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“Freely you have received, freely give.”

Today’s the day!

At 7pm tonight, in the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies at PC, Amanda and I will be presenting our Smith Fellowship journey to the College community.  As we were reflecting on our experience and slowly flipping through our hundreds of photos, we still felt a sense of awe and joy that I hope never disappears.  Awe over the entire experience that we were so blessed to have, and joy in the people we met, the experiences we had, and the lessons we learned.

We have been back in the United States for almost three months now, and on campus for a month.  The dust has settled since our reentry, and the semester has gone from 0 to 120 in approximately .02 seconds.  I felt an immediate sense of comfort and familiarity when I walked on campus for the first time since December 2012 (I studied abroad Spring 2013 too, remember?), and yet a small sense of unrest nagged at my heart for a few days.  Aside from the construction around campus, I couldn’t figure out what was different.  Everything looked the same, smelled the same, felt the same, and when my friends slowly trickled onto campus for various commitments the reunions were magical.  I didn’t want to believe the cliché that studying abroad had changed me – but it has seeped into every aspect of my life.

When life gets out of control busy, I remember the Viennese tradition of taking time to relax in a café to enjoy the company of friends.  In the moments that I feel frustrated or overwhelmed in a situation, I think back to those in South Africa who don’t have the opportunity to fathom getting a college education, much less get frustrated when a professor keeps a class too long.  I look around my apartment and marvel at the amount of “stuff” that my roommates and I consider essential to daily life, and I know that this is a larger and more stable shelter than many of my friends in South Africa will ever have.

A good friend asked me recently: “how did you deal with the poverty, wasn’t it so sad?”  Her question caught me off guard for a moment – because it was sad – but I can’t remember one moment when I felt upset in South Africa.  (Aside from the day we had to leave, of course!)  I had never felt such joy and peace as when we were in South Africa, and that has continued to buoy me through to today.  While the United States might have material wealth and strive to be the most powerful around the world, I had never encountered such spiritual wealth until Amanda and I embarked upon our Smith Fellowship journey.

There are many things I need to update this blog on; our final days in Pietermaritzburg, our trip to Johannesburg, and the many zebras and giraffes we saw while on safari, but this might be the most important.  Thank you for your blessings, your prayers, and your love.  Thank you for staying with Amanda and I throughout the whole journey, for reaching out, for reconnecting when we returned.  It was more than a journey, or a trip – it was an experience that I hope to never forget or neglect to reflect upon.

Matthew 10:8 says “Freely you have received, freely give”.  As I have been afforded this great opportunity, I am called to reciprocate to others what I have received.  I pray that I can embody the joy and peace that I found in Africa for my friends and family, and know that my life is now devoted to sharing God’s grace.

See you tonight!

Love and prayers,

Heidi

 

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A Week at Camp

Winding down from our long weekend with Dave, Amanda and I got up early Monday morning to begin our first day of the children’s camp at the Sinomlando Center!  In addition to their Awareness Workshops, the four day Caregiver Workshops, support provided to caregivers and all of their other work, Sinomlando hosts many Children’s Camps (“Playshops”) while schools are on holiday.  The goal is to remove the children from their familiar surroundings and allow them to interact with other children who face the same difficulties as them: such as an HIV+ status, having lost a parent or caregiver etc, while using memory work to encourage mental resilience.  The first few hours might be a little awkward, but by the end of the week, the children hate to leave.  Most of the camps are overnight from Monday to Friday, and have facilitators from Sinomlando and social workers present.

Just a few of the supplies needed...

Just a few of the supplies needed…

Lois assigned Amanda and I to work with her at a camp right in town, at the Sinomlando office.  We had around 9 children each day, between the ages of 5 and 20.  Here is where we were able to conduct the activities that we had done ourselves and seen explained at the caregivers’ workshops with the children, as our final application of the knowledge we had gained in four short weeks.  We started with the “Me Drawings”, where each child traces each other’s outline on paper and then writes down what they like and what they don’t like inside their shape.  This way, everyone gets to know each other quickly, and we learned that many of us had similar likes and dislikes!  Continuing with more activities such as the family tree, genogram and River of Life, the children started opening up more and more.  Amanda and I were stunned at their immediate acceptance of each other and openness about their situations that we saw almost immediately – especially with two strangers from another country.  We only found out that they were all HIV+ halfway through the week – and we were even more impressed by their behavior then.

The Sinomlando Center works to support mental resilience through memory work, but the amount of resilience these children already showed was incredible.  They definitely taught me a thing or two about resilience and dealing with life’s demands.  Each day they walked in with big smiles and an eagerness to learn, and always left the office with a “see you tomorrow” and “thank you”.  They opened up about their personal stories and we watched as the older ones assisted and consoled the younger ones.

DSCF1881Each day the children arrived around 9am, and we wrapped up around 3:30pm.  We started the morning with a prayer, and then passed the “magic wand” around to share how we were feeling and our experiences from the day before.  An activity or story would follow, and we would dive right in.  Tea time was at 10:30 exactly, and everyone paused until we had all finished our mugs of tea and biscuits.  We could see the children becoming more and more comfortable with each other as the week went on, and noticed the bonds that began forming almost immediately.

Although the workshop was mostly conducted in Zulu, the older children would often pause and lean over to Amanda and I to translate and keep us updated on what was being discussed.  Despite the language block, we had no problem being able to participate in the laughs and fun.  Lois has a boatload of ice breakers and energizing activities up her sleeve, and never repeated one.  Many were in English, but we gave the children many laughs when Amanda and I did our best to learn the ones using local languages.

Mattresses distributed to the children

Mattresses distributed to the children

Thursday was our last day of going to the camp, and Amanda and I were forced to say goodbye to the children we had grown to adore and admire.  Before the afternoon’s talent show (where every child got up to perform!), we all sat in a circle around a rug.  One by one, we all sat inside the circle while the others spoke about their favorite moment with the person inside the circle, or said one thing they liked about the individual.  Mthobisi’s favorite thing about Amanda was her accent!

Amanda and I were told to wait inside as the children went outside to practice a traditional Zulu dance they wanted to perform for us, shepherded by Lois.  Finally the door opened, and there were children everywhere, running towards us with brilliant smiles and excitement.  Singing “happy, happy birthday to youuuuu”, they threw fistfuls of confetti and glitter on Amanda while I scrambled for my camera.  Although we had to say goodbye, we all walked away from the day in bright spirits and big smiles.

Happy Birthday Amanda!

Happy Birthday Amanda!

Going back to Emephethelweni for dinner, we filled the Brothers in on our day over dinner.   I had arranged with Father Joe to invite a few of the friends we had made during our stay and Brother Philippe’s family for cake after dinner, in order to surprise Amanda with a birthday celebration.  We couldn’t let her 21st birthday go unnoticed!  Despite the pouring rain, everyone arrived on time and we spent the evening in the company of great friends!  It might have been Amanda’s birthday, but I enjoyed it nearly as much.  ;)

It felt like one of the shortest weeks we had so far in Pietermaritzburg, but filled with new experiences and many new friends.  Neither of us will forget what we learned from the kids at the children’s camp, and I don’t think Amanda can forget her South African birthday too soon.

Happy Birthday Amanda!

Happy Birthday Amanda!

Love and prayers,

Heidi

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Follow the Music

After our week of outings, we had Friday to rest and catch up on things like uploading pictures and blogging.  Getting up in the morning, Amanda and I made a rough plan for the day: working around the Priory in the morning, and then doing some errands after lunch.  But…apparently someone else had plans for us!

We were getting settled outside to download pictures from the week when a car pulled into the driveway, and we could see it was Father Mark from Johannesburg!  We had met him during our first weekend here, when he ran the Comrades Marathon, but it was a quick visit.   He wasn’t alone….Amanda saw a familiar American face coming out of the passenger’s seat and yelled “Dave’s here!”.  I wasn’t paying attention (per usual), and responded with “Dave who, we don’t know a Dave?”  Another PC student and Smith Fellow has been doing his service in Johannesburg and living in the community there with Father Mark, and when he heard Father Mark would be coming to Pietermaritzburg for an overnight, he joined him for the ride!  When the three of us were in the planning process of our Fellowship applications, we had no idea we would be so close together in South Africa, and that our two communities would travel back and forth so much.

World's View Overlook

World’s View Overlook

So now we had a good excuse not to put up pictures or blog (sorry, everyone!)!  We showed Dave around the house, introduced him to Auntie Pat, all the Brothers and Father Joe (who kept Dave’s visit a secret from us), and got him settled into a guest room.  We had a lot to talk about and catching up to do, and could have talked for hours, but Father Joe offered to take us up to the World’s View – you can see all of Maritzburg from there!  By the time we got back, it was time for lunch.  Over lunch we talked about the difference in the two communities we were staying with.  St Thomas Aquinas Priory (Dave’s community) is a Novitiate House, where the novices have the opportunity to further discern their calling to the Dominican life before taking their first vows.  Emephetheweni is where they move to next once they’ve taken their first vows and where they enter St Joseph’s Seminary.

After lunch, we decided to show Dave around the neighborhood, and Brother Kelvin joined us (so we wouldn’t get lost!).  It was fun for Amanda and I to be the tour guides now that we knew where everything was, and to see how much we had learned since our first walk with Brother Dominic.  The rest of the night was us talking and relaxing.  Dave fell asleep on the couch watching TV – the poor kid had to wake up at 5am to make the 5 hour drive!

Spotted: in Pietermaritzbug

Spotted: in Pietermaritzbug

Friday night was also the night Brother Alex was leaving for his holiday in Rwanda.  After two years, he was finally going home!  We left Dave sleeping on the couch (sorry, Dave!) and Amanda, Brother Wilbroad, Brother Alex and I piled into the car with Brother Ezechiel driving to head to the bus stop.  Arriving a half an hour early, we waited for a bus that was almost an hour late!  We passed the time by jumping around to keep warm with Brother Wilbroad telling jokes and entertaining us all.  It must have been a strange sight to see, but a fond memory I’ll keep for a while.  Hugging Brother Alex goodbye, we wished him a safe trip and made sure he got onto the right bus!

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Saturday morning we got dressed for the beach – not something I usually do in the winter!  The reason for Father Mark’s visit to Maritzburg was to attend a funeral for a priest at Marianhill (we visited there with Father Joe), which is not too far from Durban.  Father Mark had offered to take us (Dave, Amanda and I) to Durban on his way to the funeral and to pick us up on the way back.  We wandered down the beachfront, and encountered many interesting things.   Dave motto is to “follow the music”, and is more apt to approach people than either Amanda or I are, so we had fun following his lead sometimes.  After testing the ocean water (much warmer than Hampton Beach in NH), we followed the sounds of drumming to what looked like some sort of ritual happening in the water.  Sitting down a distance away, we aimed our cameras at the action and tried to guess what was going on.  There appeared to be one woman submerged in the water, with a few people standing around her.  One woman was on the beach, keeping time with a drum.  With his incredible camera zoom, Dave decided there was at least two chickens in the water with the women.  And it wasn’t until after they started making their way back to their things on the beach did we realize that there was a goat in the water too!  It turned out to be a Zulu healing ritual, and the animals would be sacrificed in order to please the ancestors, all facilitated by the sangoma (healer).  Not something we see on a beach everyday!

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One woman approached us while we were watching and started to tell us about the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross, but as soon as we told her we were Catholic she disappeared.  We saw her once more later on when she asked for an American dollar to remember us by…we didn’t have any on us unfortunately!  Continuing on, we passed intricate sand sculptures, children playing, a huge group of people sailing, and heard drums again!  Running down the boardwalk, we found a marching band with a group of men and boys dancing in traditional Zulu clothing!  Needless to say, we had a whole lot of fabulous photo ops during the day.

Zulu marching band?

Zulu marching band?

Father Mark picked us up that afternoon and decided with Dave that they would stay the night again, instead of starting their journey back to Johannesburg in the dark.  We made it back for evening prayer and dinner, and Dave was introduced to the Emephethelweni version of recreation. Brother Philippe brought his family as usual, and we all met Nomfundo’s mom for the first time!  She spent the past six months in Florida doing a hospitality internship, and returned late in the week.  Ayanda is not much older than us, and talking to her was a little like talking to another American.

Lunch with a view in Durban!

Lunch with a view in Durban!

By the time we woke up for mass on Sunday, Dave and Father Mark were long gone.  Having to be at mass in Soweto (a township in Johannesburg) at 10, they had to leave Maritzburg before the sun rose.  Sundays after mass is always more relaxed, and filled with socializing and hanging out with whoever is around.  We chatted with Ayanda some more, and she invited us for a traditional South African braai (think barbeque) with her friends sometime during the week.  Having heard a lot about braai, we couldn’t wait to try it for ourselves.  We used the rest of the day to catch up on what we had been putting off for so long.  Taking another walk, we went with Brother Wilbroad to buy bread and milk, and had to stop at KFC for a little ice cream…it was calling out to us!

Monday was going to bring us to children’s camp with the Sinomlando Center – which meant early to bed for us!

Love and prayers,

Heidi

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Thankful for Life

After our visit to Mpophomeni, we had the afternoon to get a few administrative things done and to lounge around the house.  Many of the brothers were going to be leaving us the next day, as they began their journey to Johannesburg in the mini bus.  Some would be continuing on to Br Ndabaningi’s ordination in Malawi, while others split apart from the group to attend conferences around the continent.  We knew this day would be coming where we would have to say goodbye, but certainly were dreading it.  After dinner, we went outside with Br Clement to take a few photos….which morphed into a mini photoshoot!  It seemed a little excessive at the time, but now I appreciate being able to look back and remember those silly moments.

Once we retreated back inside where it was warmer, we ran into Brother Dominic and ended up talking for hours.  We discussed how he was the first one to bring us around the neighborhood, and how much we had learned in the few short weeks we had been there.  Finally, we talked about how different life at the priory was than we had expected.   Amanda and I had talked about it before, but only between ourselves, and we really enjoyed hearing from Brother Dominic about his perspective as a student brother.  I cannot make an accurate comparison to the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC because my only visit there was very brief, but Emephethelweni Priory seems much more relaxed and comfortable to me.  (By this time I am extremely biased, though!)  I’ll definitely miss having the opportunity for these fruitful late night conversations with the Brothers.

See you later!

See you later!

The next morning we were able to sleep in a little, as we had no plans to leave until 11am with Fr Pheko.  The kitchen was abuzz when I went down for breakfast – Brothers running here and there in preparation for their trip, and the others just watching.  I grabbed some cereal and joined in the spectating!  Their plan was to leave by 1pm…and I’m pretty sure only 2 of the 6 had packed their bags.  With no plans, I joined Brother Dominic on a walk to retrieve something from a friend in the neighborhood, and others on a trip to Checkers for last minute travel items and airtime purchases.  As it drew closer to the time when Amanda and I were to leave with Fr Pheko, we started going around the house to take the last photos and say our goodbyes.  The brothers would leave while we were gone for the day, and would not be returning to Pietermaritzburg until after we had flown back to Johannesburg for our safari excursion.

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Our outing that day was to visit the Dominican Sisters of Montebello, about an hour’s drive from Pietermaritzburg.  Father Pheko spent a few years living and working in their community, and invited us along on his visit to see the incredible work that they do.  In addition to being the home of a large community of sisters, novitiates and the inquiring, the sisters’ work is spread between many different ministries.  Upon our arrival, we met two Junior Sisters who work in the crèche, teaching children between the ages of 5 and 8.  After a quick tour of the main buildings from Father Pheko, we settled around the table for a meal made specially for our visit!  Unlike his usual custom of simply showing up unannounced with visitors, Father Pheko had called ahead to make sure our visit would be timed well.  During the meal, we met many more sisters, and watched with fun at Father Pheko reuniting with his old friends.  Once dishes were put away, we continued further into the community, past the primary and secondary schools, towards the long-term care facility kept by the sisters.IMG_8717

Sister Antonia (in between Amanda and I) accompanied us further on the tour of Montebello.  She explained the history of the long-term care facility, and tried to prepare us for what we would be walking into.  Not too long ago, the facility was fully operational and at maximum capacity, serving both the physically and mentally challenged whose families could not afford care at private hospitals.  Many of the children were orphaned or abandoned at birth because of their conditions, and taken into the loving care of the sisters.  Recently, the facility lost all support from the government, and therefore all of its funding that it required to provide adequate healthcare.  Many patients were taken back by their families, or relocated to different care facilities.  But many more found themselves abandoned by their families.  What could the sisters do?  Now they fund the facility through donations and gifts from their own families, and continue to care for those who have no one else to.DSCF1789

We started in the children’s ward – a long room with a row of metal cribs spaced about 3 feet apart along each wall.  Most beds were empty, but probably twenty children still remain.  As we walked into the room, we found many big eyes following our movements.  Our waves hello were met with different responses – most inaudible.  Sister Antonia greeted each child that was awake, and paused to tell us a little about them.  As we walked up and down the cribs, we were immediately drawn to one corner, where little Xolani shrieked with glee at our arrival.   As he pulled himself to his feet, Sister Antonia explained that his parents could not be found, but he was the most smiley and happy little boy she had ever met.  He entertained us for probably ten minutes with his smile and a game of peek-a-boo, and followed us with his eyes when we moved on to greet the other children.  Now as I research his name online, I find that “Xolani” means peace in Zulu, apropos for a little boy who brought us joy and smiles on such an emotional day.

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Promising Xolani that we would return to him, Sister Antonia led us to the adult wards of the facility. There were maybe a dozen patients in each of the men’s and women’s wards, set up much like the children’s ward – but with bigger beds.  The patients varied greatly in their physical abilities; some were walking around and sitting in the sun outside, while others were confined behind the metal bars of their beds.  We spent some time with the women outside, learning their stories through Sister Antonia.  There was the woman whose family always promises to bring her home, but never shows up.  Or the woman restrained by her bed sheets, lest she gets free and hurts herself.  Many have been at the facility since they grew up in the children’s ward, and know of nothing beyond the grounds of the community.

Perhaps the most moving part of our visit to the facility was right at the end, as we were walking away.  Sister Antonia situated Amanda and I off to the side as a 12 passenger van and a pickup truck pulled up to the front doors, asking if we would excuse her to help with the off-loading.  I assumed they were bringing in supplies, and stepped forward to help.  When the doors to the van were opened, I saw a woman stretched across the seat – not supplies.  After a little struggle to bring her comfortably to the waiting wheelchair, the group of sisters moved onto the bed of the pickup.  As they opened the tailgate, Amanda and I realized we were standing next to their ambulance – not just a pickup truck.  The bed of the truck was lined with foam mattresses, pillows, and blankets which supported two little boys.  We watched the little boys be lifted ever so gently out of their nest in the truck, and placed on to the metal stretcher awaiting them.   It was in that moment that I realized how much I take for granted the healthcare that I have access to, simply for the accident of the location of my birth.  These little boys did nothing differently than I, but to be born in South Africa.  I can’t help but wonder how different those patients’ lives could have been if they were born in the United States.  I am no doctor, nor do I know the conditions of their diagnoses, but I know the incredible things that have been done for the physically and mentally challenged in the US, and I feel as though something could be done for so many of those children.  Here I was, standing on my own two feet after having been able to travel 10,000 miles away from home, wondering if their little lives would ever take them outside of those cribs, those grounds.DSCF1808

Our last memory of the facility is of little Xolani, gleaming with happiness as one of the Sisters pushed him up and down the aisle between the cribs in a wheelchair.  We waved goodbye and walked away with the sounds of Xolani’s joy trailing after us, lifting our heavy hearts.  Reuniting with Father Pheko who had stayed behind to chat with his friends, we hugged and thanked Sister Antonia for her companionship throughout the day.  Exchanging emails, we promised to stay in touch and to return the favor of being a tour guide whenever she is able to come to the US.  As she wrote down her email, she explained that her Zulu name, Sbongimpilo, means “thankful for life”.  She was sick as a child, and her parents named her aptly – and Amanda and I couldn’t help but appreciate the meaning – for her, for the day, for ourselves.

The trip back to Pietermaritzburg brought us past the hospital founded by the Sisters of Montebello, although it has now been taken over by the government (and not doing so well, according to Father Pheko).  We drove through the countryside, passing miles and miles of sugar cane, as Father Pheko kept us entertained with stories of his past.  All throughout the ride, I couldn’t help but think back to the patients we had just met, and the Sisters who work around the clock to care for them.  What a personification of God’s love.

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Sister Antonia (Sbongimpilo)

We returned to the Priory exhausted and worn out.  Thanking Father Pheko for including us in his trip, Amanda and I headed back to our room for a nap and reflection on the day.  Once we decided we had our emotions under control, we walked downstairs for Evening Prayer, which we realized would never be the same for us.  With more than half of the brothers gone, the chapel seemed awkwardly empty, and the chanting and harmonies that we came to love were not as full as before.

Poor Father Joe, Father Pheko, and the remaining Brothers – I don’t think they are used to having emotional women around all the time!  The Brothers made sure to keep us entertained that night, and we had a fun time getting to know them better in the smaller group.  Despite the amount of sadness we felt throughout the day, it was impossible to ignore the amount of love that surrounded everyone we came into contact with.

Love and prayers,

Heidi

2

we meet to part, and part to meet.

Hello Friends!

I apologize for being so behind in updating you on our adventures over the past week (and a half?).  With the impending arrival of our departure day, I have been trying to absorb as much of Pietermaritzburg as possible – our friends, the town, culture, the store etc.  I promise to go back and fill you in on the missing details of the past week, but unfortunately I don’t have the time now.IMG_8673

Amanda and I have spent the past few nights laying in bed and reminiscing about our first few days here at Empaphethelweni Priory.  The time we slept through dinner, when we met each of the Brothers, fumbling our way through evening prayer (thank God for Br Clement’s help!), our first impressions of everyone and everything, the first time we tried different foods.  Its incredibly hard to believe we will be leaving all that has become familiar to us and like home in just a few hours.  This afternoon, we will board a flight from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg, where we will embark on a four day safari before hopping on another plane en route to the US.

Brothers Kelvin and Wilbroad

Brothers Kelvin and Wilbroad

This week has been an emotional rollercoaster.  With the end of their semester, many of the Brothers had to leave the Priory two weeks ago – some went home for the first time in two years, others going to conferences and a group heading to Malawi for Br (now Father) Ndabaningi’s ordination.  Saying goodbye then was difficult, and I am so very grateful for the distractions the remaining Brothers and Fathers provided us with during that weekend.

Now we come to our departure.  I am still amazed at how quickly this place came to feel like home, and how soon we have to leave it.  We finished our internship with Sinomlando on Monday morning with a review session and the ladies treated us to breakfast afterwards.  Reliving all of the memories we had from the car rides, the children’s antics and in the office, the time passed incredibly quickly and it was time to say goodbye.

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Our Sinomlando friends

We were enjoying Brother Kelvin’s culinary skill (fried chicken with gravy, homemade fries, pap and rice, Pepere) during Sunday’s recreation when Brother Wilbroad pulled a bottle of sparkling white wine out of the fridge.  After saying a few words himself, he turned the floor over to Brother Kelvin, Brother Ezechiel and both Father Joe and Father Pheko who took turns as well.   Our struggle to open the bottle was the one thing that saved them from a monsoon of tears that afternoon.

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Yesterday we attended our last evening prayer, and our last supper with the community.  Father Pheko offered the mass for us – “The American sisters that took our community by storm” – as well as for the Brothers traveling back from Malawi, and took time during mass to bless the Daily Missals that we purchased with Marie-Chantal’s help.  One look at Brother Kelvin and the tears started flowing during the reflection…I don’t think anyone could see me use my scarf to push them away?

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As if that wasn’t enough, we finished dinner last night to be whisked away from the common room by Father Pheko.  After being allowed to run upstairs for our cameras, we came downstairs to a sendoff party.  This time, there were no tears, but a cake and little gifts from the community for us to use on the safari.  We never came to South Africa with the expectation that people would thank us for our presence, especially when we cannot find adequate words of thanks ourselves.  After lots and lots of photos with the people that have snuck so deeply into our hearts, we ended the night with laughter and smiles.

Ready for our safari now!

Ready for our safari now!

We have a busy schedule today: laundry, a cooking lesson from Auntie Pat, packing, a last minute run to the store, and the final “see you laters”.  Now is when I get out of bed to start the day…talk to you later!

Love and prayers,
Heidi

2

Wednesday morning, we hopped in the car with Delphine and Philani, a research assistant with the Sinomlando Center, en route back to Mpophomeni. In case you missed it in a previous blog, Mpophomeni is a township located about 20 minutes down the highway from where we are staying in Pietermaritzburg. During the period of apartheid, the land was expropriated from its owner, Guy Lund, in order to create what is now Mpophomeni Township – where thousands of black South Africans were forcibly removed to. The first years of the township were witness to incredible amounts of violence and conflict, and many workers from the nearby Midmar Dam and Sarmcol rubber factory in Howick went on strike. The death of four year old Nokulunga Gumede inspired an end to the violence, and reconciliation began.

The old homestead, being turned into a museum

The old homestead, being turned into a museum

Along with reconciliation came initiatives to better the community, and a community center was built in the middle of the township. Today, it houses a paralegal office, the eco museum, a tourism center, and a computer center where many people take online courses. Today, the Sinomlando Center is working with the community to record oral histories and capture the true memory of the area. A group of residents decided to create a museum in order to generate tourism and preserve their histories, and approached Sinomlando for help in 2005. History had been recorded before, but only from a western perspective. They wanted their true history. For the past few years, Sinomlando has trained and empowered individuals within the community to interview other community members, and helps with the transcribing and compiling. Once the project is completed, it will represent the perspectives of individuals within the community – their stories, their emotions, their lives.

DSCF1718In this way, the people in Mpophomeni are embracing their history and legacy in order to create a positive outcome. The Mpophomeni Community Eco Museum Project “aims to preserve and share the culture, history and traditions of the region, as well as to promote understanding among both cultural and age groups” (Eco Museum flyer). Although physical objects are stored in the Montrose House (home of Guy Lund), the museum experience embodies so much more. The surrounding landscape that stood witness to the strife, the animals walking unabashedly by outside, the men’s dorms remaining from the 1960s, the houses strewn across the mountain etc. The project members involve the community to create awareness about the land, its sacredness, their responsibility to the land, finding it important to include this in the museum. Their belief is that the trees, the mountains and the wildlife are all part of the history and legacy of the land. The museum is a community project, and is both owned by and cultivated for the younger generations of the community.

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Community Center

Sitting in the circle outside of the building that will house the final completion of a long and laborious process, each member contributed his or her experience to the discussion, and described to us how they came to be a part of the project. One man shared his heart wrenching memories from the turbulent past, another described the process of collecting artifacts, and another described her experiences of working in the community to collect the oral histories. Her job not only involves recording a person’s past experiences, but also to gain his or her trust and ensure that the story is recorded accurately.
The community has done so much to turn their situation around in a short period of time. A township once in constant fighting now works together to share their talents and pool their resources for the betterment of the entire group. The African spirit of ubuntu is embodied here, and almost everywhere else we have been – such a refreshing change from “me me me”.

DSCF1726After our meeting, we headed off with a guide for a tour through the township. Along the way, we dodged cows, goats and chickens walking along (and in) the road, and took lots of photos. He explained more about the history of the township, and pointed out various points of interest. Not only did we learn about the history of the township, but also more about Zulu culture in general. We stood outside the roundavel (round house with thatched roof) of the local Sangoma (traditional healer) and discussed the various options for healing: the Western doctor, the Sangoma and the Inyanga (herbalist). Zulus traditionally believe in their ancestors, and will pray to them for help, support and healing with the help of the Sangoma. We even stumbled upon a healing ritual a few days later in Durban! Our guide showed us the Shembe Nazareth Baptist Church and invited us to a service on Saturday – if only we had more time!

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Riding through Mpophomeni, seeing what it is today and hearing how it was in the past, was an incredible learning experience on how people are able to reconcile and rebound from even the worst of experiences. The tourism center is growing quickly, and assisting in providing financial opportunities for community members.  I can’t wait to see how far they are able to get on my return trip to SA ;)

Love and prayers,

Heidi

1

New Tastes and New Sights

Due to the holiday on Monday, our work week began Tuesday morning.  Everyone in the office was attending a parenting workshop in order to see what techniques and lessons could be incorporated into Sinomlando’s workshops, and so us interns were left at the office to do a little paperwork.  After proofreading packets for the children’s camps for this week, we prepared many other papers used by the staff during workshops and camps.  It was interesting for us to get to see a behind the scenes look at the amount of preparation required for each workshop and camp, and the ways in which the materials are similar and different in order to be appropriate for their target audience.

Did I mention we met another American girl who works with Sinomlando?  Laura has been in South Africa since last August, on a mission through the Lutheran church.  She is currently living on the university campus, but has also stayed with a Zulu family further away from town. Her work throughout the year included teaching children in a crèche (kindergarten) and work with other NGOs.  We’ve had a great time getting to know her, listening to her Minnesotan accent, and hearing about her experiences in South Africa as well.  After so many unfamiliar things, its nice to have another relative piece of home!  Comparing our experiences so far has made for many laughs and fun.

With the four of us (Amanda, Delphine, Laura, and I), we wiped out the work fairly quickly and left the office by noon.  Deciding to try out the local chain restaurants, Laura, Amanda and I headed to Wimpy for lunch.  Think of Friendly’s with a smaller menu, and you’ve got a Wimpy.  We each had a burger and fries for much less than what it would cost in the States, and topped it off with an ice cream from KFC.  (We were in a caloric mood that day.)

Interior of the chapel

Interior of the chapel

The beautiful Cathedral – photo taken from the internet

Amanda and I returned to the Priory just as lunch was wrapping up, and got ready to head out again with Fr Joe.  He had to do a few errands at the Mariannhill Monastery, and offered to let us tag along for the ride.  Along the way, he pointed out the giant lumber trucks carrying their loads towards the ocean where the lumber would be send along to Japan for newspaper use, the old railroad tracks, the massive amounts of sugar cane along the road, and many other things.  He made sure to give us a detailed introduction to the Mariannhill Monastery as well ,which was incredibly interesting.  Originally settled by European Trappist monks (lots of Austrians!), the area stretched over huge amounts of land.  The monks created everything they needed: bricks and lumber to mill, their own tailoring, farms and gardens for food etc.  But upon discovering the need to evangelize the Zulu population surrounding their land, they realized that their role as Trappists would not be conducive.  In 1909, the Pope separated the Mariannhill monks from the Trappist order, thus creating the Missionaries of Mariannhill.  Their founder, Abbot Francis Pfanner is currently undergoing the process of becoming canonized.  Mariannhill (named for the Virgin Mary and Saint Ann: Maria-Ann) was at one point the largest Christian monastery in the world.DSCF1607Abbot Francis also founded the Sisters of the Precious Blood in order to fulfill the need for girl’s education – their motherhouse is located a short drive from the Mariannhill Monastery.  Together, the orders erected schools for all levels, churches, and stretched their influence over an incredible distance.  As the order has shrunk, so has their presence, but the name, many of the schools and history is still there.  Our first stop was to the printing press to pick up Brother Ndabaningi’s ordination cards, where we got a tour of the facility.  I’ve never seen so much paper, and moving so fast!  There were machines to copy, print, cut, paste, fold and who knows what else!  Walking by the woodshop, we could see a beautiful unfinished altar and many pews waiting to be stained.  The tailor shop was a little further down, and we continued on to the Repository where Amanda and I browsed for a little while.  The grounds were beautiful, and Father Joe pointed out the retreat houses, gardens, the chapel and cathedral and everything else we passed.  The workmanship in the chapel and cathedral was absolutely breathtaking and well preserved, especially when you consider that it was all handmade over a hundred years ago!

Peeking into the woodshop

Peeking into the woodshop

We finished our errands and visit with a walk through the monastery to see the small, quiet courtyard – so peaceful!  Although there is still so much happening and so many people around, we were amazed by the serenity and beauty of the grounds.  Amanda and I discussed the best way of convincing PC’s Campus Ministry to host a retreat here…any thoughts Gail?  Returning in time for evening prayer, we thanked Father Joe for taking us along and for the wonderful history lesson.

You can read more about Mariannhill on their website here: http://mariannhillmonastery.org.za/

Love and prayers,

Heidi