Category Archives: Thoughts

Last Day in the U.S.A (Until 2019)

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.  – Maya Angelou

More than a month ago I compared myself to the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. I was hustling and rushing to get everything done. Can you imagine what the end result was? Ha, let me tell you.

From September 28th through October 13th, I tried to check everything off my to-do list, from packing and sending e-mails, to studying and saying my goodbyes.  Just when I thought I covered all my bases, I realized I had dropped the ball on obtaining my Spain Visa earlier this summer. I thought I still had time to contact the embassy and  Spain consulate in the U.S. Clearly. I knew I needed a visa to stay in the Schengen area for more than 90 days.  I had contacted both the D.C. and N.Y.  consulates via e-mail, in hopes that they would be able to answer some of my questions, but they did not. After informing them of the steps I had taken, they shut me down before I could ask my questions. Who’s to blame? Me. Life moved extremely fast this summer and I shouldn’t have underestimated this process. Everything about that experience screams, “First time traveler.” But that’s alright, I accepted my mistake and made the necessary adjustments after. As the singer Aaliyah cantered, “If at first you don’t succeed, you can dust yourself off and try again.”

On a more personal note, saying good bye to my Nashville family was not easy.  The day I left Nashville, I was with my boyfriend Trevor and holy cow did I cry! I knew I was going to. I live in the moment and when the emotions roll in, I let them come full force so that I don’t let them linger any longer than they have to. I cry because I love deeply. I don’t know what tomorrow may bring but I do know  I am loved and I value every moment I share with others.

Now, the driving part was actually easier than I expected. It was a road trip party for 1. I drove 10 hours to Washington D.C. to see my childhood best friend Bella. The next morning  finished the last 4 hours of my drive. Since then I’ve been seeing family and friends non-stop. Studying for the GRE was not a thing these last two weeks, but that’s okay. When I look back at my life at least I know that I prioritized the things that matter most to me.  It’s important for me to be around my loved ones because we have such a unique relationship. Plus, I know that I’m a hard-working, driven individual. I may not know what lies ahead, but I know it will be rewarding.

Everyone asks me if I’m excited or nervous for this trip. My response is, “Neither.” I’m more curious than anything. My social and cultural upbringing, along with my life experiences, have prepared me for this trip. It’s going to be a new experience, a new world, a new life style, and I am prepared for this new journey. It’s going to be challenging but that’s the point; I want to be pushed out of my comfort zones. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I am beyond thankful for this Lumos scholarship. The journey continues my loves.

Follow my blog account on Instagram for more photos and posts of my journey! @lifebeyondthevines.

Life Beyond the Vines

Con cariño,

Rachel Mercedes Beihl

P.S. I am 100% balling my eyes out tomorrow when I say goodbye to my parents. (:

 

 

7 Weeks and Counting!

I feel like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland when he says, “I’m late! I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” While everything is set up for Spain, I am scurrying to finish my home “to-do list” before I leave. During these past 18 weeks post-graduation, I have been hustling! I’ve been nannying, tutoring, adjusting to living on my own,  preparing for graduate school and experiencing everything else in between. It has been a summer for the books for sure! With all the events that have happened this past year, it feels as though time is flying more than ever, for better or worse. But I am extremely proud of all that I have accomplished along the way. Before I know it, I’ll be headed on a 14 hour drive home to spend time with my family and then off to Spain for four months.

I have not spent a significant amount of time thinking about the trip. Honestly, I try to practice not fixating on anything but the present moment. It’s healthier for me to live that way. Plus, I’ve been preoccupied with an eventful summer. Realistically, the present is all I have time for. The emotions have come in waves and up until now they’ve been extremely spread apart. At this moment I am filled with curiosity and excitement. The only one thing I worry about is what might happen to my loved ones when I’m gone; ya know, the type of things that are out of my control. Unfortunate events occurred while I was away this past year, and it’s natural that this is a worry of mine. Although it’s not easy living 14 hours away from large family, I’ve managed to do very well thanks to FaceTime and the amazing group of individuals I’ve befriended in Nashville. Our special bond has carried me a long way.

That’s why I remain positive, happy, and thrilled for this trip because everything in me can feel that this is where I need to be and what I need to be doing, and it feels right. New beginnings like these are my favorite. It can be unnerving, but I love the emotions attached to the unknown. I’ve always believed in the wanderer that lives inside of me. I can’t wait for what this new experience brings.

Con cariño,

Rachel Mercedes Beihl

P.S.

I want to end this post by promising to be extremely honest with you and with myself during this journey. Honesty is humiliating, humbling, and beautiful but it is also misunderstood. We expect others to be honest with us, yet we spend more time lying to ourselves than anyone else. I myself have done this numerous times but I am not ashamed. I remind myself that perfection is not the goal, growth is. That is why I have spent the last four years seeking the most authentic version of myself before the lies altered my perception of life. Although it has been a personal journey, I have opened my world to the public through blogging and Instagram in hopes of inspiring others. By no means has this journey been easy but it has most certainly been gratifying. I am beyond excited for the new journey that is to come and the lessons that follow. For more insight on this journey follow my Instagram blog @lifebeyondthevines! xoxo

Baadae Africa

September 23, 2017

I didn’t realize saying goodbye to Tanzania would be this hard. The airplane just took off from Dar and my eyes filled with tears. When I first landed in Africa I was actually pretty scared and worried from everything I had been told and I was hesitant to officially step off the plane once it landed; however, now as I’m leaving I don’t want the wheels on the plane to go off the ground.

How is it possible that I came as a stranger but left with so many rafikis? Even though these friends may be on the other side of the globe once I’m back in America, they’re still lifelong friends. There’s a connection that is formed when you travel to a new place and befriend the people there. Your friendship accelerates a million times more and the bond you share is so special. I feel that way about all of the people that I met through Work the World and all of the amazing people that actually live in Tanzania.

I just don’t know how to put into words the people that are in Tanzania. They are such beautiful people with such amazing hearts. I’m going to miss walking by the shoe maker Sharkan and the painter Mirajisekulamba every morning when I would go into work and would get back from work. They were always there with a grin on their face shouting, “Maji, mabo?!” I’m going to miss all the phrases and speaking in Swahili and my dear Swahili teacher, Jacob. I’m also going to miss all of the Swahili food and Swahili music/dancing. I’m going to miss knowing so many of the nurses, nursing students, and doctors throughout the various units and how great of friends we all became. Like going on weekend adventures with Florida or going to Jane’s house for dinner and church with her beautiful family. I’m going to miss everyone from Work the World like Mo, Jesca, Edito, Faraja, Beda, Naama, and all the security men. I could write an entire book on everything they’ve done for me. They always asked about my day and were there for me all the time! Jesca went to the hospital with me every time I had to go for my dressing change. I’m going to miss seeing my waiters at the local restaurants and how they’d always hug me and knew me by name. Amos and Maraja were my two favorites. Amos would always make me a special smoothie at the Red Tomato before it closed down and then he moved to Salty’s where I ate my last meal in Tanzania and he waited on me. I’m going to miss our talks about his sweet wife and family and his commute every day. Maraja worked at Shooters and every Thursday when everyone would go celebrate he always chose a special dessert for me. My favorite was the Mississippi Mud Pie. When I had my job interview for Vanderbilt and had to use the wifi at Shooters he helped get me a spot and accommodated me so sweetly.

This was today when I was saying goodbye to everyone.

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Everyone, meet Mo. My bomba, bomba rafiki. Love this man.

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Meet Sharkan! The shoemaker! He made me and my friends back home several shoes. I’ll never be able to forget his kindness and face.

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Meet Mirajisekulamba! The painter. He and the shoe maker worked right next to one another. He always gave me a hard time for not being able to say his name perfectly, hahaha. He also painted me many beautiful paintings for my loved ones back home.

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This is Faraja. One of the chefs in the house. He has a heart of chocolate. Sweet and pure.

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Maraja! He was the waitor at Shooter’s and my beautiful friend Dianne.

IMG_7004I’m going to miss how everyday was so different at the hospital and I never knew which new friend I was going to make next! It was always an adrenal rush. I’m actually going to miss the crazy dala dala and bijaji rides too! Even though every time I would get in a mode of transportation here I was scared for my life because of how people drive here. Gotta love no street rules.

Moreover, I’m going to miss going to the local market and bargaining for every item so you don’t get mzungu price. I’ll miss all my friends there too (they literally knew me by name because of how many times I have been souvenir shopping… If only you could’ve seen me at the airport: 2 large suitcases, one backpack, one long side purse that looked like Mary Poppins handbag because of its depth, and my purse!) I wanted to make sure I was able to get everyone at least something from Africa! I wish I could bring all my loved ones here so they could just see how spectacular it truly is.

 

I’m simply going to miss the way of life in Tanzania with how people live. The people in Dar truly humbled me and I just don’t know how I could ever pay it back. If I had to say what my favorite part of Africa was it would 100% be the people and culture. I’m so grateful to be able to say that I have a family in Tanzania.

 

In addition, there are two things that have really been on mind over the last few weeks. What is it going to be like going back into a Western country when I’ve gotten so use to life here? Lastly, what am I supposed to do from here? I’ve seen all of these things and my heart and eyes have been opened to so much. My biggest fear is simply going back to the western world and have Africa just be a memory. Africa is literally like a different world. How am I supposed to connect these two worlds that I know? What am I meant to do from here in terms of helping the health care system in Africa? Change is made by many little steps and it takes a long time. However, nothing will happen unless we fight for that change.

 

 

Halfway home:

I am being overwhelmed with thoughts as I am hopping from airplane to airplane getting closer to returning to America. My first flight from Dar to Switzerland I cried the entire time. The lady I sat beside was actually a retired nurse who use to work at Muhimbli. We had such a great conversation. Her family owns a little pastry shop in the city market. She must have thought I was emotionally unstable though because all I would do when we weren’t talking is just stare at the seat in front of me and let the tears roll down my face. For 8 hours I did that. All the memories flashing in my mind and the fear of returning. I’m not sure why it is a fear. I am just worried this will only be a memory. How do I connect the two worlds? People in both of my worlds aren’t connected and I am anxious with how I will convey with everyone everything I experienced. It is honestly impossible. You just have to experience it yourself. No matter how many times you talk about it or how many pictures you show it doesn’t do it justice. I feel like I will be beating a dead horse and won’t be able to relate to what I once called home. Ignorance is truly bliss.

One thing that has been on my mind is how easy it is to simply come and go for Americans. A lot of people in Africa may never be able to come to America based on restrictions we have. It’s sad that most of the people I know will never go to Africa because of the “unknown” and stories that have been told. On the flip side, most of my rafikis in Tanzania won’t be able to come to the states due to money as well as restrictions we have set forth. It just makes me upset these two amazing worlds won’t get to meet or come into contact. It is something that I am internally struggling with.

Lastly, since I have begun my trip back home a few things have stood out to me. There is ACTUAL A/C, mzungus are everywhere, there is no body odor, there is actual Wi-Fi and proper electricity, there is toilet paper in the bathrooms, and there are no bugs anywhere. All the paint in the buildings is nicely done and there’s no dirt anywhere. It’s funny to me how these things never really stood out to me in Dar. I just accepted them. However, now that I am reacclimating into Western society they are extremely apparent. I am at the airport in Geneva right now and my next stop will be Chicago. From there I will be NASHVILLE BOUND! Yay. Very bitter sweet.

Enkosi S-CAPE!

THE MOTHER CITY

THE MOTHER CITY

It has been about a week since returning home, and I am still at a loss of words for what this experience has done in me.  I have been putting off writing this because I don’t think I have the words yet to convey what I truly feel inside. People keep asking how the trip was, and I suppose I should have formulated a better answer, but all I can muster is “it was incredible!”  I have been thinking a lot about the limits of language and pondering how to express these inexplicable feelings of the purest love, joy, peace and hope I have experienced. My time at S-CAPE taught me, just as Thistle Farms proclaims, that love heals! There is truly no other force greater than the power of love.  I feel incredibly grateful to have witnessed the transformation of women by love. To see others glimpse their worth and begin to walk into their fullness, something I too struggle to do everyday. I am crying as I write this sipping my tea at Thistle Farms because it truly feels like a dream. But this is what heaven on earth looks like, and this is my heart for the whole world, to glimpse and walk into this life of love and service to each other.

My project itself looked a bit different than I anticipated, but I am very thankful for that because it was the things I had not planned on that changed me the most.  The goals I had for my five months at S-CAPE included grant writing, working on sustainable business/entrepreneurship projects with the women, assisting with fundraising, and running workshops.  I did indeed work in all of those areas along with many others.

I submitted a grant we are still waiting to hear back on, and compiled a detailed grant application and all supporting documents that S-CAPE can use in the future.  

My sustainable business project manifested more as an entrepreneurship skills training for the residents.  We received a large donation of old costume jewelry, so we used that along with other avenues to develop our entrepreneurship skills.  We began by talking about budgeting, marketing, how to set up an email and how to keep track of revenue and expenses, which we worked on during my workshop time.  Each of the residents designed their own brand for the jewelry and I printed labels for them to retag the jewelry with. We discussed revenue and expenses, along with loans and how to grow a business. The residents each received 20 sets of earrings, bracelets and necklaces as “seed funding” per say.  They reworked the items, retagging them and fixing any broken pieces. We then went to local markets to sell the jewelry at and to learn about our target market. That was probably the most challenging aspect of the project for several reasons. First of all, culturally it was very different. I did not know that the best time to sell at markets is on the second and last weekend of the month because that is when payday is.  Secondly, finding markets that actually fit our target population was difficult. We tended to sell at flea markets, or cheaper, family oriented markets (because we had a lot of kids jewelry) due to the nature of our product. In my head, I wanted Thistle Farm’s quality products, I wanted to be in all the local stores, at the bougie markets where people with lots of disposable income shop, etc, but at this time that is not feasible.  There are two values I held very closely, the first being that I wanted to women to feel empowered selling their product, thus when we went to market, these women were not victims of human trafficking but business women. Secondly, I wanted this project to be culturally relevant and be in line with the goals of the residents. And because of this, entrepreneurship skills training seemed to be a better fit than trying to create a business in my short time there without someone to hand it over too when I left.  We were also very short staffed so inevitably the neverending list of day to day activities of running the organization and keeping up with the Department of Social Development’s standards so we can retain our recently increased funding would take precedence over this baby social enterprise. All this being said, the final phase of the project is that the women have the option to buy a box of jewelry (and there is A LOT of jewelry in each box) for a low price so that they can continue selling jewelry when they leave the safe house if they enjoyed it.  The women also learned to make lip balm which we sold and used in the goodie bags at our fundraiser. Finally, the women learned to knit and made a plethora of beanies and scarves that they also sold. There certainly is an entrepreneurial spirit in the ladies I worked with. Everytime someone new came to the safe house for a workshop, or they went to church, they would take some of their product to sell. It was really powerful and encouraging to see how empowered and at ease they were when selling.

Lip balm we made for the fundraiser!

Lip balm we made for the fundraiser!

Fundraising wise, I did help the part time fundraising coordinator in the acquisition of vouchers for our big fundraiser.  I helped create a sponsorship inquiry letter in an effort to get corporate sponsors that will donate a certain amount of say, food, each month to help keep our cost low at the safe house.  That is something really amazing about Cape Town, people are so willing to help, all you have to do is ask!

What I treasured the most though in my work is the amount of time I got to spend with the residents.  From long days at the clinic and home affairs, to workshops and outings, to covering house mother shifts and long car rides, some of my sweetest memories have been in the conversations I had with the women who taught me how to hold great love and great suffering, to embody joy, love, hope and peace while simultaneously holding the tensions and pain of the world and my life.  I miss each of them dearly, and I can hear their laughs in my head right now and them imitating my most used line, “what is happening here folks?”

In the sweetest birthday card and words I have ever received (I am not exaggerating), one of the residents wrote that I was like Esther, and God sent me to bring joy into their lives during a very tough and sorrowful season.  I immediately started to weep and told them that I felt the same way about them. Again, there are no words to convey the feeling I have when I think about the past five months. The only way I can describe it is feeling fully alive.  I experienced and felt love in a way that made me simultaneously want to laugh and cry. Like my insides were the sun and my body a stain glass window. My deepest desire is to reflect the love and joy and hope and peace of Christ through this stain glass window of this wonderful human abode.  I break so more light can be let out and heal so that the colors turn into even more magnificent and mystical hues.

And on that note, I feel it appropriate to share that this is not the end of my journey with S-CAPE!!!  It has been made abundantly clear (which I would love to elaborate on in person) that it is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life.  So, Lord willing, I will be returning to the Mother City in January 2019 for a more long term commitment to the work of S-CAPE! And the will of God is a tricky phrase, but I do believe it is the Lord’s will, if by the will of God we mean as, Thomas Merton says “the will of God is not a ‘fate’ to which we submit but a creative act in our life producing something absolutely new . . . something hitherto unforeseen by the laws and established patterns. Our cooperation (seeking first the Kingdom of God) consists not solely in conforming to laws but in opening our wills out to this creative act which must be retrieved in and by us.”  I am VERY excited for what is to come, and the real challenge is trying to be present in this season and figure out what the next few months mean, as my “five year plan” has drastically changed. But I have a great deal of peace, because I trust the direction I am journeying in now is exactly where I am supposed to be.

On one of my last weeks in Cape Town, I got up to walk on the beach for sunrise as had become my morning ritual.  I was feeling a lot of dissonance, doubt, sorrow about leaving and confusion for what the next six months will hold.  I was walking towards where the sun was supposed to be rising, but there was a thick layer of dark clouds so I turned around to walk back down the beach because it appeared I wouldn’t see the sun glide over the mountaintops this dreary morning.  I was walking and looked up at the mountains in front of me, the greatest contemplatives of all creation as O’Donahue says, and I felt this still, small voice say “Behold, I am doing a new thing” and something in me decided to turn around to look back at the sun and it was the most magnificent sight.  Rays of bright light were breaking through the dark clouds and I just had to laugh at the awe and wonder of the inexplicable mystery of God. I don’t know what this new thing is, but I know I walked home that morning with an insurmountable peace about the uncertain future.

Pictures cannot do it justice!! Behold, I am doing a new thing.

Pictures cannot do it justice!! Behold, I am doing a new thing.

I am not sure how to neatly tie together the wild, life altering, better than I ever imagined adventure that the past five months has been.  I am forever indebted to the Lumos committee for receiving this opportunity, indebted to S-CAPE for inviting me back and indebted to the women who loved me so well and taught me so much.  This experience has cultivated a deeper compassion, love and authentic joy in my soul and I am very excited to share more about my time at S-CAPE with everyone here in Nashville. Stay tuned for how you can maybe partner with me and the work with S-CAPE in the future too 😉

Enkosi (thank you in Xhosa) for reading and trekking along with me on this journey.  May we live with a deeper understanding of ubuntu, that I cannot be fully me without you, and wake up to the beauty and gift that is the inescapable network of mutuality connecting all beings everywhere.

Friends from around the world

Friends from around the world

Last sunset :(

Last sunset 🙁

My flatmate, hero, German teacher, co worker and dear friend, Lina.

My flatmate, hero, German teacher, co worker and dear friend, Lina.

The last days

Some quick highlights/updates from my last two weeks!  These will be expanded upon in my reflection post upon returning home L

Both our residents had some big, and positive developments in their cases the past few weeks.  Again, for confidentiality and safety of our residents I cannot share specifics, but we are VERY thankful.

Me and the other volunteer, Lina, took the two residents to Robben island last week.  We had told them that we were going to a surprise outing and when we arrived at the Waterfront and told them what we were doing, we were greeted with the sweetest, most excited reactions.  Neither of the residents have ever been on a boat, let alone Robben Island.  It was a beautiful time seeing their joy and excitement about riding on the ferry, the passion and emotion with which encountered the stories on Robben Island, and the thankfulness they expressed for this experience.

Robben Island

Robben Island

It has RAINED A LOT in Cape Town over the last weeks and it has turned into proper winter.  The days are cold and windy but we are all so thankful to see chilly drops of water falling from the sky, finally!  I have also encountered more rainbows in the last few weeks than I have maybe ever in my life.  Every time it rains, I see rainbow and that is a magnificent thing!

WOW!

WOW!

I finally got a proper African meal, pap and chakalaka (minus the meat) at Mzoli’s,  a famous restaurant in Gugulethu, a local township.  I was met with much surprise when I greeted the people there in Xhosa 😉  They didn’t think this umunglu could speak Xhosa! (given I know only a few words, but some is better than none!!)

Pap and chakalaka...a proper African meal

Pap and chakalaka...a proper African meal

I have seen the sunrise almost every morning, and each day I learn a little something new about myself and the world.

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We have a big fundraiser tomorrow, which is a culmination of many months of planning and effort, so for that I am very excited.

We have had some incredible, divine intervention moments with needs being met, and important connections being made with the right people.  It is a very exciting time for S-CAPE and the way we are growing to serve more women and kids who have been trafficked in South Africa.

I submitted a grant for S-CAPE that I have been working tirelessly on.  Which was a big goal of mine for my Lumos project.

I went back last night and re-read some of my goals, journal entries and reflections I have written over the past five months, and it is amazing to see how much I have grown.  I wrote things I am proud of, I read a LOT of books by people who I admire, I have listened to a lot of podcast, I have had conversations with incredible people who are very different from me in all sorts of ways.  I have become more open minded and compassionate with myself and others.  This season has become more than I ever anticipated it would or could be.

There has been a lot of unrest in Cape Town recently, especially places near Muizenberg.  It is odd how close to home it is, yet how far removed I feel from it.  It is a strange dichotomy and a reminder of how my privilege follows me everywhere, and begs the question of how I can use that privilege as an agent of social change so that the it will be on earth as it is in Heaven.

These last few days a very busy and I hope to expand on all these points, along with other reflections upon returning home and having some time to reflect on what has occurred here.

Bye’s, Belmont in Africa & Birthday’s!

I am down to my last two weeks in Cape Town and I have not come to terms with the fact that I actually have to leave.  I am in sheer denial.

Waited two years to see the view from Table Mountain on a clear day!

Waited two years to see the view from Table Mountain on a clear day!

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“Justice is what love looks like in public” Cornel West

The last week has been filled with many exciting and bittersweet things!  Two of our residents left the safe house, and that is not an easy process for any of us.  One left under less than ideal circumstances, however it was best for the safety and well being of all involved.  The other had decided she wanted to return home, and even though we wish she would have stayed longer to process and work through some things, she left with grace and joy, and we had a proper farewell filled with lots of laughter, tears and faith that her time with us was enough.  One thing that was echoed during her farewell, and the farewell of others, was the love she experienced and how it was unlike anything she had ever known. And that is the heart of S-CAPE and the heart of each of us who work here. Love is not a scarce resource, though society, and many of our circumstances and experiences, would like to tell us otherwise.  On the contrary, love is the essence of all things. It the essence of our being, of God, of the Gospel. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. Few places and times in my life has love been so tangible as it is as S-CAPE. The other place that sticks out in my mind is Thistle Farms, and I am not surprised. It seems that humble, honest, hopeful communities of imperfect people pursuing wholeness and living life together are the breeding ground for sanctuaries of love and acceptance.  At S-CAPE and Thistle Farms, and I would venture to say places like the Simple Way and L’Arche, there is a spirit of ubuntu that runs deep and wide, that I am not me without you, and until we are all free, none of us are free. I am so thankful to be apart of the S-CAPE family, and lifetime of learning what it means to love in the way of Jesus.  So to all the residents who have said they had never experienced a love like this, well neither had I.

Some other exciting events that occurred this week were that the Belmont in Africa Maymester arrived and I got to tag along with them!!  It is such an out of body experience seeing my University, some friends and one of the most formative professors in my collegiate experience here in Cape Town.  It has been a long time since I have been around so many Americans! It was exciting to get to re-experience some of my favorite places through the excitement of the students on that Maymester. I also got to share with some of the students about what I am doing here and my favorite places in Cape Town and that was very special for me.

 

#BelmontinAfrica round2!! Where is the #hashflag

#BelmontinAfrica round2!! Where is the #hashflag

Finally, it was my birthday!  My second South African birthday!  I turned 22 on May 13 and it was the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!! My sweet friends know I love surprises, and so they did just that, surprised me with all my favorite things.  The day started at Jeremy’s (the Belmont in Africa tour guide and my adopted South African father/mentor/friend/life changer) church and we had proper African worship. Then my friend picked us up and took me, my friend from Belmont (who was on the study abroad) and my flat mate to Paarl!! It was magical.  We did a chocolate tasting with all fair trade, organic, ethically sourced and produced chocolate (of course), we petted GOATS!!!! And it is truly amazing how much goats smell like goat cheese (or vice versa). Then we went to a lion and chimpanzee sanctuary, two of my favorite animals!!!! And finally we ended up at my favorite market, Root 44 in Stellenbosch and I ate the spiciest curry of my life.  And to end the day, we hiked my favorite mountain, Lion’s Head at sunset. I celebrated with friends from around the world, at my favorite place in the world, it was truly a dream come true.

"It's my birthday!"-Burno Mars" -Madison Barefield

“It’s my birthday!”-Burno Mars” -Madison Barefield

Friends from around the world!

Friends from around the world!

Paarl!!!

Paarl!!!

little bokkie!

little bokkie!

Today I went for a walk on the beach as I do when I need to process, and I was reminded of the necessity of cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  I keep say that I never want the beauty all around me and the joy of my work to become “normal.” I want to always be surprised, thankful, amazed at the miracle that is life.  I want to recognize every ordinary moment as extraordinary, and every encounter as one with the Divine. There is so much beauty and hope in the world, we must just open our eyes to the magic happening around us all the time.  

I still have a lot of work I want to finish over my next two weeks, like submitting a big grant, helping with some last minute fundraising planning before our event and taking the residents on some special outings.  People keep asking me if I am excited to go home, and as much as I miss my family and friends, Cape Town is my home! It is going to be very difficult to transition back to so much comfort, as strange as that sounds.  As Miriam Adeney said, “you will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That’s the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

I screamed when I saw this....chicken feet...apparently is lekker...

I screamed when I saw this....chicken feet...apparently is lekker...

A not so easy week

My apologies for the late post!  I have had a multitude of technical difficulties and my laptop has broken twice this month.

Last week we had a couple public holidays so I got to spend a weekend in the woods with some of my coworkers and it was magical!! We camped in this beautiful national heritage sight called Beaverlac. I got to hike alone, something I love to do but haven’t been able to do on Cape Town for safety reasons. I saw the most beautiful sunrise and spent so much time processing what has occurred over the last 4 months. We had a braai, and my sweet friends braaied veggies for me WITHOUT meat, which is almost a sin in South Africa!  It was a much needed weekend of rest and rejuvenation and I am so thankful we were able to cram our little car full and spend some quality time in nature together, not talking about work or worrying about our to do list, but simply enjoying each other’s presence.

braai veggies!!!

braai veggies!!!

camping coworkers!

camping coworkers!

This past week we had another public holiday, Worker’s Day, and although I had to work (ironically), it was a lekker day.  I was on shift as the house mother at the safe house, meaning I was in charge for the day, so I decided on a holiday, we must also take a holiday! So we went on an outing to one of my favorite spots in the Cape. We hiked in Jonkershoek to one of the waterfalls, because I am a firm believer in the therapeutic benefits of nature.  Thankfully the waterfall had water because of all our recent rain!!! It felt like we were in the Amazon rainforest, not just outside Cape Town!! I also learned two very valuable lessons that day....that it is important to always carry cash and google maps typically does not work in the townships. My process of discovering these crucial pieces of information involved confidently trying to pay the park fee to enter the hike with credit card, realizing I cannot draw money from my credit card and I don’t have my debit card, getting extremely lost in a township because google maps was also extremely lost, and laughing a LOT at myself and with myself and the residents. But nevertheless we persisted, we’re able to hike and not only survived but THRIVED on our adventure.

the Amazon or Stellenbosch?!

the Amazon or Stellenbosch?!

The rest of the week consisted of office work, fundraising tasks, grant writing, taking the residents to the weekly volunteer activity they participate in at a local kids club, and the most exciting part....PIGCASSO!!!!!

Me and PIGCASSO

Me and PIGCASSO

Pigcasso is a painting pig that was rescued from a slaughterhouse.  The fundraising coordinator and I were at the Waterfront trying to get sponsors for our upcoming event when we learned about Pigcasso.  There was a pink shipping container that said OINK on it, and we were so intrigued we had to go visit. There we learned about Pigcasso and the mission of the incredible organization that rescued her.  You can watch the video here.  We contacted the woman who started Farm Sanctuary SA asking if it would be possible to bring our residents to the farm to meet this famous pig, and she agreed!  Turns out she is the most incredible, compassionate and sweetest woman. So on Friday, we loaded up the little car and drove to the beautiful Franschhoek valley to the Farm Sanctuary SA and we met Pigcasso!!!! And all the other rescued animals!!!  I was geeking out as a vegetarian, and a social entrepreneur. Hearing the stories of the industry that these animals were rescued from wrecks me every single time. But thankfully, Farm Sanctuary SA has rescued and provided the utmost care for two gentle, loving cows, 3 huge pigs, 2 sassy donkeys, 2 sheep (skapies), 1 goat and a bunch of chickens.  The more I learned about this organization, the more I fell in love with it! They have such a beautiful social entrepreneurial model. They generate income from selling Pigcasso’s paintings, which can go for quite a lot hey. Like $1000+ US Dollars. But these paintings are impressive! They also get money from renting the upper, beautiful room of the barn to guests who pay to sleep under the shadow the the Franschhoek mountains.  Finally, they have a little kitchen in the barn that serves vegetarian food that you can buy for a picnic.

It was such an incredible location to spend the afternoon with the residents.  They go to horse therapy twice a month and have come to love the horses, which is amazing because when they first started they didn’t even want to touch the horses, and that spilled over into their encounters with these other animals.  We all learned so much about the farm industry and the intelligence of these creatures that we often see simply as a means of getting our protein! But they are wise and have feelings too, so it lead to some interesting discussion. We shared many laughs as always, “wow’s”, and a vegetarian meal in the barn with Pigcasso!

This week is going to be a tough one as we say goodbye to some of our residents.  I have been trying to process what that actually is going to mean but it is very sad to see our women go, especially when we wish they could/would stay longer, but for a multitude of reasons that is not the case.  This is the first time I have ever had to say goodbye to a resident, let alone two in the same week, so it is going to be an emotional few days that is for sure, and dealing with those not so pleasant emotions is difficult but a necessary part of this work.  Thankfully we have an incredible Director who has encouraged us all to process and feel the tough things, and has given us space to do so. On the other hand, we are trusting for more residents to come. We had a meeting the other morning to pray about more girls getting rescued and I was just overwhelmed by the weight of despair many of these women face.  There are countless girls on the streets who have no hope. All they have encountered is abuse, darkness, pain, sorrow and fear. And I just felt physically so heavy in a way I have never felt before, so burdened for these women. Recently hope has been a recurring word and image in my day to day. Each morning I have been trying to wake up early to see the sunrise, which to me is the epitome of hope in my life.  As Mary Oliver says, every morning the world is created. What hope and responsibility that carries! I am really holding onto that hope, especially now, and especially for all the girls out there still on the streets.

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I cannot believe it is my last three weeks in Cape Town.  I get SO SAD when I think about leaving this place and this work.  But I know it is not goodbye, just a see you soon 😉

Reflections on Nonviolence

Almost a week ago I was schooled by my African brothers and sisters on the topic of nonviolence and social justice.  I attended a conference put on by a local non profit that works with churches in Cape Town, serving and assisting them in their response to poverty, injustice and division.  There has been a two week contemplative activism workshop running at the larger umbrella organization I am volunteering in, but I could not take two weeks off of work, so I decided I would just come to the public event.  There were people from YWAM (the organization my project is associated with), from local churches, from the community, etc. It was diverse, and subversive, challenging and gut wrenching, enlightening and humbling. We discussed power, and what nonviolent resistance looks like in the face of the powers that be.  This post is a way for me to process all the rich and thought provoking stories I encountered.

Jesus is introduced to us as the stranger, the other, the xenos in Greek, which is where we get the word xenophobia, or fear of the stranger.  Jesus was also crucified, a horrible, gruesome, embarrassing death, that left his followers, or students if you will, despondent.  They thought the Messiah would bring about a political revolution, overthrowing the oppressive Roman empire and restoring Israel. But instead, their “revolutionary” leader was murdered, a victim of capital punishment and left no visible political revolution in his wake.  Instead, that revolution, that freedom from exile and oppression came about in the form of Jesus embodying and teaching the world what it means to be fully human, to be an Image Bearer, to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. The life of Jesus revealed that God is not some far off deity to be appeased, on the contrary, God, the Divine, the animating force of love in the world is present in us and in all creation.  The ordinary, which perhaps is indeed the extraordinary, all bears witness to the oceanic oneness and interconnectedness of all things.   

The night the workshop ended was the first time I have picked up my Bible in probably a year and half.  For my whole life, the Bible had been taught to me literally. I was told in essence that God told people the exact words to write, thus why we can call it a “God breathed text”.  In fact, the certainty in which I was taught to read the text made it seem as if God had a hand, and “he” (I won’t get started on how the use of “he” when talking about God bothers me) dropped these texts into the laps of prophets and there we have it, the Bible! I have witnessed the Bible be used to justify and inform the most un-Christ like ideas and actions.  I have heard a lifetime of sermons that told me this was the only way to interpret what this verse was saying. I was angry that the Bible is in fact this beautiful story of redemption, reconciliation and love, but I, and I would venture to say many Christians, were so tainted with the legalistic and moral codes of individualistic, “soul winning” Christianity, that we never interacted with the narrative in such a way.  

It has been eighteen months of deconstructing all things I believed was an incredibly painful and simultaneously life giving process.  And while I have started to reconstruct a few things, this workshop was the challenge and hope I needed to salvage my faith, especially in the Bible.  Introduced to me was a new way of reading Scripture, one in which we read the text with the lens of Jesus’s proximity to pain. He was right in there, living amongst the suffering of the world.  Power and money tell us that the more we have, the farther away we can be from that suffering, as we move into areas and houses with high walls and gated neighborhoods far away from the reminders of physical and systemic violence, often perpetuated by “Christians” we see on the streets of our own nation.  If our gospel doesn’t call us into the pain, the suffering, the solidarity, the fight for justice, then perhaps it is no gospel at all, and certainly not the gospel of Jesus. I have been so disheartened by Christians who think their “job” is to “convert” people so they can have a “ticket to heaven.” NO! What a limited and frankly violent view of the gospel!  If the good news of Jesus, that he came to proclaim to the poor, the prisoners, the prostitutes, etc is reduced to a “soul winning” scheme, then we have missed the point. Jesus showed us that we can have Heaven, now! We are co creators, co laborers, co conspirators in work of justice and equality. We are like mirrors reflecting the glory of God (which as St. Irenaeus would say, is (wo)man fully alive).  We are a part of the grand restoration project. Now that is good news! But this good news requires much of us. It requires that we die daily to the False Self, the to comforts that keep us from engaging with injustice, and to the powers and principalities that exist. I think this is why Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God, because rarely do the rich want to admit how much they benefit from a system that affords them the privilege of so much at the expense of many.  Rarely do the rich want to challenge the systems that allow them to stay rich. Rarely do the rich want to move closer, more intimately into the face of suffering.  In fact, one of my African sisters proclaimed at the workshop that “attacking white people’s pockets is the way to bring about change.” YOH! That about knocked me off my chair.

In my attempt at reconstructing my faith, I realized I was asking the wrong kinds of questions, those that were dualistic and individualistic in nature.  But when we see Jesus for who Jesus really is and what he revealed to humanity, a whole new set of questions emerge  To quote Rainer Maria Rilke, questions that we must “not seek the answers [to now], which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  Those questions we are invited to live, for instance, what does it look like to be a disciple of Jesus, are illuminated in what Jesus preached in the context of his society and what he imagined for the world, which I believe are precisely the questions that mainstream, evangelical, Western Christianity has lost (speaking from my own experience).

In John 14:9, Jesus that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  And when we see Jesus in the Bible, he is among the poor, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the refugees (in fact he was one), the sick, the marginalized, etc.  Jesus was and is where we would least expect God to be and in many ways that is the same today. Friends with theology degrees or those who know more than me, please enlighten me if this understanding is wrong (this is what the journey is all about!) but I would venture to say that when we see the marginalized, we see Jesus, and thus we see God and the heart of God, and if that doesn’t flip our theology on its head then I don’t know what will!  The table is extended, there is room for all, especially those we do expect to be there.

When I say I ascribe to a philosophy and life of nonviolent resistance to the powers and principalities that be, it is not just a nice statement about my being in the world.  No, on the contrary that is a very weighty statement that requires much responsibility.  It means that, as my friends of color have pointed out, I have to resist the violent SYSTEMS too.  Those being, especially economic, social and political. Thus, nonviolence doesn’t just require me to show up in protest of unjust action, it requires daily denial of the privilege that my white, American, middle class, straight, Christian, able bodied status has afforded me.  This plays out in many ways, namely in the way I am perceived, monetarily and in the power I hold in most circumstances.

It is funny that those we Christians label (perhaps one of the most dangerous acts we can participate in) as Atheist, Muslim, evil, sinful, Buddhist, other,  etc, are the ones who seem to be seeking the Kingdom more than those who call themselves disciples of Jesus. Namely, this was revealed in the 2016 presidential election, and in subsequent events.  It is fascinating how in my experience, the most vocal advocates of justice and equality are those are not “Christian.” Again, those at the table are the ones we least expect. The state of the Church in American, and the Western world deeply saddens me and simultaneously invigorates me.  Hearing the stories and perspectives from Christians in very marginalized communities reminded me of why I want to be a student of Jesus. Not the student of white washed, colonizer Jesus, but a student of the subversive, contemplative, fully human and fully divine Jesus.  

In an attempt to bring this very long and scattered reflection to a close, I want to add that these are just a weeks ponderings on a lifelong journey of nonviolent activism and resistance.  If there is one thing I have learned recently, it is that certainty is death. I must learn to hold all things with an open hand. Like all things, I am constantly evolving, so perhaps in another week, month or year, I will look back at these ideas and laugh, like I do with most things I write.  But these are my honest words that I believe with my whole heart in this moment. I would like to end this in the way we ended our time together at the workshop, in lament. We sang a song, “Senzeni Na,” which is Xhosa and Zulu song we could equate to the American protest song “We Shall Overcome.”  Senzeni Na means, “what have we done” and as it was described to me, this song was sang as the Xhosa and Zulu people buried their dead during apartheid, knowing full and well that as the song ended, they would again be attacked, oppressed and killed by the violent apartheid regime operating in their communities.  And what had they done? Their only crime was being black, as one version of the song puts it. And as I sang along, I was overcome by grief, and the words “what have we done” became my words. I lamented for what has and has not been done in the name of God, the climate of my nation and at the current state of our world.  Where is the ubuntu? Where is the love? Where is the peace? But gathered in this community of lament, none of whom I knew, but was intrinsically connected too, there was tangible hope. In the face of sorrow and injustice, we too had faith that we shall overcome.

What Words Cannot Describe

Greetings from my bed after a very long, very hot day!

Driving out to Pringle Bay for our first market! Most beautiful drive I have ever witnessed.

Driving out to Pringle Bay for our first market! Most beautiful drive I have ever witnessed.

It has been a busy, but good few weeks!  I was talking with a friend from home the other day about how incredible it is that even on the hard days, getting up and going to work feels like a privilege.  I have been thinking about, reading and listening to a lot of podcast recently about the limits of language, and how sometimes words cannot do our experiences justice.  I have witnessed this especially in cross cultural context, in talking with my German flat mate about how she wants to express something, but there is no equivalent in English for what it means to her in her mother tongue and culture.  Aside from language and cultural barriers, I have recently been trying to put my experiences and emotions into words, but it is becoming increasingly difficult.  There is something unexplainable about how fully alive I feel right now.  That is not to say that I have not had my fair share of moments where it felt like parts of me were missing, sorrows were real, and anxiety and dread were looming in the corners of my mind.  But even in those moments, there was a new kind of hope and resiliency that I had not experienced before.  And every evening when I crawl into my bed and reflect on the day, I have this overwhelming and unutterable joy, peace and fullness.  I think this is equally internal and external, as I have come to understand more about myself over the past few months, while simultaneously being surrounded and immersed in a culture, country and cause that I love deeply.

On a less poetic and more practical level, my days look very different.  Monday’s we have our operations meeting in the morning, and because we are in Africa, operation meetings run on African time which I really enjoy.  Monday afternoons I spend grocery shopping for the Safe House.  I have come to learn a lot about meat over the past few weeks.  And have spent more time around dead cow than I wish.

On Tuesday’s, I do some office work in the morning, my current projects are working on project files for the Department of Social Services, helping organize an upcoming fundraising event and updating the Safe House shopping list and menu.  Tuesday afternoons I have my entrepreneurship workshop with the ladies at the Safe House, which has been so amazing.  This past weekend we went to our first market! The women made lip balm (they do not understand my use of the word “chapstick”) to sell, as well as repurposed old costume jewelry.  They designed their own brand and had tags made, kept track of expenses, were taught the basics of a loan and given a small loan, set up their own business email, and sold their product!  It is just the beginning, and it has been such a fun experience.  The women were so excited to go to the market, one of the residents told me (paraphrasing here) that she never imagined herself to be a business woman, but selling something she made with her own hands was the most empowering experience!  I was empowered just watching them with such excitement and fervor set up and sell their product in the marketplace.  WOW!  And their goods were not branded as a charity project for survivors of human trafficking.  No, they were just business women with a great product that could sell without the cause (Social Entrepreneurship 101).  It was a fabulous experience for me, and the women and I cannot wait to see how this unfolds.

  Wednesday’s are my off day, so I usually sleep in a bit, go for a long run, then practice some self care by reading on the beach or spending some extended time outside.

Thursdays, I do more office work in the morning on different projects, or I take the residents to different appointments/therapies they have.  And in the afternoon we go to kids ministry, which is a special time for our residents to give back to the community.

The next few Friday’s I am covering a shift as a house mother, so I will either run a workshop with the residents or take them for an outing around Cape Town.  Outings are really exciting for me and the women because some of them were trafficked from other cities/countries and only know the most beautiful city in the world from the hell the endured.  So getting to experience the beauty and grandeur of Cape Town together with them is a really special moment.

I never fail to learn something new each day, wether it be a new word in Xhosa or Afrikaans, something about mine or another culture, or about the beauty and light that is still present in a world that seems to be getting uglier and darker by the day.  This work is challenging and heart breaking, but it also the source of so much hope and faith in the long and humbling process of love, peace and reconciliation.

Molo Unjani

Molo Unjani!

(Hello, how are you in Xhosa)

Last week was my first week of work and it was wonderful and challenging and unpredictable.  Our residents have been teaching me Xhosa, and I can proudly say I know about 10 words now, including how to say apple, banana and chair.

I ran my first workshop this week!  I also met with a lady who has been helping with an entrepreneurship project for the residents and we discussed plans on moving forward with that, which was super exciting.  The social entrepreneur in me was STOKED to get to be apart of this venture with the women.  It looks a bit different than what I had in mind but I think it fits our safe house and residents best.  In essence, someone donated a ton of slightly broken jewelry to us and the women get to rework the broken jewelry to make beautiful pieces and then go to markets around town (the market scene in Cape Town is thriving) and sell the pieces.  It is a very simple entrepreneurial project, but I get to share some of what I learned in school about market entry, pricing strategy, competitive analysis, revenues and expenses, etc.  It is also exciting because two of our women love to work with their hands, so this project is a really good fit.  So in my first workshop we went over revenues and expenses and budgeting, which is not the most exciting of topics, but the women were very keen on learning which makes all the difference.

I also got to join in on my first day of Rise Up, which is a program for kids in a local township that gives them a safe place to play and a hot meal to eat after school.  The Pastor of a local church started it after three kids were killed by stray bullets from gang activity right outside the school yard.  The residents join if they want, and it is a great way for them to give back to the community.  It is really empowering and exciting to watch them serving so passionately.

I had some cultural immersion experiences this past week as well, including my first South African taxi experience and my first South African public hospital experience.  Everything in the hospital was still handwritten…..and I could enter pretty much any ward without question.  I thought I might see someone die when I was in there and I honestly wasn’t sure what I would do, but crisis averted, everyone was still alive when I left.

This past weekend, I visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which is one of the most incredible places.  The mountains look different from every angle and there are so many plants it is absolutely amazing. I was wandering around alone before meeting up with a friend and I started chatting with another lone traveller while we watched the ducks in this quiet bird bath.  He knew all the places to see in the garden and I was just kind of wandering around so he was my tour guide and after we exchanged WhatsApp numbers and got lunch the next day and saw some more gardens! He was genuinely one of the nicest people I have ever met and is quitting his job to travel the world!  I don’t know when or if I will ever see him again (I hope I do), but it was a very tangible experience of our interconnectedness as humans and I am so grateful that our paths crossed.  I also visited St. George’s Cathedral, where the Archbishop of Cape Town presides (where Desmond Tutu presided!!!!!).  It was an emotional experience being in a space home to so much history, resistance, reconciliation and hope.  A great cloud of witnesses has stood in that Cathedral, and I was humbled to even step foot in that place!  It was a beautiful service, it reminded me of St. Augustine’s, my church at home and there was some beautiful liturgy about justice and light and hope.

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courtyard of St George’s Cathedral

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It has been a wonderful, almost two weeks in Cape Town!  Life here is slower, more rhythmic.  I have more time to process, which I am very thankful for because this work requires a good bit of processing.  You hear things you cannot actually believe are true, but the very people who experienced those horrors are the ones who bring you the most hope and joy.  In my two weeks I think I have more experiences of the sort of tangible love and hope that brings tears to your eyes than I have had in a very long time.  I know that I am a better, more truer version of myself for knowing these women who carry so much strength and joy. Real, sober joy that is unimaginable.  

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Company’s Garden

I have been reading Find Your Way Home, which is words of wisdom and meditations the women at Magdalene wrote and we use during the Circle at Thistle Farms on Wednesday mornings.  It is pretty incredible how similar the stories of the women at Magdalene are to the stories of the women at S-CAPE.  And both groups of women/communities at Thistle Farms and S-CAPE have shown me the most tangible forms of love, justice, reconciliation and hope.  

I  extremely thankful each day when I wake up that I am here and living out my vocation.  I still pinch myself sometimes and cannot actually believe I am surrounded by so much beauty in the mountains, the ocean, the weather and the people.