Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Fresh Wave of Culture Shock

My friends in the US comment that I have picked up some South African English ("What's a 'robot'?" "You sound so 'proper'.") My friends here say that my English is funny ("Say 'banana' - come on, please?" "You just can't help pronouncing the letter 'r', can you?" "Why do you say your 't's' like 'd's'?") What it all boils down to is this: Just when I am starting to feel at home, like the neon sign over my head that blinks "Foreigner" has been turned off, I begin to feel like a freak all over again.

I have picked up some South African English, yes. I live here, after all. But when I write to people back in the States, I have to switch my words/spellings all over again. It is a very disjointed feeling. Even with this blog - do I use American English or South African English? It is one of those things - those very small things - that causes me to realise (or do I type 'realize'?) that I have one foot in two worlds. I truly love living and working in South Africa - it is home now - but I come here with a completely different set of experiences. I lack the common bond of having grown up here and understanding life from the same angle. I wonder if I will ever be "one of them", and my heart sinks at the prospect of never really fitting in.

I wonder if Jesus felt that way? Did He have one foot in heaven, so to speak, and one on earth? Fully God and fully man, did He ever feel like He didn't fit in, like He had to change His vocabulary, His accent, try desperately to learn new languages, new cultures, new everything, always at a disadvantage, and that He would never really be "one of them"?

I suppose this should bring comfort - and it does to some extent - but what I really want more than anything today is to fit in. To be known for who I am on the inside, and not for being "The American." To have one conversation without someone commenting on my accent (which I am beginning to loathe, incidentally). To know what people are talking about without feeling so lost. To be able to share the same jokes, love the same foods, understand the complexities of what lies underneath the surface. To belong.

Random Monday Photo

This is just wrong. Look at the humiliation on the poor cat's face... do you really think it's head is going to get cold?? I suppose the poor cat might have a bald spot. This takes me back to my childhood, when my mum told me she was going to trim my fringe but then got a little too happy with the scissors and I ended up with a "boy" haircut. At school the next day I was so embarrassed that I hid from my best friend behind the handball court. Random cat in the photo, I feel your pain....

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hockey Lessons

This is Graham teaching me how to play hockey. Graham was very kind to spend a few hours being incredibly patient and trying not to laugh at me.

I really like hockey. I feel kind of sad, though, like I missed out on my childhood or something. Do you ever discover something new and wish you had discovered it a long time ago, so you could enjoy it longer? That's how I feel today.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday... When I Learn An Important Lesson

As I was taking my kids to school this morning, I stopped at a robot only to notice that a bus was blocking the intersection. I thought the bus was preparing to make a right turn and was waiting for traffic to clear, but when his robot turned red and mine turned green, and he didn't move and I couldn't go anywhere.... that's when I noticed everyone (all 500 of them - think Tokyo subway and you've got a good idea) getting off the bus.

I was frustrated. Why must a major intersection turn into a bus stop?? I moved over into the right turn lane, but by this time I had missed the opportunity to go. Everyone else was just driving around the bus on either side, through narrow gaps in traffic or into oncoming traffic.

20 minutes later, as I was returning from school, the bus was still there. That's when I realised it had broken down... in the middle of the intersection (hence the people getting off and the disappearance of the bus driver). Amazingly, traffic was not backed up at all. People just manoeuvred around the bus and... well... managed. My first thought was, "I have not had enough coffee this morning to deal with this."

Pathetic response, no? The truth is, the resilience of people here is astounding. When a car is stolen, when a roof collapses, when there is drought, when petrol prices go up again, even when someone dies.... people manage. If there is a mountain in front of you, put it under your feet. If there is a bus blocking your way, move around it. What good will it do you to sit there and complain? Of course it's not easy - at times it's downright painful - but find a way to overcome the challenge, learn from it, and keep going.

This is something South Africans have mastered far better than Americans, if I may be so bold and take the risk of offending someone. What is sad is that it took me a second cup of coffee to appreciate this.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Look at Those Gorgeous Eyes

The red and white necklace means she's lost both parents to AIDS. What can I say or write? Sometimes there are no words....

Random Thoughts on Marshmallows

I never liked marshmallows. They were sticky, white lumps of jelled sugar goo that had no taste and were reserved for yucky church potluck jelly salads (no offense). UNTIL (there's that word again!) I came to South Africa. You have not tasted a proper marshmallow until you have tasted a South African marshmallow. Soft, fluffy, powdery twisted lumps of sugar... and they come in flavours to boot! - cappuccino, espresso, latte, litchi, mango, strawberry, kiwi, toasted coconut.... If there is a flavour to be had, there is a marshmallow.

I wish my pillows were made of marshmallows. I wish my office chair was made of marshmallows. I wish my shoes were made of marshmallows (not only could I sneak up on people, I could defy gravity with that bounce, that cushion, that soft springiness!). Whoever invented moon boots should have made them out of marshmallows, if you ask me.

You might think I'm strange, that I am obsessing a little too much over C
6H12O6, but that's okay. One of the cool things about moving halfway around the world is discovering new things, new joys, new likes.

I dare you to go out and discover something new today. Even if you've lived in the same town your whole life, go try a new food, visit a new shop, make a new friend, invite someone to coffee, eat ice cream for breakfast... whatever suits you. You might just discover something new to love and wonder how you ever lived without it.

On Peace, Puzzles and Cows

I was thinking today about what a profound sense of peace I have here. I can't even describe it. Yes, it bugs me to no end when I go to the shops and they're stocking shelves during business hours so that I can't push my trolley down the aisle, yes I have begun to drive like a maniac, but truly.... every morning when I wake up and breathe that delicious South African air, I am filled with the most incredible peace.

My life is a jumble of puzzle pieces. I could never make sense of most of it - a random event here, various skills, painful experiences, cool things. It was a mix of the most bizarre talents and circumstances. None of it made sense, there was no coherent theme running throughout, until....

UNTIL. What a powerful word. Until I came to South Africa. And then, the puzzle pieces began to fit, certain events in my life began to make sense, random skills became useful. (Yes, Lord, You DO have a plan, and what's more, You're far more clever than I am!)

There's a story in I Samuel 5 about the Ark of the Covenant returning to the Israelites, and God speaking to the Philistines through a couple of cows. I love weird stories like this because they fill my heart with such joy and hope. Think about it: if God can use a couple of cows - COWS! - then maybe my jumbled, funky, pieced-together life can be worth something as well.

I can't help it; it makes me smile.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On Friends and Pleasant Surprises

My friend Julie is just dying for me to tell you that - although she is a respectable employee at a large church - she wears shoes with skulls and crossbones on them. Julie emails me almost every day with an encouraging word that makes me smile and feel loved. She is also the sort of friend that will get in my face or sit on me (literally) when I am complaining about life. Everyone needs a friend like Julie.

My friend Jane is the sort of person that - even when you accidentally squirt red icing on her white shirt - won't get mad at you (even when you are expecting company). She is the most amazing teacher. She will also go out of her way to do just about anything for me, from delivering books to having coffee, or helping me figure out how to print photographs from a memory stick. Jane is not afraid to throw grenadilla shells at my head or tell me when I'm wrong. She is one of those rare souls who loves me as I am and always sees the best in me. Everyone needs a friend like Jane.

My friend Josephine takes me to coffee and to babyshowers out in the townships, even though I'm the only one who doesn't speak Sotho, and even though everyone stares at us when we walk in the door. She is the sort of person who will answer embarrassing questions without laughing at me (i.e., "Josephine, I ordered a muffin. What am I supposed to do with the bowl of grated cheese?"). Josephine isn't afraid of what other people think and doesn't seem to let anything get in the way of her convictions. Everyone needs a friend like Josephine.

Sometimes I think it requires a lot more grace on the part of my friends to put up with me than it does for me to put up with them. I am truly blessed to have found some friends here in this amazing country that I love so much (okay, so Julie doesn't live in South Africa, but she may as well, for all the communication that goes on!).

The cool thing is, there are things about each of these friends that absolutely surprises me, and I never would have found them out if I hadn't taken the time to get to know them (or them, me). When you take the time to get past exterior facades, you will almost always be pleasantly surprised. At least... that's my take on life today!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Quote

"If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven will say, 'There goes a man who does his job well.' "
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I love this quote; I always have. I don't care if you are a CEO, a janitor, a chip fryer at the local fast food joint, a doctor, a tattoo artist, or a circus clown. You are made in the image of a Holy God, you are so incredibly unique and precious.

Every single person has a story to tell. Don't think your story isn't as good, as glamorous, as interesting, or as clean as someone else's story. Don't be afraid to tell the scary parts. And no skipping around; that's cheating! The world NEEDS to hear your story, and only you can tell it. So open the book, turn the page, take a deep breath and begin. I'll even help you get started:

"Once upon a time, the Creator made an amazing creation that went by the name of....

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Morning

When people think of South Africa, they think of violent crime and its history, of its problems and complex issues resulting from so many cultures living side by side.

Let me introduce you to one of South Africa's many fine points (see above photo). If anyone thinks God is not an Artistic Genius, talk to me.

When you look for things to complain about, you will find them. The reverse is also true.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


  • "The behaviour of Refilwe is good. But sometimes is sadly. When you ask her what happened she cries."
  • "Lebogang's mother passed away on the 12th of August, and the father went away and was never seen again after the funeral."
  • "Matete is stubborn and sometimes act strange after her mother died."
  • "Malebo has a short temper and cries easily."
  • "Prudence's parents died - one in an accident and one from the national death."
  • "Lonia is not understanding."
  • "Lives in a shack."
  • "Dead."
These are comments on some of the orphan profiles sitting on my desk this morning. My heart aches for each one. I have no words of wisdom, no profound thoughts today, no answers to all of the "why's" and "it's not fair's"- only this do I know: they are not forgotten in the sight of the Lord. He both knows and cares.

"The Lord is a God who knows..." - I Sam. 2:3
"Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." - I Peter 5:7

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


That's how to greet someone in Zulu - "Sawubona." It literally means, "I see you." The answer is "Yebo. Sawubona." - Yes. I see you.

At first I thought this was a rather strange greeting. If you are talking to someone, isn't it obvious that you see them? But now I love this greeting (dare I say I even understand it?), and here's why:

"Howareyoufinenicetoseeyouseeyoulater." That's a very typical American greeting/conversation that is often said to a person while walking in the opposite direction without stopping. Too few times do we slow down (or even stop!) and bother to find out how someone is really doing. How many times have you said, "I'm fine" (when you aren't) because you knew the other person didn't care, didn't have the time, didn't... whatever...

If I do nothing else today, I want you to know this: I see you. I hear you. I care about you. I love you... Yebo.

Christ, Who is Your Life...

List night I found out that the woman for whom I was named died. I have never been overly fond of my name, but HER I loved. She was old; one can say she lived a good, long life. Yet she still leaves a hole where she once stood. I always made her soup; she always had spunk and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

There has been so much death lately. Grandpa, Dimakatso, friends' parents, neighbours, etc. It is part of life, I suppose, and yet it is never "easy."

"Set your hearts on things above... for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, WHO IS YOUR LIFE, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." - Colossians 3:1, 3-4

Yesterday I had to scrub toilets. In my head, I complained. Today I think, "What are a few toilets? Did the people I met yesterday know that I saw them? Heard them? Loved them? Did I nurture the greatness inside them, leave behind the warmth of God's love?"

My life is about half over. I want this last half to be phenomenal, make the most of every opportunity, scrubbing toilets or not. "Christ, who is my life..." What an incredibly hopeful phrase, may it utterly consume me!

Jody from PEI - "See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord." For the rest of you: Take courage. Run the race set before you, and run it well.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Finally, a Photo of Sunday Morning!

Just imagine the sound of the worship....

Lost in Translation

This is a South African taxi, otherwise known as a "combi." The taxis in the Menlyn area of Pretoria all belong to the Menlyn Taxi Association, and have to post a bumper sticker on their combis. They forgot to put the punctuation on the abbreviation, however, and the sticker (which, incidentally, is on the "bum" of the taxi) makes me laugh every time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On Food Parcels and Food Fights

I was going to blog about packing 300 food parcels today for the orphans - consisting of sugar, salt, cooking oil, maize meal, tea, soya mince, soup mix, tinned fish, drink mix, sugar beans and lentils - which will provide food for the orphans for the meals that they don't get at the centre during the week. I was going to write about what it's like to push (okay, try to push) a shopping trolley holding 500 kg. of maize meal (Christo had to actually do it; I couldn't make it budge), and how I think of each orphan that is going to receive these packets, try to imagine what their life must feel like and pray for each one as I pack the parcels. I was going to write about the family members who comes to help pack the parcels to make the work go quicker. I was going to tell you that I really love my job. But then I got into a food fight.

No, not with the orphan parcels, with friends and some empty granadilla halves, which make great projectiles. We were eating dinner, then sitting down to have civilised conversation, getting to know new friends. And then something hit me in the head.

It is hard to be serious when fruit peels are stuck to your face. After the first "shot" was fired, the dining room became a war zone of granadilla halves. I have to say, that while "refined manners" may have been lacking, I haven't laughed that hard in a long time!

I have to wonder if the world should laugh more. If we should "let our guard down" more often, be less "grown up" every now and then and just take delight in... fruit peels. We didn't waste any food, we laughed like crazy, and if we haven't scared off our new friends (who started the food fight, I might add), we somehow grew a little closer through our smiles.

I think that dry spell I just wrote about has ended. I'm somewhat embarrassed to think it was a food fight that did it, but then, I'm still giggling (as I scrub the floors)...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

On Dry Spells and Prayer

This picture was taken at Wonderboom Airport here in Pretoria. I love this picture because I'm in a bit of a dry spell. Every time I sit down to write, I lack inspiration. Not that anything is wrong - work and ministry are plugging along quite nicely. I just don't seem to know what to write about.

I think we all go through dry spells at times. A friend once told me that we probably spend more time in the "wilderness" than on top of the mountain, but those are the times when God speaks to us, teaches us, works on our character. It's important to remain faithful during those times. Wise words (thanks, Jon).

There has also been a lot of death lately. I still miss Grandpa, one month after his death. Dimakatso just died. My friend just lost her mom, and another friend's dad isn't doing well. The echoing thought I've heard from all of them (including myself) is that the people whom we've lost are the ones who most fervently prayed for us, and we don't want that to end. But here's the cool part:

If God is outside of time - if He can see past, present and future at once - then why are those prayers confined to time? Dan's mum once told me she believes that the prayers her grandmother prayed for her didn't stop just because her grandmother died... those prayers are ongoing, so to speak, in God's eyes, who is not confined to mortality and does not let a thing like Death get in His way. And I think she may be right.

This gives me great encouragement through these "dry spells", and I hope it does for you as well. I'm not ready for the scrap heap like the DC-3's in this photo. I'm going to maintain my instruments and head for that runway. When inspiration comes, I want to be ready for take-off.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Dimakatso was training to work at one of our orphan day centres/creches scheduled to open in May. She and another lady have been working at another creche, training and learning in preparation to run the new centre.

Yesterday Dimakatso had a stroke and died. She can't have been more than thirty years old.

I wanted to blog about her because too many South Africans die unnoticed. There are so many who do their part to make a difference, who love this country, who love the people and are a bright spot in the midst of hardship. Too many of them have lost their lives to AIDS, to violence, or in the case of Dimakatso, a freak stroke.

When someone famous dies, the media makes a huge deal. I want the world to know that Dimakatso died. That she was someone special. That she is now rejoicing in heaven with her Maker. That maybe she didn't get any recognition here on earth, but she made the most of her one life, even if it was short. And isn't that the best that any of us can do?