Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Love with this Moment

I was sitting in my room when I heard it. I heard the unmistakable sounds of beautiful South African voices singing.

Not knowing where the sounds were coming from, I venture outside. Before I know it, I find myself sitting on the ground, listening, and falling in love with the moment.

The weather is perfect – not too hot and not too cold. Wispy clouds fill the nighttime sky. I can see the moon and a few stars peeking through.

The singing continues, coming from a house across the street. I may never know if it was a choir rehearsal or simply a group of people who decided to sing together. Whatever the purpose, the outcome is beautiful. Gaps between songs are filled with discussion and laughter.

A few houses down from the singing, two boys play with a soccer ball. In the distance, I can hear the joyful shouts of more children.

In addition to the noises made by people, the nighttime sounds of nature are also present. I hear the constant chirps of crickets, the buzz of other insects, and the soft whoosh of the light breeze.

I am lost in the moment, overcome with the beautiful sounds of singing, laughter, and nature.

Before I know it, I am brought back to reality by the loud sound of a train passing. I have spent the last thirty minutes lost in the sights and sounds around me. I have spent the last thirty minutes thinking, listening, watching, and thanking God for making sure I experienced this moment. I have spent the last thirty minutes in awe. I have spent the last thirty minutes feeling a wonderful sense of peace and joy.

I am in love with this moment.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everyday Experience #1 - Laundry

Doing my laundry here wasn’t something I really thought about before I arrived. At home, it was such a normal, everyday experience that I didn’t put much thought into it.

During in-country orientation, new questions kept popping into my mind, such as “Do I have to provide my own toilet paper?” “When a light bulb goes out, where do I get a new one to replace it?” and “How will I do my laundry?”

For the last question, Tessa (my country coordinator) said something like this. “There is a washing machine there for you to use, but I was told that it also requires some ‘manual labor’ to wash your clothes.”


Based on that answer, I had no idea what to expect. I was honestly picturing myself having to literally shake the machine to imitate the churning of clothes inside. For something that I never gave a second thought, the thought of doing laundry was suddenly daunting.

When I arrived in Soweto, I asked the German volunteers here for advice on doing laundry. They said that there is a washing machine for the volunteers to use located directly behind our flat, but it is broken. Luckily, there is another machine, but we have to share it with other people, so sometimes it is hard to find a good time to wash. Finally, the machine works pretty well when actually washing the clothes, but it struggles during the spin cycle.

When I needed to attempt my first load of laundry, I had Giulia, my flat mate, show me how to run the machine. She said that I should turn on the machine, push every button once, and then hit start. I have no idea why we have to push every button once, but I just go with it and it works pretty well. After starting the machine, I wait for about 45 minutes, then go to check.

                                                  The working washing machine, located 
                                                                  just outside of the main kitchen at DAM.

Usually, I find my clothes sitting in a pool of water. This shows that the wash cycle is complete, but the ever-cumbersome drainage and spin cycle is struggling to begin. One of my neighbors said that the best way to make the spin cycle work is to have a small child sit on the machine. Since I am lacking in the “small child department” I simply lean on the machine and put pressure on the lid, which usually makes it spin for about two minutes before it stops again. This process of leaning, spinning, stopping, and leaning again continues until 1) my clothes are no longer soaking or 2) I am sick of leaning on the machine. Usually it is the latter.

Finally, it is time to hang my clothes on the line outside. Our clothesline is located just behind my flat in the garden. So far, it has been pretty windy here, which is good for quickly drying clothes, but creates a new challenge for keeping my clothes on the line and off the ground.

                                        Some of my laundry hanging on the line behind our flat.

I have discovered which clothespins are the strongest, and therefore work best for heavy items, such as jeans.  I came upon that discovery after having many items fall from the line onto the dry, dusty ground, which caused the items to now be muddy and almost as dirty as before I started laundry.

Luckily, the warm and breezy weather makes for very fast drying. For most items, about an hour on the line is enough. For others, I must leave them out there longer, and hope to remember to get them later. Fortunately, I live with some pretty great people who bring my jeans to my door should I forget them on the line for an extended period of time.

I have heard many stories about fellow YAGMs learning how to properly hand-wash their clothes, and I am extremely grateful to have the almost-fully-functioning washing machine that I have. In the few times that I have hand-washed my clothes, I think they end up smelling worse than before I started washing them.

Basically, doing my laundry here is different than it was back home, but I have learned to adjust and be flexible. Isn't it strange how even the most mundane activities can teach us lessons in life? Way to go, YAGM program. I have even learned lessons by doing my laundry.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grace Space

During orientation in Chicago, we compiled a list of rules for our time together.  One of these rules was to “allow some grace space for yourself.” Basically, this means that you shouldn't be too hard on yourself. This rule was very helpful during orientation in Chicago and during in-country orientation as well. However, I have found that the idea of “grace space” has become even more prevalent and useful lately here in Soweto.

Throughout much of my YAGM experience so far, I have been feeling inadequate. During Chicago orientation, I was feeling in awe of the other YAGMs and feeling like I didn’t fit with this group of amazing people. During in-country orientation, this feeling was intensified. The other South Africa YAGMs are such inspiring and great people; how could I possibly belong in this group?

Here in Soweto, I have been wondering if what I am doing is enough. Am I working hard enough to step out of my comfort zone? Am I trying hard enough to learn a new language? Am I being open enough to create new, lasting relationships? Am I actually teaching the children anything? Questions like these seem to be constantly running through my mind.

When I am feeling overwhelmed with these doubts or feelings of inadequacy, I remind myself of our rule during orientation:

“Allow some grace space for yourself.”

Although nothing that I do ever seems to be enough, I know that God has provided me with the strength and courage to do exactly what needs to be done. I must learn that “being" can be more important than “doing.” After all, “We are human beings, not human doings.”

I must remember that I am who I am for a reason. I am here in Soweto for a reason, even though that reason may not ever become clear to me. I must constantly strive to be my best, but not let that get in the way of living. The relationships I have built and will continue to build are important, both to me and my community. Although I may not see it every day, my presence here is noticed and important. God entrusted this role of YAGM to me, and I must have trust in that plan.

Dear current, former, and future YAGMs, friends, and family, please don’t forget to allow some grace space for yourself. You are all beautiful people with a wonderful purpose in this world. You are loved, cared for, and relied on more than you know. Don’t allow yourself to feel inadequate as compared to others. You are unique and incredible in your own way, and that’s what makes this world such a wonderful place.