January 25, 2009

AJAX, Biltong, and Doughnuts?

On our last official night in Cape Town, South Africa a large group of us went to a local soccer game. Yes, here in Africa it is "soccer". Some of the local Brits would challenge it, but I have been told soccer is fine.

It really was a good time. Everyone had these signs made of newspaper to support the home team called the AJAX (the J is pronounced as Ya). They read "Ajax jou lekker ding!" It was in Affrikans which is the South African style Dutch. It said AJAX...It's a good thing!! My friends found one that had been discarded and brought it back so we could fit in, as much as possible anyway.

So the crowds were large, the stadium is under construction, but still in use (it was getting a facelift for the 2010 World Cup) and the game was on with the fans raging with support by means of abnoxious and loud horns all around. The Ajax, who were undefeated at home lost to the Morokko Swallows...tragic.

But wait!!! The best part of the whole game was the fact that there were no beer and hotdog vendors. South Africans at their soccer fanatical best like to take in a match munching on biltong which is beef jerky, and hot chocolate and doughnuts. What a fabulous experience. The hot chocolate was distributed by a guy wearing an insulated back pack cooler with a hose. His tag said "Hot Choc".

I wa saddened along with many that the Ajax ( an Amsterdam farm team) did not emerge victorious. I am not sure if the referee was watching the same game I was.

January 20, 2009

Pretoria etc

It's been a few days since any of us have been able to get online so I thought I'd give a quick recap.
Sunday morning we went to the airport and flew to Johannesburg (or Jo'burg as it's known here), was picked up by Pete Meiren (misspelled I'm sure) who was on the Truth and Reconciliation Commision and who is our guide this week, and taken around. We went to a few monuments in Pretoria and out to a township/city called Mamelodi where we stayed for two nights.
Monday we drove to the other side of Jo'burg to Soweto where we toured different historical sites of uprising and injustice as well as a famous tower and the houses of the Mandelas and Tutu. Soweto is supposedly the largest township in the ZA (over 4 million) but when compared to the shanties in Cape Town, it felt like a real city unto itself. So when we drove back to Mamelodi we sang and then had dinner with some young people from a couple of churches. During the night we had our first harsh thunderstorm.
Tuesday we went to a game park and experienced a real safari. We saw zebra, elephants, rhino, hippos, crocs, and even a leopard. Then we came back and now are broken up into houses of families of a local church. The houses are nice and the people are nicer. I'll let others talk more emotively or about specific events but I thought it my duty to update since I have the chance.

January 16, 2009

From Katie (blog account won't work!)

With the JL Zwane Presbyterian Church we had the blessing of visiting folks whose lives had been affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Several of the folks had been struggling with HIV for years; one woman who shared her story with us had been living with it for nineteen years, and now she is faced with breast cancer on top of it all. The courage and strength we have seen here in these recent days has been simply extraordinary, and this strength has allowed people here to support on another in remarkable ways. One gogo (grandmother) we met was raising twelve children... Each time she saw a need, whether a child had been orphaned or was experiencing neglect in their home situation, she took them in. She told us that each time a new need was discovered she thought she could not do it, that she could not take another child in to her home, and then she said, "I heard their story, and I took them." She could not turn them away once she heard their stories, and knew she had to help them. What a beautiful example of the call we have been given as Christians! She is meeting the call, day in a day out, to feed and clothe and love those that the world could so easily push aside and forget. She has molded their stories into her own. Now, having seen all that we have seen and heard all that we have heard, we are part of their story too. What are we to do with that story? How are we to respond to the tales that we have now become a small part of? There is an extraordinary love in so much that we have witnessed here, and the struggle for us now becomes to figure out how we can best honor all that we have been blessed to hear, see, taste, touch, and experience. How will we honor their stories?

January 15, 2009

Think Globally. Act Locally.

AIDS doesn't kill people; it makes the body so weak that almost anything else will. AIDS develops from having HIV in your body. HIV is passed from one person to another through mixing of bodily fluids. The most common way HIV is spread is through unprotected sex. Sex is a part of life of so many people in the world and those in South Africa are no different. In fact, South Africa has some of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. This is due to many factors such as unimaginable poverty, very cramped living conditions, paternalism, and the country's leadership in powerful denial about the problem.

All of this has led many, many people to want to solve this pandemic. Primarily through religious institutions and social services, different prevention and treatment centers have sprung up all over the country to assist those in need - often helping themselves or someone very close to them. The past three days here in Cape Town, we have visited several ministries that are doing their best to alliviate the pain and suffering of the tens of thousands in the community with HIV/AIDS.

One of the pastors at the JL Zwane center/church reminded us to think globally and act locally yesterday. This stuck in my mind because I see this as some of the best advice one human being can give to another. It is one of the main reasons I am on this trip, why I travel and experience as much as possible, and why I will never stop learning. I want to know what humanity is. I want to be able to know as much as possible and much of this knowledge is only available through others or learned in communities. The better I understand humanity as a whole, the better my foundational assumptions will be for any given human in particular. This allows me to see what unites us as created images of God and indeed see God (Himself). Acting locally is enabling us to think about the situations we are in and start small. I do plan on acting globally one day but I just see that as expanding the local to include all of God's creation.

The Church

The theology of the church really excites me. I believe that it is the vision of how we are supposed to live as Christians that keeps us grounded in what is truly important to furthering the kingdom of God as well as challenges us to work to live up to the truth of the Gospel. As individual Christians we need the community and support of one another so that we may hold each one accountable and to see glimpses of what is possible through the grace of God.

Today I was reminded that I work for Christ's church - not Grace Presbyterian in Clarksville, IN or First Presbyterian Church in Boone. The joining of the church to the reconciling work of God through Jesus done all over the world is the church I work for. Last night I felt as if I was a part of the work being done in South Africa to alleviate the suffering caused by HIV/AIDS.

The church choir where we visited sang a song which included the lyrics: "God will raise me up to more than I can be." As I search for my call here in South Africa and I see the work that is being done by the church, I cannot imagine how the people have been able to do so much with so little. The pastor of the church stated that since God creates out of nothing and they had nothing after apartheid ended, they believed they were in good shape. The lyrics of the song echoed his sentiment and reminded me that as a person seeking to serve the church and the member of the PC(USA) that "God will raise us up to be more than we can be." While I worry about grades and my future and while the church worries about members and finances, we need only be faithful to God's call and practice our faith through prayer and reading Scripture then we too will be raised up to more than we can be and more than we ever imagined.

I pray for the work of the churches in South Africa and across the world that we trust in God's promise and join God in the work God is already doing in the world. I must forget what experiences and resources we have have and remember God creates from nothing. Never before has nothing felt so full of promise...

January 14, 2009

Flesh of my Flesh, Bone of my Bones...

I could name a whole lot of emotions that are running through my heart and my head at this point in time, a bit over a week after landing in Cape Town, South Africa. Yet the fact that neither my heart and head can identify the extent of them at this point makes it hard to explain. I can say that I have been a witness to (and felt), beauty, loss, fear, hope, thoughtfulness, outrage, joy, helplessness, pride, faith, and so much more. All of those things are stirring in my soul at the moment, and I haven't had a chance to sit down and identify them. One thing I did realize, however, is how feeling all these feelings make me homesick. When I was young I would get homesick at my best friends house, a mile down the road. In recent years it's not so prevalent, and so I was surprised to identify that particular emotion. I suppose that this is what comes from being away from your comfort, and those that make you comfortable. It's taking me out of my comfort zone and forcing me to realize the comfort zone that I never part from, from the Spirit of God.

Tonight at JL Zwane Church and Centre, in Guguletu, we were reminded of the gospel, by a man named Edwin, what it is that we should realize in each moment, no matter where we are: that you are the flesh of my flesh, the bone of my bones. He reminded us that what we do in America affects what happens to him in South Africa, and vis versa. How beautiful were his words. He followed them by saying that he's "not a good public speaker, and doesn't preach", in which Josh replied "you just did!". It was so true. I have witnessed the Spirit of a people that is unmatched. This Spirit does not only make me thankful, but it moves me forward. It moves me into a life lived each day by action, by standing up for what I am called to by Jesus the Christ: to recognize the humanity in each face I pass, to see the face of God in each person I meet, and to fight for the humanity that is God-given, not humanly regulated.

So tonight I go to bed with new faces etched on my memory, and new feelings in my heart. I hope that these faces and these feelings stay with me always, continually challenging me to what it is I am here for, and wherever I go to what I am to do there. Peace & love.

More Photos...

Langa township home.

Langa township children.

Langa township toilets.

Johnny Hill at "Gugulethu 7" memorial.

Bre Harmon with Langa children.

Botanical Gardens visit.

Lisa Hermann pointing out God's beauty to Bre.

Bre, Katie and Daniel having fun in sculpture garden.

Men returning from initiation rite in the bush.

Liziwi, owner of guesthouse in Gugulethu who housed and fed us.

Andrew, Gugulethu tour guide, at Amy Biehl memorial site.

Gugulethu children.

Iris Jasmin smelling African beer in welcoming ritual.

Gugulethu kids being kids!

Peter Storey, former Bishop of Methodist church in South Africa and key figure in fight against Aparthied and an all around beautiful child of God.


Emily Miller at Cape of Good Hope.

The Cape of Good Hope.

Gate at Robben Island.

Derrick, tour guide and former prisoner of Robben Island.

Nelson Mandela's prison cell.

January 13, 2009

This is like...

It is impossible to go to a new situation leaving behind all that has made you who you are today. While it seems silly to continually compare the current reality of South Africa to the life I have witnessed, loved, and known, it happens quite naturally. These connections are made nearly every day and sometimes the comparing results in recognizing how something is different (the grocery store checkout workers sit rather than stand - which is a great idea! and you have to pay for a plastic bay - another great idea!) and others it is how it is the same.

Over the past few days I've come to recognize many similarities in the conditions surrounding the circumstances of immigrants in the United States and many of the black people in the townships surrounding the city of Cape Town. Perhaps this has to do with my continuing interests in this area of US culture but surely I'm not the only one making these connections.

Some of the people in the townships came to Cape Town from their tribal lands in the eastern Cape searching for a way to earn money for their family's security. Most long to return home with enough money to live a modest life. Further, their dream is often dashed because of low wages, insufficient support, unemployment, and systems which benefit from the vast cheap labor pool. The people themselves are generous and add much to the cultural landscape of South Africa and they have welcomed us into their homes and lives.

Of course each situation is unique in its own way and I can only speak about the conditions here as an outsider looking at the surface but it seems that neither country is coping effectively with the "strangers" in our midst. I use quotation marks because in some cases the "stranger" has been a part of the local society for many years or even decades but because of their marginalization they have not able to fully integrate into the social landscape.

However, there is the church. The church that I love and the hope in the promise of Christ. That we will recognize the image of God in all God's children and in love we can reach out to one another building up the kingdom of God. It is my prayer that the church will continue to play an integral part in teaching us all how to live in community with one another in ways that are consistant to our Christian faith.

One thing that isn't the same is the fantastic weather. It is beautiful here: clear and sunny with a light breeze. Too bad I can't bring a little bit of this home.
In hope...

What's in a Name?

My name is Lisa Carol Hermann. I am from South Carolina, currently residing in Kentucky. My middle name is after my aunt Carolyn, and my last name is reflective of my German and Norwiegen heritage on my father's side.

Names - we all have them, some we are quite proud of and others that we like to keep secretive with initials. Nonetheless they are ours whether we are people, cities, or inanimate objects.
Since coming to South Africa I have been bombarded by names. I have found this helpful as people introduce themselves and our group to them, as well as getting to know the sights and sounds of this fascinating country.

When we arrived on January 6th I was immediately asked by the South Africa immigration official holding my passport "What is your surname?" I was a little hesitant, I didn't know what to say ...one slip of the tongue and I could be put back on a plane or something. Much to my surprise the South African woman with the lovely British accent wanted to know if I was a member of the HERR-MAANN family, one of the wealthiest Dutch families in all of South Africa. You say that stressing the HERR in a very throaty way. So step one - Way to go HER-MANN.

Next, is whenever we introduce ourselves to groups. We first say we are from KENTUCKY, you know the United States? They usually get it, but I believe most are trying to place Kentucky on the map in their mind. Then they say - like Kentucky Fried Chicken? And we all bust out laughing and say "Yes, like the Colonel!" So Kentucky in South Africa is synonymous with Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is quite popular here, and has helped us to let people know where we are from.

Then there was today's actvity. It has landed me three examples of names and how profound their meanings were and in someways are for me, those who encounter them, and those who may never know them except for reading this blog.

1. Robben Island - for some 500 years this small island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa has existed as a place of exile for political prisoners, criminals, lepers, and the mentally insane. It was and is a living hell in many ways, but also a living reminder to what happens when we try to segregate a population of people. The Island is most well known for its prison. This is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment along with other ANC leaders. This prison's name, no matter what, is synonymous with BANISHMENT - the colonial and later nationalist apartheid governments tried to make the undesireables disappear by sending them there. Many of its occupants will always remain nameless, but as one man said "The tears of the banished water the soil on Robben Island."

2. Our tour guide through the Langa Township. His name was Siviwe, which in Xhosa means "Our Prayers are Answered." Siviwe is a part of a group (in addition to being a liscenced tour guide) called UBONO OMHLE which means " Beautiful Vision." Each member of this group of young people has to undertake a project that will better the community. For some it is sports, fo Siviwe he teaches children to dance. We were able to see his dancers aptly NAMED "The Happy Feet Dancers." They do rousing mine dances utilizing their stiff rubber boots for the stomping and clapping sounds that make the crowds that gather to watch come to life in a stepping fashion.

3. Finally, there is the little girl in the purple shirt and red pants in the township of Langa. She lived in the hostels. She was very small, but with the hand shading her eyes she looked at me as I took a knee so that I could be on her same level. I asked her what her name was. She replied "-SA." I didn't quite hear you can you repeat that. Again she said "-SA." The kids around her could see I was struggling and said giggling with delight "Her name is LIIIIISA." The little girl that stole my heart with her soft voice and gentle touch shared my name. I left Lisa physically sitting in the remants of a fire pit playing, but her face still dances in my head and lives in my heart.

Names are given to us by others, but they are ours and teach us lessons, and help us tell the sotries of countless others that we will meet face to face, and those we can only read about in books. Names of places, people, and things have been a profound part of my journey of learning, stretching, and growing here in South Africa.

January 12, 2009

Liziwe's Guest House in Guguletu

Guguletu. Just speaking the name of this township brings a smile to your face. As we entered the township, we saw a group of young men returning from the forest. They were in traditional dress. Their faces were painted a burnt orange. They were singing / chanting and even though I did not understand the words they sang, I could tell it was a joyous occasion.

Back in 1994 this township's name struck another emotional cord in the hearts of Americans when Anne Biel, an American exchange student, was murdered here. That was then, but now during our stay I found Guguletu township to be a very friendly hospitable and welcoming community.

We began our stay with a wonderful lunch at Liziwe's Guest House. We had dinner there as well. Not only was the food fabulous, but Liziwe's Guest House is quite lovely. There is this one room upstairs that I would have loved to have stayed in that had a balcony view of Table Mountain.

Andrew who works for Liziwe's Guest House took us around Guguletu advising us of this township's history. We went past the memorial set up to remember Anne Biel and he told us of the remarkable forgiveness and reconciliation story that occurred during TRC. How Anne's mother not only forgave those who had killed her daughter, but hired them to work for the foundation established in her daughter's memory.

We also went by the memorial of 7 young men killed during the struggle to be set free from Apartheid. As I looked at their dates of birth, I realized most of them would have been my age and it made me sad.

As we walked, everyone spoke to us or waved to us as we passed. Some stopped to talk to us. After dinner the majority of my group spent the night at Guest House Indlu Yabtyelei. I had my best sleep so far in South Africa in one of the rooms here. What I loved most about my stay here was the gathering we had prior to my going to bed. Community friends came by to talk to our group. It was like a big reception where we mingled around the room. We spoke of how to persons get health care coverage, politics and changes taking place. We shared our realities with one another. And what was most memorable about that evening was the songs, we heard traditional African songs, opera and we even had a surprise duet between a man from Guguletu and Professor Francis Adeney of Old Man River.

Overall, I loved my visit to Guguletu. I know some may find it strange to say, but I saw beauty in the midst of what many may see as extreme circumstances. I saw pride. I saw creativity. And I believe I made connection with a community full of hope.