Thursday, February 14, 2008

South Africa February Newsletter - 2008

Sanibona! In Zulu meaning “we see you” as a beautiful means to say “hello”.

We have arrived on African soil in Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa and are in the midst of absorbing the sites, smells, tastes and feeling of our new home. For many years this continent has loomed in my mind as a place that I have been drawn to visit, but never would I have thought that it would be a place to work and call home.

When looking at sustainable development, I have often heard the phrase… ‘give a [wo]man a fish and [s]he’ll eat for a day, teach a [wo]man to fish and [s]he’ll eat for a lifetime’. This phrase resonated for me throughout my time in Guyana, but what I have found out in coming to South Africa is that the phrase has yet another component that is critically important. Yes, you can ‘teach a person to fish to eat for a lifetime’ but the last part goes on to ask ‘but does [s]he have access to the pond?’ (or even like fish for that matter). This phrase has been marinating in my mind since it was brought out by our Global Mission colleague Phillip Knutson upon our initial orientation in country. Apartheid as part of this country’s history is a challenge that I know I can never fully understand as an outsider, but at the same time it strikes a chord when the wound is still fresh from its official end happening in 1994. We have been so blessed to be worshiping in the Zulu churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (ELCSA) in the townships surrounding Pietermaritzburg. In order to travel to the townships you can see the evidence of the ‘buffer zones’ that separated the city as to where the blacks were designated to live outside the city. You can go from a city of “first world” amenities such as stores, restaurants and businesses to a township of “third world” challenges with poor housing, road quality and poverty within a few kilometers. The cities in South Africa had areas where people of differing races were allowed to live and needed a pass to be in others. Just last Sunday we rode with Sihle to church in Imbali township and upon asking him where he lived, we drove past his home in Scottsville as he noted that they have only lived there since 1995 when blacks were allowed to live in that part of town.

This is just one of many ear and eye opening experiences we have had. I am quickly finding out why God gives us two ears and two eyes and only one mouth so we can observe and listen twice as much as we speak. Clever! But as we traveled to these churches and began the hours long Sunday worship services in the Zulu tongue, I was near to tears many times with the sounds I heard around me. As one in the congregation would begin to sing, the hundreds there would pick up the harmony and the sounds were some of the most moving I’ve ever heard. Even the offering was 30-40 minutes long as people walked up the aisles time and again dancing and singing as they presented what they could with what they had to give. A worship where we understood not a thing that was said, but may have been some of the most moving of my lifetime (and longest at 3 and 4 ½ hours long!).

In the midst of our time here we have also had the chance to visit some areas outside of Pietermaritzburg. One was a beautiful journey to meet Bishop Sibiya of the South Eastern Diocese which covers the whole of KwaZulu-Natal province in a very rural area in the KwaZulu-Natal Province called Umphumulo (near the town of Mapamulo) and Ntunjambili. It was absolutely beautiful with huge hills and mountains (kind of like the Grand Canyon but lush and hilly) carved out over millions of years by the uTukela River where people are living on the top, bottom and all parts of the very steep area. The traditional houses in the rural settlements are round with mud walls with grass roofs, but many are now made out of concrete with zinc and may be next to another squared off house. Another day brought me the opportunity to travel to a village called Mpophomeni and work with a non profit organization working with those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. They are doing many projects with these individuals building organic gardens and starting small business as well as some women weaving hand bags that are now sent around the world. That day I assisted with the food trailer as we drove around the many eroded dirt streets in the hills with potatoes, squash, carrots, cornmeal, onions, samp, beans, cabbage and the like for those in the program. I was unfortunately told that this village of thousands has an 80% infection rate and has 10-15 funerals each week at the cemetery. This project was well run by locals and a gift to observe the program they are running. We have been here there and everywhere and will continue to do so as we head to a traditional Zulu village for a ceremony this weekend and then travel searching out sites for our Young Adult in Global Missions volunteers around the entire country over the next weeks. We certainly have a lot to do and a lot to learn.

We will also soon begin language classes to learn Zulu, which is one of 11 official languages in South Africa. The funny thing about learning and speaking Zulu is that there are clicks with your mouth. For some you move the click from the side of your mouth and move air out, for another letter you push air off the your front teeth clicking and just another is when you stick your tongue on the sides of your teeth and top of your mouth and push air over while clicking. Tough, but you have to do that not just to learn the language but to properly say peoples name and the names of town, places, things, etc. while speaking in the English language. And as a funny note… we found out that konkolo is Zulu for concrete or solid foundation…they laughed when we said Konkol was our last name. My father-in-law will be proud!

Finally, it is National Geographic Channel no more as when hiking in the Umgeni Valley we saw our first zebras, wildebeest, water buffalo, warthogs, giraffes and many types of impala and bushboks. It brought the biggest smile to my face, especially the warthog that faced me head on walking on the trail and the majestic giraffes eating off the leaves on the top of the acacia trees.

With peace and blessing from South Africa,


Mailing Address:

Brian & Kristen Konkol

P.O. Box 28694



South Africa