I remember reading once when I was younger that take-offs and landings are the most dangerous parts of any flight- the time when you are most likely to crash.

As a nervous flier prone to motion sickness, I’ve never exactly been a fan of flying, but the absolute worst parts of any flights are take-offs and landings. It is during these times of rapidly changing altitude, of literally altering your place in this world and watching the ground shift beneath you, that I am most likely to feel sick (in South Africa, we’d say I might “bring up”). I grip the seat handles until my knuckles are white, take deep breaths, and pray incessantly.

This seems like an appropriate time to reflect on take-offs and landings, as I am posting this from the Johannesburg airport, about to leave South African soil. I am not only in the midst of literal take-offs and landings, but also in the midst of great changes in my life.

I have left Cape Town. This last year has been…well…. I don’t quite have sufficient words for this year. The English language fails me in trying to encompass the struggles, joys, growth, depth, breadth, and overwhelming opportunity of accompanying communities in Cape Town for 11 short months. I have learned more than I expected, struggled more than I would have guessed, and been loved more than I could have imagined.

I have taken off from my newfound home, not only in Bellville South, but in the hearts of people who welcomed an outsider into their midst with hospitality, grace, and mercy.

I have taken off, again, from my YAGM-SA family. The nine other YAGMs and the Leiseth family have been a support system unlike any other I have ever known.

I will soon be taking off from South Africa, a country that will forever set my heart aflame and a country I truly hope to return to someday.

I will land, soon enough, in Phoenix, Arizona. I will land into the arms of my family and friends and congregations who have supported me in a multitude of ways over the last year. I will land in my first home, but I will not be fully at home. I will never again experience the simplicity of having everyone I love in one place, because I now have loved ones all over the globe. I will never be fully settled in Arizona, because a part of my heart will always live on in Cape Town.

I will also be landing into the unknown. In what ways have things changed in America? What has happened in the lives of my loved ones? How will the experiences that have shaped me and remade me in this last year translate? What does the future hold?

I still don’t have all the answers. I am sitting in the muck and the mess of the unknown, gripping the seat handles of my life, taking deep breaths, and praying incessantly. There is a distinct possibility that there will be turbulence. I have to adjust to this new altitude- this new me, in a once-familiar place, with my heart spread out across the world. I am in the middle of take-offs and landings. It is my least favorite part of the journey.

I may not know what will happen, but I am not going to stay on the ground just because it is easier. I am going to take off and land, take off and land, again and again in this world.  I am going to try to remember to breathe and pray, try to loosen my grip on the handles, and try to treat others with the same grace and compassion that I have been shown through this journey. Thanks be to God.

South Africa has 11 national languages. Many other YAGM programs around the world start with language training. However, South Africa can’t do that as a group, because we are learning different languages. Between the 10 placement sites this year, there were 7 languages that were used daily. This means that I arrived in Cape Town, in a Coloured community that is primarily Afrikaans-speaking, knowing how to say “thank you,” but nothing else.

The language Afrikaans has a complex history. It developed in the 18th century as Dutch settlers had to communicate with other inhabitants of Southern Africa, including their slaves. It is largely comprised of Dutch, but has bits and pieces of Khoisan, Portuguese, Xhosa, and languages from Southeast Asia and Southern Africa.

It is also the cause of a lot of controversy. Afrikaans is the mother-tongue of the Afrikaaner people, and it was a group of Afrikaaner people who developed the governmental structure of apartheid. The Afrikaaner people are often credited as being the “architects of apartheid” and Afrikaans as the “language of oppression.” In fact, the Soweto Student Uprisings of 1976, often credited as the beginning of the end of apartheid, started due to the students’ frustration at being taught in Afrikaans.

While that is the history of the language nationally, in my community, it is different. The coloured community is majority Afrikaans-speaking, but it is not the same Afrikaans spoken by the Afrikaaner people. In much of the Western Cape, Afrikaans and English are mixed together in a blend of language and dialect. Some things are said only in English, and other things are said only in Afrikaans. Some sentences it’s common to mix the two together. Words are even pronounced differently.

I have lived among the coloured community for nearly 11 months, and yet I am nowhere near fluent or even conversational in Afrikaans. I can understand most of the simple sentences spoken around me, and my church-related vocabulary isn’t too bad, but I still often have to ask for clarification in English. I can speak some simple sentences, but my friends always laugh and tell me I speak Afrikaans with a German accent (how that is possible I just don’t know).

The thing is, though, the Afrikaans I have learned is the bilingual mix of my community. It is beautiful, and I adore hearing it spoken. But it is unexpected for many people to encounter a white person who speaks this dialect of Afrikaans. Often, when I am in other parts of the city or country, a person will approach me speaking Afrikaans. I will realize, with a shock, that I can’t understand anything they say because their accent and way of speaking is so different. I have even seen looks of shock and anger on the faces of people when I speak “improper” Afrikaans.

Sometimes, when I travel to other YAGMs, I get a whole different reaction. For example, when I was able to visit Soweto, I would tell people I was learning Afrikaans and some would respond with anger that I would learn the “language of oppression.” I felt the need to defend my community, to speak up for their use of Afrikaans, and to explain that it was not just the language used to write apartheid laws.

It is the language with which I greet my students, with which they call out to me on the street as I pass by.

It is the language my supervisor uses when she speaks to her husband about their work trying to make life better in my community.

It is the language in which I have learned The Lord’s Prayer, in which I have heard hymns and the Lutheran liturgy for the last year.

It is the language I helped my host siblings practice spelling words for, the language with which I am greeted as I pass my neighbors, the language spoken when I watch soccer in the hostel, the language with which people say “How are you,” “Sleep well,” “I love you,” and “I will miss you.”

Afrikaans is not my mother tongue, but it is the tongue of my mothers in Cape Town, and I feel so blessed that I was able to spend a year struggling to learn bits and pieces of a bilingual and imperfect dialect of such a meaningful language.

The New York Times listed Cape Town as the #1 “Place to Go” in 2014. This city is the World Design Capital for 2014. Famous musicians, artists, and business leaders come to Cape Town to share their gifts with the world. People often talk of an idealized community that lives seaside in South Africa, eats Cape Malay curries, and celebrates the freedoms of the Rainbow Nation.

The thing is, like any bustling metro area, there is another side to the areas of wealth and privilege. The Cape Flats are notorious for problems with poverty, hunger, violence, gangsterism, rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. Movies like Four Corners have highlighted and brought awareness to the drug trafficking and gangsterism in these areas, which are only tens of kilometers from the center of the Business District or any of the wealthy neighborhoods on Table Mountain’s slopes.

Bellville South, however, is neither a fairytale nor a nightmare. My community struggles with various problems, but they have strength, resilience, community, and hope. That being said, my community is not a part of the gleaming seaside city that the world wants to visit. The reality of life here is that you have to have street smarts to get around, you probably don’t have money to go to town often, and Table Mountain is a looming landmark in the distance that you might never climb. The crime rates are high, the Western ideal of a “nuclear family” in a single, privately owned home is rare, and most people don’t go out after dark.  

I love both sides of Cape Town. I love the few days I have been able to spend in the city, walking the streets surrounded by gorgeous buildings, soaking in the history of the Cape, and listening to all sorts of languages and cultures combine. I also love my neighborhood. I love the way people know each other, care for each other, and are working towards a better life together. I love the way I have managed to find comfort, stability, and family among these incredible people.

My love for both sides of Cape Town doesn’t give me a safety net. In fact, I’m often hyper-aware of the problems that exist in this urban jungle. The city that has stolen my heart might also steal my wallet, my cell phone, or my dignity.

Here’s what I’m getting at: big city livin’ is difficult. My heart yearns for peace and equity among the peoples of this metropolis, and I want more than anything to know that the people I love here will be safe. I will miss walking the streets of the city just as much as I will miss walking the streets of my neighborhood. I may not be in a rural village, but there are struggles here, too, and they are real and impact daily lives.

These struggles, this duality of life, is not unique to Cape Town. Big cities all over the world draw tourists, and also have places that they might want to keep the tourists from visiting. This year, I have learned from my community what it means to live on the margins of the big city. I hope that the next time you visit a gleaming metropolis, you remember that there is so much more to see, so many more people to meet, and so much more to love about that place than just the bright lights and big city. 

Post originally written on 3 July.
Today, I had the great honor of learning to make vetkoek!

Vetkoek is a Cape Town treat that I didn’t necessarily go crazy for… until I tried Aunty Lizzie’s recipe. Aunty Lizzie works at WOW Movement cleaning, cooking, and laughing at nearly everything I do. She greets me every morning with “Môre, my skat!” and throughout the day will bring joy to my life through her simple presence. She is the only person in Cape Town who refuses to speak English for me, in the hopes I will learn Afrikaans. Often, this means I only understand every tenth word she says and have to ask a multitude of questions, in English, for her to clarify, in Afrikaans. When I finally understand, she will laugh in delight at the look of comprehension on my face.

I have been asking Aunty Lizzie for a few weeks to teach me to make vetkoeke, and today was the day! I woke up early and went over to Joy’s house, where Lizzie does her cooking for the girls we work with. She greeted me, as always, with “Môre, my skat!” Then, we got to work. Watching Lizzie make vetkoek reminded me of watching my Grandma Ruth make pie crusts when I was a little girl. I’m sure at some point, there was a recipe and measuring cups, but now, they mix ingredients, measuring with their memories. She poured and mixed and grabbed, and finally looked at me and told me it was my turn to knead the dough. I started, cautious of making a mistake, until she laughed and walked away. She would occasionally come over and watch me, showing me tips and tricks, and laughing at the fact that she was teaching an American girl to make vetkoek.

After the dough had a few hours to rise, we fried the little morsels, walked them over to WOW Movement, and fed nearly 30 girls from the neighborhood. After all the kids had food, we got to eat. Vetkoek, soup, and chicken nekkies: a meal that is totally Cape Town, totally delicious, and totally full of warmth and memories.

It was such a special day for me, and I am so glad I get to share it with all of you! For those of you in Arizona, be expecting plenty of vetkoeke upon my return later this month. For now, here are pictures to whet your appetite!

Aunty Lizzie getting the dough ready!

Aunty Lizzie getting the dough ready!

Fryin' up some vetkoeke!

Fryin’ up some vetkoeke!

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Vetkoek (“fat cake”) tastes like a mix between Southern biscuits and Indian fry bread. It is especially good with mince curry, pilchards, or cheese.

Showing off our finished batch of vetkoeke!

Showing off our finished batch of vetkoeke!

 

We have this saying in Cape Town: “Here, you get all four seasons, every day!” When I first arrived, I thought people who said this were being ridiculous. After 10 months, however, I find myself saying this to other people.

I arrived in September, which is the end of winter here. It was cold and wet nearly every day. October and November brought on wind unlike anything I’ve lived in, with sunshine and rain and cold and hot interspersed throughout the days. December through April were, mostly, gorgeous weather. It would get hot, but not too hot. It would get cold, but not too cold. There was rain and wind and sunshine and clouds. In May, we entered winter again. It is now mostly cold and wet again, but I have acquired a winter hat and a pair of boots to brave the storms.

Some days, I will wake up to the sound of wind and rain and want to dress for winter, only to arrive at work sweating under all my layers as the sun has come out. In the afternoon, it will rain again, and then suddenly the temperature will drop or rise. On other days, I will dress like a desert girl, only to be caught in a downpour and soaked through. We get all four seasons, every day, which makes sense when you consider I live on a peninsula off of the southern coast of a continent, at the meeting of two oceans, right?

People tend to dismiss “talking about the weather” as banal small talk- something to be avoided. The thing is, though, talking about the weather is important. The weather is one thing you definitely have in common with everyone in your neighborhood. More importantly, when you don’t have A/C or heating or a car, the weather affects your day-to-day life. When it rains here, people often don’t go to work unless it is necessary. When it was hot, sometimes my supervisor would close the office a bit early so we could all go lay down indoors. Now, it is totally reasonable to sit with my coworkers and talk about how much we look forward to going home, getting under our blankets, and staying there until morning. The weather impacts every day of my life in Cape Town. For example, as I write this blog post, my hands are so cold that I keep typing silly typos. 

I have found that truly experiencing the daily weather has given me a better appreciation for seasons, for a roof to live under and a blanket to sleep under, for the beauty of the cycle of nature. More importantly, it has given me a great appreciation for people to sit around with and talk about the weather. 

In my life in Cape Town, I rely on five main modes of transport: trains, taxis, buses, friends, and feet. I’ll give you a brief overview of each so you can get an idea of how this chick gets around town. 

1. Trains: Cape Town has a pretty solid MetroRail system. When I was living in Muizenberg, I took the train to and from work. I love the way trains move, the way musicians and vendors walk through trains with things to sell, and the way people on a broken-down train quickly become friends. 

2. Taxis: Taxis are one of my absolute favorite things about South Africa. They probably deserve their own blog post. You see, “taxi” here does not mean the same thing as “taxi” in NYC. Here, that is a “metered cab.” A “taxi,” or “kombi,” is a mini-bus. Most are 15-passenger vans, and in most parts of South Africa, that means they fit 15 people. In Cape Town, however, a 15-passenger van can fit up to 23 adults (ask me about that story sometime).  Basically, you wave down a taxi as it drives past you on the road, hop on, and tell the driver to stop when you want to get out again. They are usually blasting house music, hip hop, or R&B. There is a taxi that goes from my neighborhood to the Bellville Taxi Rank, where a multitude of taxis sit, waiting to fill up with passengers before they leave for their different destinations. Taxi rides, locally, are no more than R20, and you can get to a lot of places using taxis. Granted, you might have to take three separate taxis to your destination, but you’ll get there. I love love love sitting in a taxi, crammed with a bunch of strangers, listening to ridiculous music and a variety of languages, and looking out the window at the city I now call home. 

3. Buses: Buses here are pretty much like public buses in the U.S. They are sometimes late, sometimes crowded, but usually just fine. I take buses on Fridays to the church office where I work, and appreciate the relative peace and quiet compared to taxis and trains. 

4. Friends: If I need to get somewhere that public transportation doesn’t go, I am lucky enough to know a few people with their own personal cars. For the most part, people in my community don’t own their own cars. However, there are a few exceptions. I enjoy car rides with friends for the chance to have conversations or sing together to songs on the radio or discuss just how crazy it is that people in the U.S. drive on the other side of the road. 

5. Feet: Let’s be honest, this is my main mode of transportation. I have two feet attached to two legs, and they get me just about anywhere. Currently, I walk to and from work, the post office, the grocery store, or just about anywhere else I need to go on a typical day. Even if I take a bus, or a taxi, or a train, I will still have at least a 10-minute walk to and from the vehicle I will get on. One of my favorite moments of my daily life is turning onto the street that leads to the hostel, and knowing I am nearly home. Walking means I often end up sunburned or soaked in rain or freezing cold, but I get to where I am going and I am able to take time to think, appreciate the beauty of my life, and pray. 

After a year of relying on these varied and usually convenient forms of public transportation, I worry a bit about transitioning back to Arizona, where the public transportation system isn’t great. Even though I will have access to a car, I hope I remember to take public transportation whenever possible. It is a chance to meet new people, take in the world around me, and appreciate the diversity of each day. 

I am shocked by how quickly time passes- I only have six weeks left in my community of Bellville South. In these last six weeks, I want to throw myself into daily life, but I also want to communicate daily life with my international community. For that purpose, once a week for the next six weeks I will do a blog post about something in my daily life, from language to laundry. I hope you enjoy hearing about the not-so-profound parts of my life here!

First up: TV!

For the most part in South Africa, I haven’t had access to DSTV (the equivalent of cable in the US). Instead, I have access to SABC1, SABC2, SABC3, and e.tv. These four channels have the same evening line-up every weeknight: news and soap operas. The news is broadcast in different languages at different times, and almost every South African culture has a soap opera, or soapie. There are lots of popular South Africa shows: Isidingo, Rhythm Cuty, Muvhango, Generations, 7 de Laan, and Scandal, to name a few.

In mid-October, I moved in with a host family and began to regularly watch 7 de Laan. It is primarily in Afrikaans (all shows have English subtitles) and my host family let my host siblings watch it to help them practice their Afrikaans for school. I was skeptical at first, but quickly got hooked. One of my absolute favorite TV moments was watching 7 de Laan at the Children’s Home I worked at one day in December. The teenage girls and I were all hoping Danelle and Bernard (characters on the show) would get together, and during the couple’s first kiss we all cheered and danced around the room. I have continued to watch 7 de Laan throughout the year, and have fond memories watching it in every place I have lived in Cape Town.

In January, I moved into the hostel where I currently live. Now, at 8 PM every night, you’ll find me sitting with some of the students who live here, absorbed in the drama of Generations. We usually can’t make it through the show without an argument breaking out amongst the students: is Sibusiso evil or every man’s hero? Should Senzo and Jason break up? Is Noluntu or Dineo more beautiful? I’m now even vocal in some of these arguments (Sibusiso is a horrible person and Noluntu and Dineo are both gorgeous). 

There is plenty of debate in the world about the value of television, but spending time each night watching TV with the people in my life has been a blessing. It gives us something to talk about, helps me feel like I truly belong, and forces us all out of our rooms to spend time together in community. 

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