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, fiancé 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


  1. It was so great to read about the first half of your experience in South Africa. "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)." <<Totally agree with this too!

  2. Kendra, I enjoyed your experiences and praise God for your safety & the chance to server Him on this mission trip! What a wonderful experience and impact on the children, (especially your ABC game!). I was blessed to go to Haiti last year with my daughter and can understand how it changes your heart.