Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adventure/Travel Log - South Africa- March 08

Let me first preface this entry by saying that the intention of this road trip was to not only experience and learn about this amazingly diverse country for ourselves, but mainly to meet with numerous leaders and organizations within the Lutheran Church as well as NGO's (Non-governmental organizations) and other organizations throughout South Africa. By doing so, we are in the midst of investigating potential site placements for our program volunteers who will be serving in many differing aspects of communities around the country. We had the opportunity to meet and speak with many leaders of churches and organizations, and saw so much potential for each site in which our volunteers will have the opportunity to walk alongside, serve and learn. The following is what we were able to experience in terms of an adventure and travel log and not the in-depth log of our ELCA Young Adult in Global Missions program. That will be in subsequent emails in the future. So get out your maps and let the adventure begin....!!!

With a beautiful morning ahead of us we started the trip out though the narrow, winding, shoulder-less roads of the KwaZulu Natal Province up, down and around hills and mountains with sights for the passengers eyes mostly (driver must keep their eyes on the road!). It was a busy Friday and as we passed through towns, the streets and markets were filled with pay day excitement and an end of the work week buzz in the air. After a long and concentrated drive that snaked up, over and around the hills of KZN province, we arrived in the East Coast province in the town of Port Elizabeth (PE).

PE is a very industrial town as motor companies, mining and the like are prevalent. We had the joy of staying with a host family from one of the churches we were visiting for our entire stay which gave us the joy of really seeing and experiencing life in a South African family. The unique thing about the area we were staying is that (like our family) it is a 'so called' coloured (mixed race) area and there is very little mixing, in terms of living, in this area. So to see a few white people running, walking and staying here was a bit different for the neighborhood. But slowly we got a few waves and hellos and were part of the life of the Lucas family. During the visit we also had the joy of hiking in an area reserve and had an amazing day in the Addo Elephant Park. The reserve covers a vast amount of hectares and as we traveled the area we saw black rhino, ostrich, warthogs, kudo, eland, monkeys, and of course, HUGE African elephants both near and far. It was something I never thought we'd be so close to in the wild. The experience was kind of scary, as the animals stand the height of a one story home. We came around a corner and with tusks shining and ears flapped out we were confronted by a large male and six others just grazing and eating as they passed. From feet away we simply did not move and were in awe as we watched them feed and carry on across the reserve.

From Port Elizabeth we continued on our journey down what is known as the “Garden Route” heading south. It is beautiful and green paralleling the coastline through forested areas, with coastal dunes to our left and mountains and ridge lines to our right. We stayed in a log cabin overlooking the Indian Ocean in a great town called Knysna and were treated to sunsets overlooking the blue green ocean with the sounds and sites of waves lapping the seven kilometer beach from Brenton to Buffalo Bay.

We then continued on towards Cape Town and settled into a fishing village called Kalk Bay on the coastal road of the cape peninsula overlooking the expanse of False Bay (allegedly the third largest in the world). As we traveled in we saw the first of the many baboons that are in the rocky highlands surrounding Cape Town. Many of these villages have such history with old buildings and roads of years past along with rich African heritage. As we walked to the marina we were greeted by the seals that are all vying for the scraps of the fishmongers cutting up and selling the days catch.

The following morning we headed to the guest house in the town of Fish Hoek where we would stay for the remainder of our visit to the greater Cape Town area. On the same blustery day with the southeasterly winds gusting off the coast we made our way down to the Cape of Good Hope (Africa's most southwesterly point) and Cape Point.

To look out on the expanse where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean is so humbling. To think of all the early explorers coming to this point wondering if indeed they had reached the bottom of the continent and all those whose ships could not make the turn in the treacherous high seas, with only Antarctica further to the south, is daunting to try to put your mind around. We also visited one of the African penguin colonies at Boulders where you can swim with or just simply observe these comical creatures that are almost human in their interactions.

Looming large in this eye catching city of natural beauty is the flat topped Table Mountain. One side looks down to the city center and port on the Atlantic Ocean at its foot whereas the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens as well as vineyards, neighborhoods, distant mountains and a view of False Bay opening to the Indian Ocean on the other. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens cover over 500 hectares of the back side of Table Mountain and is known as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. The gardens were established by Jan van Riebeek in 1657 where now about 9000 of Southern Africa's 22,000 plant species are found. It also provided us the lead route as we hiked up to the top of Table Mountain on a route straight up called Skeleton's Gorge. There is no doubt why it is named as it is with its steep inclines (even some fixed ladders to climb). This route requires you to scramble up rocks, tree roots and watch your step with each placement of your foot up this challenging hike. The beauty of it was that as you go up one side you can see the picturesque views on one side of the mountain and then as you reach the top and hike over the plateau to the other side you look onto a different ocean and down onto the city center. We were so blessed with the views this experience offered, although our feet and legs were trembling by the time we had made it up and down over the course of many hours. And yes you can officially call us crazy as it was merely one day removed from running the Two Oceans half marathon! Also notable is that when a cloud is over the mountain, it looks like a blanket covering as if a dry ice witches brew is spilling over.

On a much different note we had the opportunity to worship and celebrate Easter Sunday attending St.George's Cathedral. This is the same church that Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached at during his term leading the Anglican Church. We were so blessed as this service was enriched by the festival sung Eucharist including the cathedral choirs, professional soloists and orchestra music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The vaulted ceilings danced and carried the sounds beautifully down and around its stained glass and stone walls with their centuries old history and design.

With our finale of experiences in and around Cape Town we arrived at the famed Robben Island where we saw glimpses of the old lepers' church and graveyard, PAC leader Robert Sobukwe's house where he was imprisoned due to opposition of the pass laws, WWII fortifications and the lime quarry worked by political prisoners (which has ruined many of their eyes and it was told that to this day Nelson Mandela's tear ducts are permanently damaged and cannot cry tears). The 'highlight' is the prison itself where many political prisoners spent years of incarceration fighting for freedom, democracy, and other human rights issues. It is here that the world famous Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment, and we were able to walk right to and see his tiny cell, the courtyard and other areas now in the history books of a recent and turbulent past. It was so moving and troubling to fully grasp the gravity of Robben Island and what Nelson Mandela and the many others had in the struggle for an equal and democratic South Africa. As we rode the boat over rough waters back to the mainland with the sun setting across the water, I found myself lost in thought about what it means to sacrifice, suffer and fight for the rights and equality of a nation for an entire lifetime. What Nelson Mandela and other stand for and what they represent is something so powerful that it permeates down to the soul of a nation.

Leaving Cape Town we traveled through one of the largest townships (shantytowns) in the country for meetings before heading to the northeast. It never ceases to amaze me the discrepancy between the rich and poor in such a short distance.

As we traveled up and out of the mountains sprinkled with a plethora of vineyard estates the environment became more and more arid, dry and flat. We stopped first to break the travel in a small town called Beaufort West. It is mostly an in transit town, but there was a bit of old charm to this oldest and largest town in the Karoo region, established in the year 1818, which is the gateway to the Karoo National Park. From here we continued northeast through to the epicenter of the region into the old diamond town of Kimberly whose past is certainly quite a checkered one. This is the city where De Beers Consolidated Mines began; where Cecil John Rhodes and Ernest Oppenheimer (mining magnate and mayor of Kimberly) made their fortunes. What is now left is the largest manually dug hole in the world at 800m deep. Diamond mining stopped here in 1914, but not before 14.5 million carats of diamonds were carted away. Leaving, you just have to ask yourself the question regarding the wealth 'A profit for who and at whose expense?'. Unfortunately, that is not hard to answer.

We continued on through Bloemfontein and Bethlehem in the Eastern Highlands which are bumped up against the wild and rugged mountains that guard Lesotho's border. Known as the jewel of the Free State, we stopped in the quaint little town of Clarens set to a backdrop of craggy limestone rocks, hunter green hills, spun gold fields and the magnificent Maluti Mountains just a few miles from the northern border of Lesotho. It has a very trendy and artsy feel with 18 galleries focusing on quality works by well-known South African artists. Funny enough it is also known as a place visited by the likes of Brad Pitt, Prince Harry and Jane Seymour, to name a few. Just a few kilometers away we visited Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The namesake is due to what happens right before the darkness erases the remaining flecks from the sky. The jagged sandstone outcroppings fronting the wild maroon-hued Maluti Mountains glow golden in the dying light as the sky explodes in a fiery collision of purple and red. It was the perfect ending to a day in which we climbed Wodehouse Peak at over 7000 feet high where we were rewarded with spectacular views into the endless mountains of Lesotho.

With the morning sun shining brightly we made our way along the border with Lesotho with the Maluti and Drakensburg Mountains filling the landscape as we headed back to our home in Pietermaritzburg. As we came over the last hills and saw down into the city center bowl, we just simply looked at one another and said we made it! What a gift to be able to experience this beautifully diverse country on a road trip of almost 5000km.We were truly blessed to see what these eyes have seen!

With peace and love,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Reflections on "Power" - March, 2008

As Kristen and I adjust to our new surroundings here in South Africa, I have enjoyed the privilege of participating in a weekly post-graduate level discussion group held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Religion and Theology. The gathering is a wonderful mixture, for out of ten participants (six men and four women), six countries are represented: Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and of course, myself – the lone United States citizen. The group examines Theology and Development under the theme “People, Power, and Faith”, and as a newcomer to the African continent, I find the topic – and the collection of diverse perspectives – to be invaluable toward gaining increased awareness and understanding of my new environment.

One of the group’s ongoing topics is the issue of “power”, and specifically, how people of faith can better understand the impact of power in the world. Together we question and consider: What is power? What does it mean to have power? Who and/or what has power in our world? How have powerful people and/or organizations used power to influence others in our world? Every Wednesday morning when the group meets and ponders these challenging questions, I come away with many new ideas to contemplate, and I am left deeply humbled in being reminded of the great deal I have to learn.

When thinking of power, my new friends from the discussion group make a point of reminding me of the United States’ enormous level of power. They explain to me that, regardless of our nation’s fluctuating popularity and recent economic downwards trends, it is still a “superpower” capable of influencing the lives of billions of people in every corner of the globe. And while everyday Americans might forget the level of global influence we hold (because we are so busy with the hustle, bustle, and daily concerns of our own lives), I believe that when one has an opportunity to travel and see firsthand how decisions made in Washington, D.C. have a direct impact upon life in Africa and beyond, it becomes abundantly clear just how much power the United States holds.

And so, as I sit here as an American citizen living and serving in Africa, as I think about all I have seen and heard these past weeks, as I reflect upon the many undeserved privileges I have received throughout my young life, and as I consider the intense struggles of my new friends’ families and loved ones in Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and other nations of Africa, I wonder if we Americans (…including myself) have used our vast collective power wisely. I wonder if we have used our vast resources and privileges exclusively for our own sake, or if we have used them for the greater good of others around the world. And most of all, as I think about how things can be made better, I wonder if the best way to help Africa is not by trying to “fix” Africa, but rather, to start by taking a good hard look at ourselves.

I honestly do not know how to answer these challenging questions, and I wonder if I ever will (…I will keep this posting on file, because I will most likely be asking these same questions for years to come), but nonetheless, I believe it is good to keep asking them. I have been thinking about these questions often during these first weeks here, and I hope that you will ask some of them yourself, perhaps talk about them with people close to you, and if you like, share your thoughts with me, just as I have shared mine with you.

As always, I thank you for the ongoing love and support over the past weeks and months (…and for many of you…the past years!). Kristen and I have found this transition from Guyana to South Africa to be challenging, yet totally exciting and fulfilling. We have met numerous wonderful people, experienced new sights and sounds (…too many to list), and we feel incredibly blessed to be in such an amazing area. As always, we look forward to being in touch, and if possible, we look forward to visitors!

God’s blessings to you all…

With peace and love,


Monday, March 3, 2008

travel log: february 5 - march 3, 2008

hello from jo'burg!

we are currently in johannesburg for work at the main offices as well as doing some orientation for ourselves. the drive up and out of our hilly and mountainous home province was beautiful (to bad for the car!..but it leveled out for the last 2 hours). we went to a service yesterday in soweto that was very moving with amazing singing, drums and various instruments and then to the aparteid museum following. needless to say it was so powerful but yet draining. i mean that in when i think of the fact of what i just experienced and the major world history behind soweto, jo'burg and then putting it together with the powerful museum, it felt as if someone was sitting on my chest. i felt similarly moved in going to the holocaust museum last october when we were in washington d.c.. sometimes i am shocked at the inhumanity of what has occurred in various parts of the world over the last years and centuries. there was also a small exhibit on rwanda as well.

we will be here for the week with many contacts and meetings and introductions to be done and will then drive back along a different, more off the beaten path route back into the kwazulu-natal province circling to the south east through dundee to a small village called roarke's drift. there is an amazing craft skills center there where many weaving, painting, pottery and much more are done by local artisans as well as visiting the old folks home. we are here to investigate a potential site placement for one of our volunteers. we will also take some time to explore this area that is known as the battlegrounds where the zulu wars were fought behind shaka and other zulu warriors as well as the anglo-boer battles all over land and control. we will then be back to our home in pietermaritzburg about a week from today. so much to see and do...but all very positive, humbling and enriching experiences.

with love today!


ps. just got back from the trip through roarke's drift. the area from dundee was on very rough terrain with only winding dirt roads for many kilometers. we stayed at the guest house right next to the battlegrounds of the final square off between the zulu warriors and british soldiers. beautiful hilly country in an area that still has so much tradition with houses, farming and ways of life. we explored the area on foot hiking, visited and observed the aritisans at work in the pottery, weaving, and silk screening studios. the work is known as some of the best in all of the country and we were amazed at the skill and craftsmanship. we stayed over the course of 3 days taking in the battle history, the culture and the people and then continued through the twisting and turning of the dirt roads in and around the very rugged terrain. what beauty we saw in this remote and traditional area of kwazulu-natal province on our way back to pietermaritzburg. long travel, but well worth it for the awe inspiring views and experiences.