Friday, November 30, 2007

list of things

As I look forward to beginning the trip home tomorrow, I decided a list was in order. I also decided that you might appreciate some reading material to peruse while I'm making my way back across the ocean. And then I decided that I should be able to read a lot of books during 19 hours of flying, so I'd better pack my carry-on full of them. Additionally, I decided that carrying the books with me might help my luggage pass the weight limit. After that I decided that, while I could keeping deciding for a very long time, I should probably get on with the promised list.

Things I'm looking forward to:
  • doing less math (what do I have to divide by to figure out what this really costs?)
  • cereal - the sugary kind!
  • driving myself places
  • using a flat iron/hair straightener now and then
  • buying my own groceries (i.e. cereal!)
  • being on my own schedule
  • long phone conversations
  • winter
  • wearing different clothes
  • taking naps whenever I want to
  • my teddy bear (hmm, am I serious or not about this one?)

Things that might take time to readjust to:

  • getting into the correct side of the car
  • hearing only American accents
  • "normal life" (whatever that is ;-) )
  • knowing when and where I'll have internet access
  • not prefacing all plans with the words "probably" or "I'll try to" or "I'll make every effort to...depending on whether I have internet access, electricity, and a way to get there."
  • always having a washcloth

Things that make me nervous:

  • not knowing what's next
  • the chance of forgetting important moments from the past four months
  • all the work I still have to finish :-)

Things that make me excited:

  • not knowing what's next
  • worshiping at my church in Nashville again (
  • returning home during Advent
  • giving Africa presents to my family

Things I'll miss:

  • having to go with the flow
  • the tea culture
  • the accents and language games
  • geckos (they're really cute!)
  • traveling
  • my suitcases (I'm kidding!)
  • my South Africa cousins and other new friends

Things I won't miss:

  • having to go with the flow
  • not knowing what you're going to get when you ask to use the bathroom
  • only being able to get Coke instead of Pepsi
  • doxycycline
  • trying to decide when to "when in Africa, do as the Africans" and when to just keep being what I am
  • sleeping on a different bed every two nights

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

cape town cousins

I haven't had much internet access in the past week or two, and I've got it today, so this is mad-dash-update day. Hold on! It's going to be fun!

At long last! Cousin pictures! Courtesy of the post below, I can now officially introduce you to my SECOND COUSIN Jillian (Jill) Stoltz! Note the cool art in the background...Jill's an artist even when she's not comfortable introducing herself that way! We had a very fun time visiting. Jill is just a couple years older than I am.
Jill and husband Joseph, who I guess is not officially my cousin at all ( didn't say anything about cousins-in-law), but he still gave me a hard time like any good male cousin/brother/uncle should. :-) They treated me to a little sunset cruise the night before I left. This was my first time being in a boat on an ocean. I liked it!

Cute little Hannah Stoltz, my second cousin once removed, chose me to read her bedtime stories a couple nights during my visit. Fun times! (Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of Gabriel, my smiley laid-back 6 month old cousin. I'll have to add a photo of him later!)

Jill and I visited the Aquarium in Cape Town one afternoon. This picture is from the aquarium's cafe deck.
This photo has nothing to do with cousins, except that maybe they will like the photo like I do. It was taken during my short walk on the beautiful, empty beach in Stompneusbaai (Stump Nose Bay) on the coast a couple hours north of Cape Town.

to help you and me both

As I have entered the land of cousins, I figured it was high time I did some quick research to find out exactly what name to give my relation to these folks. was there for me. Here's what they had to say:

Cousin (a.k.a "first cousin"): Your first cousins are the people in your family who have two of the same grandparents as you. In other words, they are the children of your aunts and uncles.

Second Cousin : Your second cousins are the people in your family who have the same great-grandparents as you, but not the same grandparents.

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Cousins : Your third cousins have the same great-great-grandparents, fourth cousins have the same great-great-great-grandparents, and so on.

Removed : When the word "removed" is used to describe a relationship, it indicates that the two people are from different generations. You and your first cousins are in the same generation (two generations younger than your grandparents), so the word "removed" is not used to describe your relationship.

The words "once removed" mean that there is a difference of one generation. For example, your mother's first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. This is because your mother's first cousin is one generation younger than your grandparents and you are two generations younger than your grandparents. This one-generation difference equals "once removed."

Twice removed means that there is a two-generation difference. You are two generations younger than a first cousin of your grandmother, so you and your grandmother's first cousin are first cousins, twice removed.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

wanted: imaginative post titles

I'm back in Cape Town after a couple days north of here in Stompneusbaai (Stump Nose Bay) on the western coast. Today I'm finishing up a writing assignment before going to meet the first of my South African cousins. I'll be staying with Jill and her family for the next few days. She's the same generation as me in the family, and I really don't know much about her, so there will be plenty to talk about.

I'm adding some photos to go with the post below. I wasn't at my computer when I added that post, so I couldn't upload the photos.

the girl in purple on Bukasa Island

Alida, Petronecia, Jonathan, Jonathan, Willie where they live behind a Cape Town liquor store

Thursday, November 15, 2007

here, have my milk crate

Yesterday I spent the day traipsing around Cape Town with my Cape Town host, Gavin. I’m staying with him and his wife Avril. They’re great, by the way! :-)

I interviewed a neat variety of neat people, all of whom I enjoyed talking with. Perhaps my favorite interviews, though, were with some folks who live on the streets in Cape Town. A man Gavin knows named Brian spends a lot of time building relationships with this group of street folks. I talked with them as part of a story about the Upper Room’s Prayers for Encouragement books. The books are distributed widely, and Brian gives the books to folks in the group I talked with yesterday.

I may have mentioned on here before what an honor it was to be invited inside the small one-room tin home of Joyce in Kenya, and I’m still trying to figure out what language to use to even more adequately explain what I mean when I write such a statement. I’m not trying to do the politically correct thing or the polite thing or the “oh, no, the honor is definitely all mine” thing by saying that it’s an honor to talk with folks like Joyce or Willy and Jonathan from the Cape Town street family.

There is something humbling for me in approaching someone whose life is so very different from mine and, well, whose category in society is lower than the one I’d usually be categorized in. To approach them and feel like they have every reason for not accepting me, for not talking to me. But, instead they let me into their space and their home and offer me their milk crate so that I don’t have to sit on the ground while I talk with them. And somehow whether that person knows it or not their willingness to talk with me is a gift of acceptance, a gift I gladly receive, a gift that humbles and fills me in ways I can’t even understand.

Perhaps it has to do with being trusted by someone who has any number of reasons for not trusting outsiders, with being given the chance by that person connect with them. That gift is somehow more meaningful when it is given by people who’ve struggled and been categorized as untouchable types. It’s meaningful in a similar way anytime a friend lets me into their pain, trusts me with their story. But, when a stranger does the same thing, there’s a different sense of accompanying responsibility.

I felt the same way in Nashville last year when I got to visit the home of a woman living in the housing projects. We met so I could to talk with her about her participation in a community garden. I was so thankful that she would invite me into her home, offer me a seat on her couch and answer my questions.

A different situation in Uganda produced the same feeling in me. As we returned to the airplane from our second day in the Lake Victoria islands, a group of school children met up with us along the path from the boat to the plane. Most of them ran on ahead of us, but one particular girl ended up walking much of the way with Layton and me. This girl probably would have been ridiculed mercilessly by school kids in the US for her appearance. She wasn’t ugly but had features that apt-to-be-cruel appearance-conscious kids would have made fun of.

While the pilot got the plane ready, I entertained myself and the kids by taking some photos. Then I began saying goodbye to our hosts from the island. During my travels I’ve shaken lots of hands but exchanged far fewer hugs. I’d already shaken hands all around with the school kids, who were from a village on the other end of the island from the one we visited. They weren’t kids we’d met prior to this moment. The goodbyes to the island church team, though, turned into hugs. And, while the other school kids played and ran around the plane, the girl in purple, as she’s been named in my head, stood on the edge of our group watching these goodbyes. Then all of a sudden she turned to me and hugged me too. And that hug was the biggest, humbling, wonderful gift. Whatever her motivations, this unattractive little girl jumped into my world and gave me this wonderful little hug that spoke of trust and of some sort of relationship that had sprung up without any word-based conversation.

If such responses from me to such actions from others were only about being received by someone different from me, then I would expect to feel the same way when life or work takes me into the homes of the very wealthy. But, in general, I don’t feel the same sense of honor or humble gratitude. I can’t say why or whether that’s right or wrong or something inside me or something inside them because I don’t know. Perhaps it just is. But, whatever the reason, the time with folks like the ones I spoke with yesterday feels like a gift to be treasured.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

can't figure it out

Today I’ve had a nice tour of Cape Town. I haven’t really walked any streets yet, but I’ve seen many parts of the city through a car window and been introduced to a number of people from outside the car window. It’s an interesting city, with sections of town that appear quite different from each other. The scenery is mostly all stunning of course.

Also today I stepped into the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Though I saw the Atlantic when I was in Cape Coast, Ghana, I never made it down to the beach there to actually feel it. The ocean water here was cold but not unbearable even for my cold-avoiding self, though cold enough that I wasn’t tempted to run back for my swimming costume (that’s what they’re called here) so I could jump in. Sometime in the next couple weeks, whether here or later in Durban, I’ll get to check out the supposedly much warmer waters of the Indian Ocean, that ocean we Americans barely remember exists.

As I mentioned, it’s beautiful here. It’s a different kind of beauty from the other places I’ve visited on the continent, which have mostly all been stunning but in a plethora of different ways. I think I feel different coming here after three months in other parts of Africa than I would if I’d just arrived here on holiday (it’s beginning to seem odd to use the word “vacation”…holiday is quite a pleasant word). I think it’s also different being here to work rather than to holiday (um, I’m not sure you’re supposed to use that word that way, but, hey, I’m in Africa; I should experiment, or something). This place is a beach town. Parts of it even have a Mediterranean appearance (I say that with a superb level of authority, of course, based on all the years I’ve spent idling away along the Mediterranean). It seems like a place for vacationing, in spite of the obvious work being done by the employees in the maritime industry I’m realizing know nothing about.

All that said, I can now say that there’s something in my response to this place that I can’t identify. After all my talk about not categorizing people and places because it can be so detrimental or limiting, I find myself trying to figure out what category to fit this place into, at least to fit it into long enough to help me figure out what nags me. It’s still Africa, but it does feel vastly different from most of the other places I’ve lived during the past three months.

When I consider whether I will ever live on this continent and if so where (which, by the way, I’m not feeling called to do in a long-term way in the immediate future…but maybe someday…and maybe a sooner someday than I currently expect…anything’s possible at the moment), it seems that Kampala and even the rural parts of Uganda, for example, felt more comfortable to me than Cape Town does. And I think it’s because somehow the category-driven part of my head says that if I were going to move somewhere like Africa, I would want to live in a place that was obviously different from what I’m used to because then I would anticipate the uncomfortable things I’d run into but also maybe because part of the attraction of living outside America would be living outside America. Here, it seems like it would be easy to live a life that almost allows to you avoid really living in Africa. And then I’m not even sure what I mean by that. This is the first place I’ve landed and wanted to say to it, “Don’t become too much like the West! Don’t lose your unique beauty!” I might have thought that in Joburg, too, but I didn’t end up seeing a whole lot of Joburg, and maybe it helps that my early days there included a visit to the informal settlements in Soweto. But, then I wonder why I think all these things. Is it because this Cape Town Africa doesn’t fit so neatly into the categories that persist in my head--even after these months of category breaking--of what Africa is supposed to look and sound and feel like?

This continent is vast and varied, complex and contradictory. It should not be expected to be homogeneous. It’s so easy to try to fit all of this place under one umbrella description: things that are true about Africa. And, certainly, there are some general characteristics that hold true throughout, but one must leave room for all the things that aren’t the same from place to place. And perhaps that’s what’s nagging me as I stand between Cape
Town’s sea and its big mountain enjoying the view.

Also of note is a sense gleaned from conversations during these two and half weeks of South Africa that racial issues are complex here these days. You can feel that things are still being worked out here. In other places I’ve been, while there are certainly white Africans in them, the majority of the white people I saw were still expats. Here the majority are South African, many of whom have families that have been here longer than my family has been in America. I would never call myself anything other than American, and I’m not regularly asked how long my family has been in America. Yet, here I find myself asking my white hosts such questions in an effort to figure out what’s going on here.

I am almost more aware of my skin color here than I’ve been during other parts of this trip when I’ve been the only white person for what appears to be miles, like when I was in downtown Nairobi visiting some alumni from Africa University. Here I wonder what assumptions are connected to me even though I’ve not been a direct part of the history of this place. Even in Zimbabwe, I didn’t encounter this sense of racial difficulty. The everyday Zimbabweans I encountered seemed much more concerned about economic crises than anything race related.

When a driver was picking me up from the b&b I stayed in my last two nights in Joburg, the host’s elderly aunt accidentally left the house door open when she came out to collect the key. The family’s large, black and potentially-mean dog came running out toward Patrick, the driver, and me. However, the dog bypassed me and instantly ran up to the driver. The aunt apologized profusely and told us all to stand still until the dog calmed down. There was never any clear danger, but, then, I wasn’t the one with a big dog bounding toward me. Later on the way to the airport, Patrick, a very nice, pleasant man, commented, “Did you notice that the dog came to me? It’s been trained to see color!” I asked how that made him feel. I’m not sure he answered my question, but he did note that there’s a hard history between black people and dogs here. He doesn’t especially like dogs because they’ve been used for some bad things.

And so it goes. It seems almost nothing is simple here. But, maybe that’s true everywhere.

Monday, November 12, 2007

cape town, how do you do?

Hi, friends! Just wanted to let you know I've arrived safely in Cape Town, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, where cold water joins warm water. Famous Table Mountain was completely hidden behind clouds when I arrived yesterday, but today it's been in full view. I'm quite backlogged in things to tell you. Time and head space for writing haven't kept pace with things to experience. :-) Stay tuned for more. You may have to keep reading this blog for a year after I return just to catch up on all of the worthwhile stories. :-o!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

it's been a while

Hi, friends! Sorry for the long delay in new posts! I've arrived safe and sound in South Africa. I'll be in the Johannesburg area for another week before heading to Cape Town for a week and a half and then rounding out the trip visiting relatives in Durban.

You haven't heard from me partly because I've just been tired of writing. Yes, that even happens to writers. This first week here in Joburg has turned out to be unexpectedly refreshing, though. The first half of the week I overlapped here with some friends from Nashville who were my original connections to working for the Upper Room. We've never spent so much informal time together, so it was a treat to visit with them here.

The second half of the week I had planned to do some interviews, but the people I needed to talk with weren't available until this coming week. I ended up with about four days with nothing scheduled. The down time has been great. I've slept a lot and had time for praying and reflecting and trying to catch up with my email inbox (putting all those things in one sentence shows I'm not buying into any sacred-secular life divide, right? :-) ), and I feel ready to work again. I did have a bout of loneliness yesterday, but God unexpectedly managed to provide a good conversation with an instant new friend and prove that He's watching out for me.

As my itinerary marched toward South Africa, folks have commented fairly regularly along the lines of, "Oh, it's a lot like America." And, I have to say that it was nice to arrive at the airport and find that that comment seemed true. And then to leave the airport on roads that felt like roads at home. And then to eat at a nice restaurant that seemed much like something from home, except for the "monkey gland burger" on the menu. Go google it to find out what it is if you're curious enough. My second day in town I made a quick shopping trip. Somewhere along the way I commented that it seemed like the racial mix might be similar to that at home. Are there really so many more white people here than in the rest of Africa?

My friend explained that South Africa is actually 80% black and 20% white. It really is still Africa here. Places have been built so that you don't always see those percentages. Oh. On Day 3 I went along on a tour of some of the informal settlements where folks with the ministry Come Back (who I'll be interviewing this week) work. It was interesting to find so many similarities to things I've seen on other parts of this trip. It doesn't feel strange to be here because it feels familiar now. And it's different from America. This is really still Africa.

And then I started wondering how often at home we don't see the poor places where the people who live with less live. How often are those places hidden away from view, suggesting a reality to casual travellers through our cities that isn't real. I've been struck before by how pretty and glossy things can seem in Nashville. It's the good life there. Then I would meet the homeless man who frequented our Starbucks parking lot. Hmmm.

I don't really have many conclusions to share yet. Just these observations. I'm still in Africa.

And though I'm ready to be home, I'm still glad to be here. I've been here long enough that it's almost beginning to feel like I live here. Things are starting to feel normal.

photos that either make me laugh or smile very widely

While in Uganda I stayed with my friends Pam and Simon Wunderli and their kids Joshua and Zara. I had a great time with all of them. Here are some photos from my last night in Kampala. I hadn't taken many photos of Joshua, so I asked him if I could take his picture. He said yes but was very particular about how it should be done.

Picture #1: he wouldn't look at the camera

Picture #2: he would just give a half smile. Then I would have to wait a little while, he told me, for a full-smile picture.
Picture #3: finally! a full smile!

Then I convinced him to let us take a self-portrait together. By then, though, he really just wanted to be the one taking the pictures.

Next he wanted to take funny pictures. Here's his.

Here's mine. Joshua finally got to be the photographer.

Then Pam came out and Joshua wanted to take a picture of us together. Even though he did okay with the funny picture of me, he was having trouble taking a picture of his mom and me. The first photo just got our legs. This second photo was taken while Pam was trying to explain to him that he needed to hold the button down longer. This was the last picture we took because right after this the electricity went out. :-)

About halfway through my stay in Kampala, Zara started visiting me in my bedroom when she woke up in the morning. Fortunately, I had a lot of early mornings around that time, so I was usually up when she arrived, though one morning I did convince her to crawl into bed with me for a little while. This picture was taken at about 6 am one morning. She's sitting on my bed.

This photo is from the day before I left, and I just think it's cute. :-)

Now for something a little different...during our second stop on the visit to the Lake Victoria islands, I had the pleasure of finally eating something I could tell stories about later. We (Sam the Jesus Film guy, Layton the photographer and I) filled our lunch plates from a generous round of good food that was offered to us. Among the offerings were "small fish." We later learned that these fish are caught and then dried in the sun. Then they were cooked somehow for our meal. They arrive on your plate looking just like they do in the picture. Eye and all. Staring up at you. Daring you to eat it. I took the dare and downed one of the fish. I don't really remember anything about the taste. I just decided there was plenty of other food to eat, and I really didn't need any more small fish to help fill me up. Or something like that. The next day one of the pastors took Layton and me on a little tour of the village. Layton took this picture while Unity was explaining the drying process. If you notice, some of the fish are larger than others. Being the observant type, I noticed and tried to ask Unity if they were all the same kind of fish, if these were more mature versions of small fish, or what. Half kidding, I said something to the effect of, "Are these small fish and these are smaller fish?" The reply, "No, they're all small fish," as though it was crazy to ask otherwise.