Sawubona! It’s been a month here in South Africa! Yes, it feels like my trip is almost over; we still have about 8 weeks left. We have been living on-campus in Pietermaritzburg for the last four weeks and it has been absolutely awesome.
This last week has been astonishing in so many different ways. Our cohort is beginning to grow together and build deep relationships. The culture here is feeding into us; relationships hold more value than the tasks we can accomplish.
I have been attending a church called North Hills the past few weeks and the impact it’s had on me is mind-boggling. I have begun to develop connections and relationships within the church and I have come to realize how much value is put on family. At the most recent service I attended, my new friend Maddie and I were asked to join a family while they took communion. A lady named Kim, a leader in the church, looked at both of us and declared “We are your family and this is your home. We are from very different places, but we still share the same Dad.” This moment couldn’t have been more pivotal. Previously, throughout the week and even the car ride to church, I found myself in conversations about home and about love and how everything seems to be a bit shaken right now. God’s timing on this trip has be astronomical.
But throughout these last four weeks, I have begun to develop an understanding of the value of human connection. I have started to grasp the reality that some people here have absolutely nothing, absolutely zero material possessions, but are happy as can be simply because of the people they have around them. Their situation or circumstance is only a slight inconvenience; the love they put out to their neighbors is the most valuable thing that is so evident here.
I am serving with a non-government organization called YFC (Youth for Christ). The organization partakes in a ton of social work, waging from homeless children to at-risk youth in townships. I serve in a unofficial township called ‘Swapo,’ under a lady named Cynthia. Cynthia is absolutely awesome. Her dream is to come to the United States and teach, but unforutnialy is too old for the work-eligibility program she desired to be a part of.
Every day, we work with children as they pour into the single room building to say a prayer, receive a small life-lesson, and get a meal. Most kids leave once they’ve got their meal, but some of the older kids have stayed back the last few weeks to rehearse their song and dance for ‘Heritage Day.’ Friends have asked me for photos of the kids, but because of the high rate of child trafficking, I have been asked not to post any photos of the children’s faces.
The last two weekends, I’ve had the opportunity to join my cohort in zip-lining and shark cage diving.
Zip-lining was amazing. It took two or three attempts to get comfortable managing the line, but our lead guide explained each line and how to manage it with confidence. I never felt unsafe, but rather more focusing on controlling the orientation of my body. Once I was settled and comfortable, I began to notice the amazing forest we were in. The thick trees were dense, yet strong enough to hold dozens of bolts and anchor systems to create the zipline system. The colors were amazing. Rich greens, bright blues, and dark browns all combined to create an artistic landscape. The sounds of the area were also intriguing. In the midst of the loud hum of the zip line, the overwhelming sound of birds chirping filled the air. Every now and the then, there would be absolute silence only to interrupted by a fellow zip-liner or our tour guide explain the next line.
Shark diving was, well, shark diving. We did what’s called a baited shark snorkel. That’s where the lead divers anchored a ‘bait’ jug filled with food and sharks would come and hang out. These sharks were friendly; they are comfortable swimming with humans. There would be 8-10 sharks at a given time. They would swim up and bump you, not caring at all what you were doing. Every time a shark would come by me, a shot of adrenaline would shoot through my body; my mind was trained to be terrified of the creatures. According to the people around me, I might have yelped a few times. A lot of people got sea-sick, but I was so exhilterated that I was swimming with sharks my mind couldn’t fathom throwing up.
In the coming weeks, I have the opportunity to travel with my biology class, diving into the environment and wildlife of South Africa. I’ll even visit a game reserve and go on safari with my cohort. Then our travel week, where we travel to Cape Town and the nearby areas. We even get to go adventuring inside caves.
I cannot wait to see what I bring back home with me. The conversations I’ve had and the connections I have made have been mind-opening. I so excited to see what the rest of the semester has for myself and my cohort.