Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ke Nako...It is HERE!

It has been 2 months since I've written a blog and that is officially way way too long.

About a month ago the german girls and I took off for the mountains. It has been about 10 months since i've seen proper mountains. Like craggy, crisp air, terraced garden, stone face mountains. Lesotho was full of them! We took a route through the northwestern part of the country within a country. Up and over the Maluti mountains. Our first stop was in Roma, a small trading post town just outside of Maseru. Our drive took us over winding roads through the small villages, passing horses donkeys and herds of goats the whole way. As the sun set, the fields turned an incredble color of green. It was a hazy, mossy green that I have never seen before. We settled into the backpacker which had amazing big beds then went out for an evening walk in the village. Some girls from the area decided to be our tour guides for about an hour and showed us the community center, their schools, the little red berries which you can eat, and the small shop tucked behind some buildings. Unfortunately, my sceptical side was going crazy after living in South Africa for 10 months. Apparently, my new motto is “trust no one.” Okay, so it's not that bad, but I was definintely looking for any tricks these girls may try to pull to snag a camera. The next day, we settled into a routine of driving for a LONG time, then finding a place to crash for the night. Cook dinner and take an evening hike. The third night, was a much more unexpected “evening hike” than we were ready for but it was so worth the treck through the freezing cold. We ended up at a national park which claimed to have accomodation. Pulling up to the entrance just after closing time, we hoped that the accomodation would be near. A stunning view met us at the visitors center. Sunset over layer upon layer of mountains took our breath away. So did the 0 degree temperatures. The huts we would stay in were 2 km away. It was getting dark, we were frozen, but had no other options so off we went...a hike to the river to find our huts. The frozen, dark walk was more than worth it when we arrive at our hut which had cots and a propane heater, then there was the kitchen hut with candles, stove top, and all the supplies we needed to cook our potato curry and enjoy it with a bottle of wine and a card game. Next day we did some exploring around the park, hiking all morning then had to head out and make our way back to Pretoria. Of course, such an amazing trip could not go unhitched...while trying to exit the country, a money hungry border patrol decided that we needed to be “an admission of guilt fee” in order to get across the border since we had somehow missed the entry stamp place on the way in. 200R went to this guy for he and his buddies to have a nice lunch. On us. This was the first, and God willing the last bribe I have to pay in Africa. But hey, I guess it is all part of the experience hey?

When we returned to the city. It was both exciting and stifling. Knowing that the next few months would be fairly hectic. Paul and Kellie were going to arrive in the next few days, Aaryn would also be showing up, then Cameron would finish off the house properly. All these new additions along with the beginning of the Soccer World Cup when TLF would start hosting the Better World Village (which I will tell you more about soon).

The outreaches with Lerato House continued and we were still attempting to do outreach in Arcadia, where a lot of women work on the streets. Every week there are challenging conversations and realities to invite God into. We walk away with a new awareness of the depth of pain people in this city are in. Not just the women who are working the streets, by choice or not. But also the men/women who choose to exploit precious women just to satisfy some greedy desire. The loneliness and hurt that motivates this action is tragic. While we are walking the streets, we pray not only for the people trapped in the sex industry but those who are trapped into using people as objects. What does human trafficking look like in this city and why is it a challenge to combat? My friend who lives in one of the buildings in Arcadia saw us a few weeks ago. She grabbed my arm and pulled me around the corner, told us speedily that she only has 4 minutes to talk before her pimp will call her phone, asking why she is not back on the corner. The week before she had stolen 5 laptops and 12 cellphones, as instructed by her pimp. When we asked if the police do anything when they catch her on the corner with stolen goods, she laughed and said that if they do she just tells them who her pimp is and they leave her alone because he pays them off weekly. How did she get here? About 2 years ago, she was living in Durban and met this guy who seemed really nice. They dated for about 6 months then he told her about his company in Pretoria that would be a perfect place for her to work at. She agrees to go with him to Pretoria, but when she arrives, the company isn't what she expected it to be. He traps her in the flat, addicts her to drugs and threatens to hurt her family if she leaves or argues. One and a half years later, she is still working the corner of Pretorious and Johann Street. Stories like these are common here, they are often hidden but all too real.

The Arrivals: Paul and Kellie flew in after their trip to Italy and settled in quickly. It always takes a few days of wandering the city and gathering the essentials to get sorted out in this town. But they got towels, cellphones, and some food. A week later, Aaryn flew in from his travels around Asia. The reunion began! We were given an amazing opportunity to visit a camp south of Pretoria that some friends had previously volunteered with. 4 days of just enjoying nature and the company of each other was exactly what we all needed. Camp Busisa was about a 5 hour drive along the Drakensburg Mountains away. It was a gorgeous drive but as we approached the land where the camp was...we all started to hold our breath at how beautiful the area was. Valleys spread out between lines of hills and mountains covered with evergreens. Rolling hills of tall golden grass broke up the forests perfectly. We were given the chance to do some small projects around the camp to pay for our accommodation which we were all more than happy to do. Paul and Aaryn blazed some trails and cleared out a camping spot. Kellie and I painted window frames, and Siri re-tiled a shower floor. Other than that, days were spent hiking trails, going down zip lines over rivers and valleys, jumping waterfalls (freezing ones!), chatting, playing cards, sitting on balconies and watching the mist fill up the valley. This place was like heaven! The pictures will not do it justice but they'll give it a valiant effort. Four days felt like 2 weeks and it was just enough to re-energize us all to jump into the wildness of the World Cup kick off. Again, the incredible vacation has a frustrating final touch. During the drive back, after we stopped for dinner at a petrol station, Paul realized that the back left tyre was flat. We consulted a few guys at the garage, tried that foamy tyre filler stuff, but eventually had to put the spare on. Driving 300 km with an 80km/hour limit is incredibly defeating. Especially when a 4 hour trip just turned into a 7 hour long trip home on a sunday night. Good friends pulled through though. We swapped off driving, sleeping, and keeping the driver awake. The weekend was still so worth it. We got to see a new part of this beautiful country and soak in the fresh air and open fields.

The next day I was heading to the airport to pick up Cameron. After 10 months of writing back and forth, buying phone cards, and sending songs and letters across the sea, we could finally be in the same country! My friends here would see that my boyfriend was not imaginary. :) His flight came in late to the jo'burg airport and I ended up going there a few hours early because I didn't know what else to do with myself and I was so excited. Everything went smooth and he came walking through the gate, the last one off the plane. For a few minutes I was nervous that for some reason he had decided not to come. A wonderful reunion, and pretty much instantly comfortable, it has been fantastic having him here. Getting a chance to experience this interesting, challenging, and beautiful combination of cultures. He has been an amazing support in the work going on through TLF and we are trying to find the precious little free time to steal away and just chill. Again, pictures to come soon.

June 11th, 2010. The long awaited opening ceremony of the Soccer World Cup. South Africa vs. Mexico. TLF, as I've mentioned before has had plans to host a month long, city wide, free festival in Burgers Park. Today was the first day. As is the African tradition, the day must be kicked off with a parade. And how does TLF do parades? Does anyone remember the second blog I posted? Yes, TLF does parades dressed as clowns! So about 70-80 of us dressed up, made ourselves up, and hyped up the city dressed like clowns. We joined bands, schools, traditional dance groups, fans, and all sorts of vehicles to draw the crowd from Sunnyside to Pretoria Central. 3 hours of running, jumping, smiling, goofing, handing out flyers, and blowing on vuvuzelas is a lot. But the crowds came. That night at Burgers Park, about 10,000 people showed up to watch the Bafana Bafana take on the world! We had planned on about 3,000 and were legally only allowed 5,000 in the park at a time. All of us saw people start streaming in, vuvuzelas and children in hand. People kept coming, and we all started praying. Pleading with God for positive energy and miraculous peace in a crowd that size. There were 40 security officers and about 60 staff members. Thankfully, people enjoyed the game with a lot of enthusiasm and a kindness with each other that I have not seen often here in town. It was a blast to watch the sea of yellow and green get pumped up and cheer on their nation. Thankfully, the game ended in a draw and people went as quickly as they had come.

Since then, everyday in the park there are stage performances, dramas, advocacy information tables, a sports village, arts village, children's village, and an environmental village. People come and set up picnics, play small games of soccer, and watch the soccer games on our big screens. It has been a great success to have a new bright spot in the city. The park seems to have been reclaimed as a safe and beautiful place for families to enjoy. I hope that this continues after the games are over. That the drug usage, and dirtiness that used to be common there, has decreased and I hope can disappear altogether. God has done a miracle with the success of this daunting feat, and we can continue to hope for miracles daily in this space.

The Counter Trafficking Coalition has an information table up every day in the park. Volunteers stay at the table and hand out info about what human trafficking is, what it looks like in this community and how people can protect themselves. It has been an interesting place to be everyday, people have great questions and very true stories of what they have experienced. Groups of children will come up (maybe just to get a sticker) but we snag the opportunity to tell them a story with pictures about how people are lied to, taken from their home, and trapped somewhere and hurt. They are quick to pick up ways to stay safe. People come up and say they've heard about the “issue” but claim that it doesn't happen here in their town or that it couldn't happen to them. A few questions later, they see it in a new way. Here is a poem that someone was inspired to write about the issue, after they had heard a little bit about it:

Greediness intertwined by lust of money
humans turn to be object of sale
in the eyes of God tears run forth
while in the earth it turns to be cursed
tilling it came forth nothing
people watching while monsters roam the earth
Children become victims of money making schemes
They watch and do nothing
They hear but act not
WAKE UP people
WAKE UP nation
it is time to stop it
it is time to end it.

We have a long way to go in actually combating this tragic reality but there are steps being taken forward and a movement for many organizations to come together and really start speaking with one loud, unified voice.
Honestly, most of my time in the last 3 weeks have revolved around the Better World Village but some other fun things have been happening (somehow), woven into long days at the park. Some of the pictures will be from this stuff:

Going to a baby shower at Mandla's aunts house in a township south of Johannesburg
Kellie's birthday braii, Praying Mantis pinata included
Being inspired by Cameron to find some decent coffee shops in town
playing cards almost every night with 6 of my favorite people
Cheering on the South African and AMERICAN soccer teams. (sorry but we really have to loose that guy Altidore!)

Now, with just less than a month to go before returning home, there is so much on my mind and on my plate. I am confident though that just as God has been walking with me and providing for this time here, He will only continue to do that in the journey home. It will be such a joy to see everyone and to get a glimpse of what's next. The next blog will talk about this a little more, since I'm sure by this point you are all finished reading my blurting. Thanks for reading on, and again my apogies for leaving this for 2 months. Please know that I am alive and happy here and that you are each so precious to me. Thank you as always for your prayers and support. I will be home on July 26th. We'll talk soon.

Stay well!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thanks for the udpdate! I am praying for you and for all of the people you connect with each day. See you in Bellingham SOOOON!!! Say hi to Siri, Paul, Kell, and Aaryn for me!