i am the great wizard

I've received some great submissions for the Make Me Laugh video contest. (I'm smiling just typing that out, thinking about what some of you did!) And I've decided to extend the deadline to next Monday. Because a few of you let me know that circumstances interfered with getting your videos made on time. And really, because, well, I'd rather get in as many laughs as I can.

So if you wish you'd made a video but didn't, now's your chance. If the thought to make one never even crossed your mind, let it cross now: Send me some funny! Don't make me beg.

And if you're stubbornly stickin' to the idea that you're just not humorous, then at least send me a hello. I love seeing your faces and hearing your voices.

(Need a refresher on the rules of the contest? Go here.)

In other news... You can order just about anything these days.

toothpaste, travel mugs, and wedding bells

The only questions I remember were about toothpaste and our kitchen. After we got married, my application for permanent residency in South Africa was expedited. Having a South African husband put me into the fast-track category. But before I'd be granted permanent residency, the government wanted to make sure I wasn't faking our relationship just to stay in the country. They wanted proof that we were really married.

It was like a scene from a movie.

Niel and I were interviewed separately by government officials. They asked us questions that would supposedly help them determine whether or not Niel and I had known each other as long as we said we had.

I was seated across from a large man behind a desk. I was nervous, fidgeting; I felt like I was on The Newlywed Game Show. Things went smoothly until the kind sir asked, "What is your favorite toothpaste?" I started to sweat. Do I answer with what I'd really say or with what I think Niel might say? I mumbled something about my favorite being an American brand that isn't in South Africa. "Just answer the question," he snapped. "Crest...?" I said, with a question mark at the end. He nodded and moved on.


I was asked to describe what our kitchen looked like. I'm way more detail-oriented than Niel is, so I wasn't sure how Niel might have answered that question. I gave vague, general details first---the guy's face remained expressionless---and then I started to give more specifics. When I told him that the top of our cabinets were lined with Starbucks travel mugs, he interrupted me and told me that would be enough. I smiled, and wished I could high-five Niel right then and there.

Needless to say, I received my permanent residency a few months later.

And if we were quizzed with the same questions today, I guarantee we'd both still get them right.

flotsam and jetsam

I got home this afternoon after 7 nights away. I wish I could say it was a vacation or at least spent on a beach, but... Nope. I was in the capital city for a training conference. At least it was hotter than Harrismith is, and I even swam once. (Quite a big deal for me, with my aversion to water and all...) So I've got some stories for you. In addition to our crazy shower escapade, Kelly and I managed to have some other crazy times. (Can you believe it?!)

We stalked the national bird of South Africa, which is quite a formidable creature. Of course, by "we", I mean Kelly.

During a break between sessions, we walked over to our guest house to discover that the front door was locked. Since we only had keys to our bedroom, we hung around in the hopes that someone else had the front door key. Each person who approached asked why we were outside. "The door's locked," we'd explain. No one had the key. As we started making phone calls and trying to figure out a Plan B, another pastor wandered over. He asked the unavoidable question and received the inevitable reply, but his response dumbfounded us. "Oh my God," he said, his eyebrows furrowed and his eyes forlorn. It was hard not to laugh at his oh-so serious-ness. I really wish you could read his statement the same way we heard it -- with his thick African accent that I've been mimicking ever since.

There was only 1 other woman attending the event--"Bishop Esther". And Kelly and I were the only whities. It was like Cross-Cultural Differences 401. We laughed at things they thought were serious, and what had them doubled-over in giddy laughter, we just didn't think were funny at all. Women weren't invited to get their meals first; ironically, we were graciously shown our place at the back of the line. Since it was someone's birthday, I was approached and asked to lead us in song because that's a woman's job. I kindly declined, knowing that was the lesser of the two evils; eventually a pastor took the lead. He had us all join hands and then he led us in a chorus of "Happy Birthday". I looked over and Bishop Esther was only holding hands with one person. Her free hand was lifted high in the air, her eyes clamped shut. For "Happy Birthday"?! I just had to shake my head and smile...

Sadly, several of the pastors visibly looked down on females, and snubbed us openly and publicly. During one session, a pastor who was involved in hosting the event, went through the room and split everyone into small groups, and sent them outside for discussion. He skipped over us entirely. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we thought maybe he was saving us for last. When the whole room had emptied except for us and Bishop Esther, his intentions were a little more obvious. "Is that everybody?" he asked. Someone pointed out that the women were left. "Oh, Bishop Esther, I'm so sorry..." and he told her which group to join. Then he started to head outside to his own group, with Kelly and I very noticeably the only two people left seated in the room. Someone again pointed it out. "What about those other ladies?" To which he so perfectly replied, "What ladies?"

"Oh my God."

four-minute friday: ostriches


There are two ostriches outside my office. One keeps knocking on the door. (I'm serious!) The other is staring intently at me through the window next to my desk. Hello, lovely ladies.

She has intriguing eyes. Have you ever seen an ostrich blink? It's very...interesting. Mildly gross, even. But her eyes are larger than life, and her eyelashes are Maybelline perfect.

I wonder why they're staying here; they've been here for hours already. Occasionally, they walk back to the grass to eat a bit, and then they stroll back over. They clean their feathers, strut their stuff, and knock on the glass. I wonder what -- if anything -- is going through their walnut-sized brains. (Did you know their brains are smaller than their eyeballs? Now how's that for a Snapple fact!?)

If nothing else, it's making my day in the office more exciting than it normally would have been. I've got a song on repeat and am ready to crack down on a big project. Thanks for keeping me company, ladies.



I need some cultural advice. Joyce (my Mosotho house helper) gave me a gift for my birthday. While it was the most meaningful gift I received, it's also the gift I like the least. Maybe that's putting it too mildly. I really dislike it. (I'm trying not to use the word "hate", but I think you get the idea.)

When Joyce gave me the gift, she also said that since she didn't get a chance to buy a card, she'd just tell me what she would have written. "You have always given me so much, and I could never repay you. I don't even have enough words to say how much you mean to me. You are my family, my only family."

Joyce shared that her daughter recently asked her, "Why do you say, 'Hello, Mama' when you talk to Mme Alece on the phone?" Joyce said her reply was, "Because she is like a mother to me. She is my mother."

It was so special. You can't put a price tag on that kind of a gift. Joyce spoke from her heart, and it meant the world to me. That is what makes her gift so meaningful.

What makes it something I strongly dislike is... well, it's what the gift itself actually is. I cringed (only on the inside) when Joyce unpacked it (opening the gift for me, in typical African style). "A toilet set!" she proclaimed excitedly.

"Wow, Joyce!"

"Here, let me show you..." and she immediately started putting each piece in its proper place in my bathroom. There's a toilet seat cover, a toilet tank cover, a toilet paper roll holder, and a curtain. And they were suddenly all on display. In all their frillyness, gaudiness, and tackiness. It was almost overwhelming.

"Wow, Joyce! It's so fancy!"

"No, it's not!" And I'm sure she's thinking that it's not fancy because practically every home in Intabazwe has a set like this. So in her mind, it's commonplace, not fancy.

"Joyce, it was so thoughtful of you. Thank you so much!"

After we hugged and talked a bit more, Joyce left and I stood in my bathroom a while. Contemplating. The question going around my head was: How do I get out of this? Joyce works in my home, so I can't simply just not use the gift... So how do I get out of this?

"Aww, come on!" you're thinking. It can't be that bad! Oh really?! This is what my bathroom looks like at the moment:

So, I need some advice. Remember that I'm feeling the tension between how strongly I dislike the state my bathroom is currently in and the fact that I love Joyce, value her friendship, and desire to be culturally sensitive.

What should I do?

**UPDATED** Make sure you read part two!


"Public servants" in South Africa (government workers) went on strike on Friday. This includes hospital staff and teachers! Schools across the country closed, just a week before the students are required to take national exams. Teachers who still wanted to show up and do their job were threatened with violence by the teachers' union. The union actually threatened bodily harm to the people they are supposedly representing -- the teachers themselves!

Entire hospitals are also closed down. Doors locked. Turning people away. One woman died at the door because they would not let her in to be treated.

Why aren't these principals, teachers, doctors, and nurses thinking at all about the people they are supposedly in their profession to serve?

True lasting change will not happen in this country until people in leadership use their influence to improve life, not for themselves, but for those they lead. I don't believe we'll see the this type of change with the current generation. That is why our focus is on raising up next generation leaders to be Godly, strategic influencers.

The future of this continent depends on it.

harrismith's bravest

Last week, when we had the fire, I called the Fire Brigade in our town. It took me a while to track down the phone number, as the one listed in the phone book was no longer in service. I called the local police station to get the number, and was left on hold while they tried to locate it. I finally got the right number and got through to someone -- but they didn't speak English. At all. Thankfully, a neighboring farmer who speaks fluent Sesotho was here to help, and he got on the phone. He talked to them for about 10 minutes because he had to provide them detailed directions on how to find us. I was really missing our trusty "911" service in America where they not only speak English, but automatically know where you are calling from.

When the Fire Brigade finally arrived, we began pulling our guys off the roof. We figured the firemen would rush right up there, and our guys would only be in the way. Boy, were we wrong! The firemen saw the ladder we had set up, which all our people were using to go up and down, and cringed. They were afraid of heights!

Very slowly, three of them made it up the ladder to the first (lowest) portion of the roof. Then they were faced with the dilemma of getting the hose up there. They were too scared to carry it up with them, so our guys ended up getting it and dragging it all the way up.

Still, the firemen wouldn't budge. The three of them sat in a row on the peak of the low portion of roof, holding onto each other's shoulders. They refused to go up any further or actually do anything to fight the fire. Thankfully, our guys were far braver -- they took that hose all the way up to the highest point where the fire was, and fought it till it went out. Literally, the firemen just sat there and watched.

After we had the fire completely extinguished, the firemen very cautiously shimmied down the roof to the ladder, where they proceeded to, very slowly and carefully, climb down. Pausing on each rung and literally trembling with fear, they took an extremely long time to get all the way down. As they were loading their equipment back onto their truck, the fire chief approached Niel. "We'll be sending you a bill for our services," he told him. Niel just laughed and told them that we'd definitely be disputing it when we got it, seeing as they did nothing at all to fight the fire.

The incompetency and cowardice of these firemen was unbelievable. They are, sadly, nothing like "New York's Bravest"... Good thing our trust was in God and not in them!

we're not the only ones

Some of you have heard me use the expression "T.I.A" before. I've written it in blogs. I say it. My husband and a small group of our friends say it. T.I.A. -- This is Africa. It's our way of shrugging off the myriad of things that seem to happen here in Africa and almost nowhere else in the world!

Last week Niel and I had the chance to see a movie in Johannesburg. We watched Blood Diamond, which, although quite intense, was an excellent movie. Based in Africa, the movie was full of African expressions: Lekker. Eish. Ag! Howzit, China? We smiled as we heard these, knowing that the majority of the audience watching this film around the world won't understand or appreciate them.

But when we heard, "T.I.A. -- This is Africa!", Niel and I both looked at each other with a funny expression on our face: "We say that!!"

Apparently, we're not the only ones...

superbowl monday

This week was our annual Superbowl Monday Party. With the time difference, the Superbowl starts at 1:00 AM here, so we tape it and watch it the next night. The main problem with this is that it is nearly impossible to avoid finding out the scores before we watch the game. Simply signing into instant messenger, reading a news email, or opening a web browser can ruin the surprise...

I had the job of transferring the taped game to a DVD, which required that I see the end of the game. I didn't mind too much since every year I've come to know the outcome prior to seeing it anyway. Finding out that early in the day relieved the pressure of trying to avoid discovering it some other way.

This year we had the largest Superbowl Monday Party we've ever had. With over 20 Americans joining for the big event, it was time to move the party out of our home and up to the conference room. We projected the game onto the big screen and there was plenty of room for all.

A wonderful benefit of our growing staff is having great cooks around. The spread of food this year was way better than anything we've had in the past, which is great for me since the food is my favorite part of the whole party!

Of course, it wouldn't be an African Superbowl if the power didn't go out at least once. Midway through the game we lost power for about 10 minutes. Thankfully it came back on and we were able to finish off the evening as planned.

It was a great night -- good game, good food, and good fun! I quite enjoy our Superbowl Monday tradition.

eating again

This afternoon we had a "working lunch" at one of our fine eating establishments. When I placed my order for a sandwich with a side of thick-cut potatoes, the waitress made a face and shook her head.

Me: "What?!"

Waitress: "Unfortunately, we ran out of potatoes."

Me: "Already? It's only 12:30!"

Waitress: "Oh no, we ran out last week."

So, no side of potatoes. But it was an enjoyable lunch. And my second "real" meal in a week!

coming to america...today!

After living in South Africa for over 8 years, I have picked up many South African expressions. With us leaving for the States tomorrow, I've been thinking about how many of them I'll probably inadvertently use while I'm there. It makes me chuckle because I know that asking someone, "Can I use your toilet?" will certainly invoke a humorous response!

I often use the Afrikaans word "lus" (pronounced liss). We don't have a one-word English equivalent, but "lus" basically means "in the mood for". I'm lus for a Starbucks chai latte!

I've picked up the South African habit of saying "shame" a lot. Now you need to understand that "shame" can be either positive or negative. Basically it's an expression that conveys sympathetic feeling, but it carries many different meanings based on the context in which it's used.

When being told of something horrible that happened, my reply will probably begin with "Shame!" (meaning: Oh my goodness, that's terrible!) When a friend biffs it (making a fool of herself, but not getting hurt): "Shame!" (meaning: Ok, that was funny!) When someone tells me about a cute baby they saw: "Shame!" (meaning: Aww, how sweet!) When I bump into something, injuring myself: "Shame!" (meaning: Dang, that hurt!) When I see someone with a screaming toddler: "Shame!" (meaning: What a bummer!) Anyway, I definitely overuse "Shame!" and if you see me in the States, you're bound to hear me say it!

For a while, I'm most likely going to climb into the wrong side of the car, since our steering wheels (in South Africa) sit on the opposite side. Let's hope that I don't accidentally drive on the wrong side of the road as well!

It will take a while for my mind and mouth to readjust to America. But I'm ready - and excited - for the challenge!

(Mom - the title of my post is for you... anytime I think of Neil Diamond's song, I picture you singing along!)


South African Airways is really strict about the number of blank pages in a traveller's passport. If there are not two completely blank pages at the time of travel, they will restrict you from boarding a flight. (In fact, they did this to Bill Hybels on his trip to South Africa earlier this year!) Back in May, Niel discovered that his passport didn't have two fully blank pages anymore. He immediately started the process of getting his passport renewed, so that it would be done in plenty of time for our August trip to the States.

Upon realizing that my passport expires in January, I decided to go ahead and renew it before we go to America -- that way it's done. I went to the American Embassy in Johannesburg last week to submit my paperwork for a new passport. (As a side note -- I've always enjoyed going to the American Embassy. Maybe it's the knowledge that it's considered "sovereign soil" that makes me feel like it's "home" there...)

I received notification that my new passport was in and ready to be picked up. My application and paperwork had been sent to the States, my new passport issued and printed, and this new passport mailed back to South Africa -- all in 6 working days. I was very impressed.

Niel is (finally!) picking up his new passport today. It took him over 3 months to get his -- and it never had to leave the country! Prime example of the slow South African system compared to the speed-conscious, customer-service-friendly USA-system.

We just shake our head and chuckle. T.I.A. - This is Africa!

Culture Clash

Interestingly, a full figure is a desired trait in Basotho culture. A high value is placed on being overweight; it is a sign of being well-fed and well-off. One of my favorite books, about a woman who began a detective agency in Botswana, refers to a full-figured woman as being "traditionally built".

We often stop at a certain rest stop on the outskirts of Johannesburg on our way to or from the city. There is a great coffee place there which, although not quite Starbucks, has pretty good coffee beverages. Yesterday, after dropping a team at the airport, we stopped for coffee as we left the city. Rebecca and I ordered our "usual": original freezochino made with milk, not water, and topped with whipped cream. The friendly employee made our drinks and chuckled as she handed them to us. As we took them from her hand, she said with a laugh, "I hope you get fat!"

We couldn't help but laugh. I walked out shaking my head and thinking what a clash of cultures that was!

Tomato, Tomahto

Last weekend I went to my first concert in nearly a decade! Having lived in South Africa for more than eight years, I don't often have the opportunity to attend events such as concerts. While there are several bands I've always wanted to see (Caedmon's Call, for one), I've just never been somewhere at the same time as them.

Last weekend, Casting Crowns played in Pretoria (about 4 hours from us). Rebecca treated me for my birthday - she, Jen, and I went up for the concert and spent the night in the city before coming home. We had so much fun! The concert was awesome - more like a worship/ministry night than a show - and all of us have decided we like Casting Crowns even more now!

As we were waiting for them to come on stage, the MC got everyone to start chanting the band's name. But, the word "casting" said with a South African accent sounds like "CAH-sting". So, imagine in your mind a crowd of 5000 people chanting, "CAH-STING CROWNS! CAH-STING CROWNS! CAH-STING CROWNS!"

We laughed.

No Shirt, No Shoes...

Here in South Africa, it is not uncommon for children to run around barefoot. I don't mean just around their house or yard, but as they accompany their parents through the stores in town. Even more shocking is that adults often do the same. It is a frequent site in our grocery store to see men walking barefoot. (Usually they are wearing short shorts as well.) It makes me cringe.

I've had many discussions with Niel regarding this phenomenon. He grew up in this culture, so to him it is as normal for the guy to be barefoot as it is for me to expect him to wear shoes. Niel has started to see the light, but still wonders why I (and the rest of our American staff) have such a big issue with this. Aaaah, the joys of a cross-cultural marriage!

I've come to appreciate the American policy of "No Shirt, No Shoes...No Service". Here it is definitely "No Shirt, No Shoes...No Problem!"

I Remember Now

My American culture and task-focused tendencies were put on the back burner this morning. In Africa, relationships are the basis for everything; they remain the top priority and the main focus, more important than any job that may need to be done. This week I’ve been out in Qwa Qwa helping to drive/lead one of our mission teams. It’s hard for me to be out of the office that much but I’ve been able to bring my laptop with me and get some things done during the day. Today, however, I spent the entire morning talking.

As an introvert, and a very task-oriented introvert at that, I’m not really one to just sit around and talk. Actually I’m not one to just sit around and anything while there’s work that needs to be done. While I see this as a positive characteristic, it easily becomes a negative “workaholic” tendency. I find it difficult to “switch off” when I do have time off or time away.

With my long to-do list, I came prepared for a full and productive day of answering emails, writing newsletters, editing curriculum, modifying some informational packets, and more. But my plans were hijacked as I spent hours talking with the pastors of the local church we are partnering with in this area of Qwa Qwa. After I talked with Mme Josephine for a while, she introduced me to Pastor Abram. I spoke with him for a long time, covering topics as varied as what American culture is like to what is lacking in African churches.

At first, I felt my O.C. mind nagging me and reminding me of all the work that needs to be done. But I finally pushed passed it and was able to enjoy a morning of relationship-focus. Pastor Abram and I had an amazing conversation – eye-opening for him in some ways and encouraging for me in others. It was an, “Aaaah! I’m in Africa!” moment.

Sometimes I just need to remind myself that I am, indeed, in Africa; and you know what they say: when in Africa, do as the Africans. Carving out some time this morning to drink tea and talk was refreshing for my soul. This is the type of experience that drew me to Africa in the first place. It is why I am here, yet I so quickly can forget. I remember now. I remember now.

What About Bob?

There's nothing like an African church service. It's hard to describe the experience to someone who's never been; it is beautiful, exciting, lively, and long! The Basotho love to sing and dance; they have an innate harmony which never ceases to amaze me. They sound best singing a cappella with no microphones; but unfortunately the Basotho also really love to blare music as loudly as possible, usually to the point of distortion.

The service we attended this morning included a mixture of Sesotho, Zulu, and English songs. Much to my surprise and chuckling, we even managed to sing Bob Marley's "Let's Get Together and Feel All Right"! (I just kept picturing the commercial for travel to Jamaica that used that song as its theme when I was a kid.) Only in Africa could you get away with singing Bob Marley during a worship service!

The "high context" Basotho culture means church services have protocol and formalities to be followed. For instance, every person who gets up to speak says, "I greet you all in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen." There can be no lulls, so the short quiet between the introduction of someone and him/her actually starting to speak is filled with a song (which extends to several minutes and makes it a bit awkward at times for the person who was just introduced).

Church was short today; we were on our way home only three hours after the service started. Niel ministered a great word and the Lord was clearly moving. The deep faith of the Basotho inspires me; their joy and willingness to sing Him praises while living in dire poverty challenges me. It's great to "get down" and have church Africa-style!

Virtual Tour of Harrismith

Our town is quite quaint, complete with a town hall. The only time I've been in there is for Carols by Candlelight around Christmas. They often hold Afrikaans concerts there; no thanks, I'll pass.

The post office ALWAYS has long lines. The usual slow service is combined with an assortment of services and items for sale that should not be available in a post office. You can play the lottery, do your banking, send faxes, purchase school supplies, pay your speeding tickets, and make photocopies. So those who are there on legitimate post office business (you know, buying stamps and mailing packages), are stuck waiting in line behind everyone else who's there to do any number of things. Fun times.

Shopping is fairly limited in Harrismith. We have a few grocery stores, two video rental stores (who have slowly been building up a selection available in DVD format), and probably 9 furniture stores. Pretty much every small town in SA has a ton of furniture stores; unfortunately they all sell pretty much the same junk. (Funny enough, one year a furniture store advertised a free sheep with any purchase over R2000. Only in Africa!) No Lowe's or Home Depot, just lots of small hardware stores. Most of the stores close at 5:00 during the week, at 1:00 on Saturdays, and don't open at all on Sundays. I think they even roll up the streets after 9 PM.

It is an unwritten law that it'’s okay for a woman driving by herself to not wait at a red light after dark. Because of the high rate of crime in SA, a woman can come to a stop and then just continue on if there are no cars going the other way. I like to make use of that whenever I can; not because I feel unsafe, but simply because I'm impatient!

We do have some restaurants in our fine city. Our eateries include:

  • KFC - they are everywhere in Africa, are much better than the American ones, and are affectionately called "Kentucky"
  • Nandos - yummy grilled chicken, from mild to extra hot
  • Spur - steaks/tex mex with an odd Native American decor that you need to see to believe!
  • Juicy Lucy - smoothies and sandwiches; a fun new addition to our town
  • Wimpy - burgers/breakfast; not too high on my favorites list
  • Debonairs Pizza - twenty minutes out of town, but worth the drive when we have time to make it

The restaurants are typically "open till late", meaning they're open until they decide to close or everyone has left. This could mean 9:00 or 10:00, you'll just have to wait and see!

We live 15-20 minutes outside of town (the opposite side than that of the pizza place). The dirt road leading out to our base is really bad right now. All the rain we've had in the past few months has left it looking like Swiss cheese (which, by the way, is not available here; Amers, remember how badly we wanted it so you could make your yummy Swiss Chicken?!). So the drive is a bit longer than usual since we have to drive a bit slower than usual. We're not that far from town, but we're far enough that sometimes weeks can go by with me not ever leaving the base! The lack of a personal car is the largest contributing factor to that; we're believing to be able to buy something next year. With gas currently at over $4 a gallon, it's a challenge to pay the expenses for all the ministry vehicles right now, never mind throwing another car into the mix.

Well, that's a glimpse of good ol' Harrismith. All you need to know and more! Now you need to come see for yourself, if you haven't yet, or come see how it's changed, if you've been here before! The welcome mat is out; come on over!