Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In the FooTprinTs of ZeBras

I'm laying here on my bed with freshly washed sheets, full of chicken curry, yellow rice, and salsa, sunburnt, but so content to remember earlier this afternoon I was swimming in a gorgeous river in the Magaleisburg Mountains. There's something great about resting after a few days of hiking, sitting with sore muscles, remembering the panoramic views and close encounters with "nature."
After such a challenging week last week, this one has been a deep breathe. At work, the Lerato house girls are officially on their school holidays so us volunteers were in charge of organizing a Holiday program to keep them busy during last and this week. Sounds like a great time, but was much more complicated than it sounds. I'll fast forward to the highlights of the week. Tuesday, we had a blast in the swimming pool. A lot of the girls are still learning how to actually swim but have a good time just jumping in, screaming, and splashing each other. Friday, in honor of Heritage day (which was Thursday) we decided that we would all cook lunch together, each sharing a dish from our country. Maren and Carlotta, the German volunteers, cooked some potato-mince casserole which was delicious. The South African students cooked pap, beef stew, and spinach (a very traditional meal here), and I baked chocolate chip cookies for everyone. The girls at the house seemed to enjoy learning how to cook some new foods and had even more fun with the digital camera. (Pictures above). Apparently they're all preparing to be super models. It was a short week that went very quickly. Although last week was difficult, I am confident that things can and will improve as we all learn to communicate with each other and listen to the ideas that we each have to contribute.
Now, that you're all curious about the title of this little blurt....yes, I SAW ZEBRAS! Heritage Day is celebrated here by people gathering together by cooking food and enjoying each other's histories. So to celebrate my Pacific Northwest Heritage, my friend Maren and I decided to go exploring in the mountains to find some hiking trails. We took off for Rustenburg which is about 1.5 hours northwest of Pretoria by mini-taxi. From there....well, that's as far as we'd planned. Thankfully, we found favor with the people in Rustenburg. Hopping off the taxi in the middle of town proved to be a bad idea since there wasn't really anything there. After asking a few people where we could find any tourism information, they all pointed back the way we came and said it was too far to walk. "Too far to walk," is anything more than 3 blocks here so we considered this and took off walking. A woman at the tourism office (which just opened on Monday), eventually offered to just drive us to the gate of the Nature Reserve that was near the town. Happily, she took off for the hills and dropped us off with just one request, that we call her and tell her when we make it home safe. I could write for hours about how beautiful this place was but the pictures should do it more justice. Maren and I wandered around for awhile on a few different trails and we walked down and saw the savannah plains...and yes...Zebras! They were just grazing in a small herd. Zebras are gorgeous! We both shrieked and started laughing at how funny it was to just see Zebras and at how easily amused we were. After a whole day of hiking and spotting other animals like Springbokke, Sable Antelope, and all sorts of other deer like animals), we were tired and had to head home before dark. Not to worry...at home we rounded up Siri and our friend Nora and started planning to go back to camp for the weekend!
Saturday morning the four of us jumped on another mini-taxi and jetted back to Rustenburg. At this point we were feeling much more confident on directions and plans. From the taxi-rank in town, we found another ride to the gate of the park. I'm learning here that there are often rules for so many things that one, are unnecessary, and two, are not followed or enforced. So at the park, you are not "allowed" to just walk in, you must drive. (Thursday, we paid for our non-existant car just to satisfy the woman at the gate). So we hitched a ride with a family that was going to do some bike riding. People were so willing to let us jump in the back of their truck and haul us down the road to the visitor center or the gate. After sorting through the "rules" of the park with the woman at the gate, it was finally settled that we could camp there...if there was a spot...but "the whole park is full." Right. Saturday was spent wandering the trails with a goal of finding the river and going for a swim. Wandering, check. River...eventually, check! Colors in the Kganswane Mountain Reserve are so unique. the reds of the stones and dirt, deep and bright greens of the trees and ferns, then brilliant blue sky escorted us around for two days. Views from the top of the peaks stretched forever and mostly it was grasslands. A herd of baboons escorted us for awhile on Saturday. Thankfully, they kept walking pretty far ahead of us since none of us are up to par on our baboon defense skills. Later, in the evening, after a swim in the river we went back to camp to set up and crash. Crash we did, at 8:30. For as hot as it gets here during the day, it gets ridiculously cold at night. Yes, shivering and sore from the hard ground, I slept for maybe 3 hours. Once I was woken up by Siri and Nora looking out the screen of the tent and nervously laughing at the fact that two Zebras were rustling through our garbage bag! Too nervous to peek out, I trusted that Zebras are not aggressive and that they would be satisfied with some empty cans of beans and packets of soup. They were and left quickly. So wild. I'm used to raccoons or squirrels but baboons and zebras are a different story to see sneaking into your camp. Maybe its something we'll get used to here but I hope not! Siri, Maren, Nora and I traveled really well together. They each have a real appreciation for simplicity and for small wonders in the world so we had a great time talking about the giant termite hills, wondering about the rocks, standing in the windblown grass on the top of a hill, then jumping into the freezing cold river water. The whole trip was just so relaxing and truly restoring to my Spirit. My lungs really breathe better when they're filled with clean air from grasslands and mountains and my heart is satisfied and ready to take on another week in the big city.

For those of you praying out there...THANK YOU!!! Thank you more than you know for your support. It has been so necessary and felt this last few weeks. God is doing some real work here and He is showing me how messy it can be. There are some people in my life here who are so precious but in such difficult places right now. Would you please be praying for; provision for food and shelter for these people, for conviction in certain unhealthy lifestyle choices, and against the spirit of fear that keeps so many captive and lures the young people here into pursuing only comfort, not real life. God is the ultimate Provider and He does this in so many ways. Would we be open to and have faith in His provision.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The South African Police department has done a recent study of traffic accidents in the country's cities. The findings were that the third most dangerous place to be while driving on the roads is in front of a taxi. Driving behind a taxi came in second and in first place....take a guess...that's right....riding INSIDE of a taxi. These mini van drivers pack their vehicles as full as possible (so as to collect the most money) and take off for their location. There is some organization for how these work in the city. Each corner of downtown is a taxi "station" to a certain location outside of downtown. To get to Madabastad, go to the corner of Bloed and Andries, point your finger West and wait for a honking monster to stop and open its mounth. You'll be there in no time! Hopefully. Well, since this has been and will continue to be my and Siri's main form of transportation please pray that we get the good drivers. They are cheap and relatively safe as long as you don't ride after dark.

This past week has been the hardest since being here for so many different reasons. It hasn't been bad, just a struggle. There are too many things to go into complete detail here and within a few days many of the small frustrations will have already passed so I'll generalize. As I've mentioned before, things don't ever happen as planned in South Africa. Even that planning usually happens the day before whatever it is being planned is supposed to take place. Communication is difficult when most people around me speak 6 different languages, one of which I understand and the others are way easier and more fun to speak with their friends. Last night, after talking through some things I've come to accept that this year could be one of struggling through some hard things. If God needs to teach me and others some important and deep lessons, then the struggle will be worth it. If He wants to use me to bring down some walls of complacency I am more than happy to be at His service. The differences between short and long term missions are starting to become glaringly clear. To really enter into a new community and culture and learn how to teach and serve there in a way that will be received is an enormous challenge. It's so much easier to stamp a happy politically correct term on a situation then continue to act the same as before but to really dig in and try to understand and serve effectively will be a messier process I think. Please pray that God has mercy on me when I make mistakes, that He gives all of us patience with each other and a vision for how things can be here!

The girls at Lerato house are on holiday now for two weeks and I, Maren and Carlotta (the other German volunteers at the house) were told to plan a holiday program for them. Besides all the mis-communications about how and what this was supposed to look like, our ideas were not really heard and have been blocked in so many different ways. Thankfully, the girls are easily entertained so today they played Monopoly all morning and we had a pool party in the afternoon. All the girls seemed to have a great time jumping in, splashing each other, and learning how to swim. Plans for the next few weeks are still in the works. Saturday is a Sports day that the city puts on and all the Shelters in town participate in a soccer competition. Our girls are very excited to go and I'm sure will do very well! Thursday is Heritage Day and there will be celebrations all over the city of people gathering to dance and put on performances from the different people groups here. Freedom Park is just across the train tracks from our house and will have a big festival going on. I'm not sure what my plan is for that day. It could be nice to take a break and celebrate a little bit of my own personal Pacific Northwest heritage by finding some trails to hike or a river to jump in (I'll watch out for the hippos).

Its starting to stay light a little later now. Right now, it's 6pm here and the sun is just starting to set over the jacaranda silhouettes . The sky is a pinkish purple and hazy (thank you pollution). A month ago it was dark by now. Hopefully this extra time will allow some more freedom to do things after work. Once the sun sets, plans are much more difficult since we can't walk around after dark. Even 30 more minutes of daytime will be a big difference. Thankfully, the volunteers downstairs are great and they have an enclosed area with a table, ping pong table and a lot of chairs. Our balcony looks out over this little space and we will usually gather down there in the evenings with a candle and our dinners to chat and debrief the day. It's good to have some space outside where we can at least see a few stars.

I've walked through 2 pairs of sandals already and just invested in a new pair. You should see my feet at the end of a day. Before bed each night, I have to scrub them down. They're covered with dirt and dust, red from the sun, and tired from walking all over town but happy that they get to carry Good News!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reading the City

Sunday, I walked down Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg with a backpack full of lemons. An old Grecian woman who has been living in the city for 52 years passed them through the fence as we were admiring her citrus tree. We didn't see her watering the plants in another part of the yard but when she came over, she was beaming and offered us a gift. When I asked if it was really okay to have a piece of fruit, she replied, "not one...plenty!" There we had an instant morning snack as we continued our sunny Sunday morning stroll to the art store and market.

After spending what seemed like the entire week getting more acquainted with Pretoria a.k.a Tshwane, it felt like a good idea to get out of the city for a few days and head to...a bigger one?! Somehow, getting out of town for even just two days really helped put this place in context. Saturday there was a huge carnival in Joburg where we, the resident clowns, were to go represent the FEAST OF THE CLOWNS to the entire province. "Carnival" is an interesting term to give to the event. To be honest, it felt more like a colorful, musical, crowded line trying to become a parade. Nobody had informed the city though that thousands of people would be traveling from all over to perform and compete for points that their city would be awarded. I think there were a total of 20 people who came out to see the "parade." Anyway, it was a long day dressed up as clowns, walking down the scalding streets of Sandton (a wealthy suburb of J'burg). Once the parade came to an finish...in the middle of a street halfway to our ending location...Siri and I took off in our costumes and facepaint to find the hostel that we were going to stay at that night. We found the Kung Fu Kitchen instead. Sweet and sour chicken is the same the world over...thank the Lord. Then, wondering how we were going to get across this city to our hostel we asked the waitress and she told us the delivery driver could take us there. Apparently he doesn't just deliver pizzas. 20 Rand and a short walk later we were at the doorstep of an old mansion, The Backpacker Ritz. Gardens, pool, paved paths through the trees, an eagle owl that sometimes attacks, and a beautiful sunset over the city welcomed us. It felt like a real vacation. It also felt like we were so far outside the city. But I suppose in a city that is 120km x 120kms large, there are bound to be places that feel less crowded. It was the quietest night of sleep since I've been here. Sunday, Siri and I walked to another part of town after a delicous breakfast at a real bakery We then took a minitaxi into downtown. The dreaded DOWNTOWN J'burg. Centers of cities have received quite a stigmatized reputation here in South Africa of danger, violence, crime, muggings, and poverty. When the man at the hostel found out that we lived in central Pretoria, he was astounded that two white girls would stay there...by choice. His expressions spoke the truth of his thoughts. Skeptical; confused and afraid of this part of town that I doubt he's even ever been in. This reaction after the conversations that had been had during our volunteer orientation was the period at the end of a sentence. Joburg was great...we explored Newtown which is the up and coming area near downtown. There was a free museum and a caf‚ where they were starting to play some great jazz music. We tried Amasanja....the traditional worm dish here. It wasn't bad...or maybe we were starving.

Some thoughts on this town and the people I walk by everyday. Tshwane Central felt like returning home when I came back Sunday evening. It was nice to walk down the familiar streets and see some smiling faces that are quickly becoming part of my daily life. Annah the girl at the fruit stand on the corner. Pretty, who runs the laundry shop. The old white man with just 4 massive dreadlocks and the big plaid bag. Rasta, who spends his days on the corner of Paul Kruger street and Minnar and shouts hello every morning. For being a city of 3 million there is a nice little neighborhood here surrounding Burgers Park. It feels safe (which I do acknowledge is not completely true) but it feels like it and that spirit of fear that is so common here has not gained the power to scare everyone away from this beautiful community.

Last week all the international volunteers attended an orientation for TLF. It was led by Steffan (the starter and former CEO of TLF) and his wife Wilna. They are an incredibly inspiring couple who have completely dedicated their lives to serving and loving the community around them. We had some great discussions about the history of Pretoria, building "inclusive communities," prejudices and fear, how to 'read the city.' We got some really great information about how during apartheid, cities were intentionally built to keep certain people out even to the extent that a visitor to Pretoria could travel from the airport to Central without ever having to see poverty. All of the townships or "locations" were established away from the freeways and behind a wall of industrial zones. Even still, the informal settlements are out of view of people traveling in from outside the city.

Slowly, very slowly, I'm adjusting to a new way of ministry here. I'm starting to internalize that productivity and moving forward are not always the most important goals. We are so influenced at a very deep level by the Protestant work ethic. That how well I work, or how much is built is a reflection of my worth; that God will love me more if I just work harder. There is a real understanding here that that is not true. : ) People are very relaxed. This is not an advantage in every situation but it is a new way of living for me. I tend to be relaxed and relational for the most part, but here, they take it to a new level. Already, it's been challenging and I'm sure it will continue to be but God is really teaching me through this and through those relationships.

" The fundamental building blocks of the kingdom are relationships. Not programs, systems, or productivity. But inconvenient, time-consuming, intrusive relationships. The kingdom is built on personal involvements that disrupt schedules and drain energy." -Kingdom Efficiency

We heard the story of how Lerato House came to be. There was an old abandoned hotel building in downtown Pretoria that the police knew was being used for prostitution so eventually they raided the building and brought the girls, as young as 11 years old to TLF and the first home was opened. A group of 13 girls had been removed from the lives of pain and abuse and were going to have the opportunity to heal and move forward. This hotel continued to be used and was still abandoned for many years. Just recently, TLF had plans to purchase some more property to increase capacity for Lerato House as well as to create some other affordable housing projects. The property they intended to buy fell through but they heard about a property auction and went to it. That rundown hotel building was on auction for just the amount that TLF had available as a down payment. Now, that same building the original girls came out of is being restored and rebuilt to house more girls in order that they will be empowered and encouraged and SAFE! Talk about redemption! God is really at work in this city and is using this organization like crazy around here.

Okay, it's late. I should sleep and dream of the blooming Jacarandas.
Love to you all.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The horns go beep beep beep

Some pictures from the State Theatre on Sunday, Priscilla at her grand opening, kids at the Potters House and a poster we painted, the German youth Orchestra, Siri and my faces, and a picture of me after smelling the flowers a little too closely.

It was my goal to try and write every week and this past week has whizzed past! As promised, I'll post a video of a piece of my walk from home to work. It's LOUD! Horns, music, shouting, laughing. Living in the city is so nice since there are tons of things to do and opportunities all the time to go to some show or concert or go dance but it is being solidified in my soul that I am not a "city girl." My lungs are ready for some fresh air and my heart is ready to see the Sea!

Here are the high points of last week.....Sunday, there was a concert at the State Theatre where Siri and I got to see the German Youth Orchestra along with some South African opera singers. There were two Argentine women singing opera also. The theatre was beautiful and I have never heard opera performed live...what powerful voices! Monday night, I went with Alexa (the German volunteer from last year) and Berend to play volleyball at the University of Pretoria. The university women's team has an open gym practice twice a week and the public is welcome to come and play. We had a great time just hitting around, the coach was quick to remind me of some basics that I have forgotten in the past 8 years. I didn't realize how long it had been since I have really played! The next day, we were all extremely sore but looking forward to going back next week. Tuesday, thanks to the School of Creative Arts, Sandile, Siri and I got tickets to an art exhibition opening at the Cultural Museum that's just around the corner from where we stay. It was for the poet and visual artist; Lefifi Lladi. He was very active in the 70s in the struggle against Apartheid and was living in exhile for 22 years. His art was beautiful and his poetry....well, we didn't really get to hear his poetry, so you may have too do the research on your own but he did tell a joke! So an American man goes up to a Tanzanian man and says, "I've got a deal for you, if you tell me a riddle and I don't know the answer, I have to give you $500. Then I can ask you a question and if you don't know the answer, you have to pay me $50." "Okay," the Tanzanian man agrees. So the Tanzanian man asks the American, "What has 3 horn, 7 legs, is purple, and can sleep forever?" The American man thinks for awhile and tells the Tanzanian, "I don't know," and pays the other man $500. The American man asks the Tanzanian, "What is it?" The Tanzanian responds "I don't know either, here's your $50." Womp womp womp.....So this great poet told a horrible joke and of course we all laughed! Like I said, you may have to do some research to find his "profound poetry." Wednesday, maybe it was the busyness catching up or bodies adjusting to the new environment but I got sick, just a cold but enough of a cold to leave work early and not be able to do night outreach with Lerato. Siri though got the flu pretty bad and we had to spend the evening in the hospital getting some tests done. There is a private hospital near downtown that TLF takes it's volunteers to so the care is good and the facilities are nice (don't worry parents). She ended up being just fine but needs to be resting for the next few days.

This morning at our weekly devotions, our house mother Priscilla had the grand opening of her new coffee shop! We all had breakfast there to celebrate her new business. She has taken The Kiosk from a run down little stand in the middle of this beautiful park (Burgers Park) and turned it into quite a succesfull restaurant. TLF now has given her the opportunity to expand to use the upstairs as a breakfast caf‚ and coffee shop. We had so much fun celebrating her success and got some treats too! Tonight, all the new German volunteers (there are 10 or so of them) and I and Alexa will be heading out for dinner in Hatfield to a little restaurant that I guess is quite good and inexpensive then to do some dancing. So, there. That's a week in the life of Robin in Tshwane, South Africa. Yes, I work also and maybe next week there'll be a little more about that. There were some funny things that happened during the outreach...stories to come later. The whole experience of sitting on the cement with women who lead such painful lives will need time to soak in and be stirred together with the Truth of the Gospel that I hold onto dearly during such times. God is really teaching me how to rely on Him, trust the Holy Spirit, and be bold in prayer. These women hold so much pain so tightly that it can only be God who is doing the work of restoring their lives, bodies, and Spirits.