Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wild Coast Adventure

For a very nice synopsis of my Christmas adventures check out the blogsite of Jesse Zink

and this post

I will write my own entry soon, including some photos and an update of my upcoming new year plans.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becoming A Man: AMADODA

I have the privilege of spending time with my brother Bongani (his mother is Nomamyasi a woman I work with who treats me as her own with equal care and concern) going through the xhosa ritual of becoming a man. The process includes him spending 3 weeks in the "bush" (in the woods about a kilometer from the nearest home). He built a home out of cardboard and tarp, and has to live alone with a messenger boy who brings his food. He was circumcised early in the first week. He walks around half naked covered in clay to keep him from being sun-burnt. He is not allowed to eat meat or have salty or sugary foods for 2.5 weeks. They allowed me to visit to take photos.

There is a lot of controversy over these rituals as many have contracted aids or died from dehydration or beaten by older men and ridiculed for "not being manly". Bongani's family is very concious about these issues and has made sure that the tools for circumcision were sterile and unshared, and his mentor seems like a genuinely nice guy.

On Saturday Bongani will come out of the bush and we will have a big party with a hole bunch of his relatives. Before he leaves the bush he will burn his temporary shelter and all his clothes and wear only new clothes and be given his own home as a way of showing he is a changed man.

Many of his relatives have made their way to Nomamyasi's house and when I have visited every day the men are already getting drunk and preparing for the party. This to me is the most sad thing to see. The idea that becoming a man also enables you to drink, and part of the tradition involves allowing the "man" to drink hard alcohol. The idea of manhood has become skewed. I like the idea of having a right of passage for both men and women, but the idea of what means to be a man is to me off base.

In an attempt to share with the students I work with (the brown bread boys) about what it means to be a man, I was able to borrow (for free) 8 bicycles from the department of sports in grahamstown.

We have been mountain biking for the last 5 days. On Sunday I took them to the beach in Port Elizabeth and we played rugby and soccer and played in the waves. I want the boys to see the world around them and realize the potential they have within themselves to live their lives differently outside of the culture of alcoholism and sexual activity that is rampant in these parts.

Through challenging them and pushing them up mountain drive (about 6 kilometers of dirt road uphill, and a 30 kilometer ride I wanted to have a reference for them to illustrate what being a man means to me. Yesterday after our last ride on the bicycles I took them to a vista overlooking Grahamstown. We sat and drank coke out of styrofoam cups while I talked about the three important things in man hood:

*1 It is important to PLAN AHEAD and SET GOALS: (I referenced our idea 6 months prior to ride bikes, and talked about how we planned our daily trips always bringing water, extra food, patch kits and tire pump) I also talked about some of our discussions about their desires to go into the army, become police officers, working on game reserves and becoming mechanics. All of which are suitable careers that the boys said they wanted to become.

*2 LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES and KEEP MOVING: A half hour prior to our chat, Nyangayethu fell off his bike and in turn broke my digital camera (purchased only 2 weeks prior). I was upset at first, but was able to keep composure and bring it up as an example that it does no good to wallow on it. I just have to make a plan. Kids are so afraid of failure. On our bike trips this last week we all fell off our bikes and got bloodied. I praised them for the fact that we all took on each challenge and were not afraid to get dirty. I talked about how much we had improved over the week. The first day the kids were tired after biking uphill for .5 kilometer, and on the last day we rode for 30 kilometers. We talked about the fact that their life is difficult, but it doesn't mean they cannot succeed.

*3 WE TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER: A couple of times on our adventures one friend or another would have issues with their chain or brakes and we would all stop and make sure we were together. We learned to keep an eye out for each other and support each other. I talked about how I would never ask them to pay me back for the fun trips to the beach or food of each day. I only asked that they in turn when they are older and have money do the same. I talked about Christ's example and how we should try to do the same, taking care of each other. I told them that I could have been doing many other things with my time but enjoyed spending it with them.

My only hope is that some our conversations and time spent will impact their idea of what it means to be a man as they watch their older brother goes through the profound rituals of manhood.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Parables of Cause and Effect

I have come to enjoy the simple lessons of the brothers at the monastery. Brother Rob shared a simple truth about the parables, in that some parables are meant to show us the incomprehensible grace of Christ, and others are meant to explain the reality of life. We always have to ask what it tells us about the gospel.

In the parable of the virgins who forget to keep the oil in their lamps and miss out on the wedding. I have often read the parable and thought of how mean it is to not allow someone into a party because they were unprepared. Why didn't anyone help them. The tough reality of life is that we can either live life in apathy and frustration of the realities of life or stay awake in hope of God and his perfect will. No one can stay awake for us. It will not work. At some point we have to come to God on our own.

I struggle with this here when dealing with the issues of entitlement. Often the morale of people is so low and fatalistic, that many people just expect the work to be done for them, or find excuses why the work cannot be done. Through the example of my father, I am learning, that living in hope is a day to day effort. Day to day we have to stay open to the the call and presence of God. It comes only with practice. Our faith should be invested just as much in our daily effort to know Christ and live a life worthy of his name as it is in the end goal of a life eternal. Living a life of faith comes only with practice. The corresponding reading was from the book of wisdom in the old testament which said (Matt Kellen paraphrased), if we look for wisdom, she will not be hard to find. So true..... if we leave our hearts exposed to God and hands willing to be used, by God's grace he will direct us.

Sorry about the sermon. The words of Brother Rob rang so true to me and I wanted to share the blessing of solid preaching.

Tick Bite Fever

Well. I got tick bite fever again...... Totally fine.

Foundation Phase Launch

Thursday of last week was the launch of the Foundation for Literacy Day. The hassle of invitations and power points and organizing catering is not my cup of tea. We gathered about 50 people. The emphasis of the Literacy Day was to introduce the community and the schools to the curriculum we will be providing training and materials for. The curriculum is called Breakthrough to Literacy by the Molteno Institute of Language and Literacy. The premise as that we teach students reading skills from their home language and teach explicitly pre-reading concepts before teaching the abc's. The Foundation for Literacy Day has been appraised as a success by my superiors. I will take it and leave my personal criticisms to myself. It is nice to have the formalities out of the way so I can get to the nitty gritty in the classrooms. I am still naively optimistic about my work next year. I will enjoy it while I can.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Work is picking up:

This week I visited the 8 schools I will be working come January. I have had warm receptions by principals. Some I have been amazed at their commitment and their attempts to support the needs of students, but many are burnt out and the schools show it. I get very strange looks by folks who see a white guy driving through the townships by himself.

I have only felt threatened once. On a Saturday afternoon I was taking a student home from Marimba practice. I had given him a bike that had been donated. As we pulled up to his place (he lives by himself at age 17 because both his parents died of AIDS), and I said hello to a 8 guys across the street who were walking up to the car he told me to start driving because we were about to be robbed. Well....nothing happened, and I learned a lesson about trusting your instinct and not your good intentions always.

I don't stop to ask for directions in the myriad of dirt roads.....I just keep moving untill I find the school or a police officer. I don't live in fear, but do drive a bit more cautiously. Within the gates of the school or amongst my amaxhosa friends, I am fine because people know what I am about. My best safety has been in the relationships I have built thus far.

Most folks that live in the townships are wonderful and kind people, however as poverty remains an issue and as people live within the trap of finding excuses and feeling they are owed something, there are an increasing number of desperate folks who see race as a reason to make demands or rationalize why helping each other is not an option. It is hard not to be racist in South Africa. Socio-economic status, cultural differences, and decades of hurt has put a haze of indifference to the real issues beyond race. Education, social engagement, and people taking ownership of the issues in their community both black and white are necessary to get past the race card that is played so often here.

Life in a picture:

Nomamyasi is one of my many mothers around the world. She is my mother because I am the big brother to her 5 boys from the after school program. I take care of her boys and she takes care of me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No news has been good news

I do apologize for my lack of communication to any and all of my friends and family. Fortunately no news is good news. Life has been pulling me along with full force. The following is a snap shot of what has been happening in my work and play.

+ Delayed Literacy Project: I am working with 3 coloured schools (schools that teach Afrikaans and English to the children with primarily mixed racial backgrounds. I have been doing basic reading assessments and have found that about 1/4 of the students are unable to recognize letter sounds and basic sightwords in grade 4. I am working along side teachers and volunteers to set up curriculum and training to address the needs of struggling learners and push the students that are able to read so they don't fall behind.

+ Foundational Phase Literacy Campaign: One of the most exciting things about the program I am working with is that we are partnering with the school district. It can be very hard to work with the government sometimes because of pride issues and an innability to realize that help is needed. The national government has realized that ignorance of the staggering issues of illiteracy in South Africa does not solve the problem. I went to a conference where the governments said we need to fix this problem and it needs to start with the early grade levels where learning to read is essential. The first step to solving a problem is recognition there is a problem....getting the teachers in classrooms to get on board is another issue.....and this is where I come into the picture. So very exciting to be doing the work along side the district and department of education. We have just had some very progressive meetings that are beginning to set things in motion.

+ Reading Camp: As some of you know, the brothers at the monastary partnered with the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington Kentucky to provide a reading camp for 16 disadvantaged students in the area with potential to be good readers. The camp in July was a huge success, and with that has been this incredible momentum where we provided a Saturday camp to show teachers what we did over the camp. To see 16 teachers so eager to learn how to enjoy reading and writing, as well as a bit of art was so exciting. Most often when teachers go to a training they complain about the food or the venue. At the weekend camp the teachers volunteered their saturday (no pay).

+ Mobile Library: Through Kary the person directing the Reading Camp we were able to recieve 60,000 Rand (roughly $7500) worth of books for the reading camp and to implement a mobile library. The mobile library would be supervised by me as I will be traveling between about 8 schools in the area. We would have 8 boxes of books labeled and covered that would rotate every 5 to 6 weeks. This would give the schools a chance to see about 100 new books every six weeks.

+ Learning to read opens the doors to seeing a life that is possible outside of what you have been provided. With the issues of poverty and A.I.D.S and illiteracy and corruption in this country , empowering teachers to find job satisfaction and feel capable and empowered to support the next generation of South Africa is the best way I know how to be involved. I love going to work every day. I have said this before, but I will say it many times, because it has been so worth the sacrifice of relatively low pay and distance from home. I haven't spoken to many about fund raising outside the amazing support of my close family and local church. I have been saving for a time when your money and support can go directly towards the empowerment of the people here. Something about the kiddos I work with begging in the streets really makes me self concious about asking for help. That and my pride.

+ I still get a chance to play: Aside from leading a bible study for University students and playing guitar for Sunday evening church and Taco Thursdays, I take my weekends. I had an amazing adventure hiking the Wild Coast with 2 close buddies. Shane and Pete had been dreaming about our 160 kilometer walk along deserted beaches for 5 years. I had the privilege of dreaming and planning over the last year. It is advanters like these that keep me going able to reminisce and take joy in the accomplishment of seeing an idea to completion. I've also been getting into the rugby scene a bit. Seeing as the last Taco Thursday included 17 ladies and myself, I felt it might be good to make time to hang out with the dudes a bit.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wild Coast and Work

I just returned from an amazing 7 day walk over 160 kilometers of beach, where waterfalls dropped into the ocean, whales and dolphins played in the waves, and our social interactions with the locals made for an icredible experience. I came back to find that while I was gone, 60,000 Rand (Roughly $7500)worth of books has been donated to the idea of creating a mobile library where I rotate books between schools so every month the school gets around 70 new books. So amazing! More pics and details later....

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Camping Out On a Work Day!

In preparation for my Wild Coast trip in late September, my hiking buddy Shane and I camped out under the stars on a Monday evening. This is a photo from my sleeping bag at sunrise before packing up and walking home to get ready for another amazing work day. It reminded me of the days at University in Bellingham sleeping on the couch on front porch before student teaching.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Quick update

Just a quick update for y'all. I am back in Grahamstown, picking up where I left off. My new job is exciting and is a big part of what motivates me every day. Being able to use privileges to support others is an amazing thing. Having a car has been an incredible opportunity to support the lives of this community, giving rides to Narcotics Anonymous, offering rides too and from the townships, and being able to invite people over for dinner from the township who otherwise would not be caught dead walking in the townships at night.

I came back to Grahamstown in fire season and fire nearly took out the monastery I work at. Seeing the regrowth has been pretty amazing to watch though.

I feel like I came back from my month away and my students from the Monastry had grown up. At the beginning of last year it was a struggle to get the kids to do any work, and I had to bribe them practically to stay busy. Now they know how to get to work and want to do well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Classic Photo

Above is a photo of Nomamysi,caretaker of several kids from the monastery, June Walters, the head of the after school program, and myself. We are enjoying the entertainment of the kids putting on their end of term show, including gum boot dancing (kind of like STOMP)but very rich in cultural context, and a re-enactment of the 3 little pigs.

My Partner in Crime

Sarah Jackson is an amazing friend that I have worked and lived and played with over the last 6 months. It is great when you live through an experience and know at the end a lasting friendship has been formed. Cheers to more adventures ahead Sarah Jackson.

Photos By Sarah Schafer of the After School Program

Sarah Schafer came to the after school program for her photo journalism class and took some amazing photos. Above are two of over a hundred photos taken.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Family in South Africa

Well hello to anyone still reading my blog. My parents and sister have been here in South Africa for about 3 weeks give or take. I have been a tour guide and they have taken many pictures thankfully, because my camera is broken. I can tell you that all are safe here and we have had our adventures. Adventures include tours of my work places, an arts festival in Grahamstown, a trip around the southern most tip of Africa. We took a boat out and watched the Southern Right whales out of Cape Aghulus. My father and I climbed up to the top of Table Mountain in Capetown hoping to catch a gondola ride down, however the gondola was closed for the day so had to take the long way down. We are glad to be together as the nuclear family once again.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Brown Bread Boys Ride Again!

View every day at the after school program

Sunrise on the beach at Chintsa (sintsa)

Picture Update!

I am without a digital camera at the moment, but now have some new photos via Sarah a co-worker and friend.

This is a photo of the after school program. The boys have named it the "Brown Bread School" because we feed them peanut butter sandwiches on brown bread.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Highlight of My Day

The highlights of my days here are at daybreak. The rest is downhill from there : ) On my bicycle commute to work I pick up a cup of coffee from a local shop. I peddle while sipping a hot brew as the sun rises in front of me..... Then I have to use both hands to brake when I come to a stop and spill precious drops all over the handle bars. The sticky fingers are worth the exhilaration of a hot cup of coffee and the brilliance of a warming sun in chilly Autumn weather.

Where are your glasses?

I have learned of the frustration my parents went through when trying to get me to where my glasses. One of my students is nearly deaf. He is very good at reading lips and is very clever, but nonetheless; he cannot hear. I took him in to get his hearing checked. The audiologist looked at his file and said “Where is his hearing aide?” Come to find out, for the whole year I have been here, he has had a hearing aide, just never worn it. The battery was dead. I understand why he doesn't want to wear it in school because there is no question he will be harrasssed. We will work with it in during our small group sessions.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Peeing on the Playground

As I was sitting and planning a prayer activity at one of the schools I work at, I heard one of our students I hadn't seen in a while. He had been taken in by the police one evening because his mother thought he had stolen her cell-phone. Come to find out, the police had put a plastic bag over his head untill he crapped his pants and then made him walk home in them. Now how would that fly in the States?...... Why is it okay here? Then as I sat there, I watched as another student peed in the middle of the school lawn.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Pudd'n Head Wilson

I picked up a copy of Mark Twain's: "Puddn' Head Wilson" the other day and have been refreshed by the sarcastic and ironic humor that this late 19th century author wrote. Here are a few quotes. To think an author of the 1890s could be so entertaining....

"When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life."

"Adam was but human- this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake; he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent."

"The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money."

"All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"- a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live."

"When angry, count four; when very angry, swear."

"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits."

"Behold the fool saith, "Put not al thine eggs in the one basket" - which is but a manner of saying, "Scatter your money and your attention"; but the wise man saith, "Put all your eggs in the one basket - WATCH THAT BASKET."

"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example."

"It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races."

"It is often the case that the man who can't tell a lie thinks he is the best judge of one."

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Turning Things Over

As I am looking to the quickly coming end of my year here with two of my schools, I am beginning to look at how to make my efforts here sustainable. The reality of short term mission is that, you can do a lot in a year, but being able to set up programs and systems sustainable, should be, or has been for me the end goal. I simply cannot be the older brother to the 120 some odd kids here in Grahamstown, but I can make sure the schools and specific students I have been working with get plugged into the right resources and supports available in the community around. It is getting harder than I thought it would be to figure out how to do this apropriately and say my good byes in a way that leaves the potential for further communication open, but with the reality of how busy life gets.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My first ambulance call

Saturday evening from 7pm to 7am I rode ambulances for the first time. I guess that EMTs here get a lot of volunteers because, the fellas were not inviting at all. I felt like a worthless fly on the wall unworthy of even being recognized or introduced to the other EMTs. I was beginning to regret having come when the first call came in. We had a motor vehicle accident on a road 20 kilometers outside of Grahamstown. Upon entering the scene there was a man laying face in the grass prostrate unconcious. I first thought he was dead, then heard groaning. We put him on a spinal board (I think that is what it is called) then took him to the hospital to get xrays and determine if he had anything broken. While waiting for x-rays the scene at the hospital was just as crazy. There was a line of stab victims waiting to be sticthed up. One patient refused to be patched up. He was highly under the influence of something. After he had lost a lot of blood he passed out, and the nurses put an I.V. in him and started sewing him up. When the patient awoke he again refused to be stitched up. We told the nurses to stop trying, because, the risk of being poked while stitching up a unwilling patient with a good chance of having AIDS is not safe. There were head wound victims and a woman with bloody feet and hands. In between vehicle accidents I sat and listened to drivers talk about the nurses they "liked". The second vehicle accident came at about 6:45 a.m. in the last 15 minutes of my shift. Again about 20 kilometers out of town the opposite direction. The drunk driver hit a semi truck head on. Upon arrival there were two passengers concious and sitting outside of the car. One had his collar bone sticking through where his shoulder should have been and was bleeding profusely. All this to say I had a horrible uncomfortably awkward time in between ambulance calls, but learned a lot and grew in my confidence when dealing with medical emergencies. The shocking thing to me about the victims was that both drivers were drunk. One of the drivers was the principal of a school, and the other an off duty police officer.....

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Its My Mom's Birthday

Yesterday or today was my mother's birthday depending on what time zone you are in. I missed it, not technically, but she called me earlier in the day and I missed the opportunity. It is a bummer when you realize how much you do appreciate someone, but how little you show it. I feel that a lot. Letters unsent, words left unsaid.

Here I am reminded daily of what I have. I am reminded in moments with a choice to be joyful or feel guilt. I have family. While I don't see them or hear them every day, the knowledge they are there and they were there is enough; Malibongwe, Mango, Nyangayethu and Siposethu don't. I have economic supports- a steady income, people willing to support me financially, Xolani, Xoliswa, Bongisani don't. I had commited teachers in my classrooms who had resources, Zanoxolo, Xhanti, and Sinethemba don't.

Education, health, economic income, a healthy environment (clean water, sanitation), social-political stability, and spirituality (a sense of purpose and hope) are all factors to poverty. All needs must be met, because all these factors are interdependant. I have been provided all these things. Without them I could easily be on the other side of town. For that I am greatful and forever determined to provide and advocate for the same opportunities to those who don't have them.

Happy birthday Mom. I owe you a lot. I will pay it forward to these kids and try to remember ahead of time next year.

Matt Kellen

Taco Thursday Meets Actualization

Every Thursday is Taco Thursday. Myself and Sarah cook rice and chicken and sauce, and heat up tortillas. My objective of taco Thursday was to facilitate communication across cultures and socio-economic classes. Last Thursday we had 25 people over. The crowd was a vast mix of people. Men, Women, a 23 year old highschool student, masters students, doctorate students (a british ethno-musicologist), non-students, heterosexuals and homosexuals, conservatives and liberals, christians and non-christians, Xhosas and Zimbabweans, Africans and Afrikaans, white and black and colored, vegetarians and meat eaters. Interesting combinations of food, cultures and conversations abounded. The objective of Taco Night has reached actualization. I didn't have to ask anyone to leave for being unreceptive to others' opinions. Here is to future taco nights of interesting dialogues.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Curiosity Captured On Camera

Field Trip to Port Elizabeth

Sarah, Tombekaya, and I took 6 little tykes between the ages of 6 and 9 to the beach last weekend. Showing children the beach for the first time was such an amazing experience. Watching big eyes and dancing feet running into and away from waves as they hang on to adults for dear life. With the support of the Brothers at the monastery we were able to take the kiddos to the oceanarium to see real dolphins and penguins and seals!!!! This was a new experience for Tombekaya my co-teacher and friend.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Prayer To Remember

Daphne recited a prayer at evensong last night that really touched on a lot of things I have been thinking about and praying about. I wanted to share it with y'all.

O God, whose mystery is as deep as the mist that sometimes shrouds the hills round Grahamstown, yet who has shown yourself clearly in the love and teachings of Jesus, we praise you for the faith that has brought us together and for the great line of saints whose lives and witness have conspired to make believers of us across the years. Forgive, we pray, the busyness and indifference that have often characterized our spirits, so that we have not lived with either the joy or the commitment that might have marked our daily lives. Draw us back into your way that we may experience redemption as sick persons experience recovery, and show us how to redesign our existence in keeping with your eternal plan. We remember the desperateness of the world beyond our walls, and bow in prayer for the many peoples of our globe. (We remember particularly the people of Zimbabwe at this time - this World Day of Prayer for Zimbabwe - we prayer for people who govern the world: our own government, and governments and all involved in political life; We pray for the affairs of the world, and the life of the nations, for peace among the nations, and peace within each nation) Some people have inadequate food and water and medical care, and many languish in ignorance and superstition. Teach us to share our own resources with them in such a way that the world may no longer be divided between those who have and those who don't. Remind us of the power of your Spirit to transform every earthly situation. Gift us with a word that will challenge our self-satisfaction and raise our eyes to new horizons of love and self-giving, that we may glorify you in all we think and say and do. for your are God and we are your people, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Joy of Advocacy!

The fun of living in a place with issues, is that you have plenty of time to think of creative solutions. I have been doing alot of that and been at times overwhelmed with all the possibilities to make positive change. Many of these ideas have not come into fruition as I have been busy with other things. The exciting thing now has been to watch ideas I have been thinking of coming into fruition without me. It makes me happy to see a community thinking creatively without outside help. I feel overjoyed just to be an advocate for ideas. By being open to helping, I am increasingly becoming a sounding board and network for others to plug into. I will tell more, but just wanted to share in the joy of seeing my little baby ideas growing on their own without me. I let them go greatful that I don't have to own the burden of things left undone.

Senza ukusebenza,
(my attempt at saying in xhosa, we are going to do work)

Matt Kellen

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wheel Chair Basketball and Riding in an Ambulance

A couple new activities have made their way into my odd life here. Today was my first day of wheel chair basketball. Every Wednesday at 11, a Thembekile and I pile into the school van and roll up to the indoor basketball courts in the township. It was a blast and has opened up an opportunity to maybe get a better wheel chair for him.

Tuesday, my buddy Shane and I went down to the local ambulance service to sign up as ride along volunteers. This was sparked after a rough encounter with an unconcious white male freshman at Rhodes University. My fried John and I had come home from the computer labs at the University and found this still unknown student laying in a fetal position out in front of our house. After John checked his vitals and breathing, we determined he was breathing. A car rolled up and offered to help. We called for an ambulance. After waiting 10 minutes and hearing that sometimes it takes an hour and a half to get an ambulance, we with the help of some drunk passers by were able to get the kiddo into the back of the kind stranger's car. Shortly after getting him into the car he started vommiting all over the seats.

Apon arriving at the hospital there were not docotors dressed in scrubs helping the victim onto a stretcher. Nope, we loaded the student into a wheelchair still not verbally responding or giving eye contact. As we rolled in the nurses glanced at our vomit machine and said we had to fill out a blue card at the other office. We rolled our friend to the other window where there was no one and the janitor said he would be back now now (meaning it would take 10 minutes). After 10 minutes of waiting a short fella said to us as he entered his office, why didn't you have the nurses help. The nurses (who told us to go to get the blue card) were just sitting around. Still passed out, we rolled the kid to a bed and John and I put him in ourselves. By this time it had taken about an hour from start to finish. We left him in unsure hands with no wallet to his name or i.d. to recognize him. WOW. So now I want to get involved and see what is the deal.

I am excited to see another part of Grahamstown. It gets bad here at the end of the month on when pensions come in. People get absolutely trashed and do very stupid things. I have always wanted to know more about first aide. What better way than hands on. At least hands on with layers apon layers of rubber gloves.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hogsback Thrills

I just returned from a 4 day trip to Hogsback. I had gone in December to spend time at an underpriveleged camp of 60 + campers. This time I went with students from the After School Program. With the help from the brothers of the Monastery who helped fund the trip, and the incredible help of Sarah and Ms. Myeki, a co-teacher and friend, we had an incredible time. Having to cook and plan and be responsible for 10 kids between ages 11 and 15 was a lot to juggle, but it all went well. To be able to open the world up to kids who have only been in Grahamstown and show kids how important teamwork and challenging oneself, and see tangible personal accomplishment is a true blessing. To see attitudes change and confidence build in a person never ceases to amaze me and give me hope. Every morning we went for a walk to a different waterfall, then would spend the afternoon doin team building activities, and personal challenges such as repelleng down a 9m tower and jumping from a telephone pole to a trapeze (while roped in to a harness).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Front Page News

The following is a picture of the front page news of Cape Times (Cape Town Newspaper). If you feel up to it, play "Find the missionaries." My friend and fellow missionary John were at the enthronement of Bishop Thabo Makhoba. The other picture is of John and I overlooking the city of Capetown from Lion's Head a hilly mountain overlooking capetown. Pictures are taken courtesy of John Simpson.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Front Page News

Myself and fellow missionary John visiting from Uganda drove to Capetown to see the installment of the primate and Archbishop of Capetown. Bishop Thabo was the bishop from my diocese in Grahamstown before being elected to his new esteemed position. At 47 he is the youngest Archbishop of South Africa. It was a grand affair in the Capetown cathedral including such esteemed guests as the former Arch Bishop Tutu a major player in the reconciliation of post Apartheid South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize. Several times at the after party Tutu got in my way while trying to introduce myself to others. Just kidding. The man truly has a presence as does the new Arch Bishop Thabo. The president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki was very candid and funny when formally congratulating the new arch bishop saying he had many things to confess of mistakes he has made and that later he should discuss in private who should change their first name to avoid confusion and false blame on the new archbishop Thabo Makhoba. John and I made the front page news of Cape Times (Capetown Newspaper) as we observed Bishop Thabo's procession in the background.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Best Friday

I had the best Good Friday of my life this year. I decided to spend my holy week (from Maunday Thursday to Easter Sunday) at the monastery this year. The brothers were very hospitable and I was able to spend the weekend flooded with beautiful symbolism and tradition. After school on Thursday as the students left for the fall holiday I walked out to the monastery to spend some time reflecting on my time here as well as looking to what next year come July might offer. I enjoyed the evening with my after school students walking the dirt road to the monastery in the dark watching kids be kids, singing dancing, holding hands. Holiday was about to begin for them and I sang along. Just by them calling me Mti (my xhosa name which means tree) I felt welcomed into their joy. We all sat and waited for service to begin as we picked elder berries nibbled on the sour fruit and spit out the pits.

After the service of foot washing and prayer came the opportunity for fasting of food and silence. To symbolize and partake in the even in scripture where Jesus asks his disciples to stay up with him, I took my hour of silent prayer and vigil from 12:30 to 1:30. All who stayed at the monastery took a time of the night and early morning to pray before the sunrise service on Good Friday. During this time on Good Friday I was able to attend sunrise service, morning prayer, midday prayer, and the Good Friday reading of the Passion of Christ. I broke my fast on Friday to have an amazing meal with Noma Miasi (helper of the after school program and grandmother or caretaker of many of the students). I felt so welcomed into her home and family. I could tell she was excited to have me in her home as much as I was excited to eat her food. Playing uno in the dining room before the meal with the kids made me feel like one of the family.

I left the meal high as a kite as we returned to the monastery, the kids and I parading through the fields over, and under and through barb wire fences to play rugby and go to the Good Friday service. After the service I returned to my fasting and silence engrossed in a book about finding vocation. I read the book through sitting next to a fireplace soaking up its light and heat. In Sam Portaro's book "Crossing the Jordan" about vocation I was comforted as I read about Christ and his challenges and attempts to find his place and prepare for his ministry, requiring him to cross the Jordan to live with the gentiles and face many challenges and questions, and make mistakes to find what would be the most amazing vocation of living God's will towards his own death and resurection.

I read the short book cover to cover and in silence and in my hunger I felt comforted and assured that while I don't know where I will be in three and a half months, it will come and with my heart in the right place I will go where I am called.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wish you were here:

These images had me wishing y'all could have been here to experience this amazing hike. We hiked 9kilometers barefoot hiking along the beach. After our hike we stayed at an incredible hut overlooking the dolphins playing in the waves. The next day we hiked over 8 kilometers over sand dunes. What an incredible experience. Photos are taken courtesy of Sarah Jackson.

Friday, February 29, 2008


While the U.S. Dollar is doing well against the South African Rand as of late, I still cannot help to shop for bargains. After a long week, I revelled in the opportunity to run errands in town. One errand of consisted of checking out from the public library, children's xhosa books that I attempt to read to students. While there I found some real gems. I found 3 National Geographic magazines that had articles of the Northwest, one an article on Washington, The John Muir Trail in Northern California, and The Pacific Crest Trail. The other magazines had articles on Nepal, and a couple south african countries, two of which came with maps the cost me the equivalent of 3cents a piece. I also checked out some Emily Dickenson and Thoreau. What a find. There is nothing like looking at pictures of Bloomsday race in Spokane taken from a helicopter, pike place market, Mt. St. Helen's, and the sun setting over the beach in the Olympics. Ahhh......Country road. Take me home. To the place where I belong......

I did come away with a book to read to students as well.

Oh, and I found some old keyboards at the local computer shop that they donated. This will give my friend, security guard and computer tutee Isaiah, something to work practice with at home.

South African Resource Room

A photo of two students I work with at one of my schools. I share a classroom with an inconsistent schedule so sometimes I set up shop outside, which is nice on sunny days like this photo. Items worthy of notice: Students are sitting in chairs, however the makeshift desks are amputees delicately balanced for one student with his left hand. The other student has it leaning against his chair. These broken chairs are a glimpse of what kids find to do with their time when not learning. Also, you may notice the lovely decor of the tree in the background. I refer to it as South African Tinsel (barbed wire). Believe it or not one of the students swiftly scaled the tree to fetch a frisbee on the roof a while back. I was amazed and frightened at the same time. His climb seemed, to me, too well practiced.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This is why I am here

This photo was taken while I sat with a couple students one evening after visiting the shelter. We sat on the steps overlooking the city. I remember thinking to myself, this is how I want to remember my time here.

Today brought another "aha" moment. For teachers and family of teachers you know the aha moment, the moment in which a child realizes he or she is capable. I was not expecting it either. A 15 year old student had been referred to me by a teacher and I wanted to do a quick assessment to figure out where to start. I first assessed whether or not he knew his letter sounds. He knew them well and so made the assumption that he would be able to read a difficult text. When I showed him the text he gave me a blank stare as if to say, you want me to read this. I then pulled out a simple cvc (consonant vowell consonant) book called Dan the Tan Man.

He took the book and stated in broken English "I cannot read that." At this point I decided I would spare the poor kid from trying anything too difficult and damaging his self confidence. I gave him a simple worksheet where he had to listen to me say the simple word and he would pick the letters that needed to be blended to make the complete word. After a couple examples he was able to pick it up. I showed him some flash cards where he had the "an" and "ad" cards as well as some other letters. We sounded out "an" and "ad" first then I placed a letter in front of the "an" and "ad" cards and he blended them together. After he had built his confidence with this, I then showed him the small book "Dan the Tan Man." He read the book brilliantly. I told him he should be proud of himself. I then gave him the book and he proceeded to read the book to several teachers.

Later that afternoon in conversation with June, Ntombekia and Sarah, of the after school program, "What happened today is why I am a teacher." Who knows what tomorrow has, but today was incredible for both the student and I.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This is a photo of "the boys" working hard at the after school program.

Working at the Monastery with the kiddos.

Back Into Routines

School is rocking and rolling. There are some times in the week I wonder what I am doing here. I will sit in a classroom and try to teach a new game to kids who speak only xhosa and have learning disabilities and think to myself "What am I even attempting to accomplish." But then there are days like Friday when I was able to see progress with a stuggling reader, help get a student a new wheel chair, recieve and start paperwork to get a student to a special needs school. Ministry outside of work is going well. I have started up Thursday night Tacos at the house and have been getting into some really cool conversations with roomates and friends over tacos. The security guard at Amasango asked for help with keyboarding so Sunday afternoons I teach him keyboarding and computer skills. Working with him is such a breath of fresh air. He wants to learn and is picking up skills quickly. Life has picked up the pace and I am loving it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First Days Of School

It is the first week of school, and the chaos pandemic has hit Amasango. Students from highschool roam around listlessly waiting for uniforms, while security guards try to keep kids in classrooms. The photocopier doesn't work so I am the the bike courier making copies at the other school I work at. I have started working with 3 of my students, but am trying to avoid the mayhem and help out at in the office at the same time. Everyone has kept a level head, and for the most part been civil. I have a love/hate relationship with the education system here. I have the autonomy to do what needs to be done when I think it needs to be done, but on the flipside, others have the same freedom but choose often times to do much less than what needs to be done. There are many reasons for this however. It is impossible to lay a finger on one person, rather, its the whole system. About 20 students came to Grahamstown yesterday from Whitworth (college in my home town). Within a couple hours, I was able to identify a sister in law of a fellow soccer player, a sister of a fellow teacher at Finch Elementary, a friend of a room mate of mine in University, and a close friend of Sarah Jackson (volunteer coming to Grahamstown at the end of the month).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tally Me Banana, Daylight Come.........

I realized as I peeled my banana before starting to type that I will never look at this fruit in the same way after my trip to Uganda. It to me was that yellow thing that goes good with peanut butter and honey, or what funny cartoon characters trip on the peel of and fall into neatly stacked cans of beans in the center aisle. I now have a fruit that is my portal to remembering the heat and dirt of Uganda; being offered fruit from outside the windows of our bus as we travelled by entrepreneurial vendors in competition for our purchase of bananas, peanuts, water, plantains; bicycles loaded to the maximum with jerry cans of water, boxes, bags of rice and bunches of bunches of bananas; picking bananas from the market for breakfast, and sitting on the beach spitting out invading ants as I delight in its unique taste while watching hornbills fly overhead and herons wading in the shallows on lake victoria; thinking I am eating potatoes when I am really eating cooked bananas; staring longingly at the banana trees stacked with bananas and offering cool shade in the yards of locals as we (John, Jesse and I) pant and wine in the mid-day heat longing for shade and water engulfed in the smells of sewage and burning trash, kicking up dust as we drag our feet.

In teacher terms I have a new schema for what a banana is. I have new experiences to connect with my prior knowledge of what a banana is. Peeling this banana, I realize this is what life is all about, finding new meaning to what we thought we knew everything about. I am finding that life to me is about finding more full understanding to words we hear over and over, faith, hope, love, family, friendship, grace, commitment, endurance, frustration, joy, confusion, fear, courage, overwhelm, community. The more we live and experience the more full the meanings become to us and the better we can share this with others.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Play By Play

For a play by play of my adventures in Uganda with pictures, check out the blogsite of my traveling companions Jesse, and John.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ready to settle

It has been a wild ride for the last month and a half of traveling, volunteering, and seeing first hand the issues of the South Africa and Uganda. Being able to see my fellow Y.A.S.C. missionaries in their element, making the most of their situations and loving those in their communities has really made my experience incredible here. We shared our experiences, trials, and solutions, discussed our desires for future endeavors, and reminisced of the past. I return to Grahamstown, South Africa refreshed and ready for the school year soon to start.

P.S. I don't have any pictures of Uganda. Would you believe I forgot my camera. I may be able to borrow a couple photos from fellow travelers. Jesse is an amazing photographer, with an eye for the cultural differences and subtle beauty of the places we traveled over the last month.