Friday, February 29, 2008

A Lesson in Grammar

I have never felt more "dumb" than I have in the past five and a half months. There is nothing like moving to another country to remind you of how little you really know.

Every day I have to sign off in my children's diaries (school books) that they have done their homework, and that I have looked over it. Because my children are still young, I have to supervise their homework. Already - with all three of them - they have gotten their homework marked poorly because I have "led them astray". Cases in point:

Ben. Ben had to colour in all of the pictures on the page that began with the letter "f". What I thought was clearly a dolphin was actually a "fish", so he missed that one. When he came to the "fridge", I thought, "No, 'fridge' is slang for 'refrigerator'. That starts with 'r'." I was wrong! Ben got a big "incomplete" stamped in red on his homework. When we got to the page for the letter "p", there was a picture of some turkeys. I thought, "Aha! Poultry!" His homework came back, "Mrs. Erickson, 'turkey' does not start with the letter 'p'. Please supervise your son's homework more carefully." So... is it a "bird", a "turkey" or "poultry"? I have never suffered more anxiety over the alphabet in my life!

Lucy. Lucy had to fill out a homework sheet last night for all of the emergency numbers in town. I have absolutely no idea what they are (why can't 9-1-1 be universal??). I had to explain to her, "I don't know the number for the ambulance, Lucy. Or the police. Or the fire brigade. The flying squad? What on earth is that? 'Montana +'? I have no idea what that is, either! Doctor? We don't have one yet. Our cell phone? Oh - I know that one!!!" So guess who's mum had to write a lovely note to the teacher saying (in so many words), "Dear Mrs. C. I am an incompetent idiot who cannot help her child with her homework. I looked in the phone book to try and find emergency numbers, but they aren't in there. Can you please tell me how one obtains such information in this country? Sincerely, Mrs. Dummy" In my defense, I know the number for the local pizza take-away place. That's an emergency number, right?

Emma. Emma is learning homophones in English. Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently, such as "hear" and "here". Guess what words are homophones in South African English? I'll tell you, because you'll never guess, not in a million billion years: "sore" and "saw", "poor" and "paw". For the life of me I still can't make this work, although Emma's teacher assures me they are indeed homophones. Emma is still mad at me for causing her to score low marks on her homework. As for me, I'm starting to think I need to go back to Grade 1! No wonder no one understands me when I do my shopping!

This morning in devotions we read 2 Corinthians 3. Here is verse 5: "Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry... so I did both! There are some who treat the Scriptures with an austere holiness, and the Scriptures ARE holy, but sometimes the Word of God makes me giggle uncontrollably. I think God understands, don't you?

I am so glad that I will not be getting into heaven based upon my merits, let alone my English grammar!! Praise God for loving us as we are, and dealing with us patiently and gently! I suppose as long as I can get good marks on my homework for Him, the rest will fall into place.... eventually.....maybe.....

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Am What I Am...

The immigration attorney just gave us a copy of our Form 20, which allows us to stay in the country while our residence papers are being processed. I love the title of this document: "Authorisation for Illegal Foreigner to Remain in Republic Pending Application for Status". Nothing like being an "illegal foreigner" who is "pending status". The question is, since we have "authorisation to remain", how can we be illegal? We have, as far as I know, always been "legal"!

You've got to love immigration. People complain about the Dept. of Home Affairs in South Africa, but in their defense it took us four years to obtain Benjamin's US Citizenship, so what's a few months over here? Immigration is not for the faint of heart, however, and there are days when I want to pull my hair out. Yet once the initial frustration has passed, it usually makes for a great story that we can laugh about later.

"But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect." - I Corinthians 15:10

I am what I am..... I love that phrase. Whether I am a US Citizen or an "illegal foreigner," I am profoundly affected by the grace of God. I only pray that my life shows it - that people might see something different in me. If they don't, then there is no point to "remain in Republic pending application for status."

I love the Afrikaans translation of this verse: "Maar deur die genade van God is ek wat ek is, en sy genade aan my was nie tevergeefs nie." It literally means, "But through the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain." May it be even so with me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vanilla Whizz Tinkies

I could not have made this up if I had tried.....

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Tribute to Grandpa

This is a picture of Grandpa Williams. We just got news yesterday that Grandpa is not doing well, and may not live much longer. It is really hard to be so far from family at such a time.

Grandpa was the pastor who married us. This morning we read 1 Corinthians 13 in devotions, and I remembered halfway through that that was the chapter Grandpa preached on at our wedding.

When our girls were born, Grandpa was one of the first to come visit us at the hospital. When we adopted Ben, Grandpa was there at the airport to pick us up and meet the newest member of our family.

When we made the decision to come to South Africa, it was Grandpa who prayed over us, blessed us, and had a farewell dinner for us. Grandpa met us at the airport and, together with mum and dad, was the last to see us off. Even then Grandpa was praying over us and encouraging us (as we were stripping off our clothes to go through airport metal detectors!).
Every year on my birthday, Grandpa and Grandma send a card with a typewritten letter enclosed. The letter is always encouraging and filled with blessing, as well as the charge to "Keep on keeping on" in becoming more like Jesus.

I suppose I am selfish, but I don't want that to stop. I am so fortunate to have married into a family with such a godly legacy, and I don't want that to end. I want to know that Grandpa will always be there to encourage me, pray for me, and answer the questions I have. When it comes to family, Grandpa is always the first to arrive and the last to leave, and I want that to go on forever.

We looked into Dan's flying home to be with Grandpa, but were reminded that we can't leave the country until our residence papers are processed. While they are still "in process" (and have been for months), we are stuck. I would ask you to pray that our permits will be approved so that Dan can be with Grandpa one last time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's Been Five Months Since I've....

  • used a dishwasher
  • used a clothes dryer
  • been to Starbucks
  • had A/C or heat in my house
  • heard an American accent
  • sent my son to school with shoes
  • driven on the right side of the road
And you know what? I'm okay! I am really beginning to feel at home here. I look forward to the sunsets every evening, the cool breeze that awaits me after a long day, the still of the early morning. I love the dust of the red clay soil, the brilliant colour of bouganvillea flowers, the green of the indigenous cycads. The only thing I truly lack is a few friends.

Newspapers will tell you all that is wrong with South Africa - and there is much - but I will tell you that there is no safer place to be than inside the will of God. I see the soul of a Nobel Laureate in every human being. This country is teeming with 44 million people all made in the image of a Holy God. Oh to be the one God uses to nurture, educate and inspire! To find what each person is great at, light the fire underneath that passion, and set their feet on a trajectory that will change their life, their nation, our world! "The supreme desire of my life is to give myself in reckless abandon to Christ." - Ed McCully

Who needs a dishwasher?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What's in a Name?

I met a man today named "Goodenough" (one word). I couldn't help but wonder what his mother was thinking when she named him. Usually African names have wonderful meanings like "gift", "given" or "welcome". Did she think, "Well, he's not particularly a handsome baby, but he has ten fingers and toes. He's good enough"? And what if he lives up to his name, never doing more than is needed to just be "good enough"? I almost wanted to apologise to this guy on behalf of his mother.

I am beginning to think that there is more power to names and their meanings that we Americans typically believe. My own name means "heavenly messenger". I don't know if I am that, but at least it gives me something to strive for. And of course, we can't help our given names. It's not as if we chose them ourselves. But back to Goodenough...

I don't want to just be "good enough". Don't misunderstand me - I don't have to be the best - but I want to DO my best. It is easy to do the bare minimum to "get the job done", to fulfill requirements, but is that what God calls me to do?

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." - I Corinthians 9:24-27

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Dialogue With a Six-Year-Old Boy

My son has a crush on his Grade 1 teacher. Today we had this conversation:

Ben: "Mommy, I wish you were Miss F. I love you, but... I like her better."
Me: "That's okay. I understand."
Ben: "Can you cut your hair? You would look just like Miss F. if you did!"
Me: "I don't think so, Ben. I like my hair the way it is."

(a few minutes later)...

Ben: "Mommy, I gave you a 3 for your ABC rating this week (Attitude Behavior Character - the kids are assessed every week at school, and Ben thinks he can assess ME!), but if you try really hard to be like Miss F., I'll give you a 4 next week."
Me: "Miss F. is wonderful, isn't she?"
Ben: "Yeah.."
Me: "And beautiful."
Ben: (blushing bright red) "Yeah..."
Me: "But Ben, there's only one Miss F. in the world. I wouldn't make a very good Miss F., even if I tried. I can only be me."
Ben: (long pause) "Well ... can you at least cut your hair so you look like her?"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Can We Get a Price Check on Sanity?

Last night I went to the grocery store. Among other things, I bought two cans of kidney beans. The lady at the checkout scanned the first can just fine. When she scanned the second can, the computer beeped and said, "Price Not Found", so she asked the lady who was bagging my groceries to go to aisle #whatever and get the price of the beans. Here's what happened next:

Me: "Oh, why don't you just scan the first can again? That will save time."
Lady: "No, I can't do that. We have to get a price check."
Me: "But they're the same."
Lady: "We have to get a price check. The price might be different."
Me: "But they're exactly the same. And it's R5,99."
Lady: "No. It might be different. We have to get a price check."

So off went lady #2 for the price check. She came back about five minutes later and said, "I can't find them." Lady #1 told her to go back and look again, and several minutes later she came back and said, "They're R5,99." I wanted to say something, but I tactfully refrained! By this time there was a big queue behind me, but Lady #1 now had to wait for a manager to come over and enter a code to allow her to manually input the price. What could have taken five seconds (to scan the first can twice) ended up taking about fifteen minutes.

It is amazing to me how a can of kidney beans can ravage my sanity. The funny thing is, no one else seemed to care - not even the people in the queue. Time passes in Africa either quickly or slowly, and you can try to get things done, but if you don't, there's no point in worrying about it. The sun will rise and set every day whether you get your chores done or not, whether you make it to your destination or not, whether you eat or not. It's not worth losing your sanity over a can of beans, but I confess, sometimes I do!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Judgment Seat of Chrysler

Last week, after we dropped the kids off at school, Dan and I were driving to work when my seat got hot. Really hot. I had a bit of a panic and said, "Dan! I think there's a fire underneath the car and it's coming up through my seat!" He looked over in alarm, looked down, gave me one of those "You're such a woman" looks and said, "Your seat warmer is turned on."

First of all, I didn't know our van *had* a seat warmer (come on, this is Africa!). Secondly, it's summer; my seat is plenty warm already! Turns out, because our van is an old embassy van, it has some extra gadgets. My empty coffee cup had tipped over and banged against the seat warmer button, turning it on. Who knew??

This is a good thing, though, despite the fact that my bum is still pink. I'm now waiting in eager anticipation for my coffee cup to fall over again and find the batmobile button which unveils wings and turbo boosters...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sometimes You Want to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Everywhere we go, we are known as the American family. At school, at church, in our neighborhood. "This is Angela. She's from America." "This is the American couple I was telling you about." "You talk funny. You must learn to speak proper South African English." There is no way around this, of course, but sometimes I wish it would go past that stage. If I died right now, I can just imagine my funeral... "Angela died. She was the American."

It's not quite that bad, of course, but I long to be known for who I am on the inside, not what nationality I am. I long to be known for being more than just an American. I feel lonely today.

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us." - I John 4:16 I am so glad for God's love.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It's Wednesday... Time for a Poem!

South Africa

The shops are busy today
in the townships where
people try to make a living -
or not -
bargaining, rioting, sacrificing
to ancestors for hope of
better things, to

escape corruption and poverty
European, African
shantytowns and pristine
shopping malls,
dodging goats and BMW's

on dirt roads
made red from clay
or maybe the blood of the
people, who cry
while the earth groans
under the weight of it all, but

when the sun sets -
over all God's children -
it is prettiest here in South Africa,
burning orange
over the bushveld
the feathered clouds become
brilliant jewels that

even the richest cannot buy,
and the beauty so overwhelms
it's painful:
God's incredible gift
in sharp contrast
to man's depravity.

- AE

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The bull? No, the bill!

I've been avoiding this one, because my Afrikaner friends are going to kill me, but after yesterday I just have to tell you!

The letter "i" in Afrikaans is pronounced "uh", as best as my American ear can discern. So when Afrikaners speak English, they use the same sound. "Fill" becomes "full", "girl" becomes "gull", etc.

If we eat out at a restaurant, at the end of the meal Dan will ask for the bill (they never just bring it to you). Every time he says, "May I have the bill?", the waiter answers, "The bull?" I stifle a giggle while Dan manages to say "Yes, the bull."

Yesterday we passed some cattle on the road. Our son Benjamin shouted out, "Look Mommy! I just saw a bull! You know, not the kind of bull you get at a restaurant. The kind that lives on a farm and eats grass."

I don't know how I'll ever be able to face my Afrikaner friends again when it's time to pay the "bull"... I can't laugh hysterically, because they could just as easily laugh at me (and sometimes they do). I think I'll go now, and work on my poker face.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunday Quote

"Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." - Martin Luther, 1521