Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Luxury of Life and Space

The Luxury of Life and Space

Welcome to 2010. Happy New Year! Apparently there’s some debate on how this new year is to be pronounced. Is it “two-thousand and ten” or is it “twenty-ten-yourself-around,” or the popular…TWENTY TEN? Here, at the center of all the World Cup hype…it is definitely Twenty-ten. It’s all happening in twenty-ten. I think it’s catchy.

And we are all back from the festive season now. After a beautiful trip to Mozambique, I was very ready to get back to Pretoria. It feels comfortable here in many ways. It’s good to know the streets, to have a bed to sleep in, to know how much fruit costs at the street stands, and to know the language. Moza’s national language is Portuguese; a beautiful language but a bit foreign. Mostly I scraped out attempts at Spanish which were received with smiles and at least some understanding. Me and the man selling baskets in the Central Market had a nice chat about how strong each basket was and what I could use it for…all in SpAn-ortgeGueSe. We had a good time, ending the conversation with a hug and a universal, Caio! Mozambique is distinctly different than South Africa. Maputo, the capitol has very obviously lived through a recent war and not much effort has been made to rebuilt or beautify the streets or buildings. All the buildings are grey cement with flaking paint and broken windows. Streets are full of garbage, broken furniture, and old cars. Just outside of the city, rather than the suburbs here in South Africa, you are instantly in the bush. Nicely paved roads makes way for broken cement then quickly turns into potholes covered in bright red dirt. Mango trees line the road and ladies walk down paths to everywhere wrapped in wonderful combinations of bright fabrics. Houses are huts, food is grown in each small town…there are not many markets. We are spoiled by options most of the time and during this trip, we quickly learned to survive on Mangoes, pineapple, coconut, rice, and Coke.

Since coming back to the city, I have already noticed some differences and it will be interesting to see how things continue to change as the year progresses towards the huge event ahead. Normally, it’s rare to see many white people walking around central, other than the few Afrikaaners who take the bus downtown to work in the large businesses or government buildings. They are quickly gone after work and seem to try and avoid walking the streets too much. But lately, I have seen so many types of people walking around! The other day, I saw a white guy with dreads walking along the street, an Asian guy was wandering Church Square, there was an interracial couple walking along Schoeman street, and a white family walking along pushing a stroller next to the large flats on Jacob Mare’! In any other city, these things are pretty normal…they probably even seem strange to be mentioning…but here, they’re unique…beautiful but different. I am praying that there is a change happening. That the fear of Pretoria Central is thawing and people are exploring from the suburbs or wherever they come from, and finding beauty and value in the inner city. For the past week, as a part of the Anti-Human Trafficking Campaign, I have been walking each street in the city (I have quite a few more to go), to try and identify what types of businesses make up the place so that we can do outreach more effectively. The other day I prayed that God would both protect me as I walked around (looking a little insane I’m sure) and give me a new perspective on the city. As I turned the first corner, a little girl about 4 looked up and gave me a huge smile and waved. I grinned and waved back, just appreciating the freedom and sincerity that is always found in children. Turning the next corner I saw an older man barreling down the sidewalk pushing a shopping cart crazily. It was so bizarre I started laughing out loud, hoping he wouldn’t knock me over. Just before the cart got close enough for me to be really nervous, he stopped, left the cart and gave me a big hug, started ranting something in Sutu that I couldn’t understand, then went on his way. The lady at the fruit stand up the road smiled at me understandingly, sharing that strange hilarious moment with me. It’s interesting to really look at the city, and I’m praying that God uses the information to lead us in our outreach that will be starting in the next month or so. Please pray that we are led to the places where women and children are being exploited and gives us wisdom in how to best offer a way out.

Luxury. How would you define it right now; in your current lifestyle, living arrangement, or situation in general? What would seem luxurious? Would it be driving a BMW or being able to get a massage every weekend? Would it be having a pool in the backyard or going on extravagant vacations every year? Would it be having three meals each day? I’ve lived here for 5months now and some of the things that I have experienced are beginning to settle into my mind and heart. At first, they were simply observations or “interesting things about South Africa.” Now, some of these differences are starting to be internalized. One of these is our idea of luxury. I’m sure it would be even more extreme if I were living in some small rural village out in the middle of nowhere, but even here in the city, my concept of wealth and luxury has really been challenged. Most flats downtown are one or two rooms. In these, there are usually at least 3 or 4 people living. If you stay with your family it could be up to 5 or 6. In that room is the kitchen, bedroom, common space, and then a small bathroom. These flats are pricey too. Too expensive for me to stay in here, working as a volunteer so I can imagine that even on a limited income it would be a challenge for people. I’ve driven through the townships, where nice houses are one or two room (all the rooms…not just bedrooms) total size being about the size of a large master bedroom or “regular” American family room size. They usually have a small yard growing maize and a fence to protect the small amount of personal property that’s owned. Even the place that Siri and I live in now is large compared to where most people in the city live. We have our own room, then a hallway, two bathrooms, a dining room, a balcony, and a kitchen with store room. Even though all this space is shared with 8 other people, this is luxury. It’s hard though, to then drive through the suburbs and see all the houses that have always seemed “normal” or decent…and realize that these require a certain level of wealth that most people in the world will never attain. Why has this become the standard, for a family of 2 or 3 to own so much space? I am not saying that it is a bad thing always and there have been many times here that I really miss having personal space or those things that I used to consider basic comforts but when they become assumed right’s or when a standard of living is assumed, it can become dangerous. Space is a luxury, especially space that you have complete authority over.

Something else that has been highlighted as a luxury we usually assume is our life. As you all probably know, the volunteers have been hosting a Holiday Program for the children in the community. The first Monday back after the holidays we did some projects on New Year’s resolutions, goals, and self reflection. It was a small group of kids and they were mostly very young, 5 years to 11 years old. The first activity of the day was to go around the room and write answers to 6 questions on posters on the wall. A few of the questions were, “What is something you’re proud of from 2009,” “What would you like to accomplish in 2010,” “what are you thankful for today.” At the end of the time, we went around and read aloud each answer to really affirm their participation. About halfway through reading, we all started noticing a few themes; these kids realize the fragility of their lives. So many answered, on all the different posters, “I’m thankful to be alive today.” “I’m happy to see 2010,” “I am proud of living another year.” “I am happy that I’m still alive.” These are very young kids holding the gift of their lives dearly. Many of the kids in our program have had parents, siblings, or cousins who have passed away. Some are orphans living in the foster home that TLF runs. Hearing such true answers from little kids was both heartbreaking and hopeful. Devastating that disease and violence have led to death being common in families but seeing that children value their own lives and realize that waking up each morning really is a gift can mean bright things for their futures! If kids value their lives and want to preserve and find purpose in them, this world will really bloom!
While we’re on the topic of funerals, one of the staff at TLF passed away on Christmas Day. Her name was Bongiwe and she worked as a house mother at the Potter’s House. One of the outreach workers for the prison met her when she was in prison and Bongi later came to live at the Potter’s House. Soon, she was given the post as a house mother and worked there for 3 years. About 2 years ago, she was diagnosed with blood cancer and was very sick off and on. This past November she got very ill again and had to move into TLF’s hospice center, she died on Christmas Day. Her funeral was last Saturday and it was a wonderful tribute to her and God’s restoration in her life. Bongi’s family was able to come here from the Eastern Cape and the service was held at the church, then a graveside service followed. Family was given a time to speak and her story was told. What stood out to me the most is how the community really came together; each man taking a turn in filling the grave until it is full and the job is finished. Women sing song after song with such strong and resilient voices. The cemetery is filling, and there are waiting graves on each side of where we stood. People obviously know the routine, they know what to do, when to step forward, when to invite the children, just where to place the flowers, they’ve been through this before. Our lives are precious and the expectation to live until 70 or 80 is a luxury. Can we follow the example of the children in Salvakop, and realize that each day we wake up is a gift to be thankful for, used for a PuRpOSE, and shared generously with those around us.

For those of you praying out there, here are some things that I, TLF, and this community could really use prayer for:
--There’s a new girl at the Lerato House, her name is Lebojang and she is just 13 years old. Pray that she sticks around and gives the house a chance. That she would find healing and community there.
--For Bongi’s family as they are mourning as well as all the others who have lost loved ones or are mourning over the holidays.
--Thank you for all that happened during the Holiday Program
--For Siri and I as we have the option for a new living arrangement. That we would go where God would like us to be
--For provision for the second half of my time here. That I would trust God to provide and realize that when he calls, He also equips
--For the preparations for 2010 and the Better World Village
--That the trend of a more integrated Pretoria Central would continue.

Cute story of the week: At the Holiday program last Monday, there was this little tiny girl, maybe 6 years old. She doesn’t speak much English, so an older girl helped to translate the questions as we went around the group asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She tucked her head into her arms and mumbled something in her native language. Princess, the girl’s translator for the day, looked up at me and smiled big. I asked her what she had said she wants to be….Princess answered; “She said she wants to be a transformer!” I laughed and the little girl looked up and just grinned and giggled. Priceless.

Matthew 6:25-27—Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable then they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

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