Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cultural Amnesia

I've been going through a bit of an identity crisis since the team from California left. I was doing really well learning Afrikaans and "re-learning" English, replacing American English words with South African English equivalents. And THEN the team came.

It was wonderful to see people from our home town. Truly that was an incredible gift! But suddenly I didn't know which words to use - should I say "robot" or "traffic light"? Should I say, "When should I pick you up?" or "When must I fetch you?" Do I serve chicken livers in peri peri sauce, or do I grill hamburgers? Help!

It is easy to be an American in America. It is not so easy, but still do-able, to learn how to be a South African. But when the two worlds collide, who am I? What am I? Am I an American? Am I now a South African? Am I a little bit of both?

I feel like a chocolate/vanilla swirl frozen yogurt, a hybrid car, or for you Napoleon Dynamite fans, a liger. And maybe that's not so bad, if I can harness the best of both cultures, learn to move with ease between them, and always keep myself on the learning end of things. Still, sometimes I feel like a freak and just long to fully belong somewhere.

"For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come." - Hebrews 13:14

Fly Like the Wind, Ben

This is Ben having his first motorcycle ride with my friend Jane's brother, Hamish. Ben was laughing like a girl the whole time. I love the smiles on both of their faces.

Feeling the wind on your face, the feeling of flying, laughing like a girl.... there's nothing like the simple pleasures in life. These are things that money can't buy, and these are the things that make fantastic memories.

Memories are a strange thing. We hold dear the memories of those we left behind - family, friends, places - and we are creating new memories here in South Africa. The new ones I can't share with those I left behind, and they in turn have gone on to create memories in our absence. It is a segmented feeling at best, and yet, my life is richer for having experiences in both countries.


This is what happens when you get sick in the middle of the night and pass out, hitting your head on a tile floor. I think he has the makings of a cool Harry Potter-type scar in the works. Our son is jealous.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thoughts on Eternal Life

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

70 orphans from Kgotlelelang Primary School recited this verse in unison last week. When they finished, they smiled huge smiles; they were so proud of themselves! I have heard this verse a thousand times, but this time - THIS time - the phrase "eternal life" cut to my soul and I began to wonder:

How does an orphan, who is intimately acquainted with death, think of eternal life? For so many, there is nothing but "eternal death" as they lose family member after family member, primarily due to AIDS. Does eternal life mean more to someone who has "walked through the valley of the shadow of death"? Is it treasured more?

I sometimes think they know more of God's love and grace than I do, and that I can learn more from them than they can from me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Not Bad, Just Different

I haven't actually tried one, but I feel rather vindicated by the fact that I am not the only one who puts potato chips IN my sandwiches!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Okay, so it's June, but by season and weather, it's one week before Christmas. This whole winter-without-Christmas thing is really messing with my mind!

I have been playing Christmas music all week. I have been missing my family terribly all week. Next week is the shortest day of the year (I can attest to this, because the sun is just rising when we leave to take our children to school each morning). It is cold. So where are the Christmas decorations, the carolers, the coloured lights and baubles and getting together with friends to share warm gingerbread lattes? I'm actually thinking about putting up my tree next week.

Last week a short-term team from our home church came. They brought gifts from friends and family for us. It truly WAS like Christmas, opening the suitcase and finding our favourite coffee, candles, crackers, spices, and other familiar goodies. What a treat! But...

Do you want to know the truth? As much as we appreciate it, as much as we feel loved and pampered, it's just stuff. It's the people behind the gifts- the love of family and friends- that makes Christmas special, that makes those long winter days bearable. The decorations, the songs, even the gingerbread lattes, are things I can ultimately live without. It's hugs from mum and dad, shared conversations with good friends, seeing my nephews and nieces grow up... that's what I miss and cherish most of all.

So for all of you displaced northern hemisphere people... Merry Christmas. And to Jesus, who loves me without reservation and taught me how to live... thanks for putting up with a crazy girl who thinks Christmas should be in June!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One Kilogram of Cheese Puffs

African women can carry things on their heads and walk long distances, a fact I have always found to be amazing. They balance anything from shopping bags to buckets to oddly-shaped packages. Sometimes what they carry on their heads looks bone-crushingly heavy, yet they show no apparent strain. They walk with dignity, grace and skill.

I, on the other hand, cannot even balance an obscenely large quantity of cheese puffs on my head. Sigh....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Old Shoes, New Shoes

Changing cultures is a little like buying new shoes. The old pair is comfortable, it fits perfectly and it is what you know and love. The new pair takes some getting used to. You need to wear them a while to break them in. They can initially be sore and not as comfortable as the old pair.

After a while the new pair becomes more familiar, maybe even as comfortable as the old pair (or more?). When you put the old pair back on, you now notice a worn spot, a pebble, or a small flaw that makes it less comfortable than it once had been. Something has changed.

Once you have worn a new pair of shoes you never see the old pair in quite the same light. This has nothing to do with favourites. I have had many pairs of favourite shoes that had to be thrown in the dustbin because they had done their time, and many new pairs that never did fit right.

Right now I am wearing one American shoe and one South African shoe. The American shoe is comfortable. I know exactly what to expect when I put it on, how to behave and what I can do in that shoe. The South African shoe is becoming more familiar- more comfortable- but there are still moments when my foot becomes sore and I realise that I can't yet walk so far without needing to stop and sit for a while.

I can't pick a favourite pair, though, as I like them both. It has taken the wearing of each shoe to help me see the strengths of the other, and for that I am grateful. How many people get to have two pairs of shoes?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Quotes

"Don't be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life." - Bertolt Brecht

"Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry." - Mark Twain

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hemisphere Swapping

I can deal with the fact that my birthday, which was always in autumn, is now in the spring. My daughter thinks it's cool that her birthday, which was in the dead of winter, is now in the heat of summer ("Cool! Swim party!"). I can even deal with the fact that back to school shopping occurs late December/early January and that the school year ends late November. The fact that Christmas comes over summer holidays, and festive decorations are sold next to sunscreen displays is humerous, but also okay. But to have winter with no Christmas.... that's a hard one!

Always winter, never Christmas. It is strange to not have Christmas festivities to brighten up the short, cold days. I can celebrate the birth of Christ no matter what season it is, true. What I miss are the cultural extras - trappings, really - that make Christmas so memorable:
  • the giant roast turkey with homemade stuffing and gravy
  • brightly coloured decorations that you can see even through dense fog
  • Christmas carolers all bundled up in scarves and mittens
  • hot chocolate
  • walking into Starbucks from the bitter cold and smelling that warm delicious smell of gingerbread lattes, eggnog lattes and peppermint mochas
  • hearing Christmas music everywhere
  • family family family (this has nothing to do with seasons, but if I left them out I would be in trouble!)
For those of you in the northern hemisphere who can't grasp the fact that Christmas is in summer, imagine celebrating Easter in October. No spring colours, no celebration of new life, birth, no baby chicks or bunnies. Christ's resurrection - we are in awe of that no matter what! But when the stone was rolled away, did Jesus come out to blossoming trees and verdant gardens or did He crunch through leaf piles?

It's amazing how much our concept of a celebration day is coloured by our culture, our environment, and even the season.

Stop the Car!! Where's the Camera?!

In the U.S. we have small poinsettia plants at Christmastime (the size that make nice table centerpieces). This past weekend, I discovered the poinsettia TREE. Those of you who think everything in America is bigger and better, think again!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Thoughts on Life Expectancy

Swaziland has the world's lowest life expectancy, at 33.2 years. I am already past that age. It is weird to think that in the sleepy little kingdom of Swaziland, I am an old woman.

This young girl is 13 years old. According to statistics, she has twenty years left. I hope she defies statistics, as she has so much to offer the world. They all do. How many future contributions to mankind have been lost, swallowed up in the AIDS pandemic?

It is strange to think that Jesus also died at age 33.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Kid Attack!

This past weekend I went to Swaziland. Again. We took some friends of ours and spent time at a home for abandoned children. I was "attacked" by the kids, as you can see in the photo. I had such a blast! Here is Sibusiso, who is quite a naughty little boy (but full of spunk and life!), and Tangatile, a sweet two-year-old little girl who is always singing or humming a song and doesn't even realise it.

I am laughing because Sibusiso is tickling me, and I HATE to be tickled... except for this time. Strangely, it brought me such joy. I love these kids!