Thursday, January 17, 2019

GO Durban: The Return

Wanna hear about my second trip to South Africa? Of course you do, that's why you're here!

This time I'm going to share about my experience photo-journalism style. Less words, more pictures!

Friday - Sunday
CVG > ATL > ORT > DUR = 40 hours of travel
Stayed overnight in Johannesburg but I hardly slept.

It was so good to see Phillip & Clive again!

Stayed in gorgeous condos on the Indian Ocean and kept forgetting I was in Africa.
Does this look like Africa to you?

Drove an hour into sugar cane country in thick fog to reach the preschool site.

Sanded down, primed, and painted the inside of two shipping containers
to be used for storage and a classroom.

The day was much clearer and warmer than the first day so we could actually see the preschool site.
It ended up being so hot and windy we had to leave the site a few hours early.

Played games with primary school kids, just next door to the main preschool site.
Spent the morning packing 10,000 meals for the primary school and locals.

Visted the second preschool site down in the valley of the for a few hours
(and took all the credit for the other team's work for the week).
BTF built a physical building at this location because it's too remote to drop shipping containers in.
The littles at the second site sang and danced for us.

Tuesday - Thursday
Got roped into planning and producing a mural because of my design background. 
It took 3 days but didn't turn out half bad.

Went on a game drive at Thula Thula resort, the place "The Elephant Whisperer" was based on.
Tahbo, the friendly rhino, befriended us all, much to Phillip's delight

The flying cheeto plane we took in and out of Durban.


Overall, this trip was not the exciting, so-glad-I'm-back experience I thought it would be. I mysteriously injured my hip and glut about 6 weeks before so the pain and discomfort took a lot of my attention away from the trip. I felt embarrassed explaining that I couldn't paint squat to paint down low and sad that I couldn't dance or run around with the kids. The weather was mostly overcast and cold and I felt nothing like myself. I pushed through the best I could but it's still disappointing to recognize how much I held back this time.

However, I've been learning a lot about myself through this injury (still working through it). Struggling with pain, fear, loneliness, and grief has forced me to think more deeply about the circumstances of the people I came to visit. Do they have medical options when they're hurt? What daily fears are they up against? Who do they run to when they're lonely? How do they overcome overwhelming obstacles?

The answer to all those questions for me has been Jesus. I'm not going to wax poetic here, just state that in this confusing season of life my first and best option is to cast all my cares on the great healer and ask for everything I need. It doesn't mean I don't get resourceful (currently visiting a chiropractor, orthopedic, and physical therapist) and look for answers, just means those things aren''t my first move every time I'm on the edge of despair.

In other news, it's going to be a busy year because I'm leading a young adults trip to South Africa in August! The good news is that I'm fully funded so I won't be asking for financial support. The sobering news is that I want to be healed. physically and emotionally, by the time I lead that trip. Please pray that I would plant my feet firmly on faith in Lord and find wholeness and healing over the next few months in order to lead this trip to the fullest of my abilities.

Thank you for your love and support. I love ya right back!

Monday, June 26, 2017

GO SA Part 2: Let It Follow You Home

I've become that annoying writer rambler that apologizes at the beginning of every post for taking so long. This time, I really owe you an apology because it's been TWO MONTHS since I returned from my trip. I am so sorry—I was avoiding it like the plague because ouch, feelings. But now it's published and done! Read on and get it over with ;)

Tuesday–Thursday, 4/18–20
Each day we worked at the preschool in the morning and helped out at the soup kitchen in the evening. A few highlights:
    • Quizzing Clive and Phil during the long van rides became my very favorite part of the trip. I asked them every question that popped into my head because each conversation brought more understanding to South Africa's politics, history, and people. Sometimes trippers asked me to recap my latest van conversation because they were sitting in the back and missed the whole thing, which was pretty funny.
    • I befriended two littles in the Grade R: Johannes and Kelly. Both got a kick out of pronouncing my name ("Kendrrrrra," with a rolled r) and arguing over who would get a piggy back. Upon our first meeting, Johannes told me to call him Simba.

      Kelly and friends on a metal jungle gym
    • I also got to know Grade R's teacher, Eva. She's 22 and her mother is the principle of the school. She just recently got funding to attend college to study eduction. Watching her teach and care for her class all week inspired me. She's truly gifted in teaching!
    • The kids took yoga on Tuesday, music class on Wednesday, and played paracute on Thursday. It was delightful watching them get so into things I also loved as a child.
    mini yoga mats for mini bodies

    tell me your favorite game in preschool wasn't parachute

    • On Wednesday we located the evasive giraffes during our hike! Alex sounded a giraffe call (not kidding about that) and we all came running. They were tucked away about a mile away from our huts.

    Geoffrey when he's not at Toys 'R Us
    • On Thursday, Sara-Ruth and I taught the Easter story to Grades R and 00. It was difficult to explain the details of the story and I struggled with saying "die / death / dead" over and over to 5 and 6 year olds. But the kids held onto every word with giant eyes (thanks to Eva translating).

    • Painted exactly 16 "Spiderman" faces. I'm ashamed to call myself a graphic designer but the kids LOVED it.

    Friday, 4/21
    I was a bit prideful all week—journalling, praying, debriefing and generally doing my darndest to keep my emotions in check. I was determined not to be a service trip statistic by falling head over heels in love with well, everything. Silly me to think I could stand in the way of God doing stuff in my heart.

    • I finally got to go on a house visit during the morning session. Jade, a former Texan now interning with BTF, took four of us on an educational trip into the settlement.
    • We went to the home of Judy, mother of Linnea (a student at the day care). She welcomed us into her dark, 10x10' home with a huge smile. Most of the room was taken up by a queen bed and her possessions stacked high along the walls.
    • She seemed confused when we asked to wash her laundry but eventually decided that allowing us to tackle half of it was only polite.
    • After winding our way through the settlement to a tap, she showed us the ropes to washing by hand. Four white kids making a mess of her laundry was an absolute scene—locals couldn't walk by without chuckling or snapping a photo on their flip phones.
    • After hanging everything to dry, we laid hands on Judy to pray then headed back to the day care.
    Walking over the bridge that separated the school from the settlement

    Judy's entire home

    Jade carrying water like the locals do it
    • The rest of the morning consisted of the happiest, messiest ice cream social known to mankind. The kitchen didn't have a freezer so the ice cream we bought that morning needed to be scooped and served immediately. The kids were so delighted they hardly noticed we were serving the equivalent of flavored milk.
    the "don't judge how I eat my ice cream" look
    • We said our goodbyes to everyone (which mostly consisted of bear hugs and dog piles from the kids), straightened our faces, and piled once more into the vans.
    the sweetest goodbye hug
    • After a two hour drive, we arrived at Bakubong, the "rest" portion of our trip. Although this reserve was even more remote than Cradle Moon, I couldn't shake the feeling of being at Disney World. This place was deluxe.
    • We spent the afternoon gawking at wild elephants (the guests are the ones fenced in here, like a reverse zoo), teasing the monkeys by the pool, and indulging in rainforest showers.
    • Before we knew it, we were piling into our own safari vehicle and pulling out into the wild grasslands surrounding the hotel. I won't ruin the experience for any future trippers, but every second of that three-hour adventure was magic.
    • Dinner that night was prematurely nostalgic. I wanted to talk to everyone (what questions hadn't I asked yet?) and no one (maybe if I became a fly on the wall, time would go slower) at the same time. I settled on talking Phil and Clive's ears off long after dinner and then swapping stories with the rest of the team around the bar.
    Saturday, 4/22
    • I'm ashamed to say that my heart was heaviest this day—NOT when we were serving but instead, when I was leaving. Halfway through the two and a half hour drive to the airport I had the urge to jump out of the car and run back through the African plains. To what, I have no idea. I just wanted to hold onto the way the sun bounced off the blonde boulders, the articulate, thoughtful responses Phil gave to every single question, the laughter of my new set of friends in the back as they played games and sang songs.
    • You should know that we pulled into the airport bellowing "Africa" complete with hand motions choreographed, naturally, by me. We wished Phil and Clive goodbye and faced a six hour wait in the airport. I may or may not have dragged Michael around the airport (twice) in search of the perfect tourist sweatshirt. We failed to locate it so I'm considering designing it myself. Picture "I <3 ZA" with the South African flag (or animal print) inside the heart. Now you want one too, right?
    • I won't bore you with the details of going home—long story short, I made it. My roommate let me babble for hours, my cat looked at me like I was a ghost, and life went on.
    a tender farewell with my trusty, industrial-size water bottle that kept me overhydrated throughout the week. did I mention we drank 2 of these a day?

    I never expected coming home from Africa to be easy hasn't gotten easier. Not because of the culture shock or life lessons I took home (although they are a big part of the story) but because I don't want to face the things I'm feeling somewhere under all the layers of life. Part 1 was the beginning of the trip, full of facts and fun. Part 2 is technically the conclusion, but my journey feels so far from wrapped up.

    The first two weeks home were packed full of so much processing that I thought, "There! Figured that life-altering-trip out." HA. I am such an ENTJ: maximize the processing to minimize the feelings asap, plz. Truthfully, I delayed this post because I wanted to have a pretty little conclusion tied up in a bow for you. I actually drafted some takeways below this paragraph but copied them to a new post because they don't make enough sense to share. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.

    Maybe I'll turn my takeways into part 3...but no promises. For now, it's clear I'm only at the beginning of something that I hope one day to be brave enough to share it with you. Okay, enough vulnerability for one month. Night!

    Thursday, May 4, 2017

    GO SA Part 1: It's Waiting There for You

    Oh man, it's been a while since I've posted to this blog—at least TWO years. Why am I resurrecting this thing? 1.) Because I have more than a blurb to say about my trip to Africa. Apologies to the 20+ people who've thoughtfully asked me, "So, how was it??" and received something along the lines of, "Well, it deserves more than a soundbite recap..." Here's the full story! (Or the first half, at least.) 2. I strongly dislike using social media to microblog (ie. if you have a lot to say, please stop spamming my feed and start a blog). 3.) It's "permanent internet content." You can delete my recap email but I don't want to forget anything about this experience.

    A high five and a drink to the first person who can ID this African flower for me

    Backstory: I've dreamed of joining a GO South Africa trip with my church, Crossroads, for a few years. I started to apply to a trip last year but a few things (like the fact that I needed a passport?) got in the way. By the time I got my act together, a different trip for young adults was already in the works. Not gonna lie, the trip description was prett-y vague. I've recently felt the urge to finally start exploring my dream of international adoption (it's a long story, ask me in person) so I could only hope pray that the trip would 1.) open my eyes to the needs of another culture and 2.) somehow allow me to work with kids. Both of these things seem like important steps when considering an unconventional approach to family. I found out during the first official meeting that 19 of us would travel to Johannesburg, South Africa to do some type of service with some organization and probably see some zebras along the way. Strangely enough, my type-A personality questioned none of this. (Although my dad did; "What happens if there's a global crisis and you get stuck on the other side of the world??") Doing my best to ignore unhelpful questions like that, I raised the funds (thank you!), got some shots, overpacked, and set off on my first global adventure.

    Friday, 4/14
    • Got myself to the airport, met up with Go Group (7 / 19 people) and took an 1.5 hour flight to Atlanta.
    • Waited around a while (ie. forced everyone to play games with me) then jumped on a 16 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
    • Slept 7 hours in the air! Hallelujah. Honestly, I don't mind flying and never seem to have an issue with restlessness, time change, or jet lag but I was a little worried. Long layovers and inquisitive but well-meaning parents only lengthen the average traveler's worry list.
    GO Group: Michael, Breanna, Justin, Alex, Nicole, Molly & me at CVG

    Saturday, 4/15
    • Phillip & Clive, Build the Future's founders, picked us up at the airport with a giant sign and two huge white vans. We took these vans everywhere, all week so by Saturday I felt pretty open to the whole living-out-of-a-car thing. Don't knock it 'til you try it for a week, amiright?
    • Ran into my friend, Carly's, fiancĂ© as we were walking through the Johannesburg terminal—how random!
    • Drove to Cradle Moon, the game reserve and resort that would be our home for the next 6 days. On the way I may or may not have questioned Phillip about everything I could think of (trip details, Build the Future, South African culture...) while the rest of the car tried to sleep. (sorry, not sorry) What can I say? I'm my book-reading, history-loving grandma's granddaughter.
    • Were greeted by a dazzle (aka herd) of zebra chilling next to the main building. No fence, no worries, about 10 feet from where we were unloading.
    • Gathered for dinner as a team in the main dining hall where I tried to avoid anything uncooked. (I might have been unnecessarily overcautious about fresh food and water the first few days. Oops.)
    • Crashed around 11pm and woke up at 3am. I chose to view it as the standard South African welcome.
    Van #1: feeling chipper and loving life after 24 hours of travel

    Greeted by the Cradle Moon zebras

    Our "rooms," which were the size of small houses

    Sunday, 4/16
    • 7am (which is 1am EST) team breakfast. No comment.
    • Piled in the vans to drive to Grace Bible Church's Easter service at Orlando stadium.
    • Were treated like celebrities by an official escort who proudly paraded us around the perimeter of the field before settling us in the first row at the halfway line. I think this was supposed to be a place of honor but turned out to be slightly awkward during worship. The hundreds of churchgoers behind us in the stands were going to town: dancing, fist pumping, jumping up and down, etc. We couldn't see any of the enthusiasm (since we were, you know, the first line of defense) sooo we didn't quite match their caliber of exuberance. I glanced over my shoulder halfway through worship to realize that we appeared to be the most unhappy visitors ever to grace GBC's Easter service.
    • Amazing cultural experience at church. Most of the worship songs were in one or two tribal languages and only a few were in English. The choir wore kelly green skirts or ties and danced the entire time. The message was delivered in two languages: the first pastor said a sentence in English and then the second repeated it in another language. At the end of the service, they held the most epic alter call of all time: about a quarter of the stadium came forward!
    • After church we picked up lunch and headed downtown to the Apartheid Museum.
    • Spent over 3 hours at the museum but I loved every second. Learning about Apartheid was the context I needed to understand the situations we served in throughout the week. The thing that shocked me most was how the government actively reserved higher education and learning English for caucasians. Non-whites simply weren't allowed to learn enough English to succeed in the professional world, even though they wanted to. My favorite part was the special exhibit on Nelson Mandela. Learning about specific moments in his life that shaped his character and belief system made me reflect on why I am the person I am today and the type of leader I want to become.
    • Insisted on taking a hike the instant we returned to the reserve. We explored the lake, dam, and the mouth of a few trails on the property. Again, I was a total baby and avoided the waterfall mist because I was afraid of getting sick. Lameeee.
    • Dinner, games, bed. Slept the whole night!
    Orlando Stadium, ready for Easter

    Lisa, John, & me, ready for Easter

    All the trippers at the Apartheid Museum

    An interactive exhibit demonstrating the beauty of desegregation

    Views of the dam and lake from hike #1

    Monday, 4/17
    • South Africans celebrate Easter Friday through Monday so it was a holiday! Don't get me wrong, we actually worked the hardest on this day, but the circumstances were celebratory.
    • Piled into the vans after breakfast feeling pretty unsure about what the day would hold. The mood was light: we played games and got to know one another more. But the van fell silent as we pulled into the settlement at Kya Sands. A dump lay before us, covered in rows and rows of shacks, or as the residents would call them, houses. If you've seen the beginning of Slum Dog Millionaire, it's a pretty similar sight.
    • We parked on the edge of the settlement next to a colorful collection of five shipping containers in the center of a green space. The yard was packed with kids between the ages of 3 and 6, piling on metal jungle gyms, cruising around on toy scooters, or getting as close as they dared to peer at us through the wire fence.
    • Phil jumped right in to give us a tour of the property, which was probably a good thing given the shock written across most of our faces. I give him a lot of credit for treating all of us sloooow processors with patience and grace.
    • Here's the gist of what Build the Future does at the container school: anyone from the settlement can enroll their young children at the preschool for the equivalent of $5.24 per month. The school enrolls about 80 kids and it's first come first serve. The classes are taught by 4 women who also live in the settlement. None of them have formal education training but two are being funded by organizations to get their degrees. Each container is a "room" in the school: the kitchen, 2 containers for the 3 year olds, 1 for preschoolers (Grade R), and one for kindergarteners (Grade 00). The kids are fed three meals (breakfast, snack, and lunch) and for many it's their main source of nourishment for the day. Breakfast is typically porridge, snack is peanut butter sandwich squares with fruit, and lunch is rice (packed with extra nutrients) and cooked veggies. On special occasiond, the kids get extra protein like chicken or boiled eggs. Build the Future recently started a garden (complete with chickens) to begin supplying some of the food.
    • After the tour, Clive grabbed the guys for a project in the garden and the rest of us wandered off to "assist" the various activities happening at the preschool.
    • Settled in to play with the 3 year olds on the ground. After 30 minutes of painful shyness (on their end, not mine), I excused myself to see what everyone else was doing. The preschoolers (Grade R) and kindergarteners (Grade 00) had a lot more energy so I jumped into a soccer game and pushed them on the swings for a good hour.
    • The morning was a blur. I think half the team left early for the second site but I was caught up in who knows what. Playing? Processing? Knowing what time it was? Probably all of the above. After feeding the kids lunch, my group was whisked off to the second site as well. Whoever made the snack for the kids (one of us) made extra so we lunched on peanut butter sandwiches on the way.
    The container school

    Kids eating breakfast out of the school's green bowls

    Trying to win Florence's affections on the first day
    • Site two was a settlement in Soweto, about thirty minutes away. This time we drove into the heart of the shacks to a "soup kitchen" run by two local women. Let me clarify: these women were not suburbanites from a church who popped by on occasion to make food for the community. They lived in the exact same circumstances as the people they were helping. Mind blown. Every weekday, these women prepare a meal for the kids of the settlement. Phil gathers food from a variety of places and drops it off at the beginning of the week; sometimes a grocery store donates food that's about to spoil, sometimes Crossroads sends boxes containing rice packs and other non-perishables. (Fun fact: all the peanut butter we served on the trip was Kroger brand, shipped over from Cincinnati, Ohio to feed the kids we were working with!) As the food is cooking, kids from the neighborhood will slowly trickle in from school or wherever. They bring dishes in all shapes and sizes: neon plastic bowls, tupperware with lids, or repurposed packaging like margarine containers. Most children bring multiple containers so they can feed their parents once they return home from work. For many people, the soup kitchen food is the only meal they will get all day.
    • Since it was a holiday, more kids than usual were waiting in the soup kitchen yard when we (the second group) pulled up. I got the sense that there was some sort of nonverbal standoff going on: a herd of unsure young adults hovered near the kitchen entrance while an equally cautious gaggle of children sat against the wall. It was very quiet.
    • So I organized a handful of children into a circle and started to teach them a hand game to the ABCs. Suddenly the whole yard was moving and the circle went from 5 to 50. Ice broken, we spent the next hour learning their games and teaching them ours. It was my camp counseling dream!
    • When the food was ready, the yard transformed from playground to jungle as each kid vied for the best spot in line. We took turns scooping rice, chicken, and veggies into each bowl, plate, and carton presented. After an hour and a half, about 200 children had been fed.
    • The van ride back was pretty quiet—people either napped or silently poured over the events of the day.
    • Dragged a team of Trippers out on another hike around the property because I was crazy restless. None of us were ready to talk about what we'd seen so we distracted ourselves with identifying insects and plants along the trail. We even went so far as to break off the leaf of what we suspected to be an aloe plant to sooth a teammate's sunburn face. We guessed correctly but he declined the organic remedy.
    • Attempted a debrief over dinner, then distracted ourselves with games. I was so exhausted I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow that night.
    Me, talking to the kids as they waited in line

    The long line and the trippers serving food

    Hike #2