Brussels through Barcelona…with Bronchitis.

Sometimes I feel like I get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity every other week or so living abroad. These last week I think I was bordering in the high twenties. It was a whirlwind of adventure and exhaustion fueled mostly by gelato. Let me tell you how it went. 🙂

Like I said in my last post…I crawled out of bed with the flu and, loaded up with every medicine under the Scottish grey sky, and onto our first bus. I was feeling better–I hear adrenaline can do that, though. 🙂 My sweet friend Rosie was kind enough to pack for me last Tuesday night. Her gap year traipsing all over India, South America, and Lord-knows-where-else prepared her well for this. “No, you only get one jacket…pick between those pants, they look the same to me.” Thanks to her, I packed all my stuff for a 12 day trip into a carryon for the first time in my life (Well okay, up until I had to check it to carry on all the stuff that I bought for people. Don’t tell Rosie).

Wednesday night we were in Brussels. I felt so bad for Natalie because I must have been the worst travel companion of all time–In truth, I can’t really remember all that much of Brussels. But I remember the chocolate. And the waffles. I remember getting to use the little French I know for the first time, and I remember the offbeat, Paris-like vibe of the city. I remember not sleeping thanks to the 11 Asian tourists who shared our room and set their alarm to go off at fifteen minute intervals from 4:30 to 5:30am. I remember how incredibly beautiful Grand Place was.

And before I knew it, we were in Paris. We were incredibly excited for Paris because it meant getting to see our friends from school. Grace, Margaret, Amy, Mary Raine, and Christie were all on the backend of their own school’s reading week, and we were thrilled to be reunited. I was especially excited to see Christie, who I met the first day of school freshman year and who’s been an incredible friend every single day since. Grace’s family has flat in Paris (you can watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle from her front door, if you can imagine!) and she was sweet enough to share some of the city’s best parts with us. We had a beautiful dinner to catch up, and then spent about an hour trying to capture the perfect picture touching the top of the Eiffel Tower. The next morning we went to L’Orangerie and were going to the Louvre’s metro stop when, well…I nearly passed out at the Louvre. Note: friends that go find you orange juice and walk you back to your hostel to sleep when they could go right on exploring Paris instead? Those are the kind you call “keepers”.

I was sleep-deprived, coughing, couldn’t breathe…miserable–and I couldn’t stand the fact that I missing Paris with my friends. The next morning we flew out to Barcelona and (I’m sorry this isn’t the wonderful travel story you were hoping for when you opened this. I feel bad writing it. And I definitely felt bad living it!) the airport outside of Paris was possibly a low point. Or Definitely. I’m just going to breeze over the terrible bus ride that made me get sick at the airport, my doubt about making it out of that country, and the map I handed to Natalie that said, “If I pass out on this plane, please call my mom at this number…please call Tara if I go to the hospital in Barcelona because  she speaks Spanish and I know she won’t let me die in Spain…”

Poor Natalie.

Let’s just cut to the Barcelona hotel room where I laid for two days. Thank goodness our friend Andrew met us in Barca and did all kind of wonderful things like spend the day exploring with Nat and go with us to the doctor (an American angel who gave me seven prescriptions, a bronchitis/sinusitis/rhinositis diagnosis, and a recommendation that I go get a chest x-ray for pneumonia). I made it a total of two places there: the fruit market (which was incredible!) and to dinner with my friend Tara (who is also incredible).

But then, things started looking up. It was a bit of a new chapter thanks to my antibiotics–so much, in fact, that I think it deserves a new post. Let’s end this one here.

Love,

Rachel

P.S. Sorry about the pictures–I was too tired to carry my giant-but-incredible camera through Paris and Barca, so I have to learn to upload the pictures from my small one!

“Well, that’s ambitious.”

These last few days have been a bit underwhelming here at St. Andrews, as I’ve spent most of my time battling a nasty Scottish version of the flu and writing my first paper. That’s right–first. 

Google led me astray–quite a bit astray–when it promised me that my 2,000 word paper would be about six pages long; but I was pretty proud of the final twelve-page version. There were a lot of strange rules about turning it in to this locked box with a certain coversheet attached, and after all my hard work it was a little anticlimactic to identify myself only as “110020866”…but still, I was glad to be done with it.

The rest of Halloween weekend was pretty tame…we had a girls’ movie night in my room to watch Hocus Pocus. Apparently “girls’ night” translates to “lady bits” party if you’re from Norfolk, England, and my friend Rosie was really cracking me up saying that. I was also really surprised to find out that Halloween isn’t the big deal in the UK that is back home. Rosie, Becky, and Charmaine had combined only ever been to a few Halloween parties, and Becky has never been trick-or-treating since her family is Christian (and here Halloween is still more attached to it’s roots than the commercialized, child-friendly U.S. version is). If that doesn’t sum up what an enriching experience studying abroad is, I don’t know what does. You learn things about your friends and their cultures even doing “ladies bits” parties.

Then yesterday Natalie came over to make sure I was eventually going to wake up from my cough medicine-induced all day nap, and we had some terrible dinner downstairs before going to Natalie’s hall for a ceilidh (which is a traditional Scottish dance…they’re really fun!). Our friend Max was dressed as a whiteboard, so I contributed an outline of Oklahoma to his shirt, and absolutely nobody knew what it was (“…Toothbrush?”), which made me laugh. Even though we didn’t stay very long, Natalie and I only had a little time to finalize our travel plans over dinner because I was still waking up. So we’re going to finish them today, because…

TOMORROW WE’LL BE IN BELGIUM. 

(Hopefully eating waffles.)

Since Natalie and I don’t have class Thursday or Friday, we’re leaving tomorrow night for an eleven day European adventure. Here’s our plan:

Wednesday Nov. 2–> Leave St. Andrews and fly to Brussels.

Thursday Nov 3 –> Brussels. This is the main place I’ve really been wanting to go! I don’t know why, exactly.

Friday Nov. 4–> Leave Brussels for Paris via train, where we’re going to meet Christie, Amy, Grace, Margaret, and the other Vandy kids studying in Florence right now. Kara’s going to meet us there, too!

Saturday Nov. 5–> Paris.

Sunday Nov. 6 –> Leave Paris and fly to Barcelona. Our friends Tara and John are studying abroad there, so they’re going to show us around!

Monday Nov. 7 –> Barcelona.

Tuesday Nov. 8 –> Leave Barcelona and fly into Rome.

Wednesday Nov. 9-Saturday Nov. 12 –> As of yet unknown Italian Adventure. We don’t have anything to specific booked, but we know we want to explore Italy! We’re throwing around the idea of going to the Amalfi coast, going on a wine tour through Siena, and are definitely planning to work our way up to Florence to see our friends there.

Sunday Nov. 12–> Fly back from Rome to Manchester, then take the train back to St. Andrews.

I know what you’re thinking. “Well, that’s ambitious.” I know. But it’s going to be incredible. Besides our flights and trains (all of which we booked for a grand total of UNDER 200 pounds, if you can imagine), we have almost nothing planned. Luckily we have friends most of the places, a little French and Spanish between us (as for Italian, we’re SOL), and happy-go-lucky attitudes.

Now, sadly, I’ve got to go back to sleep because I refuse to be sick during this trip–and I’m holding onto that old adage “you can do whatever you set your mind to” with a death grip.

Bonne nuit! Je t’aime.

Rachel Marie

P.S. Sadly, Kara and Natalie have most of the pictures from this week. I’ll try to get them and put them up for you!

Home is wherever I’m with You.

“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”

Exodus 13:21

It rains a lot here, but life in St. Andrews has to qualify as traveling in the light. It’s the easy, surreal, incredible, “day” part of my adventures. After a couple days of feeling a tiny bit homesick for frozen yogurt, country music, and oversized SUVs where the left side is shotgun, I’m back to total appreciation of getting to be a student here. I’m honestly pretty sure that there’s nowhere the grass is any greener than St. Andrews (but actually…see my pictures…) and have taken extra comfort lately in my new definition of home.

I’ve realized that really, people are the same everywhere: they share the same innate goodness, same challenges (whatever form they may come in), seek the same comforts, and often make the same mistakes. Every single human has the same craving for their bed at night, detest for bad weather, appreciation of dessert, fear of bad haircuts, tendency to make mistakes, uplift from music, and fulfillment from companionship.

I learned this from my friend Lauren. She’s four.

I babysit Lauren and some other kids on Thursday mornings while their moms do a bible study. Lauren and I were sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor facing each other, trying to decide what our wishes should be when the clock hit eleven-eleven. She was throwing out all kinds of good ideas and I was smiling at her, listening, with my face in my hands. She mimicked me exactly and then, as I did, wrinkled her nose back at me in a kind of friendly, happy way. I almost died laughing when I realized it, because Lauren had just made Scotland a much more familiar place in my mind.

I have no idea when I started to wrinkle my nose as a sort of gesture, how weird it is or now noticeable, but sometimes I unconsciously do it as a kind of acknowledgement. Like you don’t have anything in particular to say back to someone, but you would just say, “Yeah, that’s great,” when they finish a story. I guess it’s affectionate? I don’t know. Like I said, it’s unconsciously done. But I became aware (and of course, subsequently self-conscious of…though I’ve gotten over that) this gesture when my roommate Brenna said to me last year. “Rach, what have you done to me? I’ve started catching myself doing that nose-crinkling thing to other people because I’ve been around you too much.” Huh? Luckily we had eight other roommates for her to call and confirm that, indeed, I do this, and apparently it’s enough of an oddity that they all associate it with me. And now, even though I still don’t notice myself doing it, when I’ve been around people enough–I sometimes notice them doing it back at me, not realizing what they’ve just picked up.

I noticed a little girl Neo, at the orphanage, picked it up and would affectionately wrinkle her nose and smile at me when she had nothing to say–and I was so tickled by that. And now Lauren, 14,986 miles away (THAT’S RIGHT. I’m using the metric system. Look how integrated I’ve become!) is doing the same thing. It’s such a little thing–so totally unimportant and weird to even notice–but it’s given me comfort because it shows the universality of affection and…of people. Because isn’t it just kind of nice to know that people are sort of the same everywhere?

And more than that, I’m positive that really incredible people are to be found all over the world. And I know this specifically because I’m met way too many in Edmond, Nashville, Johannesburg, and now St. Andrews for that possibly to be statistically sound otherwise. I’ve spent the last couple of days feeling really grateful for the friends I’ve found here–and honestly, a little bit shocked and greedy and amazed that I keep meeting these people who are so–just–enriching. If you think you’ve struck gold with the friends that you have…and maybe you’ve known them all your life…well, congratulations, I’m pretty sure that you’re right and I hope you continue to be thankful for them. But if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to leave behind the familiar and great ones–have some faith, because it looks like there are more incredible people waiting for you…stashed in all kinds of unexpected places. I hope all of y’all who read this get the opportunity for yourself to go and realize just how many good people are out there.

…I’m sorry that I’ve said nothing important, or even informative, in this entire blog. I sat down to write about the great visit that I had with my parents (who crossed an ocean to see me! Now that’s love.), more about my home stay in Stirling with Mr. And Mrs. Dea last weekend, the geriatric birthday party we threw for Charmaine, Emily, and Rosie this week, Bongo Ball, and now my golf swing is finally, actually improving. I could’ve told you about my plans for next week (just to be a tease and really make you hate me, they include Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, and Florence…) or how my roommate and I have bonded. But no. I’m worthless.

…I don’t know how that happened.

I guess that means I’ll feel obligated to blog again tomorrow! Please Skype me to tell me you hate my blog: rachelxxmarie is my name, and it’s up all the time–just call. 🙂

I love you.

Rachel

Cheers to Scotland

So it’s been…more than a little while.

Sorry about that.

As for my excuses, should the masses who care to read this blog demand them with mob mentality…I just needed to take a breath.

But whew. Thank God there’s lots of fresh air in Scotland. I did actually keep blogs for my last few weeks in Africa as well, but ran out of internet time. When I read these blogs, later, from the safety of a hotel room with clean sheets, clear running water, and locked doors, I decided not to post them. I spent much of my last week and a half preoccupied with Shamima, a favorite girl of mine, getting sent home from school for unpaid fees. My frustrations with the orphanage workers (‘presumptive caregivers‘, I seemed to call them a lot) and with my own inability to help her came pouring out in my posts mixed with mounting desperation and…a pretty solid heartache. Combine that with my own…well, desperation is really the only word, to flee to safety, warmth, familiarity–anywhere clean, I was a little overwhelmed and so were my blog posts. They were practically bending over from their own weight; so, I deleted them. And then, like I said, I took a breath.

So that means…yeah, I made it to Scotland. Here I am, curled up in bed with my laptop, watching my English roommate Sonia sit very straightly at her desk chair completing next week’s assignments. And first the first time in over a month, I feel ready to assess the state of my world on my little blog, sipping tea from my mug with a cartoon doodle of a carriage and the scroll “HRH Prince William and Catherine Middleton, 29th April, 2011” that no British student would ever actually buy. But I’m a JSA (Junior Study Abroad student), so I can do whatever I want.

Scotland is incredible.

It’s really a shame I haven’t been sharing it with you like I should have been—but I’m turning over a new leaf! For now, I’ll have to limit myself to a brief listing of top-notch UK-experiences to date. I almost like how vague some of them are, because I hope when you read them you’re just thinking—what? You did what? Because honestly, that’s how it feels here—like it’s not real life.

A quick list of incredible things I’ve done that have kept me from writing my blog:

  • Went on a trip to the Highlands, led by our trust guide Ross (kilt-clad, obviously) where we looked for the Loch Ness monster, toured a sheep farm (PUPPIES!!!), and a whisky distillery. Oh, and some places with historical significance.
  • Joined the cricket team and…this one has a sub-list.
    • Survived initiation night—that involved being dressed up as a doll, eating way less than my fair portion of my team’s large and disgusting vodka-based jell-o mold, and dropping into cricket stances on whistle-command in the middle of the street.
    • NOT learned the rules.
    • Developed a healthy fear of cricket balls and a new appreciation for helmets (no, we don’t get to use them).
    • Finally picked up that the pitch is round and THAT’S why you can hit the ball behind you.
  • Joined the Fine Wine and Cheese Society AND the Fine Dining Society. Oh, and the chocolate appreciation society.
  • Learned to appreciate Scottish AMERICAN food.
  • Made friends from Germany, the Czech Republic, Vermont, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Russia, and France.
  • Realized I might have had more in common with a South African roommate than an English one.
  • Jumped off a pier into the North Sea (it was as cold as it sounds!)
  • Joined the Polo club and took a lesson from a professional Argentinean polo player named Gustan. After 15 minutes on the wooden horse, he said it was best to just “try to stay on” and real one, and even said I had “good form and much potential” by the end.
  • Fallen in love with a four-year-old named John Paul who refuses to wear anything but footie pajamas when he comes to the church playgroup I babysit for. Note: all accents are 10x cuter on kids with dimples.
  • Taken up golf on the oldest course in the world. Three lessons in and I’m possibly getting even worse.
  • Learned to love strawberry-lime cider.
  • Started to use “blinking” as a swear word thanks to my friend Rosie.
  • Hardly ever left my Hall without at least three layers of warm clothing.
  • Been inside four castles.
  • Read four novels for my class “The Novels of Jane Austen in context”. It takes places the Garden Room of a building very much like a castle, right on the beach. Possibly a bit of an academic vacation from pre-med courses.
  • Made my parents bring me an entire suitcase full of microwave popcorn, freeze-dried fruit, maple syrup, chai tea, and other American luxuries when they came to visit.
  • Found out that Thanksgiving also exists in Canada.
  • Realized how much stuff we have in America.
  • Been “adopted” by academic parents who are incredibly sweet. Ironically they’re both American and my “mom” is from Tennessee…please, no comments on my ability to branch out because trust me, I got good ones.
  • Learned to love vegetarian haggis (Google what the real thing is and you’re curiosity over why none of my non-vegetarian friends will try it will be quenched).
  • Been quite saddened to find that British kids, without variation, will do a surfer dude/valley-girl accent when they try to sound American.

Just compare this to my last post and…I think you’ll understand why the first several weeks were a transition I didn’t have the extra energy to blog about. I went from being in an orphanage that has no clean water to staying in a big hall that hosts school-sanctioned pub crawls, in an ancient town where the crime rate is zero and all the stores close at four in the afternoon. It’s why I needed some time, and why I might even have had better things to be doing.

But, (please read this in the non-creepiest voice you can muster) I’m backkkkk. 🙂 With pictures soon to follow!

Love,

Rachel Marie

Safari

A note from the present: To all the loving friends and family kind enough to fruitlessly check for my updates: I’m so sorry that I haven’t had enough internet to upload anything! So here are some blogs that I’ve writing but have been unable to post yet. Sorry for the delay! Miss you all!

From Monday, September 5, 2011:

I HAVE NOT DIED ON SAFARI.

Let me just go ahead and get that out of the way. I wasn’t even bitten badly enough to be put in the hospital for a few restful days. So please, everybody breathe, because I can tell you that the closest I came to death-by-wild animal was either (a) watching the sweet lions sleep, (b) a youthful elephant trying to high-five me with his trunk, or (c) finding a lizard in my drapes. Guess which one scared me the most? I know, it’s a little sad, but if y’all won’t laugh at me too hard then I won’t laugh at you for how safe a safari is relative to everyday life in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

Going on Safari was an INCREDIBLE experience, though…one I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced. I think I got the best deal possible, because I’m at an age where I find sitting in a car from 4:30am to 6pm, driving around the bush looking for leopards and such, is incredibly relaxing. I think it might be hard to go if I was older, because that old car was real bumpy and would easily upset any bad joints you had—or, if I had been younger, I might have been bored out of my mind. And, what’s more, I think safari is something that can be done quite well in about three days. Flying all the way from America to embark on a two-week adventure in the bush might be, I think, a bit redundant.

Arriving at the airport, I was immediately tickled to find that you step off the one plane that the airport accommodates at time and walk straight to the single thatched-roof hut that is the airport. Then, of course, you wait for the tractor to bring around your luggage and grab it off. Once I had met the person from my safari tour to pick me up, he let me climb in the back of the truck for ride to the lodge—and was kind enough to stop and point out to me the giraffe and zebra smiling on the side of the road as we went. Obviously, from then, I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

And, what’s more—I met the perfect circumstances in more ways than one.  Once I got to my safari lodge (which was in a private game reserve, meaning that if you hear hooves at night, it probably is right to think zebras—or, of course, giraffes, leopards, ostriches, warthogs, etc.) I was lucky enough to meet three lovely girls who were law students at Cornell. They made wonderful companions for the next three days. Glenn, my driver/lodge manager who I had made friends with on the ride over, saw us talking and told me that the girls had booked an all-day Kruger park tour for the next day—and hey, would I like to go along—for free?

Thanks for that, God. Thanks for that, Glenn.

But we got started right that afternoon with a private game drive. Private game drives are different than the Kruger experience because the drivers aren’t bothered by things like roads or bushes. They just drive right off them, or through them. Robert and Lawrence were our guides—Robert drove while Lawrence sat shotgun (literally. Think about that.), and they showed us lions, elephants, buffalo, hippos, rhinos, giraffe…RIGHT up close. Like I said, the elephant was all games with me. And then, once the sky started to turn the brightest pink you could imagine, we stopped for a glass of wine and watched the world’s most beautiful sunset.

Back at dinner we met a sweet Bulgarian couple on their honeymoon, enjoyed our delicious food, and then went to bed early to prep for our 4am wakeup call. It came as soon as you’d think. But then in the morning, after some coffee, we climbed in our safari vehicle with blankets, good spirits, and our trusty guide Clive, and drove the hour to Kruger National Park. Clive has lots of safari-tour buddies and has somehow worked out a system where he knows where all the good animals are. So when he heard that the only one of the Big Five (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_game) left to us was the leopard, he radioed some friends and then excitedly packed us right back into the car and set off across the park (racing, I think, far above whatever speed limits exist there) another hour, to a tree where we met a family of three leopards—the hardest animal too see. I had even met a couple at the airport who’d been on an eight-day, all-day safari and hadn’t seen them. So we were pretty excited to sit and have breakfast watching the baby cubs play.

The rest of the day was just as incredible—it was so relaxing to drive around, stopping to take pictures of all the animals that truly, astoundingly blend in with their environments. Isn’t it crazy to think that a giraffe print would fit somewhere? But they do, and it was amazing to see. We saw everything from leopard turtles to wild dogs, hyienas, crocodiles, lions, impala, rhinos…we saw everything. Definitely goes down as one of my most incredible days.

I also realized that anyone you happen to meet on an Africa safari is, as a rule, incredibly interesting. At dinner that night I sat next to an old man explorer/doctor/CEO from Australia and two girls who, funnily enough, were from St. Andrews, Scotland, and off on their “practicals” for medical school. Getting to talk to them got me awfully excited to be going so soon!

The next day I got up early again to go on a “game walk”. Our guide, Able, showed us everything from how you can use Devil’s Thorn as shampoo (that’s right. I said showed) to how to bite a certain plant into a perfect toothbrush, to how to tell holes that warthogs reside in, to how shockingly fast giraffes are running away from you. After that, we all came back to a lovely breakfast and then—sadly—I had a few hours to shower and sit back and read before it was time to head back to Joburg.

Here’s a few of my favorite pictures from the weekend—I hope you enjoy them! But of course, I really have to encourage you to go and see for yourself. 🙂 You won’t regret it.

Love,

Rachel Marie

Spring Day

Yesterday was special.

My internet card ran out, and so instead of making apple pie like I had planned, the women and I resorted to the bran muffin recipe which I had a picture of saved on my phone. The muffins were a big hit, though—apparently muffins are something of a “special”, more expensive food here (what a rip off, right? It’s bread in a special cup shape…), so the women really enjoyed them.  But more importantly, the fractions lesson that I wanted to do was trapped in my email—and, having used up all my printed worksheets, I basically had nothing prepared to teach them for the health part of the class.

So I improvised.

First, I had each of the women list three things that they were good at. The answers ranged from “watching T.V.” (I’m not kidding, that was the most popular answer), to being “friendly and good with people”, to being a good mother, to “smiling”. And then I let the women say how they thought those gifts were important for us as a group—how each women’s personal talents could best be used for the bread-baking business. Maria, a talented designer, was decided to be the creative director; Rebecca, always so kind and dependable, would be perfect with the customers; Londi, with her intelligence, should be in charge of the books and timetables.

I was absolutely shocked how willing the women were to participate in this little game of mine—usually this is the sort of thing that groups scoff at as waste of time. But they stayed an hour after class to make sure that each person got their time, and every single woman offered kind words about every other. A couple of them cried when they heard others say how seeing them in the kitchen each morning was what made them get out of bed, or how they drew inspiration from each other.

There is only one woman who has never missed a single class of mine: her name is Patricia, and that is nearly the only thing I’ve ever heard her say. When it came to be Patricia’s turn, another woman held Patricia’s hand in her lap and said, “let me tell you about my friend, here.” It turns out that Patricia’s children died in a house fire three years ago. Her husband survived it, but is disabled because of it—and Patricia takes care of him now. Rebecca, who was holding Patricia’s hand, explained that she had known her “before she was like this.” That Patricia not only used to speak, but was known to crack a joke or two. “This class is the first time that I have seen Patricia smiling since it happened,” Rebecca said.

I wasn’t the only one who was touched by Patricia’s story. The class was overcome with sounds of agreed support for our Patricia…each woman offered her her arms and said that they wanted her to know we were there for her. Patricia sweetly smiled a thank-you to all of us.

“You see?” Rebecca said. “We have become a family.”

“Yes,” smiled Patricia, “Family.”

The class ended with hugs and thank-yous. Several of the women came up to me and said that they wanted me to know I was special, too, (I didn’t take a turn) and that they were grateful to know me. They said they would miss me incredibly when I was gone. And I didn’t know what to say except to smile and hug them back. My African family.

In other news, I spent more good time with the kids this week. On the way to store with Uncle on Tuesday, I was totally taken aback when a group of about five of them rushed at me on the street. Habba jumped into my arms before I even recognized her, and it was the best greeting I’ve had in years. There’s nothing quite like walking down a street where nothing is familiar—signs in other languages, strange smells, disorganization, and no one looking me—and then feeling like such a part of the community courtesy of some big-smiling seven-year-olds.

Neo and Shamima went with me to the store again yesterday and they were so excited about it. Neo proud told everyone that it was her who picked the green apples for our fruit pizza, and I thought they were going to cry when I let them both pick their favorite candy bars. Don’t you love how simple it is to please kids sometimes?

And in class today, of course, we made fruit pizza—one of my favorite desserts. I have to credit Divine with the idea, because her cute little quip last week (“Are we making strawberry pizza?!) inspired me.

The kids were so naughty at the orphanage today, though—I was trying so hard to keep a straight face, laughing behind my hand, while Uncle attempted to discipline them. Today, the first of September, is “Spring Day”, the first day of spring and apparently every Johannesburg child’s excuse to throw water on whoever they please in celebration of the changing season. Like, inside the orphanage. And all over each other. This is life, though, when you’re growing up in a orphanage where the caregiver-to-child ratio is so heavily tilted in the children’s favor (well, sadly, in no one’s favor…and least of all the children’s, but you know what I mean). I love the sounds of their chaos, though—I just wish they wouldn’t have the need to yell so loudly for attention.

Tomorrow I leave for a three-day safari. Wish me luck, but I figure—how much wilder can I get? I promise lots of pictures! Thanks for all the continued prayers.

Love,

Rachel Marie

Pizza, Prawns, and People

“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.” –Lyndon B. Johnson

I continue living life in Johannesburg in my own private psych experiment. I guess I am the experiment—and everyday I learn more about South African culture, fit into it a little bit more…and am a little more heartbroken by how deeply-rooted some of its biggest flaws are.

What were you doing sixteen years ago?

I was four, and so, I was living in my same bedroom, in my parents’ house on Morning Star—the same bedroom I go home to everything Thanksgiving and Christmas. I would have been in preschool at the same church that I still attend, and spent most days tormenting my brother, refusing to put on my socks, and always reading with my parents before bedtime.

Now I skype my parents before I go to bed, they went without me to church yesterday, and I torment my brother less frequently. But here’s my point—sure, I’ve grown up, obviously. But not all that much has really changed for Edmond, or Morning Star…or even for my parents.

Most of the women in my baking class would have been about my age sixteen years ago. Only they wouldn’t have been allowed to be educated past the second grade. No matter what dreams they had, as blacks they wouldn’t have been allowed to run business or professional practices in “white South Africa” without a permit. They were instead forced to move to the black “homelands”. Blacks were denied South African passports, and if they were spotted out past nine p.m., they were simply taken off to jail. Transport and civil facilities, buses, trains, hospitals, and ambulances were segregated. So were public swimming pools, pedestrian bridges, parking spaces, graveyards, parks, public toilets, churches…and cinemas.

So Miky and I went to the cinema on Friday. I booked a hotel in Rosebank (an area of Johannesburg which is not primarily noted for its high rates of crime, drug use, HIV, and unemployment, unlike home-sweet-home) mainly to take a shower, since it had been a week. I invited Miky along for company, because she had never stayed in a hotel before and hadn’t been to the movies in over a year. We bond over the movies, because it’s one of the few things we have a shared past of—American movies have played on her television as long as she’s had one, since…well, no one really makes and distributes movies in South Africa. That was the reason for venturing down the street to the cinema mall—alone, I would have just stayed home…but I thought that Miky would love it. She was unbelievably excited—on Tuesday, Uncle told me that she had come by the orphanage absolutely gushing about the Friday that we were planning together. “Someone is too much excited, Rachel,” he kept saying to me. So around two in the afternoon, we made our way to the little B and B just twenty minutes away from our apartment via taxi, and then the sweet owner drove us to the theatre.

As we were sitting in the seats, Miky stretched out in the dark theatre and said “It’s nice to be free here. I heard there is a theatre in Hillbrow, but that it is not safe to go there. It’s nice to be free.”

“It’s hard to be free in Hillbrow, period, isn’t it? I mean, unless we’re with the kids at the orphanage.”

“Yes…you know, Rachel…I was scared, too, when I moved to Hillbrow. I know you are also scared sometimes.”

I wasn’t particularly in the mood to dwell on unpleasantries…I had come here to be taken away, after all. I wanted to be thrown into Crazy Stupid Love and not back among my harder moments in South Africa, so I made a sort of non-committal grunt.

“It must be hard for everyone to stare at you all the time, when you walk down the street.”

“Because I’m white? Or American…?”

“Yes, because you’re white. It’s hard to be free when everyone staring reminds you that you are different.”

Yup.

…And then the previews started.

Let me preface this next bit by saying that while we were in a nicer area…we weren’t in a white area. The mall’s population was probably something like 60% black South Africans, and 40% white South Africans. But when the lights came up in the theatre and we began to wander out towards any smells of food that I could follow, I think the 40% (40% more than she had ever been around—except for me, of course) started to close in on Miky.

I tried to be very gentle with Miky being outside of her comfort zone and picked a very unassuming restaurant for dinner. It was seafood-type restaurant specializing in combos of fish-and-chips that served whole assorted platters of their specialties for about $9. When we sat down I touched her hand and said, with my gentlest smile and a squeeze that she needed to get whatever she wanted, my treat, because I had no idea how I would ever begin to thank her for dropping her normal life to move in with me…and how I wanted tonight to be a fun girls’ night to celebrate that we had met, and become such good friends.

She looked at the menu, then up at the people in the restaurant (still sticking to the 60/40 ratio), back down, and her eyes were starting to swim with big, thick tears that her eyelashes’ blink-black attempts were hardly a match for.

“Sweetheart…are you okay? Do you want to go? What’s wrong?”

“No, I am okay…”

“Sweetie, Miky…tell me, what is it? Did I do something? Would you rather go somewhere else?”

(She had told me earlier in the week that first the first time last month she had tasted prawns, shrimp to me, for the first time and they were her new favorite food…which is why we were here…)

“No, I’m just…” She was full-out crying now, and definitely not in a thankful or happy or excited way. Tears were streaming down her cheeks in an I’m-so-unfortable-right-now-this-is-the-only-response-my-body-has-got, Oh-my-God-I-want-to-go-home, get-me-out-of-here kind of way.

Miky and I were close, and I had never seen her like this. Usually no topics were off the table with us, so I didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t speak to me, just kept blinking furiously and looking all around. And then, in a desperate attempt to do something socially acceptable with herself, she forced out—“so, I am looking at scholarships for graduate school.”

Um, okay? I guess I can pretend that everything’s cool and, um, “Oh, yeah? Where have you been looking so far?”

Eventually her tears subsided and I thought we were going to roll over this when the waiter came to take our order (I think he, wisely, had given us some extra time to decide). Then Miky said to me, quietly, “Is it okay…I will just eat at K.F.C.” She had the saddest, most uncomfortable look in eyes. But it was the same way that I might say to my roommates—“no, no, it’s fine…you guys go ahead and go to dinner if you had plans, and I’ll just stay here because I need to study anyway…”, before they say—“No, Rach, get up. You’re coming.” And I don’t fight them, because of course they’re much better company than my chemistry books.

Finally I understood that Miky needed more reassurance. Looking back, I’m not sure that she had ever eaten in a sit-down restaurant that wasn’t strictly fast-food. I naively thought I had covered this with my initially sappy, thanks-for-being-my-friend comments and then tried to let it alone so not to embarrass her, but…now I understood.

I offered to ditch the place altogether and get take-out. Or order food from the safety of our hotel room…or skip dinner in favor of her favorite coconut biscuit cookies and tea. But because I’ve learned that it’s a little better to…well, finish, awkward situations, in the end I convinced her that we should share a seafood platter and salads. I told her that I was craving prawns.

By the end of dinner she was back to normal. And she whispered to me, “You know how, before, you asked if I was okay?”

Hmm, let me think was this that time last week when we you seemed down…? Oh. You mean the giant elephant in the room all through this dinner.

“You know how you feel when everyone stares at you in Hilbrow? That…that is how I felt tonight.”

No one was staring at Miky—I know, because I had been noting and actually enjoying the rare ability to blend that night. But I know that feeling, trust me, I know that feeling…and could finally relate to Miky’s panic attack. I squeezed her hand again and tried to my best to relate to her my empathy—and then, move on with the night.

After dinner, we went back to hotel where Miky picked out several mini-bar drinks and snacks quickly, saying “I want this,” as she picked them up and I obligingly dropped the money into the basket. She grabbed the remote control, flipped immediately to the South African soap opera which I’m subjected to each and every night, and turned up the volume past a courteous level. And didn’t make conversation.

A little stunned at the one-eighty, I quietly walked away to brush my teeth, and then skyped with my friend Natalie as Miky fell asleep. In the morning, Miky slept much later than usual and took nearly two hours in the bathroom so that we almost missed breakfast (something I worried about at the nine-room B and B, knowing that the kind owner had prepared ours especially). But after she emerged, she didn’t touch her breakfast—just cautiously read the labels on each of the unfamiliar jams and butters served with toast. And then, as she gathered her things and I prepared to move into the only room available for the next night, a single, she declared suddenly that she had had the best time of her life. She was smiling grandly as I put her into a taxi and waved as she drove away…dumbfounded.

It shocks me that, in this day and age, black and white twenty-year-old girls can’t have a dinner out together without need of a therapy session. The socio-economic and racial divide between Miky and I had always been evident to me…I just thought that, after more than three weeks together, we had started to shut it out from our shared sanctuary. I thought, in our time alone in our bedroom, we were moving so much deeper in our friendship that that stuff was not as important. But I think that last Friday, Miky realized for the first time just how different our skin and economic status had made our pasts—how it was likely to affect our futures—and suddenly she found herself wondering what the hell she was doing with me in the present.

I wouldn’t have known how to react, either. Let’s face it—I don’t. I’m praying about it, though.

To be continued…

Rachel

P.S. If you’re looking for matter-of-fact updates on the baking program, I hope you’ve figured out that I’m easily distracted, fascinated, introspective, and not good at getting to the point—and well, given up reading, because I’m not likely to change. But here are some highlights from the week:

-I spent lots of good time with Shamima and Divine especially this week. Shamima is opening up more and more I found myself so relived to hear that she’s going off to boarding school in December rather than staying here with her aunt.

-I made pizza with the kids, which they claimed was one of their favorite foods prior to class. But they kept peppering me with, “Is it a strawberry pizza?!” and so I wasn’t shocked to find out from Uncle that, with its expensive ingredients, this favorite is shared maybe only once every year or two. We made four pizzas from scratch and they were absolutely delicious! The kids ate, and loved, every bite.

-About five more women have joined my baking class. They’ve been quiet, but welcome, additions.

-It’s now traditional for the women and I to gather around to the oven while the bread bakes, warming our hand over a full-powered stove-top burning and discussing everything from Beyonce’s pregnancy to Maria’s dreams of becoming a fashion designer, to baby Miranda’s Portuguese father, to how amazingly soft my hair continues to be. We are officially girlfriends.

Cape Town: Just Down the Yellow Brick Road

I know I’ve been slacking on writing my blog when I think back over the transformation I’ve had since my last entry. What have I been doing? Well, last Friday I left for what might be the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen…where I definitely found the most beautiful people. In a stroke of rather insane luck, five of my friends—some of my best friends—happen to currently be studying abroad at the University of Cape Town (that’s right, Cape Town is two words. Who knew?). And so, after teaching double-duty classes on Thursday (whole wheat oatmeal bread=major success with the kids on Thursday, too!), I packed up and left for the airport Friday morning.

I thought it was really telling that, although everyone at the orphanage and in the apartment building knew I was headed for Cape Town, no one could tell me what to be sure not to miss. Not a single person had ever made the short journey there…not in their whole lives. I equate this to an Oklahoman who has spent their entire life in Oklahoma and never made it to Texas. Really? You’re not curious? But here I find both an abundance of poverty (the sort of life conditions where shoes, let alone fancier transport, are hard to come by) and a lack of wanderlust. I think the curiosity and sense of adventure that generally spur travel are rather short here. It sort of explains why many are content to sit in poverty in Johannesburg, rather than sit in poverty in beautiful Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, or otherwheres (yes, I made that word up).

Anyway…I arrived at the airport and immediately gulped down a large bottled water at the airport. Rather greedily, I followed this by fresh fruit, yogurt, and a tea. I used clean, disposable utensils, there were napkins, and it was delicious. Then they also passed out vegetarian sandwiches on the plane, and I was in disbelief. It’s a weird feeling—guilty and thrilled. I felt like I was getting everything I had been looking forward to (ahhh, comfy plane seat with my own little clean area…quiet…peace…diet soda? Don’t mind if I do…) and, once it arrives, you’re not sure you deserve it. And I’m talking about the whole atmosphere, down to the plastic wrappings with my name stamped on them; not the fact that I ate a sandwich. In fact, I spent a lot of my first day in Cape Town in a little bit of a Quiet Wonder about the things around me—not sure how to respond.

My friend Wilson picked me up at the airport, and I was so glad to see him! He was my first taste of home, and it was so comforting. In retrospect, I also note that if it had been one of the girls, I likely would have collapsed into them in heap of crying, confused emotion…and so Wilson was certainly an ideal ride. Interestingly, he’s doing the exact opposite of me—after spending his summer studying in London, he’s now in Cape Town for the semester. He and Elin plan to backpack for a few weeks after their school ends in November, and I’m already so excited to see them again in Scotland. Wilson introduced me to the Red Dragon (a purple volkswagon stickshift that, rather sadly, died only a day later), which I thought he must be insane to drive in South Africa. But I have to admit I was really impressed; the whole opposite-side-of-the-road business didn’t seem to faze him.

We went back to Brenna’s house, where we snuck in my suitcases (guests aren’t allowed, technically speaking) and then got to meet some of her highly entertaining and welcoming housemates. There’s no doubt that any kid who chooses to study abroad is Cape Town is someone interesting you’d want to meet. Then Jenna (another friend from Vanderbilt), who lives on the other side of Brenna’s duplex, joined us and went to a place called CoaCoa WahWah for a late lunch. And, thus continued my delicious weekend.

Brenna came home after that (one of my roommates from school…basically bottled joy and genuineness, topped with incredible curly hair), and Emmy (one of my best friends; I keep hoping enough time together will slowly transform me into her) and Elin (see: generosity in the dictionary) soon showed up, too. I can’t express to you how good it felt to see them, or how completely loved I immediately felt. There’s just…no words.

Next I had the best shower of life, and so I’m giving this statement it’s own paragraph. Of. My. Life.

Brenna is our Nashville cruise director, and boy did she do Cape Town justice. That night we went to a place called Mama Africa for dinner (yum) followed by delicious milkshakes in all flavors. If you’re ever in Cape Town, I recommend the banana-cinnamon. After that, we went home to sleep and I had some more time to digest the day. Elin said it pretty well—“doesn’t it help a little that you flew in?” As in, wouldn’t it have been even more surreal if I had driven from the incredible poverty in Joburg to this gorgeous, Disneyland-Africa? Yes. Two hours away and it might as well have been twenty million. It was a lot to digest.

Not only are my friends incredible friends to me, they’re incredible people, stand-alone. They got it. Emmy spent last summer in India working with women who had been sex-trafficked, and Elin spent last summer in a Jamacian orphanage. Frustrated with women who say they want a way out of poverty, but can’t seem to commit fully to a skill-teaching baking class? Emmy had been there, literally been there. In disbelief about orphanage workers who seems to put themselves before the kids they care for? Elin had advice on that. Need an incredible listener? Brenna. God just put so many people around me to light my way that sometimes I scold myself for ever fearing the dark.

Saturday we went to the Old Biscuit Mill, which is actually the world’s most incredible gourmet food market. I forgot my camera, but strongly encourage you to Google it if you ever require some tipping in the direction of “should I”/”should I not” take a trip to Africa. You’ll go for the waffles. And the crepes… Basically, we stayed until three sampling everything under the sun and shopping. It was so relaxing and beautiful there.

Then, Brenna and I spent a few blissful hours lounging on her porch before the five of us (minus Jenna) set off for the beach to catch the sunset. I’ll let the few pictures I got speak for themselves, but it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen, hands down. The most beautiful place I had ever been, hands down. We followed that (and it’s hard to decide what to follow that with!) with delicious pizza from a highly-recommended and mouth-watering restaurant and a long talk lounging at home on the living room couches.

But Sunday was the best day of all. Sunday was the best day I had had in a very, very long time. We wanted to make it to church but I was stressed about having to leave it early, so Jenna, Emmy, and Elin came over to pray together. Elin brought us coffees (she keeps a mental log of what sort of breakfast drink anyone she has ever met enjoys, and loves to surprise them with it sporadically), and we all curled up together in Brenna’s room. We all held hands while Emmy said a prayer and then we listened to few favorite worship songs. Then Emmy read from her devotional (which Brenna and I both purchased later that day), and some of the most appropriate verses of all time:

“Trust me, and do not be afraid. I want you to view trials as exercises to develop your trust muscles. You live in the midst of fierce spiritual battles, and fear is one of Satan’s favorite weapons.”

And finally, each of my beautiful friends laid their hands on me and prayed for my strength, for my safety, for my confidence, for my heart, and in thanksgiving for me. They were so sincere as they offered up their prayers for me—and said so many, wonderful, encouraging things that made me so full, I wished afterwards that we could sometimes hear the silent prayers others offer on our behalves. I had never felt so loved as I did in that moment, or so sure that I was in exactly the right place. Or so grateful to know these girls, and have their support. Or so silly for letting my fears take up so much of thoughts, occupy so much of my past prayers. Suddenly, even though I was absolutely bawling—we all were—I felt strong.

After we let in the “devil” who had tried to distract from our sacred time together (the internet cable guy, of course), we headed off to the mall where my Emmy, Brenna, and Elin raced around to find me some extra warm clothes, many books to while away the long hours alone in my apartment, and a big bag full of dried fruits, canned soups, and spices to supplement my cornflakes diet. Then we raced back the house where we unpacked and repacked all my stuff in under seven minutes (Wilson, seemly being made aware of some secret super-power which we girls yield, was shocked and amazed). And then I hugged them all fiercely and watched my incredible friends pack me into a taxi and wave goodbye far longer than necessary out in the pouring rain.

And so I returned to Joburg not sad but determined; not fearful, but brave. Not pessimistic. I feel like the next month has been altered entirely because I have been filled up now; given a boost of love and made freshly aware of the Angels that are walking right in front of me—both the tan-skinned ones that lifted me in Cape Town, and the celestial ones which I’m certain occupied the empty seats beside me on my plane ride back. I’m so grateful to have more time here with these incredible kids and women. I, more than anyone, have been reminded of how much genuine love, even for a limited time, can impact someone. I’m so glad to be back.

Rachel

P.S. I’ve had a little internet trouble, so this post is a bit behind. I promise updates from this week very soon!

And I came all this way…to learn from my roommate?

So, these last few days I’ve spent a lot of time in reflection.  I have a lot of time on my hands for that sort of thing. Every once in a while, my mind starts to wander off and think about things like how much I miss taking showers (That’s right, it’s sponge-baths only for me), or eating food other than cornflakes and water (Well okay, sometime’s there’s milk—but most days, not, because we don’t have a fridge).  But usually I don’t dwell on these thoughts very long, because next to me, there’s Miky. Miky and I love to hang out in our room at night, sometimes watching bad South African television (Yes, we do have a working, three-channel television. Thank goodness whoever furnished this place had their priorities in order!) sometimes playing African/American music for each other, swaping pictures, or talking. Miky is studying to be a teacher, but her real dream is to be a psychologist, and boy…does she fit the bill.

Let me preface this by saying that Miky is genuine. Sometimes I think of her as an endless fortune-cookie dispenser or the kind of doll that with a button that reads “press here for Sunday-school correct answer!”…but the thing is, she means it. And often at night I drift off to sleep thinking, “Who is this girl?!”

Here is the thing. When I planned this trip to Africa, I was purposefully signing myself up for this life-changing experience. I could have done a project in New York or Australia or somewhere more exciting and comfortable, but I felt like I was at a point in my life where I needed a wake-up call. Like most other American twenty-year-olds, I can be incredibly self-centered, spoiled, demanding, and set impossibly high standards for myself and others. So I was literally scheduling a wake-up call: six weeks off from Real Life, to be spent with God. But that’s the thing—for me, this, here…is not real life. It’s just a time-out. It’s like the little boy, Sebastian, who came with his mom to drop off his old toys at the orphanage last weekend. I bent down and whispered to him that it was very sweet for him to give his toys to the kids here, and that they would love them. He just looked up at me with these pale blue eyes (the first I’d seen in weeks), and said simply, “It’s okay. I have more toys at home.”

I have more toys at home, too, buddy. Toys like a car, hundreds of books, and a closet full of clean clothes. So me and Sebastian are the same, because, it only makes sense for us to give a little bit. For me it’s my time here, and for him, it’s his toys.

And then there’s Miky.

Miky and and I have a ton in common, because in general, we see the world the same way. I don’t understand why God chose me to be born into this incredible family, with so many opportunites, and often worry that I’m squandering them (but then, let’s be real, also take plenty of time to enjoy them to the fullest—like the fact that I’m going from Africa to study abroad in Scotland…”Because it’s important for your degree?” Erm, well, that and…because I can). Miky doesn’t understand why God choose her to be born into an incredible family, and is sure that she was blessed so she could pass those blessings right along. Sometimes I look at her and just want to scream, “But you could do anything, too! You could take some time to make some of your own dreams happen and then turn around, go back, and help others do the same!” But that would almost seem a waste of time to her.

Here are actual conversations that we’ve had. I hope that you, too, can learn something from them, because I do wish you to note that this is the sole purpose for which I broadcast my own shame:

Scene:            It’s snowing in Joburg. I have just run back from the orphanage, up five flights of stairs to our apartment, am debating using the rest of my drinking water for tea, soup, or actual drinking water, and bury myself under the covers.

Me:             Miky, do you have a fireplace at home? In weather like this it’s my favorite thing in the world to curl up with apple cider in front of the fireplace! It always reminds me of Christmas and we have the best fireplaces at Vanderbilt, and especially at my house…

Miky:             Well, at home in Limpopo we have one open fire but we must use it to do all of our cooking. But sometimes we also have to use it to get warm, too.

Me:            Oh, well, yeah, so I guess that’s similar…(I saw a picture. It’s not.)

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Scene: I’m writing in my journal. Miky is watching a South African soap opera.

Miky:            What is that? Are you writing a book?

Me:             I’m just writing down what happened today. So that maybe some day I can look back on it and laugh. Or maybe give it to my daughter, and she can learn something about who I used to be. (Under my breath: or how dumb I used to be…)

Miky:            Oh, that’s nice. I want to write a book, too, I think.

Me:            About your life?

Miky:            I sometimes think that it would be nice to write a book about my life to inspire younger girls to overcome hardships. I think it would be nice to show that, even though things are not always easy, you should persevere because things can get better. But it’s hard to see that, sometimes…you know? So maybe they could learn it from me?

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Scene:             Early morning. We’re both groggy.

Miky:             How did you sleep?

Me:            I had nightmares. I swear I heard glass-breaking last night, and yelling, and then lots of police sirens, and that woke me up from my nightmares. And then I couldn’t sleep. Did you not hear that?

Miky:             I guess I am used to it.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Scene: Pictures of my cutie-pie goddaughter, three-year-old Millie, fall out of my journal and onto the floor along with pictures of my other family and friends. Miky picks them up.

Miky:             Who is this?

Me:            That’s Millie! She’s my cousin’s baby. Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life? I’m in love with her.

Miky:             Oh, that is so nice. Your cousin, you say?

Me:             Yes, she’s my cousin’s daughter. But I’m close to that side of my family, probably because I don’t have any sisters. Do you know your cousins?

Miky:             Yes, I am very close to my aunt, also. We have a special bond, I think.

Me:             (Smiling) That’s so sweet! Do you get to see her a lot? Is she in Limpopo?

Miky:             Well, I lived with her when I was younger. Because, you see, my mother could not take care of both my twin sister and me and so she sent me off to live with my aunt when I was a baby. I have never lived with my mother. I used to think that maybe she liked my twin sister better than me, but now I know she loved us the same…and I am grateful, because I have a special relationship with my auntie.

Me:            (A little stunned) You’re right, Miky, that is a big blessing…

[I later found out that Miky has A DOZEN siblings. Her father, who she hasn’t seen in many years, has two wives…so some of them are half-siblings. She has never lived with them or, from what I can tell, gotten to know them very well—but I know she has been working to help her younger half-brother get into college. Miky’s mother used to sell fruit on the side of the road before she tired of the monotony and quit, and her father does not work. She says her mother is her hero, because she’s showed her how to weather the storms of life. Her older siblings are now supporting her parents. Though this leaves Miky no money for school (she has loans), she says that she doesn’t blame her parents at all because she’s certain “they always did their very best, and with so many of us…” but also remains sure that “education is the answer to overcoming all obstacles” (See what I mean about the fortune-cookie thing?) and she “feels sorry they never had that.” Sorry for them, Not for her. ]

Sometimes I feel mischievous and like to test Miky.

Once, I asked her her favorite place in the world. She said, “even if I have never been there? I think that it would be Washington, D.C.”

Another time, I asked her what she would do with a million dollars. Not even a very small part of that million was designated for a trip to Washington, D.C. Nope. Of course not. She spewed out a whole new dream—“I think I might open a daycare so that teen mothers, who give birth very young, might be able to leave their kids there for free while they can continue their education.” Where did that come from? “And, of course, build the new Malaika in Limpopo.”

Yes, Miky is the one responsible for the land that Malaika (the orphanage, where she volunteers, if you’re wondering how we know each other) now owns in Limpopo, to build on.  Since she’s from there, she somehow secured it and took care of all the legal arrangements to purchase the land. Malaika gathered the money…and Miky did whatever the heck you do to buy land in Africa. She is twenty-one years old. I guess that means that in one year I should know how to do that in the U.S.? Well, fail.

Is she a real person?

 (I’m actually asking you.)

Yes, because I know she is not a morning person (we’re good roommates that way), failed at being a vegetarian after ¾ of a day (“and it was as if I had never tasted chicken before in my life, it was SO delicious, Rachel! You must remember!), despises doing laundry, and has, in my own humble opinion, rather poor taste in music. She feels the cold, like me, and uses the weather as an excuse not to do anything (“I am so sorry I was not at the orphanage today to see Deborah, but…it was cold and so all I could do was fall asleep today. I didn’t mean to, but I laid down…”).

She just has one-way vision. On the ladder of—well, let’s say, blessings—she only has eyes for those below her. She has no desire to climb up it when she knows the kids of Malaika are further down still. She doesn’t look up at all, actually, except maybe to wave at me—and check, quickly, that I’m not afraid of falling.

Sebastian and I are the kids who were given candy bars and gave away pieces to the hungry. Miky is the kid who was given half a chocolate bar, gives it away, and goes hungry. And she didn’t need to schedule herself a wake-up call in order to do it.

Luke 21:1-4

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Thanks for reading this long post, you guys. I hope you can learn a tiny bit from her through me…and I’ll keep you updated on whether she turns out to be a real person or not. Thank you so much, again, for all your encouragements and prayers. I’m fully willing to admit that I still very much need them!

Love,

Rachel

P.S. Here’s some more pictures to prove these kids are pretty darn easy to fall in love with. This week I’ve had great bonding time with Shadia, Neo, Divine, Zinclay, and Shamima especially.

One Love

Things are going pretty well here in Johannesburg! The women are baking, the kids are smiling, and winter is coming to an end.

Today I got to go to church with Miky! I was so excited to get to see how different (or not different) an African Christian Church would be. On Sundays at the Orphanage, there are worshippers who come in very traditional dress and close off one room praise in—and that involves a lot of strange rituals I don’t understand—so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Eddie dropped us off at church and we joined the end of a very long, snaking queue. Us Americans tend to crowd around whatever door we’re waiting to enter, but the South Africans all lined up very patiently for the previous service to release. Miky’s church is held in the Hilbrow Theatre, and we so we were seated on the very back row of cushiony theatre seats. There wasn’t quite enough room, so the girl next to me shared my seat—something that would have been way too awkward for American standards, but we fit just fine. Like at church back in Nashville, a projector displayed the verse of the day and the words to a few songs that we sang. Altogether, it really wasn’t much different from church back home! But a few things really stuck out to me. First of all, the people are much more enthusiastic—everyone dances and raises their hands up in praise. And—to rile the people up—there was a little person on stage who leapt about, microphone in hand, screaming out the words to the songs with more enthusiasm than I have ever seen. I think, if I had been sitting close, I would have been a little scared of him (even from the back, let’s face it…I sort of was). He would scream “Ka!” and throw one arm up in the air, and then the people would answer with “Ka, Ka!” throwing both. It was a lot. But there was a lot of joy in the gesture, so eventually I joined in, too. The only song I could really understand goes, “One Love…one life…let’s get together and feel alright.”

I had a hard time with what the preacher had to say today, though. We read from Ezekiel 37:1-14 (you can read it here http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+37%3A1-14&version=NIV), which is a story about God giving life back into dry bones. God asks man, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And he answers, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Then God says, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life’.

I took this to be a story about God being all-powerful, and his will knowing no limits. But the preacher told the people that they had to “prophesy” over their own lives, which I agree with, but…he especially told to “prophesy” over HIV/AIDS. He said, “why do you fear HIV/AIDS more than you fear God? Why do you praise it more? What you must do is prophesy over HIV/AIDS, say to HIV/AIDS that you will live longer than it will live, and so it will be! Just prophesy over HIV/AIDS!”

…Huh? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the power of prayer against hardship and disease. But I also know that church is one of the few educational opportunities that grown men and women of this area are exposed to—certainly most of them didn’t graduate from school, and it’s common for them to have trouble reading. I’m definitely troubled by what this shows about HIV/AIDS education. Though I’m sure the preacher didn’t explicitly mean that if you have HIV, you can live if you just pray about it—I bet a lot of people would have trouble with the differentiation! That just really bothered me, and showed me how great a need there is for HIV/AIDS education around here. Of course, besides that little hiccup, I loved church today and can’t wait to go back. I’m so thankful that Miky lets me tag along in her life and learn so much. And don’t worry!! We’re going to cover HIV/AIDS prevention and transmission in the “health” part of baking class, so at least I can know that every kid at Malaika has got their facts straight.

Speaking of the kids at Malaika…WE GOT NEW TOYS TODAY!!!! Toys, and clothes, and food…it was like Christmas. A sweet lady named Natasha came with her two little boys and dropped off boxes of old toys, canned food, formula, and diapers. The diapers were maybe a little late because my sweet little Cindy, unfortunately, went all over my church sweater right before they arrived. Her pants had holes in them! And the sad part was, while I could take off my sweater…no one could seem to find Cindy any different clothes to change into, so the poor thing must have been so uncomfortable! If there were no little girls’ clothes in those boxes, I’m definitely going to have to find some for her soon. I’m not positive if she has other clothes. But anyway…

It was pure joy for the kids ripping into the toys boxes. And I loved it, too! I’ve been able to drop off gifts like that before, but never once have I been in a situation where I really needed something material and then, out of kindness, it was provided by a stranger. But today I felt like one of the kids when we were unpacking all that stuff—it was so exciting! Malaika literally has about six toys: a broken teapot, two dolls, a doll house from which all the dolls are missing, one red car, and a coloring book with some colors. There were swords, balls, toy cars galore, masks, dress-up clothes, notebooks—SO MUCH FUN PACKED INTO THE THOSE BOXES! And more than that, enough food to feed the kids and hungry families that come around in the afternoon for a few months. What a blessing. It was such a cool experience to be on the other side of such pure kindness…to be able to receive.

As we were unpacking the boxes, we gave out some of the food to the kids right away. I was a little surprised to see some of the orphanage workers eating the few chocolate bars that had been included in them, even as they kindly offered some to me (which I gave to poor Cindy, who I was still feeling bad for). That was another Big Reminder for me of how blessed I am. Even for those who are working here in Hilbrow—and who have enough to eat, luxuries like chocolate are still few and far between. I know things like clean showers or a closet full of clothes don’t exist. It was weird to go so quickly from feeling like I was receiving (along with kids) much-loved and needed gifts from a stranger, to remembering that I was actually a white girl from Edmond, Oklahoma, who had enough money to go to college and buy as much chocolate as I please. I’m just here temporarily. It gives you a lot to think about, doesn’t it?

Here’s some pictures of the kids being adorable. Can’t you feel their happiness today?!