Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nelspruit, SA

I'm in Nelspruit - the gateway into Kruger National Park. I arrived last night and am staying at a backpackers' hostel. I've met some Kruger guides and am planning what could become one of the biggest adventures of my life to date. I'm pretty excited - what a great way to spend Christmas! I do miss my family and snow, but if I don't have that, this is about the best I can imagine! I'll fill in on details after the fact.

Merry Christmas to everyone!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Joburg and Soweto

Look here for pictures of Johannesburg and Soweto. I've had a great time here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Out of Africa

An echo is heard somewhere in the halls of internet purgatory. A scrap of an orphaned blog post is found and redeemed. Almost two weeks ago I was sitting at a struggling computer at the Pemba Nautilus Casino when the internet went out. This is what I had written


Hello everyone. It's time for a post. It's different to actually be sitting in front of a computer again - with a working internet connection. Well... I'm using "working" in the generous sense. Every computer that I've encountered since entering the african continent has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. This particular machine has no ability to display pictures - or so it would seem. So I'm not too hopeful about it's ability to upload them. But so many stories!

Just a few hours ago I returned from a trip out into the African "bush". Just a few hours out from the base where I'm currently staying here in Pemba, and you are into Africa in much more the fashion that it's been stylized in the western imagination. Mud huts with thatched grass roofs. Insect mounds taller than a man. Reports of nearby elephants. Meals of sheep guts with rice and beans.


That was as far as i got before the internet crashed and my connectivity was a thing of the past. Now I'm in South Africa again. In a Johannesburg suburb to be precise. Yesterday I took the scenic flight from Pemba in the North of Mozambique down here to Jo-burg. I say scenic because we got to see some really seemingly unnecessary places. There was a stop at the Beira airport. This of course involved getting off the plane, getting little "transito" tags and waiting for perhaps 45 minutes before getting back on the same plane to continue the trip. Then in Maputo seemingly the same drill - but unless you were listening very closely to the broken English over the intercom you would have missed the fact that this time we were changing planes. So this time we got to dis board, walk across the runway to be greeted by some women with a "transito" sign. Then we were led into the airport where our boarding passes were studied. Numbers were checked on a list, and our passposrts were gravely considered. Then we exited the little loop out of a door just down from the one we entered and were told to stop. Oh, transito! Don't stop. Go get on that other plane. Only about two hours late we arrived in this the supposed crime capitol of the world. There is a very common saying in this continent. "TIA" people will say. This Is Africa. It's used as an excuse, a shoulder shrug, a joke, a truth. Africa just isn't the same as the Western world and you'll be frustrated until you accept the fact. People have much more time here. People are more willing to stop and talk. It doesn't seem that anybody REALLY is in a hurry and the whole world moves slowly once you're here. Trying to get something seeming simple accomplished can take a whole day - easily :).

All in all SA is quite a change after being in Mozambique for almost a month. When i was downtown today I kept noticing something about all the people passing - then i realized it was the fact that they were all so clean! I'm actually mostly clean again. In Mozi I wasn't always able to shower as often as would be best... Sometimes we had no electricity... sometimes no water. I adjust frighteningly quickly to such life. From the moment I arrived in Pemba I felt quite at home and at ease. I actually never had a bad night of sleep and didn't really mind the rice and beans THAT much. (Though I was spoiled since I could go to the store and buy other supplemental food) I think I can honestly say that my weeks in Pemba were few of the happiest yet in my life. I made some of the best friends that I've ever had.

Honestly It hasn't started to feel like Christmas to me. I can't believe that it's just a few days away! As I'm typing I'm sitting on an outside deck, wearing shorts. This is summer in Africa. None of the sights and sounds have been in anyway familiar enough to trigger Christmasesque thoughts. I guess the most reminiscent thing was my birthday. People heard that it was my birthday. That night was also the last night that one girl was going to be there at the base so she invited a group of people to a dinner party in honor of both occasions. It was a sort of put luck. This was the night that I decided to create the apple pie that I had been scheming for for some time. I bought apples from a store and from a street vendor. I bought spices from Osman's grocery. Cloves were clearly labeled in English. Cinnamon bore a picture of stick cinnamon that i recognized. Nutmeg proved the most difficult. I had to go through a whole pile of bagged spices smelling them until I found the one that struck me correct. Pastry was an adventure here. There was no wax paper so plastic bags cut open did duty. An empty glass bottle served as rolling pin. All butter instead of shortening. It was a chore, but that pie was delightful. When I opened the oven and smelled proper pie, it all paid off. It was cut into about 12 pieces and gladly received all around. When I was about to bring my pie to be eaten I was told that I couldn't but must sit down. My friend Ed attached several matches together and fashioned a birthday candle. Then they carried my pie in and sang to me. My Mozambican birthday was great.

My time in Mozambique was made particularly interesting by the fact that I was living in the guest accommodations where visitors from all over the world come to stay. Many came for less time than I or arrived late in my stay so the cast of characters who populated my experiences was consistently rotating. As I look back on the time each week had a completely different set of friends and experiences. Before I arrived I had been told that a group from Mississippi would be arriving on the same flight with me. In the Joburg airport i ran into them. I heard their accents and knew it had to be. It had been such a while at that point since I had heard Americans talking. I noticed right away. It was a family with their three children, two 20 yr old girls, and a mother with her two young children. Amy, mother of the larger family, was a strong matronly figure and told me quickly that they had adopted me and that I could be a part of their group. Over the next week that they were there I came to enjoy the group quite a bit. They would hold family devotions in the morning and I was always welcomed to be a part of these and any meals that they were preparing. When they went off base to restaurants there was a standing invitation for me to join them. When they're not on the other side of the world Amy and her husband Dave live with their family in inner city Jackson, Mississippi. God told them years ago to sell everything and move among the poor. This they did and God has given them an amazing dynamic impact with prostitutes, drug addicts, and people of all classes. Also there when I arrived was a team from Canada, constructing a playground. I attached myself to this group much of the time and worked most days that first week building a playground. I never would advertised myself as such, but I learned that I'm actually pretty handy with tools. :) At least by African standards. This team was made up of two older men, and two young people in their early 20s. Billy and Allie were companions for a number of adventure - including and abortive attempt at a boat trip. But that would take too much time to explain... Lyle, head of the team was a gracious, Godly man who I loved working with. He felt like a spiritual father figure and while working or at the end of the day I was able to pick his brain about a lot of things. He is a retired pastor and still clearly has a father's and pastor's heart. A man who seems to be finishing his life well rather than just starting strong.

Within a few days of each other all these friends left. I bonded deeply with several of them, and then watched them go. Ed arrived. He and I hit it off almost right away. There are few people that I can converse with as easily and freely as Ed. We stayed up late into the night talking about cameras, computers, web design, spiritual things... Hiking. All sorts of things. When I first arrived I met Andrea and Nicole, the hospitality coordinators for the base. They were the two responsible for getting everybody to and from the airport, answering questions, making sure people had bed sheets, taking people on bi-weekly grocery runs, etc. Well, as the other visitors were starting to thin out, Andrea and Nicole invited Ed and me over for dinner. Dinner was at Andrea's house, only problem was that the lock on Andrea's door was very broken and the door stuck shut. After Ed and I took the lock app art and tried our best lock picking skills, we just kicked the door down! A dramatic start to the evening... Nicole doesn't cook and Andrea was very tired, so I got to cook much of dinner. I had forgotten that I actually do enjoy cooking when I'm doing it for other people. It's a special adventure when you never know if you'll be able to acquire and ingredient or not... I made spaghetti sauce from scratch and it was a hit. That evening was the first of several such evenings over the next few weeks. The four of us just formed a little band. We all got along with each other so well. Ed is from California, Nicole from Utah, Andrea from London. And here we all were in Pemba, Mozambique. Caitlyn from South Africa joined us one night as well. We would cook together (well, Andrea and I would cook), pray together, listen to Christmas music, clean houses, look at pictures, and just talk about our lives and God. It's some of the best friendship I've ever known in my life. Everybody had such common passions and vision. All of us love traveling and we would sit and swap travel adventure stories. I was the youngest of group, so I suppose it felt kind of like being back growing up with the older four.

It was times like these that made my time in Mozambique some of the happiest weeks of my life. Bouncing around in a LandRover over horrendous roads I would pinch myself to see if this was really happening. I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing at that moment. Nicole had a LandRover at her disposal so a couple nights we went out and watched the stars. You can drive out into the Mozambican darkness and then lay on the roof and watch the beautiful African sky. My new friends were even patient enough to let me play with my night photography with them. They having to sit impossibly still for long periods of time as I did experimental photography.

During the afternoons Andrea did school classes with some of the village children who come around to the base. Ed and I started helping out with these classes. Nacimo, a 16 year old Mozambiquan helps translate for these classes. Sometimes things went well for a while, but some days it was absolute chaos. You'd look up and someone would be hanging from the rafters. Fights would break out. Cheating, mocking, you name it, it was there. But there was some learning that took place. One day I saw a boy patiently copying his name on to his hand with a pen so that he could remember later how to spell it. I think it was the first time he had learned to write his own name. These times were both difficult and sometimes rewarding.

My friends also included Jun from South Korea. She sings beautifully and has a ministry traveling and doing ministry through song. There was Ben and Anna, a young couple from Wales in the UK. Ella a black woman of Nigerian descent who now lives in London. Thorsten and Miriam a young couple from Germany who have been traveling the world for the past few months. Raylene from Canada brought her 16 year old daughter Terran for a trip to experience another part of the world and ministry. It's positively dangerous hanging out with so many vagabond souls. Hearing several languages and as many different accents of English before breakfast makes me happy. It can be challenging, and certainly exhausting, but generally happy. Sometimes someone that you consider a friend just doesn't understand you. And you can't make them understand. Cultural and language barriers fly up and you can't reach proper understanding. This is when you realize the curse of Babel. Then other times the differences are just fun.

The hardest thing in Mozambique was to see the power of the devil. I believe that I saw a group of men attempting a rape one day in public at the public beach. This is a part of the Satan infused culture. At night i would sometimes here the witch doctors marching with their drums and flutes. You could sometimes see the bondage in the eyes of children. Especially in children who are clearly stunted and bound to a listless childhood that defies the years that pass. I saw a girl who you might have guess to be 5 or 6 who I learned was actually 20. In one village where I visited there was a mother who brought her daughter for prayer because she was 3 and still not trying to walk. In her eyes you could see a darkness that is heart breaking in a child so young. When we laid hands on her to pray she would suddenly because restless and cry squirming and trying to get us to stop. Her mother took the witch doctors bracelet off of her wrist, but sadly I didn't see her healed that day. There's many things I don't understand about the spirit realm. But much that God seems bent on teaching me as well...

The head of the ministry was often there during my stay. I got to sit and listen to her tell stories from her early ministry. She strikes me as being deeply genuine. It was such a treat to see her in her home surroundings and get to watch what it looks like for her to live out the things that she talks about and teaches. I got to be the official Christmas photographer when she gave out gifts to all the Iris orphans at the base. The energy that God gives that woman is truly miraculous. I followed her for almost 6 straight hours of unrelenting energy. She insisted in giving the gifts to each of the 170+ kids individually and gave the same attention to the very last girl as she had to the ones at the beginning. Truly and amazing thing to get to be a part of.

I'm not sure yet where I'll spend Christmas, but I'm sure it will be somewhere good and memorable. Considering possibly going to Kruger National Park...

Right now I'm staying with a delightful African-American couple who felt called by God to give up everything in the states and move here to minister in South Africa. They've been such wonderful resources of wisdom and Biblical council. Couldn't have asked for a better place to process all that God did in my heart in Mozambique. So much I'm trying to fathom about the Spiritual realm. Realizing that I'll never get my head around it, but wanting so desperately for it to enter my heart. I should go to bed because I believe that I have church early tomorrow morning. I could go on for so many more pages telling about the experiences I've had and the people I've met, but I'll have to wrap this up.

Check out more pictures here: Africa V

Also check out the blog of my friend Ed. Many of the pictures that you see posted there are mine. He had better computer access during our time in Pemba so I shot and he posted