Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Culturally Mixed-Up Christmas

I am enjoying a winter Christmas after two years of summer Christmases. There's something about warm jerseys , brightly-coloured scarves, cosy fires and drinking hot cocoa after coming in from the cold. Christmas carols make more sense when you live in the Northern Hemisphere, as most of them are about snow and cold winter nights. BUT...

South Africa gets into your blood, and when I close my eyes at night it is not visions of sugarplums that fill my head but visions of the African sun setting over the highveld, of summer thunderstorms and the smell of wors on the braai. It is visions of children playing soccer in dusty fields, of hadedas flying overhead early in the morning, of red bishops and weaver birds and mossies in my garden. It is visions of a resilient people, of joyful smiles, of a country bursting with potential.

I love my family, friends and reconnecting with my home culture. I am so grateful that we could come home for Christmas, but I also can't wait to go home to my Africa.

Am I the Only One Who Doesn't Get It?

I have decided that the Christmas decorations (like most other things American) have become a bit excessive. The fad this year seems to be giant blow-up lawn decorations. For instance, there are people around the corner whose Christmas decorations include an inflatable snowman on a motorbike, an inflatable Santa pumping petrol and an inflatable reindeer on a surfboard up on the roof. In fact, they were so filled with the urge to decorate everything in sight that they decorated the stop sign on the street as well. Every time we turn the corner we have to stop at a sign covered in tinsel with letters outlined in green glitter stuff (that can't be legal, can it?).

I don't mind twinkle lights and decorations, but honestly, what does a giant blow-up Santa pumping petrol have to do with Christmas (I thought his reindeer flew, anyway)? And the fact that people actually pay money for such things is a bit scary.

When I mentioned this to Dan his response was, "If they made a giant inflatable Santa installing Linux on his computer I'd put it on my lawn." So much for my soapbox.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

One Big Sugar High

I am about to share a very unpopular opinion, and since I am not known for my diplomacy skills I shall just shock you all from the start: Disneyland is not the happiest place on earth.

I spent the whole of Thursday and Friday wondering why Disneyland didn't make me giddy and smiley like everyone else in the queue, why I didn't succumb to buying strange-looking hats that you can only wear in Disneyland, and why I wasn't enticed by all the cotton candy (candy floss for you South Africans), churros and ice cream carts that were conveniently stationed throughout the park.

Yesterday I figured it out: going to Disneyland is like getting a 12-hour sugar high. It brings you surface happiness, but none of that "cheer" penetrates deep into your marrow. As with any sugar high, when it wears off, it drops you below "normal", so you're actually worse off.

Which brings me to my next question: What is the "protein" of the happiness world? I don't want to get preachy here, so let me just rephrase this to say that apart from Jesus, what are those moments in life that are truly memorable, those events that make you belly laugh and can still make you laugh years later when you reminisce? ("Remember that time...?")

I don't think you need a $14 parking ticket for them. I think they happen at the unlikeliest of moments (We were so bored on the drive home that we had a contest to see who could "Moo" like a cow the most convincingly. Then we had a contest to see who could sound the most like Dan's security/tech podcasts). I think they involve deep connections with people who know and love us. I think they often follow moments of deep pain or struggle.

Is it safe to assume that one can only feel joy to the degree that one has felt sorrow? If we never acknowledge our pain or deal with it, then can we truly feel joy? It would seem to me that most of America is about "medicating" our pain - if we can entertain ourselves enough, than we won't feel sad anymore. If we just shop enough, buy enough Starbucks, go to enough movies, listen to enough music, than we'll never have to deal with that empty feeling that nags us in the silence.

Disneyland is fun but it just doesn't cut it for me. I think I'd rather laugh my head off over my bad Afrikaans out in the veld sharing a cup of instant coffee (yuck!) with my friends who love me despite my faults (while trying not to scratch my mosquito bites). Interacting with people on a deep level - that's protein.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Have Fallen Prey... American consumerism. When I walk into a shop here I am greeted by a feast of eye candy that tantalises my brain cells and convinces me that I need at least ten things that aren't on my list ("Ooh... bubbles!"). How on earth do you resist the temptation to buy such cheap, convenient, cute, sparkly, well-marketed... things?

I've decided to limit my outings in order to improve my self-discipline. When I do go into a shop I repeat the phrase, "I don't need it. I don't want it. It won't fit into my suitcase anyway."

Convenience has it's bonuses, but it's also a heavy burden to bear.

First Impressions on Returning to my Home Country

  1. The Customs Officials are nice and helpful. I was impressed.
  2. The freeways are actually free (I keep reaching for toll money).
  3. The Christmas decorations are weird. Sort of a "Las Vegas hangover meets Bethlehem" fusion.
  4. I still like Starbucks. I'm sorry, but I do. Those pumpkin spice lattes are just so good!
  5. The convenience in food packaging is amazing - cheese that's already grated for you, chicken meat prepackaged into little ziploc packs with the fat and bone already removed. I still haven't decided if that's good or bad....
  6. Tumble dryers are nice. So are dishwashers. And central heating.
  7. Christmas trees are great, but they have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus (same thing with Christmas braais, incidentally).
  8. Food portions are WAY too big.
  9. The grey, foggy skies are dreary, but it's what I grew up with. There's something comforting about the familiar, isn't there?
  10. Back to freeways. The roadsides here are ugly. They're much prettier in South Africa.
  11. I really like summer Christmases, but there's something nice about coming in from the cold and smelling Christmas cookies baking, warming your hands by a fire, and bundling up in festive sweaters (jerseys. Uh-oh - which word do I use?).
  12. No matter where you are in the world, there's nothing as wonderful as being with family.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Learned Something New About the Culture Today

I figured out something today. Apparently, in Afrikaner culture, it's customary to stop by for coffee and greet someone before they leave on a trip. I don't know, but we had so many people phone or stop by for coffee, wanting to greet us before we leave. Consequently I *still* have not packed the suitcases (I haven't even gotten the suitcases down from the cupboard!).

At first I thought, I'm busy and have so many things to do. Don't they know that? Having to play the hostess and serve coffee keeps me from getting my last-minute errands done. But as the day progressed, I realised something important: packing can wait. People can't.

I have to say, I felt SO loved that so many people stopped by to wish us well. Who am I that so many people care? It's a bit mind-boggling. I decided to let the packing go. We went to Mader's (a truly bizarre cultural experience if you're ever in Pretoria) and bought a kilo of biltong. Every time someone came over for coffee, we shared a "Last Supper" of biltong with them (I guess South Africa has gotten into our blood as we have been eating a lot of "lasts" this week -wors and pap, vetkoek, biltong, chicken livers, and even pannekoeke).

So now it's way past bedtime, the laundry still isn't done, the suitcases aren't packed, I'm stuffed with food, but I am basking in the love and care of South African friends. South Africans truly know how to put people before tasks. And that is worth every bit of last-minute packing that will occur tomorrow!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Restaurant Review

Tonight I went on a date with my husband. I love dressing up and feeling like we're kids again. We went to Lekgotla in Johannesburg, my favourite restaurant.

I have often thought that being a food critic would be a great job, but then, I don't think I could find much to criticise. I just love trying new foods.

Lekgotla is in Nelson Mandela Square next to Sandton City, and if you've never been, you are missing out on some amazing African cuisine. Dan had springbok medallions encrusted in Ethiopian coffee. I had crocodile meat in a creamy mango curry. And for dessert, amarula parfait.

It was a perfect summer evening in the highveld - light breeze, warm, beautiful sunset - and I was wearing my cute black dress. Dan dressed up Jo'burg-style in his smart clothes, and I must say it felt like we were lovebirds that had just started dating.

Oh, to be in love in South Africa... it was an absolutely magical evening.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Have Two New Oumas

This morning our choir sang at a retirement village. We did our entire Christmas programme, and I have to say, we put as much energy into it this time as we did for the whole community last week. These precious people are so wonderful.

I think it must be difficult to grow old, to feel as if the world has passed you by, forgotten you, or worse, discarded you as no longer relevant or valuable. If the only thing you have to look forward to are craft lessons and water aerobics, that would be a lonely existence indeed. But I know - I KNOW - that as long as we still have life and breath, God still has a plan and purpose for us.

So today I was honoured to sing for some wonderful people, and afterwards I spent time talking to several of them. The trouble is... they were Afrikaans-speaking Oumas, so I had to work really hard to say the simplest of sentences. They were so sweet and understanding, and two of them even adopted me. One of them was sure to repeat several times that she stays in "kamer nommer agt op die derde vloer," so I won't forget to "kom kuier." I told her I would be in the States for Christmas, maar wanneer ek terugkom sal ek kom kuier. And I meant it, too.

I think we need to slow down more often and listen to the wealth of wisdom and experience older people possess. A cup of tea, an hour or two, and time stands still, mesmerised by the most amazing life stories.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Something to Think About

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein


Prize-giving is that time of year when school children are awarded for their hard work. They dress up in their best school uniform, sing a few songs, and receive awards for their achievements.

All I have ever asked is that my children do their best, so whether or not they attend prize-giving is, on the one hand, irrelevant. On the other hand, if your daughters both get acadamic colours and your one daughter is made head media prefect for the following year and your other daughter was the top academic achiever for the entire Grade 4 and your son read the most books in Grade 2, then yes, ek is baie trots op hulle.

But that is where my love for prize-giving ends. The rest becomes a cultural anthropologist's/sociologists dream-come-true.....

For starters the parents are crammed into a school hall so tightly that there is no hope of escaping in a quick or orderly fashion. You have less room than an economy class aeroplane seat, and there is no climate control. So it's hot. And you are inevitably sitting next to some beautiful but big African momma who is taking up her seat and 3/4 of yours. And did I mention that it's hot?

Next, all parents must listen to the headmaster give an address on some would-be interesting topic (I say would-be, because when it's hot and cramped, nothing is interesting except water slides and cooldrink). The first year we were here, we listened to a fascinating speech on the brain. Last year it was the pygmy elephants of Borneo (I kid you not). This year it was on Imperial measurements vs. the Metric System, spanners, and how the Chinese do twice as much homework as Americans.

Thirdly, when the thunderstorms finally come to cool the air, you can't hear anything anyway, the biscuits get soaking wet, and you are left wondering how to get to your car which is parked way out in the farthest corner of the rugby field.

However, because it is highly important to my children, we put on our best faces and behaviour and try to enjoy every moment (but if we keep scorecards on how many times the headmaster says, "I read another interesting fact about the fruit bats of Northern Mexico..." can you blame us?)

I leave you with this word of advice: should you ever find yourself in a similar position, it really helps if you pretend you're a cultural anthropologist and you're doing research for your doctoral thesis. Trust me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

If Only Every Day Were Like This

I am completely used to driving on the left side of the road except when it comes to drive-throughs, of which there are thankfully few. It just baffles my mind that the drive through goes clockwise around the building instead of counter-clockwise (yes, I know it's completely obvious and logical, but I still can't figure out which way to enter the drive-through).

Today I was early for work because the morning commute was miraculously fast-flowing, so Dan and I stopped at a McDonald's drive-through for some coffee. When we drove up to the speaker a man's voice said, "Hello?" Dan ordered the coffee, but the voice again said, "Hello?" So Dan ordered again. "Hello?" Ordered. "Hello?" At this point he was yelling so loudly into the speaker that I started laughing and quoting old Dr. Demento lyrics "I'd like a cheeseburger, some onion rings, and a LARGE ORANGE DRINK!").

Dan gave me a dirty look, gave up and just drove up to the window where you pay. Only no one was there. So Dan says, "Hello?", and that's when I started laughing hysterically. Finally a guy came to that window and asked Dan what he wanted. Dan ordered coffee. The man just looked at him and said, "Sorry?" So Dan ordered coffee again. And again, the man said, "Sorry?" Dan said, "COFFEE!"

At this point my stomach hurt from laughing. The man finally understood, we got our coffee, and handed us several packets of sugar and cream. The brand of the cream packets was called "Tastes Like Fresh Milk." Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if something tastes like fresh milk, that means it isn't fresh milk.

Dan wanted to throw them away but I insisted on keeping them; they make me smile (I love bad marketing!)

The good news is, I made it to work with plenty of time to spare, plenty of bad coffee, and a huge smile on my face.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Small Taste of Heaven

I love love LOVE what I do. I'm getting ready for a Christmas concert next Friday and Saturday at Hatfield Christian Church in Pretoria. I'm in the choir, and the orchestra is made up largely of Pretoria Symphony members. There's also dance, drama and video, but what's really cool about the whole production are the people.

Our church is extremely multi-cultural. At rehearsal tonight there were people from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Holland, Namibia, Brazil, Germany and the U.S. Of the South Africans, just about every culture is represented as well - Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, etc. We all come from such different backgrounds and bring something unique to the table, so to speak.

I just got home from rehearsal - it's ridiculously late and I have to get up early in the morning, but I'm dancing in my seat as I type. I love music, and though I sometimes feel like an outsider here, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Mosquito Bites and Mince Pies

It's mosquito season. I am covered in mosquito bites despite the plug-ins, sprays, sticks, wipes, candles, etc., that all guarantee to rid my house of mosquitos. Today I'm sure three mosquitoes bit me through my socks. Aaahhh! I would like to say that South African mosquito bites itch more than California mosquito bites, but that's probably not true. Sigh...

The only thing that makes mosquito season tolerable is that it's also mince pie season. Mince pies are yummy, individual tarts filled with a gooey dried fruit filling. I think it's a British-influenced Christmas dessert (I've never seen them in the States, at any rate). But if they're filled with fruit, then can I justify eating two of them for breakfast?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Today's Take on South Africa

Some have said that South Africa is a strange mix of First World and Third World - or Western and Non-Western, to be more politically correct. I would have to agree on many levels, but that's also what makes South Africa such a vibrant place to live.

So many inventions are South African - the CAT scan, producing oil from coal, the first heart transplant... even the swimming pool vacuum cleaner all had their origins in South Africa. But just the other day I met a woman who didn't know how to use a microwave oven. To me that is mind-boggling. (In retrospect, she could probably teach me more about life than I could ever teach her)

I am the queen of bad analogies, so let me retain my title and come up with another one: South Africa is like a lava lamp. Beautiful, mesmerising, you could watch it for hours, but unpredictable, always changing (albeit slowly), indefinable... dare I say impalpable?

Every time you put a label on South Africa or stick it in a box, it rises up to prove the world wrong. I love that. The people are so innovative, so creative, so resourceful, so inspiring.

The next time you read a bad report about South Africa on crime, violence or inefficient infrastructure, remember this- it was probably written by someone who doesn't like lava lamps.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Things That Live in Our House Besides Us:

Currently there are:
  1. About 7 extra guys in the other room eating snacks, playing games, watching movies, and having interesting philosophical conversations (it's guy night at the Erickson house)
  2. Ants - both the crawling kind and flying kind (aka termites)
  3. Shongololos - big black millipedes that love our garage (but why?)
  4. Christmas beetles. About this time every year they come out in droves to the point where you don't want to take a walk in the evening or open your windows because they're literally everywhere. Right now there's one in my bedroom that is buzzing around like a chainsaw.
  5. Mosquitos. It's also that time of year.
  6. Neighbourhood children. Sometimes I find extra children in my house. Especially the ones that love my cooking.
  7. The occasional gecko.
While I'm not keen on the bugs, I hope our house will always be one in which people feel welcomed. I haven't been so great at hospitality lately as I'd like, but I'm working on it. And maybe one of these days someone will feel comfortable enough to raid my fridge before kicking off their shoes and curling up with a good novel on the couch. That would be the ultimate compliment.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thoughts on Worship

I know I blog about church a lot, but I can't help it; church is just funny sometimes. Today there was this guy sitting behind me who sang with - how shall I say it - GUSTO (and badly at that). It's really hard to sing on key when the guy behind you isn't. I used to get distracted by this, but (well actually I still do) it doesn't bother me anymore. It rather makes me smile.

One of the most important lessons I learned about worship was from a guy who couldn't hear. I used to sing on the worship team at my old church. And this guy clapped off-beat, made loud noises, danced and was just... different. If you were sitting behind him - if you didn't know he was deaf - I suppose it would be terribly distracting. But I had the advantage of being on stage and seeing his face, which was beautiful because it was absolutely full of joy.

This guy could feel the rhythm of the music through his feet and when he worshiped it was so pure, so holy. He didn't care what anyone else thought. He was just expressing his love to God. And here I was, on stage, worrying about getting the notes right and the harmonies just so, coordinating outfits and generally obsessing about things that don't matter when it comes to worship.

"Then Jesus told him, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.' " - John 20:29

Turns out that as long as you can feel the rhythm in your feet, it doesn't matter if you can't hear the music. Worship is more about making a fool of yourself as only lovers do than getting the notes right.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bedtime Story

For all of you who have ever felt worn and threadbare....

"The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nanna came to tidy the room. "does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
~ From The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

Monday, November 2, 2009

Purple Purple Everywhere!

Most of you probably know that Pretoria is called the Jacaranda City and that Jacaranda trees are originally from Brazil; they're not native to South Africa. But what you don't know is what the street I work on looks like at this time of year, so without further ado, I present the view from my office window:

I love it how, when the blossoms fall, they create a carpet of purple that covers the red soil. It's such a beautiful contrast. Unfortunately, the colour of Jacaranda blossoms is one that is nearly impossible to capture on camera. So if you want to see what they really look like, I suggest that you buy tickets for next year's World Cup and then stay for four extra months! (I'm serious, by the way)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Quote

"I know of only two alternatives to hypocrisy: perfection or honesty." - Philip Yancey

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Nightmare, Part 3

It seems that once I realised I'm not so great in the grace area, God has been giving me tons of "growth opportunities." Lately I've been getting cut off in traffic and having grumpy employees at the till. Even the post office man yelled at me for not having my passport with me in order to fetch a box ("That's just WRONG, lady!"). Sigh.

The clincher was on Sunday morning at church. I sat next to a beautiful African mama wearing a traditional dress. The thing was, she was a BIG African mama, and every time she sat down she partially sat down on me! I was trapped underneath her when it was time to stand for worship. I was hampered during communion. And taking notes during the sermon was not so easy. When she started fanning herself with a piece of paper, her elbow was in my face.

I'm still at the point in my foreigner status where I wasn't sure if this was normal, if it would have been rude to ask her to move over (although there wasn't really anywhere for her to move), or even if I would be labeled a racist for exerting my rights to personal space.

That's when I closed my eyes and prayed desperately for grace. It went something like this - "Lord, help me to extend grace to this woman. I really don't want to, she's really irritating me, and I can't see the pastor through her elbow. But maybe she's going through a difficult time, maybe she's had some negative experiences in her past. I don't want to add to that or distract her from hearing Your voice. But I don't WANT to extend grace, she's wrinkling my skirt, and I feel GRUMPY! Help me help me help me help me help me help me!"

At the end of the service they handed out chocolates to celebrate the opening of the new foyer, and I promptly forgot being rendered temporarily two-dimensional.

Sometimes I think I'm really pathetic. The amazing thing is that God loves me anyway, and that may be the best example of grace ever.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Nightmare, Part 2

I'm still thinking about this dream and what - if anything - it means. And every time I think about it I end up thinking about grace.

If grace is, by definition, giving someone what they don't deserve (in a good way), then grace is also, by definition, unfair. Unjust, if you will.

How many times have we - have I - said, "But that's not fair!" This is, of course, always said when I get the short end of the stick, but when I am blessed unfairly, when something good happens that I don't deserve, do I also cry, "But that's not fair"? Hardly. I usually smile through the rest of my day gleefully with an extra bounce in my step.

God extending grace to us is also unfair, unjust. Yet He was willing to suffer that injustice on our behalf. Jesus isn't recorded as saying, "But that's not fair!" as He hung on the cross.

It is easy to accept unfairness when it benefits us, but when it costs us... ah, but that's a different story. And yet I am called to be like Jesus. Which means that I need to be willing to suffer injustice for someone else's good, so someone else can be blessed "unfairly".

And this haunts me because it is so counter-intuitive, so difficult, so mind-boggling, so.... unfair.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Nightmare

I had the weirdest dream the other night. I dreamed that I was paired up with Julius Malema and Eugene Terrblanche, and Jesus was sending us to reach out to people in the community (if you don't know who these two guys are, it is enough to know that they are on *completely* opposite ends of the political spectrum here in South Africa).

I looked at Jesus and said, "You've got to be kidding, right?" He said, "No, and you three are so bad in the area of unity that you need to practice on the animals at Pilanesburg Game Reserve before you work with people."

So off we went to Pilanesburg. We were only just inside the gate when Julius and Eugene started arguing about where to begin. This went on for some time so I just sat down on a rock, and that's when I noticed that I was carrying a backpack full of American junk food.

I was super excited about the junk food and was about to dig in when Julius took my backpack and started eating all of my food. Eugene was still waxing eloquently, going on and on in some impassioned speech, only no one was listening.

I sighed and looked up to the sky. "Why me?" I said to God. He responded, "Because you need to learn how to extend grace and love those who are difficult to love."

And that's when Dan woke me up.

I'm still wondering, several days later, if there's more to this than just a dream. Is God letting me know that I stink in the "extending grace" department or was it merely a bizarre dream? Or both? Either way, it's got me thinking.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Small Victory for Immigrants

I now know what an IRP5 is. And UIF and PAYE deductions. I feel so smug!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Who Writes This Stuff, Anyway?

I have come to the conclusion that you need a university degree to understand the ins and outs of health care. This may strike a nerve with those of you in the U.S. who are debating ObamaCare, but I am happy to say that it is just as horrible the world over.

Here in South Africa health insurance is called medical aid. I think a medical "scheme" is the same thing, but to be honest, I don't really know.

Today I got a letter from my medical aid saying that "Day-to-day expenses will be refunded from OHEB first at NHRPL tarriffs and MPL rates and when it is depleted, from your Savings Account up to cost. Should claims be refunded from OHEB in excess of the allowed tarriffs, the balance will be refunded from Savings. Your Safety Net Level is reached through the accumulation of your claims paid from OHEB and Savings and your own pocket through the year at MPL rates and NHRPL tarriffs."

Umm...thanks. It's all so clear now. But what I really want to know is, if I have nightmares about NHRPL tarriffs and MPL rates and if my OHEB attacks me, is that covered by my medical aid? Will the Safety Net catch me?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Creepy Crawly Incredible Moment

I went outside this evening to say good-bye to some guests that we hosted for dinner. As they were driving out, I noticed a bunch of gnats flying in the air over my front garden. I looked down to see them flying out of a hole in the ground with little maggot-y things crawling around. That's when I realised they were termites, not gnats.

Just as I was about to freak out, a flock of cape sparrows flew in from nowhere and started catching the termites in mid-flight. They were soon joined by two masked weaver birds. It was so cool, even though it reminded me of that scene in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (at least I wasn't the one being eaten!). The birds were so busy catching termites they didn't seem to mind me.

Being surrounded by flying termites and a flock of birds swirling, diving, catching insects all around my head was like.... well, it was actually a little like seeing snow fall for the first time. It was absolutely magical.

I'm a little mystified that I just used the words "magical" and "termites" in the same sentence, but that's the mercy of each day - there's always something new to learn. And if you've never seen a masked weaver bird, you'll have to come to South Africa and then you'll understand.

Friday, October 16, 2009

To My Husband

Do you realise in the past six months we've
taken the car in for repairs
at least fifteen times
listened to a neurologist diagnose our son
lost our jobs and reputation
spent more sleepless nights
worrying, wondering, praying
huddled together
through the cold South African winter?

You have been a pillar of reason, strength,
pointing me to grace
and I wish I had your wisdom, could
encourage you the same
so let me start by saying

I'm sorry about the hamsters;
they *told* me they were both girls
(but at least your silk worm made a cocoon)

and if I pour some fresh granadilla juice
we can sit on the trampoline
under the stars
watch the Southern Cross
until a summer thunderstorm comes
waters the red soil
cleanses the air in preparation
for another day which you and I
will get through

because we made a toast to Hope
here in South Africa

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Two-Minutes of Politics and Then I'm Done - I Promise!

In case you were wondering what South Africa thinks of Barack Obama's recent Nobel Peace Prize win, I'm attaching two quotes. And that's all I'm going to say on this topic (except that if anyone asks me, I'm pretending I'm from Canada for the next three months...)

"The Nobel Peace Prize is an odd thing. It has gone to institutions, to those involved in attempting to make peace despite having blood on their hands, to symbols of peace, and to some questionable figures. Most notably it has gone to relentless campaigners for human rights, equality and the ending of violence. What unites the best winners is not simply an inspirational discourse but the sense they stand for something. Actions achieved or a long commitment to an ideal, often through hardship

Which is what makes the awarding of this year's prize to a president who has been in office for a mere nine months an odd departure. It is as if the prize committee had been persuaded to give the award on the future delivery of promises.

The question now is whether having being anointed perhaps too early by the committee, a Nobel prize earned so cheaply and at so little cost will help him in his efforts on the international stage or rather be an albatross around his neck." - Guardian News and Media 2009

"He's not even finished a year in his first term of office of a relatively young president. It's an award that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all." - South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Downside of Being an Immigrant

After two years of living in South Africa I really thought I was settled (for the most part). I know to say "robot" instead of "traffic light", "jersey" instead of "sweater" and I've stopped saying "Dude, that rocks!" But not only has my English changed; I've also changed the way I hold my fork and knife (which I now use to eat pizza and sandwiches instead of my fingers), the way I dress (no more holey jeans) and I try - I *try*- not to be too loud or obnoxious. But every now and then culture shock still rises up to bite me in the bum (notice I didn't say "butt").

Lately I've been wishing that my nationality didn't precede me when I enter a room. That is to say, sometimes I just want to be me and not me, the American. Does that make any sense? People are constantly pointing out what is different about me or teasing me when I say something funny or look confused because I don't get the joke, but if they only knew how hard I've worked to fit in, to learn the culture, the mannerisms, the language, the ways of being and doing things here....

It is, at times, an isolating feeling to be an immigrant. It's par for the course, I know, but still - I feel lonely today.

The Challenge of Forgiveness

"I have often said, 'I forgive you,' but even as I said these words my heart remained angry or resentful. I still wanted to hear the story that tells me that I was right after all; I still wanted to hear apologies and excuses; I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving some praise in return - if only the praise for being so forgiving!

"But God's forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life. It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive." - Henri Nouwen

"To bless the people who have oppressed our spirits, emotionally deprived us, or in other ways handicapped us, is the most extraordinary work any of us will ever do." - Elizabeth O'Connor

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Safety Belts, Rental Cars and Legislating Morality

Once again, our car managed to die in spectacular fashion. This time it was the entire steering mechanism that needed replacing. Despite the fact that our car seems to have ambitions to make the Guiness Book of World Records, what I really want to talk about is the rental car we have been using.

This car, apparently, has a weight sensor in the passenger seat. If you don't fasten your safety belt, an alarm begins to beep. If you *still* don't fasten your safety belt, the beeping accelerates, not unlike to a bomb about to explode. I was actually frightened into buckling up!

I am usually conscientious about wearing a safety belt, but on occasion, I forget or feel lazy (no lectures, please, Mom!) This rental car made me feel like some sort of safety derelict that needed to be locked up.

On the other hand, the curious side of me wanted to know what would happen if I let the beeping reach a frenetic pace - would the seat issue an electric shock? Would the engine shut down? Would I be ejected through the roof?

And the philosophical side of me wonders - if you have to enact laws to get people to do the right thing - if you have to legislate morality - what does that say about mankind? I don't mean to go off on a tangent, but the idea that man is basically good just doesn't wash with me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Philosophical Friday

"To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself. Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art." - Ben Okri, Nigerian author

What do you think? Do authors, songwriters - all of us, really - have an obligation to use our gifts responsibly? And what does that mean, in practical terms?

All I know is that the people who inspired me weren't the ones who pointed out everything that was wrong with me but rather those who saw my potential and nurtured that into flame.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Man Walks Down the Street, it's a Street in a Strange World...

I think one of my all-time favourite albums is Paul Simon's Graceland. I first listened to it at my friend's house years ago. Over the years I've never gotten tired of it. It contains so many different styles of music - both American and South African (I had no idea I would end up in South Africa one day).

I was driving down Zambesi Road the other day, listening to my favourite song on that album, "You Can Call Me Al" when it dawned on me: I'm actually IN South Africa listening to Paul Simon's Graceland album. I smiled. I feel so blessed.

(By the way, that friend who introduced me to this album? He is my amazing husband of 14 years).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Latest Theory

I have this new theory: anyone who wants to become a pastor, minister, dominee, etc., should be subjected to a verbal interrogation by my children as their final exam.

My kids ask the weirdest questions about the Bible - which is good, as I want them to develop critical thinking skills and not blindly follow the masses - but half the time I have no idea how to answer their questions:
  1. "Are there going to be animals in heaven? Because if there are, then there won't be any meat because there's no death or sorrow in heaven. And if there's no meat, then there won't be any salami, bacon or boerewors. That doesn't sound very good to me."
  2. "You know that verse in Revelation where it talks about Jesus having the name 'King of kings and Lord of lords' written on His thigh? Do you think he used a sword to carve it in His thigh, or did He just write it with a Sharpie pen?"
  3. "There was this king in the Old Testament, and when he was young he loved God and followed His ways, but when he got older he turned away and started worshiping idols. So... will he be in heaven or not?"
  4. "You know that verse in Song of Solomon where it says 'Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing?' Is that supposed to be a compliment?"
If every future church leader could pass a test like that, I wonder how different our churches would be. And why is it that when we grow up we tend to accept pat answers?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This is the Girl...

This is the girl who:
  • walks around the house singing "Here Comes the Braai"
  • tried to teach her seven-year-old brother chord inversions on the piano
  • can find the loophole in any given argument
  • thinks Jonas Salk got a bum deal because Louis Pasteur won a Nobel Prize for "figuring out how to clean milk and other stuff", while Jonas Salk "invented the polio vaccine and didn't win anything."
  • received a term mark of 99% in Economic and Management Sciences
  • refers to her left nostril as "Reginald" and her right nostril as "Beatrice" (and then informed me that Reginald was not cooperating today as he's rather stuffy.)
  • chose Ruby Bridges for the subject of her Hero Speech because "she prayed for the people who were mean to her."
I never, never imagined that having kids could be so wonderful. And the truth is, I think that the soul of a Nobel Laureate lies in each one of us. Everyone is great at something, no matter who they are or where they come from. May we encourage that greatness.

What Do You Think?

"Easy lives don't make great stories. Your life in Christ was meant to be a great story." - Beth Moore

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy... Choose-Your-Holiday!

Today is either Heritage Day or National Braai Day, depending on who you are and what culture you come from. Either way, it's a public holiday, which means I get a day off.

My kids are keen to celebrate South African holidays since they don't get to celebrate American ones any longer (meaning: they don't get the day off from school). A bit of a dispute ensued as they debated which holiday to celebrate today: Heritage Day or National Braai Day.

As a parent, one develops the finer art of diplomacy. "How about we celebrate both? We can braai something AND celebrate our heritage!" My kids were all smiles until they tried to come up with something to braai that was keeping in line with our heritage.

"Great-Grandpa Erickson was from Sweden, and Mommy's family is of German descent, but we're Americans, so....." We decided on hamburgers, which is an insult to the South African braai (how could anyone possibly braai mince when there are lamb chops, wors, ribs and skilpadjies available?), but it fits our heritage, you can braai it, and everyone in the family is happy.

Besides, it was either hamburgers or lutefisk.

Monday, September 21, 2009

War of the Hoses

We have these neighbours who are a complete mystery to me. When we moved in two years ago and our children were playing in the backyard, the kids across the wall started taunting my kids because they didn't speak Afrikaans. I didn't even know this until a friend of ours translated. Oh well, I thought. Our kids will learn Afrikaans soon enough.

Then the rotten granadillas started flying over the wall. My kids threw them back, but for every granadilla they threw back, three more appeared. We ended up just throwing them away.

Then came the vuvuzela war, which we just ignored, because strangely, vuvuzelas do not annoy me.

But yesterday.... my daughter and I were outside reading when we suddenly got drenched by a hosepipe turned on full blast and aimed carefully over the wall. I tried to be kind - I asked them nicely to stop - but they just giggled and kept at it. What really got me upset was that the dad was out there, too, giggling with his daughters.

The only way to actually see over the fence is to jump on the trampoline, so I climbed on- "Please (jump) stop (jump) spraying us (jump) with water (jump). We're (jump) trying to (jump) read!" They just laughed even harder.

I thought of a million mean things to say - "At least I don't jump on the trampoline naked with a giant beer belly flopping up and down - and by the way, gravity always wins!" or "At least I don't sing drunken versions of Steve Hofmeyr songs at odd hours of the night every weekend!" or "You're ruining my sense of ubuntu!" And just as I was about to say something, my daughter sweetly reminded me, "Mommy, when you were a little girl, didn't you and Uncle David hit dog poo over the fence with badminton rackets into your neighbour's swimming pool?" Umm..... yes. We did.

So to my childhood neighbour, I say: I'm really, REALLY sorry for hitting dog poo over the fence into your swimming pool. That was a horrible thing to do and I'll never do it again. And to our current neighbours: I don't know why you torment us so, but I'll try to be good-natured about it. I might even develop a taste for rotten granadillas. But please, be a little bit nicer to us, and one of these nights I might just sing with you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Privy to a Beautiful Moment

I went to a meeting at church this morning. I confess, I wasn't looking forward to it. When I got to the church, the tables were set with the most stunning breakfast imaginable: a fresh fruit salad (pineapple, paw paw, granadilla, apple and banana), fresh strawberries, chocolate muffins, croissants, ham, cheese, jam, etc. It was an absolute feast.

What made the morning memorable, however, wasn't the food, as delicious as it was. I was sitting at a table with six other ladies, and each one of us had a different first language. One lady's mother tongue was Setswana. Another's was Tsonga. Afrikaans, isiZulu, Sesotho, and English were the others (and even then there was American English and British/Zimbabwean English represented). We all communicated with one another in South African English.

I sat at that table and just... sat there. It was so hard to fathom that here we were, representing three different countries and seven different cultures, and we were laughing together and sharing our lives. One woman shared a harrowing experience from the 1960's that happened under the Apartheid government. She broke down and began to sob, and the white refugee from Zimbabwe- who has her own story- hugged her and whispered words of comfort into her ear. I wish you could have seen what I saw: it was like a mini version of the TRC with women from the township and women from the wealthiest neighbourhood in Pretoria (and everything in between) hugging and crying and healing. And here I was - the bumbling American - privy to a moment showing humanity at its best, Chrisitanity at its best.

Why did I ever complain about having to go to church?

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I love this photo. When I look at it all the sights, smells and tastes of South Africa come alive for me: roasting mealies by the side of the road, juicy pineapple wedges from KZN on skewers sprinkled with chili powder, the air just before a thunderstorm, winter veldfires, the exhaust from a public bus, biting into a sweet naartjie, the sound of a toyi toyi, the hoot of taxis, the red clay soil contrasting with green grass and blue sky, the hum of a thousand vuvuzelas at a soccer match, the sound of singing in a rural church on Sunday morning...

How many blessings do we miss each day because we fail to notice what's right in front of us?

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

" 'We know that Americans pity Africans,' he told me. 'But sometimes I think Africans pity Americans.'

'How so?' I asked him.

'Americans seem to expect that everything will be provided for them. For us,' he said, 'this ear of corn is a gift from God. This evening's rain is a shower of mercy upon us. This healthy breath is life-giving. And, maybe tomorrow we will not have such things, but our hearts are so full of God's provision.' " - from Hope in the Dark, by Jeremy Cowart and Jena Lee

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the two-year anniversary of our moving to South Africa. In order to celebrate, I've enlisted the help of some special guests to tell you what they love about life in South Africa. So, without further ado, please welcome my family:

Dan (my handsome husband): I love how I can show up at a friend's house and stay for an hour with no warning. I like it that people wrinkle their noses when I ask for my coffee black. I discovered rugby and while I'm not a fanatic, I'm a growing enthusiast. I love the way that traffic has a much more natural flow than a directed flow; it's relaxed and free. I like how people take minor irritations in stride and how they're creative about their solutions. I love the smell just before a storm.

Emma (11 years old): I love the beauty of South Africa and the nature - the animals and birds - our school, our church, boerewors, chocolate and the rain.

Lucy (9 years old): What I like about South Africa is Cadbury chocolates, boerewors, and all the people are very friendly here. South Africa is a very beautiful country ,and I'm glad we live here. Oh yes - the thunderstorms and rainstorms here are awesome! Once, one of them lasted a whole week (well, not exactly a WHOLE week, but six days)!

Benjamin (7 years old): I like it that there are beautiful flowers and there are nice people and there's lots of good food. I also like my school, and I have lots of friends.

As for me, I like it that it's acceptable to put ice cream on waffles and that you can get advice from a pharmacist (chemist) without them having to worry about liability. I love the fresh fruit juices, the awe-inspiring thunderstorms, that you can always tell what month it is by what tree is blooming, that people are more important than tasks or possessions, and the incredible sunsets. Living in South Africa has taught me flexibility, how to be more relational, and how to relax when things don't go my way (okay, so that one's an emerging skill). I love it that on any given outing, I can hear at least three different languages being spoken, and I love waking up to the symphony of birds outside my window. I love calling my children to the dinner table with a vuvuzela (hee hee), and I love rugby (Go, Sharks!).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I've Changed My Mind

I used to think that South African bureaucracy was maddening. I take it all back. I have come to the conclusion that American bureaucracy - the DMV in particular - is enough to drive a person to eat a tub of ice cream in one sitting while watching M*A*S*H reruns.

I am trying to replace my California driver's license after it was stolen. First I went on the website. The website says you have to renew it in person. But what if you're living overseas? I tried to phone them, but it turns out that Monday was a holiday (eek - I'm forgetting American holidays).

I tried to phone the DMV yesterday but I got the "All operators are busy; please call again" recording. So I phoned again. And again. In fact, I set Skype to phone every 2 minutes, and it still took me over an HOUR to get a real live..... recording.

I had to go through this whole voice prompt menu: "For license plates, say 'Vehicle Registration and Licensing Information Services.' For driver's licenses, say "Replace Lost or Stolen Pre-Existing Valid California Driver's License or Identification Card."

Honestly, the voice prompt was so long that I froze and said something like, "I'd like a small cheeseburger and a diet coke, please. Oh, and make that to go." This, of course, led to a very pleasant recording of "I'm sorry; I didn't understand you. Please hang up and try again."

When I got through four or five levels of voice prompts (Do you get bonus points after the fourth level? Or at least an extra life?) I finally reached the "My license was stolen and I'm currently residing out of the country" category. Which led me to another recording that basically said, "You have just wasted ninety minutes. Please hang up and dial the following number..."

So I dialed that number (and I will spare you the painful details) but when I finally got to a real person, she just said, "I can't renew your license. You have to renew it in person. Didn't you check the website before phoning?"

I begged. I pleaded. I tried reasoning ("Why do you have a 'My license was stolen and I'm residing outside the country' category if you aren't going to do anything about it?"). The best I could do was get her to issue me a temporary license, which won't have my picture on it, but will be good for four years.

I don't understand why, if they can send me a temporary license that's good for FOUR years, they can't just mail me a replacement license? And why can't they put the photo on it?

Time for some M*A*S*H reruns....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sunday, September 6, 2009

More Thoughts on Giving Grace

In order to extend grace, you have to give up your rights - rights to your time, your money, your things, your intangible rights as a human being - in short, whatever you think you're entitled to. And when you come to a point where you can release those things and live a life fully abandoned to Jesus, extending grace becomes fun. It actually becomes rather reckless, because you have nothing left to lose.

All rivers flow downhill. May we, too, flow "downhill" from our moments with the Saviour to touch and "bathe" the world in grace.

Time to Put it Into Practice

Our pastor has been speaking on the theme of "Giving Grace" this term. Last week we all had "grace assignments". It has been good to not merely sit in church and listen to nice words, but to put them into practice.

Last night we had a special worship service at church. During the service, I was robbed. Someone got into my handbag and took everything of value - my cell phone, my wallet, my driver's license, bank cards, etc. When you live in a foreign country, those things are hard to replace. I felt violated, but I decided not to let satan rob me of my joy.

As I lay in bed last night, I began to think, Is it possible to extend grace - to give grace - to someone you've never met? The more I thought about it, the more I thought that yes, perhaps through our prayers we can speak grace over someone whom we've never met. I made a conscious decision to forgive the person who took my things, and to pray God's blessing and favour over that person. I prayed that last night's theft would be a moment that God redeems, a moment when good triumphs.

I don't know how, when, why, who or what, but I know that this morning I woke up feeling joyful. I have released my losses, and I am choosing to have a good attitude. I will keep my eyes on Jesus, not on my circumstances. I am learning (note the present active participle there) to give grace.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Creative Solutions

I saw something interesting yesterday. As I was on my way to work, I was coming down a mountain with two lanes of traffic in either direction and no centre divide or shoulder on the side of the road. We heard an emergency vehicle approaching from behind us, and I thought to myself, There's no way he's going to get through as there's no place for any of the cars to pull over.

Suddenly, in Moses-like fashion, the cars in the left lane moved over to the left, and the cars in the right lane moved over to the right (barely edging into the oncoming traffic lane) and the emergency vehicle went in between them, straddling the line that separated the two lanes of traffic on my side of the street. My first thought was, "That would never happen in the States." On further thought, I decided this is one more reason why I love South Africa.

Conventional wisdom says that in such-and-such situation, certain protocol must be followed. Often, however, conventional wisdom can't be followed due to circumstances. When that happens, we Westerners tend to complain. But here in South Africa, when circumstances prevent "normal" protocol from being followed, people just find a way around it. It's creative, innovative, resourceful and a very positive way of dealing with challenges.

Thank you, South Africa, for teaching me another lesson.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Food For Thought

"Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if it is reacted to in love and forgiveness and obedience to Your will can be transformed.

"Therefore I begin to think, my Lord, You purposely allow us to be brought into contact with the bad and evil things that you want changed. Perhaps that is the very reason why we are here in this world, where sin and sorrow and suffering and evil abound, so that we may let You teach us to so react to them, that out of them we can create lovely qualities to live forever. That is the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil, not simply binding it so that it cannot work harm, but whenever possible overcoming it with good." - Hannah Hurnard, Hinds' Feet on High Places

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is There a Botanist in the House?

I love the trees in South Africa. You can always tell what season it is by what is blooming. Right now the poinsettias are finishing their bloom season, the coral trees are beginning to bloom, and next month the Jacarandas will be blooming.

And then there are these trees. I don't know what they're actually called, but our family calls it the "Cotton Ball Grenade" tree. The tree produces these big pods and then drops the "shell" of the pod, leaving a cotton ball explosion. Cool, huh?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Lowdown on Skivvies

Since this blog is about becoming an American African, and since I'm running out of material, I thought it's time to broach a delicate subject: underwear shopping.

You might think that underwear is the same the world over, but I can tell you from experience that this is emphatically not true. For instance, my 7-year-old son needs new underwear. I went to the shops expecting to find underwear plastered with Harry Potter scenes, Ben 10 or whatever else young boys are into, but no. There are no characters to be found on boys underwear here. In fact, there is no boys underwear of any kind to be found here. What is called boys underwear looks like a Speedo.

Girls underwear, on the other hand, does not come in solid colours. Each pair is carefully plastered with pictures of Hannah Montana, fairies, or cute little monkeys. And no matter what the label says, the underwear goes halfway up to your armpits. Even the ones labeled "bikini".

You might be keen to admonish me at this point, "When in Rome, do as the Romans," but I don't think even the women in Rome wear underwear that covers their rib cage. And did I tell you I'm allergic to Speedos?

So now I'm faced with a real dilemma: do I go against ever fibre in my being and by my son speedo underwear, or do I hope his Buzz Lightyear underwear lasts another five years?

Thoughts on Parking Guards

Parking isn't free in South Africa. Almost everywhere you go there are parking guards who watch your car while you're shopping. When you leave, you're supposed to pay them R5 or something like that. And if there aren't parking guards then there are automated tickets and machines to pay for parking depending on how many hours you park.

But back to the parking guards. In any parking lot, there is a guard for every aisle, and being the creature of habit that I am, I usually park in the same row. Consequently I have the same parking guard each time. After a while you get to know these guys, and going to the grocery store becomes a social visit.

For example, the guard at Pick N Pay is going to night school at Tshwane University of Technology to study IT. Cool, huh? Makes me want to tip him extra each time I buy my groceries. The guy at Spar (pictured above) makes fun of me because I am apparently the only person in South Africa who drives around with a cup of coffee in my hand (a leftover from my Starbucks indoctrination, I'm afraid).

It is easy to see the parking guards as near-invisible service providers who never had higher aspirations than to guard cars for a living, but the truth is that most of them dream big dreams as do all of us. Many of them are foreigners from the DRC or Zimbabwe who just want to support their families and will deal with a lot to do so. Others have disabilities or are dealing with difficult circumstances, but at least they're working and doing what they can, and most of them even do so with a smile.

I don't know where I'm going with this, so let me just end by suggesting that the next time you meet a service provider that tends to be ignored - smile and thank them. Treat them with dignity. Be the bearer of grace.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ek is Lief Vir Jou, Suid Afrika!

I've complained a bit lately about strikes and power outages, so I decided it's time to write about why I have fallen in love with South Africa.

There's something about the red clay soil, the soft colours of the veld and brilliant sunsets that gets into your blood. The coral tree, palms, bougainvillea, and jacaranda blossoms burn colourful imprints on my mind, and my ears are ever attuned to the birds - kiewiet, hadeda ibis, mossie, vink, dikkop, grey lourie, crested barbet, glossy starling.

One has only to open a window to hear the buzz of life - cicadas humming, taxis hooting,children laughing, street hawkers selling anything from maps to Rubik's cubes to cell phone chargers to homemade fudge.

And the people... someone once said a nation's greatest commodity is its people, and nowhere is this more true than in South Africa. Never will you find a more hospitable, smiling, resilient, joyful, resourceful, flexible or vibrant people than here.

South Africa gets a lot of bad press, but I want to say emphatically that South Africa is one of the greatest places on earth to visit, and I can't wait until the World Cup next year when the world will have a chance to see what I already know.

You are beautiful, South Africa.

Random Funny Sign

How exactly do you "drive" a horse?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tis the Season to Strike

First it was the garbage men. Then it was the postal workers. Then it was the bus drivers and other municipal workers. Then it was Telkom. Then it was the postal workers again (and as far as I know they're still on strike).

Yesterday, though, the army tried to go on strike. 3,000 soldiers, to be precise. They marched to the Union Buildings, where the police were waiting for them (because you can't go on strike if you're in the army - not even in Africa). It eventually turned a bit ugly, with the police firing on the army and the army waving pangas, knobkerries, and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. 25 government vehicles were damaged, and the city was effectively left unprotected while everyone converged on the Union Buildings. All because the army wanted a 30% pay raise.

I am learning to take all these strikes in stride. I suppose I'm on the "control-freak" end of the spectrum, but in the past two years I have developed an emerging skill: flexibility! I am learning that when I wake up each morning, my day might not go as planned. And that's okay!

(The only thing that bothers me is that I mailed a birthday present to my mom a few weeks ago, and I have this sinking feeling it hasn't even left the post office yet. Today is her birthday, so... Happy Birthday, Mom! Sorry about the present; I'm sure it will arrive eventually.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

This is What Happens When I'm Tired....

The postage workers have been on strike again (they were only off strike for two days). Our power is scheduled to be out for ten hours tomorrow. My car's making funny noises. I think I'll write a blues song....

My baby ate all the biltong
My baby ate all the wors
My baby ate all the melktert
And now my kitchen's gemors

'Cos the power's out
And there's no mail in town
The car's not working
And he's feeling mighty down
So he ate up all the culture
He ate up all the kos
And all he left for me
Was a piece of stale toast

Oh I've got the blues,
The South African blues.....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blue Crane

Dan was driving home the other day when his eye caught a glimpse of this blue crane in a recently burned patch of veld. Being a man who almost always has his camera with him, he stopped to take this photo.

Incidentally, the blue crane is the national bird of South Africa. Beautiful and graceful, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Take A Stroll

Have you ever been in love? Remember what it was like to be with that person? It didn't really matter what you did or where you went; just being with them was enough. Okay, now hold that thought.

"Enoch walked with God." - Genesis 5:24
"Noah... walked with God." - Genesis 6:9

These are the only two verses in the Bible where it says that someone walked with God. But here's the cool part - in the Afrikaans translation, it says, "Henog het met God gewandel." The verb used is "wandel", which means to stroll, take a leisurely walk (I learned this from my friend, lest you think I'm brilliant in Afrikaans. I'm not.)

Sometimes we Westerners get the idea that a walk is only useful for getting from Point A to Point B and that when walking with God, the destination is the point. We've got to hurry up and get things done to gain His love or approval.

I am learning, however, that it's more about being with God than going somewhere or doing something. Strolling with God, if you will. It's less about tasks and more about relationship. I don't need to stress about the destination or worry about the tasks that must get done; I just need to "wandel met God." The rest will fall into place.