Tuesday, June 30, 2009

And Then There Are Those Days When it's All Mixed Up!

I walked past a man the other day and greeted him in English -"Hello!"
He (a black man) assumed I (a white woman) was Afrikaner and answered "Goeie naand. Hoe gaan dit?"
I figured, Afrikaans isn't his first language and it ceratainly isn't mine, so I answered him in Sotho - "Ke teng, wena, o kae?"

We both stopped, looked at each other, and then burst out laughing! I guess this is what happens when you live in a country with 11 official languages...

Monday, June 29, 2009

But Actually, English is my SECOND Language

Well, South African English, at any rate! I have this theory that if people over here only knew that I'm already speaking a foreign language when I speak English, they'd cut me more slack! Case in point:

It was time to fetch my children from school and I was keen to wear my plakkies but could only find my tekkies. I rather went to the vleismark first as I was lus for some boerewors but the queues were too long. I made a wrong turn at the robot and ended up at the chemist. I sms'd my kids to tell them I'd be there now-now and Emma said, "Ja, nee, kyk - I'm sommer standing around as it is! Can you fetch my jersey as well?" I was about to tell her "Yebo. We'll make a plan," but I stepped on a shongololo and exclaimed, "Ag, nee, man! Jislaaik!" I hope my day is sorted out before the rugby game at Loftus.

Dude, I had to pick up my kids from school and really wanted to wear my flip flops but they went MIA and I could only find my nasty sneakers. So I went to the butcher first because I was really craving some meat, you know? But the lines were totally long! Then I made a wrong turn at the light and ended up at the drug store. I texted my kids to tell them I'd be there soon and Emma said, "Hello! I'm already bored out of my skull! Can you, like, at least bring my sweater?" I was about to tell her, "Sweet. Sure thing," but I stepped on a stinkin' millipede and exclaimed, "Dang flippin bugs!" Dude, I hope my day improves before the game tonight or I am seriously gonna take a mental health day tomorrow.

If the first thing that pops into your head is "Huh?", then you have a good idea of how I feel almost every day! Ah, the joys of communication...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Night I Spoke Only Afrikaans

I went to a concert of regional children's choirs with some friends the other night and sat next to an elderly woman who immediately began speaking to me in Afrikaans. I said to her, "Ek is baie jammer Tannie, maar ek leer nog Afrikaans. Ek is van Amerika. Kan Tannie Engels praat, asseblief?" She looked at me and said, "But your Afrikaans is quite good! I think you'll do just fine!" (This was not true, of course, as my Afrikaans is decidedly NOT good, but I think the novelty of an American attempting to speak Afrikaans amuses people over here.)

Throughout the course of the concert, in between songs, she would lean over to me and say something - always in Afrikaans, but slowly and clearly - and was patient in deciphering my responses. I tried desperately to voice what I was thinking: "Dit maak my huil, Tannie. Die musiek is te mooi." or "Ek hou baie van daardie liedjie."

By the end of the concert my brain hurt. I was frustrated because I couldn't say the things I wanted to say. I felt like I had the vocabulary of a 2-year-old. I was tired and even a bit grumpy.

As we said good-bye to one another, I said to her, "Ek is dankbaar dat u vir my stadig praat. Ek waardeer dit baie, Tannie." She leaned over at me, gave me a big hug, then looked at me with one of those deliberate looks (one that makes you pay careful attention) and said, "Don't stop trying."

I am often too timid to speak Afrikaans because I've made some horrendous mistakes ("I want to cook your mother for dinner" being among the most famous of my errors!). It is humbling to learn another language, to attempt to speak and risk making mistakes that cause people to laugh.

I also realised that last night, I spent the whole evening speaking Afrikaans, and while I didn't say as much as I would have had I been speaking English, I actually survived! The friends that I came with said, "How fun that you got to sit by someone you knew!" I looked at them and said, "But I just met that woman!" They looked at me, surprised, and said, "But you were hugging each other! What is her name? Did she speak English to you?"

The truth is, I have no idea what her name was and no, she didn't speak English to me. But I can tell you that she was one of the sweetest, most encouraging people I've met over here.

Isn't it strange how a chance meeting with a stranger can touch your life? Sometimes it is those random meetings with strangers that do more to point us in the right direction than those that are closest to us. What a gift... what a mysterious gift.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Know Why My Neighbour Decoupages Her Trash Can

One of the great mysteries of life here in South Africa is whether or not the garbage men will come. Since we moved here one and a half years ago, I think the garbage workers have gone on strike four times. One time they went on strike for a month.

When they aren't on strike, they still don't seem to come on their alloted day. Our garbage day is Friday, but they often don't come until Sunday or Monday, and when they do come, they never put our trash can back in the right spot. Dan and I have to play a weekly neighbourhood game of hide-and-seek to try and find our trash can, which is usually halfway down the street in someone else's yard. One time it took us three days to find it! What makes it even more difficult is that most people live behind walls and electric fences, so when we find our garbage can in someone else's yard, we often can't get to it (although I have to admit, I find this all rather amusing and actually look forward to the weekly hunt).

One woman who lives down the street decoupaged her trash can in a garish wallpaper print. I thought that was a bit over the top (just a little.... ). Now, however, I am beginning to see a method to her madness. Her garbage can is so embarrassingly ugly that no one want to claim it as their own (I bet she never has to go on nightly hunts in the freezing cold for her trash can!).

I wonder how ugly we can make our trash can? Should I cover it in synthetic fur, casino carpet or velvet Elvis portraits? Should I attach a tracking system to it? If you have any ideas, let me know.

A Note to Bafana Bafana

South Africa lost to Brazil in the semi-finals, but Brazil only scored one goal (and that in the last three minutes of the game). So, to Bafana Bafana I say:

You didn't win, but you played your hearts out - a technically and passionately brilliant game. You did well, and you did it with the world laughing in your face. I'm so proud of you and proud to be a part of South Africa. You have won my respect. Ke a leboga.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

And They WON!

I can hardly believe it (nor can the rest of the world), but the USA actually beat Spain (ranked #1) in the Confederations Cup semi-final! Yay for the underdog!

My kids asked this morning at breakfast, "If the USA is not as good as Spain, then how come they won?" Dan replied (and this is one of the reasons I absolutely love my husband), "It doesn't matter how the teams played in the past or what their rankings were. What matters is how they played THIS game."

I was sitting at the breakfast table, barely awake, but it dawned on me - life's like that as well. We sometimes carry our past like an embarrassing burden or the "ranking" of labels - failure, alcoholic, drug addict, divorcée, stupid - but you know what? It really doesn't matter what happened yesterday. What matters are the choices you make THIS day.

We're all underdogs in some way or another, but God doesn't see us that way. "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again..." - Jeremiah 31:3-4

And now... I'm going to root for South Africa, who are playing Brazil in the other semi-final. Go, Bafana Bafana! Ke Nako!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rooting for the Underdog

In a bizarre twist of fate, South Africa and USA are both playing in the Confederations Cup semi-finals. The two least likely teams have come up from behind and.... my mind begins to picture a repeat of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team or the Jamaican bobsled team.

I love rooting for the underdog (maybe that's why I'm a Chicago Cubs fan). When a team/a group/a country rises up against all odds and triumphs - there's something in my heart that wants to burst, like a flower that can't wait to bloom and explode into colour. When a person rises up against all odds and triumphs, that is redemption at its best. God reaches down, finds us with all our pain and our junk, sees something beautiful in us, makes us holy. It's the Jamaican bobsled team all over again, only way better!

I wonder how many people give up too soon, can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, don't see the potential lying hidden within them? To you I say, HANG ON WITH STUBBORN TENACITY!!! If you are an underdog, I am rooting for you!

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour." - Isaiah 43:1-3

Sunday, June 21, 2009


"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." - Ephesians 6:12-13

After everything... stand. After the battle with cancer. After the ugly divorce. After the accident. After the death. After the pink slip/retrenchment package. After betrayal and injustice. After the hurt, the sleepless nights, the moments when you cried out in desperation and anger at a God Whom you doubted.

Forgive the cliché, but life is quite the battle. And when we stand our ground and fight, we can still get beaten up and bloodied, crawling back to our homes, our safe places, our havens. But sometimes there is no safe place. Sometimes we can barely move. Sometimes we lose all hope.

But after everything... stand. Encouragement comes. Hope dawns. Unexpected love touches us when we have given up. God bends down, lifts our chins, tends our wounds, helps us to our feet. And we stand.

We stand in the strength that is not ours, but in the God who sustained all those who fought before us. We stand in the hope that God will lead us to victory. We stand in faith that the battle is not in vain, but that lives are at stake and worth fighting for. We stand because for reasons unbeknownst to us, God actually loves us and thinks we're beautiful.

And that changes everything.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Random Moment

It's Confederations Cup time here in South Africa, and Dan and I decided to take the kids to the USA/Brazil game, because if you can watch one of the best soccer teams in the world beat the pants off your home country's team for less than the cost of going to the movies, why not?

I don't know why, but South Africa is crazy about the Brazilian team, which was all the more reason to go and be among the few USA supporters, in our opinion. On our way into the stadium, we saw a few other USA fans and asked if we could take our picture with them (who else would be wearing red, white and blue, and carrying a life-size cardboard cutout of Barack Obama??) .

Sometimes the most random moments in life are the most memorable. ("Hey, honey? Remember that time you had your picture taken with a cardboard cutout of Obama at the rugby stadium in Pretoria? Those were the good old days..." "Yes, dear, but if the USA had just scored one goal - ONE GOAL - it would have been even better.")

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bargaining Madness

Bargaining is not for the faint of heart. I am just not good at it. Never mind the fact that I am not a shopper, never mind the fact that I am horrible at negotiating. It is being accosted by craft stall owners trying to sell their wares that gets to me. I have learned that the best way to bargain is to subtly let Dan know what I want, and let him do the work.

Today we took a team from our home church in California over to Hartbeespoort Dam to do some shopping. I needed to get a wedding gift for some people back home, so I asked Dan to do my dirty work. In the process, I lost him. I looked everywhere for him, and despite the fact that redheads stick out in South Africa, I still couldn't find him!

About this time Dan phoned me on my cell phone, asking me where I was. "Well...I'm at the stall with all the wooden carvings." This was not helpful, because there are hundreds of identical stalls, but what was I supposed to say? So I tried another tactic: "I'm at the stall near the entrance with the giant giraffe carving."

Suddenly five craft stall workers were in my face. "Giraffe? You want a giraffe? I will give you a special price, madam, just for you."

(HELP!!!!! Dan, where are you???)

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Sneak Peak at the Ending

"I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.' " - Revelation 5:4-5

It is good to know that, no matter what is going on, no matter what challenges you face, no matter how sad you are, in the end, God wins.

A Funny Sign

Translation: If you get maimed, it's your own fault.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Striking Contrast

Juxtapose v. To place or deal with close together for contrasting effect.

I don't know if you can see this in the photo, but behind the ostrich is a jet that has just landed. It is a strange juxtaposition between nature and technology. And if ever there was a country that defined juxtaposition, it is South Africa. Black and white, poverty and wealth, joy and sorrow, pain and healing, frightful and beautiful.... South Africa is all of these. And maybe because of the bad things, the good things shine brighter. Maybe because of the sorrow, the joy is greater. Maybe because of the pain, the healing is more sweet. Maybe because of the fear, the beauty is more stunning.

I will never have the words to adequately say what I'm trying to say, but it reminds me of a passage in the book of Isaiah: "... to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." - Isaiah 61:3

This is my prayer for South Africa tonight, and for all of us.

One Reason I Love South Africa

There are few things in this world more beautiful than a South African sunset. I am glad you don't have to be rich, educated, or know someone who knows someone to enjoy such beauty. It is a gift from God at the end of each day for all South Africans - from Sandton to Soweto, Mamelodi to Margate.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Grace Notes

A grace note is defined as "an extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody." A bonus, if you will, akin to putting 25¢ in the gumball machine and getting TWO gumballs instead of one.

Sometimes life has grace notes as well. One can have a horrible day, and then when it is most unexpected, a bit of joy catches us unawares, embellishes our day, gives us encouragement or comfort. It may not be "essential" but it causes one to pause, smile, and muster the strength to go on.

I am privileged to know a group of ladies who are like grace notes to me. We come from different backgrounds, different churches, and what brought us together was that we all have kids with special needs. We gather once a week to pray for each other and offer what encouragement and comfort we can (okay, and there's coffee, too).

When I moved to South Africa, they moved our group online so I could still participate. When I was pining about missing winter Christmases, they sent me a Christmas box in June filled with my favourite goodies from home. When I am down, they send encouraging emails.

What is amazing about these ladies is that they listen to me, even if I'm having a pity party. They'll set me straight - that's what friends do - but they do it gently and lovingly ("Annie, you're WRONG! Snap out of it!"). If that doesn't work, whacking me on the head with a flip flop usually does the trick. And when I think about it - when I think about their life circumstances and what they have gone through - I realise how little I have to complain about.

They encourage me, they love me even when I am unlovely, they admonish me, they aren't afraid to tell me they disagree, and they always challenge me to be more like Jesus. They are the grace notes of my life, and I am a more beautiful piece of music because of them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Welcome To Africa's First 4D Theatre.... I Think.

Ever have one of those moments where you realise you desperately need to get away as a family? We've been feeling like that lately, so we went to Gold Reef City, a theme park in Johannesburg (by the way, five people can get into Gold Reef City for the price of ONE Disneyland ticket. How's that for a bargain?).

Of course, in typical South African fashion, the power went out. In the whole park. So while everyone was waiting for the electricity to come back on, the marimba bands, gum boot dancers and Zulu "warriors" entertained us all. We also got to watch firemen rescue people who were stuck at the top of the "Tower of Terror" ride (which, ironically, lived up to its name).

When the power came back on, we headed over to the 4D theatre, where you watch a movie with 3D glasses, but your seat moves, scents are sprayed, etc., so you feel like you're a part of the movie. Only....

Because the power had gone out, the ride wasn't quite functioning properly. They had one movie playing, but the movement track for the other movie was running the seats, so your seat would do really random things that didn't match what you were watching. We watched a video of the earth spinning, with relaxing classical music playing, but our seats were rumbling up and down (ka-CHUNK, ka-CHUNK, ka-CHUNK). So they stopped the movie, turned the lights on, opened the doors, and let a bunch more people into the theatre (because, if they have to fix it, they can at least let all those in the queue enter, right?)

So the lights dimmed, the movie came on, and the voice said, "Welcome to Africa's first 4D Theatre..." but it was still on the wrong programme, so just as the soothing voice welcomed us, the seats in front of us sprayed water into our faces! The movie was stopped once again, the lights came back on, the doors were opened, more people were let in... and one of the ride operators said, "Don't worry, I'll have it fixed in just a minute!" But right after he said that, everyone's seats suddenly flipped back 90 degrees so that we were all staring at the roof!

Dan and I started laughing so hard that by the by time they got the two programmes synced, it wasn't half as entertaining as when it was malfunctioning, and my stomach hurt so bad from laughing that I could hardly breathe. Score one for power outages!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Yup, I'm Still a Foreigner...

When you move to another country, you embark on a journey of discovery. Some discoveries are enlightening; others are perplexing.

If you keep an open mind, there are many things that will lead to an "Aha! That makes sense! In fact, I wish everyone in my home country did things this way!" On the flip side, there are many things that will lead to an "I can't figure this out for the life of me!"

One of the things I can't figure out here in South Africa is: When you go to the grocery store, why are all the cucumbers individually shrink-wrapped in plastic? How come none of the other fruit is? I don't get it...

Thoughts on Forgiveness

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.' " - Matthew 18:21-22

I bet Peter thought he was being pretty magnanimous by offering to forgive seven times. Jesus' answer cured him of that. And if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I don't like these verses because they don't leave me any loopholes, any excuse to hang on to grudges, grievances, or rationalisations. I have to forgive, simple as that. Again and again and again and again.

But what does it mean, exactly, to say, "I forgive you"? I mean, what am I actually saying when I use that phrase?

Saying "I forgive you" doesn't mean that things are okay. I don't know why Americans do this, but when someone apologises to us, or even asks for forgiveness, we tend to say, "Oh, it's okay. Don't worry about it." I suppose we're trying to be polite, but the fact is, if it were "okay", the person wouldn't have need to apologise or seek forgiveness in the first place.

Saying "I forgive you" doesn't mean "I forget what you did," because we often can't forget. Unless we suffer from Alzheimer's or amnesia, our brains record life events and we can recall those events any time we want (or don't want. Have you ever noticed how a certain smell, a certain phrase, or even a place can evoke strong memories?).

Saying "I forgive you" isn't a once-off thing. It might be, to the person who has offended us, but in our hearts we sometimes have to forgive over and over. Anger and bitterness can come back so quickly - try to get a foothold or find an open door - and we have to fight that, sometimes hour by hour.

As best I understand it then, to say "I forgive you" is akin to saying something like: "I will bear the cost of your sin against me, and I will bear it ungrudgingly."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thoughts on Loving Your Enemy

"It was then I began to see what Dostoevsky had learned in prison: the gospel of grace infiltrates this world not primarily through words and rational arguments but through deeds, through love. The people I was learning to admire most... were expressing their faith in action, incarnationally... To follow Jesus, I learned, does not mean to solve every human problem - Christ Himself did not attempt that - but rather to respond as He did, against all reason to dispense grace and love to those who deserve it least." - Philip Yancy, Soul Survivor

Jesus said to love your enemies and to do good to those who persecute you (Luke 6:27). I think for most of my life I have taken that to mean: don't say out loud what I'm thinking, don't seek revenge, and don't harbor anger or bitterness. I think, however, doing only that falls far short of the mark.

I am realising that loving and doing good to people goes way beyond not doing mean things; it requires doing good things. So... how do you love an enemy? How do you do good to those who persecute you? Does it mean mowing their lawn when they're on holiday? Sharing your favourite chocolates with them? Making a cup of coffee for them?

I think it must be different for each person in any given situation. God told me to write a lullaby and I thought He was mad. Turns out I was the mad one, and singing lullabies helped diffuse that anger.