Sunday, May 30, 2010

Super 14 Rugby

Super 14 Rugby, for those of you who don't know, is a competition between 14 rugby teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It's one of my favourite rugby tournaments to watch each year (that and the Currie Cup, a competition between South African regional teams). This year the Super 14 final was between two South African teams, the Stormers (from Cape Town) and the Blue Bulls (from Pretoria).

Since we live in Pretoria you'd think we're Blue Bulls fans, but if you've ever seen a Blue Bulls fan, well... they're a little crazier than the normal rugby fan. Yesterday, for instance, if you had driven around Pretoria, you would have seen a sea of people wearing blue. You would have seen bakkies with huge Blue Bulls flags flying behind them, bakkies with giant bull horns coming out of the cab, and bakkies with blue... um... balls hanging from the trailer hitches. You would have seen people wearing blue wigs, people wearing no shirts with huge bellies painted blue, and of course, people braai-ing all day long. A rugby final in which the Bulls are playing is very nearly a national holiday for those who stay in Pretoria.

For the record, we're Sharks fans (the Sharks play in Durban). Dan decided to wear his Sharks jersey yesterday. Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. I played it safe and wore my Springboks shirt, always acceptable no matter which city you live in.

The game was awesome. I love rugby. It moves so fast, and there are no commercial breaks during the game, so you get to watch 40 minutes of uninterrupted rugby, then a few adverts, then 40 more minutes. I love blood substitutions. I love how tough the guys are. I love the excitement. I love watching Morné Steyn kick. I love watching Bryan Habana run. I love watching Victor Matfield's leadership and Schalk Burger tackling someone. Awesome. Just awesome. I am a definite convert to the game of rugby.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Kind of Servant are You?

My friend Muriel reminded me that the difference between "servitude" and "servanthood" is the difference between a "have to" and a "get to." And I realised that I've had a bad attitude lately.

I've been helping renovate a guesthouse for the World Cup. The profits fund a hospice and clinic out in Soshanguve. It's nice to know that my work has purpose, but at the same time, it's hard work! My mindset of late has been:
  • I have to scrub grime off shower tiles
  • I have to scrape paint drips off tiles with a razor blade and acetone
  • I have to scrape water damage off walls and seal them
  • I have to pull a hairball out of the shower drain
I began grumbling and complaining to God when suddenly the image of a quadriplegic came to mind. I can't imagine not being able to walk, to feel, to make my hands do what my brain wants them to do. I broke down and wept, because somewhere in the world, there are people who actually want to do what I've been doing, and that made me feel ashamed. I had to repent of my sour attitude and I'm now trying to focus on the joys:
  • I get to live in one of the most vibrant countries on the planet
  • I get to do work that (indirectly) makes a difference in peoples' lives
  • I get to listen to exotic birds and work in a lush garden setting
  • I get to meet amazing people and learn from them
Thanks, Muriel, for the important reminder.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughts on the Afrikaans Language

I learned a new word in Afrikaans yesterday: valskerm. It's the word for "parachute" but it literally means "fall screen." At least that's my interpretation. And I love it. A parachute is technically a screen, since there are holes in it, and it's for falling.

You probably think I'm crazy, but it's things like this that make me fall in love with Afrikaans and cross-cultural experiences in general. They add to my understanding of a word or context.

People often say that Afrikaans is harsh-sounding language, an ugly language, or even a pidgin language (for its lack of verb conjugations). That may be, but I think there are things in Afrikaans that are beautiful and poetic. It may not be a Romance language, but it has added to my understanding of the world, helped me see things from a different angle, and for that, I am grateful.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

'n Afrikaanse Avontuur

Yesterday we went to the lake outside of the Centurion mall to get out of town and just relax. Okay, so that's not the most relaxing place to be, but it's fun for the kids, and there's an Exclusive Bookstore. However, I seem to have an uncanny ability to accidentally be at venues where large crowds of people have gathered (remember the Fifa Ticket sales at the Brooklyn mall?).

Yesterday, as it turns out, Jacaranda 94.2 (one of the main radio stations here) was hosting a concert. Bok van Blerk was there, Heinz Winckler was there, Prince Victor and the Rasta Rebels was there, and who knows who else. I happened to get there just as Bok van Blerk started singing, "De la Rey." And if you've never been the only American in a crowd full of Afrikaners singing "De la Rey," you have yet to live.

Then Heinz Winckler came up. He said, "If you're English, shout, 'I'm English' " And I'm thinking, yeah, right. Even I'm not that stupid. As it was, only a few people made some noise. Then he said, "As jy 'n Afrikaner is, skreeu 'Ek is Afrikaans.' " And the crowd went wild. "Is daar andere tale?" Nope. Oh wait, one lone German screamed, "Ich bin Deutscher!"

So today, after church, we went to Mugg and Bean for coffee and a light lunch, and guess who was sitting at the table next to us? Yup. Bok van Blerk. Two days in a row... and now I can't get "De la Rey" out of my head.

Dan reminded me that I wanted to have an adventure yesterday. I guess I shouldn't have expected it to be in English!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pause... Admire

Yesterday at work I came across this grasshopper. I am not a huge insect fan, but even I can appreciate a beautiful insect when I see one. I'd guess it was about 12 cm long. The colours in the wings are just stunning. Things like this make me stop in my path and marvel at God's artistry. It was hard to go back to painting bathrooms after seeing this .

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Quote

I heard this song last week and can't get the words out of my head. It loses something to see only the lyrics and not hear the music as well, but hopefully the words will challenge you as much as they do me:

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
For it's only in Your will that I am free
For it's only in Your will that I am free.

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

- by Robin Mark & Jennifer Atkinson

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dented Armour

Whenever I think about the armour of God (belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God), I get this image of a cheap plastic child's Roman gladiator costume. I guess that comes from too many Sunday School classes where teachers tried to hold our attention by using cheap props and visual aids from the dollar store.

When I woke up this morning, reminded of the aftermath of this week and the challenges we've faced, I was reminded once again to "put on the armour of God." Only this time, for some strange reason, I had a different image in my mind. You know that classic image of a surgeon saying, "Scalpel." And the assistant hands him the scalpel? "Scissors." And the assistant hands him the scissors?

I had this image that I was saying, "breastplate of righteousness," "helmet of salvation," etc., and Jesus was handing me each piece as I said the name. Only it wasn't plastic Roman gladiator costume pieces, it was steel armour - dented, scratched, dinged and beat up. I looked up at Jesus, confused, and He said, "You're in a battle. You're always in a battle. Did you expect it to look pristine?"

And I don't know why, but I laughed. It was one of those "Duh!" moments. And Jesus laughed with me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


  • Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? So do not worry... your Father knows... - Matt. 6:27, 31, 32
  • Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you... that your faith may not fail. - Luke 22:31-32
  • I am going to do something in your day that you would not believe even if you were told. - Hab. 1:5
So many Scriptures echo through my mind. I am heart sore over the stolen car. It was new (to us) and we only had it for five days before it was stolen. We prayed so long to have a reliable car that would get us around town, go easy on fuel consumption, and not be in the garage every two weeks in need of repair like our old car.

I know it's just a car, I know that people are more important than things, I know that there is still so very much to be thankful for. And I really am trying to keep that in perspective. But today I just hurt. And since I am not feeling very eloquent, let me end with another Scripture that aptly describes my mood today:

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour." - Habakkuk 3:17-18

Give me strength for today, Lord, that I might pass that along to my husband and children as we navigate this valley. And faith... faith for the journey.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Going Postal, Part 2

Today I phoned the Johannesburg Foreign Parcel Distribution Centre again. They told me I needed to phone SARS (South African Revenue Service). I asked what on earth SARS has to do with my daughter's birthday present, but they just said I must phone. So I phoned SARS, who told me I must phone Customs. I phoned Customs, who told me I must phone the Post Office. This went around and around until I had made 26 phone calls and gotten... nowhere. Every single person I spoke to gave me a different phone number to call.

I ended up going back to the post office and speaking to the manager there, who phoned the Johannesburg Foreign Parcel Distribution Centre (again), and handed the phone to me. This particular woman said that SARS has to charge 60% duty fees on all foreign parcels (yeah, right) but if the post office would just send the parcel back for reassessment, they would reduce the fee to R25.

And while all of this was going on, my car was stolen. And that took three phone calls to the police before they would come take a report. I do not like today.

I still love you, South Africa. You drive me absolutely crazy, but I have a nagging suspicion that I would miss you terribly if you were gone. For the remainder of today, however, can you please leave me alone? I need some space.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Going Postal

I'm having an "I hate South Africa" day. I don't really hate South Africa, of course. I'm usually one of its biggest fans and defenders. But occasionally I come up against maddening (to me) bureaucracy, and I want to scream.

Today a birthday package for my daughter finally arrived, a month after it was shipped (Despite what the U.S. postal service says about airmail to South Africa taking 7-10 days, it actually takes 3-4 weeks. Always. Don't know why, but it does). I usually have to pay a R25 clearance fee to fetch the parcel.

Today, however, they tried to charge me R302-43 to fetch the parcel. They charged me the full amount of the package's declared value, VAT (value added tax of 14%), a clearance fee of R25 and an import fee. So... in essence they wanted me to pay more than 100% of the value of the package, just to fetch it.

The post office lady told me I have to phone the Johannesburg Foreign Parcel Distribution Centre (who knew there was one?), but they would just tell me to write a letter which I must bring back to her (the lady who was helping me), and she would then send the parcel back to Johannesburg for reassessment. They would reduce the fee back to R25 and send it back to her. This will take about 3 weeks, she told me. I asked her why I can't bypass the whole 3-week red tape nightmare and just pay the R25 now. She just repeated the whole process to me and got angry.

So I phoned the Johannesburg Foreign Parcel Distribution Centre and was put on hold forever. The music playing in the background - I am not making this up - was ice cream truck music. You know, eight measures of horrid synthesised-glockenspiel music played over and over and over and over again. When I finally got a real person, she just told me that the lady who handles foreign parcels left for the day and I would have to phone again tomorrow. I asked her why she couldn't help me. She replied that she doesn't deal with foreign parcels. But, I reminded her, I'm phoning the Johannesburg Foreign Parcel Distribution Centre. Yes, she retorted, but the woman who handles foreign parcels left already. So.... what do you do? She replied that she handles the M.O. desk, whatever that is. And apparently, the M.O. desk and the foreign parcel desk keep different hours.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Annual Performance Review

Every Mother's Day my children give me a performance review and a report card. I asked for it, actually, so I guess I get what I deserve. It's the one time in the year that they have a platform to be completely honest about my mothering skills without fear of offending me. Here are my grades:

Cooking: A+
Spending time with my kids: A-
Sense of humour/fun factor: A +
Patience: D
Temper: D

I see I have my work cut out for me. Sigh... but they're right. I really do need to be more patient and not become so easily frustrated. I love my kids, and I love their honesty.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mud Lilies

I keep looking at this photo because I am stunned that anything pretty could grow in this muck (and even you probably can't tell that there are some rather stunning water lilies in the photo, but I was there so I can vouch for them!).

I am not one for clichés or cute sayings; generally I think they gloss over the emotion and reality of a situation. For instance, the saying "Bloom where you are planted" comes to mind, but it doesn't take into account the blood, sweat and tears that are sometimes required to do that very thing. Or "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" - there's another saying that completely denies the fact that when life gives you lemons, it just plain sucks. It's sour. It's icky.

And yet... there is something amazing about people who overcome their circumstances, who remain positive when the odds are stacked against them, who reflect Jesus and His light and love in a dark and perverse world. In short, mud lilies.

It's easy to be a water lily, but I would venture to say that a mud lily is more beautiful because it stands in sharp contrast to its surroundings. There's a lesson to be learned somewhere in that.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My New Love

So... as you know we just got back from our first South African wedding, but what you don't know is that I am now in love with the Soutpansberg mountains.

We actually crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on our way to Louis Trichardt. Soon afterwards we were surrounded by macadamia nut orchards, banana plantations, avocado trees, guavas, litchis, papayas...

We stayed at a guest house halfway up the Soutpansberg. There were monkeys in the trees, lush green foliage on the forest floor, morning glories, scary spiders, horrifically huge wasps and palms everywhere... a small piece of heaven in the northeast corner of South Africa (except for the spiders).

I know everyone talks about Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, but if you ever find yourself in South Africa you simply must visit the Limpopo Province as well. It's stunning.

My First South African Wedding

I survived the wedding without being a stupid American! I can safely report that Afrikaans weddings aren't that different than American weddings, except to say that the ceremony was not as much of a Hollywood production, and the reception went on for six hours (I should have guessed - South Africans are very relational, and the reception was more like a long kuier than a formal affair). And, as usual, the food was stunning (never underestimate the cooking skills of the Afrikaners... you will have trouble keeping the weight off!).

I was excited that I actually understood about half of what the pastor said... I guess my Afrikaans is coming along (albeit slowly). But the jokes that the master of ceremonies told at the reception - those went waaayy over my head.

Hendri and Riana - you are a gorgeous couple and we wish you all the best! Veels Geluk!