Category Archives: South Africa 2012

South Africa 360°

This trip has been a trip of extremes. When entering Soweto, we met families who were extremely poor, yet had joy that overwhelmed us as we became a part of their families. We lived with the electricity-free families of Lesotho that showed us the joy of a simple life and the problems that come from living a rural impoverished life. We entered the farms of the Free State, where we saw the wealth of the white farmers and the animosity between the white farmers and blacks. And in Cape Town, I lived with a white family who had been given opportunity, had a pool, a three-bedroom-two-bathroom house, and who missed the civil order of the apartheid government.

In each of these families, I saw fear and hopelessness for the future. But we received much love from them, which was a sense of hope in itself. The love that we received from the poor, the mourning and the weak – the blessed – is a love that has blessed me.

Seeing and living in South Africa’s extremes allowed me to see this county in ways I do not see my own. In Lesotho, I woke up some mornings to see my host sister leaving for the week to clean rich white houses. Then I lived in Cape Town, where once a week a housekeeper came to clean our house.   In situations like this, you don’t even know how you’re supposed to feel. I could feel a disconnect between my Cape Town family and their hired cleaner, and I felt confusion trying to find a place where I could empathize with both parties.

These perspectives that I have received are still very little in the grand South African scheme, but they allow me to start thinking about my home and what I do next, after this trip. I start asking, how can I start to receive the extreme perspectives of Lancaster and Harrisonburg? How different would my life be if I would gain more perspectives from the marginalized and those I don’t understand?  I leave for home on Friday with questions, but with a renewed sense of excitement for my own community and the hope that lies there.

- Phil T. Yoder

 

Lunch break on campus Cape Town was challenging and busy time for me. Between going to lectures at the University of Cape Town, weekly field trips, and extracurricular activities like hiking Table Mountain and ice-skating, much of my time was already spoken for. What free time I did have was spent in my Cape Town home. My host family was an older, retired (Colored) couple named Joseph and Sandra. Possessing a strong personality, Joseph came on strong- too strong, at first. I found it hard to relate to him and was tempted to distance myself from what I perceived as an abrasive personality.

However, as the homestay progressed, I was able to start to look past the negative and learn to adjust and interact with Joseph and his wife. I was forced out of my comfort zone in a positive way and learned something I think I can apply later in life. When I encounter someone who I don’t care for, say a co-worker, I will remember my Cape Town family and do my best to look past the negative. I’m sure it won’t always work, but I now have a shining example of the good that can come from perseverance and patience in a relationship.

Another challenge for me during this homestay was the isolation from the group. For three months, these people had been my family and friends. Suddenly most of my time was spent apart from them. Our houses in Cape Town were mostly well out of walking distance, which made it difficult to get together. Some pairings in our group were fortunate in that their host parents knew others and were friends. Hearing stories from these fortunate few only made my isolation more poignant.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I overcame the obstacles presented by the isolation. Even now as we spend our remaining days together again, I grapple with the emotions and loneliness I felt during the Cape Town home-stay. I admit to being worried for the future of returning home. I fear that leaving the group may be rough on me. However, I also have an amazing set of friends and family waiting for me in the States. Maybe the true challenge will be learning to balance and incorporate my cross-cultural “family” into my “family” of loved ones at home. I would consider myself blessed if that were to be my task to accomplish upon returning. Blessed I have been already to be on this trip with these amazing people. God has truly given me more than I deserve, and I praise Him for it.

- Derek Sauder

 

It is hard to imagine that our semester in South Africa is quickly coming to a close. It’s been an incredible journey filled with growth, new and deeper friendships, and more questions than answers. In some ways it is finally starting to sink in just how many amazing opportunities this trip has provided. I think back to Soweto (South Western Township), the largest township in all of South Africa. I was there. For three weeks I was there. It was all I knew of life for three weeks. My host sisters and grandmother and all the moments of daily living we shared: Cooking together, washing, even saying good night.

How do you begin to sum up an entire life-changing semester? Where do I start? I could tell you about our little village in the gorgeous, breath-taking mountains of Lesotho, how my host mom was convinced that hot water and kisses would make my fever leave, how we sang when we had nothing left to say, and how there was always tears at every goodbye. I could tell you about the garden route, and how I fell in love with the beach. I could tell you about our Cape Town adventures and our family braais (barbecue). I could tell you about all the times we ran for shelter because it started to hail, or how many of us carried rocks with us to ward off vicious village dogs. I could tell you about how I cheered at the top of my lungs for a soccer team I called my own, and the first time I ate pap. About hearing first-hand accounts of being imprisoned because your skin was a certain color or of not knowing whether your children were still alive. This experience has been one of a kind. I could tell you all these things and more and it still would not do these past few months justice. Many people in our group came on this cross-cultural with questions, and we are all leaving with more than we started with. That is one thing that this cross-cultural has taught us though, how to live into the question. I know I am not South African and will never know what it is like to be one, but I count myself incredibly blessed having been given this opportunity to experience this most wonderful country the way I have.

This semester has been filled with more laughter, generosity, sincerity, and love than I could have ever asked for. I look back to each place we have traveled fondly, but that’s not to say that each place didn’t have its trials. I think I can safely speak for all of us in the group when I say that we have had our share of low moments as well, but these have only helped us grow closer. One of the first Sesotho words that Harlan taught us when we began our journey was Sechaba, tribe. And that is indeed what we have grown to become. That is what we are. Sechaba.

- Hannah Patterson

 

My host parents tell me that I am medicine to their lives.  We have shaken the family up, bringing a new energy to the family, a different perspective.  We have given my dad new strength to be active, and our mom opportunities to get out of the house and explore the beautiful city she lives in.  We have laughed and pondered with our grown host sisters, and we have shared Thanksgiving with our Cape Town family.  We have made friends with our nine, five, and two year old nieces and nephew (apparently a big feat).  We have attended preschool Christmas recitals as family and watched our nephew tear up the stage.  Amid the countless offerings of tea and food, there are many moments to take in.

Some moments: Watching rugby with “the boys,” moaning over poor cricket play with my dad, baking scones with my mom, and playing preposterous games with the kids like, “Would you like some imaginary horse tea and ghost milk?” Seemingly everywhere we go, we meet second cousins, great aunts, brothers-in-law, friends, colleagues, travel buddies, and countless others our parents know. My host mom’s theory of living is, “The more you do and see the better.”

Do you know what that means?  It means many days we come home from university on the train, walk home, and within five minutes are whisked away to some family gathering, a party, a local hot spot, or just a drive around town.  We go, go, go, trying to cram as much into the three weeks as possible.  Invariably, we get back to our home heavy-lidded and ready for bed at 5 PM.  Every evening, I feel like an oversized sack of potatoes.

I drag my drained, lumpy body back to my Cape Town bed and flop into it with a sigh.  I pull the curtains of sleep around my weary frame, and am dreaming before the overhead light turns off, recharging for another draining day.  But you know, the funny thing is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

- Caleb Martin

Free travel on the South African coast

November 5, 2012

After having been in mountainous Lesotho for almost a month, I was ready for the next adventure. Although I have many cherished memories and moments I will take with me from the village, my toes were aching to sink in sand, my skin was craving the warmth of the sun and tingling of the sea breeze, and my heart was ready to feel at home again. I like to think of it this way: I have a roaring ocean inside me. My heart is ever-aching unless I am by the sea. It’s about the only thing that calms my pilgrim soul. So off we set to the beach. We spent a few days at a beautiful beach town that people say is South Africa’s St. Tropez. It was fun to walk the streets and meander in and out of cafés and surf shops. We also spent a night at a beach town famous for its on shore whale watching. It was absolutely breathtaking to be able to sit on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic and see whales spraying and their tails flipping in the near distance.

As incredible as both of these places were, my heart fell in love with Wilderness. I am not quite sure how to describe it because I feel like no amount of words would do it justice. It was a cozy beach town tucked away by a cliff that constantly had a paraglider flying down, and miles of breath-taking coast to the left. By day we explored town and made the beach our second home. We spent our evenings after dinner back at our backpackers around the ever-glowing bonfire hanging out, meeting other backpackers and locals. It was nothing but beach and greenery and friendly smiles all around. The nights we spent hanging out around the fire at the beach house were some of the best nights of this trip yet (which I don’t say lightly, because this entire trip has been incredible). I met some of the most chill, down to earth, honest, generous, and genuine people yet. Even though they knew we were backpackers just passing through, they generously opened up their lives and homes to us and welcomed us into their tight knit community with open arms. They even threw us a braai (South African barbeque) on the last night we were there. I found rest and rejuvenation in Wilderness. I also found kindred spirits and cherished friends. I will always share fond memories of and with the three other girls that formed our free travel group, as well as our new found Wilderness friends. And even though we were only there for three nights, I’d like to think that a little part of me stayed behind. So if you are ever traveling along the South African Coast, and happen by Wilderness, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of me frolicking out at sea before fading slowly, as I drift out to sea.

-Hannah Patterson

 

Kevin Leaman, Hannah Shrock, Caitlyn Suttles, and Mandy Stowers shark diving! November 6, 2012

Coming to South Africa, I knew I wanted to go cage diving more than anything. When we arrived in Hermanus towards the end of free travel, a group of us planned to go. I was so pumped. The thing I wanted the most was actually happening! We got there and were told all about what the experience would be like. Then, all of a sudden, we were out on the boat. Even the boat ride was amazing, with open water on the right and the beautiful coast on the left. We anchored only about 500 yards from shore. I was shocked to see how close we were. We got into wetsuits and dived at the same time. It was awesome. The crew would throw out a fish head to bring the sharks close to the cage and pull the head away before they could eat it. Even though the water felt like ice, it was totally worth it. The first dive, I remember one shark just going by the cage, staring all of us down. It was a crazy feeling knowing that it was watching us. Shark! The second and last dive was my favorite. By that time, several sharks surrounded the boat. Some were aggressive and attacked the fish head, hitting the cage rather hard. One shark even ended up biting the cage. It was cool to see its teeth so close. We were the last group to go because the crew ran out of bait. I was sad to leave, but I also knew it was time. Some people were getting really seasick, so it was good that we were heading back. Seeing the great whites so close was the highlight of my free travel. I hope one day I can come back and do it again.

-Mandy Stowers

 

Bethulie, another perspective

Hannah Shrock and Kari Denlinger with their Bethulie host mother, Hilary Our short time in Bethulie was definitely a time of transition as we adjust from village life in Lesotho to things we are more familiar with, like electricity, toilets, and food that is not pap or meroho. Bethulie is a small farming town, and in the first few days we visited a lot of different places around town, like the police station, health clinic, old age home, high school, and prison. We talked to people and heard some of their stories, and when we sang in Sesotho they really enjoyed it- I don’t think many white people speak Sesotho. It is interesting to see white people living here, because in Lesotho and Soweto we were pretty much the only white people around. Bethulie seemed like a pretty racially mixed town, and it was interesting as an outsider to observe the different dynamics at play.

After a few days we moved into our homestays, mine being on a farm about 30 km outside of Bethulie. I, and three other students, lived with a very sweet Afrikaner farming couple who were extremely hospitable and kind to us. We helped them out on the farm, hiked to a cave, and even rode on a tractor. It was a jam-packed few days, but it was a blast. It was really great talking to our family about how they viewed issues in South Africa too, and I feel like I gained a whole new perspective on white people in South Africa. I think because we stayed with black families and learned about all of the injustices they suffered under the cruel restrictions of apartheid, I had a really negative view of Afrikaners because historically they were the ones who implemented and sustained apartheid, and even benefit from its effects today. So, even though it still seems from my outsider’s perspective that South Africa is far from being equal and just for all people, and that there is huge stratification of wealth, I have a better understanding of Afrikaners, and an appreciation born through the relationship with my host family, the questions we asked, and the stories they told. We left Bethulie with a few questions, but even though it was a short stay it was a good time to process and transition from Lesotho, and to get another perspective on South African life.

-Maria Driediger (Sesotho name, Dintle)

 

David Foster Wallace said, “The only thing that is absolutely true, is that we get to decide how we perceive the world.”

Bethulie has been a lovely town to stay in, and the diversity we experienced through our homestays was unfathomable. Some students stayed in town and had more relaxing stays, while others of us were in groups of four on farms, helping with various chores and enjoying the freedom in the evenings. My particular experience included sheep vaccination, sheep shearing, farm visits, horse riding and countless other things. While these experiences were all very exciting and we were shown the best hospitality possible, there were other experiences that left me with more questions than answers. It was through these experiences that I had to pause and think about how everyone perceives a different world from my own.

For many of us, this homestay was the first encounter with a white Stunning view from the Orange River Bridge at sunset in Bethulie Afrikaner family that had house help or workers that lived on their farm as well. This was a difficult adjustment, being served by black families here, in contrast to living with black families in Lesotho and helping with their everyday chores. Though my family related in positive ways with the workers, equality was still lacking.

Later, on a farm visit, the owner defensively explained the conditions of the workers on his farm. “You must keep a constant eye on them, they can’t always be trusted.” and “I treat them well, because if I didn’t, they would kill me.” From my own perspective, there are many things wrong with these two statements. The farmer’s perspective was completely different however. In the past year, over 400 murders of farmers have occurred in the free state. Children from black families working on farms are more inclined to drop out of school at a young age. Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs consume hard earned money and influence poor decisions.

So how does South Africa work towards equality and healthy relationships when barriers such as race, wealth, minority groups and 11 different languages are still getting in the way? There isn’t a concrete answer for that yet, but maybe the secret lies with understanding each other’s perceptions and knowing that we have the ability to change our own.

- Kevin Leaman (Thabo)

 

It’s the end of October. We’ve been in Africa for just over two months.

We’re in Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape. And 16 of us just leaped from the highest bungee-jumping location in the entire world. Four seconds and 216 meters of complete free fall. If you’ve ever done anything like this, you know that people respond to excitement, adrenaline, and sheer terror in very different ways. Some people had been nervous for days; some didn’t feel anything until they saw the bridge. Personally I felt two emotions as our bus got closer – excitement and nervousness – so I latched onto the excitement and didn’t even allow myself to feel anything else.

Mandy Stowers, Hannah Patterson and Meg Smeltzer excited to bungee! Which only got easier and easier, as everyone was filled with enough anticipation and energy to keep us jumping in a flurry of high fives, dumb pump-up cheers, and warm-up boxing moves. Once we were all actually standing on the bridge, the guys running the bungee jump turned on loud dance music, and one by one we got our harnesses, hobble-stepped up to the very very edge, and fell off into the hazy green-and-blue unknown. Until the moment i actually jumped off, I had been feeling mainly excitement and adrenaline, channeling my inner Pocahontas jumping off a cliff. But in a surprisingly quick 4 seconds, my mind went through the following stages:

Stage 1 – instant panic: Oh my gosh oh my gosh NOOO…

Stage 2 – acceptance: Well, here I am, falling – might as well relax and enjoy it.

Stage 3 – euphoria: I’M BUNGEE JUMPING!!

Again, people experienced this very differently. Not everyone felt a moment of complete terror; some people said their mind went totally blank. But no matter what, each person who was pulled up on the other side of the bridge was received with hugs and cheers. We had all overcome fear in a triumph of adventurous spirit over rational thinking. For the rest of our lives, we will always know that we DID this.

- Meg Smeltzer (Atang)

I will never forget

The Pakela family My time in Lesotho can’t be easily summed up in a mere few paragraphs and I’m not convinced that I will be able to paint a worthy picture of all the sights, sounds, and feelings that I’ve experienced in the last month.  But I will try to string together a few of the memories that I’ll carry with me far after the end of this trip.

I’ll remember the huge hug my host mom gave me when she realized that I was one of the ones staying in her house for the following few weeks.  We walked with her to her humble home (one of the nicest in the village) where she showed my roommates and me to our bedroom that was obviously hers.  Our room was the nicest in the house, as were the dishes we used and the food we ate.  She always offered us the very best of what she had.

I’ll remember the night that I came down with a bad fever and my Mme (host mom) took me in her arms and held me against her chest for a long time.  Even though she didn’t speak a whole lot of English, and I didn’t speak a whole lot of Sesotho, she must have understood what I needed at that particular moment.  She must have known that I needed a mom.

I’ll remember the frequent hikes our group took down the mountain to the river to sit and talk and wade in the water.  Wherever you go in Malealea you are surrounded by and incredible view. Mountains circle Malealea on all sides, farmland stretches far in the valleys and flocks of sheep are scattered throughout the area.  The simple homes and dirt paths of the villages only exaggerate the magnificence of the landscape.

I’ll remember eating dinner by kerosene lanterns with my Mme and afterwards singing as a family while washing dishes in a simple plastic basin.  Mme has a lovely voice, and taught us several parts to Sesotho worship songs.  I felt the presence of God in that kitchen on those nights as we sang together.

I’ll remember how hard my family worked each dayShelby Helmuth hauling her family's water for the day just to get daily chores done.  Simple tasks at home like dishes or laundry or cooking are large tasks when you have no running water or electricity.  Going to the tap to get water for the entire day took sometimes over an hour just waiting for other families to fill their jugs and then making the journey back to the house.  I learned that balancing a 50 liter jug of water on your head is no small task!  I also learned that doing laundry in Malealea is an exhausting and time consuming process and that bathing in a liter of water is a skill to be mastered.

I’ll remember the great talks and laughs I shared with my roommates Maria and Mandy and the way we supported each other through a range of emotions and experiences.  I’ll think about how we pieced together all the Sesotho we knew to try and get to know our families better.

I’ll remember these things and many, many more.  But I’ll especially remember the way I felt as I left my family that I had met only three weeks before, but who had graciously accepted me into their home.  And I’ll remember how the last words my Mme said to me were, “Don’t forget me my baby.  Please never forget me.”  No Mme, I will never forget.

-Meredith Reesor (Bohlale Pakela)

 

Lesotho.  How to assign words to such a place with such experiences.  I remember first arriving in the area and passing through the Gates of Paradise.  I felt like a true adventurer ready to embrace the untamed, the freedom, the struggle, and the raw of life at my finger tips, all of which I did indeed get a good taste of.  Yet when reading through my journal entries from the first week, what I remember quite vividly were moments I had during some of the hikes our group went on, lead by none other than our fearless leader, Harlan.  These glorious hikes held great significance for me personally so instead of trying to recall them from memory, I will simply copy my own words from my journal at the time.

September 25, 2012

Today we embark on our first big hike.  I want to remember to not only soak in the sheer beauty today but to remember who created it.  I want to actively engage in worship today though simply being aware of not only the creation, but the creator…

The hike was so much more that I could have hoped for.  I so badly wish that my pictures could capture the grandeur so that when I attempt to describe it people could understand what I saw.  As for my goal I mentioned previously, on the way to the waterfall I did find myself contemplative and conscious of the land and it’s obviously intelligent design.  I was in awe at different points and allowed myself to revel in theIMG_5624 solitude and yet fierce presence of God that I felt.  Pure, unadulterated joy came from seeing the occasional herd boy care for a tiny lamb, the lonely donkey, the leaping mountain goats, patches of yellow flowers, rocks and cool springs, and contented faces.  Swimming in the cold falls and drying in the sunlight while eating a packed lunch reminded me of summer in Maine.  There’s just something about taking the plunge into an icy, natural pool of water that feels so awakening to my bones.  I felt that I was really a part of life.  In these moments, I am reminded and further convinced that life is not man-made nor can it be harnessed; life is growth, unmanipulated and devoid of human attempts to capture it.

The next day the group went on another hike.  We ventured down a rocky slope to reach pools of cool water encompassed by ancient drawings by the indigenous people.  The hike back up was the difficult part.

September 26, 2012

…I searched for strength in the Lord today and sought His presence in my exhaustion.  I asked questions in the silence, “Where are you in my life at this very moment?”  I then found myself deeply appreciating the lavender flowers randomly sprouting here and there in a long stretch of dry, dusty brown rock seemingly lifeless at first glance,  It was as if God was answering me, “I am here, in between the hard places, and if you’re seeking Me, you’ll find me full in life, producing vibrancy and color.”  It was encouraging to be answered, and so quickly.  I am learning that even hiking can be spiritual.  Largely spiritual, if you engage.  This would be easy to miss as hiking is obviously very much physical, but I feel that I experience more depth and far more richness when I push beyond the visible and the external.

Roderick Nash describes adventure as so, “Wilderness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works.  It not only offered an escape from society but also was an ideal stage for the Romantic individual to exercise the cult that he frequently made of his own soul.  The solitude and total freedom of the wilderness created a perfect setting for either melancholy or exultation.”  Lesotho.  I’d say that the group as a whole, myself definitely included, experienced far more exultation than melancholy.  Kea leboha Modimo.

-Arielle deBrun (Palesa Mporane)

 

Our stay in Lesotho consisted of two distinct parts: two weeks of homestays in Malealea village and one week in Maphutseng at the mission base for Growing Nations.  Our homestays were a great experience that I’m sure none of us will ever forget, but I will share about our experience at the mission.

Students doing some manual labor for Growing Nations Growing Nations is an organization that practices sustainable agriculture in Lesotho and attempts to teach local farmers their techniques.  The major problem that farmers face in Lesotho is soil erosion.  Growing Nations has tried to show the local farmers the benefits of minimal plowing and other conservation methods in order to reduce soil erosion and increase crop yields.

While staying at the mission our group participated in a variety of activities.  Our main task was to help out around the mission site doing some landscaping projects or other things that needed to be done.  We built a fence, relocated scrap metal, and organized a storeroom, but our main job was digging outside one of the mission buildings.  Besides building character, we were put to this task in order to level out a sloped piece of land in hopes of solving the problem of water flooding into one of the resident’s houses.  It was hard work but good work and I think doing some manual labor brought our group closer together.  It felt nice to help out an organization that is attempting to further God’s kingdom in their community.

Besides doing work in the mornings, we took the afternoons to simply hang out or go down to the river for a swim with the local dogs, who never got tired of barking.  The river was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  We also went on several hikes, the most enjoyable (for me at least!) being a sunrise hike.  As we watched the sun come up over the beautiful mountains, Abby, a volunteer with SALT, read one of the Psalms aloud.  I couldn’t help but think about how I, just one small person, am blessed enough to be loved by the same huge God who created the vastness of the earth and everything in it.

Our time with Growing Nations in Maphutseng was certainly a good experience.  I felt that our group came closer together from being more separated in our villages.  While at the mission we were challenged by some physical tasks but also renewed by being together with a common purpose.  Whether it was something tangible like the physical work we had done or something less tangible like gaining important insight into the culture of Lesotho, we accomplished a lot while spending time at the mission house with Growing Nations.

-Nathanial Freed (Thato Mohale)

A person is a person through other people

For better or for worse, an experience as new and anticipated as my cross-cultural makes me hyper-aware of what I am learning and how I approach both extraordinary and mundane events. I catch myself trying to analyze-to-death some insignificant piece of glass or trash on the ground, and I tell myself to relax and back away from my absurdly poetic state of mind. But there is a lot of value in noticing, and moments when I can recognize the mundane as extraordinary are particularly rewarding: feeding the drab sparrows daily with a heel of bread; helping my host mother make cole slaw; watching a kid withdraw his sticky, slobbery hand from his mouth to grab my arm and choosing to appreciate our interaction of stranger with stranger.

On the way to the apartheid museum today, there was another moment when the mundane became beautiful. We were driving to the museum in our rented taxis, and a revolting pop country song was playing – twangy guitar, heavy beat, crooning female vocalist. But in a taxi driving through Soweto, I enjoyed the music in a way that’s hard to articulate, the song, the environment, and the pathos of the moment fit together perfectly, and I was happily content where I was.

At the museum, I lingered in the Nelson Mandela exhibit. Moving through a chronological account of Mandela’s life, I learned that Mandela was one of the first ANC leaders to suggest publicly that South Africans use violence against the apartheid government. This did not fit my impression of the Nobel laureate. I moved on, dismayed, until the exhibit began to address Mandela’s home in prison. A quote from Desmond Tutu said that Mandela transformed in prison from an angry revolutionary to a man who valued the humanity of his opponents. Knowing more about Mandela’s journey to peace, he seems more human now because he had to work to form his values, changing from a man who dismissed non-violence to a man who pushed for negotiation 30 years later.

-Tsepiso Moremoholo (Brendan Erb)

 

On Friday we had a debriefing session which included the group + each person’s host mother. The discussion mediator asked us to reflect and share on how our world view or perspective of self has changed through the three weeks together in Soweto. It was silent for several minutes while each person mulled over the significance of the question. Mme Nora broke the silence with a story about her upbringing. She grew up despising whites for the oppression of her mother who was a domestic worker in a white household. After getting an education so she would never be in that situation, Mme Nora knew she had to forgive. Even though she chose to forgive the whites for the oppression and hurt, she couldn’t forget. She shared about how thankful she is for the opportunity to host students over the years because through our smiles each day we help her to forget.

Many of the students also shared. One spoke on how he had heard about white privilege but didn’t actually understand until his time here in Soweto. He saw how truly privileged he is to be able to further his education and have an experience like this one.

I shared about learning to be content. I feel like at home I am never content. I am always looking ahead to what is happening in the future. Here in South Africa I am completely content in living in the present. There is no reason to worry about what is going to happen in the future because plans will probably change anyway. I’m getting so much more out of this experience through being present rather than worrying about what is happening next. I am so thankful for this new perspective.

One person shared about the love she has received here. She didn’t realize that in such a short amount of time she could receive so much love and care. She mentioned that every time a Mme says “I love you” she knows that it is genuine.

We have truly received an extraordinary amount of love, and I am so thankful. It is going to be excruciating to leave the families that we have been a part of these last few weeks, but each person is excited for the new experiences to come in Lesotho. Thank you for every thought and prayer that has fueled this journey so far. We would appreciate continued prayers as we move further into the unknown.

-Lebohang Dieta (Caitlyn Suttles)

 

“Motho ke motho ka batho.”  – A person is a person through other people.

In our last week in Soweto, we took a trip to visit the Apartheid Museum. After the initial shock of turning in to the gate of an amusement park (surprisingly situated right next to the museum), I tried to put myself in the solemn mood that I take on when entering into all museums. I’m here to learn. I’m here to focus, I’m here to absorb dates and facts. But the Mandela exhibit wasn’t like that. As soon as I turned the corner to enter in the exhibit, I was greeted with a colorful, musical depiction of Mandela’s life. Nelson Mandela. Such a legendary figure. It’s hard to remember sometimes that he too was a mortal man.

In the whole exhibit showing the life of nelson Mandela, the thing that made me pause was one little African proverb on one little panel about Mandela’s childhood. “A person is a person through other people.”  And it was like, “Oh yeah. There were more people involved. It’s not just Mandela. THE Mandela. There are others.” In a country that has Mandela day, Mandela memorials, Mandela murals, Mandela on the money, it can seem like a one-man show. But there are others. Motho ke motho ka batho. A person is a person through other people.

And if there is one lesson I’ve learned in Soweto, I would say that is it. A person is a person through other people. I don’t know if you all know this, but in Soweto people are everywhere. There is really no space. But having no space means the people of Soweto have turned into one big family. A family that we have been lucky enough to be included in for three weeks. How our host families have managed to give us all their love and attention in such a short amount of time I may never know. But one thing I do know is that I am more of a person because of it. A person is a person through other people.

-Kamohelo Khomongata (Mila Litchfield)

Visits to Schools and Churches

Each day is filled with new faces and new smiles. When we entered the primary school I watched as little eyes looked at us. Their smiles only showed after a friendly wave from someone in our group. Their dark eyes have so much wonder and warmth. They had a performance for us with dancing and singing. Oh, how I wish I could dance like they do. We were split into pairs to sit in classrooms to “observe.” See, the funny thing is we didn’t really blend into the back of the class like we thought we could. Shelby and I were greeted by lots of kids pulling at us. We were surrounded by fifteen kids in the back of the class. They eagerly taught us Sesotho words as the teacher taught a lesson to the other students. Before we knew it, the teacher was gone and we were left alone with about 30 sixth graders. The two of us burned time by playing games and entertaining them by taking pictures. I took a video and they all jumped up and down, pushing one another. The children were full of energy and excitement. I left the classroom feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

Our group went to a different primary school a week later and I prayed the teacher was going to be in the class. Nathaniel and I were assigned to help with the Phys. Ed. class outside, which I was excited about. We led relay races with Kindergarten age kids. I had them stand in a line and act out their favorite animal as we walked to the other side of the field. It was by far my favorite part of the day. They were so happy and hyper! There was a lunch break time for the students and it was madness. Kids were climbing on things, pushing each other and running around. I did not see any teachers around anywhere. I have been learning so much by seeing how teachers and schools are run differently. It is not right or wrong, just different. These South Africa children are given the opportunity to express themselves freely and are impressively very confident in themselves.

Learning a Basotho dance I also noticed a lot of confidence from the high school students we met when visiting two high schools. One girl asked me why I wasn’t talking and I told her I was not sure what to say. She pointed around her class and said, “Everyone here is talkative, everyone is outgoing.” She was right and everyone was bold. It seemed to come across as being cocky or self-centered, but I am now thinking that South Africans are not afraid to express themselves while Americans are self-conscious and concerned how others will perceive them. I’ve learned so much from going to the schools and meeting new people.

-Paballo (aka Kari Denlinger)

Though every day so far here in Africa has been a journal worthy day, there are some experiences that have me running to pen and paper. I was outside my house asking Brendan if he thought I should keep carrying around an old bed sheet that I hadn’t used yet. I decided not to keep it, and asked Mme Nora if she would have any use for it. She exclaimed “Yes!” and embraced me and kissed me. She continued to thank me and told me that she would always think of me when she used it. I’ve never seen thankfulness like that before. Random experiences like this are much more telling of the mindset of the people here than what any book can convey.

-Tankiso (aka Kevin Martin)

All my days run together here in Africa. So many new experiences take place every day; it’s hard to keep up. Independent African Churches and schools are very different than those in America. The Church Service reminded me of how I pictured a cult. There was a lot of chanting while dancing around in a circle. Who knows how long it lasted, for we had to leave before it was over, having stayed there over two and a half hours. They don’t have any agenda on Sunday and overlook the growling of their stomachs in order to stay and fellowship, praising God.

When our parade of white people arrived at the high school, a flood of AfricanStudents singing Call Me Maybe students were filling the buildings. They were staring and whistling as we walked into a classroom. They welcomed us with African songs, poems, and dances. We also performed a couple songs and a skit. They really enjoyed our rendition of “Call Me Maybe” (Harlan’s favorite song) and the local students joined with us the 2nd time around.

The skit was a bit more serious, displaying several scenes of domestic violence. The students were knowledgeable about the seriousness of the subject and how it affects their own country. The grim truth of reality didn’t dampen our spirits for long. We started dancing again and the mood was lightened. There was so much laughter and fist pumping after Mila was brought into the circle and was kissed by an African boy as part of the dance. Harlan said this was significant for them because it showed we don’t thinking they’re unclean, but equal to us. They have so much spirit and freedom in the way they express themselves.

-Dineo (aka Shelby Helmuth)

“Rea Sechaba” – We are a Tribe

As we pulled into the airport, a buzz of excitement began to make its way through our group. The waiting was over, the anticipation gone, and we were finally on our way. Gradually the other passengers on the plane began to learn of our trip, and many expressed concern at our staying in Soweto Township. During apartheid, this area was set aside for blacks to live. White South Africans avoid the area out of fear, and it is uncommon for a white person (let alone a large group) to undertake an extended stay. But, great risks reap great rewards.

Throughout the plane ride (a total of 18 hours), there was much visiting between the EMU students and our excitement refused to be quelled. At our layover in Bakar the general consensus was, “we’re in Africa!” With another eight hours of flight, we forced ourselves to sleep, attempting to adjust the time difference, a feat helped along by the captain and flight crew. Though the flight was long, we remained comfortable and I am told that the accommodations and service on the plane were well above par (something I would not know as a first time flyer).

Plane ride to Johannesburg Our plane landed in Johannesburg around five Thursday evening, constituting 24 hours lost to travel and time zones. After we gathered our luggage and exchanged our dollars to South African rand, we crammed ourselves (and our bags) into two vans, marking the beginning of our tribal bonding.

At St. Benedicts, we took little time to unpack, deciding to sing worship songs late into the night. We followed this with a variety of card games, starting a favored Cross-cultural tradition. Our days here at St. Benedicts have given a sense of surrealism, yet the time has brought us closer to each other than ever before. We are grateful for these days and approach our first homestay with the conviction to rely on the strength and support of God and each other.

It is hard to fully explain to others the experience this semester has been and will become. I feel so blessed to be a part of this group and am excited to continue this journey alongside them. Rea Sechaba. We are a tribe. And together, nothing is going to stop us.

-Katarina Napfel

Host families create a circle of warmth

Smiles. Laughter. Love through eye contact. Looking around the circle today showed me more about Dancing with host mothers the group and bo mes (our mothers) than I could have asked for. Trevor’s Me looking so affectionately at him. With the same look of a newborn and his mother. Me Nora holding Kevin’s hand. Clearly there is more going on there than just a three week friendship. These women and their families have committed to loving us and are un-intimidated by our differences. They know how to truly love like Jesus loved. Me Pinky’s smile sneaking out from her tough and removed expression. She is learning with us about trusting each other. Close physical contact means sharing more than just warm facial exchanges. Me Tshidi’s arm against mine, not an accidental graze (like i would expect) but a comfortable placement close to mine. Patience with our minimal understanding of their language or pronunciation. Conversations, and comparisons of how Americans and South Africans behave in banks and public. The people feel closer. The sun feels closer. God feels closer.

-Hannah Schrock