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
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