Saturday, January 4, 2014

West Orlando Methodist Church

Sorry, I didn't post anything yesterday. Too tired/"busy" playing Euchre and Egyptian Ratscrew. Yesterday we went to a church organization called Ikageng that gives help to orphans/families in poverty with many children. They give weekly food packages, medications, counseling, school uniforms, and tutoring to the kids. They care for over 600 kids in 300 households, which is incredible. 100 of those houses have no adults; kids as young as 10 raise themselves and their siblings after their parents die. We also went to Thanes House, a rehab centre for alcoholics. The leader, Jakez, is an alcoholic himself. He was offered a job helping to build the biggest skyscraper in the world, but e turned it down to stay at Thanes. His story was amazing, and talking with him was an incredible experience. 

Today, we went to a market in the morning. So cool! I wanted to buy something from every stall. Bargaining is a blast: I feel so accomplished when I get the seller to settle for a lower price. It was hard to walk away: they were all so insistent! "Excuse me, miss. Hello! Come look! Looking is free, touching is free. Do you like the bracelets? I will give a special deal to such a beautiful lady! This color is nice, yes?" I've never really done this before, but I loved it. Everyone was stubborn, yeah, but also polite and not uncomfortably-pushy. 

Then, we went to the Orlando West United Methodist Church in Soweto. Zenele, a leader of the youth program there, gave  us an intro to their church. A few little girls sang a beautiful song. It wasn't in English, but it didn't matter. For lunch, we had meat cooked in a traditional South African barbecue, which isn't anything like the American. After lunch, we played some games and worshipped, both our group and theirs leading the music and prayers. It was so much fun to "hang" with people around my age from South Africa. One 17-year-old raises her three little siblings and her child by herself. I can't even imagine. 

We went to this really swanky place called Carnivore for dinner. I think it's part of a country club or something. The decor is very touristy, with a bamboo ceiling and a wooden hut as the reception table. So, it's called "Carnivore" because it specializes in exotic meats. For instance, tonight I ate antelope (ehhh), kulu sausage (less ehhh), crocodile (it actually does taste like chicken), and zebra (SOOO good!). The servers came around with meat on big skewers. Super cool! Where else are you gonna eat zebra? (Pronounced "zeh-bra" in South Africa) 

Today was a really good day. It was full of new things and was a great way to end the week, I think. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014


So... Today was rough. It started fine, but the afternoon was very eye-opening and depressing and made me feel... ashamed, maybe? Guilty? I can't put a finger on it. 

Anyways, in the morning we drove around Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship), which is just outside Joha. We stopped a few times to see things, like the camps where mine workers used to live. As we went, our bus driver/guide, Dan, encouraged us to wave and shout "Ola Ola Ola!" out the windows. ("Ola" is pronounced like the Spanish "hola" and is probably actually the same word.) I loved seeing them smile and shout back "Happ-eeee!" (Happy new year). Without fail, they looked happy and blessed to see us. It was amazing. 

We had lunch at "Wendie's Restaurant", which was a local buffet-style place. I got Coke in a glass bottle (!!!!!) and a whole bunch of other stuff, including liver and chicken foot. I didn't really enjoy either of them, but when else am I gonna eat it? After that, we drove to Kliptown, and that's when things got difficult. 

Kliptown is an informal settlement, made of the "houses" we saw at Mosaic yesterday. It's not the biggest in the country, but it's the poorest. An estimated 50,000+ people live in Kliptown. The roads were filled with old shoe soles, broken beer bottles, scraps of fabric, and countless wrappers and plastic bags. It smelled like a mix of the Porta-Potties at the Champlain Valley Fair and a barn that needs a serious cleaning.  And gosh, it was HOT. Easily over 95 degrees, and fifteen or twenty hotter inside the metal shacks. There's no running water or electricity there, so the bathrooms are outhouses that everyone shares. Apparently the pump where they get their water is the main social place in the community. It was incredible to be there. 

But as sad and heartbreaking as it was, I didn't miss the sense of community and togetherness. Little kids ran all over the place playing tag. They would come up to us and wave, some shy and others bold. There was one little boy in a Superman shirt, maybe 2 years old, that sticks out. Tom, an adult on our trip, took a photo of him and the kid went into a beautiful fit of giggles. Every time someone else snapped a pic, he laughed again. It was amazing the joy it gave him. And like the people we saw in the morning, everyone was welcoming and happy to see us. I worried a little about people being unhappy or embarrassed for us to see their homes, but it was the complete opposite. It was comparable to being asked to dance in the center at a pow-wow on Pine Ridge. Just... incredible. 

On the bus ride there, we were joking and singing and dancing and laughing and shouting. The trip back was silent. No one had the energy nor the ability to talk about what we had just seen. 

On a slightly happier note, I have an awful case of sunglasses-burn: my nose is basically a tomato. 

But other than that, life is great. Today was special and unique and sad, and I'll never ever forget it. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Sorry for the two posts in one day, but the wifi was shaky yesterday. So, 2014 is going fantastic so far. We drove about 1.5 hours to an organization called Mosaic. Here's the story:

Jordan Rink was about to graduate from college when she decided to go to S. Africa to be with a missionary from her church. She then began to work with Mosaic, an organization that works to provide orphan care to children living in the slums of a Johannesburg suburb. Many single mothers take custody of their friends', sisters', or neighbors' children if they die, which means that many women are easily responsible for 8-10 kids. Obviously, this is a problem because this part of S. Africa has an unemployment rate of close to 70%. Mosaic builds houses and gives them to single moms looking after at least 2 foster kids. They pay only $20/month, and after 10 years the house is entirely theirs. There are after-school programs and tutoring for kids and Mosaic tries to get jobs for the adults as well. Today, there are about 80 kids in the neighborhood. Recently, Jordan started Made By Mosaic, which hires some of the single mothers to make crafts to sell. They aren't just your typical "African bead necklace": they had some really professional-looking stuff. They acquired the tools for a leather shop, so everything is very nice. Their online store will be launched in later January, so check them out! I'm super excited for them: 

After lunch, some of the employees took us on "tours" (if you can call them that) of the neighborhood. I wish I had taken photos, but it felt wrong to invade their privacy like that. The Mosaic houses are wonderful. Nothing fancy, but with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, a real bathroom, and a common/living room in the middle. Then we walked down the dusty, red street to the other side of the neighborhood. 

The change was instant. These houses were made of corrugated metal and cardboard, stapled, nailed, or tied together. There was obviously no water or electricity in each maybe 10' by 6' home. Some children ran around while their moms gossiped under the merciful shade of a small tree. We only saw a few men, and each held a bottle of beer in his hand. It was so sad at first, but then the mothers called our small group over. They told us about their lives briefly, seeming too shy or embarrassed to elaborate much. They were proud of their children, though, and you could tell they give all they have to their kids. Eventually, we returned to mosaic and came back to Wilgespruit. 

Today was powerful because it reminded me so much of Pine Ridge. The way the kids are raised communally, the poverty, the pride in the children. It was incredibly eye-opening and I'll never forget it. 

Here's just another pic of the place we're staying:

Here's to 2014

Wow. If anyone ever goes to S. Africa, go to the Apartheid museum, and block out a lot of time to be there. It was so in-depth about the history of apartheid, how it came to be, what it was, how it affected citizens, how it ended, and the aftermath. There was so much that I didn't know, like how many people died and how students were a major part of the protests of the 70's and 80's. They also had a great exhibit celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. It discussed everything from his Nobel Prize to why he wore colorful shirts after his release from jail. 

There were a few really striking pieces in the museum. Photos weren't allowed, but I snuck some anyways. First, they had a room with rope nooses hanging from the ceiling, one for every person that died in jail during apartheid, suicide or otherwise. What a powerful and shocking representation, huh? And then, as you left that room, you entered another place with three solitary confinement cells. I always pictured them with metal bars running from floor to ceiling. In reality, they were solid cement, maybe 8' by 4' at the most. I would go crazy in there! Literally lose my mind. Is it a wonder so many took their own lives? 

On that happy note, we left the museum. We had lunch at a KFC (wasn't my choice, trust me!) and then headed to a "lion farm" to hang out with some lions and giraffes. As we got there, a giraffe was wandering around the parking lot! It got better, though. Next we washed our hands, listened to the rules, and entered the lion cub habitat to cuddle with the babies. It was so cool! 

That night, we cheered and hugged at midnight, then ran outside to check out the fireworks. Because we are at the top of a valley, you could see maybe 6 or 7 different houses setting off fireworks at the same time. It was beautiful. There's a tradition in S. Africa that after the clock strikes midnight, the first thing you do is find anyone that you hurt and apologize. You let go of the past and try to fix the future, which I think is a great way to get started. Happy new year to everyone. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Orientation Day

I'm here!!! Or there, I guess. The weather is fantastic: sunny and hot and blue skies and I love it! Yesterday was rough because the flight was 17 hours so I was super tired. We took a 22-passenger van (yep, they have those) to the Wilgespruit Fellowship Centre, which is a retreat place built in 1948 to be a place for whites and blacks to interact, which was illegal at the time, of course. Lots of famous Southern-Africa people have stayed/hid from the police here, including Nelson Mandela and an old president of Mozambique. It's no 5-star hotel, but I love it more. It sits at the top of a valley and you can see a town with red roofs rising up on the other side.
It's about 4:40 PM right now and we haven't done much today. It's been mainly a MOP-orientation day, so lots of sitting and talking and praying and singing, but it'sstill interesting. Tomorrow we are going to visit the Apartheid museum and a Rhino-Lion preserve, so I'm psyched. More later! And I'm so sorry for the awful photo quality; these are coming from my iPod. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pre-Trip Thoughts

I don't know how to do the "blog thing", so apologies in advance. 

Ew, packing. I've got my camera, malaria meds, and passport. Also the ornament Pastor Kevin gave me. I'll include a photo so you can see how awesome it is. It's a peace sign made of recycled aluminum from a Fair Trade artisan in South Africa. (Good find, Rev Kev!) This isn't just a post about how fantastic my ornament is: I want to say thanks. Thanks to Kevin, of course. Also to everyone who helped me financially- there's no way I could do this without you! Thanks so my teachers for being flexible and cooperative with me missing 2 weeks of school. Thanks to the Wolford-Wright clan for all the support. I wish I could have seen you more this Christmas. And I think that's all the thanks.

Now that that is out of the way... The plane leaves Burlington tomorrow at 9:30 ish. From there, I'll go to DC and then take a group flight to Dakar, Senegal. I don't know if we change planes there or not... (Can I say I've been to Senegal if I really only paused on the runway as they refueled the plane?) And then we fly to Johannesburg! I hope everything goes smoothly, with no cancelled/delayed flights. We'll see... That's it for now! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Here is the most recent, though still tentative, itinerary for my trip.  Read the numbers on the markers in order to follow my journey chronologically.