Saturday, August 29, 2009

Baby in a Box

Baby in a box

We hopped out of the mini taxi at the corner before it rushed off into the afternoon traffic on Boom Street. I jumped over the gutter full of rubbish and dirty water and tried to avoid landing in the middle of a stack of tomatoes and cabbage set out nicely for all the passers by to see and buy. "3 rand a bag!!" Glancing down to see where my foot was going to catch the sidewalk, I saw a little baby sitting contentedly in a cardboard box. He was busy playing with some toys then, looking up at the 5 of us stumbling to get our footing, smiled. Such a bright beautiful face with a contagious gaze. So strange the normalcy of the little one sitting in the box while mom stays busy selling veggies or snacks. This was one of the final sights before getting back to the Lerato house after day outreach to the "bad buildings."

A "bad building" is an abandoned building that still houses shops and businesses in the front part but behind it, through a wrecked field, through a makeshift gate, there are rooms separated by cardboard boxes; a functional brothel. These outreaches are a good chance to inform the ladies of the night that there is another option for their life, We give out fliers with Lerato house information on it and encourage them to stop by our drop in center to learn about jewelry making or weaving, or just to get a contact that can help them get out of prostitution.

Last week I really felt like things were coming together as far as the internship goes. My role at Lerato house is becoming more clear and I have some projects to be working on (definitely realizing the effect of the 'Protestant work ethic' in America). I actually enjoy staying busy and doing projects. Anyway, there are a few girls at the house who are still smoking (cigarettes, and sometimes marijuana). This is against the rules at the house and so I got put in charge of developing an anti-smoking program. It will be a great chance to get to know these girls and maybe teach them a little too. Also, there are two men, Xolani and Berend who have started up a Policy and Advocacy Unit with TLF. They will be doing a lot of work with the "rebranding Homelessness," campaign before the games in 2010 and lobbying for changes in governmental policies dealing with housing, employment, and human trafficking. I will be joining them part time and helping where I can. It's exciting to see all the different areas that I really care about are all being tied together and I'm praying both that doors open for me to be of service here and that what is learned here will really sink in and be brought back to the US.

Still loving the walk across town. It is so sensory. Everyday, I learn and experience something new during that time. Now that it's getting warmer outside, I would like to start spending some time at in the Square in the mornings. One of these days I will record bits of the walk so that you can all see and understand what I see, hear and smell every morning and evening. About 8am, the ladies are on the corners and set up alongside the high-rises. They are tucked behind the cardboard boxes, deep frying dough to sell to us suckers who can't say no ten tempting times. ( I believe I've mentioned these ladies before!) Vegetable stands are just getting set up along Vander Valt street and the little tents that sell; hats, towels, sunglasses, earings, snacks, candies, bananas, hair creme, clips, and all sorts of other trinkets. The air is crisp but dusty. Newspaper men are shouting headlines and the flier flippers are trying to get me to go to the African herb shops where I can have alost love returned to me, increase my memory, and even have HIV/AIDS cured. The other night, talking with Stephens, Brian, and Priscilla, I learned that about 75% of black South Africans still believe in the sort of superstitious practices of herbal medicine or the spiritual healing of _________, traditional which doctors. There's even a "church" here in the city that practices many of these more traditional ceremonies. You can go there and pray for people to get hurt or killed (very similar to voodoo), there are ceremonies where people will throw brown coins at another's feet as a form of prayer. Its members wear a green badge with a green star on it and once you join this "church" you can never leave it. I am thankful to have found a church for now that seems solid theologically and the teaching is very encouraging. It's only a short walk from our place and you can hear the singing from a block away!

I really like the feel of Central (our part of town). It's great to be able to walk almost anywhere we would really need to go. Visiting Hatfield the other night was quite a different experience though. It was suburbia. Nicely dressed people filled the malls, sat down at restaurants, were white, and bought Cokes at the movie theatre. Alexa and I got coffee at Wimpy's and she went shopping for a gift. Part of me felt very comfortable there and I'm sure there are some great shops and cafes on the main street. Hatfield is where the main university is, so it's a college town primarily. People were dressed up to go to the club on Saturday night buying drinks, and dancing until dawn. Alexa, I, Rebecca, Musa, and Marvin joined the crowd at ZanZu, a new club that has a room for hip hop and a room for "house music," It was a great time, but not something I'd like to do every weekend. I am so thankful that Hatfield is not where Siri and I are living. Although we do have to sacrifice some freedoms, like walking outside after dark to go anywhere, it is worth it to be in the middle of the city, outside of people's expectations. I'm praying that God continues to show me how to break down barriers where I can and where it needs to happen.

A few other fun things that happened this week:
-A workshop on being Wounded Healers, by Alexander Ventner
-Zulu and dance lessons from our friend Sandile (at one point, when Siri and I were trying to copy his moves...he started cracking up laughing and said, "that is soooo whiiite!". Yes, Sandile : )
-saw a new film, Izulu Lami ( My Heaven), last night. Try to find it, it's a great picture of life in S.A
-TLF's monthly celebration was tonight, the Lerato house girls did a great great job hosting it. We cooked all day and they prepared a drama, some songs, a talk about being a HERO, and read some poems. They are so talented.

So yes, life has gotten busy but very fun! I'm starting to miss hearing people's voices and just seeing familiar faces around town. The gorgeous Bellingham fall will also be missed. But the Jacarandas will start turning purple soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


sdfSome streets are starting to feel more familiar. Yesterday, I met the donut
lady on Van der Valt Street. Pauline kindly gave me two deliciously crispy fried treats to tide me over until lunch. The ladies are on each corner selling freshly dipped dough for everyone on their way to work.

Now that you know about yesterday's breakfast, let me back up a few days and re-cap how the Feast of the Clowns went. The whole
experience is a bit difficult to describe but I'll give it a try. Photos may do it more justice. Picture 4000 people marching down Paul Kruger Street (main street), some dressed as clowns, some dressed in traditional costumes. There were bands and busses, banners and dancers. It was a spectacle of a parade. We, the clowns, handed out flyers along the sidewalks informing any and everyone about the Festival that would be in Burgerspark later that day. At the festival there were performers, bouncy castles, pony rides, face painting, all sorts of yummy food, and the famous band, Rythmic Elements. Throughout the day, they estimated 20,000 people were in attendance. For a few hours, I was in charge of taking tickets for the pony and camel rides! I had to make sure that an excited crowd of children didn't try to sneak onto the ponies or get too close to the camel. Camels really do spit you know. Later that night, after the last band finished and the crowd cleared out, we did a final sweep of the street picking up litter (trying to leave the neighborhood cleaner that it was when we started) and hopped in the back of a truck for a ride home. Overall, the Feast of the Clowns was a huge success that made headline news the next day. The theme for the Feast was, "...And the blind will see." It's goal was to raise awareness in the community about human trafficking, abuse, discrimination, and xenophobia. All of these are very prevalent in this city and they are trying to be proactive in prevention as 2010 approaches. South Africa is so excited for the World Cup in 2010, there is even a brand name of shoes called 2010's. Siri and my friend Sandile has a pair and showed them to me the other day. Apparently they're very in style!

We also got to see the Soweto Gospel choir perform at the State Theatre. It was a mind blowing show! The energy and color and power of their voices was overwhelmingly beautiful. On Thursday there was a play that the School of Creative Arts wrote, directed, and acted in called Blinding Sight. It had a good message of acceptance and reconciliation between family and between races. The night shows were a good chance to hang out with our new friends here and see some faces over and over again. It's not safe to walk around the city after dark so unless there is a specific event to go to and you have arranged transportation...home is home. :)
Monday was a necessary day to recover from all the events from the previous week. I also started working at the Lerato House, the safe house/empowerment center for teenage girls coming off the street or out of prison. It will be a good fit I think. Monday we did a day outreach into Matabastardt, an unofficial settlement outside of the city. Here, we found some women sitting outside of an old abandoned bar (now used basically as a brothel), we gave them information about the drop in center, handed out condoms, and just got to know them a bit better. The pimp, another woman, was there as well but wasn't very happy that we were talking to her "employees." It's tragic that anyone, especially a woman, can enter into this type of work. Please pray that as our conversations continue with these women and the other's we meet, God would stir their hearts and feet to take steps away from this lifestyle. Tonight, is the night outreach that Lerato House does in city center. It should prove to be an interesting experience. Volunteering full time will take some adjusting too. I am already getting a feeling that things are done very differently here (duh!) And I need to be humble in learning how to fit into them. My American nature is coming out in the desire to be "productive" and "efficient." It will take time to settle into the projects and find out where I can serve specifically. There are some ideas brewing but I will need to be patient too. For now, there is lots of time to get to know the girls at the house who are not in school. Everyone has the greatest names here....there's the Zulu or Tswana, or Sutu version and then there's the English. People's names in English are: Patience, Miracle, Gift, Elephant, and Momma Crocodile. We could take some lessons on naming eh?

This is going to be a good place for the year! An ice cream cone costs 2 Rand (approx. 20c), there's always always music somewhere in the background, people eat Pap (corn meal mush) and stew with their hands, there are fruit stands lining the streets, and people greet you always with hello and how are you!? Siri and I are having a great time here...there will be so many places to explore and we've only just started to get to know this little city! Its 2 weeks in, and I miss home at times but am so happy for the chance to be here.

to the streets

Monday, August 10, 2009

First impressioNs

First impressions.

Last night I went to sleep with the sounds of strong, powerful voices singing songs of change and freedom. I must have arrived in Pretoria. In the same building as I am living there are rehearsals happening for a play called Blinding Sight, a play addressing homelessness, racism, and judgement of all sorts. The Tshwane Leadership Foundation puts on a festival each year called the Feast of the Clowns. The next update, I’m sure will be mostly about that. It happens in the park down the street for one week and the idea is to reclaim the city for joy and laughter. There are great bands that perform all week long (the Soweto Gospel choir for example), plays, and workshops on art/poetry/dance, and lectures on human trafficking and homelessness. I’m sure it will be a good chance to get to know a few people and get a feel for where this city is at.

Home for now, is an apartment that the foundation rents just across the street from City hall. The building is an old fire station and there are so many amazing things that happen in the complex. TLF”s School of the Creative Arts is located next door as well as a backpackers’s hostel, another organization, an old person’s home, and a few other things that I haven’t quite figured out yet. So far, I have seen people practicing fencing, a fireman’s retiree lunch, and marimba hip hop (yes, there’s a room just for practicing the marimba). In our apartment, there will be 5 of us living; my friend Siri, the house mother Priscilla, Steven, and Alexa. Priscilla is from Cape town but has been living in Pretoria for 6 months and works with TLF. She runs a kiosk in the Burgers park and obviously loves what she’s doing. Already, she is so caring and welcoming. She is excited that I know how to make Chai tea and sounds like she will be a great teacher and advocate. Steven has been living here and working with Akanani (the homeless ministry) for 2 years now. He also already feels like a brother and is starting to teach Siri and I a bit of language to get around. Alexa is from Germany and has been working with TLF for one year. She is off to Mozambique for the weekend (really!). It really feels like these people will become family and I am still confident in thinking that God really has prepared a place here for both Siri and I.

The city is comfortable, despite all of the stories we’ve heard already about how dangerous it is. There will be no walking around after dark, alone or with others. Also, driving a car brings many hazards like car-jacking or having it stolen off the street, so I hope to avoid that. But people are friendly so far. There are fruit stands on every corner selling bananas, avacados, oranges, apples, and all sorts of candies and snacks. Avacados are only 20c! I also met Benjamin, the ice cream man. Between Museum Park (the apartments), and TLF, the streets are lined with Jacaranda trees which have beautiful crinkled branches and bright yellow leaves. It feels and smells like autumn here, which is funny because it is spring time and everyone has been ranting about how warm it is and that it’s nearly summer!

All the logistics have gone fine. Banks are accessible, the planes were...planes...I have keys to my new home, food is good. This afternoon we are off to do some exploring of Church Square, where I guess there are shops and cafe’s. Tomorrow, maybe we’ll go to the Zoo! Thank you to everyone for your prayers. Please continue to pray for safety, and guidance in where my time here should take me, and that God would move in people’s hearts and in this lovely city, revealing Himself to them.

South Africa tip of the day: If you want something done or are going to meet up with someone and they respond with “now,” they mean sometime a month from now. When something needs to happen more immediately, you must specify, “now now.” Then, it could happen that day, probably. “Now now now” means very soon. Saying “Now now now now,” is actually necessary if you want something immediately. Try it, you can actually say it quite fast when you need to.