Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Day at Brooklyn Mall

Yesterday, I spent over seven hours in a mall. And I loved every minute of it. True about an hour was just hanging out with my husband, about three hours was watching harry Potter and two hours Elvira’s baby shower (so many beautiful and vibrant Hispanic women!). The last hour I was alone doing some Christmas shopping. But still, it is disconcerting.

And this wasn’t just any mall. It was Brooklyn Mall, one of Pretoria’s fanciest, snobbiest places to be. My husband was the only black person in the theatre. He said that must be why they charge such a high price- to keep out the other “darkies.”

The boutiques in this mall are all fancy and snobby too, but somehow, to me, comforting. I found a beautiful local craft store and recognized much of the products as being from Ama Job Job. I passed a store called “Organics” which had modest manikins in the window draped with hemp and cotton fabrics. There was a Chinese Restaurant, cafes, all well lit and spacious. I think at some moments I could have been convinced to move in there, given the opportunity. Disconcerting...

Even more so given the supposition that I should be suffering from some level of reverse culture shock. In the morning, I woke up in a tiny house (probably the size of your living room) which I share with five other adults, one teenager and a baby. At least my husband and I are privileged enough to have one of the miniature bedrooms to ourselves. The other bedroom is occupied by my two sisters-in-law, the older one’s daughter and my mother-in-law. The other married couple sleeps in the lounge in the cramped space between the couches and the TV.
Our house is in Rabie Ridge, an upper-end township of Midrand, North of Johannesburg. The houses are sturdy, well-built and finished nicely. The only essential we lack is a kitchen sink, and that’s coming. The neighbourhood seems safe enough. But I am far from comfortable here, far from fitting in. I don’t know of any other white people living in the township, other than myself, though I’ve seen one or two strolling near the shops.

After getting ready, we take a free taxi to the rank in Ivory Park. On entering, the pavement is crumbling beneath the taxi’s wheels. Sewage runs in the gutters and street where a septic pipe has burst, filling the air with a thick aroma. Garbage is piled high on certain street corners, but is also scattered lazily everywhere. The houses and shops are no longer made of brick and concrete, but rather are constructed primarily of sheet metal scraps. Signs are hand painted, advertising wares and services. “John Glass Work,” “Phila Ngiphile” (Live so I live). The streets are full. Full of taxis, full of pedestrians, especially children. Last month we arrived at the rank just after an accident. A taxi had run into four people. I don’t know how many actually died, but when I saw them, they were all layed out, two on stretchers and two still on the pavement, completely still. A few weeks later the taxi association (Taxi Ass) released an apology posted in many of the taxis, regretting the loss of life that day. I always look both ways.

From one crowded, hot, sticky taxi to the other. We wait for it to fill up, wait for all eighteen passengers to cram into rows of four with two seated next to the driver. We try to avoid those front seats. Whoever sits there is responsible for collecting all the fare, distributing the correct change to all the passengers and giving the driver his share. Sometimes we do it wrong and have to make up the difference with our own money.

The first seat behind the driver is also undesirable. There you usually have to negotiate around shopping bags and toddlers, not to mention the engine seems set your shoes on fire from under you. We like the back rows, preferably one where you’ll have control of one of the sliding windows. Heaven help you if you get stuck in a taxi where no one else seems to notice the heat. Is it just me? I am melting and no one will even crack a window? Lately a steadily increasing sense of claustrophobia has been growing in me. I need more time alone in a room as each day passes. I feel crowded on the streets, on the sidewalks, in the house, in the shops and even in the school office, which is currently being shared by six people, not including the teachers and students who come through each day. I am crowded with too many bodies, too much litter and too many comments by strangers concerning this black man and white woman, a complete anomaly around here, this city which housed the architects of apartheid. I am crowded by merchants, pamphleteers and pastors. Mostly, I am crowded by eyes, which seem so magnetized towards us. Even sunlight makes me feel cramped, and I now prefer cloudy days with light or even thunderous rain. The showers seem to wash away some of the choking dust and misconceptions. Rain affects us all the same. The sun turns me red and peels my skin, without seeming to even touch my husband or others with his complexion. But in the rain, we all get wet.

My husband and I have created a ritual of reading out loud to each other on the taxis to Pretoria. We ignore everyone else, whether they are annoyed, amused or ambivalent, and slip into the world created by the current writer. Most days, I can only last a few chapters before the motion and heat of the taxi, in all its bumping and creaking, pull me into sleep. We arrive.
During the walk to the next taxi my lover befalls a tragedy, the drama of which leads us into quarrelling. Before we arrive, we have already understood one another, repented and forgiven. This is one of the primary sacraments of such a union. Afterwards, time together feels even sweeter, like icecream after chips and vinegar. The sour brings out the sweet.

And so our outing begins. We arrive at the mall and my tiny house, the open sewage of Ivory Park, and the balmy taxis all slip away inside this temple of light and luxury. Should I feel guilty for relaxing and breathing deeply in a palace built for consuming? I was told by a wise woman that our feelings are never wrong. So this place comforts me. So I appreciate the space and the light and the illusion of wealth. This must only be a reaction to my environment the rest of most days. And so I accept that I enjoyed a day at the mall.

This does, however, make me more grateful for the approaching changes. I’d wager that when I am living with my beloved in a house on a camp surrounded by fields, forests and lakes, that my place of refuge will no longer be a snobby mall in the suburbs.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thursday, June 3, 2010

World Cup jitters


The World Cup is fast approaching and I'm using my last leave day to write this update before all the madness begins. Already the city is looking transformed. The City Hall is our next door neighbor and was the scene of both times I someone attempted to mug me. But now it is full of colorful flashing lights and full-sized beaded wire sculptures of soccer players. The other day the World Cup trophy was there and open for viewing.

Burgers Park is also seeing changes in preparation for the Better World Village ( A big screen is being installed to show all the matches as well as to support the events that will be happening daily and to show other information and films. The School of Creative Arts is preparing for the Art Village which will be running during Better World. It will host workshops in differnt kinds of dance, drama, visual arts and music and also will include a reflection space to provide a refuge from all the noise and activity.

This is evaluation and exam week at SoCA and then we will be closed for the duration of the World Cup, like most other schools in South Africa.

One of my main responsibilities for the Better World Village is the exhibition of the [re]branding homelessness contest. After much work and reasons to have low expectation of success I am thrilled at our winning entries, which you will soon be able to see exhibitted on our website, The winning entry was designed by three students, who are going to provide a prototype for their hammock-like creation to be displayed during the Village.

Since the last time I wrote, I've been madly consuming my leave days, which have been accumulating all year. I've largely used them to prepare for whats coming next. There are still many mysteries, but I'm starting to feel less pannicked about the upcoming changes.

My boyfriend, Mandla and I have now begun the process to get him a visa to the U.S. I'm hoping we'll both be there sometime in September. I've also been working on job applications and countless other logistics.

I have gotten to spend some of my leave days more excitingly. Our good friends, Paul and Kellie arrived at the end of April and I was able to spend some time showing them around. It's been great having them! They are also volunteering, running the sports village at Better World. Robin and I love having new housemates. Our home is becoming the U.S. embassy here. A couple weeks ago Aaryn Shadlow arrived followed by Robin's boyfriend, Cameron this week. Now all our beds are full and the house is never quiet, but often full of laughter. After Aaryn arrived the five of us took a couple days off and drove (we rented a car!) to Busisa Farm in Kwa Zulu Natal. Its a Christian camp and is currently empty as camps will start next week. The camp is on farmlands and rolling hills between wild patches of jungley landscapes. We all fell in love with the place before we even got out of the car. Two large beautiful dogs greeted us with kisses as we unloaded our baggage into the cottage that was our home for the weekend.

We spent the next few days working, exploring the land and getting as cozy as possible in the increasingly cold weather. We cooked our meals by candlelight, since there was no electricity. We worked on projects during the days. I tiled part of a bathroom floor. The others worked mostly on painting and trail blazing. On our play day we trekked through the woods, saw a tree hyrax, zip lined 200 meters across a ravine, walked on a very loose bridge made from just two ropes, jumped off a seven meter water fall and I slipped and fell off various objects throughout the adventure.

We also saw sunsets and sunrises, cuddled with the dogs and built fires. It was great to be out of the city. The only downer was a flat tire on the way home. Following that I drove for the first time in ten months on the scariest stretch of road for 50km which felt like 200km.

Returning to the city has not been too hard since there have been so many exciting things happening. Yesterday, Mandla's niece (and his mother's first grandchild) was born to his sister, Edith. This weekend we'll have a baby shower and I'll get to give the blanket I've been working on for a month.

That's all for now. I'm sure there will be much more to tell soon.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

some older pictures



For Easter Robin and I visited her cousins (and my friends), Pete and Shelley and their two creative and highly entertaining kids. We originally had vague, but grand plans of visiting the Okavanga Delta or the Slat flats in the Northern parts of the country. But as soon as we got to Pete and Shelley’s house, we decided to stay. We both needed a restful vacation so badly!
During my brief return to Pretoria after Zimbabwe my discouragement with work and life in Pretoria was heightened as I received news that even more of my tentative plans were not working out. Without boring you with every detail, let me just say that I had been becoming increasingly disillusioned in my job and have been rethinking everything about what I will do after my internship is over at the end of July. I arrived in Botswana needing time to think, pray and play. And that is exactly what we did!
Robin and I loved playing with the kids, Malena and Caleb. We also enjoyed lots of laughs and storytelling with Pete and Shelley. We explored the town a bit, tasted an anthill, marvelled at the amazing array of baboons with deformities, hiked a hill overlooking the city and even visited a Game Reserve! I finally got to see giraffes, warthogs and different kinds of bok (deer). We also saw two hyenas and a cheetah, which were thankfully behind a fence. I now have an animal that I fear as much as racoons: hyenas. Creepiest animals I’ve ever seen.
At the end of the long weekend we returned to Pretoria with a renewed sense of purpose and vision for our time here and the energy to move forward.

Big Baobab

Victoria Falls!

the lake

Rainbow Blaze friends


The last two weeks of March I took leave and followed Mandla to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where he grew up. He had gone ahead to start sorting a few things out. We stayed in Tshabalala, a township just outside the city. This is where Mandla spent much of his childhood up until he moved to South Africa in 2003. I enjoyed meeting his old friends and family. I had especially been looking forward to meeting the members of Rainbow Blaze, the marimba group that Mandla helped start in 1998, I believe. They are all sweet guys and I enjoyed watching them rehearse together.
I loved staying in the township. The flats were mostly identical, originally built for the minors who came there to work. Each flat had four rooms, including a kitchen and usually a sitting room. They all had beautiful gardens and the second floor flats had verandas that overlooked the township, green and orange with trees and wildflowers. Daily power meant that if the power was on, everyone scrambled to get meals cooked and water heated. Everyday we walked to the little town center to get groceries. We often snacked on sweet cane between meals.
I was surprised by the many differences between Zimbabwe and South Africa. The most noticeable was how much safer it felt. I never once felt nervous around someone, even walking through the dark streets at night during power outs. Both in the township and the city I felt completely safe. In South Africa people look or even stare at me (and especially Mandla and I, when we're together) constantly. And much of the time those looks seem to be searching for some weakness or vulnerability that might be taken advantage of. In Zim people stared at me even more than in SA, but I never had the sense that their motives went beyond curiosity.
Also I noticed a huge difference in customer service. In SA, the word "serve" is more aptly used in the context of "you got SERVED!" I wonder if the fallen economy has created a more competitive atmosphere in business, thus improving customer service. But I also think people are just a bit nicer in Zimbabwe.
The economy has had a huge impact on the country in the past few years. Zimbabwe used to use, the Zim dollar. I've been told that at one point this was equal in worth to the British pound. I don't understand what all led to the hyperinflation of the past few years, but I heard lots of stories of how it affected people in their daily lives. One woman told us that the last salary she received in Zim dollars was just enough to buy one tomato and one onion. Most people said this really hard time began in 2006 and was at its worse in 2008 and 2009. I asked how people were able to survive and the response was often "by the grace of God." Practically speaking, this usually meant there was a relative in SA or another neighbouring country who was sending money or groceries to their family in Zim. During that time the stores were empty. I do remember in October or November hearing on the news that the situation in Zim was improving. When I asked a Zimbabwean friend of mine about it, he had said that yes, there was now food on the shelves, but still people did not have money to buy it. In Zim it was explained to me that store owners were selling their goods on the black market rather than in their stores. I think this was because the hyper inflation meant that money was really worth nothing, so merchants didn't want to accept it for goods. I was told that if a boy was walking down the street with a bag of maize meal, he would undoubtedly be robbed. The robber might throw money at him in return, but it could never be worth the value of the maize meal. I was also told that if you saw someone with maize meal, you would ask them where they bought it and the answer might be "the mortuary." It was in late 2009 that Zim switched to U.S. dollar and South African rand, which has begun to stabilize the economy. Now people seem to be doing fine. They're gaining weight again, they say. Of course, Zim is still economically unstable. I think almost everyone blames this on Mugabe. It seems the country is just waiting for him to die.
It took us awhile to adjust to the new monetary system while we were there. One day we paid with $10 for groceries and got back $5, 10 rand and 5 pula (from Botswana). We also received change in the form of candy fairly often. It was nearly impossible to spend any large bills.
Bulawayo is full of evidence of the recent history. It's obvious that the city was thriving and exciting not too long ago. People often speak about the glory days of the 80's and early 90's. The city was prosperous and lively with art and music. There are fancy malls and beautiful buildings down town. But everything seems to be just beginning to be revived after a long period of inactivity. The roads are not busy, but not empty either. Most grocery stores are full of food, but with very little selection. In the small grocery in Tshabalala the only canned foods were baked beans and tuna. We rarely found more than one brand of any given food or other commodity. I often had conversations like this, while reading a menu: "How much are your milkshakes?" "We don't have milkshakes." "What about your floats?" "We don't have those either." "What do you have?" "We have plain cones and cones dipped in chocolate or caramel." "Ok, I'll have the chocolate cone."

Though most of our time in town was spent in the passport office trying to get Mandla’s passport renewed, we did get to explore the city a bit. We visited the National Gallery of Art, which was clearly suffering from the recession. It did have a few nice exhibits, including one of paintings interpreting Ndebele proverbs. There were also several working studios there, where we met one woman who paints with her feet, due to a disability. I was impressed by the attitude of Zimbabweans to people with disabilities. I frequently saw slogans such as “differently abled” affirming the abilities rather than disabilities. We also visited the park, which was huge and overgrown and felt like a jungle.
The big highlight of the trip was our visit to Victoria Falls! We loved seeing the falls and even hearing them from our rest camp at night. We got soaking wet from the rain that falls continually. It seems to skip evaporation and precipitation and is instead propelled simply by the force of the falls and the gravity which brings the spray back down. But as much as I loved the falls, I also enjoyed lounging by the pool at our rest camp and having no responsibilities or things to do but relax. These last few months at the School of Creative Arts have been so hectic. It was nice to have a vacation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Finally, a chance to breathe

You haven’t heard from me in awhile and I’ll try to explain.

Generally speaking, I feel like I can handle my work load. I stay busy, but tend to get things done with enough room to do some exploring and dreaming as well. However, through January and February there were about eight weeks straight that I felt like I was constantly behind. There was just too much to do! And by the time I got home I was too exhausted to do much more than put dinner together and read or just hang out. So I’m sorry for being a bit out of touch, but things are at a much better pace now.

What was I so busy with at work? The new term supposedly started on February first, though due to serious complications we had to postpone a week and then things started slowly after that. Meanwhile we had to register all our students, a relatively new process. We were also busy renovating the flat that the school has been located in and our new flat which is now accommodating the fledgling Visual Arts Department. There is no way for me to communicate how complicated these things were. We originally pictured ourselves getting all the painting done over a weekend. In reality, with the help of several volunteers, it took a month. Procuring materials for all the renovations was also a mission. It nearly became my fulltime job for several weeks. One day I spent over 5 hours at one building supply store, getting yanked around because the check form TLF was for too high an amount and they refused to reimburse us the difference. And then there were issues with my ID, since I’m not South African. I’ve also spent countless hours phoning, faxing and visiting stores to get quotations for our finance department and then countless more hours hounding the finance department to release us the money.

Registration also was far more complicated than we anticipated. And this was made more complicated when one of our supporters, who has been providing instruments and facilitators for some of our music classes since 2006, suddenly decided to pull out a week before the scheduled start of classes. We’re still wrestling with obtaining our own instruments, but we did manage to find new facilitators for all the classes, actually increasing our capacity with ten new facilitators in total! Now classes are running smoothly and with plenty of fresh energy with our new team. The start of classes has also meant my return to teaching. I now facilitate painting class on Mondays and Wednesdays and am truly enjoying it.

During all this madness I was concurrently working on TLF’s [re]branding homelessness initiative. We launched our international design contest on February 1st. Please check it out at It represents a lot of work and we’re excited to see the proposals in May. In the middle of last week I sat down in the office for a few hours and for the first time in two months, was caught up on work. Since then the pace has become manageable and I’ve even started to claim some of my overtime hours.

In my last blog I mentioned that Robin and I temporarily moved into our friends’ flat for December and then moved back to our old place in January. We liked moving so much we decided to do it again at the beginning of February. This time the move was just to the adjacent flat. Robin and I are thrilled to have our own space- a three bedroom flat with kitchen, bathroom, patio and outdoor toilet. The toilet was a bit of a struggle at first, since it didn’t lock. Our toilet paper was disappearing, so we started keeping it inside. Then we would find remnants of phone book pages, which were obviously someone’s replacement for the toile paper. Just yesterday we finally got a lock for the toilet. On facebook I posted a bunch of pictures of the renovations we did of our little flat. We painted, cleaned and really transformed the whole space.

In February, Robin’s step-Mom also came to visit. It was great to have her with us and Robin got some time to travel with her. Robin and Margit treated me to a trip to Jozi for an amazing play and a visit to the Apartheid Museum in Soweto. It was a beautiful little vacation. I think Margit got a taste of everything while she was here: wild animals in the reserve, city life, the arts, a run-in with the police and even a first hand experience with crime.

Which brings me to the next reason I haven’t been writing much. On Marit’s last night with us, someone apparently climbed through Robin’s window (between the bugler bars) and stole Robin’s computer. This has been devastating, since all Robin’s pictures, music and writings for the last four of five years were on that computer. It has also meant that we can no longer listen to music, watch DVD’s, do yoga (from our Rodney Yee videos) or write at home. That Monday night was the beginning of a week of crime in our area, culminating in a violent crime against one of our fellow volunteers. Since then there have been many new safety precautions put into place and I do feel safe again. I believe that all of these things have been a spiritual attack on us and what we are doing in this city. The hardest hit has been the anti-human trafficking coalition which lost much important information when Robin’s computer was stolen in the same week that another computer broke and an important notebook was lost. We really feel this is confirmation that our work here matters. Please pray for our safety and the success of these projects.

I have now officially requested two weeks of leave to travel in Zimbabwe with Mandla. The highlight of the trip will be visiting Victoria Falls, but I’m also excited to visit the place where he grew up and meet his old friends and family. Pray for our safety as we cross borders and navigate through the country.

Until next time!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My plaited hair

Beautiful Lenasia

The Kaunda family and me

Christmas Eve Feast

Mandla and Saskia performing at the Park

Carols by candlight

Fun at Christmas in the park

View from our temporary home

The family home

Mandla's sister, Edith, Mandla, Naledi and me at the party

Lizzy's birthday party

Christmas in a Southern summer

It’s now 2010, the year of the World Cup in South Africa. There are many promises of changes and newness. We are already stepping up efforts to address the crucial issues of human trafficking and homelessness in preparation for the big event.

But first, let me rewind a bit to update you on how the year ended on this side. December was hot and with classes closed for the holidays, I must admit I suffered from mild to extreme laziness. This seems to be a common malady at this time of year. Luckily there were two days off (Reconciliation Day and Christmas Day) and I had some over time saved up to accommodate my most lazy of days.

During that first week of December Robin and I temporarily moved into a flat down the street, house sitting for a couple friends of ours. It was refreshing to have our own space, though small. And the eighth floor offered a beautiful view of our city.

On Reconciliation Day I went with Mandla to his cousin’s birthday party in the township his family lives in, which is south of Soweto. It was a fun trip that started with a tense train ride. The train was completely packed. We almost didn’t find a place to sit. And I was the only white person on the whole, fifteen or so car train. I felt safe, but I later learned that Mandla had his head on a swivel the whole ride, watching out for any suspicious character who might be paying me too much attention.

In Jo-burg, we hopped into a taxi and after a long and peaceful ride, we arrived in Lenasia, a largely Indian township. We stopped by Mandla’s family’s home first. They rent a room in a small complex with a shared bathroom and outdoor water tap. They are awesome at utilizing space, managing to have areas for sleeping, cooking and chilling all in one room. We walked from there to the church where the party was hosted. I had never before been to a birthday party at which guests are handed programs upon entering. It was a sit-down occasion with speeches that sounded just like sermons. I truly enjoyed getting to spend some time with some of Mandla’s family and friends. Despite being the only white person around, I felt accepted and enjoyed some great conversations and stories. The time we spent in Lenasia felt like a retreat- so quiet and beautiful. We regretfully returned to Pretoria the following day.

That Sunday we sang Christmas carols by candlelight as the kick off for TLF’s Christmas in Park. What a beautiful way to the welcome the Christmas season! All week long we hosted a Christmas party from about nine in the morning to around one in the afternoon. It sounded like a lot of work to my still lazy self, but I soon found how worth-it it was. Pretoria, especially where we live in Central, is the kind of place that people aren’t from. If you live in Central, you’re probably from somewhere else and have found your way here for work or social services. Most people go home for the holidays, leaving the city quiet and the rest of us who can’t go home potentially feeling pretty lonely. So TLF puts on Christmas in the park every year as a gift for all those who are far from home over the holidays. The whole week was filled with games, music, conversations and new friends, all under the inviting shade of the trees in lovely Burgers Park. On Christmas Eve the finale included a gift give-away to all the children and a free meal provided by a local hotel. That night the international volunteers got together for Christmas Eve dinner. We had a magnificent vegetarian feast followed by Christmas carols and a gift exchange. Robin and I also had our own Christmas celebration the night before, after cooking dinner for our friend who lives at the nearby “old age home.” Christmas day I got up early grabbed a few of the cinnamon rolls Robin had baked and met up with Mandla and his brother to celebrate with their family back in Lenasia. We made full use of the yard outside their house for a braai as their beautiful mother cooked some delicious dishes. I made cinnamon rice as my contribution, which everyone loved. While the food was still cooking, we all gathered together to sing and dance. We formed a loose circle and people took turns leading songs, mostly in Zulu (thankfully I’d learned many of them already). The whole day was filled with laughter.

On Boxing Day Robin and the rest of the volunteers left for various excursions, most to Mozambique. From what I hear they had some great adventures. I stayed behind to work and save my money, but enjoyed a relaxing week. I spent New Years Eve walking about ten miles through the city and carrying furniture between Mandla’s old flat and where he’s staying now. Luckily it was only half a block away. We were too tired by evening to do much celebrating, though we did see fireworks from the window.

That first Saturday of the year I finally went to the salon to get my dreads fixed, which I’ve been considering doing for months. At the salon they washed my hair, twisted and beeswaxed it, then plaited it nicely on my head. I was told that after two weeks of not washing my hair and leaving it plaited, it would look beautiful. The experience itself was not as painful as I had imagined. But that evening I started getting a head ache. A couple days later when the headache had finally receded I started feeling stabbing pains all over my scalp. This eventually gave way to unbearable itchiness. After several sleepless nights, during which time I was also sick in bed, Robin finally helped me untie my hair. I was elated to have my hair free again, but angry once I found my dreads looking hardly any better than they had before. White people hair just requires different treatment. I’ll be doing my own dreads from now on.

The move back to Museums Park from the quiet little flat we’d been staying in was more of a shock than we expected. After a month of having our own space, we were suddenly back in a house that routinely had more than ten people trying to cook and eat separate meals at the same time. A couple days after our return Robin and I both decided it was finally time to move. We think we’ve found a place that could be our own flat in Museum Park. It would be great for when friends come to visit. We’re still working out the details, but hoping to be staying there by February.

Last weekend we had the sad opportunity to attend a funeral. One of the housemothers at the Potters House (shelter for women in crisis) had been sick the last couple years with blood cancer. She passed away at TLF’s Rivoningo hospice center on Christmas day. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know Bongi and hear her story. She first got involved with TLF through the Potters House prison outreach. She was serving time after committing some car-jackings in Jo-burg. Once she was out of prison she came to live at the Potters House. She showed responsibility and was soon filling in for the housemother and within a few months was given a job there. Bongi truly turned her life around. She was a committed believer and a helpful and loving woman. Her funeral was a celebration of her life, though filled with tears. It was surprisingly like most funerals I’ve been to, except for the music. Even on the bus ride to the church, women were singing powerful, mournful songs full of life and soul. After the memorial we all climbed back into the bus for the graveside service. Once the coffin was lowered into the ground, all the men were called on to come and help bury the body, while the women continued to sing. At first I felt like it was just too much, too quickly to watch her body’s last home covered with earth. But it was also beautiful, as the community of people who loved her worked together to take back to dust the body she has inhabited.

The last couple weeks have been work as usual. I’ve finally shaken off the last remnants of my laziness, but am still struggling to get back into healthy exercise habits and my other daily routines.

Hopefully next time I’ll be writing from a new home, telling you about our new visual arts studio where I should be teaching painting by then. Keep us in your prayers. There are lots of decisions to be made for the future and I need guidance and open doors. I hope you all had a beautiful Christmas and a great start to this year.

Sala kahle (“Stay well”)