Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And Now I'm Back...



Well folks, this is my last post! I thought I'd leave you all with a little update on my journey back and my arrival back home. First off, let me say that saying goodbye to all the students was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced. I had a full on emotional breakdown afterward. Thankfully I was able to keep it together during the goodbyes but after the bus left and I read Zenande's goodbye letter to me I completely lost it. The letter was so sweet and heartbreaking at the same time. I received several goodbye letters from students before I left that made my heart hurt even more at the thought of leaving them. Thankfully I was able to take off with my parents not long after the farewells. My mom's advice to pack up the night before paid off. I don't know how I would have handled packing up after my tearful goodbyes. The rest of that day was a daze, but I'm glad I at least got to spend it in Stellenbosch with my parents. How lucky am I to have parents who would come all the way across the world to grab me in Africa and take me back home?! Leaving would have been a hundred times harder without them. The next day we took off for London, where the rest of the fam met up with us. London was a whirlwind, but I'm so glad I got to go as a halfway point before heading back home. It was just what I needed. We did a lot of sightseeing and some shopping and had high tea at the Brown Hotel (see picture top left). And of course we had our fair share of pubs :) The weather was beautiful which I felt even more lucky for. It was an all around fun and eventful trip.

The journey back home went well....till our last flight from San Fran to Medford where most of our family thought our lives would end. I am NOT exaggerating when I say that the turbulence got SO bad I thought we were going to plummet to our deaths! After much screaming and crying and praying out loud to make it to the ground in one piece, we arrived in Medford at last. It was late Friday night when we arrived and we immediately crashed (no pun intended) when we got back home. The next day was dreary and mostly spent unpacking till the evening where I reunited with a couple friends to go to a wedding reception. Talk about jumping right back into things! The day after that my friend had a birthday dinner so it wasn't till last night where I was able to have my first quiet night in after being home. It wasn't till the next day where I felt really rested and adjusted to the time difference.

Being back home is weird, and I would be lying if I said it has been easy. Quite honestly I've been struggling to keep my joy here. As much as I missed my family and friends, I haven't missed all the familiarity that I've been around my whole life. My heart is still very much back in South Africa. I expected it to be weird and hard and to take a while to readjust, but at the same time I thought I would be more excited to be back. I'm just trusting that God will reveal to me what He wants next for me in due time. Till then, I am keeping my heart open for whatever is next. I just know that if I were to go off my feelings right now I would jump right back on a plane to South Africa, no question about it. My heart and life are forever changed, and I know that God wants me back there in the future whether it be this year or five years for now, I know I will be back. They say home is where your heart is, but I'm back home and my heart is still there. What does that mean?

The best part about being back home? Finally meeting the babies my friends had right after I left. I can't believe how big they are already! The worst part? Obviously missing South Africa but also having my cat Norma (my baby) go missing :( Be praying she shows up soon. I don't know if my heart can handle coming back and having her gone. Anyway, I don't want to end this on a downer note. Even though it has and probably will continue to be hard readjusting to life back home, that just proves to me even more how much my time in Africa impacted my life, and how I will be forever changed. Thank you to all who have been keeping up with this little blog of mine! Your support and prayers have meant so much. Till my next venture to South Africa, this is goodbye!!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saying Goodbye


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Well, it's almost the end of my South African adventure. I can't believe I will be saying goodbye to everyone on Friday! My heart is full but heavy. I am so so thankful to have my parents here with me at the end of my journey. Having them here will make the goodbyes a little easier and the journey back a lot better. They arrived on Thursday evening after a full day of not hearing from them. A little after the time they told me they'd be pulling in and still not hearing from them or being able to get a hold of them, I was beginning to think they missed their flight or something. Just as I was about to prepare for another night on my own, I saw my dad walking behind my room. It was the most startling and disorienting moment because I knew they needed me to open the gate for them to get in! Turns out, they didn't have cell service or wi-fi on their phones the whole day and had no way to get a hold of me so when they pulled in my dad resorted to climbing the fence. Leave it to my dad. I was overjoyed to have them finally here and they took me to dinner in Franschhoek that night for dinner. I stayed over with them that night and the next morning they brought me to the school, bright and early for assembly. I'm really glad they got to be there for that and meet some of the kids beforehand. That afternoon after school they came back and hung out with the kids for the rest of the day just taking pictures and getting to know some of them.

Saturday was Caregiver's Day and I'd have to say, that day was one of the highlights of my time here. That day, almost every student got to see one of their relatives or friends who takes care of them at home. All of the caregivers arrived at the school on a big bus and I can't even describe the excitement the kids had when the bus pulled in. My dad was able to take some wonderful pictures of the arrivals and each student with their caregivers. It was so awesome to have my parents and I there to meet Zenande's adorable grandmother and for me to meet the caregivers of all the kids. The students got to show their caregivers around the school, introduce them to all their teachers, and eat with them before the entertainment began. After lunch, some of them performed a skit for them in Xhosa which was incredibly fun to watch even though I couldn't understand anything. After that the dance team performed, followed by an incredibly touching choir performance. Hearing those kids sing in perfect harmony always gives me chills. Their voices are what stay with me when I go back home. I still remember from 2006 when I came here the first time the kids singing Bambalela (Never Give Up) together and those being some of my favorite moments. Whenever I thought of South Africa, that song would come to my head, and it was as if it was calling me to come back. Since I've been here, I hadn't heard any of the kids sing it, which bummed me out a bit. But yesterday after school when my parents were working with some of the kids in the classroom I usually teach in, I ran upstairs to grab something and when I came back down I could hear some of the kids singing it, and as I entered into the classroom I saw that Azile, one of the 12th graders who has a BIG place in my heart leading some of the girls in the song. I was so overwhelmed with joy to finally hear it again from coming from kids I have grown to love so much that I wanted to pinch myself as it was happening. It brought so many memories back, and immediately I was overwhelmed with emotion. I sat down and as I was watching these amazing kids singing that song together and knowing I'd only get a couple more days of this, I started fighting back tears. I think my dad caught a glimpse of my near emotional melt down but I think I got it together before any of the kids could see. It was one of my top "pinch me" moments I've had here, and I know I'll always carry it with me.

After Caregiver's Day, my parents and I headed to Cape Town for a couple days. It was so great to get out and explore more of South Africa with them. I had been there before but never stayed there. We had an ocean view from our hotel and the weather was perfect. The night we arrived we had dinner on the Waterfront at sunset which was incredible. The next day we walked around the big outdoor market and bought a lot of gifts and souvenirs. And that night we got to have dinner with Sinethemba, one of the original Bridges students our family got close with during our two visits here. He has since graduated and is now attending the University of Cape Town. I got to see him in January here, but it was good seeing him again. My parents love him and I know he looks up to them a lot. I'm really glad we got to do that. Then the next day we headed to Stellenbosch, where my parents are staying for the rest of our time here. Today was a holiday, so the students didn't have school and my parents and I came over and spent time with some of the kids. My mom has been teaching sewing to a few of the girls and my dad has been doing art with some of them, but today he mostly hung out with the boys (who had specifically asked that my dad hang out with them and not the girls, so cute) and took pictures and helped me start to pack. Tomorrow we have one more full day of school before the kids head home on Friday. My parents and I fly out on Saturday, so I'm starting to pack up as much as I can so I don't have to do it all on Friday after the students leave. My mom had a good point that I should start packing up and taking stuff the kids made me off the wall so I won't have to do it after I say goodbye to them and am already sad. I think that would make me even more of a mess that I already know I will be.

I can't even begin to describe how my heart feels right now, but I know it will never be the same. God has allowed me to grow and learn so much here, and has filled my heart to the brim. I know I will come back. Whether it be in a year or two or five.... I have to. I will leave a piece of my heart here. I knew that after my first trip here, but I know it even more know. I am so thankful for all of you who have supported me in and through this venture. Thank you for your financial support, prayers, and encouraging words. Without all of it, I probably wouldn't be here. I'll try to update you all about my journey back after London when I am back home. Until then, I am sending my last greetings from South Africa!!!

"You will go out in joy and be lead forth in peace; The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." --Isaiah 55:12

Tuesday, March 13, 2012



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Well oh well, I can't believe I'm nearing the end of my journey here, and what a ride it has been. Next week is my last week here, and as the title of this post explains, these last couple weeks are feeling pretty bittersweet. Three months is an odd amount of time to spend in a foreign place and an environment like this. It's just enough time to finally get into the swing of things and form relationships, but then it's over. I just have to trust and know that God wanted me here for this amount of time for a reason, and leave it at that. I know things would get harder for me here if I were to stay longer, but I know at the same time it's not going to be easy leaving this place. I just hope and pray that my adjustment back into "normal life" back home is a smooth one.

Today is the kickoff of the two weeks of final exams the students will be having. They have about two exams each day, and are studying a lot in between. Fortunately, exam days are half days and are over after lunch....that is, for a while at least till it's prep time (study time) in the evenings. These kids have a lot ahead of them before they head back home for break, so keep them in your prayers as they take their exams and pray that they don't get overwhelmed or stressed. I finished writing up and printing out the finals for my class last night and once again experienced an I-can't-believe-I'm-actually-teaching moment. After spending an extra hour at the school in the extreme heat and re-stapling all the exams after realizing I had stapled them wrong and then stapling my thumb in the process, I had even greater respect for the teachers and all the crazy hard work they do here. I only had to write one exam (well, two if you include the changes I made for my younger class), while many of these teachers had to write and print out several, and then have grading them all to look forward to! Goodness gracious to be a teacher. God has carried me through this term like I can't believe. I just can't imagine doing this for more than one class.

As you can see in the pictures, I made the most of my last weekend on my own here by spending the entire weekend hanging out at the school with the kids. I managed to draw many more of them and a few of them even drew me! (see picture below right). I love seeing their different interpretations in my portraits :) Onika and Nwabisa, two of my adorable and outgoing younger students surprised me at my door on Sunday morning to fetch me for church and we had just enough time for a little walk and a spontaneous photo shoot beforehand (top picture). And today I hung out a bit with Thandazwa and Zelda (see picture below left), two beautiful older students who are so sweet and quiet and I still hadn't felt quite connected with as much as I wanted to till today. I feel like I finally broke through to them a bit and brought out their wonderful personalities. It's moments like those that I know I'll carry with me when I get home.

In other happy news, now I only have to wait TWO more days till my parents arrive!!! They'll arrive Thursday evening and pick me up that night for a late dinner in Franschhoek. I got them on the schedule to help out at the school in the afternoons and I know many of the students are excited to meet them. I feel like they're always asking, "When do your parents arrive?" It'll be so great having them here and getting a taste of my world from the past few months. They'll be here for Caregiver's Day on Saturday, where all the students' caregivers visit the school to meet the teachers and get a glimpse into their lives here. I know there is also a choir and a dance performance planned so I'm looking forward to that. I know it will mean a lot to Zenande to have my parents and I here on that day so I'm really glad we'll be here to meet her caretaker. Then we're off to Cape Town for the rest of the weekend and arrive back on Monday! I'm excited to get away for a couple days and explore. I don't feel like I've ventured very far from the school since I got here, and I'm counting on my parents to take me out and about as much as possible before we leave :)

As always, thanks for your continual prayer and support. I know it has gotten me through these past few months and kept me going through the good and tough times. Be praying for my parents as they start making their way over here tomorrow! They still have quite a trek ahead of them. Until next week which will be my last post from South Africa!!!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012



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{Top collage (clockwise from top left): Azile, Yanga, Onika, and Kanyo (bottom two are sisters); Bottom left collage: Vuyokazi, Sive, Emelie, Bongiwe; Bottom right collage: Vuyisa, Nomfundo, Thandile, Nwabisa}

Well hello all! To be quite honest, it's getting harder and harder to blog the closer my departure gets. I have been experiencing such waves of emotions thinking about leaving this place. It's going to be very hard. I've grown so used to my life here, and even though it's been a challenge, it has all been beyond worth it. I've been stretched here more than I ever have in my life. In a way I feel like I've grown here in the past couple months more than I have in the last five years. I don't want to go home feeling useless. I think that is my biggest fear about returning home. But I have to remember it doesn't have to stop there. I can keep contributing to this place in my own way. Let's just say I have a few things up my sleeve right now, and it may have to do with art ;)

Speaking of art, almost all of the kids have been relentlessly begging me to draw them. As you can see above, I've been chipping away one by one with portrait sessions after school and am hoping to have enough time to draw all those who want to be drawn before I leave. At first I was dragging my heels and getting frustrated with how many of them would not leave me alone about it, but now I'm the one going up to some of them offering to do the honors. When I first arrived here I actually felt pretty rusty in my artistic abilities and had little motivation to be drawing up a storm outside of class. I had been going through a pretty extensive artistic dry spell at home and was having a hard time imagining myself teaching it when I was doing so little on my own. (Yeah, I admit it now). And now I am surprised to find that instead of my art classes really inspiring me to pick up the pencil, it has been the students outside of class that have inspired me. Drawing them has become some of my favorite moments just to spend time with them, as a bunch of them usually gather around me to watch. I've found that the more I draw them, the easier it gets, and thanks to the kids I no longer feel rusty! Now that I'm on a roll I feel inspired to try to draw as much as I can before I go. I want my sketchbook filled with drawings of the students here as something to show people and remember them by. I've been making sure to give the students copies too :)

This week has gotten a lot easier, thanks to all the prayers I've been receiving from so many of you. Someone here was really encouraging to me when she heard about it too which was a major blessing. To tell you the truth, the circumstance in and of itself probably wouldn't be as hard on some people as it has been on me. I just wasn't sturdy enough to handle it well. But of course I can to anything through Christ who strengthens me and He has brought me through the roughest part. And in other good news, I was generously offered to borrow a laptop they keep at the Retreat Center here to use in the evenings and over the weekends! That has been a major blessing to me and has allowed me to continue to email and blog and stay entertained in my down time. So thanks Kristy and Matt! :)

In school news, we are now in our last full week of classes before finals start next week. Crazy! The last two weeks the kids are here will be mostly filled with finals, but they will only be half days. I've already put together a rough version of the final, so my next big hurdle will be grading all of them afterwards. I'm trying to prepare myself by doing as much over all grading before I have to tackle the final grading so that I won't be overwhelmed. It's things like these make me so aware of my inexperience in teaching, and I still get moments where I can't believe I'm actually here doing this. It's pretty amusing and amazing at the same time and I know it's only by the grace of God that I am able to.

Lastly, let me just say that I'm SO incredibly excited that my parents are officially on my continent!!! Slowly but surely they are making their way over here. Right now they're in Ethiopia, where tomorrow they'll be getting on a plane for Rwanda. They'll be in Rwanda for about a week before arriving here next Thursday. I can't wait!!!! Keep them in your prayers as they travel over. My poor mom is in the process of passing a kidney stone so be praying for little discomfort for her throughout her trip. And of course, keep me in your prayers too as the end of my time here is quickly approaching. Only a few weeks left! Thank you all for all the prayers you've already made and all the support and encouragement I've had from so many of you. It has helped me tremendously throughout my time here. Till next week!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trial and Reflection

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Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Well I am back at last after taking a week off from blogging. The truth is, at first I didn't feel like I had much to blog about...and then some things happened that I didn't want to blog about. But what I've come to learn here is that big hurdles will be thrown your way when you are working for God's kingdom. I don't want to go into details, but over the weekend I was faced with the biggest trial I have experienced here so far. It was so hard for me that I almost wanted to throw in the towel right then and there. I hadn't felt lonely here until then, and suddenly I felt like my parents couldn't get here fast enough. I'm still struggling with it but I am grateful to say that God has encouraged me through a few people and I know more have prayed for me which has brought me through the hardest part.

Then, last night I was again faced with a great trial when my laptop suddenly decided to stop working. Everything I tried to open crashed and I haven't gotten it to work since. I use my laptop for everything here. I need it for all my classes, the finals coming up, emailing, blogging, and of course for fun stuff like Facebooking and catching up on my favorite shows. I know I can survive without it, but it will be a lot harder. Right now for example, I am blogging from my iPhone so we'll see if this even works!

In other news, after this week we only have one more full week of school before finals start! I can't believe how quickly they are coming up! The term will be over before I know it and then I'll be heading home! I have mixed feelings about how quickly my departure is approaching. I will miss this place so incredibly much that my heart hurts at the thought of leaving. But at the same time I am really missing my family and friends, especially since this weekend and am so excited to see them again.

As you can see from the pictures above, I have still been experiencing wonderful things here, including a wine tasting trip with Kristy, complete with delicious cheese and an amazing view. And last week my Arts and Culture classes revieved a couple of old ugly busts that have been here by turning them into an art project and painting them! It was fun to be apart of that and see them all working (or trying to work) together. And of course I'm still enjoying the beautiful sunsets here. The days have been getting shorter and it feels like summer is coming to an end which just reminds me that my time here is too.

In the midst of the current storm I am in, I am reminded that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." (Psalm 46:1 & 2) So with that I just want to ask for prayer that I will put my whole trust in the Lord and that he will lift me out from under this dark cloud I find myself in. Pray for strength and encouragement for me as I enter into my last few weeks here. And most of all pray that I leave behind a mark on these students' hearts that will bring them closer to the Lord. If that happens, then I have fulfilled my purpose in coming here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love is Kind



I have to say that I'm not big on Valentine's Day. In fact, it may be one of my least favorite holidays. Why, do you ask? Mostly because I feel like there shouldn't be a day where people feel obligated to demonstrate their love for someone, or feel lame not to be in a relationship. It's been a lose/lose holiday for me. However, after today I'll happily say my view on Valentine's Day has started to change. Before you get too excited and start showering me with heart confetti, I'll just say that Valentine's Day here has just been more real. It has been more about God's love for us than anything else. Here, God has revealed to me more clearly than ever how important it is to demonstrate His love for us by loving others. Zenande, the 9th grade student I sponsor here has helped show me that too. Last week she snuck a surprise valentine in my bag (picture above right) that I couldn't help but cry when I opened. In it she wrote me the sweetest note saying how blessed she is by me being here and how much she loves me and is praying for me. She's pretty shy in person, so reading that meant the world to me. It made me realize how important it is to daily remind those we love how much we love them. I love how affectionate so many of the girls are here. The closer I get to them, the more I dread leaving them. They have made me feel so loved and so at home.

Last week went well. I feel like the weeks are going by faster and faster these days. On Thursday night Kristy (see bottom right picture) took me to her bible study and then to her place after to spend the night. As you can see we played Starbucks baristas at her house that day. Hey, you gotta make due! Kristy has quickly become a good friend and I feel so blessed to have her here with me. It's been good to get out and stay with her a couple times. We have plans to go wine tasting soon which I'm very much looking forward to :) Over the weekend, I got to spend a lot of time with the kids and loved every minute of it. On Saturday, we all went to the mall (yep, all fifty-two students) to avoid causing too much noise during the wedding happening in the vineyard next door. It was great to get out with them and be with them in a different environment. A few of them even ministered to some street kids there. So great. On Sunday I spent a good portion of the day with them at the school after our church service and that afternoon Susan and I took out our sponsor girls Yanga and Zenande (her and I together in the picture above left). I could tell they were putting on their best behavior which was pretty cute, and it was good to finally get to spend some quality time with Zenande. She has been warming up to me more and more lately and makes my heart swell with joy. I love her to pieces.

Over all I feel like I have a lot grown closer to a lot of the kids over this past week which makes me incredibly happy and even more sure that coming here has been the best decision I have ever made. Thank you all for your continual prayers. They are definitely paying off!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Learning Experiences


(Top left): Project Runway night with the girls! So much fun. (Top right): Sidewalk art with my ridiculously cute 7/8th graders. (Bottom left): Last night's incredible sunset. (Bottom right): Made Egyptian mummy masks with the 9th graders!

Hello all! To change things up a bit from my usual format, I thought this week I’d share with you some of the funny things my American self have learned and experienced while being in South Africa. Some of them are pretty funny…

  • Napkins don’t in fact mean napkins here. I learned this the hard way when I asked at a restaurant if someone would pass the napkins in front of the entire team of teachers only to find that “napkins” are feminine products here. “Serviettes” is what they call napkins. I caught on to that one fast.

  • Don’t try ordering an iced coffee unless you want a full on coffee milkshake. That’s what their iced coffee is here. I’ve tried ordering iced lattes a couple times and it always puzzles the barrista to no end. “You want me to put ice in your latte?!” The whole concept is foreign to them.

  • Speaking of coffee, I was incredibly confused when Di, one of our wonderful local staff members let me know she borrowed my “plunger” to make coffee for some guests. Umm, sorry? Turns out that’s what they call a French press. That conversation got incredibly funny fast.

  • Bugs crawling/landing on you at all times of the day become second nature. I feel like every day a new creature visits me and violates me in some way. Yesterday evening I had a bug fly into my eye only to discover it still in my eye this morning! I’m still trying to tell myself it was makeup.

  • After a month here, I still don’t know where the passenger seat is in a car. I have to follow the driver and see which way they get in before I get in and feel so dumb every time. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it before I leave.

  • Speaking of things being on the opposite side, here are a few other opposites: I’ve noticed on several faucets (including my shower) that hot and cold are switched. Also, my fridge door opens on the opposite side. That took a while to get used to.

  • My brain refuses to convert rand into dollars, kilometers into miles, military time into regular time, and Celsius into Fahrenheit. Nope, not gonna happen. I’ll just go along with it when people bring any of it up. “Oh my gosh it’s going to be forty degrees today?! Yeah that’s sooooo hot!” Right, to me that sounds pretty cold actually.

  • Do not leave your trash sitting there too long! I learned this the hard way. One night I put the rest of an old chicken in the trash only to open it the next morning and find it literally infested with maggots! It took everything in me not to scream and vomit simultaneously. That was by far my most disgusting experience here so far.

  • There is a way for a movie addict like me to keep up with my shows and stream movies while I’m here! It’s called a VPN and it’s a beautiful thing.

…I thought for fun I’d also include some food items I've found are better and ones I think are worse (or at least not what I'm used to) in South Africa. (This is just from my personal experience and Of course it might be different for everyone):


  • Diet Coke! Or Coke Light, as they call it here. I swear they put something magical on it or something. There’s no comparison, it’s far superior! I’m going to miss it when I go home and most likely won’t be able to drink our Diet Coke again.

  • Cheddar cheese. Don’t ask me why, but all of the cheddar cheese I’ve bought/tried here is better than any I’ve had at home. I don’t know what it is about it, but it’s just…better!

  • Their Cadbury bar selection! Don’t even get me started on how many Cadbury bars I’ve consumed since I’ve been here. It’s not a healthy number. But I can’t help myself when I’m surrounded by so many different flavors! Cashew coconut, rum raisen, top deck, mint crisp, macadamia nut…the list goes on and on! It’s too much for the chocolate monster inside me!

  • Their cream cheese flavors. I just discovered this and my world has been changed. Where the heck can I find blue cheese flavored whipped cream cheese at home?! Tell me and I’ll love you forever.


  • Their coffee selection. Almost everything is instant in the stores. Common people! I’d pay big bucks for a Starbucks iced latte right now.

  • Their nut prices. I love eating nuts at home and was sorely disappointed when I saw how outrageously expensive nuts are here! Lame.

  • Their apple selection. I’m used to a wide variety of choices at home. Here there are about three choices tops but I’m used to seeing only two. Green, and reddish ones that are super grainy. Green it is.

So there you go. I thought I’d give you all a little insight into some of my random little discoveries and learning experiences I’ve had here so far. It’s been an adventure! Thanks for keeping me in your prayers! Until next week!