Wednesday, September 24, 2008

we walk the line

We are rejoicing because Isaac got into the school we wanted him in. I didn't realise that I was nervous about whether he would get in until the day arrived to find out and I was getting very snappy and unpleasant. I went in to look at the list and there he was:

Sawatzky, Isaac

We went out for celebratory pizza and came back to pay his deposit. By this point, the only people left standing around were those dealing with the disappointment that their child was on the extensive waiting list or not there at all. I had to walk past them to sign beside my child's name to show that I accepted the place. This was hard to do.

I felt my position of privilege. This school is the only truly English medium school in Mthatha and they give priority to first language English kids. So we had more of a chance at what one friend called 'the only good school in Mthatha.'

And yet I am also not in a position of privilege. This school was our only choice. We are minorities, outsiders. If this fell through, we had no other options. We are always on the edge here - if something goes wrong, we are not absorbed back into the whole as someone else would be. We continue to develop our network of support and our language ability grows but we still do not have the safety net that we do where our families are and where we are so thoroughly ensconced in one church community.

Daily we walk this line between privileged status and minority status.


Monday, September 22, 2008

A "usual" Sunday

I remember again why we're often so tired here. Yesterday we renewed, after our three months away in America, our relationship with a small "Pentecostal" (for lack of a more precise description) congregation on a location just outside town. We arrived at 10 am ("like usual", the pastor confirmed to me over the phone), but didn't begin (like usual, I say) until nearer 11. You see, it had rained the day before, and the little church structure with the leaky roof had too much standing water. So we waited a bit longer than "usual" to get started at the house of one of the mamas in order that people who might be going first to the "usual" site could make their way over to the house.

We know this well. And we usually plan accordingly. We time our morning routine in our house just so so that we will show up just about the time we suppose the service will actually start on a given Sunday. But, as it has happened, the pastor and indeed other members, have scolded the church for "arriving late in the house of God". And so, sometimes, we with our three-boy circus show have arrived after things have already started. And then we remember the renewed push to start on time. And then we feel bad for discouraging their good efforts by our tardy example, or so our thoughts go. And we do want to encourage promptness.

So, now we've got the game down, right? Wrong. We arrive promptly, with our three boys. We wait around for an hour, with our three boys, for the service to begin. By the time the service begins, we've already used up all our lads' placidity. Four more hours lie ahead.

There are half a dozen or so mamas in the church on this Sunday and three youth. Each will come to the front and give a testimony. In between each will be a chorus many times repeated. In between all of this are some ecstatic prayers. Moses has fallen asleep on me, so too Levi upon Anna. This is good. But Moses will wake up when we are finally called to the front to share our word, this time a report about our doings in America. I bring some greetings and brief pleasantries in Xhosa. So does Anna, followed by a summary of what we told the North American churches about this little congregation in Mthatha. Anna finishes. Immediately the women begin to sing. We make to return to our seat on the couch. Pastor says to me, "aren't you going to say something?"


I preach a sermonette through his translation. He confirms the word via another word from the scripture, brilliantly done, as usual.

Now another mama, a guest on this day, will rise to bring the message for this morning. Our boys are beginning to wrestle one another on the floor at her feet. To let them go or not to let them go? They are children, after all, and it's been a long morning. I make to break it up. The pastor tells me not to worry about it. My concern, however, is respect for the speaker. I break it up. Anna takes the boys outside for awhile. She comes back in. The boys stay outside briefly, then come back in. They take up the collection. The boys are generally restless. The service ends while I am outside with them.

I talk with the pastors and a few others outside. Usually, Anna will do the same. I am aware on this day, however, that she has not left the building. And the boys also must be back inside. I assume they're having tea. "Let's get inside for tea", says the Pastor.

Another hour passes. Now it's time to go home.

This Sunday has been just a bit too long--a bit too unusually usual.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

waiting in lines

I believe in repetition. And recently I've been hearing about, from multiple sources, and experiencing a bit myself, the time-honored tradition of waiting in lines. Thousands of South Africans do this every day: at Home Affairs offices; for electricity, paraffin, and cooking gas; at ATMs; you name it, there's a queue.

While on our church speaking-tour in the states, we introduced Mthatha along these lines, that is, as a place where people wait endlessly in lines. Because it is a center of an under-serviced population, a lone city serving a vast rural population, its few services can scarcely keep up. And so the lines.

While residing here over August, a colleague from a more affluent South African city noticed the line for electricity in town at the infamous Total Garage, nearly spilling as it regularly does onto the street amidst the bustle of mini-bus taxis themselves queuing for petrol, as well as parallel lines for lottery tickets and paraffin fuel. A couple of days later, a friend reported that she had waited in line from 8 am to 2 pm while trying to make funeral preparations for her mother who had just passed away, another casualty of AIDS.

Yesterday at the post office--where people queue for various government grants, vehicle licenses, and to cash checks, aside from "conventional" mail services--we waited in a modest line on the second floor for an authorized photocopy of a birth certificate. One person after we had received what we came for, the electricity went out. "Yoh, Yoh", breathed the attendant, shaking her head. Aside from relief that we had been spared the inconvenience of those behind, my mind went to our friend and her six-hour queue. What if one has made the all-day commitment to wait in line, hoping to apply for or turn in important documentation, only to have go out the electricity on whose power the machines are powered which produce the documentation which will help bury your loved one? Generators you say? And these exist, though not everywhere. Electricity aside, there is also the reality of people waiting in long queues, uninformed and therefore unarmed of the things they really need to complete the desired transaction, sent away to yet another line. And tomorrow they may wait there. In the heat. Or the cold, depending. All day. Perhaps to hear a different story from a different attendant from this different service which really has no idea what the official policy of the other service their service is supposed to be working with actually is.

Day-after-tomorrow, anyone?