Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Note to Mr. Malema

I usually avoid the subject of politics for two reasons:
  1. I don't fully know the ins and outs of South African politics.
  2. Everyone has their own opinions, which are usually impassioned, and I don't want to start a heated debate.
HOWEVER, I cannot leave the remarks of Julius Malema, president of the ANCYL (African National Congress Youth League) uncommented upon. Malema called Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape province a "cockroach that must be removed." Everyone in Africa knows that the term "cockroach" was used by the Hutus to incite the slaughter of Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

You might be wondering, "What did Helen Zille do to make Julius Malema so upset?" Her crime is to belong to the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Western Province is also the only province not controlled by the ANC.

So I have this to say to Julius Malema:

Mr. Malema, you don't have to agree with Ms. Zille's politics, but you should treat everyone with the respect and dignity you demand for yourself. You are in a position of leadership, and you should use that influence to foster a spirit of unity and reconciliation among this nation. Follow the footsteps of your political forebears and promote a spirit of cooperation and forgiveness. Otherwise you will stand in the way of this country's progress, healing, and greatness.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Laws of Rounding

The smallest coin in South Africa is a 5-cent coin, but if you go to a shop, things are marked to the cent, so something might cost R19.99. In that case, you always round DOWN to the nearest 5 or 0 (In this case, you'd pay R19.95).

SO.... I went to the grocery store to buy a few things for dinner, the lady at the till scanned my items, and the total was R26.98. I always have too much change (this comes from living in a country where there are seven coin possibilities), so I pulled out R26.95 and handed it to her. She said, "Don't you have a R1 coin?" I said, "Yes, but I'm trying to use up my change." She said, "But it's R26.98, and you only gave me 95 cents." (Pause...)

"But... you round down. It's isn't possible to give you three more cents." She then told me to give her R27. I tried to tell her that if I gave her R27, she'd just have to give me five cents back, but she wouldn't believe me. Finally she called the manager over who said, "Just enter R26.95. The till automatically rounds down." The woman looked at her like this was one of life's great mysteries, and who knows - maybe it is.

I just wanted to use up my coins.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on Leaving a Legacy

I've been thinking lately about leaving a legacy. Not so much money or things, but more along the lines of
  • What did I do with my life?
  • Have I made a difference?
  • Will it have mattered when I die?
To that end, I've been thinking about the "end result." What is it I want to accomplish before I die? (and no, I'm not talking about traveling, or bungee jumping, or any other tangible thing) I'm not saying that I want to have every little thing outlined and mapped, but if I can at least establish what the most important things are - i.e., what is my calling, what are my priorities, how can I die "well" with no regrets - then it will generally keep me from filling my days with things that don't really matter and help me maintain a proper perspective.

Billy Graham was once interviewed by Larry King. At one point he was asked, "How do you want to be remembered? You've had great influence on millions of people all over the world. You've hobnobbed with kings and presidents and other very important persons. After your passing, how do you want us to remember you?"

Billy Graham answered, "That I was faithful to do what God asked me to do."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thoughts on Being Peopled-Out, Persevering and Pajamas

Yesterday was my son's 9th birthday party. I survived four hours of noise, sword fights and cupcake explosions. But just as the last guest left some neighbourhood kids came over and stayed until 9:00 p.m. I even found the neighbour's blind dog in our house (I'm guessing he got lost?).

Today I had an all-day choir rehearsal, and no sooner had I come home, exhausted, when the sheep bell rang (like a cow bell, only for sheep. It functions as our doorbell since we don't have one). More neighbourhood kids came over to play.

I'm laughing as I type this because I'm wearing a shirt that says "Love Your Neighbour" when what I really want to do is "Love My Pajamas". Reaching out to people isn't always convenient. There are days when I'm really tired and peopled-out. And while I do feel the freedom to say no, I also know when I need to pray for more energy and grace to set my personal wants aside and be hospitable.

Today is one of those days, but sooner or later I'll see my pajamas. And I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fascinating Facts

Did you know that China, India, Japan, the United States and most of Europe can fit into the continent of Africa? I don't think most of us realise just how big Africa is.

In Case You Wanted to Know...

...what Pretoria looks like this time of year:

...or what Pretoria looks like in general:

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like... Christmas in July

I suppose it was inevitable, but the Christmas decorations are now up in the shopping malls. And while I am getting used to the fact that Christmas occurs in summer down here, I cannot figure out why all the Christmas decorations are Northern Hemisphere-themed. Pine trees, snow and sleds next to swim costume displays and sunblock just doesn't compute for me. And even the Christmas songs all seem to relate to cold weather.

Why can't Santa fly in a sleigh pulled by springboks? Why can't we decorate acacia thorn trees? And why can't we dream of sunny hot Christmases that involve chestnuts roasting on an open braai and sunburns nipping at my nose? I think it's time for someone to invent Southern Hemisphere-themed Christmas decorations and songs (which, incidentally, have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Shows you how much our culture and location affect our view of the event).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mondays With Auntie Hope

Today Auntie Hope told the story about her mom sending her off to boarding school. I hear this story nearly every week that I visit her, and while she never outright complains about being sent away to boarding school, it obviously affected her and stands out as a pivotal event in her life.

We all have those events - dramatic, traumatic, whatever you want to call them - that affected us deeply. Many of us have had things thrust upon us that we had no choice or control over or suffered horrible experiences. The thing is, what do we DO about them? Some people push through and manage to come out fine, while others are "stuck." They can't seem to move on, and always come back to that one event that changed their lives forever.

I've been thinking about this today, and while I can't answer for you (I won't even make a suggestion), here's my plan of action: I can't change my past, but I can choose to let it go and trust that God will turn the bad things into something good. Easier said than done, I know. It may even sound trite to you, but I just don't see a better option. If I ever reach a point in my life where I tell the same story over and over... I want it be a story of God's grace.

Sheep Head 101

Sheep head, aka skapkop or "smiley", can be eaten with the fingers. You can eat the tongue, brain and eye, but the best part, according to most, is the cheek. The head is cut in two, so you can buy a whole head, or two halves.

Most of my friends think it's disgusting; I happen to think it tastes great, and if you're ever in a rural part of South Africa, you'd better learn to like it.

(The eye happens to be missing from this one, because - I confess - I ate it.)

I've Been Waiting All Year for This!

It's that time of year again... the jacarandas are in bloom, and I love driving around the city and admiring the colour. I still think it's a shame that gardeners sweep up the fallen blossoms as soon as they hit the ground; I wish they'd leave the purple "carpet" for a day or two. It's so pretty.

While I still lament the fact that my birthday is now in spring rather than autumn, this sort of makes up for it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mondays With Auntie Hope

This morning Auntie Hope and I sat outside and soaked in the gorgeous morning before it got too hot. We were having a fairly serious conversation when Auntie Hope suddenly said, "I wonder why the centre of that plant died, while the two ends are still green?" I replied that I didn't know, and we continued our conversation.

Ten minutes later, Auntie Hope said, "I wonder why the centre of that plant died, while the two ends are still green?" I again replied that I didn't know. This went on every ten minutes or so up until I left, when Auntie Hope said, "Would you look at that!" I said, "What?" Auntie Hope said, "The centre of that plant is dead, and the two ends are still green! How do you suppose that happened?"

I know Auntie Hope has lost her short term memory, but sometimes it's really hard to reply to the same question over and over again. And that's when - (here we go again) - God gently reminded me, "But you do the same thing, Annie."

How often I pray, "Lord, I'm worried about this" or "Why did You allow this, Lord?" or "What must I do in this situation?" and God always answers something like, "Trust Me" or "Just wait" or "I'll take care of it; just give the problem to Me."

Ten minutes later I'm praying again - "But Lord, I'm worried about this!" or "Yes, but what must I DO?" or "But WHY?" God never seems to get irritated with me, either. He just answers the same question over and over. "Trust Me." "Just wait." "I'll take care of it; give the problem to Me."

Again. And again.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Latest Adventure

On Wednesday I drove a few people from the retirement village to a Spring Tea hosted by our church. It was such an adventure I don't even know where to begin.

One of the ladies told me she was just visiting her friend at the retirement centre. I believed her the whole time until I saw her later back up in the Frail Care Centre, eating lunch as a resident. Now I wonder about the other stories she told me (I did think it was strange that she didn't know where Johannesburg was, but now I think I understand).

Another man, who was wheelchair bound, didn't respond to much of anything. He kept falling over in his chair. On the way to the tea he suddenly perked up, said, "I can speak Xhosa," and began to rattle off something in Xhosa (for those of you who don't know, Xhosa is one of the languages with clicks in it). I asked him when he learned to speak Xhosa and he replied, "Huh? I don't speak Xhosa." Then he promptly fell over and went back into his own world.

One woman had a perpetual smile on her face and didn't respond to anything. "Do you want some tea, Auntie?" "Can I pour you a glass of water?" Nothing. No response. At least she looked happy.

Another woman didn't speak a word of English and I was trying desperately to keep up with her, given my limited Afrikaans.

Only one of these wonderful people was able to walk, so I got a crash course in loading wheelchair-bound folks into my van, collapsing wheelchairs (I should have studied mechanical engineering...) and fitting said wheelchairs into my van when it's already full of people.

When it was time to take them back to the retirement centre (all of these particular people stayed in the Frail Care Centre), I actually felt a bit sad. And while they made me smile with their quirkiness, I meant no disrespect. On the contrary, these people have my utmost respect. I can only imagine what they've lived through - world wars, economic sanctions, radical changes in government - and now the world is passing them by at breakneck speed.

If you ever get a chance, spend a few hours at a retirement centre. You will be blessed in ways that surprise you.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Think They Need a Fast Lane

If you go to any of the shops, you will notice that some people walk as though they're task-oriented and know exactly where they're going (I would fall into that category), and others shuffle along as though they have all the time in the world (that would not be me). This difference in walking pace seems to fall along the line between Western and non-Western cultures.

I am learning to be flexible. In the three years that I've been in South Africa I've made great strides at putting people ahead of tasks. If someone comes to my door, I will invite them in and make tea or coffee for them, even if I was on my way out the door. But when I'm at the shops....

I just want to get in, get what I need, and get out. My husband tells me I shop like a man, which is fine with me except when I'm at the shops on a Saturday and I am stuck behind dozens of "meandering" shoppers. That still drives me insane, and I cannot adjust to the shuffling pace no matter how hard I try. I always come home feeling like this:

Maybe I should do my shopping on a Monday morning.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Food for Thought

"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs in your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." - Colossians 3:5

In Afrikaans, the word for "impurity" is translated as "alles wat julle onwaardig maak om God te ontmoet," which means "everything that makes you unworthy of meeting with God."

That phrase really makes me think. I've been pondering it for over a week now, and it still hasn't left my mind.

A Serious Case of Marketing Blitz

(I realise some of you may be offended by the following post, but that is not my intent. I am only recording my experiences and trying to make sense of my "world" in South Africa through my American cultural lens.)

Today, on the way to the office, I passed 79 advertisements for penis enlargements. On the way home from work, I took a different route, and passed 112 advertisements for penis enlargements. I am not making those numbers up.

My first thought was, that must have cost a ton in marketing fees. My second thought was, why the obsession? It seems as though overnight these adverts appeared on every metal post, the back of every stop sign, and on every public rubbish bin in the city.

As a parent, I never imagined myself talking about these sorts of things to my children on the way to school. I suppose it's funny in a way, but I am rather mystified... If you do the math you end up with 191 different advertisements- and that's just in my little corner of Pretoria.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mondays with Auntie Hope

Today while I was practicing my Afrikaans with Auntie Hope, her cat jumped up on my lap, knocking my lesson book out of the way (this is in and of itself no small thing as her cat is rather large, to put it mildly). So I just started talking to the cat in Afrikaans. The funny thing is, Auntie Hope made the cat "answer" me... in Afrikaans, of course. She was the voice of the cat, and I was talking to it as though it were a person. Finally Auntie Hope made the cat say, "Julle is almal gek," which is a strong way of saying "You're all mad!" I replied, "Ja, maar dis pret om gek te wees." Yes, but it's fun to be crazy. Then we looked at each other and laughed.

I was so excited to see Auntie Hope this morning; I was anticipating another great life lesson, but there was none. I was a little disappointed until I realised that sometimes silliness and laughter is also good. Sometimes it's exactly what we need to get through the rest of the day.