Thursday, July 22, 2010

The End.

The gazebos came down easily after enduring wind, children, and sprinkler systems for 31 days. Poles were splinted with bamboo sticks and bandaged with red duct tape. Posters advertising information about women and children trafficked all over the world were as tattered as the stories themselves. After an hour or so of deconstruction of the Better World Village, I sat down on the lawn, my favorite little boy Bathle (I'm trying to convince his mother she should let me take him home) in my lap and my favorite man Cameron next to me, and took a deep breath. It's over. A band played on stage and there was a slide show of photos from the month on the big screen and I didn't try to hard not to get weepy. Breathing relief, exhaustion, and thankfulness, were all tangled up together. Just one more day of work here after a year of settling into this community, trying to follow Gods lead in the work and relationships. Each day navigating the challenges of working for a non-profit and living in the inner city.

Its not over yet, and I'm not sure that even when I go home, it will be over. After a year, the connection with a place is deep and the connection with people even deeper. Last Friday was my official last staff meeting and the time to say goodbye to the official job. Since then, passing people on the street or stopping in the office has already felt different. There is so much beauty in the ordinary and mundane of this city. Normal daily conversations with people have become highlights. Routine acts that just have to happen and sometimes became very frustrating are now things I know will be missed. To give you a taste of some of the names you may here me remember, here you go:
George is one of the security guards outside of the tlf offices. He is usually sitting on the cement ledge playing on his cell phone. But when anyone passes he looks up, gives his big huggable smile, and says “GooDday, how are you?” This quick chat would often be enough in the morning to get my mind checked in to engaging with people at work and stepping outside of my own mind.
Freddie the gardener. Wisdom like this guy has is rare, as is his ability to speak clearly and bluntly into whatever is going on in your life. Wait, actually nothing that Freddie says is clear or blunt. It's usually babbled full of extra words and questions that never get answered and stories that seem to be unconnected. But there's wisdom and truth within it all. And the way that he talks wraps you up and takes you with his wandering words. There have been many times where a “hey RoBi!” from behind a plant he's digging around, has turned into a chance to hear from God too. Freddie sharing his story and experiences with Christ have often spoken into mine. He wants to come to Chicago and work with youth but he also wants to stay a gardener. I think he likes the Simple life.
Scholastica's son is Junior. Junior has the most attitude and personality of any 2 year old I've ever met. And he gets it from his mother. Schola is always quick to say hi, and to ask for something. But she and I have had a good time this year. Her attitude is covered by the bright smile and hearty pat on the back that comes with it. She works hard and although she is always wanting something to be different in her life, she walks forward with peace and patience.
Lunch usually came from Annah, the girl who sells fruit on the corner of Andries and Minnar. We never figured out how old she was but she was there selling apples, kip kip, butternut squash, and avocados everyday. Green apples, one rand. That's my favorite lunch. She would usually laugh at something that was happening in the group of us walking by, give a smile, then keep flirting with whichever guy was trying to use the public phones that she operated.
Alan has been around since the beginning. He, his wife Brenda, and little boy Branwell, used to sit on the bench outside of City Hall and set it up like their living room. Branwell would be layed out on a blanket on the sidewalk and laundry drying on the hedge. They are now in Cape Town with Brenda's family and Alan is still working washing and parking cars. Its nice to see him on the way to work, give him a hello and an African handshake, and hear the latest news in his life. Recently he's had a need to go to Jo'Burg and has gotten into a habit of telling us that someone in his family has passed away. Last week it was his 90 year old grandmother, mother, and his uncle. Maybe he forgets that Cameron, Siri, and I all stay together and that we would fit the story together eventually. Alan and his family will be in my prayers for a long time. That they would be able to heal and move forward in this world and that they would come to understand a God that cherishes each of them.
Chris and Jenny. I've written about Chris and Jenny before and haven't seen them much lately. They were, for a long time, a part of every walk to work.
Tumi is a regular at the Potters House. She sits in the corner, usually sleeping but sometimes grabbing a cup of coffee or tea. She's quick to greet you with a slap on the back and a smile so big her eyes close up. There's always some reason why she's not staying at the Potters House, but she seems pretty content to just be around it.
Now for one of my favorite “Pretoria characters.” Rasta. Mo Fire, One Love, Togetherness, Respect, Mo time, Bless I, Rasta. He works on the corner of Bosman and Minnar just opposite Museum Park and lights up the neighborhood (literally and metaphorically). We cannot always tell what Rasta is saying other than it is usually some sort of blessing for the day. He sells sweeties, snacks, and beaded creations. One day he gifted me with a rasta colored beaded ring! To me, he seems like the guardian angel of the area. As Cameron put it...he stays out of everyone's business but somehow knows it all anyway. Rasta...much love, respect, and more time right back atcha!
Abel is Museum Park's caretaker/handiman. He doesn't speak much english but what he knows, he uses often. He and his wife (I think) and a few other family members stay in one of the rooms on the west side of the complex and he's up early everyday fixing, tinkering, or painting something. His cap is falling off his head but always has time for a “morning morning morning” or a “good good good,” Never is a word said only once. Sunday mornings, he's listening to beautiful music and a little boy dances and his wife does the washing. As much as Museum park became a cage in a lot of ways, it also became home...a big home with a huge and crazy family.
All of the German volunteers have become very dear to me also. We have walked this year together in so many ways. We arrived around the same time last summer, adjusted to South African traditions together, lived together, traveled together and endured a month of insane world scale event together. Maren, Nora, Marlena, Carlotta, Antje, Carola, Saskia, Laura, Eva, and Simone will all be very missed. Each of them will be remembered for their generous hearts, laughter, willing spirits and amazing cooking! I have learned so much about the German way of life and even have picked up a few words here and there. So now, there are not too many secrets between the Germans and Americans.
Last, youngest, but definintely not least are the children here who will be remembered so fondly the size they are. Next time, if there is a next time, they will have grown in ways that would be impossible to imagine: Kiki, Koetze, Bathle, Junior, Sinesipho, Ntogoso, gave so many of their hugs and tears to this year. They were often the ones who inspired me to show up to office duty once a month. It was a chance to play with them for a few hours. Their transparent joy reminded me always of the words of Jesus that unless we become like these children...we will never see the Kingdom of God. Thank you little ones. May our paths cross again sometime very soon.

Some of the routines that will be missed: getting airtime, buying bread daily, fruit for breakfast, not having a refrigerator stove, oven or shower, trying to figure out which taxi to take to get anywhere beyond walking distance, locking up the bathroom so the toilet paper won't get stolen, and forgetting that spathlo (chips, russian, bread, and cheese) is not a healthy meal.

Some things really changed during the month of the World Cup, while everyone was in town and international eyes were on this country, people were friendly in a new way. They asked questions, why we were here and if we needed help. The city was more mixed than usual. It was strange to see white people, latino people, and eastern European people walking around town like normal. The city was beautiful. Now, it's back to normal. But my prayer is that some of the changes that happened here will not be temporary. That the atmosphere of the park will be sustained. That it will continue to be a safe place for children and families and that it will still be a place to gather and enjoy the beauty of each day.

Since then, these last 2 weeks have been enjoyable. We took a trip to Pilanesburg to say goodbye to all the animals. Unfortunately still no elephant or lion sightings. There was a trip to Cape Town, which I will have to write about later and now, in the final 3 days its sorting packing and saying see you laters to all those who have become my community here.

Now, if your interested the plans for coming home are to be in Tacoma for a few days then head north to Bellingham, pray there is a job or some potential jobs there to look into, get settled into a new house (at least for a month) then spend some good time with my Mom and Jeff who will be visiting from Texas. So looking forward to sitting with people and just hearing where they are at and how they are doing.

Thank you for joining me in this journey that God lead. I will stay in touch over the next month or so during the transition back home. I am as curious as you may be in what God has in store next, what lessons will follow me home and in what ways the world will look completely different on the other side of the ocean.

Stay WeLL South AfricA.

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