Monday, January 20, 2014

10 Things

I love making lists. On my desk, I currently have an old to-do list, a more up-to-date to-do list, a list of addresses, a list of people to whom I have sent postcards, and list of blog ideas. Sometimes, I will even make a to-do list filled with super easy things like “Eat breakfast” just so I can make a list and cross things off.

A couple of days ago, I started a list of the things I love about YAGM. While I have only shared my top 10 with you, there are approximately 732 other things I could add as well. :)

10. YAGMs are constantly trying new foods.
                I would have never thought that I would fall in love with a sandwich piled high with French fries, cheese, an egg, and two kinds of meat, but here I am, ordering kota (the sandwich I just described) almost every week. Many people are proud of me because I will try almost anything, as long as I’m not told exactly what it is until after I take the first bite. Food is not only a fun thing to try, but it is also an excellent way to connect with people and a community.

9. I can now appreciate simply “being.”
                Yes, I am an American. Yes, I studied Business Finance and Accounting in college. Yes, I like to get stuff done and be super productive. Yes, I have finally realized that “getting stuff done” may not be the most important thing in life. Some of my favorite days have been “unproductive” in the American sense, but filled with wonderful conversation and time spent with others. Surprising, I know.

8. Being able to find comfort in the discomfort.
                This is one that took me a long time to appreciate. Trust me, being a YAGM is usually anything but comfortable. I have been thrown into more uncomfortable situations than I can remember. However, I have noticed that those situations are the ones that I learn from and appreciate. 

7. I have been forced out of my comfort zone.
                To piggy-back off of the last point, YAGM has completely and totally forced me to go way outside of my comfort zone. Exhibit A: Small-town Minnesota girl (that’s me) living in the largest township in South Africa, with a population of over 1 million people (that’s Soweto). Enough said.

6. YAGM has taught me so much about myself.
                Through all of the challenges, joys, random experiences, conversations, and simple everyday life, I have learned more about myself than I thought possible. I have learned more about how I see myself as a Christian, as a friend, as a white woman, as a privileged American, and especially as a part of the greater global community.

5. I have learned how to rely on others.
                Throughout my whole life, I have been pretty independent. I have always been able to do things on my own without asking for much help. Well, if I tried to keep that same mindset as a YAGM, I probably would spend the whole year sitting in my room doing nothing. In order to simply live in a new country amongst a new community, asking for help is a must. To be honest, I was afraid to do so for the first couple of months. I got through, but since I have started asking for help, I have learned so much more than I ever could have imagined.

4. You can learn a new language.
                The YAGM Southern Africa program is fairly unique in the fact that no language training is provided at the beginning of service. Why, you may ask? Well, between the 10 volunteers here, we are attempting to learn 6 different languages. Yep, 6! South Africa is a wonderfully diverse country, so naturally a lot of languages are spoken. For me, personally, language has become simply fascinating since I moved here. In my little neighborhood, I have met people that speak Zulu, Sotho, Venda, Tswana, and Xhosa as their first language. While this could create major confusion, people are incredibly helpful in translating things to English when I need it, while also trying to teach me some of the native languages.

3. I have made so many new friends.
                Between my friends in my host community and my fellow YAGMs, I feel almost overwhelmed by the love surrounding me. First of all, in my host community, I have fellow volunteers, other co-workers, neighbors, and children of all ages that I now call my friends. Although they all know I will leave in only a few short months, they have all welcomed me into their lives and I will be forever grateful. Second, my fellow YAGM-SA family is truly my second family. When we are together, the air is filled with laughter, discussion, discernment, tears (of joy and heartache), and so much love. I cannot imagine going through this experience without them and I know we will stay friends forever.

2. YAGM makes you think.
                Woah. The thinking that I have done. Seriously, I didn’t know my brain could handle all of these thoughts! Not only has my experience made me think about simple things like new foods and languages, but my time here has made me think about social justice, race issues, gender equality, economic justice, and more. I joke sometimes that ignorance really is bliss, because sometimes it is hard and frustrating to wrestle with these thoughts. However, I am extremely grateful for experiences that bring up these difficult thoughts, because now I feel the need and passion to work on these issues alongside my global brothers and sisters.

1. I now feel truly connected to the global church.
                Seeing what YAGM has done here in South Africa as well as the impact made by fellow YAGMs around the world is absolutely incredible. I feel blessed to be a part of the greater church, but I feel even more blessed to be a part of God’s greater kingdom here on earth. I have seen God in so many unexpected places, and I now know that our Lord’s presence is truly being felt around the world.

Like I said, these are only 10 of the reasons why I believe that YAGM is a truly amazing program and why I am so incredibly grateful for my experience so far. If you would like to hear about the approximately 732 other reasons, just shoot me an email. :)


Thursday, January 16, 2014


I think I have a love/hate relationship with my aerobics class.

I love it because it keeps me in shape. It gives me something to do every night from 6:30-7:30. Well, it actually keeps me busy until 8:00 because of the conversations after class. It has introduced me to incredibly strong, kind, and inspiring people. This class has finally given me a reason to actually wear the 15 pairs of athletic shorts I brought. My aerobics friends have helped me learn Sotho. Working out together has helped me strengthen bonds with co-workers. It lightens my mood. It helps me get out into the neighborhood. The class and the other attendees give me encouragement. My walk there allows me to see “my kids” playing in the street. My walk back allows me to appreciate the incredible kindness of my friends who always walk home with me to keep me safe, even though they live in the other direction. The prayer at the end of each class gives me spiritual refreshment.

I hate it because I am lazy sometimes and don’t feel like going. I sweat more than I think is necessary. I hate having to quit an exercise before I am done. It gets annoying when more people join our class and the space gets crowded. I hate that the things I hate are also things that I like and keep me going.

I guess when I put it that way, it’s more like I have a LOVE/hate relationship with my aerobics class.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Welcome Back

December is considered the “slow month” for most of us YAGMs here in South Africa. This was definitely true for me. DAM has been closed since December 13 and won’t reopen until January 13.

Yep, that is a whole month.

During that time, I watched more movies than I can remember, crocheted and personalized ten giraffe-shaped bookmarks, read three books (and am almost done with a fourth), slept A LOT, celebrated Christmas in Joburg with some friends, traveled to Cape Town for New Year’s Eve, and spent a lot of time reflecting on my time here so far.

When my “break time” first began, I had mixed emotions. I was scared to have so much time off to think and potentially become very homesick. I was excited to have plenty of time to do whatever I wanted. I was nervous to return to work and have to “start over” again in my community and work placements.

When the crèche opened again on January 6, I was not sure what to expect. I was basically just hoping for a better response from the kids than when I first showed up four months ago. At that time, they spent the whole time staring at the scary white person. Luckily, I was welcomed back with literal open arms. One of the youngest children there, a girl who couldn’t walk or easily sit in a chair when I first met her and is now walking, playing, and attempting to say “Fine” when I ask her how she is, ran (or more like waddled) up to me with her arms outstretched and a huge smile on her face. Another little boy now calls me by name, which is surprising because when I left in December, he would just scream a random noise when he wanted my attention. Since the crèche re-opened, my good-byes have continued to get longer and longer each day. They are filled with hugs, shouts of “Good-bye, Teacher Family!”, high fives, waves, and smiles.

Now, one week back into work at the crèche, I am back into the schedule of lovin’ on some adorable kids in the morning and looking forward to returning each day. I have been welcomed back with open arms.

I am looking forward to DAM opening next week, and even if I’m not welcomed in the same way as I was at the crèche, I am hoping to provide the same kind of welcome (minus the waddling Jto everyone I come in contact with.  We all deserve to feel welcomed and loved, just like the kids at the crèche have made me feel.


Emily J

P.S. I would love to share pictures of my wonderful kids at the crèche, but due to their young age, it would not be appropriate to share pictures of them without the permission of their parents/guardians.