Friday, October 31, 2008

Worms, Anyone?

Since our dog may have died of worms, and since we live in Africa, our colleague suggested that we take a de-worming tablet once a year, just to be on the safe side. So today I went to the chemist to get the tablets for our family, but I was a bit nervous (not to mention that I felt like a dog who has to wear a giant cone-collar after surgery). I waited in the queue and when I got to the counter I said, "I need to know if you have (lowering voice) de-worming tablets... (raising voice) for my KIDS, of course."

It was the cowardly way out, I know. Heaven forbid that I - ME - need to take a de-worming tablet! The woman got the medicine for my children, and then I said, "Um... maybe my husband and I should take it too... (quickly) just in case." So the woman smiled - one of THOSE smiles - and got the tablets for my husband and myself. On my way out she yelled, "GOOD LUCK!" I turned seven shades of red. I wanted to hide. I felt utterly humiliated!

Taking medication for malaria or yellow fever sounds kind of cool, but there's just no glory in de-worming yourself.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fast-Food Faith

In my last post I mentioned waiting joyfully on God. That's a hard one for me. I tend to pray about something and then try to "help" God in answering my prayer, thereby speeding things up. Drive-thru God.

In today's day and age, we have everything at our fingertips. We seldom have to wait for anything, and if we do, we become impatient. I wonder if we're like that with our faith as well - expecting God to do everything in "thirty minutes or less, or your money back!" When God is seemingly silent, we question whether we are in His will, whether He hears us, whether He cares. We want fast-food faith.

One thing I admire about eldery people is their ability to wait. They didn't grow up in a generation where they could have everything NOW. They know how to work hard for something, how to wait for it, how to delay their gratification for the better thing rather than settling for a cheap substitute in the here and now.

Let's be honest - while convenient, fast food isn't all that great. There's nothing like a homebaked, slow-cooked meal (just thinking about Grandma's Sunday roast makes me salivate). Same thing with our faith. Sometimes God says, "Wait." Sometimes He needs to orchestrate pieces to fall into place. Sometimes He knows that we need a good lesson in patience. He will always answer our prayers... maybe not in the way we think He will, but always with our best interests at heart.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Lesson Learned (well, Learn-ING)

One thing I've been learning lately is that while I believe God and His Word, I don't often live like I believe it. For instance, I'll often pray about a situation and then worry about it all day! How silly is that?!

I've decided to make a conscious effort to live like I believe God, to live in such a way that my actions reflect my prayers, whether it's stepping out in faith, finding joy in times of waiting, or leaving things in God's hands and trusting Him for the outcome. If it's a battle I need to fight, then I need to fight knowing that my God is bigger than anything satan can throw my way. If it's speaking the truth in love, then I need not fear the outcome. If it's just walking with God hand in hand, taking the long way around the mountain, then I need to enjoy the hike and live in the moment, not worry about what's around the bend or hiding behind trees.

"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?.... But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness...." - Matthew 6:27, 33

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Floor Moppers and Shelf Stockers

In the U.S., store shelves are stocked and the floors are cleaned after business hours (or before, I suppose). Here in South Africa, it is done during business hours.

If you go to the grocery store you will find pallets of goods blocking half of the aisles. You have to walk around store employees who are stocking the shelves, and if they are blocking something you need, you just have to wait. Pushing your trolley down an aisle without having to wait, say "Sorry!" or manoeuvre around a stack of goods is a rarity.

Then there are the floor moppers. I have asked several people why they have to mop the floors during business hours and they all reply, "To keep them clean." But then where am I supposed to walk? If I walk across the wet floor, I'll just make it dirty again (or go surfing). Walking around the wet floor isn't always possible, and I don't always have time to wait for it to dry. Most of the time I just have to walk through it.

I understand that people need jobs, and I understand that customer service doesn't seem to be important here, but I still haven't figured out how to shop without incurring the wrath of the floor moppers and shelf stockers. Any ideas?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Our Speeding Ticket Adventure

The speed limit on Zambesi Road is 80 km/hr. There is one small stretch of road where the limit drops to 70 km/hr, and right after the posted sign there is a speed camera. If the robot (traffic light) is green and you go through the intersection without having to stop, you actually have to step on the brakes to get down to 70 so the camera won't flash you. Well....

The camera caught us. The ticket came in the mail four months later (I guess they're not in a hurry). We paid it today, and I am thankful to say it only took us FOUR offices to figure out which one was the right one! How's that for adjusting to South African life?

First we went to the police station in Sinoville. They said we had to pay it downtown at Tshwane Metropolitan-Something-or-Other building. We went down there, to the cashier's office, and they said we had to go into the building next door and up to the second floor (which is the 3rd floor for all you Americans). So we did that, and ended up at the "Representation Enquiries Desk" (what?!). The woman there said we had to go in the office next door and view the picture on the computer (the one the speed camera took) to make sure it was indeed us. It was. That woman said, "You must now go across the hall and into the door on your right to the Prosecutor's Office (again, what?!). Ask him for a fee reduction."

So we walked into the Prosecutor's Office and said, "Um.. can we have a fee reduction?" He took our speeding ticket, stamped it, and reduced the fee by 1/3, no questions asked! (at this point I'm feeling like my head is in someone else's body - I have NO idea what's going on, whose office I'm in, what all these titles mean, and how on earth they can reduce our fine for no reason!). We then had to go back downstairs to the building next door to pay the fine at the cashier's desk (finally, this one makes sense!). And off we went!

I didn't mention the four complete strangers on the street who offered to pay our fine for us, while we were walking from the car to the office building.

I LOVE South Africa! I have no idea what's going on half the time, or where I'm going, or what those office titles mean. But I am happy to report that today's adventure only cost $10. Cheaper than a movie, and I had more fun!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts on Disappointment

"I asked him how he kept such a good attitude all of the time with so many people abusing his kindness. Bill set down his coffee and looked me in the eye. 'Don,' he said, 'If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.' " - Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

Do you ever feel disappointed because you were looking forward to something and then it didn't come to pass? That's how I felt today. I was SO disappointed, but then I read this quote and had to ask myself: Do I want what I want more than what God wants? Will I relinquish my will for God's?

I am challenged once again to die to myself and my desires each day, knowing deep down that God's plans always turn out way better than mine!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Unwelcome Guest

I don't know if you can see this, but there's a huge spider just above our family portrait. Anyone who knows me knows that I really, REALLY am not fond of spiders. Snakes are okay, rats, mice, beetles and other insects are good, but spiders give me jelly legs. Dan says, "Spiders are our friends" because they eat mosquitos (and we have lots of those), but still - I wish this eight-legged wonder would find some other family portrait to join, because as much as I can appreciate the fact that God made spiders, I don't want them in my house!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Smell of South Africa

Have you ever notice that countries have smells? When you travel to another country and get off the plane, there is definitely an unfamiliar smell in the air. I'll never forget the smell of New Zealand - Dan and I had flown all night, rented a car upon landing in Auckland (can you believe they let us rent a car even though we had never driven on the left side of the road?), stopped by a petrol station in Hamilton to get a cup of coffee, and... (breathe)... what an incredible smell! To this day, every time I see a certain shade of green, I think of the smell of the air in New Zealand. But this is a blog about living in South Africa, so...

What does South Africa smell like? Or more to the point, what does Pretoria smell like?

In the winter it smells like a campfire. You can always see a plume of smoke rising in the distance from a veld fire.

In the spring it smells like flowers. There is a tree with little yellow puffballs on it, and the smell is so sweet it perfumes the air all around it.

In the summer it smells like rain. The good sort of "wet dog" smell. The thunderstorms wash away the dirt in the air - the sweat and smog and hard work of the day- and we are left breathing in fresh clean air. In the cool of the morning after a thunderstorm... that is my favourite South Africa smell.

One can always always smell the diesel fumes and black exhaust smoke from cars that are in desperate need of servicing. I call it the "Third World Traffic" smell, the smell of dirty pale blue buses and beat up taxis.

I would be chastised severely if I failed to mention the smell of the braai - there is nothing like walking out of a shop or walking through your neighbourhood and having the smell of wors waft past your nose.

It's funny how smells affect us, remind us of a long-ago memory, cause us to feel nostalgic. What does your country smell like?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Sacrifice of Praise

Back home, my favourite week of all at church is not Easter, not Christmas, but missions conference week. I love seeing the church decorated with flags of the world, reuniting with some of my favourite people who serve God around the world, and meeting people who are passionate about their faith, fulfilling the Great Commission, and in love with Jesus.

I was excited because THIS week, it was missions week at the local church we attend in Pretoria. We walked into church to see flags of the world hanging everywhere. I noticed the United States flag hanging next to Greece, and I suddenly got a lump in my throat. Seeing my home country's flag, feeling the absence of the happy reunion with those we know and love... I didn't expect this but I cried all through worship.

It is lonely, sometimes, to be the ones half a world away, to need encouragement and fellowship from people who know what it's like (and who know us), and to not get that. We sang songs in church about the nations bowing down before the Lord and I cried. I cried because I am happy to sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and I cried because I got this sudden wave of homesickness.

A verse popped into my head - "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess His name." - Hebrews 13:15. Sometimes praising God is a sacrifice, when our minds want to dwell on what is "wrong". But if there's one thing I've learned since moving to Africa, it's that when you walk into church, you leave your troubles at the door. The next few hours belong to God. And I have found, that God is sufficient for all that I need.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Swinging in Swaziland

Here's Emma, enjoying a few minutes to herself. Isn't she beautiful?

(yes, I know this is one of those shameless "Here's a photo of my kid" blog posts. But it's such a magical photo that I had to post it!)

The First Rain

Rain came to South Africa today. It was the first rain of the season, and long overdue. During the long, dry winter people warm themselves by building fires that often burn out of control. One can see the smoke from a veld fire nearly every day. Consequently the air quality is pretty abysmal during the dry season. Contact lenses feel gritty. Allergies abound. Never have I wished for the rains to come like I have this spring.

Last year the rain started mid-September, right after we arrived in South Africa. This year, it's already mid-October and no rain... until this evening. The sky suddenly darkened, and then came the magnificent lightning bolts and thunder (Dan took the above photo of lightning over our next door neighbour's house). Thirty minutes later, the rain began to fall - big, fat drops that quickly merged into one large downpour. I ran outside, barefooted, and danced in the street with my children. Dinner could wait...

"Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in You, for You are the One who does all this." - Jeremiah 14:22

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We're All Just a Bunch of Kids

We went to Swaziland a few days ago to take clothes and shoes to an orphanage. Lucy was immediately surrounded by some of the kids. They were fascinated with her freckles and hair, and Lucy, to her credit, was unusually patient and tolerant about having lots of little hands in her face.

What I love about this photo is this: the Swazi kids are not defined by being orphans. Lucy is not defined by being an American or having two parents. They are just a bunch of kids enjoying each other.

How often we attach labels to one another that define who we are and determine our worth. In God's eyes, however, we're all just a bunch of kids. Our identity and worth should come from our position in Christ, not from whatever labels the world decides to stick upon us.

So.... labels of the world, I am officially "unsticking" you. Fall off!

Tuesday Quote

"Men and women of faith know they are strangers and exiles on the earth because somehow and somewhere along the line they have been given a glimpse of Home... By grace we see what we see. To have faith is to respond to what we see by longing for it the rest of our days; by trying to live up to it and towards it through all the wonderful and terrible things; by breathing it in like air and growing strong on it; by looking to see it again and see it better. To lose faith is to stop looking. To lose faith is to decide... that all you ever saw from afar was your own best dreams."
- Frederick Buechner, The Clown in the Belfry

Don't lose faith, friends. Don't lose faith.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Christo, my co-worker, said he brought a treat to share. It was in the microwave, he said. When the microwave beeped, I opened the door to find a... sheep head! Half a sheep head, to be specific. "This is skaapkop. Look - here's the brain, here's the eyeball, and here's the tongue! This one's peri-peri flavoured." (deep breath) Okay....

The brain tasted like livers, but I like livers, so that was okay. The eyeball... Christo got out a knife to flick the eye out of the socket, and when he did this black gel bulged out of the centre. Elsabé piped up, "We don't eat that part in Namibia." Christo said, "Well I do," and popped it into his mouth, leaving the rest of the gelatinous eyeball. I didn't want to eat the eyeball - I REALLY didn't want to eat the eyeball - but I had to admit (to my shame) it was delicious. Elsabé and Christo just laughed at me. "Not bad for an American," said Elsabé. The tongue tasted like roast beef, but I've had beef tongue before, so sheep tongue wasn't that different (except that Christo was sitting next to me saying, "I wonder what that sheep has licked in its lifetime...." ).

Dan joined in the fun, and when every last bit of meat was picked off the skull I said, "I think I know what vultures feel like." "Come on," Dan said. "We're carnivores!"

Maybe... but I still can't believe I pulled a sheep head out of the microwave.

Friday, October 10, 2008

We're Still Not the Nel Family

Remember the bad day I wrote about in which someone by the name of Nel (who owes a lot of money to the city) put our address on their electricity bill? That problem still hasn't been solved! Our electricity has been cut nearly every day this week.

Trying to figure out bureaucracies in one's home country is hard enough, but when you're in a foreign country, where do you go? Who do you talk to? How do you handle things? We pay our bill every month, but to a different company. It's weird that some other company can just come in and cut our power.

So today we drove out to Akasia to the "Finance Building" of the City of Tswhane. We met with a woman who tried to help us for an hour. She did all she could and then said we had to phone an "Inspector" to come out and inspect our property, make sure we are who we say we are, that our property address is our property address, and that we are not the Nels. Dan has been with the inspector now for over an hour. They've gone through a pot of coffee, and the problem still isn't solved.

Amazing how one typo can adversely affect the wrong person. It's also amazing that we only care about what affects us directly - I care about this injustice because it affects ME. But do I care about others? Jesus commands us to care. "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" - Isaiah 58:6-7

This whole electricity mess has caused me to realise that I need to care not only about what affects me, but about what is right for everyone.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mid-Week Prayer

"O God, You are my God,
earnestly I seek You;
my soul thirsts for You,
my body longs for You,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

I have seen You in the sanctuary
and beheld Your power and Your glory.

Because Your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify You.

I will praise You as long as I live,
and in Your Name I will lift up my hands."
- Psalm 63:1-4

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." - Philippians 1:2-21

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One of My Favourite Shops

We pass this shop often when we go out to Soshanguve. Public phone, chicken pies and umbrella repair - all under one roof! I love the entrepreneurial spirit in South Africa. With a little creativity and a good attitude, there are opportunities around every corner.

Just Because You Found a Shop....

... doesn't mean its shelves are stocked!

On first glance, Pretoria looks like any large city - shopping centres, infrastructure, rugby stadium, etc. But every now and then something is there to remind me that I'm not in America anymore.

Yesterday I went to four different ATM's before I found one that actually had money to dispense. Sometimes the supermarket will be completely out of meat, milk, or whatever I happen to need that day.

Last week I went to the photo counter at a shop to have some photos printed from my flash drive, and the man who helped me didn't tell me until after I had placed my order, paid, and had the photos printed that the printer was out of ink. I took a look at my photos (which were all a sickly grey-blue colour) and asked him why he didn't tell me that ahead of time. His reply - "Some people don't mind if their photos look like this." I then had to go through the process of getting a refund, which involved filling out form after form and was almost as much labour as trying to get a work visa from the Department of Home Affairs!

I really have to fight the tendency to complain because the truth is - it has been good for me to learn to improvise, be resourceful, find creative dinner solutions when there is no meat or milk to be found. When you don't have what you need, there are almost always other options. I am also learning to be patient and content. If I don't get my photos printed today, is it really the end of the world?

Growing up in the United States, I had access to everything I needed or wanted. I am learning now that not having everything at my disposal can actually be a blessing. The people of South Africa are so good at finding ways around their challenges, their lack, their frustrations. If I had never left the U.S., I would never have seen that, and I would have missed out on some amazing ingenuity.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Philosophical Musings on Cross-Cultural Experience

Yesterday Dan and I were talking about what it's like to live in another culture. Dan, of course, has more experience in this arena as he has lived in three countries. I was telling him that living in another culture, for me, has been one of the loneliest experiences of my life, but also one of the most enriching. He asked me how it was enriching, and I had to think for a while before I could articulate it. Here's what I came up with:

1. Living in another culture has shown me more than anything else that missions (and life) is all about living somewhere and loving people with the love of Jesus. It really is that simple. All of the -isms and -ologies, while good, can't take precedence over the simple act of loving your neighbour.

2. When you live in another culture you are neither in your home culture nor fully at home in your "host" culture. In some ways you are "outside" of all culture, which allows for an interesting perspective on both cultures' strengths and weaknesses. It is like standing on top of a hill and looking down to see something: you get a completely different perspective when you're on the hill than down in the valley.

I have to wonder - no, I have to think - that Jesus often felt lonely and outside of culture while on earth. He could fully identify with man, to be sure, but He was also fully God and in that regard, not understood by man (at least, not by most).

It is strange and yet comforting to see loneliness as being one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It is also strange and yet comforting to see Jesus in a completely different light. It makes the Bible come alive all over again for me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Why Macadamia Nuts are So Expensive

I got this bag of macadamia nuts thinking it wouldn't be so bad to crack the shells. I was feeling smug because the bag of nuts was cheaper than a can of shelled nuts. I was trying to enjoy one of South Africa's foods (South Africa is one of the world's largest producers of macadamia nuts and the single largest planting of macadamia trees is also in South Africa). I was wrong, I was wrong, I was wrong!

I have never struggled so much to crack a nut before! I finally ended up holding the nut in one hand with a pair of pliars, and then beating the nut to death with a hammer in my other hand. After about 15 blows (per nut!), the shell finally fragmented and exploded all over my garage floor. I needed muscles, I needed a macaw parrot (they are apparently the only animal that can crack the shell), I needed protective eyewear... I needed the can of already shelled nuts!

This morning my daughter came in from the garage holding half a shell. "Look at this, Mom! I don't know what it is, but isn't it pretty?" Grrr.....

All I can say is, whoever invented the machine that commercially cracks macadamia nuts deserves every cent he/she gets!