Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Ups and Downs of It

In my quest to become an American African, there are bound to be setbacks along the road. This last week was one of them.

We had no running water two days last week, I had a horrible experience at the grocery store, was in a few spectacular traffic jams (where people made up their own traffic lanes in a futile effort to move ahead), and there's *still* a pigeon in my roof. Where I thought I had made great strides in patience and flexibility, I took huge steps backwards. My friend Rian says, "A country's way of doing things is designed to make its citizens comfortable, not its visitors," or something to that effect. He's right, and I am reminded once again that I am not a citizen here.

I hate the fact that occasionally I get amazingly frustrated with South Africa, that I can't let every little thing roll off my back, and that I can't be the perfect model of adaptability, flexibility and resilience.

I still love South Africa, but I'm frustrated with myself.

Friday, February 26, 2010

For Refugees Everywhere...

Anyone who has moved to another country will understand this, but especially refugees:

"I had a feeling that day that I was losing something, that I was mourning a death that had not yet occurred. I felt as if all things personal were being crushed like small wildflowers to make way for a more ornate garden, where everything would be tamed and organised. I had never felt this sense of loss when I was a student in the States. In all those years, my yearning was tied to the certainty that home was mine for the having, that I could go back anytime I wished. It was not until I had reached home that I realised the true meaning of exile. As I walked those dearly beloved, dearly remembered streets, I felt I was squashing the memories that lay underfoot." - Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Pigeon Saga Continues...

The Pest Control guy has come back three more times. Apparently all the holes are plugged, but the pigeon was trapped in our roof. He had to go up into the attic, catch the bird, and then humanely release it into the wild (how nice of him... much nicer than I would have been). Ten minutes later - I kid you not - the pigeon flew back into the roof and promptly got stuck. Again. How dumb are pigeons??

And then it hit me - however dumb pigeons are, people can be that dumb as well. How many times to we get ourselves into a situation, can't see a way out, beg God for help, and when He helps us, we somehow manage to get ourselves back into the same situation ten minutes later? How often do we settle for the known and the comfortable- falling back into old patterns- when there is freedom and open spaces to be had elsewhere?

"Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free... Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." - John 8:31, 34-36

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this I know - I want to live in freedom and walk in the light.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

10 Random Reasons Why I Love South Africa

  1. South Africa is the only nation whose flag has six colours.
  2. South Africa's national anthem is the only one in the world with a key change.
  3. South Africa was the first nation to build, and then voluntarily dismantle, it's entire nuclear weapons programme.
  4. There are 11 official languages.
  5. South African English has bits and pieces of the other ten official languages in it.
  6. South Africans know how to put relationships ahead of tasks. You can stop by someone's house for coffee ,and even if they were on their way to the store, they will stop everything and spend an hour with you.
  7. South Africa has the 3rd highest level of biodiversity in the world.
  8. South Africa is home to the world's largest hospital (and, incidentally, the world's first heart transplant was pioneered here in South Africa).
  9. South Africa is the only nation to establish commercially viable oil-from-coal operations.
  10. South Africa houses the largest correspondence university in the world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Worse Than Green Eggs and Ham

There are Rock Pigeons in my roof. I've called Pest Control three times, but the birds still manage to come back. We've removed nests, sprayed, put in mesh, metal spikes - you name it - but the birds insist upon making a home in my roof.

So, in the spirit of Dr. Seuss, I have a few things to say about Rock Pigeons:

I do not like Rock Pigeon birds
Especially in family herds

I do not like them in my roof
I do not like them in a kloof

I do not want them on a ledge
Please push them o'er the steepest edge

I do not like them, Pest Control
I do not want them here at all!

They carry mites and fleas and things
They're rather more like rats with wings

Why are they keen on urban life?
I only like them dood en styf

So, Pest Control, I'll pay you geld
To chase them to the lower veld

Away from all my property
Because, you see, they bother me!

They build a nest above my head
While I lie sleeping in my bed

I hear them scratching in the beams
And cooing, mating, in my dreams

They enter through the tile and bricks;
I hit the roof with hockey sticks!

But still they persevere to stay -
For free! - what cheeky nerve have they!

I do not like Rock Pigeon birds
And now I have run out of words.

Monday, February 15, 2010

War of the Hoses, Part 2

A while back I wrote about our back neighbours who like spraying us with water from a hosepipe over the wall. Lately, though, they've found new ways to torment us.

Someone bought our neighbour's children a vuvuzela (if you don't know what that is, imagine a long, plastic trumpet-thing that sounds like a goat giving birth). Every night, just as I am drifting off to sleep, the horn of the vuvuzela appears over our wall and blasts a lovely good-night call to us. Then, just before my alarm goes off in the morning, I am awakened by a vuvuzela reveille (I *almost* don't need to set my alarm).

I do not know what we have done to incur such punishment from our neighbour's children, but honestly, I'm starting to feel like I live in Jericho.

All I can say is, if they start marching around our house, I'm hanging a red cord out of my bedroom window!

Confession Time

I am irritated with SABC. They bought the rights to broadcast the Olympics, but are only showing a one-hour highlight each day. They "sold" that to DSTV, so you can also watch the highlights on several of the Super Sports channels.

I anxiously awaited the one hour highlight show so I could watch bits and pieces of the Opening Ceremony, but halfway through the programming switched to a documentary on the Albino Society of Tanzania (I am *not* making this up). So I only got to watch 35 minutes of Olympics... and they SKIPPED the lighting of the torch!

I scoured BBC news online, CNN, the Vancouver 2010 website, and even Al Jazeera for photos of the Opening Ceremony, but I only found one of the Olympic torch being lit (thank you

And now I am battling the guilt of caring more about the Olympics than the albinos of Tanzania. Those people are being killed for their lack of skin pigmentation... surely that trumps alpine skiing? And what does this say about me if I care more about one hour of entertainment than the cares of the world?

This brings up an interesting philosophical question: Must we constantly bear the weight of the world on our shoulders or can we allow ourselves to be entertained for a bit each day? Does our mental health require a daily dose of "down time", and does that include entertainment? Or must we work more diligently to share hope with a fallen world, caring more about the needs of others than our own petty desires for entertainment?

I work for an NPO in Africa and I still feel guilty. It's probably just my own hang-up, but still... I don't want to be on my deathbed someday and regret that I didn't do enough. I doubt I will regret that I didn't watch more Olympics. To be able to look back on my life and say, "I do not regret my journey"... that will be the mark of success for me. And quite frankly, that's better than an Olympic gold medal.

"The supreme desire of my life is to give myself in reckless abandon to Christ." - Ed McCully

Friday, February 12, 2010

No Olympic Coverage Down Here

I never watch TV. It's not that I'm against it; there are just so many other things I'd rather do with my free time. There are a few exceptions, however, one of them being the Olympics.

I was so excited to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies tonight, but unfortunately, they won't be broadcast here in South Africa. SABC bought the rights to broadcast the Olympics, but they're only showing one-hour highlights each evening. DSTV, the cable company, is also only showing daily, one-hour highlights (even if you buy the premium package).

I can't understand why they won't show the opening ceremonies or more coverage of the daily events. Is it because there are only two South Africans competing in the winter Olympics (alles van die beste!)? Is it because South Africans don't care? Are they more concerned with the Super 14 Rugby matches? I thought every country took pride in the Olympics.

I am bummed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Secret Life as a Slush Puppy Operator

My children's school was hosting the district athletics (track and field) competition today. I am one of the parent volunteers, so I helped in the tuck shop (snack shack) all day. I was very excited to be placed in charge of the slush puppy machine.

I knew it was going to be a long day, so I had it all figured out: I was going to pretend I was an undercover journalist writing an exposé on the secret lives of slush puppy machine operators (as long as the scandal didn't involve me!). I figured that would make it fun, right? Only... what I hadn't counted on was that of the eleven schools that were there, ten of them were Afrikaans speaking.

Suddenly I was thrust into the world of an Afrikaans-speaking tuck shop worker. It was nine hours of do-or-die, crash course Afrikaans. I had to learn the slang words for all the sweeties (candy) - wurmpies en telefoontjies (these gummy things), sjokolade eiertjies en tjippies, I had to learn the difference between gegeurde water and gewone water, and I had to know how to make gemengde slush puppies - combining al drie geure. Ag, ek is baie jammer. Die blou is nog nie bevries nie. Wil jy rooi of pers kry? I learned the difference between a bottel Coke and a blikkie Coke, and just when I was starting to feel confident....

An old lady came along. A sweet, cute little old lady, who ever so politely asked for a "Fanta lemoen." And I, who had been lulled into a false sense of slush puppy security, thought to myself, we don't have Fanta lemon, but we have Lemon Twist. That must be what she means....

I handed her the lemon Twist. That's when the red laser beams shot out of her eyes - "Nie SUURlemoen nie... LEMOEN. Is jy dof?" Uh-oh. That's right. Lemoen is "orange" in Afrikaans. Oops. Ek is baie jammer, Tannie. Ek leer nog Afrikaans (I'm so sorry; I'm still learning Afrikaans). She switched to English as the laser beam eyes dwindled to smoldering embers "Keep practicing," she said.

And so, my life as an Afrikaans tuck shop worker has come to an end. My brain feels like a slush puppy, I am covered in taaie gegeurde stroop, and yes, Tannie, soms is ek dof.

But still, it was sort of fun.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Icebreaker Questions

You know those questions designed to break the silence and get to know a person, such as "If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?"

I hate those questions. I wish I could come up with some cheeky answer, but I can never seem to think fast enough. (Example: If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take one book with you, which book would you take and why? Answer: A Practical Guide to Ship Building)

However, I am happy to say that I FINALLY know the answer to the superpower question (and it's not even cheeky!) -

If I could have any superpower, I would choose the ability to understand every culture, worldview and mindset, and while I might not agree with them, I would at least be able to fully understand where people are coming from and could therefore converse with them more meaningfully.

This was prompted by a coffee date I had with a friend who works at the Japanese Embassy, as well as recent headlines about our president, who has 5 wives, 1 fiancee, 2 girlfriends and 20 children.

There are some things my small Western brain cannot begin to grasp, let alone understand. And I wish I could. I really do.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Slow News Day

I probably shouldn't do this, but... it's just too funny to pass up. Here was the newspaper headline one week ago:

And here was this morning's headline:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Tip My Hat to You

"It seemed like a dream, too good to be true... we were the talk of the nations... God was wonderful to us... And now God, do it again - bring rains to our drought-stricken lives so those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing." - excerpts from Psalm 126, The Message

I was really struck by the phrase "those who planted their crops in despair." I imagine it must take a tremendous amount of courage to keep going - to "plant your crops" - when you've lost hope. Personally, I have the tendency to give up, hide under my pillow and indulge in one huge pity party. But to get up, keep going, persevere, even though all hope is gone and the odds are stacked against you... that takes guts.

For those of you who are persevering despite what your circumstances tell you, who keep their eyes on Jesus even though all else would tell you to give up.... for you I am giving a standing ovation. And I have no doubt - NO doubt - that one day you will come home laughing, carrying armloads of blessing. Here's to the future harvest.

More Inspiring Than Television

There's nothing like having a mean stomach flu to cause you to appreciate abdominal muscles you never knew you had! I've been down for the count the past few days, and rather than watch TV all day, I read through the South African Constitution. Nerdy, perhaps, but since I live in South Africa I thought it was high time to know about the foundation for government policy. Besides, South Africa is reported to have one of the most progressive constitutions when it comes to human rights. So, for your reading pleasure (and comparison, if you so choose), here are the preambles of the U.S. Constitution and the South African Constitution:

Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to
  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
May God protect our people.
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba se heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.