Friday, February 27, 2009

unwritten codes

We were very excited when Isaac's class announced that they would be holding a 'Bring and Braai' on Wednesday night. There would be braai (barbeque) fires all over the grounds and people could come and bring their blankets and dinners and meat and sit around together. We approached with some trepidation as middle-class Mthatha culture is almost an unknown to us and we do not understand the unwritten codes here. We have found ourselves at events that seemed to have been understood to be blacks only. Even the university track, which we have been so grateful to find was open to the public and on which we run almost every evening, seems to be 'not what the white people do.' We are glad for our ignorance and blunder on.

So we knew going to the 'Bring and Braai' that even this term could connote whites only or blacks only and we wouldn't know. We showed up just as a rain storm was starting. Everyone huddled on the verandah and the braais were set up under the covered sandbox. The first thing we saw on the verandah was a large group of white people with their own chairs sitting in a very closed circle. We positioned ourselves on the far side among a few Xhosa families. We exchanged greetings and made small talk. At one point they encouraged us to move as we were on the side where the water was gathering. We wondered whether they were trying to get us to join 'our own.' At this time one of the white people arrived at a pre-primary braai with a bunch of beer and cigarettes. We knew that we did not belong there. We insisted on staying where we were.

The people around us continued including us in some of their conversation and talking to each other in Xhosa otherwise. We understood much of what they were saying but they didn't know that we understood and weren't addressing us so we weren't exactly included. But we knew that we felt a lot more comfortable there than in the closed circle in the other half of the room. In the end we all left with well wishes all around and announcements of what a nice evening it had been.

After three years we continue to blunder on in this world, sure of ourselves in some settings but very ignorant in others. Ignorance is so much easier to come by than courage and we thank God for it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

other perspectives

We are currently in the middle of a round of teaching in which we travel out to rural areas on 4 consecutive weekends and bring the teaching to the people. In the middle of a round like this we spend much of our time in a daze as the experience is quite intense with hosting committee members, travel, and the intensity of the time in the rural areas itself. In the middle of the week we catch up on the administrative side and keep up our usual work. In the midst of this we rarely communicate what we are doing.

So we were very pleased when a friend of ours who is serving here in Mthatha for two years went to a conference with Joe on saturday and wrote a blog entry on what he saw there. We always appreciate an outside perspective on our work here as we tend to lose perspective when immersed in the ins and outs of it. Jesse's blog is available at Other entries on his blog have great insights into Xhosa culture and the missionary dilemma.

The week before we were happy to have our friend and colleague Glyn Jones, serving with Mennonite Church Canada Witness in Gaborone Botswana, at a rural conference with us. Here is one of his pictures of a Bible study discussion group.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

a day in the life of Bethany Bible School

A few weeks before our first conference of the year, our usual venue informed us that they had given our date away and we would not be allowed to use the hall or hostels on the weekend that we had reserved them. We scrambled to find a new location and found one with excellent facilities but many kilometers off the road. On Friday afternoon, Joe and another student who has a car did shuttle runs from town to the new location to get all of the students there. On one of the trips we saw a group of four who were simply making their way there, eager to be there and not waiting around for a lift. They had suitcases on their heads and blankets in their arms. This was an encouraging sign to us.

On Saturday, the morning began with an interactive lecture by Joe with Mama Tshandu translating.

Some students wrote notes.

Moses, Kazimla, and Siya enjoyed the singing and also listened to some of the discussion.

Students broke into four discussion groups to work through a passage from Leviticus.

After the teaching and a late lunch there was time for fellowship, further discussion, and sorting out committee business.

Overall we were very encouraged by the weekend--by the initiatives that the committee took, the leadership of the new deputy chairperson, and the response to the teaching.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

house blessing

It is one of those culturally difficult things for us--that it is more polite to invite yourself over to someone's house than to invite them over to yours. Having been unable to help us on moving day, our church announced that they were going to come over on Saturday and spend the day with us. In inviting themselves to our house they intended to bless us but we awaited the day with some apprehension, not knowing how many were coming or exactly when or what would be expected of us. Five mamas arrived a little before noon with five kids and some food to cook for us.

It did turn out to be a blessing. While the meat and papa (stiff cornmeal porridge) cooked, we talked. Sis Nandi asked for a Bible to 'open the word' for a newer member who was there.

Mama Ntapo asked to see and hear Joe's mandolin and then tried to play it herself.

The kids played outside with blocks and then the boys took them into their room and were very impressed by the Lego houses that were made.

And in the end we didn't even have to do the thing which is most difficult for us--to release our guests. In our culture, it is the host's responsibility to make the guests feel welcome as long as they want to be there. In this culture it is the host's responsibility to tell their guests that they can leave. This is incredibly difficult for us to do as we feel like we are shooing them out the door. But in this case, their taxi arrived to convey them home without us having to release them--a great relief to us. And now our house has been blessed by the care and love of our friends.