24 July, 2011
It has been a few more days and I have done a few more things in Johannesburg. A few nights ago after work, I got to see a little bit more of the city. A little background: since our regional meeting is next week, two people from the international office flew in to help set things up and make sure our office is trained to be able to help everyone else. These two were talking around lunchtime and wanted to go grab some food as a group and with some guidance from Robyn, who unfortunately couldn’t come, they decided on a Thai restaurant. So we all stayed a little later at the office (I designed a cool logo/map, I will see if I can post it) and then took off to the Thai restaurant. I rode with Zimasa and although we were a little late (got a little lost) it was good to chat with her a little bit.
At the restaurant it was great to see people outside of work and see who they all were outside of work. Also, it was rather cool to think we had four continents represented at our table, quite the diverse group all coming together for the same thing. It looks like a great group of people and it was a fun time to hang out and enjoy some good food with them. One of the two from the international office was covering for a third who had gotten sick, so David decided to call her and tell her that we missed her since we were going out. It was a fun moment because everyone at the table got to talk to her, including me, who has never met her. I was coached on how to say her name so when the phone was passed to me, everyone laughed and it was a good moment. I feel like I am becoming part of the group and this is a comforting thought for the lost American kid sitting at the table.
On Saturday, I got to sleep in a little bit which was wonderful and then decided to go check out another part of town for lunch. For those of you following along, it is in Parkview, Johannesburg. I went to Gingko, a fun and pretty hip place with healthy and good food (only parallel would be like the Whole Foods of restaurants with a little Trader Joes mixed in). I ended up getting some really good pasta with pesto with fresh mozzarella and itty-bitty tomatoes with a delicious berry and honey smoothie. I guess since it is my first time out I can treat myself but I will probably be cutting back a little bit once I am buying my own food.
All in all, a delicious lunch and I followed that up with a walk around Zoo Lake, which was about 2-3 blocks away from the restaurant. There were tons of swans and ducks and other various birds and a ton of people. It is tucked into a very nice neighborhood and it looked like people of all ages came out to enjoy the sun and rather picturesque setting.
Other than that, it has been a quiet couple of days since working all week. If you want to hear more about something or another, let me know or if there are any questions that you want to hear an answer to let me know. I appreciate all the readers and I hope that I can keep you up to date on my life and maybe hear a little back on yours every now and again.
That’s all I have,
20 July, 2011
“I want the end result of you being here to be that you enjoy being with refugees.” -Fr. David
It has been a few days and I apologize. I have jumped headfirst into my new job and it has been wiping me out quite a bit or I just need some thinking about things other than my job at the end of the day. The first three days of my job have been eventful and filled with tons of learning and a huge shift for me.
I have never held a “desk” job before (Kiewit Front desk—notwithstanding—but to be fair that wasn’t too intense) and it is going to take some getting used to. After lifeguarding and working as a resident advisor, the thought of sitting and working at a desk is an interesting one. I have never done anything like this before. The picture of my small, but completely adequate wooden desk is in one of the previous posts. This desk is in one of the warmest rooms of the entire building we are in. The Jesuit priests of Johannesburg have moved out but I have no idea how they stayed warm while they were here. These darn winter month are surprisingly cold especially with my being from the Midwest. There is not much insulation and the entire house is cold, our room has 3 people in it and 1-2 heaters, depending on if Zimasa has requisitioned one for our guests or not (currently, she has). No worries, we have been doing our best to keep the door closed and the heat in.
To address the quote at the top:
I look forward to living my life these next few months. One of the best things that I am looking forward to doing is one of the Jesuit catchphrases of being “for and with others.” If it isn’t what others have heard elsewhere, maybe it is just a Creighton thing. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the priest who actually founded the JRS, gave an address in 1973 called “Men and Women for Others.” A part of this address talks about how we can serve and make change in our world but it will be difficult. I see this difficulty ahead of me in my work with refugees and addressing the issues that they are facing. Arrupe says something will keep us going and that something “is the spirit constantly seeking the will of God.” Doing this allows us to keep renewing ourselves and adapt to new situations, says Arrupe.
My work over the next few months won’t be easy and it may not be the work that lets me sleep easy. I will have to assume some of the problems of those around me and I realize that is the way I work. I know that I will be doing some major soul searching as I go forward and I also realize that a small desk is the least of my worries. I am going to seek out the will of God and as I did last summer in the DR, I hope to recognize God in those around me and let them into my reality. The feeling of being human is something that I look to share with others as much as they share it with me.
So if you can and it is in your way, tuck in a prayer for me, or think about me now and then. It helps to know that I have the support of everyone back home. I appreciate all of the well wishes up until now but I feel/know that the hard part is yet to come. I will tuck in a prayer and a thought for all of you as well.
Thanks for reading,
17 July, 2011
Yesterday I decided to go to the Apartheid Museum on the recommendation from Robyn that it was one of the best museums in South Africa and it covered a great deal of South African history. I sure didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into but I am glad I decided to go.
First off, I had to catch a cab to the museum and this was an experience all on its own. I called a first cab number and he wasn’t available, so he referred a second cab driver. The second cab driver called and said he could pick me up. Apparently, I didn’t give him a good enough address because about 25 minutes later when I called him he said that he was still on his way but he knew where he was going now. He showed up about 50 minutes or so after my original call and took me to the museum. I enjoyed seeing the buildings and how the city was set up on my way to the Apartheid Museum. There was a lot of variance in the buildings and the neighborhoods we drove through. A bunch of buildings and streets were run down and it just looked worn down by time. Most of it was very dusty and people also looked worn as we drove through. I don’t mean anything bad by the term worn, I just mean that it seemed as if the buildings and the people had seen a lot of life and worked hard for it.
Once I made it to the Apartheid Museum, I purchased my ticket (full price, unfortunately—to those of you recently graduated or still students—never forget your student ID) and walked up to the entrance. My ticket said that I was a non-white and that gave me a different entrance into the museum. I walked past a lot of images of the papers that people would have to show if they were non-white during apartheid. That was one of the things of apartheid that either I didn’t know or didn’t remember, that everyone could be asked for papers to prove their race, but the only people asked were those who were not white. Reminds me of some similar situations going on elsewhere right now. I have to say that I was startled by how much I didn’t know and reminded of how much I still have to learn.
Once I made it down from the overlook of Johannesburg on top of the museum, which comes right after the entrance and a really cool walkway with mirrors with people on them, I went inside. I watched a movie talking about general history of South Africa that showed a lot of things that lead to apartheid. After the movie I started through the museum and the special exhibit was on Nelson Mandela.
I was already a fan but reading about the history of Nelson Mandela showed me how incredible of a man he is. I learned about how dedicated of a man he was and how much control he had over himself. In keeping himself collected, Mandela was able to show an ability to influence those around him. Although he was a political prisoner, Mandela had the respect of his guards. So much so in fact that sometimes the guards even came to him for advice and help. Impressive to say the least. Mandela has amazing skills and talents and he used these to help an entire country out of its darkest times, with grace and dignity.
Besides the Mandela exhibit, which I could go on and on about, I learned an incredible amount. At points I felt like I was just skimming the information because there was so much to take in. The news articles and stories and video clips struck home for me. People were oppressed in a way that was not fully recognized by a lot of outsiders or those experiencing it. An entire country stood divided and expected those it called non-whites to just roll over and take the brunt of the racism and segregation. Seeing how many people died to support the anti-apartheid movement was staggering and humbling. How many things would I be willing to die for? How many political movements? How many things will I stand up for? The exhibit gave me a lot to think about and is going to make me question my own standards and beliefs.
I walked out of the museum into the sunlight and tried to think about what I had just come through. I still have not put a finger on how to comprehend everything I saw and I want to go back and learn more. I spent a good two and a half hours in the museum and contemplating everything it offered and that was moving at a good clip. I will be back to visit again, soon, I think.
While eating lunch in the surprisingly upscale and delicious restaurant on the premises, I met some Americans from Pittsburgh. To Rich and Nancy from Pittsburgh, thank you for being friendly faces who recognized the Creighton Bluejay on my sweatshirt. You helped to brighten my day and let me know that I was not the only one visiting and there are good people out there. I hope you enjoy your trip.
My ride home with the same taxi driver helped to put things back into perspective for me. The driver was explaining the drive and the different parts of town and pointing out how run down parts were. He blamed a racial minority for the problems and pointed out the reasons that they were the cause of the buildings being rundown in the neighborhood. Apartheid may be dead and in a museum but the shadow of it and the racism and the intolerances it brought are still alive. I am not blaming the taxi driver for his beliefs nor do I want to judge him for beliefs that may not be his own but passed on from someone else, I just feel it necessary to reflect in myself and in my world that racism is alive in South Africa and everywhere else as well, the US is no exception. Each of us has preconceived notions about groups and communities in our heads; it is how we deal with these thoughts and stereotypes that can help make the world a better place.
Thanks for listening,
15 July, 2011
Today was pretty taxing but not in the normal physical way. It was somewhat like what I experienced in the Dominican Republic, and for you readers who may keep coming back I apologize if I reference the DR frequently—it is my only reference point at the moment. Today I was always on, there were no real breaks until dinnertime and I was trying to absorb everything. So here we go:
I woke up early this morning and decided that I needed a bit more sleep so I turned over for a few more minutes and ended up sleeping for over an hour. Guess my jetlag is present, it just doesn’t feel too bad during the daytime, my body just takes the sleep it needs. I went to breakfast and Sally, the chef, made sure I was taken care of even though I was a little late getting there. It was a tea, a big bowl of fruit, a big bowl of yogurt, some bacon/ham and some toast. I didn’t come anywhere near finishing all of the very fresh fruit (actually with one I couldn’t identify right off-orange-ish with bigger, black, hopefully edible seeds) or the yogurt and I was still stuffed.
After breakfast, I went back to my room where the staff was cleaning so I went for a little walk in the gardens. There were plenty of stairs up and down and they have a pool as well. It was quite different in the daylight and very pretty to see in the sun. As I was wandering, I heard Robyn, the JRS Advocacy and Communications Officer, call my name and remembered that I had to go. So I met her for the first time, grabbed my camera and headed off to the Jesuit Refugee Service’s (from now on JRS) regional office.
We drove the rather short drive (10 minutes or so) to the JRS regional office and we snuck the little car past two others and a fence with maybe an inch to spare and walked inside. I met everyone briefly and was shown to my desk. Although small, I can already tell that good things will happen at that desk.
I read through my orientation packet and then we had a staff meeting of sorts. I was introduced again and brought into the group with plenty of discussion about how everyone was doing on their separate projects. I already feel they are trying to include me right away and for that I am very grateful since I feel out of place and out of my element at the moment.
The meeting concluded and I finished reading up on the different country documentations that JRS had. As I was reading, pizza was ordered and then delivered. Lunch is provided every day and I look forward to the connection time between me and myand I tried two very different styles of pizza that I have never seen in the States. One I tried was a salami and chicken and a white sauce that tasted somewhat like mayonnaise to me, which was surprisingly good. The other I tried was a chili pepper and beef and a sort of spicy sauce. All in all pretty good, too.
Once we finished lunch, Robyn took me shopping to get me a few essentials at the mall. I purchased a phone card for local calls, some electrical outlet converters and I got some cash from an ATM. If you haven’t ever seen it, check out some South African rand, it is quite pretty.
We drove back to my little cottage at the hotel, and I set up my phone and got ready for dinner. My dinner was very good, chicken, sausage, potatoes and vegetables with some fruit juice and fruit and yogurt on the side. I wonder what I am going to do when I have to start making my own food here in a week or two.
My apologies to all of you, I do not mean to make this blog into just a play by play of my day, I hope to start delving into some deeper topics from time to time. I have some good books to read and lots of experiences to experience yet so I am sure to have some deeper moments while I am here. At the moment, I feel rather isolated from things so I may go to a museum tomorrow and try and see more of the city. Stay tuned and thanks for listening in!
14 July, 2011
Just wanted to do a quick-ish post letting everyone know that I have made it to South Africa safe and sound. After a rather long 15 hour plane flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, I am sitting in my room where I will be staying for the next couple of days. I am in these really quite adorable cottages until after this weekend where I should be moving into a guest house on the JRS compound. More on that as we go.
The flight was reasonably uneventful, other than being about 40-45 minutes late to take off and therefore a few minutes late on the other end as well. Having never been on a transcontinental flight before, that was one heck of an experience. It is quite something to sit for 15 hours. I watched some movies, I ate food, I slept, just sat there and repeated. Over and over again. Oh well, now I know what to expect and all in all wasn’t a terrible experience, just a little draining. The landing was a little bumpy but all in all I was just happy to be back on the ground. It was already starting to get dark as we landed at 5:30ish pm.
The Johannesburg airport was pretty large and looked as if the section we landed in only worked with jumbo planes (being international this makes sense it was just funny to see that many huge planes next to each other). There was some Ricky Martin blasting as we entered the terminal which just made me laugh as I made my way to get my passport stamped and on to collect my baggage.
I found my driver waiting for me right outside of the customs area after waiting for about 20-30 minutes for my baggage (those planes hold A LOT of bags). His name was Elias and he helped me with my bags as I went and changed some money and then went to the taxi. The ride through Johannesburg to where I am staying now was about 20 minutes and Elias tried pointing out a few things but in the dark it was hard to tell what was what. He made sure to let me know that South Africa is a very beautiful place so I look forward to seeing all it has to offer in the daylight tomorrow.
I checked in and got acquainted with my digs for the next couple of days. I saw the kitchen and dining area (I will try and get a picture at breakfast) and met the chef, Sally. After that I figured out internet (about 20 rand a day/just shy of 3 US dollars) and made Skype calls to let people know I am alive and made it in one piece. All in all, a very long day (or two, depending on how you look at it).
Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes and love for me on my travels!