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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Packing and Living Simply

I have started to think about packing. How I am going to get my life back into 2 checked bags and one carry on bag plus one personal item. It is slightly overwhelming and to be honest it is more appealing for me to blog about it than to actually do any packing!

We recently were asked to help with the packing list for the next group of YAGM coming to South Africa, it made me start to think of what I wished I had brought, what I did bring and couldn't live without, and what I brought but didn't need. I think each says a lot about my time here.

Things I Wish I had Brought

-More warm clothes. It is cold here and luckily when my family came my mom brought me a few sweaters but I now wear those sweaters in a 3 day rotation.

-An extra pair of jeans. I brought 2 and since winter has set in I wear them on the same rotation as the sweaters. After many holes and patches on pair had to be sacrificed to be more patches for the other pair.

Needless to say it has been much colder than I imagined it would be. I had been warned that South African winters are not a joke. But I thought living in Colorado and Iowa I knew cold and would be fine. However, I am accustomed to houses with insulation and central heating. We don't have either of those things here in Soweto so if it is 50 degrees outside it is 50 degrees inside too!

Really though there are very few things I didn't bring that I need. I find it true again and again that less is more. Living simply is a gift. Moving for a year in suitcases in way forces simplicity. You cannot take everything you think you "need." But really what do you need that is tangible that can't be put in a suitcase?

What I Brought That I Couldn't Live Without

-This can almost go without saying but my pictures. I brought pictures from college, pictures from Denver, pictures of friends and family. The first night here I put them up and they will be the last thing I take down when I am packing up. They make me smile and know that I have an incredible people in my life and I am so lucky.

-My headlamp. I bought this right before leaving and I use it every single day. My room has two outlets. One has a space heater and the other is usually charging either my computer or my phone. They are located far from my bed and therefore I do not have a lamp. I read every night with the headlamp. It has also been useful as the winter months mean more power-outages and I find myself in the dark.

-My pocket knife. Anyone who knows me knows that this could never be on any list of things I couldn't live without before this year. I am not crafty, handy, or outdoorsy, mostly I am not usually doing activities commonly associated with pocket knifes. But this year I have used it more times than I can count.

-Sleeping bag. It seemed ridiculous when I saw this on the packing list. I couldn't imagine giving up that much of my precious suitcase space for a sleeping bag. But it has been so useful! I take it along when I am not sure of what my sleeping arrangements might be at a conference, retreat, or other event. I even use it in my own room now as an extra blanket.

What I Brought and Didn't Need

-This is mostly clothes. While I could use more warm clothes I still brought too many summer clothes. Who doesn't when packing?

Much of this year has been about living simply. What do I NEED? And the answer is not many THINGS. Life is about relationships and not what you have and while I think I knew this before this year has solidified this belief for me. Especially now that I think about packing and looking back at what things I have here and what things I will take back. Yes there are some things that I am bringing back that will make me smile and always be cherished. But it is just like my pictures that have been the most important thing to me here. They are a representation of the relationship not the actual picture that are so important. I know that in the coming weeks as I pack it will be the relationships that I have built that are the most important thing I have gotten this year.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I cannot wait to see my family. A word of warning to anyone who happens to be in the Cedar Rapids Airport on the afternoon of July 19th. I will be running and I will knock you over. But on the other side of those awful 28 plus hours of traveling I will not be running as I board my first flight. I will be hugging and most likely crying as I am saying goodbye to my family.

It makes sense to think of family embracing me this year in every sense of the word embrace. They have supported me, pushed me, and picked me up. Coming into this year far from the family I have known all of my life I expected this. What I didn't expect was the family in South Africa embracing me in the same ways. I have always felt like I have had a larger family than my biological family; family friends were aunts and good friend's moms are my moms too. I loved that this is even more true in South Africa. I can never actually tell how someone is related to someone else my sister, mama, granny, cousin, any of those could mean they are actually how I understand the title or they could be someone who fills that role thus the title. I love it.

Now as my weeks and days here are dwindling and I am fast approaching my goodbyes to my family here. I see just how this new expanded understanding of family has affected me. I cannot explain in my western understanding of family my South African family. I have been welcome into homes so many times. I cannot imagine my life without these people who a year ago I did not even know. I grew into these relationships through the year. Now I am at home. I am spending weekends with my South African extended family these last few weeks. Traveling with my family to visit their families. It has been a wonderful way to start the process of saying goodbye. These trips are gifts of memories I know that will always travel with me.

There is another family I am apart of in South Africa. Well technically Southern African since one member now resides in Swaziland :) But they are my other YAGMs here. We make a family that is spread across this region. But we are always talking and checking in with each other. And while we are spread out here it will be odd when we are back in the United States and are much further spread out. They have been my brothers and sisters in so many ways. We have only been all together a few times this year but we have bounded in a way that is only possible when you are thrown into a complete unknown together as we were in August.

So in these weeks I am with my family. I am home and I am feeling so loved. I have learned that while I considered my family much more than the basics before it is now grown to a whole new level. I will be saying goodbye and hello all at once all to my family. I can't wait to see one part of my family while I don't want to leave the other part of my family.