Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Christmas greetings from Cape Town! More to come on how we celebrated together in Cape Town, but I wanted to share a few images from my past two days here. I am so thankful to share this time with Amanda, Ann, and Jessie. We've celebrated, laughed, decorated, cooked, sung, cried, given, and received together. It has been a good Christmas so far, and I look forward to the rest of our time here.

Merry Christmas, and let us continue walking together.
Peace be with you.

"Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord." Luke 2:10-11

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Slow down. Quiet. It's Advent."

Advent greetings from Mthatha. This is a season of expectant waiting, preparation, and one of my very favorite times of year. In Sewanee we used to have, “Slow down. Quiet. It’s Advent,” signs up around All Saint’s. As it was then with the busy nature of the end of the semester, these past few weeks have been full of preparations for the end of the year at Itipini...

We had a World AIDS Day program at the beginning of the month. The older kids designed and painted posters for the day, the choir sang, and Yoliswa, who has been my language tutor, was our guest speaker. We also had an AMM staff lunch outing last week. It was great to have everyone together outside of work to share a meal. Probably the biggest event of the month though has been preschool graduation. Last Friday, twenty-two very eager five and six year olds proudly received graduation certificates from Itipini Preschool. It was a pretty exciting day to say the least.

I’ve also tried to decorate my rondavel with a bit of festive cheer, and we’ve had two very successful braais (Afrikaans for barbeque) here at the hospital to take advantage of the warm weather this time of year brings to South Africa. The picture from the coast was taken in Chinsta where I travelled with three AMM volunteers for a weekend to relax. Not a bad view from our room, huh? This past weekend, it was also great to have a visit from Travis, a fellow YASCer, who came up for a visit from Grahamstown.

While it has been hard to be away from home at a time when that seems most familiar, I’m enjoying spending this season in a new context. I’ve been trying to slow down, find moments of quiet, and get ready for the joy of Christmas. I’m also excited for an upcoming trip to Cape Town next week, where I’ll get to see three of my fellow YASCers and celebrate some new-to-me Christmas traditions. Enjoy the pictures, and thanks for stopping by. Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Walkin' the line between faith and fear"

These past two weeks have been two of the most challenging. There has been a combination of things that lead me say this, which include short bout with a stomach bug, tough cases at the clinic, and missing family and friends. Thankfully, I’m feeling much better and have a little more perspective with which I can look back at those situations. At the clinic, three cases in particular have stood out. Ones that have caused me ask a lot of “Why is this happening?” questions. One involved a three-year-old boy who was for all intents and purposes abandoned by his mother. For two weeks he passed between relations who live at Itipini. When we heard about his situation at the clinic, a social worker was contacted, he received a much-needed bath, some new clothes, and treatment for his ringworm. He’s now gone to stay with a grandmother out of town, but seeing this little boy toted around and talked about like an object rather than a child was difficult. When he left, more of his personality had started to come out and he was playing with the other kids, but I know his future is still very uncertain. I also realize he is one of many children like this at Itipini, in Mthatha, and the world.

Another case involved a woman in her late thirties who has AIDS. She was carried in one day on a stretcher, severely dehydrated and unable to stand. Ben, another volunteer, and I took her to another clinic to receive IV fluids. We brought her home at the end of the day, but the following morning as we drove into Itipini, we were stopped by people telling us she had suffered seizures in the night. We took her to the emergency room, along with her sister. Seeing her and how poorly she looked was scary. I don’t think there’s another word for it. Walking out of the emergency room, I honestly thought she might die. We have since received word that she has gone with another sister to a hospital closer to her homeland in another part of the country.

Finally, this Thursday a young girl, an older woman, and a tiny newborn baby came up to the clinic just as we were packing up to leave. After talking with Jenny and Sister Dorothy, we learned that the young girl of just thirteen had been raped and had just delivered the baby a few days before in the hospital. They all came back Friday to open a new file for the baby, talk about breastfeeding, and how they were all doing. All three of these lives have changed dramatically.

I still have no answer for the “why” questions for what is happening in the lives of all these people. I have been able to see some hope in all three situations though, in that there appear to be family members who are there to help--a grandmother, sisters, and a mother. These individuals have also showed me how important our work at Itipini is whether it’s getting people to the hospital, counseling new mothers, offering a hug to a little boy, or being present with people during times of great pain. We’re doing what we can as best we can, and that is something.

To help balance out these difficult experiences at work and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m thankful to hear updates from family and friends. Conversations, meals shared together, and listening to some good music here at Bedford have also been very welcome. Plus, as you’ll see in some of the pictures there have been many happy times at Itipini too-- including the futbol team posing with their new jerseys, checking out new books in the library, and lots of playing. These have been challenging weeks. Ones that have shown be moments of great pain and love.

Thank you for reading, and peace be with you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Do what you can."

Outside of my rondavel there is a plaque. It was put up in memory of Dr. Chris McConnachie, who came to South Africa over thirty years ago with his wife Jenny, to begin the work that would become African Medical Mission. One of Dr. McConnachie's, or "Prof's," favorite phrases is inscribed on the plaque. It reads, "Do what you can." At the beginning of my third month here in Mthatha, I'm beginning to more fully understand this statement. At times the level of poverty, lack of resources, high rates of HIV and TB that we see daily at Itipini Community Project seem overwhelming. I try to remember Prof's words when I start to feel as if there is little I can do to make a difference. I also keep Micah 6:8 with me, He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” These are two phrases that have been on my mind lately, and I hope stay with me through the coming year. They bring me comfort, but also push me to act and learn from others.

I have also been thankful for the community of volunteers that live here at Bedford and from others working in Mthatha to do what they can. The picture I’ve posted is from one of our Wednesday night dinners that occurs weekly at Jenny’s house. This is a time for good conversation, great food, and to talk about how things are going in our lives. These gatherings and others like them are highlights of my weeks here. They also remind me that, “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are folk just like me, and I mean to be one too” (Hymn 293, BCP).

Happy All Saints’ Sunday!

Hope this finds you all doing well, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On the universality of fascination with fire trucks, juice stains, and other thoughts.

Friday was one of my favorite days so far. It was field trip day for the preschool. All week the anticipation had been building in the community about the big day, and I was getting excited about being the “support car” for the day. I was to follow the big bus in our new AMM volunteer car, carrying the all important picnic supplies, helping chaperone, and available to run ahead to let each location know we were on the way.

The road leading to Itipini can be quite rough in some places, but the big passenger bus wound its way slowly into the project. Upon its arrival, the children’s departure soon became a community wide event. As we walked down the hill to the bus, the kids and their parents sang and danced in celebration. People peered out from their homes, and soon quite a crowd had gathered to send the children off for the day.

We made our way to the fire station first, where Chief Le Kaye met with the kids. We learned about “Stop, Drop, and Roll” and how to dial “112” in case of emergency. There I saw that fascination with fire trucks and firemen seem to stretch beyond borders, and reminded me of how much I looked forward to Fire Safety Week at Alpine Crest Elementary. It meant a visit from the fire station, drawing colorful evacuation plans for our houses, and fire drills that seemed to me kind of like a recess bonus round as we filed out into the sunshine of the playground. The Itipini preschoolers looked on in awe when the sirens and lights flashed on the truck, and we all laughed as one of the little boys was dressed in fire gear that enveloped him.

The next stop was the Nelson Mandela Museum. There the kids were led around, looking and listening to the story of a man who was once a young boy raised in the same part of the country where they are growing up. One highlight from the museum was seeing the kids react to the recreation of the cell where Mandela lived on Robben Island. All of the kids tried to squeeze inside the tiny cell at once, and imagine life in such a small space. In the last room of the museum there is a video playing with scenes from Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration, and at one point a choir starts singing the South African National Anthem. Without any prompting, the preschoolers all started singing along.

The National Anthem of South Africa is unique in that it contains five different languages and combines lyrics from the old national anthem, the Methodist hymn/song of defiance under apartheid “Nkosi Siskelel’ iAfrika,” and some original lyrics. This hybrid song asks God to bless Africa, bless her children, end conflicts, and concludes with a call to, “Let us live and strive for freedom in South Africa our land.” Hearing and seeing the children from Itipini spontaneously sing these words in the Nelson Mandela Museum was really quite something. In that moment I saw hope for their future, and for further reconciliation in this nation. The children from Itipini are living examples of the economic disparity that still exists, but in their singing, they were also it seems to me, showing that they are not bound to this identity only. They are children who are learning what words like “freedom,” “reconciliation,” “unity,” “hate,” and “love” mean for their country and in their own lives. And for me, they were strong reminders of the power of the human voice…especially in song. It brought to mind this quote from Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces: When it is genuine, when it is born of the need to speak, no one can stop the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all. Because every single one of us has something to say to the others, something that deserves to be celebrated or forgiven by others. "

From the museum it was on to Nduli Nature Reserve. Nduli is right outside of downtown Mthatha. We made the winding loop around Nduli, seeing some antelopes and wildebeest. Gathering in the picnic area, hot dogs were cooked, apples were eaten, chips were crunched, and juice was spilled. There I observed that just as little kids’ fascination with fire trucks appears to be universal, so too it seems is the ability for the juice from juice boxes to some how end up all over white t-shirts.

After lunch and playing at Nduli it was time to head back to Itipini. Much like our send-off, the community was waiting for our arrival. Mothers greeted their children as if they had been gone for a year, and songs were sung in celebration of our return from a day full of adventures. As the kids disembarked, it began to sprinkle, and then as if right on cue, a rainbow appeared. It accompanied the preschool teachers and me on the way home. All around, it was a very good day.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Good Sunday. This weekend I decided to stay in Mthatha to catch up on some reading, writing, and to update you all on what's been happening. It's been a relaxing past couple of days. This morning I visited the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist for the first time. This is the big Anglican cathedral downtown, and it was good to be at the service. For the passing of the peace, everyone in the congregation held hands--across aisles and over pews--to all stand and sing together in peace. It was pretty great.

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the Nelson Mandela Museum, which is just a block away from St. John's. Mandela is from the area is this one of three museums that tell his story. I really enjoyed the museum, and the history nerd in me was interested in the way his stories were told. Being there also made me realize how influential many of my classes at Sewanee were on my decision to apply to YASC, and how my own history is being shaped by my time here...more on that later.

This Columbus Day weekend, for you all in the States, I decided I'd share a little bit from my past couple of weekends to give you a few pictures of Coffee Bay, Grahamstown, and Addo Elephant Park. Last weekend's visit to Coffee Bay was beautiful, and I went on a great hike to Hole in the Wall. It was a relaxing and fun weekend, and definitely a place to go back to over the year. Grahamstown two weekends ago gave me a glimpse of a very European city in South Africa, and one where education is the main industry. I was so happy to see Travis, one of my fellow YASCers, and to get caught up on the last few months. Addo Elephant Park was also a fun day trip adventure from Grahamstown. Lots of elephant sightings, and thankfully we were able to safely alight from our vehicle without a lion encounter. Anyway, here are a few pictures from the weekends...Hope you enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Happenings at Itipini

It's the start of my third week here, and I thought I'd share some scenes from a Monday at Itipini. Today a truck came to pick up the cardboard that members of the recycling crew here have been collecting for the past few months, and will help generate income for one of the new sustainability projects in the community. Some of the kids worked in the garden this afternoon to get it ready for new Spring plants, and the preschoolers enjoyed an afternoon snack. Work in the clinic has been going well so far, and it's nice to start recognizing patients, staff, and other community members. My basic Xhosa is starting to improve too, and my first official language lesson later this week will be very welcome.

This past weekend I was able to take a trip to Grahamstown to see a new place and to meet up with Travis, one of my fellow YASCers. It was a really nice weekend, complete with great company, elephants, Thai food, running into a former Sewanee student (such a small world), and a beautiful drive. In my next post I hope to include more about the trip, including some pictures and video from the weekend, but for now here are some scenes from life at Itipini...
(Apologies for funky formatting today. The internet is not being very friendly here tonight.)

Thanks for stopping by, and peace.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Greetings from Mthatha!

Here was the view from my window as I arrived in Johannesburg last Sunday. It's hard to believe I've been here almost a week, and there's already so much to tell. After a nearly 16 hour plane ride from Atlanta to Johannesburg, I was greatful for a restful night's stay at the Afton Guest House. Then it was up for an early morning flight to Mthatha. Jenny McConnachie, who is the nurse I will be working with this year at Itipini, met me at the airport and since then has been my guide for the week.

Monday through Friday I spent my days in Itipini, where I have been able to meet some of the community. Most of my time thus far has been helping out in the clinic by finding patients' medical cards, packing pills, logging treatments for the day, and helping give TB patients their daily regimens. Tuesday is baby day at the clinic, and there were nearly 70 babies and mothers treated by Jenny and Sister Dorothy who are the two nurses on staff at the clinic. One of the highlights of my morning is going to prayers at the preschool...this usually entails a hundle of little ones standing in a circle outside singing, clapping, and dancing as the teachers lead them in song. It can't help but make me smile, and hope that one day soon I'll know the Xhosa words so that I can join in with them.

Other highlights of this week have included dinner at Jenny's house on Thursday with an American volunteer who works at Beford Orthopedic Hospital as a physical therapist and a South African medical student here in Mthatha. Jenny hosts these weekly at her home for volunteers. It was a great time to relax, enjoy some tasty lasagna, and have some good conversations (somehow we managed to cover topics from the ongoing strikes at local schools here in Mthatha to Dolly Parton). Grocery shopping was another fun adventure at the local SuperSpar, and today I had my second try at driving a stick shift...although I have to admit driving on a new side of the road and with taxi drivers who generally pay little attention to others on the road, made it a little trickier. I've got a year to get it down though, and I hope to at least semi-master the roads of Mthatha by then.

All in all it's been a really good first week here. I'm learning a lot about the African Medical Mission, and I'm seeing how my role here will take shape for the coming year. The rondavel where I'm living at Bedford Hospital is really nice, and I'm getting the hang of knowing when the water is on and off...and when it's hot. Jenny has been such a help in getting me oriented, and I look forward to being able to explore more of Mthatha and South Africa on my weekends off.

There's much more to come, and I hope to have pictures from Itipini, Mthatha, and Bedford Hospital up soon to give you more of a glimpse into my live in Mthatha so far.


Friday, September 10, 2010


I can't believe it, but tomorrow is the big day. I'll leave in the afternoon from Chattanooga for Atlanta then it's on to Johannesburg. After a short stay overnight, I'll arrive in Mthatha early morning of September 13th. Wow.

I've had wonderful send offs from Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Sewanee that have included a bonfire, a commissioning, a sermon, pool side chats, Thai food, and porch sitting. Today I have some time to spend with my parents, run my last errands, play with Lou the dog and Max the cat...oh and finish up this packing business.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


The video link below was one that was shared with our YASC group while we were in Toronto. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes her own experiences with stories and finding your voice. It has helped me a lot in thinking about the power of stories and my own role in sharing them over the next year. When you have a few minutes, take a look. Also, TED Talks in general are pretty great, so check them out.

TEDTalks: Chimamanda Adichie

Peace be with you, and let us walk together.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Here we go...

Greetings and welcome to my blog where I hope to share my year in service as a member of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) in Mthatha, South Africa. YASC is a part of the Episcopal Church’s Mission Personnel Office and gives young adults the opportunity to engage globally in international mission work. In September I will be leaving for Mthatha, South Africa where I will spend a year working with the Itipini Community Project, a part of the African Medical Mission. I am excited and humbled by this opportunity to immerse myself in new communities where I will be exploring themes of community, reconciliation, love, mission, and partnership in my own life and in the life of the Anglican Communion.

This quote from Lila Watson helps guide my approach to the coming year that will be spent as a missionary of the Episcopal Church. So too is John 13:34-35 where Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I probably never would have guessed that I would be a missionary and still sometimes cannot believe that this is where I am headed next. However, the time I have spent with my fellow YASCers at our discernment weekend in Florida, our two week orientation in Toronto, and my growing understanding of the Episcopal perspective on mission have helped me to see that this year is about partnership. This year will be about recognizing that we are working together to understand our lives and our stories, and to do so in love. I have a feeling that this year will teach me much about mutual liberation and what it means to live out Christ’s command to love.

As I prepare to for my time in South Africa, I am currently in the midst of fundraising, getting my visa, and spending time with friends and family. I know that this journey would not be possible without the support of my wonderful parents, my family, my friends, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Sewanee community, and the many individuals who have brought me to this decision that has been twenty-three years in the making. With little more that a month before I make my way to Mthatha, I look forward with great hope and openness towards a year that will be unlike any other. A dear friend reminded me of a quote from The Little Prince that sums up much of what I feel, "I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand!" This year I will be leaving many friends, but also know that they will share in this time of great discovery and new understanding with me.

Peace be with you, and let us walk together.