Saturday, September 21, 2013

Is that Zulu or Sotho?

The title of this post displays a question that I have asked more times than I can remember. From my experience so far (three weeks already - woah!!), most people in my area speak either Zulu or Sotho (pronounced Soo-too). However, I am still fairly slow at recognizing when either language is being spoken. For the most part, the people at DAM speak Sotho, so most of the time I can just assume that is what I am listening to. At the mall today, however, a salesperson started a conversation with me and tried to teach me how to say "How may I help you?" This was when my "go-to question" came out. Turns out, she was teaching me Sotho, which was a relief for me because that is what most people have been trying to teach me. Rather than attempt to learn both Sotho and Zulu, I think that one new language is enough for me. :)

In my short time here, I have become partly fascinated and partly annoyed with languages.  I am fascinated because I have sat in on so many conversations of which I had no idea what was being discussed. There have been many times when I have been the only person who doesn't speak the language at all. I have had people try to teach me words, then chuckle when I try to pronounce them. I am also frustrated because I have noticed that I am literally the only person I know here that only speaks one language. Every South African I have met speaks their mother tongue as well as English. The German volunteers I work with speak German and English. I only speak English.

To add to that frustration (and fascination), the English I grew up with is not the same as what is spoken here. I have created a list of a few examples, which is both amusing and confusing for me and others:

-It's not "I have to go to the bathroom," it's "I have to use the toilet."
-It's not "over there," it's "that side."
-It's not "six thirty," it's "half-past six."
-They aren't "diapers," they are "nappies."
-They aren't "french fries," they are "chips."
-It's not "pop," it's "cold drink."
-It's not a "sweatshirt," it's a "jersey."

These language differences, whether between American English and South African English or between English and Sotho, are both barriers and opportunities. This experience is giving me the opportunity to learn a new language (or two?!) as well as discover new ways of communicating.

I'm hoping that my time here will open my eyes and ears to the multitude of languages around me. I pray that I become more comfortable with using Sotho in conversation, and that people continue to be patient with me as I learn. I also hope and pray that people don't get annoyed with me as I continually ask whether they are speaking Zulu or Sotho. :)


P.S. I have been given a Zulu name! It is Nhlahla, which means "lucky" in English. I have only recently been able to pronounce it, and there are some people who only refer to me as Nhlahla! Cool, huh?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Learning to Live

I have heard it said that South Africa is where first and third worlds meet. Based on my experience today, I found that to be true.

The Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) department, one of the areas where I devote a lot of my time here at DAM, held a retreat for its staff in Joburg. Personally, I was so excited to go into the city and experience something new. However, I was surprisingly affected by the stark differences between my little neighborhood in Soweto and the area of Joburg that we visited.

                                            Here is a shot of a few of our group members and the park
                                                           where we spent the afternoon. It was a beautiful place
                                                           and a great experience, but it stirred up some interesting
                                                           and unexpected emotions.

In one short week, I have become fairly comfortable with the area where I live despite the fact that it is very different from what I am used to at home.  It is not filled with mansions and sports cars, but instead with modest homes and wonderful people who have graciously welcomed me into their community. While driving through Joburg and seeing many houses and cars nicer than ones at home in Minnesota, I was surprised and confronted with the income disparity here in SA. 

It also hit me that this income disparity is present throughout the world. While the extremity of this phenomenon varies, there are always people in need and people with excess. Many times, these two extremes are living in close proximity geographically, but can be portrayed as being light years away.

As Christians and as citizens of the world, I think our challenge is to recognize these disparities and find creative ways to engage our neighbors, regardless of their situation. Giving money to charity is usually the first thing people think of when considering ways to assist the poor, but I think it is even more important to simply live with and learn from others who are in different economic and social situations. The citizens of the world must learn how to live together in mutuality and respect before any injustices can be solved.

Lord, please give us the strength and courage to engage our neighbors. Help us to live together in mutuality and respect. Let your light shine through anyone and everyone we meet, and help us to recognize that light when it is almost blinding us. Be with the citizens of the world as we learn to live with all of humanity. Amen.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Incredible People, Incredible Words

Since arriving here in South Africa on August 23rd, I have met some pretty amazing people. They are full of wisdom, courage, joy, and so much more. I am constantly amazed at the words and phrases that come out of their mouths. Due to this wealth of knowledge that I have come across (and my handy-dandy little notebook), I have some awesome quotes to share from the last few weeks.

Note:  I did not keep track of who said what, so I will not give individual credit for each quote. However, please know that I did not (and probably could not) say anything nearly as incredible as these people.

“God is a God of time. He is not early or late.”

“We’re not here to fix Africa. We are here to listen, learn, and maybe go back and fix our own society and church.”

“The essence of traveling is not to find places that remind you of home. It is meant to expose you to different things and ways of life.”

“Motho o boteng” (In Setswana, this means “person is deep”)

“Time is an opportunity to strengthen/deepen a relationship.”

“In the US, the time determines the event. In Africa, the event determines the time.”

“When we don’t make time for God, time becomes our God.”

“I’m here to love God and my neighbor, whatever that means.”

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

“You are here to learn how to live with humanity.”

“Spend time with people. Even if they differ in color and culture, they are still in the image of God.”

“Out of every nonsense, there is a sense.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Time to Catch Up!

Wow! These last few weeks have been a whirlwind. First of all, on August 14th, I left home and flew to Chicago for a week of in-country orientation with all 60 of the 2013-2014 YAGM volunteers. That week was so incredible, and filled with good conversations and even better people. I am truly blessed to be able to join in the journeys of the other 59 YAGMs. You guys are so great. J

After saying some tearful goodbyes (yes, even I cried when I had to say goodbye… that shows how much we care for each other), myself and the other 9 South Africa volunteers flew on the second-largest plane I have ever seen to Frankfurt, Germany. After a fairly long layover, in which some of us took to exploring the city of Frankfurt, we left on the largest plane I have ever seen in my life and flew to Johannesburg, South Africa!

After arriving here, we met up with our country coordinators, who are seriously awesome, and began to process what this year may look like for us. This past week was literally one of the greatest in my life. Not only was I exploring this beautiful country, but I was doing it alongside nine of the most incredible people. I am so grateful for the other nine South Africa YAGMs for making this transition smooth, enjoyable, and full of grace and kindness.

Now this brings me to the present. I have just arrived in Soweto, South Africa, which is where I will be spending the next 11 months! After spending probably too much time unpacking and finding homes for all of my t-shirts (why did I bring so many?), I had a great night of fellowship and food with a few of the other volunteers and staff with whom I will spend a lot of time. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the organization I will be working with (Diakonia AIDS Ministry or DAM) and the city that has now become my home. Just as I was feeling sad about saying goodbye to my wonderful YAGM community, God has provided me with another community here in Soweto. How cool, right?!

Whew, that was a lot. Sorry about writing a novel-length post, but I felt bad about not posting at all since I left home! Hopefully this has given you all a glimpse into my life for the last 2 ½ weeks. Soon, I will begin posting about my daily life here in Soweto! Ahh!

Lots of love,

Emily J