It has been a while since I have done a post of gratitude, but this one is necessary. You see, I turned 23 last week, and my community here quite simply spoiled me with love (and food). Below are some snippets of my wonderful weekend celebrating the beginning of my 23rd year! It might have been my first birthday during winter, but there was plenty of metaphorical sunshine to keep me warm.

–       I woke up and groggily walked to the dining hall to make some instant coffee. About six of the students in the hostel were having breakfast and I walked in to a half-hearted chorus of “Happy Birthday” followed by laughter and conversation. 

–       My supervisor, Joy, treated my coworkers and I to a breakfast out near wine country! The scenery on the drive was incredible. Also, we had jalapeño poppers and filter coffee, so my taste buds were thrilled. Below is a picture of some of the women who make my life so full and vibrant (from L to R: Monique, Tammy, me, Joy, Megan, Tarryn).

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–       After a lovely day, I spent the evening with my friends Ncobile and Elmo. We did a cover of an Adele song and watched a movie together. Ncobile even bought cake, balloons, and popcorn! What a perfect movie night with two of my best friends.

–       I received phone calls throughout the day, but the best were from my mom and when the Dean of the church called and had his entire family sing to me over the phone!

–       Friday night, Aunty Yvonne treated me to dinner with her family. Aunty Yvonne is the church secretary who, in my first days in Cape Town, asked to adopt me for the year. She calls me her Godchild and we had a lovely evening!

–       Saturday, I got to meet up with fellow YAGM Rachel Swenson and her family, all of whom are in town for a week to see the Mother City. Her parents treated me to a day in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens followed by lunch at a lovely restaurant. I had a fantastic time getting to know the Swensons while appreciating Cape Town’s breathtaking natural beauty.

–       Sunday, I received my birthday blessing in church! Every Sunday, whoever had a birthday or anniversary in the past week goes to the altar and receives a blessing from the pastor and song from the congregation. Pastor Nell, grandfather of one of my Sunday School students, gave me a beautiful blessing- “We know it is hard to have your birthday away from your family, so remember that we- the church- are your family members.” After the service, I received a bouquet of roses from my Sunday School kiddos!

Seriously, y’all- I’m spoiled with love, food, and flowers. I can’t imagine a better birthday, and I am so excited to start this new year of life with such wonderful people.

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 Wednesday, 7 May 2014 was Election Day in South Africa! This is an especially big deal because this country has only had open and democratic elections for the last 20 years, which means that I was able to bear witness to the fifth Election Day this country has ever seen in which each adult person has the right to vote. As anyone who knows me can attest, I have a serious passion for the democratic process. I was super excited to be here for this momentous occasion, and want to share bits and pieces with you! That being said, politics in South Africa is complicated. I could, if I wanted, do a whole series of blog posts just about the political sphere here. Instead, here are some pictures and stories from Election Day!

On 27 April, 1994, the lines to vote took hours and many people waited all day to cast a ballot. In my neighborhood this week, the longest line I saw took about a five-minute wait. This is due to a host of reasons, from improved logistics for polling locations to a lack of voter turnout. Below you can see a picture of a line to vote on the very first democratic Election Day in South Africa’s history, back in 1994. The first time I saw this picture, I cried to see so many people so passionate about civic engagement.

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There are a huge number of political parties in this country. In the Western Cape alone, there are 27 parties on the ballot. The local contenders include the African National Congress (ANC), which is the current ruling party, and the Democratic Alliance (DA). Other parties who had signs and booths in my neighborhood include the Congress of the People (COPE), Patriotic Alliance (PA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The picture is of a list of all 27 political parties in the Western Cape. (Please note: I took the picture at a booth for the DA. I am not in any way trying to express support for one political party over any others.)

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The South African elections are run by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Their main purpose is to ensure the election process is fair and just, without any corruption or serious issues. Here is the big IEC banner outside one polling location.

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There was also a huge police presence at the polling stations. Here, you can see a police officer walking into the schoolyard where the polling station was located. In the hour I was watching the action, I saw five various officers walk around the premises.

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Here is a DA sign on a house in my neighbourhood. People have signs around their houses for their preferred candidates, just like in Arizona!

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Here is the ANC booth outside the schoolyard. Parties are allowed to table outside the polling location, but are not allowed within the gates.

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One nifty thing about elections here is the “inking” process. As each person goes in to the polling location, they have to have their ID checked, and then they get their thumb “inked.” Essentially, a small black line is drawn on their thumb with a permanent marker. This prevents people from returning to vote twice, and is also a great way for people to show off that they participated in the election! 

The picture below is of one of my best friends, Monique. Monique and I work together, and her house is next to a polling location. I spent the afternoon standing on her stoep watching the action, getting a tour of the neighborhood from her, and even getting a tour INSIDE one of the polling locations! Apparently when Monique introduced me to an IEC official, he thought I was an official “international observer” and ensured I got a tour of the inside from the IEC supervisor. We then went back to Monique’s house to hang out with her sisters and friends and watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians (which Monique and I both hate, but her sisters love). I am so grateful to her for so many reasons. Check out her “inked” thumb in the photo- she voted!

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It was announced today that the ANC has won their fifth-consecutive election, with nearly 63% of the national vote. Also, voter turnout was almost 75% of those who had registered for this election. My prayer is that the ANC will work with the other political parties in South Africa to not only improve the quality of life for citizens, but also to ensure that there are democratic and fair elections for generations to come. 

 

A while back, I promised y’all I would try to share stories of my communities with you via this blog. In all honesty, I think I haven’t done a very good job of that. In order to make up for it, I want to tell you about the Eersterivier Lutheran Church community.

I first met some of the Eersterivier community in September on a Praise & Worship trip. They were friendly and welcoming and made me feel at home immediately. I have since seen them at various church events throughout my time, and always look forward to hearing their choir sing.

I just recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend with them, and it was awesome. I got to play with some adorable children, attend a Sunday School class in Afrikaans that I mostly understood (huge accomplishment), worship with them, be a part of family dinners, and lots of time spent in community.  I have one big conclusion about this community that you need to know: they rock.

In so many ways, they epitomize what church can be. I still can’t keep straight who is related by blood in the church, but it doesn’t matter- they’re all family. They don’t have a big fancy church building or instruments to accompany their singing, but they have a community of believers who care for each other and welcome outsiders. And, to be honest, there is no need for instruments when the singing is always in four-part harmony of beautiful, strong, clear voices.

The Eersterivier community welcomed me to worship by saying, “Abby, we don’t have gold or silver. But what we do have is faith.” In the future, I hope they edit this to say, “But what we do have is faith, love, food, laughter, music, history, hope, and some more faith. Welcome to the family.”

I am so thankful for the Eersterivier community, their welcome of a foreign outsider into their midst, and the time I have gotten to spend with them. 

Below are various pictures of the Eerste Rivier community from the last 8 months:

 

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The Eerste Rivier choir at an event in February.

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Members of the Eerste Rivier congregation at the inauguration event for the new Brass Band in the Western Cape!

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A photo from the Sunday School class I was able to attend in the sanctuary of the Eersterivier church. 

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We had our own little brass band practice on a Sunday afternoon! Turns out, living with brass players my entire life does not translate into natural talent. By the end of the day, we could all play a scale! 

One of my all-time favorite children’s books is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

For those of you who haven’t read it, I highly suggest you do, but here’s a quick synopsis: poor Alexander is not only a youngest child with a proclivity for being clumsy, but he also is in the midst of a horrible day. From gum in his hair to no dessert to a cavity to the lima beans on his dinner plate, Alexander is fed up. He decides, like any logical child would, that he is moving to Australia. The book ends (spoiler alert!) with Alexander falling asleep at the end of his horrible day, thinking, “My mom says some days are like that, even in Australia.”

Well, I can’t speak for Australia, but I can tell you that there are such things as bad days in Cape Town. Some days, no matter where you live, are bad days. I had a few bad days this month. From being homesick to language screw-ups to spider-y surprises to a lack of sleep, I was feeling very Alexander-esque. On more than one occasion, I was knocked off the high horse I sometimes try to sit on, and learning humility can be hard. I was about ready to pick up and move to Australia.

Here’s the deal about bad days, though: they are only days. Yes, sometimes a few come in a row, and suddenly you’re in a bad week, but that’s only a week. Things are bound to turn around. Alexander was bound to get dessert sometime, and I was bound to say a sentence correctly in Afrikaans again.

Growing up in the Henderson family, Alexander is often quoted on bad days. After listing a litany of complaints about a bad day to my siblings, there is a high possibility they will respond with “My mom says some days are like that, even in Australia.” It is a good reality check- today is just a day, everyone has bad days, tomorrow might be better.

So on Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days, just remember: Some days are like that, even in Cape Town.

On April 20, 2013, I was at the Discernment-Interview-Placement event to learn more about the YAGM program and continue in the process of deciding if I would, indeed, move somewhere across the world as Young Adult in Global Mission.

An excerpt from my journal that day reads: “It almost seems like [a YAGM year] isn’t actually an opportunity to give back, but instead an opportunity for YAGMs to learn and grow and bring that back to the U.S.”

The weekend ended with Pastor Heidi Torgerson-Martinez, Director of YAGM, announcing what country programs we had each been placed in. On the plane ride home later that day, I wrote: “I am moving to South Africa. That sentence looks even crazier written down than it sounds when I say it out loud!”

And now, here I am, one year later. I finished my career as an undergraduate at ASU, graduated, and started my YAGM year. And, among countless other lessons, I have learned that I was right in my suspicions about YAGM a year ago.

I have learned that this program is, indeed, not a chance for me to give back. I could never give as much to my communities here as they have given to me. I have learned and grown and plan to bring back stories of my communities and God’s work in the world. 

I did move to South Africa, and it is still crazy, and I am so very thankful. 

Pastor Godana is the self-supporting pastor of the St. Johannes Parish, which includes Bellville Lutheran Church.  Pastor Godana is usually only in Bellville for communion Sunday (which occurs once a month here), but I always look forward to it. This is not just because his sermons are in English (every other is in Afrikaans) but also because of what he has to say, and how he says it.

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Pastor Godana greets the congregation at the beginning of the sermon with “Beloved in the Lord.” Throughout his message, he will address the congregation in this manner. This always makes me think of Matthew 2:17 when, amidst Jesus’ baptism, God says “This is my Son, the Beloved.” To be beloved? That’s a really powerful thing, and I love the reminder that, like Christ, we are God’s beloved.

Two weeks ago, our sermon included Pastor Godana stopping, midsentence, to claim, “Christianity is madness! This is madness! Being Christ-like is madness!” He went on to say, “When someone strikes your cheek, to not raise a hand or raise your voice, but to turn the other side of your face? That’s madness. We believe in something we can never see, and that is madness.”

For the Tuesday of Holy Week, the sermon was titled “No race, class, or gender at the cross- only sinners.” I wrote down nearly half of what he said, but here are some highlights:

“The world is full of structures of sin that put people into these boxes- race, class, gender, sexuality… But in Christ, we are called to egalitarianism.”

“You cannot present faith as evidence to someone, but you can be evidence of faith.”

“We were created equal- all of us. With the fall of man, with the start of human sin, we began to believe that we are not equal. Inequality is a part of sin.”

“There is a word in the Bible that means helper and companion. It means that to help people, you must be equal with them. You cannot put yourself above someone else and then try to help them.”

Pastor Godana’s words are revolutionary in just about any church, and they are surely not something I am accustomed to hearing, in either ELCA or ELCSA. It isn’t necessarily that people don’t believe them, it is just that they are rarely preached from the pulpit.

And yet, they are the theology of my YAGM year. They are, in some ways, the theology of the accompaniment model YAGM operates within. That we are all equal, that we must consider ourselves equal with everyone we encounter, and that we are called into this community of love. We are called to love people- all people, always, all the time. We are called to this beloved madness that is being a follower of Christ.

I pray that today, whether you’re celebrating Easter or Passover or just another Sunday, you feel yourself surrounded by a community of loving and beloved madness and equality. 

This weekend, we had an event through the Proudly Female program I work with in conjunction with Stop Harassment Week. Not only is the event something I want to share, but also it gives me an excuse to share with you one of the hardest things about my life in Cape Town.

In the eight months that I have had the blessing of living in Cape Town, I have also had struggles. For me personally, one of the most difficult things about life here is harassment. I deal with harassment on just about a daily basis. My walk to work is only 10 minutes, yet I rarely manage to get to and from work without someone whistling, cat calling, making kissy noises, making obscene gestures, or otherwise verbally harassing me. This has been true in every place I have lived in Cape Town and every various work commute I have had.

I am lucky- the harassment has remained verbal. It puts me on edge, but I am not in danger. The thing is, though, that doesn’t make it okay. It is unacceptable that women all over the world deal with harassment. It makes me angry that I have to deal with it, but the anger I feel for myself is nothing compared to the heartbreaking realization that this is the norm in my community here.

In an average week, I interact with about 140 girls between the ages of 11 and 14. For all of these young women, harassment is a part of the only life they know. To them, it is the norm to hear men call out “Hey baby” or “Vanaand is die aand.” It is a part of their life to walk to school to the tune of House Music mixed with “psst” or kissy noises. I want, more than anything in this world, to change that. I want these girls- these vivacious, funny, passionate, goofy young women- to have freedom and safety and comfort.

I am not the only person who wants this. Joy Warries, my supervisor and mentor and the woman I am in awe of most on a daily basis, is working to change that. One step in the process is raising awareness. So, Saturday morning, about 50 girls we work with showed up at the Youth & Women Center, painted posters, and took to the streets. The posters said things such as “Stop calling me baby” and “Hands off” and “Stop harassment.” We walked down the main road in our community singing some lyrics from the Tears For Fears classic “Shout.”

As we walked, we laughed and sang and danced, and handed out pamphlets to every person we walked past and people in passing cars. The pamphlets, in Afrikaans, explained what harassment is, why it is not okay, and what to do when encountering harassment on the streets.

There is a long road ahead for the girls in my community. Unfortunately, I will not be able to travel that road with them in person after July, but I feel so blessed to have been a part of this first event. This event, while just a first step, was a step in the right direction.

Here are some pictures from our wonderful day of activism!

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Here we are afterwards. This chaos is what happens after you yell “funny photo!”

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