Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

In South Africa, they don't really celebrate Halloween

If I were in the USA, I would spend most of today buzzing around and preparing for the evening. I would have a costume picked out by now, and would have at least considered wearing it to church. This afternoon I would make sure all the sweets were ready, and anticipated the arrival of children as they come “trick-or-treating” in the evening.

For me, Halloween is an incredible example of what it means to be in community. While most of the year may pass without seeing some of my neighbors and their families, on this day, a simple porch light left on in the front of the house would indicate that all are welcome. Children would come dressed as their favorite cartoon character or superhero, and parents would walk with them, enjoying one another’s company almost as much as the children enjoy an excuse to dress in costumes and eat sweets.

For this one night, no one thinks about anything but the children. For children and adults alike, bed times go out the window. No matter if you are 5 or 55 or 95 years old, everyone dresses up, at the very least with a smile across the face, and is reminded of the importance of their role in the community. Each porch light left on is another opportunity to say hello, share a sweet, and check in on one another.

In some ways, this big community event reminds me of the Fete we’ve just had. People come out from all over to greet and support one another and to play an important role in the ongoing life of the church. Costumes were optional, but in the end everyone gets to go home with a treat of sorts, whether from the Lucky Dip, the Food Shop, the Good As New stall or one in between. There’s something for everyone, even if more often than not that something ends up being “the one thing you never knew you always wanted.”

Its traditions like these - be it Halloween or Fetes or other shared traditions we have - that remind us of the importance of community and invite us to get to know one another better. In many ways, Sunday mornings (for Christians) are like these annual traditions of gathering and supporting one another as a community. Wherever you find yourself today, take time to look around. Who is this community that surrounds you? Have you greeted them? Surely there is someone you don’t know or haven’t talked to in a while: why wait for a holiday or special occasion to greet them?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Plumstead Fete

This afternoon was Plumstead Methodist Church’s “Fete.” For my American friends who also come from churches who are not familiar with the idea, a Fete is a fundraising event, sort of like a Bazaar. For an entire year, people save up goods to be sold (cheaply) at the Fete. There are multiple stalls, and you can find almost anything: “like new” childrens' clothing and toys, handmade items from cards to clothes, used books, and an array of miscellaneous items that could only fit the category “white elephant.”. You know what they say: “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure!”

Of course, the most popular booths, true to human nature, tend to be the ones with food. Homemade sweets (we took home a cake and banana loaf) and jams (got some of those, too!), or the food shop, where people have donated food to be “sold” at a price discounted from what you would pay at the shop. You can get a cup of tea or coffee (or cool drink) inclusive of sweets or biscuits to go with them, or you can stop in for breakfast or lunch: the breakfast of bacon and eggs with toast was such a hit it sold out. Then there are items worth waiting around for: a picnic set and the most decadent cake of chocolaty goodness I have ever seen was a “raffle” item. This cake that was donated was so amazing it raised R700 - that’s $100! For a cake! I didn’t win it, but I did get to try a piece later, and I have to say: it tasted as amazing as it looked!

This huge event, stretching from the front garden (with activities for the children) and all through the church, was a great fundraising success. But its more than that, too. Its a tradition worth celebrating.

I’ve been at PMC for a couple of months now, and this was the first time I’ve been to church and been able to spend time with the community purely for the sake of spending time with them. Sure, there were fun things to look at and everyone wanted to support the cause. But that alone wasn’t reason for anyone to come. Not really. If it were, everyone could have simply handed over the cash they intended to spend and skipped the day altogether.

But then we wouldn’t have had a day well spent in reminder of what it feels like to be in community. I wouldn’t have met the spouses or extended family of people I see in church on occasion, or share in Bible Study with. I wouldn’t have been surrounded by people from both the 07:45 and 09:30 morning services, the Sunday school children, AND the youth, all in one place at the same time. If it weren’t for the Fete, I wouldn’t have been able to catch up with so many people without worrying about time constraints or what order or worship is coming up next…

Sure, the Fete is a fundraiser, and to be honest, it is sadly necessary to help meet the fiscal needs of the church. But its so much more than that. And this year, I’m grateful for the reminder of how great it is to be part of such an incredible community.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Doctors, Doctors and More Doctors...

One of the things that is really great about being where I am right now is how flexible my schedule is. Another is how caring the people I’m surrounded by are. Yet another still would be that I am living with a family who have been here long enough to be able to give me referrals when I need to go somewhere or do something.

When I first arrived, this referral was great, as it took me to the Sport Science Institute at Newlands. After seeing a couple specialists, I’m now going to a weekly knee class with the kinesiologist. Good stuff.

Following the beginning of sorting my knee, I began to focus on wholeness and health in other ways. For example, I’ve been battling with severe stomach cramps for a few months now. To be honest, I’ve brushed it aside and blamed it on stress, hoping that when I was removed from the high-stress environment, the physical side effects of the stress would also evaporate. While I’ve done the former, I’m sorry to report the later has not followed. So while the doctors I’ve seen have agreed it was likely (initially) stress-induced, stress deduction alone can’t make the body magically work properly again. Who knew? So I continue to make visits as we work toward physical wholeness and health. We are making progress, but it is a long, slow journey… and I’m learning to be patient.

I’ve basically decided that while I’m at it - why stop there? So today I went to an optometrist. I only wear my glasses when I’m reading or on a computer, but it has been three years since my last check up. I’ve been aware for some time that I’m in need of an updated prescription, so yesterday I made an appointment and today I had a check-up. Of course, keeping true to my nature these days, it could not be a simple or problem-free visit, so next week I’ll see a specialist and have some scans done. Due to similar scans I’ve had done in the past, I’m pretty confident this will be a simple check up with nothing exciting to discover. Better safe than sorry, though, so next week I’ll see another eye doctor…

Next on my list is a dentist. I wouldn’t want my schedule to fill up entirely with doctor visits so that I wouldn’t have time to get my other work done, so as soon as I finish with one of the doctors I’m regularly visiting now, I’ll make an appointment. I wouldn’t want too much excitement in life, after all.

But hey: at least I’m becoming well acquainted with the medical scene here in South Africa. and I must say: I’m impressed. I’ve had nothing less than quality care, and while medical care is not cheap anywhere in the world, I will confess I’d much rather pay for care here than back in the US of A!

Thursday, October 21, 2010


If you read here often, you may remember me talking about a girl who I now consider like a little sister, and whose parents I consider good friends. Emily is one of the most brave people I have ever known, and her courage and hope and optimism are contagious.

I am happy for them that they have been able to be “home” in the USA for the past couple of months as Emily continues to receive treatment. But I miss them! and I wish I could be there for Jen, Matt and Emily as they continue to struggle. The road has not been easy, and they are still quite a distance from the end.

This week I was able to have a good conversation with Jen (Emily’s mom) over the phone for the first time since August. Emily had been on my heart and in my prayers more than usual lately, and I just felt I had to phone and check in. It was GREAT to talk to Jen and I hope to talk to Emily and Matt soon too, but more than that, I am glad for an update.

The thing about crises like Emily’s is this: everyone is there for you at first, and then people move on. You can’t blame them. People have lives they have to keep living, and while the Kerstetter’s lives have virtually stopped to give Emily time to heal, we understand that this can’t be the case for everyone.

But right now, I’m asking you to stop. And Pray.

Emily is not well, and continues to struggle with a great deal of pain. After being home for two weeks, she is back in the hospital again and facing more operations, as shrapnel remains in her right leg and is causing problems.

We knew it would not be an easy road for Emily, but we also hoped it would not be this difficult. Please join us in prayer supporting Emily and her family. Her spirits are down and the more she struggles, the harder it is becoming to pick them back up again. Pray for her family (mom, dad, sister) as they care for her and try to find balance in their lives that have all but stopped.

Please keep praying with me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There's No Place Like Home...

For me, the most difficult part of living in another country is being away from people. To be honest, most of the time I don’t really miss my friends and family, but perhaps that is because modern technology allows me to stay in touch with them almost as well as if I only lived across the country.


The reality is, I don’t. This makes for a few tough scenarios. One is obvious: while I am still technically just a plane ride away (as I was in Chicago), it is a very long and expensive plane ride, making it difficult for me to realistically fly back and forth. This means I have missed several events in my one year in South Africa that I would not have missed had I been anywhere in the continental United States. For example, I have a nephew who will have his first birthday in a couple of weeks, and I am yet to meet him. That simply would not have happened. I have also missed several weddings and even a family reunion to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my grandparents: an event I may never live down (or forget) missing.

Aside from missing events such as these, there is one other thing I really miss: phone calls. For one thing, it is expensive to call here, so it just doesn’t make sense for anyone to phone me when we can speak for free over skype or I can phone the US for something like 1/10 the cost of someone phoning me from there.

So yes: we have skype. Honestly, it has rescued me from more than one of “those days” when I just really needed someone from “home” to talk to. But when those moments come, or when I remember it is a birthday and want to phone and wish you the best, or when I see something that I would like to send in a picture message (from one phone to the next), the computer and internet and skype are not always convenient. Nor available. Nor functioning with a proper connection. Or if they are, the time of the day is off just enough that while I’d like to phone you on my lunch break, something tells me you wouldn’t appreciate a 6am wake up call.

Today was one of those days for me. All is well in the camp here, but it would sure be nice to pick up a phone sometimes. But I’m sure life will go on and all will be well tomorrow. So thanks for reading my rant, and while you’re at it, I invite you to lift up a little prayer for whoever else in the world may be feeling this way at the time you’re reading this.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rocking The Daisies

First things first: Its 10/10/10!!! and its barely past 10:10pm. This only happens once a century, so we should celebrate it! :)

This weekend was GREAT. If you know me even a little bit, there are a few things you will already know. 1 - I love live music. 2 - I love spending time with people and in crowds. 3 - I love the outdoors and camping! 4 - I think it is important that we are mindful of the environment around us and believe we should find eco-friendly, sustainable ways to live.

Lisa, Amy & I appreciating the shade
away from the hot afternoon sun.

This weekend with a group of friends to Rocking The Daisies, a 3-day music festival that takes place annually just north of Cape Town. Our initial “reason” for going was to see Greg play with his band, Nomadic Orchestra. When I agreed to go, I literally knew nothing more about the weekend than that. Let me tell you: it was GREAT!

Ok, so to be honest it wasn’t entirely my scene. I appreciate the culture and energy of the vibe, but I’m just not a hipster: never have been, never will be. But it sooo didn’t matter. and I loved it anyway!

So we had hours on end of live music of nearly any type you can imagine. While I recognize I am biased, I must say my favorite act was without a doubt Nomadic Orchestra - trust me when I tell you that it is a music anyone will love, and anyone can dance to. What’s not to love about Balkan music?

To top of how awesome this music festival was, consider its mantra: “Play Hard, Tread Lightly.” They didn’t sell bottles of water, they invited you to buy a reusable bottle (for cheap!) and refill it with cold, filtered water for free the rest of the weekend. They had entire stalls made up of recycled material. Free t-shirts and bags were given away that were, you guessed it: made of recycled material. They had compost and recycling bins at the ready for use of the campers. They offered free tickets to anyone who walked to the festival instead of driving, and tickets were half price if you cycled. They really were creative in encouraging people to be mindful of ways to “tread lightly.”

So we’re camping. We’re listening to music. There’s lots of people. and they cared about the environment.
I’m home. I’m happy. I’m exhausted. Basically, it was a great weekend with great people, and I’m ready to do it again!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Here it is nearly midnight and I’m exhausted and somehow WIDE awake. Not that its a surprise, given the excitement of the past week.

This past week I was blessed to have two visitors come and spend a few days with me. My friends Amanda and Hannah, both fellow young adult missionaries with The United Methodist Church, took their leave to come and spend time with me here in the beautiful city of Cape Town. Hannah, my former roommate and co-worker while I was in Joburg/at SHADE, flew down from Joburg to spend 5 days here, while Amanda deserves a medal for flying all the way from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA for only one week’s stay.

The week was filled with tours, site-seeing, wine tasting, coffee drinking, beach-sitting and mountain climbing (well, only a little because my knees are still not well). The weather was very cooperative, as it was clear and beautiful all but one day. Pretty good for this time of year!

We did have a hiccup in our journey, as a puncture on the side of the highway left us with one handbag and very expensive camera being stolen. Certainly one of the most difficult and helpless feelings I’ve experienced in a while as we watched a man run away with all of  Hannah’s belongings. While it is always sad to lose things, the great sentimental value of her belongings that ran away before our eyes were definitely the greatest loss, putting into perspective the things we take advantage of. We could be heard wishing he had taken all of our money and valuables but left behind things like her little red notebook filled with thoughts, memories and priceless writings, while at the same time we were grateful to be safe and were “just glad no one got hurt.”

Despite the struggle and heartache that came with this isolated event, we found ourselves making the very best of the time we had together. We even made light of the unexpected couple of hours spent in the Khayelitsha Police Department, as it provided an opportunity for Amanda to have a small tour of a township and a look into the RSA police. By the way, I must say: I have never, EVER had a better experience with police than we had that day at the Khayelitsha Police Department. To the officers and staff we encountered: well done, and Thank You for your incredible service and dedication. Hats off to you. Really.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances requiring our presence there, the couple of hours spent being well cared for at the PD were more representative of this week spent with good friends than of the 2 minutes that caused much distress. (And for any worried about safety, I remind you of the first words out of Amanda’s mouth upon a discussion about safety: “Wait, you’ve never had anything like this happen? I’ve even been mugged in New Orleans - it happens everywhere!”)

So that’s our check back into reality, and looking back over the rollercoaster of the past week, I am left with few words other than “Thank you.” Thank you, Amanda and Hannah, for your visit. It is SO GOOD for me to have the reality check of friends. Friends who serve as a mirror, really, as through time with them I am able to see reflections back of myself. Reflections of ways I have grown, adapted or changed over the past 12 months. Next week will mark one year since I first arrived in South Africa, and this visit was 2 things for me: a timely reflection back on who I am and how I’ve grown, and time to be refreshed and renewed through opportunities to be surrounded by familiar, welcoming, gentle friendships that offer perspective, reassurance, love and support that can only be given by an “old” friend who knew me prior to this experience.