and orange, reminiscent of 1970's Taco Bell employees. Every time I drop him off at school I start craving burritos.

Have you ever seen the Olympic opening ceremonies? I always laughed at the team from Bermuda, who marched into the stadium wearing their suit jackets, shorts and dress shoes. I'm not laughing anymore.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Street Vendors

Here in South Africa we drive on the left side of the road. That has had its own set of challenges for this North American who prefers the right side. But learning to dodge the street vendors is a daily challenge that never goes away!

To say that people sell things on the street would be an inaccurate statement. It would be more correct to say they sell them IN the street - in between traffic lanes, on the side of the road, in the middle of intersections, etc. Just about anywhere there isn't a car, there is a street vendor.

Street vendors sell anything from cell phone adaptors to hangers, ball caps and ladies' purses. My favourite is the clown on Atterbury Road who sells medical posters. I say "clown" because he's actually dressed up as a clown. He sells the medical posters you would see in any doctor's office: diagrams of the optic nerve, inner ear, or renal system. I can't help but wonder if he's successful ("Hangers? No. Rugby flag? No. Diagram of the retina? I've been looking all over town for one of those!")

Worse, I wonder if these diagrams are accurate, and if the ones in doctor's offices were purchased from some clown on the street (literally). Could you imagine a doctor in surgery... "Well the poster SAID the pituitary gland was right here!"

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well here in Pretoria, and my driving, um, involves a lot of swerving! If only the street vendors sold car sickness medicine!


Most people know about apartheid, which means "separateness" in Afrikaans.

Living here in Pretoria, I am struck by how prominently race still plays a factor, thirteen years after Apartheid officially ended. I have heard tales from every ethnicity about the apartheid years and how they were treated. Even the white South Africans suffer a bit now under black empowerment, losing jobs to black South Africans in an effort to compensate for years of oppression.

The different ethnicities live side by side now, but they never seem to intersect. Neighbours don't get to know one another, people stick to themselves and their own cultures, and it is difficult to make friends or find a friendly face in the crowds.

Today, though, I saw something amazing. A group of white South Africans with Down's Syndrome were coming out of a shopping mall, led by their caretakers. One of them was hugging a black South African woman who was wearing traditional dress - a brightly coloured floral dress and headscarf. These two were the best of friends - they walked arm in arm and I could tell there was nothing that could break the bonds of this friendship.

I wanted to take a picture, put it on the front of newspapers all over the world, and say, "Look! Here is a man most would consider "dumb" (not true, of course), and yet he gets it better than the rest of us. If he can see beyond skin colour to the heart, why can't we?"

It really does come down to love. Jesus prayed in John 17 for unity among the Body of Christ. "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me." (v. 23) Let's lay aside the petty differences that divide us and choose to live in unity, valuing those differences in culture and personality as unique and God-given. Let us strive for "samehorigheid", togetherness.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


This is a blog about learning to be American African, about the clash of my American culture with the South African culture(s), about learning to live with mosquito bites and crazy bureaucracy, and about slowly becoming people-oriented instead of task-oriented. Come along for the ride... It won't happen on your time frame or your schedule, it will cause you to miss appointments and deadlines, the road will be riddled with potholes ("slaggate", in Afrikaans) and mud, but it will also give you a view to beautiful African sunsets, gracious, hospitable people, the freshest tropical juices and an amazing perspective on God's love for His people all over the world. Will you join me on this journey?