Tuesday, February 15, 2011


These are a few questions I’ve received that I’d like to share with all of you. Please remember that my answers are based solely on my own experience; I know from talking with the other volunteers that we are all seeing and doing very different things. Please think of them as the Christine version of Africa!

What is the most unusual thing to happen to you so far?
Not so much one thing stands out as being unusual, but rather a combination of things that together just makes things different than what I’m used to. For example:
  • Time is kept by a 24, not a 12 hour, clock. I still have to use my fingers to convert time (17:00 to 5:00).
  • Date format is DD-MM-YEAR, not MM-DD-YEAR. This has been the most confusing when trying to file documents away in the church office. Is 02-06-2009 February 6 or June 2?
  • Driving directions are reversed, which still throws me for a loop. Thank goodness I can’t drive, or I would always be on the wrong side of the street!
  • Pedestrians do not have the right of way, in any situation. I have to consciously remind myself to get out of the way as vehicles absolutely will not stop for you.  
  • Forget strollers or baby carriers. Small children are usually tied onto their mother’s lower backs with towels or blankets. I don’t know how they are able to keep their knots tied (and babies fully secured!) but I am always impressed when I see it.
  • Personal space does not exist in public areas. It’s not unusual to be standing in line for something and be in full contact with the person both in front of and the person behind you.
  • Hitchhiking is an integral part of the public transportation system. I have “hiked” twice by myself and have had no problems.
My own follow-up question: What is usual- what things are similar to the US?
As surprised as I was by the unusual things, the usual things are even more surprising.
  • Celine Dion really is an international phenomenon.
  • KFC is by far the most popular American fast food chain. I have eaten more fried chicken this year than in my entire life. I don’t know if this better or worse than McDonald’s, which is the only other chain I’ve seen here.  
  • Oprah is on TV, as are numerous other American TV shows (Fear Factor, As the World Turns). They even broadcast the reality celebrity choir show that aired over Christmas time. Nothing like hearing an American choir sing, I’ve Got Friends in Low Places while living in South Africa.
  • Music is where the most cross-over happens. Especially in the R&B and Hip Hop Worlds, American musicians are intensely popular here.
  • Unfortunately, the 80s fashion craze has also hit Africa. So much for missing out on all that neon, geometric, shoulder-pad fun.  
Are there big spiders or weird insects? Actually, yes, there are some very big spiders! One day I was working in the garden with the Circuit Clerk, Lindiwe, when a huge spider scurried out from a hole beneath my fingertips. I said something like “Blech! That is a big spider!” to which she replied, “Ah, yes. That one will kill you.” I laughed, thinking she was making a joke, but then I looked at her face and realized she was serious. She explained that indeed, that big spider is extremely deadly, and would most certainly kill you if bitten. I decided to start wearing gloves while working in the garden after that!

I’ve also eaten roasted bugs, a surprisingly tasty delicacy. After a few days of hard rain, my host sisters called me outside as night fell to help them collect insects. I have no idea what they’re called, but the bugs are fairly big, with large, lacey wings. We were able to gather them as they flew near an outside light, then dropped them in a large bucket of water to drown them. Once we had enough, we went inside, pulled off their wings, then dropped their bug bodies into a skillet. Add a little salt and high heat, and we had ourselves bugs for a snack! They tasted kind of like popcorn, actually; not bad! Unfortunately it took much more time to catch them than to eat them!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Thanks for you love, commitment, and support!

10- Jules and Carol Auger

13- Kutschera Family
Happy Birthday Rachel!

14- Ken and Dena Turner
Memories of Skiing at Trillium Lake

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Ironically enough, as I was at the internet cafĂ© yesterday attempting to post my We Are All The Same blog entry (see below), I had another very disturbing encounter with racism. So disturbing, in fact, that it inspired me to take action. There is a dial-up internet connection at my host family’s house, but it is slower than molasses and doesn’t fit very well with my very American mentality of instant gratification. There is, however, a small computer repair and copy shop in Carolina that has four computers for Internet access. Though the machines are fairly old, the internet speed is much better than at home, so I like to use the computers there when I need to load image-intensive pages or download files. In fact, I’ve come to view these “internet trips” as little treats to myself. I tend to feel extremely disconnected and frustrated with the barely there dial-up at home, but feel much more in tune with the world when high-speed internet is at my fingertips, even if only for a short while.

However, after my experience yesterday, I have decided to forgo these little trips, and will try to make do with what I have available to me at home. As of yesterday, I am self-imposing sanctions on the computer shop, and will be doing my best to not support them with my business. Why? Because yesterday the store was very busy, and there was a rather nasty altercation between two black boys and an Afrikaaner employee. I had already paid for my internet time, so I (along with everyone else in the shop and probably a few doors down) overheard the entire exchange. It was clearly a White vs. Black argument, and it made me feel awful and humiliated because I somehow felt caught in the middle as an unwilling participant in the system. Though I know that if asked what “side” I was on, I would proudly have said, “Black!” but no one asked. In fact, most people probably assume that I would say, “White!” because the Afrikaaner owners treat me like a white Afrikaaner. They seem to expect that I share in their derogatory view of the black population, looking at me to support their discriminatory remarks. And, if what I overheard yesterday is true, they charge black people much more to make copies than what I was charged just a week ago. Because they are Black. And I am White. But they don’t seem to know that I’m not that kind of White. It was an extremely uncomfortable situation and I was (and obviously still am) upset by this blatant display of racism.  

All I know is that I do not want to support such a business anymore. Giving up the luxury of occasional high-speed internet will be difficult for me, but I want to do it. I recently read these words by Eleanor Roosevelt, and I believe they sum up my motivations pretty well:  

Where, after all, do human rights begin?
In small places close to home-
So close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map in the world.
Yet they are the world of the individual person;
The neighborhood he lives in;
The school or college she attends;
The factory, farm, or office where he works.
Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.
Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

This is a little thing; in the grand scheme of things it won’t mean much at all. I am not making my boycott public, nor will I confront the owners about their racist attitudes; I will simply stop walking through their door. I am doing this for me, because I don’t want to be a white person who knowingly supports a business that treats black people unfairly. But more than that, I am doing this for my black neighbors and friends who are treated with hostility, disdain, and disrespect, simply based on the color of their skin. Giving up my high-speed internet is the least I can do to support them, as South Africans continue to discover what it means to provide human rights for all humans everywhere- even in little computer shops in Carolina.


Kao Fela Rea T’Soana. We Are All The Same. I saw this message painted on the side of a community center while in Lesotho over the holidays, and liked the message. It’s a happy, feel-good kind of message. Except unfortunately, I don’t think it’s true. All too often in Africa, people are treated based on their differences, rather than their similarities. 

I am judged by the color of my skin on a daily basis. Children who are born with darker skin than those of their siblings are teased mercilessly. People of coloured or mixed descent are caught in the middle as they aren’t either White or Black. It makes me want to cry (and it has) over the sheer unfairness of it all.

One night during evening prayer, we read Acts 10, where after seeing a vision from God, Peter says, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” This led to a rather lively discussion about apartheid and racial discrimination. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable experiences I have ever had. I was literally the white elephant in the room. I have never had anyone throw stones at me. I have never had anyone command their dogs to attack me. I have never had to be in a certain geographical area by 6pm or risk being thrown in jail. And yet, all of these things have happened to members of my host family. One of my host sisters explained that even at her prestigious university in Cape Town, the students segregate themselves by race. Whites sit with whites, blacks sit with blacks, etc. It’s not a mandatory requirement, but students do it naturally. She explained this matter-of-factly, without batting an eye. Apartheid may be officially over, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

I certainly expected to encounter racism during this year, but never quite like this. It’s not just recent history; it is now, and it is very much alive. Maybe one day, I will believe that We Are All The Same. But right now, reality tells a very different message.