Allergic to Africa
Trip Start Jan 23, 2007
34Trip End Feb 23, 2008
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Of course then to begin
Quiaa Moraa! (Good day in Afrikaans!! my new language to learn)
So we have crazy stories that started from the moment we landed...and we should say that most of these stories were perpetuated by our preparation for this trip to SA... or our lack there of (Patagonian holidays really make packing seem unadventurous). Lets just say our lesson learned was don't make plans with friends of friend of friends and have a copy of you exit ticket on you when you land in South Africa.... We will explain why: so we didn't sleep on the plane... They had great movies and Sarah's new found game CHESS... jet lagged on a 7 hour flight and 5 hour time change, we walked into a customs ordeal due to our lack of sufficient proof of an exit ticket... but we made it through and our visa is till Jan 20th....Anyways the person who came to pick us up, Gershom (the friend of a friend of a friend) was waiting and we pilled into a van and headed towards Cape Town... and then we turned left and started heading away... (We thought we were suppose to be IN Cape Town... not near but hey no worries)
At about this point in time Sarah and I had completely adapted the ideology that "Where ever He wants us... that's where we will be," a fly by the seat of your paints mentality guided by the Man upstairs... Cape Town or not it was going to be an adventure.
We were staying at the YWAM missionary base. Anyone who knows YWAM (Youth with a Mission) probably knows they are a great missionary group that trains people to be missionaries and then uses them in outreaches all over the world. Well this YWAM base was set up as a dormitory and school and was being used by people who paid about 5 grand to take their Disciple Training School (DTS) and were preparing to be missionaries; Generally nice people. The base was nuzzled in a little suburb beach town composed of decently well off people who were of the sleepy beach town nature. We were blessed with a great view of Mountain and a Bay with some nice ocean sounds to sleep too!! We crammed our overly packed and extremely burdening suit cases (4... full of wine, presents and way too much clothes), back packs, guitar case, and computer cases into my room and started on with our new Adventure in South Africa.
The plan was to rent a car and head to the NATIONS to NATIONS conference in Worcester (pronounced "Voosta") which had been billed to us as bringing "...nations to different nations and uniting to bring Jesus to the NATIONS..." It took all but 30 minutes for the car idea to fall apart when price sky rocketed from the predicted 50 dollars to 50 dollars a day for the whole week, plus petrol, plus the USD$ 1000 they freeze on the credit card, and this was with Sarah and I fronting the bill for everything! And the car idea was dropped quickly for the R$ 18 train ride = USD$ 3, the only down side was that driving only takes 1 hour and a half and the train was 5 hours. Still a bit jet lagged we opted to leave the following day and headed out to get some dinner. Now, this was our Argentine appetite kicking in... dinner at 9:30pm, but in a sleepy beach town they thought other wise.
And I think this is a great place to begin the story of Dan's encounter with a truly foreign language... The first time I realized that our world had been flipped a little upside down was when I heard Afrikaans. Actually, the first time I heard Afrikaans was on our fore mentioned jet lagged 9:30 pm walk through the absolute ghost town that was Munizberg at night time. (Again...major culture shock from Argentina where restaurants don't until 9PM) After a disappointing adventure that lead only to a 7/11 and some chips for dinner, Sarah and I happened to walk past a homeless man speaking gibberish to us. Naturally I responded with, "lo siento señor, no tenemos plata" (Spanish). Sarah laughed at me and reminded me that he probably doesn't speak Spanish. So as I kindly told him sorry we don't have any money he responded with a very unusual request, mustering up what I thought was the only English he could find the man said, "buy a donkey," so I thought... wait what!?!?!... Why should I buy him a donkey?... I can understand if he wants change, but to ask to buy you a donkey?!?!... Why would want to buy a donkey?... does he have a farm... so I told him, " I'm not going to buy you a donkey, I'm sorry." At this point Sarah is holding on to me to keep form falling over laughing. Then wiping the tears out of her eyes she started to pull herself out of the fit of laughter she had fallen into to tell me that "baaie dankie" pronounced "buy a donkey" means Thank you very much in Afrikaans.... Yes I know... I'm an idiot!
The next morning was tranquil... I think we both slept till about 1 pm which was only 8am Buenos Aires time but we were on the slow path to adjustment. The train was a bit of an interesting ride, it opened our eyes to truly poor 3rd world public transportation system which since then we have been advised not to take unless in a large group... Not to worry we headed off with Gershom who picked us up and his roommate Nicholas and we caught the hour long train into Cape Town. I was ecstatic to finally see "The most Beautiful City in the world," however we never left the train station. So I jumped all over my second idea: to try real AFRICAN food. This intention was a little misunderstood, see I was thinking SOUTH African food...and our African friends thought I meant Bushman food... the next thing I know I'm eating Pap (a corn meal mash that was in a ball and had the consistency somewhere between cold mashed potatoes and bread dough) and a bowl of vegetable stew (which apparently didn't mean vegetables but assorted randomness of things I didn't want to know!). Eating in true African style, with your hands, you took some pap, slopped up some stew, tore off a piece of something, and then asked what you ate later. Luckily coming for Argentina we were not that surprised... Cow skin, Cow Stomach, Cow tongue, and something they said was meat.... All happened to be things we had seen before and heck I'll always try anything twice.
So we hopped back on the train for our 4 hours haul out to Worcester to this amazing conference, however shortly after arriving we both kind of looked up at the sky and said... really here... this is where you want us?!?!?!?!
So to be nice we'll say that everyone there had a great idea for what this conference should be... they were all passionate people about their beliefs and they really believed in their purpose... However they came off a bit like a "cult"... I can't be very politically correct on this so I should say it was just weird... a weird "culty" meeting.
Sarah and I walked into a room not filled with the NATIONS per say but rather with about 100 people... and thankfully we arrived just in time to see the recap video of the previous 2 days. The video started great: singing, dancing, talking, praying, motivational speaking....typical youth meeting until the surprise tangent into some of the more "extreme" sides of Christianity... the laying of hands, shaking, speaking in tongues, crying, yelling, convulsing and this continued for a while... little did we know that the rest of the night was being tailored toward the same type emotionally driven activity. Sarah and I are all about people practicing what they believe but that was up until they started forcing us to believe the same thing. We were extremely out of our comfort zone and "healing" really was not going to make it any better no matter what they told us Colossians said... Sarah and I looked at each other and asked... where are we?????
Now this was all compounded with a complete and total confusion over our purpose amongst all of this, a strong feeling was growing inside the both of us that we should be somewhere else. This along with Gershom who had some people skills issues that drove us a bit crazy (just wouldn't leave us alone... let me drink my coffee in peace man). We decided that didn't fit in with YWAM, we were not in a DTS, we didn't want to help them... we wanted to help Africans!
Now we are very accepting, but they crossed the line when they started pressing their beliefs on us and pressing their hands on us... so we ditched, went to the mall, called some of Sarah's contacts, and we left... (also a good excuse was to go get some medicine for Dan and his allergies he has developed here in Africa... the doctor has diagnosed him with "allergy eyes" and he has hay fever!)
A couple of interesting things were learned during this
1. Flying by the seat of you pants sometimes takes time to unfold
2. After not having peanut butter for 10 months, it was great to get PB back... until it became the only thing missionaries (Sarah and I) ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week.
3. God has a sense of Humor... sometimes we do silly things to praise him... SMILE GOD!!!
4. Sometime you are put in a place to meet people... and you thank God for that opportunity
So we met Joe and Katie on the train ride home from Worcester... and we just so happened to spend the rest of the weekend with them. Friday night after a nap, made necessary by a 4 am train ride home, we headed to a beautiful beach and walked all afternoon. Saturday we rented a car and went to visit the hot spots of Cape Town: We took a cable car to Table Mountain, had lunch at the Waterfront, and went to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope...
Highlights on the day are also to many to mention, but the day started out a bit gloomy with thick grey clouds covering the mountain almost killing our plans to see the top, but rather than panic we decided to wait it out since most things here tend to just work themselves out at their own pace... they call it "African Time." So we went for lunch at the Waterfront for only our second non PB&J meal since Argentina. The Seals and sunny skies decided to join our double date and we ate waiting for the sun to burn off the haze. After lunch we headed up to the top of Table Mountain for one of the most precious views of Cape Town ever... next time we are there we plan on hiking up it!
Finally we ended what had been the most perfect day with a trip down to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope. Apparently Baboons live there... Baboons like food, but their most favorite thing to do is sit in the road and stop you car!!! Had we had more time I probably would have spent all my time with them and would have done something stupid resulting in a baboon attack but due to lack of time and my voice of reason (Sarah) I didn't get a lot of time to play with the baboons! We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before closing and with just enough time to see some amazing sun set pictures that I can't believe we took. As we left the park we ran into some ostriches, more baboons and made our way to a small beach town to watch the sunset. We had dinner at the Salty Sea Dog and enjoyed the last moments of a wonderful day. We just wanted to say thank you to Joe and Katie and God bless with the rest of their travels... Have fun in Brazil!!
Paarl, South Africa... Salvation!!!
We left Munizberg on Sunday with our cumbersome luggage and took off for Paarl. I guess I can say I never understood why Sarah wanted to come back here, but for those of you that know and everyone else I recommend that you get to know this place... its just beautiful. We are staying at a Bed & Breakfast which used to be an old slave plantation... it is Dutch mansion form the 1800s sitting in front of a plumb orchard overlooking the Drakenstien Mountains to the east that glow a bright red as the sunsets over Paarl mountain to the west. Its basically back to the surreal life that we had experienced in Ireland as we traveled around. Originally we were staying in the Guest house, but with an empty nest Magriet moved us into her house and adopted us as part of the family. Her hospitality has been unbelievable since the moment we arrived and has blessed us with more than we could ever ask for. The Van der Speks have basically taken us in for free while Sarah and I try to at least pay for our meals. To check out where we are here is their website http://kleinvredenburgguesthouse.look4.co.za/
Monday (October 29) we started school at Nederburg primary which is grades 1-7 and has about 800 kids from area, mostly poor colored kids whose parents have basically been impoverished first by Apartheid and now by the lack of economic mobility. We teach 4-7th grade kids since they start learning English in 3rd grade and have basically been filling in for teachers and helping students with Math, Reading, and Computers along with the occasional kick ball game... Red Rover... and Heads up Seven up!!! Now to say that we are "teaching" is a stretch... the 4th and 5th graders have trouble with 2 digit multiplication i.e. 34x12... and most have a difficulty reading in English and some barely read in Afrikaans... the computers... well the kids just play snake and with the painting program unless I make them work with math and typing. This has been our Monday through Friday... we wake up to and excellent breakfast of fruit and yogurt, toast, eggs, sausage, bacon, mushroom, juice and coffee, and we are out the door around 8 am and home by 3 for an afternoon nap and a complete lack of responsibility. Between 8 and 3 Sarah and I take a crash course in cultural norms, accepted behaviors, and an overall frustration with what we consider right and wrong...acceptable and not acceptable
Basically we have done a Quantum Leap into a world that is much like living in the states during the late 60s and 70s. Paarl area is scarred by racial prejudice and economic imbalance, oppression and manipulation, hope backed by a complete mistrust for everyone that is not like you... and best of all its always someone else's fault.
We live in an old white area... juxtaposed with the colored school we teach at. The students come in from decrepit homes built when the government forced the people out of the white area and into the slums. These areas called townships filled with "bungalows" a pretty name for the tin shacks the people live in are where most of our students come from.. Nederburg is the stereotypical under-resourced school with teachers who struggle to make do with what they have fighting against a system that really does little to help them; its cliché, but its everywhere.
On the white side, I went for a run past beautiful homes, Land rovers, and back-yard in ground pools. It is as drastic as it sounds; from Dutch mansions to African squalor just by crossing a river half a mile away from each other. At first I believe I was mad at the system, the commie (that's for you Mr. L) inside me wanted to blame the Apartheid and Globalization for the economic slavery that these people now face, but even when you look at the white schools they suffer the same problems as the colored schools, however that is when the stereotypes start to play their part in this story. White schools are backed by the parents who support their children morally and with their higher economic freedom; the white parents tend to pick up the slack in funding for the schools... they play an active roll in the educational process at school and at home
At Nederburg the situation is opposite. Parents look to the teachers to play Parent, Guardian, and Role Model for these kids...a role all too big for any one person to take on by themselves. The result is a breakdown in what I would consider social norms. These children are left to fend for themselves as their parents either work 13 hours days on farms or spend most of the day intoxicated leaving the kids to run a muck. Most of these kids have chosen role models from mainstream American pop icons like 50 cent and Eminem and spend most their time emulating their "gangster" image and total disrespect for authority which only results because the are just starving for love, attention, acceptance, acknowledgement, appreciation...freedom. In the end none of that attention ever comes in a positive form... the kids act out, misbehave, and receive all the negative attention that they can take as substitute.
This plays an interesting role in the aspect of teaching, having been brought up in a world of positive reinforcement and a "you can be all you can be" mentality it was a shock to see kids slapped, hit with rulers, sticks, spanked. It's been 3 weeks now since we started teaching at Nederburg, and Sarah and I struggle with, "what we've become." It's to say when in Rome... do as the Romans, but spanking kids is just something I hate to do... On the opposite side if you don't play authoritarian role like a catholic nun in a class room of 40 kids that barely speak English, how do you control them? The teachers here firmly believe in slapping... every teacher has their own personal stick. They slap palms for wrong answers, slap butts for bad behavior, and when a class is really out of control... they send them outside to yard work all day.
It took about 7 days in class for the kids to "break" me. I realized that earning respect from them wasn't going to come from handing out pencils to the kids who did the best in class. While we teach there is a constant struggle for attention from Sarah and me in any from, so we give little rewards to the kids who excel and we try to challenge them while not losing the attention of the other 35 kids. Still the kids who misbehave push us to our limit. Most of the time they are testing us, trying to see what they can get away with, talking to friend in Afrikaans, antagonizing other children, disrupting class... the usual kids things...plus we have the added benefit of summer starting, days getting warmer, and only 2 weeks left in school; the kids could careless. I started sending kids in the hall for some sessions of wall sits and push-ups. I thought its better than slapping them and they can still receive a little discipline, but they still test us... never really learning a lesson and Sarah and I really struggling to get the point across. Though they have it better with us that with their real teachers; kids come back from the hallways crying from the whooping they got from their teacher, but still they didn't learn anything...all of them go right back to being disruptive. Everyday I see myself move closer and closer to the disciplinary model the Nederburg teachers give as an example, and it becomes scary.
In the end I think Sarah and I, both, wonder how this situation developed, and whether or not to conform or try to hold strong without the kids tearing you and the classroom apart. The most obvious answer we are given is just to blame them as a "race"... that's what the Whites do. The racism is thick...if you ask people we live with, most things go wrong because a Colored or Black person was probably doing the job. The Stereotypes we use are universal, most of the time I think we have magically stumbled into a Mississippi cotton framer's home circa 1965 as they preach how the world may have been better if the south would have one; or how the Apartheid really was a good idea on paper overlooking the genocidal atrocities that were taking place while it was in practice. On the other side of the river it tends to be just as bad. Parents waiting to pick their kids up after school to tell Sarah and me to give them money. These are the parents... looking for their handouts from the "Rich American" assuming we should empty our pockets. It was after I saw their parents that began to understand the mind set of the kids and I began to feel worse about yelling at them. I think of the "parents" that they have or don't have and you feel sorry...you think they don't know any better... and sadly they don't. Finally there are the teachers... who truly believe in some tough love. They say, "You've got to punish them..." or "I was hit as a kid and I turned out alright," so it's just accepted. In this profession you have to love it or you would never last as I'm sure all you teachers out there can vouch for that, nonetheless you can see the job wear at them as well.
I spoke with one 5th grade teacher about substitutes, because when a teacher doesn't come to school the kids just go without a teacher all day. He complained about how no one wants to come in and work for just a day and if they did come there is barely any money to pay them for their services. So I asked him if when he retires in 6 years, if he would ever come back to Nederburg and substitute and I was shocked to get an all resounding, "Never... I would never come back once I'm done teaching." That was that... a very I paid my time, I did what I needed to do; first to complain... last to help out.
There is another side to this as well. Every once in a while we get through to one or two of them. I think Sarah and I, both, have picked our favorites that we want to be role models for and help lift them out of the cycle they are stuck in. Sarah has Jaydene who is a little 3rd grader... smartest little girl, she won an award for a poem she wrote we have it on video it's so cute. Anyways Sarah looks after her while I try to give my man Rowanne the positive attention he needs. He is a little pistol as my dad would say... (I think in the states 90% of these kids would be on riddilin). Rowanne the little punk wants to be the gangster that he is... always on the spot with a wise crack, constantly pushing my buttons, but once in a while you get through to him and see how smart he is. You see in their eyes that if you can just give them that positive influential love they need they might believe they can make it out of the mess they are in. So we walk the tight rope between tough love and being walked all over. We come home with our throats hoarse and in need of some Tylenol.
I do have to say that last week I was sick and ended up staying home on Friday to catch up on some sleep. In the end I felt bad. I wanted to be at school, I wanted to be there helping, trying to make a difference. Sarah ended up picking me up to attend an after school Brie (aka Barabque) Nederburg was having to raise some money, and when all the kids showed up I could see I was missed... that through it all they really appreciate what we are doing. The week before, Sarah was sick as well and stayed home from school on Friday (crazy African colds we've never had before), I came home with 65 letters to Sarah wishing that she feels better and demanding that she come back to school on Monday. These are the reasons we come back everyday. It's easy to walk into a world and point out what is different and what is wrong... so I thought I would just end the reflection there because there is a whole lot of good waiting to pour out of all of these kids... they just need someone to push them!
On Tuesdays after school Sarah and I head to Mbequeni (mmmbequeni is how it's pronounced), the poorest of the townships. Its an area in all most complete desolation, shacks are made of wood, gangs rule the streets, most people, if they work, spend their time working the vineyards to make enough money to buy wine to drink the night away. In this township there is an AIDS orphanage run by a lady named Pracilla. She is HIV positive and has been for almost 11 years now. She runs a home that provides beds for 40 children and 3 meals a day for about 100 children (she goes through 10 loaves of bread a day!) Most of her children fall into 3 categories, some were born HIV positive and their parents died from AIDS, other lost their parents to AIDS but are not infected, and the third group are kids who were raped or come from a bad home. So we go on Tuesdays to play with the kids... we taught them Duck Duck Goose, Heads up Seven up, they sing us songs about living with HIV, and play rugby mainly with Dan (Sarah takes the little girls). This is by far one of my favorite times of the week. I've never met a more humbled, content, appreciative, and eager group of children in my life. These kids have grown up in a positive environment while living with a disease that they know will kill them, or will kill their parents. So we play with them... we show them pictures of glaciers... tell them stories of traveling... color pictures... and play rugby... and in that short hour or two hours that we spend with them we come home on a high almost wishing we could have given them more.
This is Sarah dropping in her two sense this time...we decided that in this blog we needed to share and reflect on what we are doing so that everyone could have a better understanding about Nederburg and about South Africa. I have a little different perspective than Dan... partly because this is my third time here and it's not so "new" to me. I had a better idea of what to expect and what was needed from us. The hardest thing for both of us is the discipline. This is the first time I've ever really had to discipline or be put in a situation where I was the disciplinary. These children expect a "rough" beating when they misbehave. It's what they are use to... so when Dan and I don't they think they're getting away with things. (hence why Dan invented wall sits and push up time) I use the stick to hit the table when they're all talking and so far that has worked (but we'll see if it lasts).
But we can't get caught up in the discipline... we have to remind ourselves why we are here. We are here to be a light to these children, to the community. We're not here to give out our money but our TIME and our LOVE! These children each day scream our names as we enter, as we walk through the halls, when we are outside at interval, at the end of the day they wait to play with us for the hour (school gets out at 2 but the teachers can't leave till 3). I don't have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I hear "Sarah" throughout the day! It's incredible how many of these kids remember me. Just the other day there was a high school crowd that came back to see me. They said word on the street is "Sarah is back" and then they want to know where everyone else is!!!
It's hard not to come back to these kids... their smiles, their hugs, high fives are everything!!! And then you get the older kids... kids who are now 15, 16 years old and were at Nederburg for my first visit!! I feel awful because some I don't remember and some I do... it's always good to see those you once reached out too and helped. Knowing that our presence before has made such an impact on these children and they make such an impact on us... it's hard to stay away. The school year is coming to an end and many children will go without food during their 6 week summer holiday. In school children whose family can't provide food are on a food plan and are fed everyday... only when school is in session. So there are many children who would rather not have a summer holiday and be in school all year long because that means food! It's a culture your heart breaks for and you wish you could just snap your fingers and everything would be okay, but unfortunately that's not how life works.
I think this is where we will end, there is still a lot we could both talk about but I'm sure we lost half of you by now.
Thank you for everyone who made it this far... we had a lot to say ... a lot to tell... and a lot more to come!