Monday, August 5, 2013

You Only Turn 21 In South Africa Once!

Thursday, the 27th of June, was just like any other day.  It was Heidi's and my last day at our Children's Camp with the best kids we could have hoped for and I was really looking forward to spending the day with them.  It also happened to be my 21st birthday, and though I intended to not make a big deal about it, that was not the intention of anyone else around me...

Wednesday night, Heidi and I needed to turn in fairly early as we were both quite tired, but that did not stop us from ringing in my birthday at midnight.  At 11:30pm, we heard someone shouting outside the window, and we spent the next half hour hanging out the bathroom window watching a man and his girlfriend try to push there car out of a hole and try to get the attention of every passing car, swearing loudly all the while.  We lost interest by midnight and decided to get to sleep, but not before celebrating that I was finally 21!  Heidi popped the "bubbly" (and by that I mean she popped open the Dasani water bottle on my nightstand and threw the cap at me) and wished me a happy birthday.  Just before falling asleep, I also received the most beautiful birthday message via text message from one of the brothers who was on the road to Malawi, and I went to sleep very happy.

Waking up was not the easiest as we were being picked up at 7:30.  I woke up with a smile knowing that I was 21, but then I realized that I got a bit of a late start...specifically, I rolled out of bed at 7:10, jumped in the shower, and somehow was ready to go at 7:30...it must have been a birthday miracle!  As I ran down the stairs to jump in Lois' car, I was greeted by Father Joe who had a birthday wish and a hug for me...so nice of him!  When I got outside, I realized that South Africa picked today to show us our first rainfall...and boy did it rain!

We got to the office and prepared the morning tea for the arrival of the children and we went on with our day as normal.  We did our morning check-ins followed by the day's activities and lessons, which today included "I am a hero because..." and talking about a shining moment in their lives in order to promote optimism and resilience today and for the future.  At one point, I walked past the room the kids were working with, and the oldest stopped me and adamantly told me that I could not come in...I suspected that some birthday surpise may have been in the works, but as Heidi came to find, I am easily surprised.  At lunch, Lois told us that because it was our last day, the children wanted to do a traditional Zulu dance for us, and I totally bought it.  I waited anxiously as they went outside to prepare, and was so surprised when they ran back into the building dancing, singing a happy birthday song personalized with my name, and carrying a cake!  It was the cutest, most wonderful surprise!  Heidi even got a video!

We returned to Emaphethelweni exhausted around 5pm, and just as I was saying how much I needed to go to sleep right after dinner (when does that ever really get to happen?), Fr. Joe appeared in the doorway and asked "So what's the plan for tonight?"  Completely clueless, I looked at Heidi who caved and told me that there were a few people coming over after dinner!  So after dinner, Marie-Chantal, Delphine, Br. Philippe, and all of the Philippians (as Fr. Pheko likes to call them) arrived!  I was not expecting any big deal for my birthday, but Thursday night I was surrounded by many wonderful people as they sang Happy Birthday to me, we ate cake, and we sat around visiting and taking pictures.  They even gave me three cards and a lovely gift of a beautiful beaded necklace and a jewelry bowl in the colors of the South African flag.  If Heidi does not mind me quoting her, in one of my cards she wrote me a lovely message: "I hope you feel all the love that is surrounding you here."  There was no doubt, especially tonight, that I was, that we both were, surrounded by so much love, and we could not have been more blessed.  We are no longer guests at Emaphethelweni.  We are part of a wonderful family.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two Week Check-In!

It has been two weeks since Heidi and I woke up in the Airport Grand Hotel and hopped on our tiny plane to the tiny Pietermaritzburg Airport and were picked up by Br. Philippe.  Two weeks since we first walked into our room and promptly crashed for the first of many naps there.  Two weeks since we met the people who I know will be a part of me for a long time to come.

I began this journey with very few expectations, only counting on being far out of my comfort zone and probably uncomfortable for a while.  I expected to be doing service, and maybe occasionally exploring town.  Everything I expecting has been met and exceeded by far.

The past few days, including right now, I have been having those completely blessed moments; the moments when I sit back and think, or even say out loud, "Wow, I am so unbelievably blessed."  You see, I expected to meet people here, people I would see a lot and perhaps grow close to.  Well I could not have been more wrong.  I have been thrown into, and been welcomed with open arms, into nothing less than a family.  I have another grandmother in Marie-Chantal.  I have another grandfather in Fr. Pheko.  I have many new aunts and uncles who are always there with a smile and a hug.  And, most significantly, I have 12 older brothers.  I've never had a brother, but now I have a bunch who I know love me as much as I love them.  (Did I mention we've only known each other two weeks?  We're already talking about how much we're going to miss each other...)  In fact, I am writing this just having spent an hour and a half watching our nightly soaps, about 10 of us crammed into the tv room. I could not be more lucky to have met these wonderful guys, and I cannot put into words how much I hope that we stay in touch after we return home, which at this point may be in part kicking and screaming.

In addition to the beautiful people, this country is beautiful.  I have not seen too much of it as it is more vast than I could explore in six months, let alone one, but what I've seen has been breathtaking.  The mountains can be seen on the horizon anywhere you turn in Maritzburg.  The sunsets here are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen.  And I'm obsessed with the trees.  You know, the ones that are flat on top and scream Africa?  If I could take one home with me, I so would...

 These guys!
(I didn't take this, but I'm hoping to get some like this before I leave!)
So that's how I am feeling right now. A bit tired, but completely, completely blessed, and so very thankful to have such a supportive family, to be here in this beautiful country, to have found a home very far away from home, to have found such wonderful people, to have had an experience that has already has changed my life, and that I still have almost three weeks to stay.  :)




What's In A Name?

Since the first hours that I was in South Africa, there has been something about me that has been of particular interest, and even peculiarity, to those I come across.  ...No, it is not that I am one of the few blonde, pale-as-can-be girls that you can find around here...  It is my name.

Since we are in winter here in South Africa, my Providence College fleece courtesy of the Admissions Office has been a frequent accessory of mine, and it happens to have my name embroidered on it.  In OR Tambo International Airport on our way to Maritzburg, I went to buy a bottle of water and the woman who sold it to me, a lovely woman, looked at it and said "Amanda? Is that your name? And they put it on your shirt? How nice!"  I told her yes and thank you, thrilled at how personable and kind she was, and walked away very interested that it must not be common to have your name on your shirt here.

Well, it turned out it was much more than embroidery that they were interested in.  I have been asked numerous times "Your name is really Amanda?".  A couple of people have even asked me if Amanda was a Zulu name.  I also noticed many town signs and names resembled mine, like Ayanda or Amina for example.  Yesterday, after a woman asked me if this was really my name and then laughed, I just had to find out if it meant something.  Hoping that it did not mean something terrible here, I asked Philisiwe and Lois at our lunch break at work.  It turns out that Amanda is a common Zulu name, or at the very least it strongly resembles common Zulu names, a name that might be passed on from generation to generation.  It is not the name that was funny, it was that it was mine.  I know Amanda to be Latin for "worthy of love," but they know it as a Zulu name, and therefore it is simply bizarre that this foreign girl from America has it.

I have really come to like this happy coincidence.  Although I am clearly not Zulu, I really like having something in common with these wonderful people, even having something that causes them to take extra interest in me or feel a little more comfortable with me.  I want nothing more than to really get to know the people I meet here, and so this common thread is something that makes me feel a little more connected to them.  They learn my name quickly because it is familiar.  It's just something that makes me feel a little closer to this wonderful community of people that I have been blessed to have gotten to know and work with...if that makes sense. :)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Saturday Exploring

Our Saturday began bright and early when Marie-Chantal pulled into the driveway to fetch Heidi and me to join her and Delphine for breakfast at 7:15am.  (I cannot tell you the last time I was out of the house at 7:15 on a Saturday...I can tell this trip is going to change my sleeping habits a bit!)  We drove around the corner to Steers diner, which basically looked like it was picked up out of America and dropped in Maritzburg...a nice chance to get a good breakfast and a bit of home that I had been missing.  Marie-Chantal's son Jean joined us for our meal, and we chatted about what our adventures on our trip would be, and about his involvement in the city.  With the Comrades Marathon coming up, he told us all about the event and how he had run it before.  (The Comrades Marathon is no ordinary marathon...it is a run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, and vice versa every other year, which is about 89km...way more than 26 miles!)  When we had finished our breakfast, we set out with Marie-Chantal for what would be an amazing...and tiring...day!

Our first stop was to catch the tail end of the farmer's market in town.  Marie-Chantal picked up a few things while we wandered around and explored all there was to offer...so many good things!  (I particularly liked the flowers and teas considering, as anyone who knows me will know, I am not the hugest fan of fruits and vegetables.)  While there, we picked up flowers to put in the vase at the foot of the altar in the chapel Emapethelweni.  They were lovely, and our next stop was back home to arrange them.

After learning how to properly arrange flowers for a liturgical feast (Corpus Christi, to be precise, complete with an arrangement of real bread and grapes), we took care of some of her errands and drove around town, which included bringing an elderly woman she helps take care of to an appointment, picking up groceries, and much more.  All the while, Marie-Chantal drove us around, showing us different sites of significance, including the train station where Gandhi was thrown off of the train, and different buildings.  She even told us about the relationship between black and white people in Pietermaritzburg and in South Africa...a separation that was very new for me to experience first hand.  She continued her history lessons as we returned to her house for a delicious lunch and she shared her own amazing story with us about her life moving from Belgium to South Africa and doing the incredible work that she does to this day, including helping elderly people with shopping and transport, running the Church repository (or as Heidi and I prefer to call it, gift shop), and hosting  a gathering of Lay Dominicans.  (This is not the last time we would...or you will...hear about any of these things!)

We finished our lunch, cleaned up, and then headed for Art in the Park, which was the main attraction of Saturday.  We wandered around, looking at art of all kinds, styles, and media.  (And just coming from my Modern Art class, it felt pretty cool being able to walk around and identify styles and eras being showcased!) It was a beautiful exhibit, and we ended our at tour with some delicious ice cream!

Even though our time in the park ended, our day was far from over!  Marie-Chantal took us from the park to do her duties at the St. Mary's Church repository (or as Heidi and I more frequently referred to it, the gift shop).  We got to to check out the store and also the beautiful church, which a French Queen had built in the 19th century when she saw that the town's churches were not well-made.  Well, she certainly had great taste!  It was beautiful.  Finally, around 6:30, we headed back to Emaphethelweni.

Even back at home, our night was still not over...and we had been on the go for over 12 hours at this point!  It was Saturday, and that meant recreation, a time when the Dominicans gather and invite guests over to visit and tell stories and enjoy each others company, along with whatever soccer game was on tv.  Promptly at 8:30, though I was lying on my bed struggling to stay awake, we were summoned by a knock at our door.  Brother Clement was not going to let us miss our first recreation!  So we headed downstairs for a night of meeting many new people.  Finishing off our 18 or so hour day and knowing we had to be up for Mass first thing in the morning, believe me when I say I crawl into my bed fast enough!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Beginning our Service

Friday morning was finally the first day of our working at the Sinmlando Centre.  Now you are probably asking what is the Sinomlando Centre?  What does it do?  Well you're in luck because I was just about to tell you...

The Sinomlando Centre is an organization begun by Br. Philippe Denis, and run through the University of KwaZulu Natal that offers psychosocial support to children who have been affected by HIV and AIDS, having lost a parent to the illness or suffering from it themselves, in order to enhance their resilience and ability to cope with their hardships.  The centre's main focuses are on memory work and oral history, believing very strongly in the facts that everyone has a history, no matter where they come from or how young they are, and that children are never to young to know or remember.  In fact, The word sinomlando means "we have a history" in Zulu.

So, at 8:15am, we were picked up by Marie-Chantal who drove us to the Sinomlando office at UKZN so that we would not have to walk on our first day, where we met Nokhaya and Cliford again, as well as Lois, who taught us our first Zulu words, how to say hello.  (The greeting is Sawubona to one person, and Sanibona to multiple people, and the response is Yebo.  It is essentially saying good day, and agreeing that yes, it is a good day.)

We hopped in the van and drove to the office located at 50 Langalibelele Street where we would be walking every day, where we had a bit of any orientation to the program and what they did.  So as to not overwhelm us, they finished around noon, but left us at the office to get to know Delphine, a French intern who would be our colleague for the next 5 weeks, and the workspace better.  We worked on our Zulu, learning another greeting from Philisiwe.  ('Unjani,' for one, or 'ninjani,' for many, means 'how are you?', to which you respond 'ngiyaphila' or 'siyaphila,' respectively.)

After work, we returned to the priory for dinner with the brothers, and though many of them were getting ready to let loose and have some fun as any twenty-somethings would do on a Friday night, Heidi and I were thoroughly exhausted and turned in early yet again, crawling into a bed that was finally beginning to feel like home.

A long, but wonderful, Thursday

Because I was asleep at 8:30, and was still overrun with many emotions of being so far away from home and in such a new place, I was awake Thursday morning around 3:45am, wide awake and feeling homesick.  Happily realizing that it was only almost 10pm, I sent a text home and hearing from my parents made me feel a lot better.  However, I still had the problem of not being able to fall asleep.  So, from 4am until our 7am breakfast, I finished reading Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook, which I finally got to read this trip.  (Sidenote: The Notebook an amazing book!  I loved it!  And it helped me get back into reading for fun which I haven't been able to do in quite some time, so I am quite thankful I was able to have the time to read it.)

Anyway, at breakfast we wished the Brothers a good day as they left for school and assured them that we would be alright on our own for the day without them there, about which they were quite concerned.  In fact, I was really looking forward to a day on our own since we had been kept so busy the few days previous.

After our breakfast, we hung around for a bit, showered and then set out.  For the second day in a row, we visited the Checkers (which is like a Walmart) around the corner, and then took advantage of the beautiful sun, sitting out on the patio of the priory reading.  

At 5:50pm, there was knock on our door inviting us to come to evening prayer and Mass, so we took advantage of the offer and joined the brothers for Mass.  As soon as Mass was over, we met up with Br. Philippe to have dinner at his friend Marie-Chantal's house.  We didn't realize how extravagant this meal would be!  At Marie-Chantal's beautiful apartment, we had a delicious four-course dinner, and we re stuffed by the end of it!  At dinner, we met Nokhaya and Clifford who we would be working with at Sinomlando in the coming weeks.  

After such a lovely meal, and having been up since 3:30 that morning, I could not have gotten myself to bed fast enough once we returned to the priory.  That was a good thing, because our work at Sinomlando began bright and early Friday morning!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Exploring the Neighborhood

After napping through dinner the day of our arrival, we thought that we should get up for breakfast and eat with the Brothers.  It just so happened that breakfast was at 7:00 before they went to school.  So, at 6:45am, Heidi and I hauled ourselves out of bed and went down for breakfast.  I mentioned I was a picky eater, right?  Well breakfast brought about a simple yet awesome discovery...the priory has cereal.  (Yes, it was probably a little more exciting than it should have been, but what can I say, I like my cereal.)  Knowing that there would always be something that I like to eat was definitely a relief.  

After breakfast, Heidi and I had planned to explore the neighborhood, and Brother Dominic kindly offered to accompany us since he did not have classes that day, which was much appreciated considering I had no bearings of the area at all and probably would have gotten very lost.  He took us to the shopping center, through the neighborhoods, through their local casino, and down to the large football (and, yes, by that I do mean soccer) stadium.  We covered a lot of ground in just a few hours.

We returned to the priory for lunch, and then afterwards, Brother Clement told us that he was planning to drop off some of the brothers for afternoon classes and invited us to come along for the ride.  Between dropping off and picking up again, we saw the local Liberty Mall, Howick Falls, and a number of other places in town as we drove around.  On our way out of the beautiful St. Joseph School of Dominican Study, we even saw our first African animals the likes of which we do not have a home...monkeys!

After a long day of sight-seeing, I was as tired as I had been in a long time, my first ever experience with jet lag still wiping me out.  So, whether I wanted to or not, at 8:30 I was out for the night.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Whole Lotta New

As soon as we got off our sweet little plane, we gathered our carry-on luggage and went inside to gather our larger bags.  Before we could even locate our bags, we were greeted from behind with "Are you Heidi and Amanda?"  We turned around to find Br. Philippe, who we had spoken with so many times via email and finally could meet in person.  We introduced ourselves, as did he, and we headed for his car.  

Although international flights, long days of travel, customs, and all of that had been new to me, the very first new thing I experienced that will take some getting used to was driving on the left side of the road!  I wonder how long it will take me to get used to that...thank goodness I will not be the one driving!

It only took about 10 minutes to get to Emaphetelweni Dominican Priory, where lunch was waiting for us.  We did not get to eat right away, though, because we had so many people to meet!  Emaphetelweni Dominican House is home to about 15 Dominicans, 11 of whom are studying Brothers.  We met 6 or 7 of the Brothers who would be our gracious hosts for the next 5 weeks, and were overwhelmed by their hospitality...and their names.  There were far to many to keep track!  Each Brother has an African and an English name, and I promised to know all of their English names very soon, as I couldn't possibly get them all today!  I don't know if I'll be able to get the African names before it is time to leave...

Though I knew it was coming, the second new thing to get me was the food.  I expected it to be different, but I know that it will take me a while to get used to how spicy everything is, and their different ways of preparing things.  For a picky eater like me, this may very well be one of my biggest challenges here...

After nearly two long days of travel and one significant time change, we were both exhausted.  After we were given a tour of the priory and shown our rooms, we spent a little time unpacking...and a lot of time napping.  Four hours, in fact.  Having slept through dinner, we went downstairs, grabbed a snack and some tea, and found out that our day was not over.  We were invited to a talk by one of the Brothers about his work at a local newspaper.  After that, thoroughly spent, it was time to turn in for the night, excited (and honestly still a bit anxious) about what the next day would bring but mostly just happy to be sleeping in a real bed.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Up in the air...again

After a good night's sleep in a real (and really comfortable!) bed and grabbing our complimentary breakfast at the hotel, it was time to board the shuttle to take us back to the Johannesburg airport for our last flight before arriving in Pietermaritzburg.

So, after checking our bags, Heidi and I sat at our terminal, surprised that at gate E10 there were only about 20 seats...how small was this plane going to be?!  We sat and read our digital books as we waited...but naturally, I had to keep things exciting.  At 10:45, I sat bolt upright and looked at Heidi slightly horrified and said, "Oh my gosh, did we ever check out of our hotel?"  Leave it to me...in our hurry to get to the shuttle, we strolled right past the desk, forgetting to actually check out.  So, I dug for the phone number, Heidi grabbed her cell phone, and we called.  Luckily, there was no harm done. (We will be staying at this hotel one more time, and you can bet that I will NOT be doing that again.)

Finally, it was time to board our Turboprop airplane, which was indeed as small as it sounds.  Fr. Robb was not kidding when he said we would be taking a 'puddle jumper'...)  It was small, seating one on the left and two on the right, leaving room in between for a small aisle.  Thankfully, I am not claustrophobic, or it would have been terrible.  (Actually, I was pretty excited for this flight.  Not only was it going to be only one hour, but the smaller plane made me fondly remember the times that my grandpa had flown me and the time that I had even flown a plane myself.  This long journey from Boston to Pietermaritzburg was made a lot easier by the fact that I love flying so much.)  After a rather loud journey right next to the giant propeller, we arrive at the Pietermaritzburg Airport...or at least that's  what they called it.  Actually, it was basically a landing strip amid a field, and not much more...I'm pretty sure I have seen larger driveways...  But, at last, we were here.