Monday, September 27, 2010

hogsback, gospel rock, and a talk

My weekend turned out to be so eventful that I had to do an entry solely dedicated to these few events. Thursday night, we received a call from a woman we met at church inviting us to go on a day hike for the holiday. The place she wanted to hike in is called Hogsback and having heard incredibly good things about this place, I jumped at the opportunity to go there. Linda Smith came and picked us up at nine o’clock this morning. She loves hiking and backpacking, directs choral music, and has hair that reminds me Cruela DeVill. As we drove inland, we noticed more and more clouds gathering in the sky and decided it was going to be a wet misty hike in the mountains. I started to get worried at this point, being in shorts and not having a slicker. And the best I could do for hiking shoes were canvas lace up vans. I decided that my lack of waterproof apparel wasn’t going to stop me from having a good time. As we approached Hogsback, I began to wonder what this place actually was going to be like. The mountains had clouds rolling off them, giving them an eerie, mysterious look. Up until we actually entered into the mountains, the landscape had been mostly bush. But as we got into the mountains and clouds, the trees seemed to spring up out of nowhere. It was lightly raining and it was cold. But there were still a lot of people around the town—it was a holiday after all. We stopped at a cute little inn to use the toilets and I decided I was going to freeze to death in the middle of our hike. We drove out to the starting point of a trail called Amathole. (I think this means place of the weaned calves…?) This place is absolutely incredible and I am at a loss for words as to how to convey it anywhere close to accurate. To say it is beautiful is an understatement. And I cannot call the foliage green. That color just doesn’t apply there. The trees are beyond green. The trail we were on started out uphill along a trickling river with waterfalls every few hundred feet. They were so gorgeous! I just couldn’t believe the beauty and peace of it all. Interesting fact about this place: JRR Tolkein is actually a native South African and it is said that he drew much of his inspiration for the Lord of the Rings from the forests of Hogsback. As we walked along, I kept having visions of hobbits and elves hiding behind the trees and expected to see Gollum at any moment playing in the pools of water collecting from the waterfalls. I warmed up the more we hiked uphill, but as soon as we got to the top of the mountain and started down the other side, I realized how cold I was. My poor vans were filled with water and my lousy pullover was drenched. But we kept on trekking at an increasing pace and by the time we made it to the car, my feet were frozen. It was so worth it though. I would do it again in a heartbeat. We warmed up for about 20 minutes as we drove to another place to hike. This forest was different from the other one and was not as cold (although this could also be due to my abandonment of my soaked socks). After hiking around in there for a while we decided to warm ourselves with a cup of hot chocolate in town before heading home. That was one of the best cups of cocoa I think I’ve ever had. And of all the natural parks and reserves and what what I’ve seen in my life, Hogsback is hands down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.




On Saturday, we were invited to attend an event at Auntie P’s church. Not really knowing what the event was, we showed up to her home in Parkside without expectations. We left Parkside around half past 5 and drove to the opposite side of East London where their church is. It’s an enormous church built for hosting large congregations and events. There were certainly a lot more white people here than on the other side of town. It seems so odd to me whenever I see large groups of white people now. We walked in to find that this event was in fact a Christian youth rock concert called Goodstock. I don’t really know how to describe this experience in words. It started at 7 and was still not over when we left at half past 11. Some of the bands that played were really talented while others were almost unbearable to listen to. But when you’re worshiping and singing your heart out for Jesus, I guess it really doesn’t matter what you sound like. There was also some gospel rap (something I had never heard before) and dance crews with names like Extreme Jesus Freaks. We danced around to the music and what what with everyone else and I just felt so contented to soak it all in. As a person who enjoys watching and observing other people’s behavior, this was paradise. Ah the goodness of Goodstock...Thank you Jesus.

I returned home late that night to find myself preparing a talk for church the next day that I had neglected to write during the week. As tempted as I was to quote from the songs I had just heard, I felt like it would be hard to incorporate “shake, shake, shake it for the Lord” into my topic of service. I don’t know exactly how Diana and I got roped into speaking in the ward. I’m really good at keeping a low profile in my BYU wards and avoiding any form of calling or talk-giving. I guess I stand out a lot more here or something. Diana and I ended up giving very good talks and I made it through to the end without shouting “Praise Jesus!” like I really, really wanted to. I used an article written by Rachel Naomi Remen for the bulk of my talk. It’s called “helping, fixing, or serving?” and if you’re bored (which you probably are if you’re taking the time to read this) or are looking for some thought provoking reading, you should look her up. I believe this article was originally published in her book called Kitchen Table Wisdom. Anyways, I just really like what she has to say on how we approach serving the needs of humanity.

Tomorrow we are finally leaving for Cape Town and I’m ├╝ber excited! Our trip had to be cut down a few days but I think it’s still going to be incredible.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

dealing with rough patches

Wow it’s been quite eventful this past week. Things at the orphanage have been moving along despite a few rough patches. The tutoring thing didn’t work out quite the way I expected it to. I had agreed to do it thinking everyone was ok with it. Instead I found myself in the middle of a big political struggle over where my time and energy should be spent. Isaiah 58 is both an orphanage and a primary school. The principal over the school has no dealings in the orphanage and the manager over the orphanage doesn’t deal with the school. This caused a problem when I came into the picture. I came to Isaiah to work with school-aged orphans, which mixes the two sectors of Isaiah. It came down a big blowout over where I would be working but no one bothered to ask me where I wanted to work. I arrived to the orphanage the next day so incredibly frustrated and I did not want to be there at all. I was walking over to the playground to find the kids that I’ve been working with lately. Suddenly I hear a little voice from across the playground shout “lungu!” and next thing I see is four year old Lilitha running at me as fast as her skinny little legs would take her.  She leaped into my arms and clung to me giving me a huge hug of surprising strength. I forgot entirely about all the political crap I had been dealing with and remembered why I am here in the first place. My frustration simmered way down. But despite my love of these kids, I absolutely hate dealing with fighting—I have no patience for it and it never gets the problem resolved. I decided it would be best to let them work it out themselves and so I took two days off from the orphanage. That, plus the weekend gave me a nice break and a boost to come back on Monday. I arrived from my four day weekend to see that things had turned around while I had been gone. Everyone was fine and a compromise had been reached (at my insistence) that I work half the day with the little children in the orphanage and the other half tutoring struggling kids from grades four, five and six to read. It’s interesting though because in both places I am basically doing the same thing. I am teaching children English. I read to the little ones and teach them basics like the alphabet and how to write their name. Then I teach much older children how to read basic sight words and questions. Something isn’t matching up here. Before I got to Isaiah, the little kids who aren’t in school yet didn’t do anything during the day except play. When they turn seven, they start kindergarten, which is taught in English, but can’t speak English or even spell their name. By the time they are in grade five, they are still struggling to read. I guess I am here to kind of fix this disconnect. If the little ones have a pre-school program set up, then they wont be struggling in grade five to read basic test questions. Even if the little ones are just read to in English every day, that is still something. So here I am, never having taught a day in my life, trying to help these kids read, write, and understand basic English. This would probably be a lot harder if these kids were not so motivated to learn. I was amazed the first time I tutored the older ones by how willing they were to read to me and to help each other when they struggled to pronounce words. They kept reading book after book and didn’t want to stop. I got so caught up in their enthusiasm the first day that I actually lost track of time and got left behind when my lift took off for the day. Gah! I just love these kids so much!

Last Thursday, on my day off from Isaiah, my roommates and I were able to go on a day trip with our host dad, Cornelius. We went to Fort Hare University in a small town called Alice. It was about two hours of driving but we stopped along the way to see a few things here and there. Most of the drive was through rural Xhosa land where village chiefs own the area and you can buy a plot of land for about R20 and a bottle of brandy. We detoured into an area like this to see the Peary Mission, an old, beautiful mission station built out in the middle of this rural village. The whole way to Alice, Cornelius talked and talked about South African History. It was definitely the most interesting history lesson I’ve ever had. He knew so much stuff! They were just little stories here and there but they were incredibly interesting. Like how Black Beauty was banned throughout South Africa during the ‘80s or how the clicking sounds in the Xhosa language were actually adopted from the Khoisan people after their women and children were captured in a battle. Or how the Kennaway Hotel is named after a shipwreck off the coast carrying a precious cargo of Irish girls intended to become wives to lonely German settlers. Anyways, it was a lovely little road trip. At Fort Hare, we visited The De Beers Centenary Art Gallery, which Cornelius helped to establish. The artwork inside is very profound and sometimes disturbing, but always incredibly thought provoking. I’m not even going to attempt at describing them. One thing is for sure though: South Africa has a very unpleasant past. And although the country has progressed immensely, there are still heaps of problems that need to be changed. On the way back to East London, we stopped by the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance. Biko was a major figure in the collapse of apartheid and although we couldn’t find the grave, we paid him our respects.



This past weekend was quite eventful. It began to rain A LOT on Friday. It’s a humid warm rain though and is actually quite lovely. Spring is definitely here now! Friday night we went to an activity at the church building where we played a South African trivia game called 30 seconds. I actually did better than I thought I would and we ended the evening with a delicious dessert of milk tart. Saturday I experienced South African movie theaters to their fullest extent. I have never seen a more enthusiastic audience for a movie before. Or a more noisy audience for that matter. But they get really into the movies and shout at the screen and the kids run up and down the aisles and stand in their chairs…and it was just The Karate Kid. I would hate to be in that theater when Twilight is playing… Saturday night, there was a church dance at the stake center for adults both young and old. Ok. So I consider myself to be a pretty good dancer and I think I have friends that can attest to that. I can confidently say that I have perfect rhythm and know how to move my body to a beat. I had also been working on this theory that anyone can dance if they just try. But I now see that I have been sorely mistaken, blinded and lied to my whole life. I will probably never be confident in my dancing ever again. Africans are the best dancers. There is absolutely no valid argument to disprove this. Seriously, it is in their blood and more importantly it is in their soul. I can’t even begin to explain how frustrated I was when I discovered that although I could mimic their movements, it just wasn’t the same. They tried not to tease too much but I could tell they were just rolling with laughter inside. Well, what can you do except laugh along and enjoy the pathetic albeit hilarious image of a few white girls trying hard to bust a move in a gymnasium full of Africans.

It continued raining all throughout the weekend and into this week. We even had a few awesome thunderstorms. Tuesday, we went out to Parkside (a coloured neighborhood) to visit our friend Auntie P and her family. They are a crazy bunch of people but they’re so much fun and I just love them to death! That night we made fat cakes for dinner. Yep you read that right—fat cakes. What are they? They are exactly what they sound like. Fried bread that you rip open while it’s still hot enough to burn your fingers and fill with curry and mince or jam and butter or cheese and chips or whatever else tickles your fancy. And boy did I feel fat afterwards. Oh but it’s so nice!

In terms of upcoming events, this Friday is national heritage day and a declared public holiday so it should be another fun weekend. All the schools will also be over at the end of this week for a short break so I have a feeling everyone will be out on all sorts of fun holidays. I know I will. Tuesday my roommates, my host parents and I are planning to leave on a road trip to Cape Town, which is on the western side of the cape opposite East London. It will be a weeklong trip of sightseeing and an awesome one at that! I’m so excited!

I’ve had so many thoughts going through my head every day that I’ve been here and I feel like I could write pages and pages on these things. I’m definitely a slow thinker and like to process new ideas before I dive deeper into them or form some kind of theory or what what. Right now my thought processer is working harder and faster than it ever has before. There’s just so much I see everyday that I can’t keep it all in my brain. I write down my thoughts faithfully as they come but it’s still waaay too much for me to take on all at once. One thing I found out this week is that Africans don’t like to get wet. When it rains, no one goes outside if they can help it. The only people who go out when it’s raining, no matter how heavy or how light the downpour is, are the people who have obligations they cannot avoid. This could also be a result of the African clock that people run on. If you don’t get something done today, you can always do it tomorrow. And if you don’t get it done tomorrow, you can always do it next week. But nothing ever interferes with the weekend despite the fact that it always seems to run from Friday to Monday instead of the usual Saturday to Sunday. There’s never a rush to get back to work. There’s never a rush to do anything actually. I love that so much. At Isaiah, we have teatime every day in the middle of the morning where all the employees and kids take a break. Lunchtime is the same way but just in the early afternoon. It isn’t really set into a schedule, but nothing interferes with it and no one misses it.  In field studies we refer to this time frame as polychronic time or P-time for short. Most things I’ve experienced here have been on P-time. In the US we tend to experience more of a monochronic time frame (M-time) where everything we do is set into a schedule and allotted only a limited amount of time. If things don’t get completed in their time allotment, too bad, you have to move on to the next thing. P-time has more of an openness to it where business can take as long as it needs to but you never, ever cut anything short and you see things through until the very end. Both have their flaws and advantages, and it’s been interesting to compare and contrast my personal experiences with the two.

I realized this week that the honeymoon stage of living abroad has now long worn off. Some days can be so difficult and frustrating to the point where I just want to go to bed and sleep for days. The political struggle at Isaiah over me is an example of something that really set me off. Or like how when I ask someone a one-sentence question and get a twenty-minute story as a response. Or the fact that no matter where I go, I always have to be slightly on my guard. The discipline here is another thing I’m having a hard time with. People are quick to hit or punish children physically and publicly in front of whoever happens to be standing around. If you disrespect anyone who is your elder, you can guarantee you will get a slap or a kick or even hit on the hand with a ruler. Corporal punishment in schools is outlawed but I know it still happens. It disturbs me a little but I can’t do anything about it so I just have to find a way to deal with it. New culture can be incredibly frustrating at times, but the positive, amazing things about this place definitely outweigh the annoying. I find myself incredibly in love with these people and the best part is that I know they love me too. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

all settled in

Time for another update and I don’t even know where to begin. It’s been three weeks since I stepped off the plane in East London. I am amazed at how quickly the time is moving already! I’ve pretty much settled into a routine now…but routines are always subject to change when you’re living in Africa. I wake up at 7 to catch a lift to Isaiah 58. There is a small school bus that picks up several of the employees to transport them to and from work. The staff at Isaiah insisted that they give me a lift and I thought it best not to fight it. I am brought home earlier than I would like and sleeping in is out of the question now, but being flexible and putting your own preferences aside is the only way you can function here. I’ve spent my first days at Isaiah helping out with the younger children. The childcare workers have a lot on their hands and need all the help they can get. Last week we did a coloring activity in which the children had to learn to cut out and paste their pictures. Teaching children to use scissors is definitely harder than I thought it would be. We also helped them to write their names but they are quite young so they can only write the first 2 letters or so of their names. But I must say, that’s pretty good with names like Simonhkele, Ambesiwe and Ayabonga. They still like to play with my hair but not as much and the frenzy is not as big now when they see me in morning. Good thing too otherwise I may be bald when I return to the states. I try to remind them every day that my name is Brittany but I seem to have adopted the nickname “lungu” (short for umlungu).


Last weekend, we attended the annual Mr. And Miss Zamani pageant at the day care in Duncan Village. It was the longest event I’ve ever been to. I was surprised at how seriously the little kids took that pageant. The parents and the audience were really into it as well. There was lots of dancing in between the judging. Once you’ve seen that dance, you’ve seen them all. And I’m pretty sure the music playlist was on repeat for the entire event. The kids had a lot of fun though. I got my hair done again by a million little hands and they taught me how to dance the Xhavata (that’s not spelled right but I know how to say it). After church the next day, Kathy took us to the lion park. We were a little too late to see them out and about but I did get some cool pictures. On our way home we stopped by the Calgary Transport Museum and were given a tour of the exhibits. It was a collection of buggies and carts that people would ride on during the early to mid-1900s in South Africa. Many of the innovations on those carts are seen in the modern day kombis (taxis) that zip around the streets. Anyways, I would never have thought something like that would make an interesting museum but it was pretty cool. Last week as I was walking down the street from the best fish n chips shop I’ve ever been to, I saw these two armoured trucks stopped in the street that had just come from the national reserve bank across the street. As I walked by I saw these guys dressed in all this bulletproof gear crouched behind cars parked on the street. But I wasn’t looking at their clothes. They were holding the biggest freaking guns I’ve ever seen in my life!! My limited knowledge on guns prevents from giving them any kind of name except freaking huge! They must have been protecting the trucks from anyone who had the bright idea to try and highjack them. I thought it was so awesome but no one else on the street even seemed to notice.

This past Friday, I was able to spend the day with one of the orphanage social workers. She explained to me the process of admittance to Isaiah and it is quite an ordeal. There’s tons of paperwork and dealing with the court and multiple social workers. You’ve got to be on top of everything and be extremely organized when you’ve got 100+ children to keep files on. But she told me that the most important part in the process of coming to a place like Isaiah is how the children are received—not only by the employees and social workers but by the other children as well. She said that at Isaiah, the children are so welcoming and inclusive of the new children that they will begin putting aside the problems they’ve just escaped in a matter of days. But I can’t even begin to image some of the issues these young kids have had to deal with and the circumstances that they have come from. I was briefly forewarned that many of the children have witnessed or been victims of sexual abuse. Their understanding of right and wrong can thus be very skewed when they first come to Isaiah. This just breaks my heart because it’s not their fault at all and these children are so young so be bearing such a heavy load. So this is where the hard part of doing an international field study begins—I’m learning that I need a way to deal with the frustration of feeling so powerless. Lately, I’ve turned to watching mindless, lighthearted television at night as a way to turn my brain off and just give it a rest. If I don’t have some sort of escape, I think my head would explode.

But despite the hard stuff, it’s easy to feel at home here. South Africa has many familiar comforts of home like facebook, KFC, and Miley Cyrus...Ahh the effects of globalization…But it’s important to not become complacent; because although I’m beginning to feel black, people are very aware of race, and I am very white. Pastor Mervyn, the manager of Isaiah 58 made an interesting comment to me by saying “your culture has made you colorblind.” I’ve been pondering this for some time now. In America, we tend to ignore skin color. Race is one of those sensitive subjects in which you must be “politically correct.” I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing because when it comes down to it, everyone really is the same underneath it all. But in South Africa, race defines you. Everyone notices race because it’s a big part of life and people talk about race freely. Apartheid was not that long ago and most people here lived through it. You cannot ignore this and pretend that racism never existed here. You cannot be colorblind here because no else is. I’m not an expert but I just think it’s a really interesting dynamic. Anyways the point of all this was to say that on the surface, culture here can easily be seen as the same as mine. But the truth is that cultural differences run very, very deep. For example, the way in which people treat each other here can easily be mistaken for incredibly friendly. But it’s actually much, much more than just that. As a foreigner, I have difficulty understanding it and explaining it sufficiently, but I know immediately when I feel it. They call it “ubuntu.” I guess the closest translation could be family or brotherhood or the feeling that you’re never really a stranger to anyone. Whatever it’s called though, I love it.

My weekend was quite eventful. Friday night there was a talent show at the church building where I attend services. I went intending to be merely an observer and ended up dancing on stage with my fellow American students against three South African teenage boys…a highly unfair competition if you ask me. Everyone knows white girls can’t dance. Good thing I don’t mind making a fool of myself. Saturday I went down to the mall because there were some celebrities there. Four cast members from a South African soap called 7 Die Laan (7th Street) were there to sign autographs and take pictures. The fans were also treated to some karaoke singing of Eric Clapton and some hip-hop. Saturday night we had a big braai at my host family’s home. This is like what we would call a barbeque—there’s lots of meat and booze. But I must say; for not being a very big meat eater, that was some damn good food! We had ribs, lamb, and sausage but meat has a very different texture here—the ribs are really fatty but you eat the fat and it’s easy to chew. Man it’s good though! After eating we spent several hours sharing stories and they talked with us as though we were their own family. I just love these people! And I have never received so many hugs from strangers in my life.

Tomorrow I will start tutoring children who are struggling to read at the school on the orphanage's premises. I have absolutely no idea how I am going to be doing this yet. People tend to assume that because I am from a wealthy country and because I speak English that I am a well qualified teacher and that I can "fix" things with all my spare money lying around. I think I surprise a lot of people when I tell them I am quite poor myself and that I have never taught a day in my life. So although I have no idea what I'm going to do when I step into the classroom tomorrow, I am not nervous because this isn't the first time I've been clueless here. But I've learned to just go with the flow and eventually I figure things out. Tot Siens!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

taking it all in

I've been here for more than a week now, but I feel like even during this short amount of time, I already have to much to write about. I know that no matter how much I write though, I wont do South Africa any justice.

Stepping off the plane into southern hemisphere sun and an incredible amount of coastal wind, I knew immediately that I would love it here. East London is so beautiful! The weather has been incredible for the end of winter. I've already been down to the beach and put my feet in the Indian Ocean. We've had one overcast day so far and the rest have been warm and sunny. O I can't wait for spring to start!

I've been learning pretty quickly to navigate my way around the city and am already a pro at catching taxis and crossing the street (these things are not as easy as they sound). Walking around downtown can be somewhat of an ordeal depending on what street you walk on. It's clear that not many white people walk on Buffalo Street from the way people stare and others shout "umlungu!" (white person!) Four white girls walking around in a group would attract a lot of attention anywhere in the world though. My favorite incident so far has been when we went to visit a daycare in the Duncan Village Township. Upon walking into a classroom full of children under 5, they all shout "umlungu!" and start jumping up and down chanting "teacher, teacher!" And then they proceed to attack you and grab on to any part of your body they can get a hold of. Lastly, they all give you a shop (thumbs up) and want to touch their thumbs to yours. I needed about 20 more hands.

Food has been great! Lots of curry, biscuits, and rooibos tea. There are no words to describe the chocolate and caramel ice cream here. I have only had a few typical traveling abroad mishaps including not being able to access my money, frying my flat iron, and getting sick for a few days. I have learned to just expect this kind of stuff to happen and just go with the flow. Things have worked out ok so far!

I've already met several of the many local friends to past BYU students and plan on making many more friends. People here are incredibly laid back and outgoing. They accept you immediately upon meeting you and treat you like family, calling you bhuti or sisi (brother or sister). I absolutely love my host family! Our Mama and Tata, Kathy and Cornelius, have just opened up a used book shop a few blocks down the road. They host little firesides there on Friday nights (basically a time for intellectuals to gather and talk). Need I say more? There are 11 people living in their house right now, including us. All four races of the rainbow nation (black, white, coloured, and Indian) living under one roof--so we like to say that we are a rainbow house.




Despite the greatness of South Africa, it still has its problems.There is currently a huge public workers strike going on right now for about an 8% increase in wages from the government. Teachers, nurses, police are all refusing to go to work. It's such a big mess and the only thing that has really happened is that children are suffering in school and patients are suffering in bed. The opinions on this hot issue are almost as diverse as the country itself, but one thing is for sure, nothing at all is getting accomplished. I get the feeling that South Africa experiences these kinds of standstills a lot because no one is willing to give a little or be flexible. It's still so astonishing to me how I can stroll down an enormous mall/casino on one side of the city and then 20 minutes later find myself looking over an even more enormous township packed with tiny rundown shacks. The progress since apartheid has been substantial indeed, but there's still a long way to go.

Yesterday I was able to get out to the orphanage that I intend to work at and spend most of time while I am here. It's called Isaiah 58 Children's Village. I'll probably be doing a little bit of everything at this place. They are in need of as much help as they can get in almost every aspect. As Macrae and I were getting a tour of the place, we walked by the playground where all the really young children were playing. They saw us and ran up to greet us by hugging our legs.Within a minute, they had us sitting on the ground and were climbing in our laps and playing with our long hair (or rather, tugging it in every direction). They also thought our "chucks" shoes were pretty awesome. The manager of the orphanage, Pastor Mervyn, showed us where the children sleep and I was blown away. I have never seen a tidier children's room in all my life. They are so proud of their own space and their few personal possessions that they keep the place spotless. These children literally have the bare minimum. But I'm so excited to start working there and I can't wait to get to know the kids!

Anyways, I've been having an amazing time so far and I think I'm already beginning to love this place!