8.19.2011

One Year Later: Memories From Africa - Part 3

Can you tell I've put a great deal of thought into the title of each post in this series?

Part 1Part 2 

Okay not really! 

Sharing these stories is allowing me to put Swaziland top of mind again. That has been challenging for a variety of reasons lately, but I'm glad to be focused on Africa, Swaziland, and Bheveni to a greater measure again.

Technically this was the first picture I took in Africa, or over Africa. Not sure how well it will come through on-screen, but the western coast of Africa is in the bottom left of the image. We guessed possibly over Namibia, but no idea really. At this point we were pretty tired and only had like 4 hours so something left in our 17+ hours of flight time!

Going to Africa proved to be a lesson in patience much of the time. Elysa, Anna, & Erica seemed to remind us often with the phrase, "TIA: This Is Africa" meaning be ready to wait.

We waited in the air, in the airport, through security, through customs in South Africa, at the hotel in Johannesburg for our first night, on the van driving to Swaziland, at the Swaziland border and customs, and on into Manzini.

Arriving in Africa I noticed all the things that tourists would probably notice. The people, the languages, the stores, the brands, the food. All those simple things that are just a bit different from home. For me the biggest initial surprise in South Africa was that things were not very different. Not in the way that I thought they would be.

At the hotel we had electricity and running water and a soft bed and a hot shower. The fixtures were a little older than most of the hotels I've been in and the electricity required some unusual plugs. And the internet was significantly slower than my home DSL service (another lesson in waiting). But all in all, I could have been somewhere in America. That seemed odd.

Though we didn't use it, other than Anna for her morning quiet time, there was even a nice looking pool at each of our accommodations!
As we traveled through South Africa we saw vast beauty throughout the landscape. Our AIM hosts, Marius & Elliot, did a terrific job of seeing to our needs along the way. Everything from pit stops to Q&A was done well. 

I found myself waiting to see what all the fuss was about. Where was the need for assistance we'd heard so much about?

I'd heard the statistics of Swaziland often enough that my expectation was a country filled with quiet desperation. I expected to see little hope, less business, and great suffering. But in South Africa I saw little of these things.

We made a few stops along the way. Once at a mall similar to one you'd find in most major metropolis' in the USA. Another at a gas station that made most American convenience stores look like broken down rat traps in comparison! It was baffling to me. Enjoyed, but confused.

I continued to wait to see the need. Along the way our B-team was able to connect further, pray together, and laugh a lot. I was thankful that we were able to laugh. There was plenty of weary emotion to go round, but laughter truly salved the wound as each day went by.

As we approached the border between South Africa and Swaziland our senses kind of went into high alert. We had to follow Marius' specific instructions, briefly surrender our passports (always a stressor for me), and try to look like ourselves, be the opposite of suspicious - even though we had nothing to be suspicious about, and keep from making any unknown faux paus while satisfying the requests of border patrol and security.

Once again we were thankful for divine favor on our trip. We made it through South African and Swaziland customs in less than 20 minutes! We were later told that the process can take hours if any little thing falls out of place (bag searches, not enough staff for the traffic, a misstep in line, whatever). Thankfully we had none of that and were quickly on our way. One step closer to Bheveni and the children we hoped to share Jesus' love with. 

As we entered Swaziland, the waiting for the "big deal" stopped for me. It was like I'd entered a different era in history. The extreme differences in the lives there were glaring. Seeing the challenges that Swazi's face due to financial difficulty was almost instantly overwhelming. 

I remember with amazement still seeing children younger than 5 years old wandering about all alone. I recall the apparent disregard for safety and general risky behaviors of both drivers and pedestrians - young people walking in groups along what I consider interstate with drivers whizzing past at 60+ kph with just inches of clearance. 

I saw beautiful hills and mountain ranges, vistas of greens and browns, streets filled with people of all sorts who looked to be in their twenties or younger. I saw that we had truly arrived somewhere different. That waiting was over and a new waiting began. We waited with great anticipation to visit Bheveni. 

Seeing the challenges that people were facing in Manzini (one of the major cities in Swaziland) made me anxious to see how the children of Bheveni fared. The reality of life there seemed to be setting in. And it looked like life was hard.

I remember thinking that Manzini reminded me of an old TV show, Rockford Files. As Elliot drove us through the city I felt like I was watching Jim Rockford drive around California streets in the '70's. Old cars, lots of people, and just a little grungy. Signs and streetlights everywhere. Advertising all sorts of things including Sexually Transmitted Disease protection advice. We weren't in Central Minnesota anymore!

Our waiting to reach Bheveni would last for one more day. We needed to get our things to our lodging and have a time of orientation with the AIM staffers in Manzini. The visits with the children would have to wait.

And you'll have to wait a bit longer too. The stories to come are better. They are harder at times. They are joyful too. But they will wait. After all TIA: This Is Africa. Time works differently here.

By the way, Anna also taught us a phrase for all the things we'd notice to be so different back home..."This Is The States!" (I'll let you work out the PG-13 acronym on your own!)