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?