Friday, January 29, 2010

Padtekens vs. Road signs

They're changing the road signs around Pretoria, putting up English signs in place of Afrikaans signs. I don't know if this is because of the upcoming World Cup or if it's one of those "Tshwane vs. Pretoria" things (and that battle is still going on).

In any case, there was a sign we passed every day - "Tuinafvalterrein" which indicated a place to dump garden refuse - grass clippings, pruned branches, etc. Today we noticed the sign had been replaced by an English sign. I think it was supposed to say "Garden Refuse" but instead it says:

We have a lovely Botanical Garden on the other side of the hill.... I hope no one gets confused!

Birthdays, South African Style

We don't host a party for our kids every year on their birthday, so on the "off" years we just invite family over to celebrate. But because we live so far away from family, Lucy decided to adopt four of our favourite South African families and invite them over for her "family" party.

The way birthdays seem to work over here is that you just invite people over on a particular day to share some coffee and cake. Throughout the day, people trickle in and out, visit for a while, and then go on with their day. We ended up hosting people for over five hours, much longer than an "official" birthday party would have been, but it was relaxed and nice to visit with people one-on-one.

I am slowly getting it into my thick skull that South Africans are a relational people. It's not so much about schedules or official time tables... it's about slowing down and enjoying some good coffee with friends (and the good coffee is at our house, so we are guaranteed lots of opportunities to host our friends and adopted family).

Lucy's party wasn't really a party at all, but it was one of the best birthday celebrations ever. We got to connect - really connect - with some of our favourite people. I think I like birthday celebrations in South Africa better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I Thought About

During the time my internet was down and I had extra time to think, I began to wonder why people always question God when bad things happen, but they never seem to give Him a second thought when good things happen. People often question why - if there is a God - He would let bad things such as earthquakes happen to innocent people.

I realise I'm treading on very sensitive ground, and I want to be clear that I in no way wish to minimise peoples' misfortune or make light of their traumas. I just wonder why, when good things happen, people don't also question, "Why me?" If a person is going to blame God for the bad things (i.e. shift responsibility to Him), why not also blame Him for the good things?

It seems to me that people expect God to either be a magic genie who grants their every wish, or they expect Him to function as an emergency call service for crises. But what if He's more than that? What if He wants a relationship with us more than anything else? What if the bad things are just bad choices that others (or ourselves) have made, or something He uses to grow us up, so to speak. If God is our Heavenly Father, then He wants what is best for us, and His goal is to bring us to maturity - like an earthly father, only way better.

I once had a friend tell me that Hindus understand suffering far better than Christians. She said that Hindus accept suffering as part of life and use it as a platform for growth, whereas Christians just complain and can't understand why God didn't deliver them from this or that. I'd like to explore that thought more... I think she may be right (much to my shame, as I am a professing Christian).

Monday, January 25, 2010

How I Spent My Time

In case you've been wondering where I've been the last week, my internet connection was down. The first two days I nearly went ballistic, and after that I decided that no amount of frustration was going to change the situation so I may as well have some fun. I decided to do a mini-anthropological study on myself (if that's possible) to see how I spent my extra time. Here's what I did:
  • I read more
  • I talked with my children more
  • I drank my coffee on the couch instead of at the computer desk
  • I took walks
  • I noticed that red bishops always land on the highest, most visible branch of the tree outside my front window.
  • I took time to be silent and to just think
I have to say, I am happy to be connected once again to the outside world, but I also realised that I don't spend enough time thinking. Not filling my mind with other peoples' ideas, but formulating my own based on what I've learned and experienced.

I've only been back online for a day now, and I'm actually thinking about limiting my computer time. We'll see how it goes...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Revenge of the Street Hawkers

South Africans are a wonderful, hospitable and friendly people. Even the street hawkers are nice when you turn them down. You will understand, then, my bafflement (is that a word?) at the strange day I've had.

It all started when I was daydreaming at the robot (traffic light). I was thinking about sine and cosine graphs and how they sort of look like a dance between lovers, and that got me thinking about double helixes, and I was about to envision the Dance of the Double Helix when a face appeared against my window.

When I say "against my window" I mean that quite literally. The nose-print is still there from a street hawker who was selling pumice stones. I was slightly miffed that he interrupted my trigonometry tango, but on the other hand, he's just trying to make a living. I smiled and politely told him I didn't need a pumice stone. Then he got really angry at me, called me some choice words and ended with "*bleep* *bleep* *bleep* racist!" (So... I'm a racist because I don't want a pumice stone?)

A few robots up the road was the one-legged beggar. He's there almost every day. I smiled at him, too (I think it's good to at least acknowledge people; we all want someone to know we exist, right?) but declined to give him any money. He looked at me and then hit my rear view mirror so that I now have a nice view of the sky.

I think the few rare mean people of Pretoria all converged on my path today. But at least two people know I exist, and I have some lovely souvenirs on my car to prove it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Must... Learn... Afrikaans!

I bought an Afrikaans diary this year (a weekly planner, for my American friends). I figure every little bit helps. I already know the days of the weeks and the months of the year; it's the quotes at the bottom of each page that I have a bit of trouble with. I am forcing myself to look up words I don't know rather than skip them.

The reason I want to work harder on my Afrikaans is this: I don't want to be one of those immigrant parents who needs their kids to translate for them. And since the kids have to learn Afrikaans in school, I should learn it, too. I want to lead by example (but why is that sometimes hard? Is it because deep down I'm selfish?)

What is most interesting to me are the Bible verses. I find that reading them in another language often gives me a fresh perspective. One of my favourite examples is Genesis 5:24, "Enoch walked with God." If you read it in the Afrikaans translation it says, "Henog het met God gewandel," which, if you translate it back to English reads, "Enoch strolled with God."

There's a huge difference between strolling and walking, isn't there? Walking implies going from one place to another with a destination in mind. Strolling implies being with a person because you enjoy their company; the act of being with them is more important than the destination. And if God had to get me to learn Afrikaans to teach me that being relational with Him is more important than trying to figure out where He's leading me, so be it.

"Ek ken nie die pad waarop God my lei nie, maar ek ken my Gids goed." - Martin Luther

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Letter From My Son, Verbatim

To: The Tooth Fairy
Subject: My Tooth
From: Benjamin

Dear tooth Fairy, Yesturday I was in class wiggling my tooth then when I was walking to the car my tooth came out without me feeling it.

Please undursand.

Your's faithfully, Benjamin

P.S. What is the exchanj rate today?

An Unlikely Pair: Part 2

I can't get this duet out of my head; it's just so brilliant. The idea of two people coming together and creating something so entirely different - it's like an amazing chemical reaction from chemistry lab. Two highly flammable, highly unstable elements come together to become, say, water. Something life-sustaining.

Marriages are often unlikely pairs as well, aren't they? Two people come together, attracted by opposite qualities (usually) to form a union where the sum of both individuals creates a strong team. But somewhere along the line, those qualities we admired in our spouses (because they were qualities we ourselves lacked) become annoyances, and we begin to focus on the differences and the weaknesses. The bond begins to break down and we go back to being highly-flammable, highly-unstable elements. The duet is over.

This is where understanding music theory comes into play. One of my favourite musical elements is counterpoint, playing a second melody in conjunction with the first melody. This second melody must fit within the chord progression and key signature, but it dances in, around, above and below the first melody to create a weaving of music that is, well, beautiful. Stunning. Beyond words, at times. And, unlike harmony, where the additional notes are subsidiary to the main melody, with counterpoint both melodies carry equal weight and must be able to stand alone, though they create something infinitely more beautiful by playing alongside one another).

If we think of our marriages like beautiful pieces of counterpoint, two melodies dancing in and around one another within parameters, I think we'd do better in understanding the role each of us plays in marriage, and ultimately, life. We might better appreciate those differences instead of begrudge them, for it is those very differences which make the piece of music so beautiful.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

An Unlikely Pair: Part 1

Today I wish to write about two singers here in South Africa. The one's music can best be described as 80's bubblegum technopop and the other's as deep, nostalgic and evocative. There are few who would put them on the same level.

Recently a new album came out in which the two singers perform a duet. I was highly skeptical, because in my mind there is no way these two can be paired together. Ever.

However... not only was I wrong, I was shocked, because the duet is brilliant. It combines both singers' skills and styles and took a completely different turn from what I expected. The result is a beautifully melodic folksong that makes me want to dance in a meadow full of flowers and play Simon and Garfunkel songs all day.

My point (beside the fact that I was wrong) is this: It would be easy to say, "If you want to sing with me you need to do it exactly how I want you to do it." In other words, be exactly like me because my way is the best way. And this goes beyond singing into all areas of life. When people don't behave as we think they ought to we are quick to criticise, judge, or worse - disregard them completely.

But what if instead we pooled our gifts and abilities, combined the best of what we each bring to the table in order to create something greater than what we could produce as individuals? What if we focused on each other's strengths instead of pointing out what we don't like? I think there is some huge potential here, especially in South Africa.

"If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be... Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." - I Corinthians 12:17-18, 27

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." - Hebrews 10:24

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Snapshot of My Morning

The grass along the sides of the roads is tall from heavy rains. Women walk along hidden paths on their way to work in the city. Some wear their finest clothes, some wear uniforms, some carry big bundles on their heads. Men stand on the street corners, looking for a day job in construction, painting or tree felling. A few men are selling newspapers in the intersections.

The trees are home to a host of birds - grey louries, masked weaver birds, red bishops, mossies - that greet the morning with an amazing chorus. It wakes me up each day around 04h00, but I don't mind. It's a lovely way to wake up.

The sun filters through the bougainvilleas, hibiscus and bauhinia trees, and I - I just dropped my excited children off at school for the first day of a new school year.

I once met a person who said that every time he returns to South Africa after traveling to the United States, he feels grumpy for a month because the pace of life here is slower, less efficient and the bureaucracy is maddening (his words, not mine). I wondered if I would feel the same - if my brain would revert to "American culture mode" after spending a month in California. I have been back for three days now but the only thing I feel is this:

I feel incredibly glad to be home.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Garden is Hot!

Earlier in the year I decided to plant a vegetable garden. I do not have a passion for gardening, but I thought it would be cheaper, healthier and perhaps even a bit rewarding to grow my own vegetables.

Then we flew to California for Christmas and I completely missed the harvest of my vegetables (so much for grand ideas).

Upon my return I was hoping - really hoping - that there would be something in my garden to enjoy. I managed to find one sweet pepper, two small bunches of spinach, no onions (why didn't they like me?), a bunch of stubby little carrots and get this - 227 chillis.

I do not understand nature.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Jet Lag Buzz

Today was my first day back in South Africa. I managed to unpack all the suitcases, do three loads of laundry, drive on the left side of the road, buy groceries, and survive the jet-lag 'buzz' that has plagued me all day.

Last night when our plane landed, I took one look at the magnificent South African sky and breathed deeply. I'm so happy to be home. But... I truly think it takes the brain longer to travel than the body. My body is back in South Africa but my brain is lost somewhere over the Atlantic, trying to reconcile a North American winter, a Southern Hemisphere summer, and the radical differences between daily life in two countries.

What struck me most is that, unattended, my house was quickly taken over by dust, ants, spiders, weeds and various other unwanted 'guests' (you parasitical moochers!). It takes work and constant maintenance to maintain a home.

I wonder if it's like that for our souls as well. If we just let them go - unattended - what would happen? Would they be swept away by the 'weeds' of life and taken over by 'parasitical moochers'? If we 'maintained' our souls, so to speak, exercised discipline and hard work to keep them in order, would we be more 'manicured'? And what exactly does that look like?

I do know this: a life lived well is a life lived intentionally and deliberately. It doesn't happen by accident or without hard work and deep thought.

Things That Should Never Be Served on an Aeroplane

  1. eggs (they stink up the plane and have a rather strange texture)
  2. fish (same reason)
  3. smoked salmon on cold pasta (ditto!)
  4. mint-flavoured tiramisu (bad idea all around... don't mess with the original)
  5. croissants (because aeroplane croissants will never be light, fluffy, buttery, or warm)
  6. broccoli (because broccoli is supposed to be green)
  7. moldy moist towlettes (because those are not supposed to be green)
Some foods were just not meant to be mass-produced.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Right Side, Left Side... Where Am I?

Today as I got into my car to drive home I got in the wrong side. I guess my brain is programmed to drive on the left now, and I get into the car accordingly. I also waited at the petrol station for someone to come pump my petrol, only to realise a few minutes later that I'm in California where you do it yourself.

People say I have an accent now, but I don't think so. In South Africa they also tell me I have an accent. Here, there, everywhere I go I am a little bit of both places.

When our plane landed in California, I had a list of all the people and places I wanted to see. Now the novelty of American food has worn off, the convenience of things is overrated, and I'm a little overwhelmed at the number of people we've tried to see in 3 1/2 weeks.

I wish I could easily move between the two places, but that's not possible, so I will soak up as much California as I can until my next visit, and when I get back to Johannesburg next week I will take a deep breath of South African air and count my many blessings. With an accent.

Tuesday Quote

"Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don't receive what I deserve. Gratitude, however, goes beyond the 'mine' and 'thine' and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realise that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline... I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past, and thereby wrap myself up in my resentment. There is also the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and all I have is pure gift calling for gratitude." - Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son