Thank you for all of your love and support I am so excited to share this experience with all of you!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

End of September

Hello Everyone!

It is hard to believe that I have been in South Africa for a month already! I have continued to learn and experience new things everyday. Each day I am settling in more and more. I am continuing to split my time between DAM and the Soweto Circuit. Everyday is a new adventure. I am even starting to get use to the slower pace of things. Recently I have had the opportunity to travel a little bit. Thanks to my flexible schedule I hope to see more of South Africa. This past weekend the Evangelical Church of Southern Africa (ELCSA) held 4 conferences across the country. I was fortunate enough to attend the Young Adult League (YAL) Conference in the 1000 Hills area, located between Pietermertzburg and Durban, though I thought it would be closer to Durban and the beach it was a beautiful very hilly area. The conference itself consisted of many meetings, chances to worship, and much fellowship. I am not sure exactly what I expected but I was surprised with the full schedule and formal meeting structures. Everyone I spoke to on the final day was pleased with how the conference had turned out and felt like much had been accomplished. The YAL is the newest league in ELCSA and is still working out what exactly this league will look like. ELCSA has a Men’s League, Women’s League, and Youth League already well established. These leagues offer meetings, prayers, fundraisers, rallies, and conferences. Attending a church service it is easy to see who is who as each league has their own uniform which they were proudly every Sunday morning. As a new comer I have felt so welcomed by each league and enjoy seeing the unique aspect the leagues play in the church. They are a way for each person to be more involved in the congregation than just simply attending church once a week.

A total of 8 YAGM volunteers were able to make it to this conference. Seeing each other for the first time since orientation you would have thought we had been separated for months not just weeks the way we were talking and trying to catch up. It is remarkable to realize that while we are all in the same program and thought we would have similar experiences due to the fact that we are in the same country on the same program but in reality things are very different for everyone of us. Each of us is experiencing a different South Africa. I think I was silly to think that just because we were in the same country we would have similar experiences but I try to think about the reverse if there were 11 volunteers who were spread out across the US how different their experiences would be. A few of our volunteers are in urban settings like myself. Others are very rural. Some are in the mountains, some near the beaches, some working with children and are very busy while some like myself are still working on finding our place at our sites. Some people are well on their way to learning a language while others of us are still trying to figure out what language would make the most sense to start learning. Spending time with the other volunteers made it easier for me to reflect on where I am. Some days are still hard, they will be the whole year. But compared to where I was a month ago I have learned so much. I know more of what is going on each day. I can talk about locations in South Africa, about South African politics, almost tell you the streets to get in and out of Soweto, but most important I can tell you about the people I see and talk to everyday. The conversations we have shared. The insights I have gained. It was good to see the other YAGMs we felt recharged and ready to see how much will have changed by the next time we are together. Some of us will try to gather for Halloween at the end of October; we will all be together to celebrate Thanksgiving and for our first of 3 retreats. To say I am looking forward to it would be an understatement. I feel like these times we are together are like when you are growing and you make a mark on the wall to show where you are. It’s a chance to check where you are, where you came from, and where you are headed.

Sorry for the delay in posting. While I have internet access on my compound it is not the most reliable so I am posting this from an internet café. Please stay in touch and let me know what is happening to you! E-mails make my day and I love staying connected to home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Week One

I have been in Soweto for a week. There have been surprises, joys, and moments where I wonder what in the world I am doing here; I am sure all of these things will continue for the entire time I am here. Through it all I am trying to soak everything in and capture every moment. I know that looking back these first few days and weeks will feel like a blur.

Soweto is huge. I have been told 3 million people live in the area that is considered Soweto, Soweto is short for South Western Townships, it is a compilation of many townships that have all merged together to form one sprawling area known as Soweto. I also was surprised at how in an "urban" environment I feel both rural, suburban, and urban rolled into one. There are chickens, goats, donkeys, and horses that I see every day giving a very rural feel. There is also a large feel of what I would call suburbia with large shopping malls full of chain stores,McDonalds, and KFC. But at the end of the day I know I am in an urban environment with people everywhere. There is constant noise, dogs barking, car horns honking, people everywhere and I love it. On Saturday night the two big Soweto soccer teams played each other and the vuvuzelas were wailing! I can't even imagine the sound during the World Cup!

I am in the midst of figuring out my role here. I am splitting my time between DAM (Diaknoia AIDS Ministry) and the local church circuit. My first week was spent
learning about DAM and beginning the process of finding the where I fit in the different departments. This week I have spent time with the church circuit learning so much.

I am officially moved into my flat! It is located on the compound housing DAM,
the Bishop's Office, a church, and the Dean's (the Dean is a role in the church directly under the Bishop) house. I am sharing it with a woman from Germany who is working at DAM for her gap year before she starts University. There is another German man who works here as well and lives across the compound from us in his own flat. I have my own room and bathroom, something that I have not had in a long time! We share a kitchen and living space as well. I have started decorating my room with lots of pictures that make me smile everyday. It is starting to look like and feel like home.

One of the challenges that I have encountered is language. South Africa has a total of 11 officials languages. One is English, most people speak English as well as 4 or 5 other languages. I can tell when I am getting tired because language becomes more of a problem. People combine all of the languages so I can usually stay focused and catch a few English words in the midst of everything and follow what is happening, but when I am tired it gets harder and harder. Language has also been a blessing! It is a great way to start a conversation with someone new, asking what languages they speak and how to say hello in each.

Church services are something that have been absolutely wonderful and breath taking. Services are not one hour and done. Last Sunday I was in church for 3.5 hours and this morning I was there for 4 hours. I loved every minute. I have never experienced a worship in a language I did not understand but it is amazing how much of worshiping transcends language. Everyone is so happy to be there. Song are not just sung but clapped and danced to. Offering is not just taken but brought up
as true gifts. Both services I have found people to be so welcoming. Everyone brings there own hymnal. Today the women sitting next to me shared hers with me and also passed me candy to eat during the sermon and complimented my attempts at singing in Zulu. I have always loved the community I've found in church and I am learning that the church family extends everywhere with the same love and welcoming spirit.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The First Days

I have been in South Africa for 8 days. I can already tell that I am a different person than the person who stepped off the plane wide eyed on Friday morning. Some of that probably has to do with getting caught up on sleep after 2 full days in transit. They aren’t kidding about the long flights to get here. At one point on the flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg and seeing the screen say we had 5000 miles to our destination. A little extra sleep combined with amazing speakers and an orientation that’s entire purpose is to disorientate leads to looking at the world through different lenses.

This country is beautiful. We experienced the traditional first day of spring, September 1st and even some spring showers! Everything is still dry from winter but we are told that in a matter of a few more spring showers everything will pop green. With spring tempturues creepy close to 100 I am not sure I am ready for summer! We spent two half days hiking. It felt a little like Colorado on the hike with foothills but then the zebra, giraffes, and wildebeest reminded me that I am most definitely not in Colorado anymore.

Orientation has been eye opening. We have had speakers from Lutheran Church of Southern Africa, ELCA (American Lutheran Church) and our own group discussions. Friday morning we talked about tensions. I kept telling people I was preparing myself for being uncomfortable all year. In my mind I was thinking physical; not having air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter. But each day I am realizing how uncomfortable everything will be and how there is tension everywhere. We spoke of the tension between: rich and poor, patient and pro-active, doing and being, settling in and getting going, and knowing what our gifts are and seeing what our gifts could be; I know I will struggle with all of these things. Each of these tensions brings discomfort. But instead of tension in a negative I think it can be looked at as growing. And with growing comes growing pains.

So bring on the growing pains. Monday morning I board a bus to Johannesburg. Where I will be picked up and taken home to Soweto. I’ll have my own apartment in a compound with families I cannot wait to meet and get to know. It is going to be hard, I know things that I don't expect will challenge me. But bring on the growing pains I am exited to grow.