Madison Barefield
Madison Barefield
South Africa 2018
Hello! My name is Madison Barefield. I am traveling to Cape Town, South Africa and volunteering with S-CAPE, a safe home that brings restoration to survivors of sex trafficking. This will be my second time working at S-CAPE and while I am there I will be grant writing, running workshops with our residents, and helping to develop and implement a sustainable business plan.
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Reflections on Nonviolence

Almost a week ago I was schooled by my African brothers and sisters on the topic of nonviolence and social justice.  I attended a conference put on by a local non profit that works with churches in Cape Town, serving and assisting them in their response to poverty, injustice and division.  There has been a two week contemplative activism workshop running at the larger umbrella organization I am volunteering in, but I could not take two weeks off of work, so I decided I would just come to the public event.  There were people from YWAM (the organization my project is associated with), from local churches, from the community, etc. It was diverse, and subversive, challenging and gut wrenching, enlightening and humbling. We discussed power, and what nonviolent resistance looks like in the face of the powers that be.  This post is a way for me to process all the rich and thought provoking stories I encountered.

Jesus is introduced to us as the stranger, the other, the xenos in Greek, which is where we get the word xenophobia, or fear of the stranger.  Jesus was also crucified, a horrible, gruesome, embarrassing death, that left his followers, or students if you will, despondent.  They thought the Messiah would bring about a political revolution, overthrowing the oppressive Roman empire and restoring Israel. But instead, their “revolutionary” leader was murdered, a victim of capital punishment and left no visible political revolution in his wake.  Instead, that revolution, that freedom from exile and oppression came about in the form of Jesus embodying and teaching the world what it means to be fully human, to be an Image Bearer, to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. The life of Jesus revealed that God is not some far off deity to be appeased, on the contrary, God, the Divine, the animating force of love in the world is present in us and in all creation.  The ordinary, which perhaps is indeed the extraordinary, all bears witness to the oceanic oneness and interconnectedness of all things.   

The night the workshop ended was the first time I have picked up my Bible in probably a year and half.  For my whole life, the Bible had been taught to me literally. I was told in essence that God told people the exact words to write, thus why we can call it a “God breathed text”.  In fact, the certainty in which I was taught to read the text made it seem as if God had a hand, and “he” (I won’t get started on how the use of “he” when talking about God bothers me) dropped these texts into the laps of prophets and there we have it, the Bible! I have witnessed the Bible be used to justify and inform the most un-Christ like ideas and actions.  I have heard a lifetime of sermons that told me this was the only way to interpret what this verse was saying. I was angry that the Bible is in fact this beautiful story of redemption, reconciliation and love, but I, and I would venture to say many Christians, were so tainted with the legalistic and moral codes of individualistic, “soul winning” Christianity, that we never interacted with the narrative in such a way.  

It has been eighteen months of deconstructing all things I believed was an incredibly painful and simultaneously life giving process.  And while I have started to reconstruct a few things, this workshop was the challenge and hope I needed to salvage my faith, especially in the Bible.  Introduced to me was a new way of reading Scripture, one in which we read the text with the lens of Jesus’s proximity to pain. He was right in there, living amongst the suffering of the world.  Power and money tell us that the more we have, the farther away we can be from that suffering, as we move into areas and houses with high walls and gated neighborhoods far away from the reminders of physical and systemic violence, often perpetuated by “Christians” we see on the streets of our own nation.  If our gospel doesn’t call us into the pain, the suffering, the solidarity, the fight for justice, then perhaps it is no gospel at all, and certainly not the gospel of Jesus. I have been so disheartened by Christians who think their “job” is to “convert” people so they can have a “ticket to heaven.” NO! What a limited and frankly violent view of the gospel!  If the good news of Jesus, that he came to proclaim to the poor, the prisoners, the prostitutes, etc is reduced to a “soul winning” scheme, then we have missed the point. Jesus showed us that we can have Heaven, now! We are co creators, co laborers, co conspirators in work of justice and equality. We are like mirrors reflecting the glory of God (which as St. Irenaeus would say, is (wo)man fully alive).  We are a part of the grand restoration project. Now that is good news! But this good news requires much of us. It requires that we die daily to the False Self, the to comforts that keep us from engaging with injustice, and to the powers and principalities that exist. I think this is why Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God, because rarely do the rich want to admit how much they benefit from a system that affords them the privilege of so much at the expense of many.  Rarely do the rich want to challenge the systems that allow them to stay rich. Rarely do the rich want to move closer, more intimately into the face of suffering.  In fact, one of my African sisters proclaimed at the workshop that “attacking white people’s pockets is the way to bring about change.” YOH! That about knocked me off my chair.

In my attempt at reconstructing my faith, I realized I was asking the wrong kinds of questions, those that were dualistic and individualistic in nature.  But when we see Jesus for who Jesus really is and what he revealed to humanity, a whole new set of questions emerge  To quote Rainer Maria Rilke, questions that we must “not seek the answers [to now], which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  Those questions we are invited to live, for instance, what does it look like to be a disciple of Jesus, are illuminated in what Jesus preached in the context of his society and what he imagined for the world, which I believe are precisely the questions that mainstream, evangelical, Western Christianity has lost (speaking from my own experience).

In John 14:9, Jesus that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  And when we see Jesus in the Bible, he is among the poor, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the refugees (in fact he was one), the sick, the marginalized, etc.  Jesus was and is where we would least expect God to be and in many ways that is the same today. Friends with theology degrees or those who know more than me, please enlighten me if this understanding is wrong (this is what the journey is all about!) but I would venture to say that when we see the marginalized, we see Jesus, and thus we see God and the heart of God, and if that doesn’t flip our theology on its head then I don’t know what will!  The table is extended, there is room for all, especially those we do expect to be there.

When I say I ascribe to a philosophy and life of nonviolent resistance to the powers and principalities that be, it is not just a nice statement about my being in the world.  No, on the contrary that is a very weighty statement that requires much responsibility.  It means that, as my friends of color have pointed out, I have to resist the violent SYSTEMS too.  Those being, especially economic, social and political. Thus, nonviolence doesn’t just require me to show up in protest of unjust action, it requires daily denial of the privilege that my white, American, middle class, straight, Christian, able bodied status has afforded me.  This plays out in many ways, namely in the way I am perceived, monetarily and in the power I hold in most circumstances.

It is funny that those we Christians label (perhaps one of the most dangerous acts we can participate in) as Atheist, Muslim, evil, sinful, Buddhist, other,  etc, are the ones who seem to be seeking the Kingdom more than those who call themselves disciples of Jesus. Namely, this was revealed in the 2016 presidential election, and in subsequent events.  It is fascinating how in my experience, the most vocal advocates of justice and equality are those are not “Christian.” Again, those at the table are the ones we least expect. The state of the Church in American, and the Western world deeply saddens me and simultaneously invigorates me.  Hearing the stories and perspectives from Christians in very marginalized communities reminded me of why I want to be a student of Jesus. Not the student of white washed, colonizer Jesus, but a student of the subversive, contemplative, fully human and fully divine Jesus.  

In an attempt to bring this very long and scattered reflection to a close, I want to add that these are just a weeks ponderings on a lifelong journey of nonviolent activism and resistance.  If there is one thing I have learned recently, it is that certainty is death. I must learn to hold all things with an open hand. Like all things, I am constantly evolving, so perhaps in another week, month or year, I will look back at these ideas and laugh, like I do with most things I write.  But these are my honest words that I believe with my whole heart in this moment. I would like to end this in the way we ended our time together at the workshop, in lament. We sang a song, “Senzeni Na,” which is Xhosa and Zulu song we could equate to the American protest song “We Shall Overcome.”  Senzeni Na means, “what have we done” and as it was described to me, this song was sang as the Xhosa and Zulu people buried their dead during apartheid, knowing full and well that as the song ended, they would again be attacked, oppressed and killed by the violent apartheid regime operating in their communities.  And what had they done? Their only crime was being black, as one version of the song puts it. And as I sang along, I was overcome by grief, and the words “what have we done” became my words. I lamented for what has and has not been done in the name of God, the climate of my nation and at the current state of our world.  Where is the ubuntu? Where is the love? Where is the peace? But gathered in this community of lament, none of whom I knew, but was intrinsically connected too, there was tangible hope. In the face of sorrow and injustice, we too had faith that we shall overcome.

UNREAL!

Holiday week!

It is turning into autumn here in Cape Town!  Quite a strange experience to celebrate Easter as the leaves start to change colors, the air gets cooler and the days are a bit shorter.  Although, South Africa doesn’t change their clocks, so sunrise keeps getting later, but sunset gets later as well, how crazy!

My friend from Belmont came to visit me this past week.  We studied abroad here together about two years ago and she too fell in love with this beautiful country.  So I am having a little holiday in the middle of my project which has been so fun and extremely refreshing.  Although I have taken a week off of work, I have continued to learn so much about the diversity and beauty of South Africa.

Our adventure started last Friday, I picked her up from the airport and the next morning we left for a four day stint on the Garden Route, which is perhaps the most incredible drive of my life.  We stopped in Knysna and slept in a treehouse and had a braai with the owners of our Air B&B.  We talked travel experiences, culture, politics, religion, and it was fascinating and thought provoking.  Most of them had been alive, albeit young, yet still remember apartheid, so I am always curious as to what that was like for them, and their opinions of what South Africa is like now.  It was also interesting to hear how some of them felt about our president and government.  And thankfully, many of the conversations ended in “agree to disagree” but were fruitful and enjoyable nonetheless.

Knysna Heads!

Knysna Heads!

The next morning, we drove up to a lookout point over the Knysna Heads, the two mountains that help create the Knysna lagoon, and it was simply the most stunning view!  And when we thought it could not get any more beautiful, we ended up in Robberg hiking one of the most magnificent trails through the mountains and down the sand dunes to a massive beach.  We checked into our Air B&B, got some recommendations from our sweet host and headed to the beach to watch the sunset in Plettenberg Bay.

Robberg

Robberg

Our last stop on the Garden Route was the most adorable and incredible town of Tsitsikamma.  Situated in a forest with the mountains as your backdrop on one side, and the ocean on the other.  We stopped at Bloukrans bridge, the largest bungee jump in the world (but thankfully we both had a mutual agreement that bungee jumping was not on our list of things we wanted to do).  Instead, we opted for ziplining through the canopy.  We had the best guides and the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours is a fair trade tourism company, meaning their workers get paid a fair wage, they give a percentage of their income to forest preservation, education and a social enterprise restaurant that employs women from a local township.  In all, they only keep about 43% of their profit, which was AMAZING and obviously was in sync with my heart for business for good.

Tsitsikamma National Forest

Tsitsikamma National Forest

After ziplining, we headed to Tsitsikamma National Park and hiked to the suspension bridge and watched the sunset, then headed back to our glamping tent at the Tsitsikamma Backpackers Lodge.  We slept in a tent under the stars and froze our faces off, but it was SO. FUN!  The next morning we got up early, drove over to Nature’s Valley (home of the granola bar?), did a short hike up to a viewpoint to see Salt River Beach, then headed over to MONKEYLAND!!!!!!  It is a primate sanctuary that rehabilitates monkeys that were in zoo’s, hurt in the wild, rescued from people’s homes, etc.  We took an hour long meander through the woods and saw so many monkeys and lemurs.  Monkey’s are my favorite animals so it was a dream come true to be so close to these amazing creatures!!!

Finally, our Garden Route stent had come to an end and we opted for the longer, more scenic R62 home.  And it was worth every extra km.  I have never seen anything quite as beautiful.  It seemed like every thirty minutes we were in a new town with a new terrain, in a new temperatures, new mountains.  One hour we were at a viewpoint overlooking lush green mountainsides, the next hour we were at a viewpoint overlooking mountains with red rocks that looked like they belonged in Arizona.  We saw the most magnificent sunset somewhere about three hours outside Cape Town and honestly, all we could do was laugh at how absurdly beautiful South Africa is.  We passed so many farms and little village towns (dorps) and kept asking what do the people do who live there! There is absolutely nothing for miles.  I have realized, however, that most of the food I buy here says grown in South Africa, and after seeing the amount of farms and farm land, I believe it.  I think that is so incredible that South Africa still feeds itself with so much local food, which is pretty much the opposite of America, and it is probably why the produce here taste so good!

Route 62!!!!

Route 62!!!!

After an educational and adventurous four days, we are back in Cape Town.  I got to show Alexa a bit of the work I am doing at the safe house, and she tagged along for one of my workshops with the women.  We are hiking, reminiscing on our favorite spots from study abroad, and making memories in new places.  Tomorrow is Easter and we are going to church and to have lunch with Jeremy (the guide for the Belmont in Africa Maymester) and his family!  Every day just keeps getting better!  It has been an amazing week getting to see some of South Africa that I have never seen before, and meet people from all over the world in new places.  It is crazy how much of an impact people can have on you, even just knowing them for a few hours and it feels like you have been friends your whole life.  Relationship is such a gift, and this week has given me a real taste of ubuntu.

UNREAL!

UNREAL!

Bless the rains down in Africa!

Bless the rains down in Africa!

Cape Town's best kept secret

Cape Town’s best kept secret

 

What Words Cannot Describe

Greetings from my bed after a very long, very hot day!

Driving out to Pringle Bay for our first market!  Most beautiful drive I have ever witnessed.

Driving out to Pringle Bay for our first market! Most beautiful drive I have ever witnessed.

It has been a busy, but good few weeks!  I was talking with a friend from home the other day about how incredible it is that even on the hard days, getting up and going to work feels like a privilege.  I have been thinking about, reading and listening to a lot of podcast recently about the limits of language, and how sometimes words cannot do our experiences justice.  I have witnessed this especially in cross cultural context, in talking with my German flat mate about how she wants to express something, but there is no equivalent in English for what it means to her in her mother tongue and culture.  Aside from language and cultural barriers, I have recently been trying to put my experiences and emotions into words, but it is becoming increasingly difficult.  There is something unexplainable about how fully alive I feel right now.  That is not to say that I have not had my fair share of moments where it felt like parts of me were missing, sorrows were real, and anxiety and dread were looming in the corners of my mind.  But even in those moments, there was a new kind of hope and resiliency that I had not experienced before.  And every evening when I crawl into my bed and reflect on the day, I have this overwhelming and unutterable joy, peace and fullness.  I think this is equally internal and external, as I have come to understand more about myself over the past few months, while simultaneously being surrounded and immersed in a culture, country and cause that I love deeply.

On a less poetic and more practical level, my days look very different.  Monday’s we have our operations meeting in the morning, and because we are in Africa, operation meetings run on African time which I really enjoy.  Monday afternoons I spend grocery shopping for the Safe House.  I have come to learn a lot about meat over the past few weeks.  And have spent more time around dead cow than I wish.

On Tuesday’s, I do some office work in the morning, my current projects are working on project files for the Department of Social Services, helping organize an upcoming fundraising event and updating the Safe House shopping list and menu.  Tuesday afternoons I have my entrepreneurship workshop with the ladies at the Safe House, which has been so amazing.  This past weekend we went to our first market! The women made lip balm (they do not understand my use of the word “chapstick”) to sell, as well as repurposed old costume jewelry.  They designed their own brand and had tags made, kept track of expenses, were taught the basics of a loan and given a small loan, set up their own business email, and sold their product!  It is just the beginning, and it has been such a fun experience.  The women were so excited to go to the market, one of the residents told me (paraphrasing here) that she never imagined herself to be a business woman, but selling something she made with her own hands was the most empowering experience!  I was empowered just watching them with such excitement and fervor set up and sell their product in the marketplace.  WOW!  And their goods were not branded as a charity project for survivors of human trafficking.  No, they were just business women with a great product that could sell without the cause (Social Entrepreneurship 101).  It was a fabulous experience for me, and the women and I cannot wait to see how this unfolds.

On our way to the market!

Making lip balm!

Just before the market!

   Wednesday’s are my off day, so I usually sleep in a bit, go for a long run, then practice some self care by reading on the beach or spending some extended time outside.

Thursdays, I do more office work in the morning on different projects, or I take the residents to different appointments/therapies they have.  And in the afternoon we go to kids ministry, which is a special time for our residents to give back to the community.

The next few Friday’s I am covering a shift as a house mother, so I will either run a workshop with the residents or take them for an outing around Cape Town.  Outings are really exciting for me and the women because some of them were trafficked from other cities/countries and only know the most beautiful city in the world from the hell the endured.  So getting to experience the beauty and grandeur of Cape Town together with them is a really special moment.

I never fail to learn something new each day, wether it be a new word in Xhosa or Afrikaans, something about mine or another culture, or about the beauty and light that is still present in a world that seems to be getting uglier and darker by the day.  This work is challenging and heart breaking, but it also the source of so much hope and faith in the long and humbling process of love, peace and reconciliation.

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Cape Town at sunset! WOW!

It as been a month today since I have been in Cape Town! WOW!  I still have to pinch myself that this is real!  It is the most beautiful, calm day right now.  I woke up to it raining (woohoo!), and went for a run along the beachfront.  I am writing this from my favorite little cafe overlooking the beach.  The water is iridescent blue and there are the most gentle waves I have seen in my time here.  The clouds have cleared over the mountains and the sun is shinning, revealing every little rock and crevice that was hazy just a few hours ago.  I can see the sailboats on the other side of False Bay and the seagulls flying east towards the hills of Simons Town.

The past two weeks have been very busy in the best way.  I have learned a lot of things like

  1. How to drive a manual car on the other side of the road
  2. About the private and public South African health care system
  3. The importance of self care
  4. That I am simply fascinated with people and the world (sometimes to a fault)
  5. That I do not need to think so much, sometimes I just need to feel.

I forgot how much I missed driving until I got behind the wheel on the right side of the car.  It is pretty empowering to finally be able to help drive the women to necessary appointments and outings.  I am able to help in ways I really wanted to, but wasn’t able to because, unlike the rest of the world, I was only taught how to drive an automatic car.  I have become more and more aware of my own culture and way of life through relationship with people that are not American.  In fact, I am the only American at S-CAPE right now, and I am very thankful for that.  It has humbled me and taught me so much about new ways to see the world, while simultaneously reminding me of our undeniable interconnectedness.

In South Africa, health care is a human right, and for that I am incredibly thankful.  There are private hospitals (that are similar to American hospitals and for people with insurance or the money to pay), and there are public hospitals/clinics that are free of charge and will serve anyone in South Africa.  There is a pharmacy in the public clinics with medicine that is also free.  South Africa also has ARV’s (retrovirals used in the management of HIV/AIDS) that are free, which is amazing because those drugs can be very expensive.  I have had the privilege of experiencing both private and public health care, being right within my comfort zone and way outside anything I have ever experienced before.  The public clinics are located in lower income areas and they are packed.  We must arrive before 08:00 and we still wait in queues for up to five hours to see a doctor.  There are few times in my life I have been that aware of my skin color and foreigner status as I am when I sit in the clinic.  It is a humbling experience and again a reminder of our shared humanity.  We all get sick, we all experience some sort of trauma, we all want to be healthy and happy and free.  We met with the sweetest counselor in the clinic that reminded me of this.  I have not been to many hospitals in my life so perhaps this is a normal occurrence, but it was beautiful to have a counselor in a clinic to be there for hard diagnosis’s and to talk through what it looks like to move forward.  She was what I would imagine an angel to be.  It makes me think about all the individuals in America who don’t have access to healthcare and what that means for us as a society.  When one is sick, we are all sick.  When one is oppressed, we are all oppressed.  When one is denied a basic human right, we are all denied a basic human right, because my flourishing is intertwined with yours.

The other S-CAPE, volunteer and my dear friend from Germany, Lina and me during our first clinic experience.

The other S-CAPE, volunteer and my dear friend from Germany, Lina and me during our first clinic experience.

Last week some of our team went to a training on stress management, and on Monday, the director of the organization challenged us to make an intentional effort to practice self care this week.  The past two weeks have been busy, and I have found myself rushing around a lot trying to do all the things, but not really being present.  It is a constant lesson, the reminder of the importance of presence, but I am thankful that always we can begin again.  This week I was getting flustered quickly and more easily annoyed when changes would come up that I had not planned.  I was rushing out of habit, not out of necessity.  I was reminded of how cruel humanity can be and how I say we are all interconnected, but in reality, I do not want traffickers and pimps and johns to be connected to the greater beloved community in any way.  It is much easier for me to talk in generalizations, than to encounter an individual that has no regard for human dignity or life, and say, “you too, are my brother (or sister).”  So this week I made it a point to spend more time in silence and read more, read people that challenge me to see beyond the dualities, and see that those who oppress and hurt others are caught up in their own personal hell.  It is not my job to fix the world, but to love the world and when I feel overwhelmed by the injustice and hurt and suffering, I can choose to be present and love those around me well, or I can come apart in a blame and shame spiral of hopelessness.  And even though I do not want to be apart of the inextricable network of mutuality with the men who exploit the women I love so dearly, I must realize that they too have most likely never experienced what it means to be loved, just as many of the women have not.  And it is not me who loves perfectly, it is the Divine within that does, that teaches me to love without expectations or stipulations just as I have been loved.

I have met SO many incredible people already, from all over the world.  I am also in the most beautiful place in the whole world, and so this is an enneagram 7’s DREAM!  But I noticed myself waking up on Friday’s and immediately trying to plan my weekend, and being anxious when I did not have anything scheduled because I would be wasting precious time and energy if I didn’t see every inch of Cape Town that I have not seen!  One morning I awoke so anxious because I didn’t have anything to do and thankfully I was aware of my tendencies enough that I could say to myself, “I am being an unhealthy 7 right now!”  Joy doesn’t come from doing, it comes from being.  From assimilating all these experiences into something deeper and more profound than just a check on a bucket list. And this is a lesson I have to remind myself of every single day.

Finally, getting out of my head.  Enneagram 7’s are in the head triad, meaning that we do indeed live deep inside our head and crave certainty.  Going through a long and very challenging spiritual deconstruction about a year ago, I threw basically everything I was taught about God out and started over because it was the only way I knew how to salvage my faith.  Evangelical and charismatic groups had really wounded me because I was fed an Americanized, individualistic, self help version of Jesus that I later came to understand to be totally false and incredibly destructive.  I had unconsciously made a little mental checklist of words and statements that would immediately turn me off (like hell, fire, blood, pretty much anything that depicts God as angry, vengeful, unloving or exclusive) and didn’t fit my new understanding of Jesus (as the one who taught we can have heaven now, we can see beyond the dualities, we must work tirelessly for justice and stand up for the oppressed, and above all, we must love all beings everywhere).  But being back in South Africa, I am surrounded by evangelicals, and people with the most genuine child like faith, and I have come to really respect that and even miss some aspects of my upbringing.  So it has been interesting navigating some of my spiritual dissonance and conflicting ideas in a place where those around me have such deep, authentic faith.  The other day on a walk I had a revelation that I suppose I knew deep down, but it never stuck.  I realized that it is okay, in fact it is GOOD to change your mind.  That I don’t have to run every thing through a mental gymnastics, but what feels right can stay, and what doesn’t fit can go.  Certitude is death, it leaves no room for creativity or growth or revelation, but willingness to change your mind, that is the greatest gift and oftentimes the most difficult work to do.

So yes, the last few weeks have been challenging and thought provoking and times of immense growth and change!  I am reminded daily of what ubuntu looks like in practice, not just ideas. It has been a beautiful month of falling more and more in love with S-CAPE, the people around me, and Cape Town.  And it certainly would be a dream to stay here forever.

Taken on a special day, the day three of our residents got baptized in the ocean! Was a beautiful moment to witness.

 

Molo Unjani

Molo Unjani!

(Hello, how are you in Xhosa)

Last week was my first week of work and it was wonderful and challenging and unpredictable.  Our residents have been teaching me Xhosa, and I can proudly say I know about 10 words now, including how to say apple, banana and chair.

I ran my first workshop this week!  I also met with a lady who has been helping with an entrepreneurship project for the residents and we discussed plans on moving forward with that, which was super exciting.  The social entrepreneur in me was STOKED to get to be apart of this venture with the women.  It looks a bit different than what I had in mind but I think it fits our safe house and residents best.  In essence, someone donated a ton of slightly broken jewelry to us and the women get to rework the broken jewelry to make beautiful pieces and then go to markets around town (the market scene in Cape Town is thriving) and sell the pieces.  It is a very simple entrepreneurial project, but I get to share some of what I learned in school about market entry, pricing strategy, competitive analysis, revenues and expenses, etc.  It is also exciting because two of our women love to work with their hands, so this project is a really good fit.  So in my first workshop we went over revenues and expenses and budgeting, which is not the most exciting of topics, but the women were very keen on learning which makes all the difference.

I also got to join in on my first day of Rise Up, which is a program for kids in a local township that gives them a safe place to play and a hot meal to eat after school.  The Pastor of a local church started it after three kids were killed by stray bullets from gang activity right outside the school yard.  The residents join if they want, and it is a great way for them to give back to the community.  It is really empowering and exciting to watch them serving so passionately.

I had some cultural immersion experiences this past week as well, including my first South African taxi experience and my first South African public hospital experience.  Everything in the hospital was still handwritten…..and I could enter pretty much any ward without question.  I thought I might see someone die when I was in there and I honestly wasn’t sure what I would do, but crisis averted, everyone was still alive when I left.

This past weekend, I visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which is one of the most incredible places.  The mountains look different from every angle and there are so many plants it is absolutely amazing. I was wandering around alone before meeting up with a friend and I started chatting with another lone traveller while we watched the ducks in this quiet bird bath.  He knew all the places to see in the garden and I was just kind of wandering around so he was my tour guide and after we exchanged WhatsApp numbers and got lunch the next day and saw some more gardens! He was genuinely one of the nicest people I have ever met and is quitting his job to travel the world!  I don’t know when or if I will ever see him again (I hope I do), but it was a very tangible experience of our interconnectedness as humans and I am so grateful that our paths crossed.  I also visited St. George’s Cathedral, where the Archbishop of Cape Town presides (where Desmond Tutu presided!!!!!).  It was an emotional experience being in a space home to so much history, resistance, reconciliation and hope.  A great cloud of witnesses has stood in that Cathedral, and I was humbled to even step foot in that place!  It was a beautiful service, it reminded me of St. Augustine’s, my church at home and there was some beautiful liturgy about justice and light and hope.

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courtyard of St George’s Cathedral

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It has been a wonderful, almost two weeks in Cape Town!  Life here is slower, more rhythmic.  I have more time to process, which I am very thankful for because this work requires a good bit of processing.  You hear things you cannot actually believe are true, but the very people who experienced those horrors are the ones who bring you the most hope and joy.  In my two weeks I think I have more experiences of the sort of tangible love and hope that brings tears to your eyes than I have had in a very long time.  I know that I am a better, more truer version of myself for knowing these women who carry so much strength and joy. Real, sober joy that is unimaginable.  

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Company’s Garden

I have been reading Find Your Way Home, which is words of wisdom and meditations the women at Magdalene wrote and we use during the Circle at Thistle Farms on Wednesday mornings.  It is pretty incredible how similar the stories of the women at Magdalene are to the stories of the women at S-CAPE.  And both groups of women/communities at Thistle Farms and S-CAPE have shown me the most tangible forms of love, justice, reconciliation and hope.  

I  extremely thankful each day when I wake up that I am here and living out my vocation.  I still pinch myself sometimes and cannot actually believe I am surrounded by so much beauty in the mountains, the ocean, the weather and the people.

Back Home!

Hello from Cape Town!!!

I cannot express how good it feels to finally be back to this beautiful country.  In fact, I cried when my plane landed at Cape Town International Airport.  I arrived in the most beautiful beach town, Muizenberg (a suburb about 30 minutes south of Cape Town) late Tuesday night!  It feels as though I have never left, and I think that is telling of how much this little corner of the world feels like home.  I am 8000 miles from most everyone and everything that is familiar and comfortable, but something about Cape Town and my work at S-CAPE makes me feel more whole and more myself than I sometimes feel back in Nashville.

The first day I was back I learned that one of the residents at our safe home was still there and was doing amazing.  She has moved into the second stage house, which allows a lot more freedom and comes with more responsibility.  It is designed for women who are ready to transition back into society.  She is just waiting for a job so she can be self supporting when she leaves the safe home.  This resident, we will call her Buttercup, wrote a book about her story, I would highly recommend, I can bring it back to you upon my return if you are interested 😉  When I was volunteering at S-CAPE last June-August, I saw Buttercup grow immesley.  She is so full of joy, passion, and love.  The best moment of probably my entire life was seeing her reunited with her father after ten years.  I won’t give all the details here due to the amount of space it would take me to write about that beautiful day, but ask me more if you are interested.  What I will say is that it was the most incredible, divinely orchestrated moments I have ever witnessed.  We had no idea if her family still lived in the same house and we were just hoping someone would be able to point us to where we might find her father.  And by a series of outstanding events, we ended up on her father’s doorstep.  And it was the sweetest embrace, there was not a dry eye in the house.  All that to be said, Buttercup has seen her family several times since then, she has gone on to do a DTS with YWAM and has written this book about her tragic and simultaneously redemptive story that is currently garnering her some income.  So that was the best news to me.  And when we were equally as excited to see each other when she showed up to the office on Wednesday morning.

There has been also some sorrow, as one of the residents I love dearly left S-CAPE recently.  It is so hard to see the people you love dearly hurting, especially when it is completely outside your control to help.  That has been really tough, but so is this work and a sweet friend wrote a beautiful quote in a card for me before I left that says:

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world” -Desmond Tutu

And that is my attitude heading into my first week of work!  I am so excited to start running workshops and getting to know the current residents better.  I met all of the residents the other day at the office when we made stroopwafels (a Dutch cookie of sorts). They think it’s funny how Americans “sing” their words and I am amazed by their dance skills.  It was so fun sharing little bits about ourselves and learning how to make these very intricate desserts together.

Together.  That is the overarching theme in my time spent in South Africa.  This philosophy of Ubuntu is so alive and intertwined into every aspect of my day.  I think part of the reason I feel so at peace here is because my days are slower and filled with meaningful interactions.  Perhaps some days are not the the American standard of productivity, but I find some of the “least productive” days to actually be the days when I learn the most and feel the most fulfilled.  And that is what the past three days of acclimation have been!  I have not had a to do list to check off to convince myself that I am doing something, instead, I have had profound moments of realization about just being.  I sat on the plane listening to many languages be spoken, everyone excited about their trip and I was just in awe.  Then I get to South Africa where there are 11 national languages, and countless foreigners in very close proximity to me and everyone is singing and dancing and speaking in their own language and I just had a moment of sonder!  Each of these individuals has a story as complex and intricate as my own and that is something to be celebrated because I am not who I am without them.  And shoo I barely even know them!  Interconnectedness is a wonderful thing!

All this to say, I am very grateful to be back.  I was welcomed with a giant avocado, I ate breakfast on the beach, I had lunch with an old friend, I saw seven people I knew at the mall, I ran in 22 mph headwinds on the beach, I have been reading a lot of Mary Oliver and I have been struggling to jailbreak my ancient IPhone 3 so I can use my South African number.

Thank you for all your kind wishes and words over the past week.  I am so grateful for everyone back home for all the support and love!!

 

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This is the view from my backyard!

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Muizenberg Beach!

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Sun starting to set over Muizenberg.

Oh, I did forget to mention the water crisis that some have been asking about.  Yes, it is indeed real.  We are limited to 50L of water a day per person so my showers are 1.5 minutes.  And to flush the toilets we use the shower water we collect either in the tub or in buckets.  It has made me very aware of how wasteful I am.  I do love sustainability, so this is quite a nice exercise in that practice.  

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Sit down, be humble: A South African Embassy Experience

Greetings all!!

I am so very excited for this adventure to begin.  It has been a bittersweet seven months leading up to my departure (which is happening very soon).  I have grown a lot, and become much more self aware (thanks to the enneagram, the mystics and yoga) over the past year.  I have also had a lot more free time to think about this trip and my expectations, or lack thereof, which has caused some internal discomfort as I am forced to face the fact that things change, and when I return, not only will I be different, but the people around me.  Not only in their emotional and spiritual state, but their physical state.  I will return to Nashville after most of my friends graduation, and so realizing that some of the people I love very dearly will not be residing in Nashville anymore is quite saddening.  And over the past seven months I have also grown more and more excited about this unique and incredible opportunity that has led me into more gratefulness for whatever this adventure may hold.  Though sometimes I oddly wish I had more strings tying me down to Nashville (a strange thing for an enneagram 7 to admit), the fact of the matter is I do not, and instead of always trying to change that, I am thankful for the freedom and willingness for spontaneity that has led me right back to Cape Town.

Even in the months leading up to my departure, I have learned some very valuable lessons, like humility, flexibility and patience.  If I have talked to you about my trip since starting the visa process, you have probably heard me complain about the FBI.  Well fourteen weeks, yes fourteen, that is three and a half months after submitting my fingerprints, I finally received the long awaited piece of paper stating I had no criminal history, a surprise to many I am sure.  I received my background check on Monday, and on that Wednesday I was on a flight to DC to go to the South African Embassy to apply for my visa.  Let it be known that to apply for a visa, you have to go to the Embassy/Consulate to apply in person.  This means flights, hotels, ubers, the whole nine yards.  So, I arrive to DC Wednesday evening, eat some vegetable korma because Indian food reminds me of South Africa and every Sunday my roommates and I at S-CAPE would make veggie curry.  I wandered around for a bit, it was freezing but I saw a Christmas tree at the capitol building and that was pretty neat!  In the morning, I awoke, walked the mile down Embassy Row to the South African Embassy building and patiently waited outside.  And to those who know me, I was 30 minutes early, which may be the most absurd thing you have ever heard because I am never early anywhere! But I was and am serious about this visa.  So I stood on the other side of the fence next to a monument of Nelson Mandela, sipping some now lukewarm coffee and reading Desmond Tutu. The clock strikes 8:30, I ring the little bell and I am directed inside the small warm room with rows of gray chair lining the wall.  I was told to wait and they would call me up.  It was only me in the little warm box of a room so I observed the lion photo on the wall for what felt like an eternity before hearing “ok, come in.”  I was then directed to an even smaller and darker room where the visa man sat on the other side of a pane of glass.  I pulled out my folder with every single document they had asked for, from bank statements, to a radiological x-ray.  The man asked why I was there, I tell him “I am here to apply for a Charitable Activities Visa”, and he asked for the letter from S-CAPE inviting me to come.  So I proudly handed it to him, and waited as he glanced at it.  He then proceeded to ask me many questions and, in essence, told me that there is an unemployment crisis in South Africa (which I am indeed aware of), and that by volunteering I would be taking away potential jobs from South Africans.  Now I understand where he is coming from, however, I tried to explain that S-CAPE relies on volunteers, and the position I am taking would never be a paid position, thus leaving me confused with his reasoning.  But there was no convincing him otherwise.  He told me I could apply for a visa extension once I am in the Republic, or I could just go for 90 days (which Americans can do without any visa).  Frustrated, I left with all the unseen documents I had compiled, and walked back to my hotel in the cold, got on a plane and flew back to Atlanta discouraged and upset.

I called my wise friend, Hunter Wade, in the airport to tell her what had happened and as she always does, she pointed out some valuable opportunities to learn and grow.  It was quite humbling for sure.  As an American, a white, middle class, educated, straight, able bodied American, I have not been denied much in my life, especially when I have followed all the rules and done everything “right”.  This is one of the most poignant moments for me realizing that this happens to so many individuals.  People wanting to immigrate here to the states, or even simply visit their loved ones.  Arbitrary reasoning and unnecessarily difficult procedures are routine in the visa process to enter the United States as well.  And in that moment, I realized this is how most individuals feel: hopeless, powerless, frustrated, defeated.  It was quite a sobering moment.  South Africa owes me nothing, though I went in with the mindset of an easy visa process because why wouldn’t they give me visa? I followed the directions, I think I am pretty nice, I had good reason to to go, I have good intentions, I am not a criminal (the FBI even said so).

On the bright side however, I was told I can apply for an extension of my 90 days visa (which is automatically given to visa exempt countries) once I am in South Africa.  This means some more money, waiting and bureaucracies, but I have a better chance of obtaining an extension that would allow me to stay in Cape Town for the full time I had anticipated.  But it is hard being so uncertain!  I want everything to be sorted now, but it simply cannot.  My impatient nature is surfacing and it has been quite the practice of learning to let go of what I cannot control.

If you have made it to the end of this very long first blog post, thank you.  I am a written processor as you can tell.  I am excited to update yall as I begin my journey in a few short weeks! Hopefully next post will be me on Muizenberg beach with an extended visa because it is going to be SUMMERTIME in the southern hemisphere 😉mandelaembassy