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!

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