Soweto, South Africa

Nervousness, frustration, excitement, joy, loneliness, love, fear… each of these emotions has crossed my mind at least once recently. I may have been on cross-cultural for only two weeks so far, but it is definitely already turning out to be an adventure! Honestly, I still have a hard time believing I am actually in South Africa. On the other hand, I have been greatly blessed with a loving host family and a wonderful roommate, so this is unknown land has quickly become my home.

Madelyn Cooper plays a game of netballHow can I even begin to find the words to describe this to you? Everything here is a new experience – the houses, the beliefs, the clothing, the food, and especially the people. When we first arrived in the Johannesburg/Soweto area, I was surprised to see that virtually every house is barricaded with a wall, barbed wire, spikes, electric fencing, a snapping, growling guard dog or some combination of all of the above. Not exactly the friendliest feeling of welcome! However, South Africa’s walls do not define its people. These are the beautiful people of “Ubuntu,” a message of love, community, friendship, and acceptance. Passing by someone and spitting out a quick “hey” is certainly not a proper greeting. Instead, the people here say hello, ask your name, and expect to hear an answer when they ask how you are doing. In short, the kindness we have experienced here has been overwhelming and touching.

South Africa. Wow…I am blessed to be here. A Black-Headed Oriole weaves a nest at St. Benedict's Retreat Center Whether playing with school children, visiting an African Independent Church (AIC) for the first time, reading about the 1976 Soweto uprising, or eating mohodu (cow stomach/intestines), I am so grateful to have this opportunity. I learn something new every day! We have already done so much in so little time… It’s hard to believe we’ve only just begun.

- Rebekah Graham (A.K.A. Bohlokwa Mareas)  Sept. 15th 2011

The months and weeks I spent preparing for this trip could not have prepared me for the amount of joy and excitement I have experienced in just two short weeks! I have to pinch myself to believe I am in Africa. I have dreamt of coming to this continent for years and the reality is still sinking in. The people are warm here and my host family has accepted my roommate and me with open arms. I miss home, but I am not homesick because South Africa is already starting to feel like my home.

Todd Hooley practices Sesotho with a member of his host familyAfter spending a week at a lodge near Johannesburg bonding with the group and practicing Sesotho, we traveled to Soweto for our first home stay. Since arriving in Soweto our days have been busy and packed full. We have gone to schools, The Apartheid Museum, a club soccer game and even attended a traditional African Zionist Church – all the while spending time with our families and speaking Sesotho the best we can.

I am already sad to think that in ten days I will be leaving Soweto and the host family I have come to love. Each person that I have formed a relationship with will forever hold a piece of my heart. I hope to one day return to South Africa because I know the moment I leave here, a part of me will remain behind.

-Sarah Grace Fitzsimmons (Dikamano Mareas) Sept. 15th 2011