Posted by: Elizabeth D. | June 30, 2012

Things I will miss

The past few days have been really sad as I approach the final week of my life in Mabopane. (I started making a list two weeks ago when I was sick with the mumps, but my friend inspired me to make it a blog) My friend was taking me home last weekend and she asked me what I was going to miss the most when I leave (little did she know she was about to get an earful). So here is my list, in no particular order and certainly not everything, just what I could think of…

The people. This goes without saying, but my kids (crèche and school), the women I worked with (Happy, Kate, Mama Mauwane, Creche women, etc), my patients, my host family, the Mokwena’s (my second family), my friends…

The always eventful taxi rides, there was never a shortage of conversations and interesting people to meet…my newfound sense of patience can also be attributed to them as I sometimes waited up to an hour and a half before they were full and could leave.

Showing up at the taxi ranks and before I had to tell them my stop for my home, they would point me in the direction (I guess being one of two white girls in Mabopane makes you easy to remember)

The food

The weather, for the most part….winter is tough without indoor heating

Experiencing something new everyday, especially with trying new food


Birthday parties

Church choruses, though maybe not so much the 4+ hour services that accompany them

Dancing in the church, especially seeing all of the women’s and men’s league members busting a move

Learning everyday

South African hospitality

Sayings – “Dankie, nay?” “Sharp,” “Sjoe,” “Sorry/Ekskuus, nay?” “Ah, wena,” “Aowa,” “Ga ke itse,” “Ah eh,” “O sharp?,” “Ee, ke sharp,” “Ko ko”

Hearing “Mama Alizabeta” and “Aus’ Elizabeth” daily, whether at school or crèche or walking down the street

Walking into the crèche and seeing that every girl had on something pink….everyday

“Kaaing” (fist bumping) and “sjoeing” (flicking thumbs) with my babies, though if you do it with one, then everyone wants to

Watching my itty bitty grade fours put away an entire spatlho (African burger) for lunch – a quarter loaf of bread hollowed out filled with chips (fries), mango achaar (spicy unripened mangoes), and tomato sauce (ketchup) with polony, cheese, eggs, and or a Russian (hot dog), and topped with the extra bread

Losing power during storms and having lots of downtime for reading and reflection (I actually kept a journal!)

Falling asleep to the ZCC (Zion Christian Church) singing late at night

Bus rides – watching the landscapes change as the provinces change

MUD4 retreats

Napping on the grass at Church Square and the Union buildings

Being chased around the soccer field by my boys on evening runs

Walking down the street, greeting and being greeted by everyone

My neighbor playing Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Zahara on repeat at 8 am every weekend

Getting in trouble for forgetting to greet someone

Having to just go with the flow

House music


The Wild

“Please calls” – when out of airtime


Short Left

Black Label


South African time (now now, just now, now)

Living and learning the ubuntu way of life

Conversations, even if the majority of the time I could only hear a small portion

Attempting to speak Setswana



My room

My home

My home….my host family’s house and the deanery offices where I have my room

My final month of support. A massive thanks! This year has been so incredible and I wouldn’t be here without all of your help.

July 1-6: Bill and Pat Daubert

July 8: Linda Pankhurst

July 9-12: Bill and Pat Daubert

July 13: Tom Kasischke

July 15-16: Bill and Pat Daubert

July 17: Elizabeth Daubert

July 18: Goins Family

July 22-24: The Young Family

July 25: Scott and Pam Daubert

July 29: Scott and Pam Daubert

July 31: Dick and Rheta Luy

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | June 22, 2012

Home to me is reality

How can you not fall in love?

Today was, by far, the most difficult in all of my previous ten months here. I spent the entire day saying goodbye; goodbye to my kids at the crèche, the women at the crèche, my kids at school, and the teachers at school. (Since it was the last day of school and crèche before winter break – School resumes, unfortunately, a week after I depart) It was exhausting and emotionally draining; tears were certainly unavoidable. I never expected to fall in love with 50 little ones and a couple hundred school kids the way that I have, but it was inevitable. It’s frustrating and disappointing that I may never see them again; these kids were such an integral part of my life here. Though, I can honestly say it’s been the most amazing year and I wouldn’t change a thing.

July 10th is the day I depart Mabopane, my home for the past year, and travel to Pietermaritzburg, one last time, to begin my transition back to the States. It’s been a frequent topic around me for the past few weeks, particularly whenever someone asks the date of my departure. Most often I hear “oh, you must be so excited to go home.” Of course, that’s a valid statement, but I’m always correcting people, reminding them how much I truly love it here and how difficult it will be for me to leave. Mabopane has been my home, in ever sense of the word, for the past year and I have more than fallen in love with the amazing people, the wonderful customs, the beautiful mountains, and the perfect way of life.

Some of the Grade 4’s at the Youth Day assembly

One of those frequent conversations began in the exact same way a few weeks ago with my host mom, Mamoruti. She asked my date of departure and after responding, she asked, “So you are counting the days then?” I quickly disagreed, stating that it was quite the opposite that I was going to really miss living here. Mamoruti smiled and gave me the affirmation of my past ten months that I didn’t need, but secretly wanted, as she said, “good, because we’ve really enjoyed having you here and we’ll miss you.”

My boys

I was given a rare opportunity as I began this year, yet it took me several months to realize the nature of the gift I had been given. I was the first MUD volunteer to ever be placed in Mabopane, as well as the only participant in MUD4 to be placed in a new site. It goes without saying, though I’m sure Brian would attest to this, but I fought it, a lot, in the beginning. It terrified me that not only did I not know what I was doing, but my supervisor, the dean, also didn’t really know and we had to work together to create this placement. The MUD alumni at orientation were able to give all MUD4 a little insight into their placements, but couldn’t say anything about mine. It was frustrating and scary, but those feelings quickly morphed into excitement as I saw the potential in my placement.

I was able to completely shape the program in Mabopane, as well as combat the stereotypes that South Africans have of Americans and of the way we think about South Africa. It was a huge responsibility…you want to make a good impression and you want them to want another volunteer to come next year. Yet, with Mamoruti’s recent statement I think I did an okay job. It was nice, though, especially because I was the first American many people here met, to be able to let them know that, no, not all Americans think there are lions running around on the street and not all of us think that everyone lives in huts. It still makes me laugh that it’s a shock to them that I was educated about a real South Africa. I’ve also enjoyed breaking down the many false images of the United States. I was glad to be able to be a representative, showing them that we all don’t live like movie stars or even know them; we live in houses and neighborhoods comparable to the ones I see everyday. It has been a genuine privilege to be in Mabopane this past year and I feel lucky, everyday, to have met the amazing people I have met; words can’t even begin to describe how much I will miss this place.

One of the teachers and I

Blogs have, unfortunately, been the last thing on my mind recently….Sorry! But I haven’t forgotten the reasons that I am here! Thanks for all of the support! Though an ocean may separate us, I feel the love and thoughts everyday!

May 1-5: The Martin’s

May 6: Dick and Rheta Luy

May 7: Dee Gerber

May 8-9: Audrey Mellott

May 10-11: Cindy Mellott

May 12: John Simon

May 13: Pam Daubert

May 14-29: John and Pat Bentz

May 30: Joe and Carol Gillett

May 31: Pat Arms

June 1: Sulynn Richards

June 6: Marie Scarlett

June 7-11: Don and Rosaleen Dawes

June 12: The Vaskovsky’s

June 14: Don and Jane Henderson

June 17: Tom Bleick

June 18-22: Greg Munson

June 24-30: Bill and Phyllis Seibert

Dancing for Youth Day

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | April 30, 2012

Moving forward

April was quite an emotional month for many reasons; my parents and sister were able to visit me for a week around Easter and the other eleven MUDs and I had to say goodbye to our country coordinators, the Konkols, as they returned home to the states, at a short impromptu retreat. It was a month full of happiness, sadness, and thoughtfulness, as we prepared to say goodbye to the two people that guided us through the uncertainties, the joys, and the struggles this program can present, as I prepared for my family’s visit, and with the Easter festivities as well.

I was a little apprehensive as to what was in store for Holy week in South Africa, I had heard stories of people sleeping and staying in the church from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday, people visiting the graveyard Easter morning, among many others. So I was unsure what Holy week meant for me in Mabopane. Luckily, my church is not among the few that sleep there the whole week or visit graveyards at dawn, but it is among the few that has one service on Maundy Thursday evening, then two on Good Friday. I worked it out; I went to my friends’ (Lerato and Petunia’s) church three different times within twenty four hours, a certain first for me.

Good Friday skit by the kids of Khutsong

Maundy Thursday was quite solemn with Holy Communion, which I expected. The morning Good Friday service was a normal service and then the children of Khutsong (Lerato and Petu’s church) performed a skit of Jesus’s final days. The afternoon Good Friday service was by far my favorite. It was the seven words uttered by Jesus on the cross. Seven pastors were invited; each took ten to fifteen minutes to give a short sermon about each of the words. It was definitely one of my favorite services I have attended so far, even if I did not understand it all. Then there was Easter on Sunday, my second favorite service, for a few reasons. My family was there to attend it, which was wonderful, but also, it was incredibly joyous, lots of singing and lots of dancing (we even got my parents to dance a bit).

My sister with my kids at the creche

My family arrived on the Saturday before Easter and as I mentioned, we spent that Sunday at Modisa in Mabopane. My family seemed to enjoy the service, but it was their first experience into a four plus hour service (there were 16 baptisms and 1 confirmation), so they were rightfully a little tired by the end. We spent a few days in Pretoria/Mabopane, as I wanted them to see what it is I have been doing and a few other days in Cape Town, before they had to head home. The best day was taking them to the crèche and school. They loved meeting all of my kids and my kids LOVED them. I was happy for them to finally see why I love Mabopane and South Africa so much.

One of the most interesting things during my family’s visit was the opportunity I had to experience South Africa through their eyes. Everything we did and saw, for the most part, I had already seen or done, so it was cool to see them put pictures to the words. They’ve all heard so much about kombi rides and life around Mabopane, but for them to see it for themselves was great. It was also cool for me, because it was the first time I got to see someone experience South Africa for the first time (besides myself, but that doesn’t count). I got to witness what shocked them, what surprised them, what puzzled them, and what they loved. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed having them here, showing them my “home.”

My parents at Cape point

The day my parents and sister left I had to head to Pietermaritzburg for the unplanned retreat due to the Konkols’ upcoming departure from South Africa and the role of country coordinators. The majority of time was spent talking about how we move on, how we say goodbye to our sites, etc. It caused most of us a little bit of anxiety to begin thinking about leaving three months away, but Brian and Kristen know what they are doing, and they are right. We don’t need to focus on leaving, but we need to prepare ourselves so that we are not in absolute distress come July. It was hard to say goodbye to the people that were of the most supportive this entire year, who understood exactly what was happening, and guided me through my joys and struggles. Though, it was the right move for them and their family, they will be sorely missed over the next two and a half months.

The 12 of us (minus one) plus Brian and Khaya packing up their house.

A very big thank you to all my April supporters! I can’t say how much I appreciate it!

April 1-7: The Andersen’s

April 5: Elaine G. Sell

April 8-14: Bill and Pat Daubert

April 15-22: George and Carol Brown

April 23: Bill and Pat Daubert

April 24: The Fitch Family

April 25-26: Bill and Pat Daubert

April 27: Marian Rickert

April 28: Renne Barolet

April 29-30: The Raube’s

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | April 30, 2012

Lessons in diversity…

The Big Hole (diamonds) and Kimberley in the background

I have been very fortunate, within the past month, to have had the opportunity to experience more of South Africa via visiting three other MUD participants. My travels took me to Kimberley, Umphumulo in KZN, and Durban. As many of you probably know, South Africa is about twice the size of Texas, and boasts an internal diversity comparable or perhaps exceeding that of the United States. During my travels, mainly by bus and taxis, I am constantly reminded of that ever present diversity in everything, from the shifts in languages, cultures, and even landscape.

Kimberley reminded me a lot of the Midwestern United States. The familiar hills and mountains of Mabopane and Gauteng province turned into flat landscape as I approached Kimberley and the Northern Cape. However, Umphumulo put Mabopane’s “mountains” to shame as it took nearly an hour long taxi ride to wind up and over mountains to reach our final destination. As we arrived in Durban, I was reminded that South African cities are not alike, just as American ones have their differences, as I was naively expecting another Pretoria or Joburg. Just as quickly as the landscapes changed, the languages shifted from my familiar Tswana to Afrikaans to Zulu, indicative of South Africa’s eleven official languages. As stressful as it can be going from one language I barely understand to two new ones, of which I know two words each, it’s equally exciting, experiencing the many cultures of a wonderful country.

I believe, however, the greatest lesson in diversity I have received was from visiting my fellow MUD volunteers’ work sites. At times, it’s hard to remember, as I’m working in my placement, that no one else has a similar situation; certainly one of the great beauties of this program. I had the opportunity to go to work, with my friend in Kimberley, to a home for disabled children and a home for “street” kids, basically those with no where else to go. Both homes are great places and my friend’s involvement and presence at both was apparent.

In Umphumulo, we accompanied my friend to the local hospital where he volunteers a good portion of his time. Within our first few minutes there it was decided that me and two other volunteers (my friend opted out, because he sees many) would get to observe a cesarean section. The three of us were ecstatic, “hospital suited up,” and watched the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. Witnessing new life entering the world is probably the coolest thing I have ever had the privilege to experience. I cannot lie, pangs of jealously momentarily consumed me, as I walked through the halls of the homes and hospital. Yet, at the same time, while I was at each of the sites, my kids at the crèche and school and my aids patients were on my mind, reminding me that I am exactly where I am meant to be. Though it would be cool to work at both of the homes and observe surgeries a few times a week, I am perfect right where I am, and it’s clear the two volunteers in Kimberley and Umphumulo are ideal for their sites.

Hospital suited up and ready for the c-section

I have to say, the most important message that I obtained from visiting each of the sites and through time together at retreats is that each of the twelve of us is unlike anyone else, all bringing different qualities to the table within our personalities, our strengths, and our weaknesses. It reminds me that I am incredibly lucky to serve alongside the other eleven; it’s obvious that they are equally responsible for my growth these past eight months as the people of Mabopane.

Thanks to all my March sponsors! All of your support means so much to me!

March 1: Donna Van Kampen

March 2-3: The Albers

March 4: Mama

March 5-7: The Raubes

March 8: The Vaskovsky’s

March 10: Bill Pankhurst

March 11-12: The Ablers

March 13: Ally Pfotzer

March 14-15: The Miley’s

March 16: Joe Prasil

March 17: The Kaddouri’s

March 18-21: The Steiner’s

March 22: Glen and Carol Hoag

March 26: Susan Fitzgerald

March 28: The Vaskovsky’s

March 31: Ally Pfotzer

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | March 29, 2012

The wall has been hit – now what?

MUD girls went ziplining!

I spent the end of February and beginning of March with my fellow volunteers on our second retreat and final before we all come back together once our year is finished. It was a wonderful time filled with exciting outings, but more importantly some much needed reflection and discussions with all of MUD4. I tended to focus my reflections primarily on the past few months of life in Mabopane. The past three months, January to March, have been incredible. My work has really taken off; I feel useful and am thoroughly enjoying myself. Teaching at school has been wonderful, the kids at crèche are sweet and really starting to listen to me, and the AIDS project is doing well.

However, I have to say, one of my favorite moments, maybe one of the most trivial, happened at the crèche in early February/late January. Ever since I began working at the crèche in late October/early November of last year, I was always known as Mama/Mami Lekgowa (white person) or simply not addressed at all. Yet, beginning in January, something clicked, and all of a sudden I became Mama Elizabeth (or Mama Alizabeta – with their adorable accents), by far, one of the greatest days. It’s wonderful to hear all of the kids say my name, even the littlest ones.

The youngest couple at the creche.

Mme Happy and a few kids at the Hector Pieterson Memorial

Yet, just as suddenly as the kids started addressing me by name, I hit the previously elusive, metaphorical wall at about 100 mph. A thousand things and feelings have begun consuming my thoughts, all directly related to the rapidly approaching end of year. As soon as I heard those sweet voices calling me Mama Alizabeta, I began to consider the end of year and what was going to happen, especially after I am back in the States. I’m not naïve or arrogant even, to think that life in Mabopane will come to a complete halt come July when I have to leave; obviously, I wouldn’t even want that to happen, nor should it. My thoughts tend to focus on relationships (isn’t that largely what this program is about); my relationships with my kids at school and crèche, the people I work with, my friends, my host family, etc.

In the era of impressive technological advances and, of course, Facebook, there’s no question that I will be able to relatively stay in touch with my friends, my host family, and a few of the women I work with. But, what about my grade 7’s, am I ever going to know if they graduate to secondary school? What about the kids at the orphanage, how will I know what happens to them in a recent very unfortunate, yet uncertain situation? What about all of the people that have come to be an integral part of my life for the past seven months?

Not so sure about the mummy at the Pretoria Museum of Culture.

Again, as much as building these aforementioned relationships is part of the MUD program, so is the process of going home and, essentially, letting go. I cannot even begin to imagine what it will be like when I have to leave. If anything, though, these recent revelations concerning the end of year have incited a greater desire to make the most of these final months and caused me to realize the increasing necessity for me to be fully present in Mabopane. The end is approaching entirely too quickly, but that does not mean I should pathetically stare at the calendar as July approaches. I don’t need to worry about the future, I just need to focus on the amazing moments I experience daily; being called Mama Elizabeth, seeing my grade 4’s understand a previously difficult math problem, or being chased around the soccer field on my evening runs by a few charming little boys. There are still a thousand opportunities to seize and countless moments and memories left to experience. Sure it’s going to end soon, and it will be sad, but I have a feeling that these final months are going to be some of the most amazing in my entire year.

MUD4 Bracelets

A REALLY BIG thank you to all of my February sponsors! I apologize for the lateness of the acknowledgement, but please know that I keep up daily and I cannot thank you all enough!!

February 1: The Kaddouri Family

February 2: The Vaskovsky’s

February 3-4: Richard and Joanne Mummert

February 5-8: George Shipley

February 9-10: The Albers

February 11: Don Dixon

February 12-18: The Mujica Family

February 20-22: Karen Eve Pfotzer

February 23-28: The Steiners

February 29: Judy Smith

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | January 31, 2012

Back into the swing of things

Christmas Day lunch

The festive season has finally passed, as has summer vacation, which meant that January 18th, I was back to work. Though, I must say, I was quite glad to be getting back to work. Christmas was a different experience than I expected. It is summer here, so it is extremely hot here, unlike the states, where I would be sipping hot chocolate and watching snow fall. The most notable difference, however, was that I was without my family, friends, and home, a recurring theme in all of the Christmas songs I was listening to before the “big day.” Thus I had mixed feelings as the holidays approached me in Mabopane.

Up until two days before Christmas, I wasn’t really sure of my festive plans. I figured I would just hang out at Modisa and have a pretty low key Christmas with my host family. I knew Christmas day was going to be an extremely tough day, as I was going to be without my family. I was settling into what I thought were my holiday plans, when I got an SMS message from my friend Lerato asking when I was coming over for Christmas. I was thrilled to have plans and to be celebrating with my friends.

As soon as I arrived at Lerato and Petunia’s house, I realized that it was not going to be the lonely experience I was anticipating. It took me until Petunia was blessing the meal and thanking me for my attendance at Christmas lunch that I understood why I wasn’t feeling sad and missing my family as much as I had been anticipating (of course they were still in my thoughts). Sure Christmas is about spending time with family, but there’s no rule stating that it must be your biological family. Petunia, Lerato, and the rest of the Mokwena’s have more than accepted me as a member of their family, which has been one of the greatest things since I’ve been here. I’m beginning to feel that I’m truly creating a community and family for myself in South Africa. Therefore, because of this wonderful family, a day I was prepared to be a let down became a Christmas that was similar to many others, wonderful and spent with loved ones.

Table Mountain

After Christmas, I was able to experience the “MotherCity,”Cape Town, with the rest of the MUD4’s and Brian and Kristen over New Year’s. It was wonderful to be with everyone in a truly BEAUTIFUL city, before getting back to work. We were able to visit Robben Island (the prison that housed Nelson Mandela for years), hike Table Mountain, experience Long Street, see the beach, and so much more! It was an interesting feeling being in Cape Town after spending so much time in Mabopane. Cape Town is a very European city; it is not at all reminiscent of the “Africa” I’ve come to know. It was a wonderful experience and I feel lucky to have had the chance to visit the idyllic city, yet I felt a little relieved to be back “home” after the “hustle and bustle” of the city.

Penguins in Cape Town

January 18th, was the day that most of my areas of work began again, the crèche and school reopened, and the AIDS project opened the day before. It was nice, after so much downtime, to get back into work. As soon as I walked up to school and into the crèche and even the orphanage, I was immediately greeted with smiles, hugs, and waves, which was wonderful to experience. I missed all of the kids I’ve come to know and it was great to see that they missed me too.

Playtime at the Creche

In exciting news, I got moved up to the upper grades in school, because the teacher I was working with got transferred to a different primary school. So, I am now with Ausi Happy and grades 4-7 (the upper level teachers rotate throughout the classes). It’s exciting for many reasons, but mainly because beginning in grade 4, all subjects, except home language (Tswana), are primarily taught in English, giving me the chance to really become involved. On my fourth day there, because of unfortunate circumstances, Happy was not able to be at school, so I took her classes for her. I taught math to the grade 7’s and 4’s and then English to the grade 5’s. The kids and I struggled at times to understand each other, but for the most part, it went wonderfully and we all had fun. It was a relief to see that my first experience with teaching went fairly successfully.

It seems like I have a lot coming up in the future. Now that it’s a new year, things are regrouping and more opportunities are opening up. Just today I was speaking with my host father, Dean Senna, about possible invites to the Youth League Conference for our diocese and circuit, as well as the circuit Sunday School and Confirmation teachers’ workshop. I also have a MUD4 retreat at the end of February and, scarily, with just five months left in my year, I’m looking at making my way to visit a few other MUDs’ sites a couple weekends in the future. With us all being in very different places, seeing other sites can give us all a better-rounded and truer view of South Africa and its wonderful people.

MUD4 at the Cape of Good Hope

Massive thanks to my January sponsors!! I wouldn’t be here without you all!

January 1-10: Joyce and Ron Brandon

January 7 and 11: Elaine G. Sell

January 11-12: Steve and Mickie Wike

January 13:  Jim and Joan Florine

January 15: Sulynn Richards

January 15-17: Steve and Mickie Wike

January 18: Frank Harrison

January 19: Bee

January 20: The Langsdorf Family

January 21: Jim and Joan Florine

January 22-31: Steve and Mickie Wike

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | January 30, 2012

The truth hurts

The other day, I was at school, in my new classroom with the grade fours, talking to two little girls while their teacher stepped out. We were talking about a variety of things; if I knew Beyonce, if I could speak Chinese, if I lived in a mansion, etc, all products of a fourth grader’s curiosity. I have become quite accustomed to these harmless interrogations, yet was not prepared for what came out of one of the girl’s mouths next. She turned to me and said, “Ausi (sister) Elizabeth, I wish I was a white person.”

I was floored; I didn’t know how to respond, so I asked her why she felt that way? I was terrified I was going to hear an answer about how white people have it easier or it’s better to be a white person. What did this beautiful little girl see in my skin color that she failed to see in her own? My mind was flooded with thoughts of racial disparities and concern that this nine year old was overly aware of the racial history in her country and the ever present pressure from the media. So before she had even answered me, I was focused on how best to approach the situation. Do I go the route of “being a white person isn’t that great” and this is what’s wrong with it? Do I build up being a black person to this nine year old? Or do I simply shrug it off as another random statement from a talkative nine year old?

She finally formulated her answer and as I was bracing myself, she said, “Because, Ausi Elizabeth, you all have such nice hair, it’s so soft. And, your mama doesn’t have to pull on it into hairstyles; you can to wear it down.” I was relieved to hear those words come out of her mouth, yet simultaneously devastated with myself and embarrassed with my initial conclusion. I immediately jumped to the most horrific and outdated of stereotypes, that this little girl might think that being a white person is better than her own race. I realized that no matter how “colorblind” I think I am, I am still aware of racial disparities and stereotypes and how I, and perhaps, us all, could learn an invaluable lesson from this little girl. With children, it’s not about racial history or skin color; it’s about the little things, your hair or the clothes you are wearing. It makes me question how we all can keep this innocent and childlike perception of differences to combat the alarmingly rampant racism throughout our world.

At the Cape of Good Hope

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | December 13, 2011

What’s going on

Thanksgiving at Brian and Kristen's

It’s been a great and quite busy past month and a half, I spent five days at MUD4’s first retreat over Thanksgiving, I experienced my first traditional African wedding, as well as a funeral, and the school, crèche, and AIDS project have all shut down for the summer holidays. Thanksgiving retreat was wonderful, full of great food, some travel and hiking, and some much needed conversations with friends. All 12 of us traveled via bus, some by kombis, and met in Pietermaritzburg, the day before Thanksgiving. We spent Thanksgiving with Brian, Kristen, and Khaya, gorging ourselves on all the dishes that remind us of home. We left the following morning for the Drakensberg mountains – fun little fact, they were the mountain range considered for the Lord of the Rings films, but lost out, because of the little amount of snow they receive. The mountains were beautiful and, for me, served as a nice reminder of the mountains of North Carolina/home. We spent a few days there, hiking and had a day trip into Lesotho, before heading to Durban for the climate change rally (We Have Faith – Act Now), kicking off COP17, the climate change discussions. It was a wonderful experience, I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to witness the rally, especially to have heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak. All in all the retreat was full of much needed relaxation and many words of encouragement and inspiration.

At the top of our hike in the Drakensberg Mountains

Since returning from the retreat, things in Mabopane have slowed down. The school and crèche have both recently closed for summer

My nanas on the last day at the creche

holidays and the AIDS project shut down for the summer until January after distributing the Christmas food parcels to the patients. Since those are all of my jobs, I’ve been trying to find other means of working around the community to fill up my summer. The orphanage, obviously, doesn’t shut down at Christmas, so I’m considering spending some more time there, helping out and Modisa is preparing their Christmas Pageant, so I’m getting involved with that with costumes and etc. for the kids.

Last weekend, I spent the entire weekend at my friend’s house, so that I could accompany her to a traditional African wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and the reception was exciting, full of singing and dancing and great food! It was a great day and, according to my friend, a quintessential experience, if I’m living in South Africa.

I also got to experience a funeral the same weekend. The funeral was also held in a traditional manner. Initially, the biggest shock to me was the number of individuals that showed up to the man’s funeral, until I learned that in South Africa, no invitation is necessary, you don’t even have to know the man, if you live in the area, you are invited to participate in the ceremony. We first went to the graveyard to lay the individual to rest. I struggled a lot, since I didn’t know the man, as his mom and loved ones all passed, devastated, falling over in heartache. I felt a little guilty for being there, especially during the family’s time of grief. The aspect of the burial that touched me the most though, was the covering of the coffin in the grave. All of his friends, just about fought over, doing the hard, manual labor of shoveling the dirt over the grave, an act that I’m not sure would be so often witnessed in the states. After the burial, we accompanied the many other attendees back to the family’s house, where we had to wash our hands (rid ourselves of bad luck) and were fed. To get an idea of how many people attended – there were four different lines for food, all were quite long. It was a wonderful and solemn day, yet I feel very lucky for all that I have experienced so far in this beautiful country!

MUD4 in Lesotho

A very big, and regrettably, a little late, thank you to all who sponsored me for December! I love you all!

December 1-3: The Young Family

December 4: Daddy

December 5: Sulynn Richards

December 5: Judy Pronil

December 6-7: The Albers

December 8: Marie Scarlett

December 12-14: Karen Eve Pfotzer

December 13: Elaine G. Sell

December 15: Judy and Ed Lichtenhagen

December 16: Layne Kasischke

December 18: Aileen Flax

December 19: Marie Scarlett

December 20: The Kaddouri Family

December 21-24: The Janowiak Family

December 25: Mom and Dad

December 27: Ann Harrison

December 27: Elaine G. Sell

December 29: Mom and Dad

Posted by: Elizabeth D. | December 13, 2011

Living in the dark

One of the few problems in the otherwise great township that is Mabopane, I have come to be quite aware of, is electricity outages. Though it usually only goes out when there is a big storm or heavy winds, it has, more than once, just disappeared for the day or evening. Of course, it always seems to happen when I have a newsletter or blog due soon or skype plans. Though, it isn’t something that happens all the time, it has happened enough now that I am used to a no lights routine; brushing my teeth, navigating the halls without bumping into everything, etc. Thank goodness I listened to past participants and brought a headlamp, I’m not sure how well I would function completely in the dark. However, all the time in the dark has provided me ample time to reflect on experiences and daily activities, so maybe it is a blessing in disguise as I probably would not normally take the time to write and reflect as much as I have.

Something that I have realized through these reflections and with the help of a group discussion during our recent Thanksgiving retreat, that has caused me a bit of trouble, is the lack of information that I receive quite often. I’m not sure if things are discussed in front of me, just in Tswana, so it is forgotten that I don’t understand or if I’m really just being kept “in the dark.” A few weekends ago, on that Friday, I was informed that I had an hour to pack my bag, because I would be staying at a friend’s house, while everyone in my host family went to various places for the weekend and they weren’t comfortable with me staying home by myself. I was obviously fine with the arrangements and figured it was just last minute planning. However, when I got to my friend’s place, we were discussing the situation and I realized that they had been made aware of the plans a full week before I had. I was frustrated and didn’t understand why I was not included, or at least notified prior to when I actually was.

I am a person that is fine with just going with the flow, but I am also an individual, that likes to know what is happening, especially with regards to myself, even as I am going with the flow. So, I’ve been having troubles when things are just decided and I am not included in the discussion. However, that being said, it has been great practice in forcing me to begin speaking up for myself and asserting myself more into the conversations; which results in more conversations in English, thus ones I can partake in. It’s still a struggle day to day, but I’ve already noticed that my involvement in certain decision making situations has grown, which makes me feel more confident about situations that I’m involved in.


A few of my nanas (babies) at the creche on our last day before the holidays

One of my grade 2's and I on the last day of school


Posted by: Elizabeth D. | November 22, 2011

I put on my big girl pants

A few weekends ago, I finally put my big girl pants on and rode a kombi into Pretoria all by myself to meet my friend, Johanna, the German volunteer I work with. Kombis are the taxis of South Africa, though not what we’re accustomed to in the States. They are basically minibuses that you flag down using various hand gestures (raising your index finger, pointing your finger down, shaking your fist, etc) according to where you intend on going. Since I was going into town, simply raising my index finger let the correct kombi know to stop for me. Kombis are frequented, predominantly, by the black population of South Africa; generally I am the only “lekgowa” (white person) in the taxi and get quite a few surprised looks.

Johanna and I decided to go to Wonderpark, which is a mall, just a few minutes from the actual downtown of Pretoria. Johanna lives within walking distance of Wonderpark, so it was an easy place for us to meet for a Saturday and to escape the intense heat (few places have air conditioning in South Africa). I’m lucky in, unlike other MUD4s, I don’t have to take kombis to work every day as my school and crèche are just across the street from my house. Sometimes we have to take kombis with the AIDS project, but it’s quite rare. So, much to my disappointment, it took me a lot longer to learn how to use the kombis by myself. However, I was tired of not knowing and felt that my hosts were a little more willing to let me go places by myself, so I had Kay, my host sister, help me learn what I say to the taxi driver and I went to Wonderpark. It was a wonderful experience; full of uncertainty, excitement, and, embarrassingly enough, a great feeling of pride for doing it by myself. It took two kombis and an hour of travel and waiting (kombis do not proceed until the entire taxi is full), before I got there, but everything went without a hitch.

Ever since arriving in South Africa, I have struggled with this feeling of a loss of independence. I have been able to drive since I was sixteen and I was basically living on my own at college for the past four years. I could come and go when I pleased, things could happen on my own time. However here, especially since, at first, my hosts were not thrilled about me traveling alone, I had to rely on someone to drive me places or walk with me, even just up the street. It has been frustrating and even a little humiliating that as a twenty two year old, I was confined to a small area and completely reliant on my hosts, for everything.

Yet, I feel that with my recent accomplishments, I have entered a new phase in my South African life. As I took my first kombi ride alone, within the first few minutes, I felt confident and satisfied with my recently gained independence. It feels good to know that though I am in a new environment, I am still able to successfully get around. I feel that if I can do this, then I am capable of many things.  

Some of my grade twos enjoying the end of term cake Johanna and I got for them

Food parcels for the AIDS patients (mealie meal/pap, peanut butter, rice, sugar, etc.)

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