Sunday, July 19, 2009


it is hard to find a word or even a sentence to describe this trip. It was good and discouraging and beautiful and sad. There is so much potential. There is still such a big economic gap. The final word has to be hope, not in the government structure but in the lives of individuals. Babies are cured of HIV/AIDS prenatally or at birth. Generations of poverty are, in a few places, overcome by hard work and good people. Nothing stops that from spreading. As usual, the compassionate people are connected to the body of Christ. Nothing will stop that from spreading, either. It is not easy or quick, and we run the risk of discouragement and disinterest. I cannot look again at news from South Africa without memories of open homes, warm smiles, and gracious acceptance for my differences. If, in following my journey, you, too, look at this part of the world differently, then truly hope and time are the answers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Air Time

Touch down in Chicago on July 9 was followed by a crazy family weekend. Safely home, but it will take some time to sort out the thoughts and feelings as well as the pictures.

Plus somewhere over the Atlantic, I lost my voice...

In the Jo-burg airport a guy was taking surveys of visitors so they can upgrade the services for 2010 World Cup. I did not exactly attend any sporting events, casinos or even bars and had no opinion on tourist infrastructure. But he took my He commented at the end that he meets lots of people from US and Canada who come to build or teach or nurse in South Africa. Then he asked, "So why do I never see anything like you are doing on the TV?" Good question. There is plenty to do.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Heavy thoughts

How to describe HIV-AIDS statistics that now have names and faces? How to bridge the gap between the town and the Township now that is no longer law, but still reality? Which layer to start unpeeling first: employment, education, politics, transportation, housing? This has been a trip with many questions. Perhaps the only real answer is there is no way anyone who is not here - and here for a long time - can know. It will take some time to get it all processed in my head and filtered through my heart.


The South African word for BBQ - meat on the grill - and we mean meat! Steak and chicken and something I thought was identified as "War Horse" but I have learned not to ask about anything until after I eat it. Turns out it was "Boer Wurst" - kind of a Brat. Come to think of it I never knew what was in those either...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Just for fun...

Who all is out there? If you are following this blog, just "comment" with your name, OK? Then I won't bore you with the same stories! (Except Bob.)Thanks!


80 clergy, three Bishops, fully robed and hated, headed out of the Bishop’s house across the street at 8:45. We processed to Holy, Holy, Holy – only they have a lot more verse than we do. There were over 1500 Zulu (Black) gathered in a large meeting space and spilling out onto the lawn and porch.

In the kitchen for 2 days have been women preparing to feed them all – both sit down and Take Away. Metals tubs of raw chicken and beef. Mounds of onions and beets.

I was honored to read the Old Testament lesson and then called on to sponsor one of the ordained! What a joy to place a stole and lay on hands in blessing. I was a white American woman but the title Pastor surpassed all that.

Singing went on non-stop. There was a leader but the best songs were random – just a group started and pretty soon ½ the place is up dancing and the rest know all the words. Amazing energy and community.

The Bishop lived in Chicago - in fact he and his wife and I overlapped one summer at LSTC! He is very fluent in English, but even in Zulu it is easy to se what is going on. We are Lutheran – “The Lord be with you” looks pretty much the same globally!

At 2:30 (yeah – pm) we concluded and headed for the food. It was a thrilling and amazing event. And somewhere in the middle the Bishop said the sponsors are responsible for our pastors for life…

Sunday, July 5, 2009

USA through other eyes...

I asked some of the kids what they thought the USA was like. The said we are all good looking and rich and have fast cars. And lots of land. And guns. I showed them I was unarmed...


We spent 2.5 days in Pietermaritzburg talking to those “on the ground” trying to help with any small part of several huge issues: unemployment, education, HIV/AIDS, motivation to self responsibility. The new government has suffered from factions and continues to struggle to address the basic issue – whatever that is. The longer I am here the more I realize how little we know of what is needed.
After apartheid ended most of the Lutheran missions that had hospitals and schools were turned over to the government and the perception is that the church stepped back and moved on to other geographic areas. But is not clear what role we should play next. The German Lutherans are more active here than the ELCA as far as sending volunteers and supporting various projects. One has even established his own self contained community in the rural area that asks members to give up family and all possessions. That is the answer for that group, but the South African run church as a whole is still looking for its role and the ELCA is working to support them as they do so.


I assisted at the local congregation today. It was all in Zulu, of course, but it is amazing how familiar it is. Lutheran the world over. Pretty much the same liturgy in the same order as at home. However, offerings are different. They sing as each one comes forward to put money in the general offering, the special offering, or the Sunday school bank (shaped like a white church with a green roof!) Of course no one can be seen sitting in the pew while the line files by!
The ushers carried that offering out and we had communion. After the benediction a different basket come out and there was what must have been a Stewardship moment – a man carried the church’s ledger of offerings around and stopped by certain people. No amounts were read but it was clear he knew and they knew…Then we sang again and everyone came up and put in the basket again. When that song ended a woman ran up with another basket for the women’s rally offering and they did it again.

New News

Beginning in 2010 all cell phones in South Africa will need to be registered so they can cut down or trace all illegal activity. Given how many I have seen that will be a daunting task!


I stayed for a few days with a teacher from grade 3. She has 45 children in her class. The one next door has 48. They have 4 subjects: English, Zulu, Math and Life Skills. Her class is one big room with ½ a broken chalkboard and stacks for workbooks. They had a computer in the office but it was stolen. That is true in homes and churches as well. Theft is a constant fear and there are barbed wire fences around every home and building. Another Grade 5 teacher says it is hard to get kids to complete assignments or care about school when they don't see a future in education. Still they are committed to trying and there will be success stories.


Gogo is the Zulu word for Grandmas. In the midst of one of trips into the poverty areas we met a woman who had lost 5 out of 7 children to HIV/AIDS. She was HIV positive as well and caring for several grandchildren from the generation that was lost. We admired her extensive garden and then, as we were leaving, her 1 year old granddaughter waved bye-bye to us. Gogo clapped and raved about the little one’s accomplishment in a language any grandma could understand!


Whoosh – a weekend with the Youth. About 600 of them at an ELCSA rally in a school with the usual energy and teen trauma and a lot more singing. Youth Rallies are always a little on the rugged side – sleeping in a gym and sharing a shower with 70 of your closest parishioners. We were housed out of the melee in a home nearby where we did at least have a heater, a private outhouse, water from an outdoor spigot to heat for a sponge bath. The kids were the whole spectrum of polite to “naughty” with 1000 ways not to sleep the first night and utter exhaustion the second. Food is prepared in huge oil drum sized cans over open fire and the meetings are all in a massive tent. What’s “offal”? Or Palogna? It was on the menu for breakfast. There were several speakers and Bible study and a huge music competition. But the best was the offering! Each church had its own song and dance and they processed in to their dance singing and each placed offering in the plate. Way more energetic and fun than just sitting there! By the second evening many were so tired we were all asleep during even the loud singing in our plastic chairs. Someone pointed out the clergy have the ability to sleep seeing straight up and appearing to be in deep prayer. Must have learned it in seminary – and it is international!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Weddings and other dining events

Last Saturday - yes we are just now getting those thoughts processed! - we went to a wedding in Stanger. It started at 9am - the bride arrived at 11 am for the "white" or church service. Completely western dresses and tux.

We got there at 2:30 to the reception and the speeches were about 1/2 way done. Still they had not eaten. So we grabbed chairs and they added plates and we got there for lunch and cake. They have 3 cakes - small ones on each side of the big one. After the cutting, the bride takes one cake to her new mother in law and kneels to present it. The groom does the same. Very nice.

After that we all drove about 20 minutes to the grooms home where massive tents were set up. We sat in one and before long the bride's family filed in with bags of mats and blankets as gifts for the new home. Eventually - I am told - the bride make sup a bed of these in the tent for the groom and they do all kinds of ceremony stuff, but we had to go. Among other things the bride and groom had not yet arrived and it was going to be some time yet.....

Food is a meat - usually chicken in spices that have Indian influence but not as spicy - plus rice or mealie-meal (corn) and vegetables. Spices or not for any or all of those. The host family I have now does not even use salt so everything is very "American" and highly digestible. I am still trying to get a serving of Bunny Chow which is an Indian dish I understand makes your eyes water...

Coffee - the elixir of life - is easier to get if yo know what to ask for. "Coffee" gets you instant - and that is pretty much all one has at home. "Filter Coffee" gets the real thing - and it is good.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


In 30 minutes we can be in a posh mall and then driving past tin shakes with no electricity and a stand pipe for water for 7-10 shacks. In the rural areas it is dirt roads and fluctuating electricity in the bishop's house. In the city there are gates round every residence. What a lot of courage and imagination it will take to lead this country to a future of equality.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thick and Fast

The magic clock on the Internet cafe gives me 8 minutes more - but so much has happened. Here is only one - more when I sign on again.

Tombstone Unveiling - families dig graves and bury within a day or 2. The cemetery is mounds of dirt above ground with sticks like a Lincoln Log fence around each one. When they save up for a marble slap to cover the grave and a tombstone there is another ceremony for the unveiling. I was fortunate to be at on Saturday! It is another chance to remember the deceased and sing - all standing on a dirt hillside with hardly a footpath between mounds . As we dedicated the tombstone another family was digging a grave for their own funeral. What a remarkable tradition. And of course followed by a family/friend get together.

The food is mostly chicken and rice, vegetable - they have the same "Green Vegetable that is pumpkin vines we had in China! Some other things I don't recognize but that may be all to the good.

Weather colder than you are but not Chicago Winter cold - but with no heat inside it is 43 degrees everywhere!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Here and there

Absolutely everyone has a cell phone – the reception is great evening the hills and they use them constantly. All ages. I think babies are issued them at birth. Grandmas (called Gogo here) all use them without complaining about how small the numbers are.

And we all gather for dinner or all activity stops at 7pm – because \generations is on. That is the “Soapie” of choice – in Zulu, Swazi and English – dubbed sometimes and switching languages mid sentence. I am hooked already.

Over the hills and far away

Friday was an early morning drive through the country Paton describes as “so beautiful there is no singing of it.” Each hill crest opens to valleys on both sides as far as they eye can see. Some are covered with sugar cane, some with tiny houses, both square and round. A 360 degree mural could not capture it.Round houses are traditionally popular because bad spirits hide in corners and in a round house all the occupants can sit against a wall and face each other.Tucked back in the hills off a dirt road is Kithi Diocesan Centre, Kwazulu-Nata – Kelly’s home for the last year. In every direction the valleys and small houses spread out. The sun is warmer in the day – the air is cooler at night. The starts are very bright – I am looking forward to a new moon to see them even better.

International Language

Real P-burg conversation:

Excuse me - are you American?

Yes - I am from Chicago.

May I ask you a question?

Um...sure. (Oh boy - politics? Sports? 2016 Olympics?)

Where DID you get those shoes?

Some would say this could only happen to me..

Thursday, June 25, 2009

South African Sunshine

20+ hours of airplane seats, the usual airport confusion (but in Jo’burg you don’t have to take shoes off for security!), and I am adding up my “firsts”: first flight across the equator, first time on the African continent, first steps on South African soil, first nighttime glimpse of the Indian Ocean, first time riding on the “wrong” side of a Nissan! (Drive in the English manner…) Best of all, after an amazingly good sleep, first wake up to South African sunshine streaming in my window.

Today is adjusting to the time zone – which is actually easy. What I am confused about is which day it is! And looking around Pietermaritzburg. To get rid of the airline legs we walked in a nature preserve about 5 minutes from Brian and Kristen’s home. About 5 minutes down the trail we encountered a giraffe who allowed us up close and personal while he munched on tree tops. Later we saw a pack of wildebeests run by. Not you usual walk in the park!

We flew over some dry places yesterday. The plane change in Jo’burg revealed a very flat area – like Iowa without the corn. This area, even in the dry winter season, has more green.

There is no news here except soccer! USA won last night and South Africa plays today! It’s a small world after all…

Monday, June 22, 2009


My To Do List has more things crossed off than left on it! Tomorrow at this time...I won't have any idea what time or day it is!

I know I'll have WiFi in Pietermaritzburg on June 25, 26, 27, July 1, 2, 3, 6, 7. Not sure the other days. During the "no computer" days, however, are an ordination service and a youth gathering, so there will be a lot to write about when I get back!

Prayers for calm - both the weather and me - appreciated!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Less than a week

The check off lists are...well, checked off. This trip will be far different than last year, but no less exciting.
Rather than have specific tasks like teaching English, South Africa is all about building relationships and hearing stories. The nonfiction books I have read - from the children's department, of course - show tidy pictures. Even the impoverished homes are litter free. The histories read in a straight line or demographic circles: Afrikaners, English, Black, Colored, Indian, Asian. What happens when the separating lines get too close or blur? Is the next generation as aware of their history? The geographies show vast areas. I will be in one small part of one area. How do they relate to the whole?
And a new interest - what are children's books in South Africa like?
The east coast has the greatest concentration of Indians and I understand the curry is great and there is something called "bunny chow"...
The flight is 21 hours in one long and two short hops but the time difference is only 5 hours. Still a lot of ocean between here and there - how much cultural and world view difference will there be? Answers - soon!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


During the time I am in rural Umphumulo there will be an ordination. I get to read the Old Testament lesson at the ceremony! In Costa Rica and certainly China there was no request for any clergy type work so I am looking forward to this.

Clothing: I am informed the in rural South Africa women "of a certain age" do not wear pants in formal setting like church. I'll take a skirt just in case I reach "that age" on the trip! Like Ireland there is no central heat and it will be winter there - 40-60 degrees every day - so I am putting in more socks and fewer tank tops!

I'm up to the Boer War in Michenener's Covenant, but found some good points to fit into today's sermon. I think that makes the book purchase tax deductible.....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Less than two weeks....

As the days count down, the details increase! Here is the latest outline from Brian Konkol, area coordinator.

Arrive at airport in Durban, stay in Pietermaritzburg with Konkols.Drive to Umphumulo in A.M. to stay with Kelly Schumacher (...during the weekend there will be a large ordination service at the Diocese Center, so we thought you would dearly enjoy to be a part of this. Plus, Kelly said she would need some help!). There will be accommodation available alongside Kelly in her residence.I will drive to Umphumulo in the morning hours to pick you up and bring you back to Pietermaritzburg, where we will spend the next few days visiting with local Lutheran leaders and enjoying various other learning experiences. We will also take time to process the experience together as fellow "outsiders". During the week I expect you to stay with a family from the Machibesa congregation (they have hosted visitors on many occasions before). I will drive you back to Umphumulo to spend the weekend with Kelly, as there will be a weekend-long youth convention that she believes you would enjoy. My understanding is that once again you will stay at Kelly's residence and drive back and forth from the convention. I will pick you up in Umphumulo and bring you back to Pietermaritzburg for your final days in the country. We will visit more leaders, as well as take some time to process your experience.

If you have not been to a map yet, Durban is on the east coast, on the Indian Ocean. Pietermaritzburg in inland an hour or so. Umphumulo is to the north and east and does not appear on many maps!

Slogging through the Covenant by Michener, the Lutherans play a minor role in the history up to the Boer War. So far it is Dutch Reform vs Anglican. It will be interesting to see how Lutheran missionaries have impacted the various groups. And what the role is today.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reading the Writing

I have now read/heard: My African Eyes, Journey to Jo’burg, A beautiful Place to Die, Scribbling the Cat, Cry the Beloved Country, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. I have a few more which have been suggested and the about ½ of Covenant left. The terms and names from one book are showing up in others until they begin to be familiar in an academic way. They do not have smells or surfaces or tastes, yet, only names and vague map locations.
I am struck by the pace of most of them, the impossible feats of strength and courage interwoven with slowly unfolding descriptions of the land and the surroundings. The stories seem to experience the place and the people equally in a way I don’t sense as often in American novels. Oh, sure, there are events that set in New York or rural Iowa or 1863, but many times the background could be changed and not much altered in the storyline. So far what I have read of South Africa there is a pace and completeness in the telling that, were one word lacking, could not be whole. I wonder how that will contrast to life there.
Oh, yes, I need to call for malaria pills. That came up a lot in the stories, too!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Winter in summer?

Less than a month before I leave for South Africa. Maps and web searches are helping me plan what to pack.
South Africa has a different ocean on each side. The west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Cape Town being the largest city. In the interior north are Johannesburg and the national capital, Pretoria. On the Indian Ocean side the cities are less developed, but the weather is lovely all year round. This is where I will be, landing in Durban in the province KwaZulu-Natal. It is very near Mozambique and Swaziland.
It’s winter there. The hot, humid coast offer fantastic winter weather with sunny, warmish days and virtually no wind or rain. The average temperatures are from the mid 40’s to low 60’s. The risk for malaria is relatively low in this area.
I have had several long conversations with Brian Konkol, the area coordinator for ELCA-M.U.D. (It is an amazing experience to speak live to someone in South Africa!) He describes our days as full of stories and real assimilation into the South African way of life. I can’t wait!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

back stories

Part of the fun of a trip is reading about the country before I go. But I have been wondering on this particular trip where to find the “truth” - in the F or NF section?
I’ve read the short histories in the travel books, plus biographies on Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela from the children’s room at the library. (Because I LIKE short sentences!) I am listening to some lectures on the beginnings of humans from an archeological perspective. Facts, dates, conflicts.
Some South African fiction includes an amazing number of Suspense and romance books with a South African locale, not much more than an exotic backdrop. (I skipped those.) I’ve also read Cry the Beloved Country, listened to A Beautiful Place to Die, a murder mystery set at the beginning of apartheid, and am now determined to get through James Michener’s The Covenant. Thos are beginning to give me some insight into how the humans interact and interrelate. They seem “true” if not factual.
I’m still looking for post-apartheid fiction and anything in the YA or children’s area. Suggestions?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just the facts

I leave on June 22, via WDC and then straight to Johannesburg. A short hop flight to Durban (on the east coast) and a late night ride to Pietermaritzburg . There I will be staying with local families and working with Brian and Kristen Konkol, the coordinators of ELCA-M.U.D. (What is MUD? Check out, for a few days. Then I'll be a week with Kelly Schumacher ffrom Grace at her year long site in Mapumulo. New names are becoming familiar!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

6 weeks to go!

Welcome to the adventure of 2009 - South Africa. Plans are taking shape and setting up the blog was on my check here we are.

Details, maplinks and more in a few days!