Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Merry Little Christmas. =)

In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I was feeling a lot of pressure. Since I arrived in Bonaero Park in September, people have asked me what I was going to do about the festive season. “Aren’t you going to miss your family??” to which I would reply, “Of course!”. The inquiries were also laden with worry. “You know, we will all leave. You shouldn’t stay here. You can’t be alone!” So as November crept onward and the 25th loomed closer, I began to worry. I had talked to some of the other volunteers about their plans. Most had plans with their host families already and said they would ask about having another person, but I didn’t want to impose too much. Finally, Valerie, another volunteer who lives alone here in South Africa contacted me and we decided to spend Christmas together… we didn’t know where we would go, but we would be together.

Fortunately, Kate, a volunteer in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Southeast province of the country offered to have us to her community for the holiday break! Kate lives with 4 other volunteers who are all from Germany. The Kenosis community where she lives is home to several dozen foster children and houses a crèche (nursery school) on the premises. With the holiday slow down, most of the foster families had left the community for rural homes. So Kate was also not sure what she would be doing for the holidays. Going to Kate’s was the perfect solution to our holiday worries! Valerie, Kate and I are all good friends and we knew that it would be a fantastic holiday season together!

Valerie, myself and Kate on our way to visit a waterfall nearby

In the days leading up to the big day, Kate, Valerie and I volunteered around Kenosis as much as we could. We painted a house, washed the Kenosis van and looked for little projects to help with. We also traveled down to Durban for a few days to help at Mike’s site with a Youth camp in a township. Before we knew it, it was Christmas Eve! We planned a wonderful dinner for Christmas Eve which included chicken with spice we found in Durban, veggies, broccoli casserole, twice baked potatoes and for dessert, traditional Christmas cookies and cold milk. We also invited Michael, one of the Kenosis kids who is about 16 and didn’t have Christmas Eve plans. As we sat on a blanket spread on the floor of the hall where we had prepared our meal, we listened to Christmas carols and smelled the branches of the Christmas tree in a Ziploc bag which Kate’s mom had sent us. It was a perfect evening.

The next morning, we woke up nice and early and met the sisters who live at Kenosis. Oh, did I forget to mention that? =) At Kate’s site there are three Lutheran nuns who live together there and offered to take us with them to church on Christmas morning! So, we piled into the van, eight of us all together and zoomed down the highway on our way to church. It was a fantastic experience to laugh and chat with these three women on a warm, sunny Christmas day!

Church was relatively short (only 2 hours!) and afterwards, we squished into an already full public taxi on the way to Maqonqo, a rural area outside of Pietermaritzburg. There we would meet up with Tandekile, one of the Kenosis foster mothers and spend the day with her and her family. When we arrived at her home, she was the only one in the kitchen with about 10 men and 5 kids already enjoying the day. So we dropped everything and helped make salads, meat, pap and all kinds of food for the Christmas dinner. Just a few hours later, we enjoyed a terrific meal and found ourselves playing with some of the kids at Tandekile’s home. The afternoon went WAY too fast and soon it was time for us to go.

We went back to Kenosis for dinner with the sisters who were hosting a large meal for the volunteers and some of their families who were visiting for the holidays. After another wonderful meal, we helped the sisters wash the excessive amounts of dishes. This ended up being my favorite part of the day as we sang Zulu choruses in the kitchen, dancing and doing the motions to the various songs as we put the dishes away. It was a wonderful way to end the day.

I did get the chance to talk to my family over the phone on Christmas day. I cried when I heard my brother’s voice, who I haven’t talked to since arriving here. I loved hearing from them and hearing about their day. However, I wouldn’t trade my South African Christmas for anything. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. To celebrate the birth of Christ with people who I see Christ in everyday was so exciting. Ever since, I have felt more at home here in South Africa and I have been more and more appreciative of how beautiful and diverse this country is.

Christmas day at Tandekile's home

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ngiya xolisa kakhulu!!

Here is a wonderful Zulu phrase I have discovered is priceless knowledge here.... ngiya xolisa kakhulu... I am very sorry!!! It actually sorta means I apologize very much, but either way, it is used to express remorse and the sincerest of apology... which is what you deserve from me. It has been FAR too long since my last blog update and there has been SO much to update you on! Our first all-volunteer retreat, my travels throughout South Africa and Lesotho over the holidays, volunteering at other YAGM's sites and my joyous return to Bonaero Park. SO, stay tuned because you will be receiving update on all these things in the upcoming week or so.

I have resolved in this new year to communicate better with those of you who mean so much to me and to spend my time writing about my experiences. It's awesome how easily I get caught up in conversations and laughter with the people who live here with me in Bonaero Park but I need to remember that it's super important that I tell you about how great it is! After work, I usually go to the kitchen to catch up with some of the staff there who have been having rather quiet days lately since the year has been slow to start. Then I usually run into the security guys or the groundskeeper, Lungisani on my way to my room and end up chatting about the day, the weekend, the holiday or anything. Then after getting to my room, I usually find myself either visiting the staff house to see other friends here or I get a call from another YAGM or I get the chance to read a letter from the states. Before I know it, it's time for dinner and Generations! My favorite soapie here. =)By the time Generations ends, it's 8:30... which is not super late but there's not much else to do! So I usually journal or read the verses of the day and then head to bed. =) SO, you see, it's not impossible to find some time to blog. Though the past month with all my traveling throughout the country with very limited internet access, it was relatively impossible.

But new year, new resolutions and a new start means frequent updates! So again, stay tuned and I'll be telling you some wonderful stories about this beautiful country which has become a second home to me. =)