Wednesday, August 28, 2013


August 28, 2013

Today I leave Pretoria and South Africa.  I have been challenged and motivated and pushed to my limits here.  I need a vacation and that is not going to happen.

Yesterday numerous last minute, and just plain necessary, errands were “run”.  The kind that can’t be done before the last minute.  I did what I could packing last night and have finished it this morning.  My luggage is definitely overweight.  Theoretically I should have waited until I arrive in Addis Ababa today and for the next week there to buy food to take back into South Sudan with me.  The food prices here in South Africa are substantially less than what the prices are in South Sudan and I find myself purchasing, purchasing, purchasing.  There is also the truth that sometimes things are out of stock in Addis Ababa and I didn’t want to risk running into that.  The question I always have is: are the overweight charges that I am going to have to pay at the airport less than paying more for the food?  BUT the food is often not even available in Malakal anyhow.

I’ve taken to praying that God will just help me at the airport, whatever may happen.

I learned some interesting things yesterday.  A new friend helped me getting printed material from the guest house to UNISA.  The boxes will go by courier to Juba and in Juba to the Mission Aviation Fellowship where they will then be flown to Malakal.  I am very grateful for this because the courier service from Pretoria is free to students.  I would not have been able to take the materials with me otherwise.

It was pointed out to me that UNISA makes a university education somewhat affordable to many, many African students on the African continent.  This is because there are not residential campuses, and there are no classes in a classroom.  This means that the infrastructure of UNISA is designed in a cost-saving way and that savings is then passed on to the students.

I had inquired as to why Stellenbosch, another well-known South African college/university is so much more expensive than UNISA.  I figured it was probably a private institution.  It is not.  It is because it is residential and there are actual classes held on the campus. 

The connection I made was that I as an American cannot afford an American education.  The African students that study through UNISA cannot afford an African education and even though UNISA is still costly by African standards, it is more affordable than other universities and colleges on the continent.  Both Stellenbosch and UNISA are public universities.

For me UNISA is a more affordable way to do work at a doctoral level.  I simply could not afford to do this work in the United States.  For the African students it makes higher study possible.  And we meet at UNISA because the tuition is less expensive than other institutions of study.  I can’t find the notes at the moment that I made about this yesterday so I hope that what I writing makes sense and has clarity.  It did make sense to me yesterday!

I think that it is not a good thing that education is beyond the financial ability of so many people.  Not everyone loves to study and that is fine.  For those of us for whom reading (for instance) is like lifeblood, how can learning in our own indigenous environments be priced out of our reach?  As with medicine.  I think this is a critical issue that needs to be looked at.  We are entering a global community that needs people with particular skills.  How can people acquire those skills if there is not an affordable way to do so? 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Marks of Colonization.

August 25, 2013

Each African country in which I have spent time, even briefly, has been different from the others.  So far South Africa seems to be the most European to me.  I find myself wondering often if it is because the Dutch, who originally colonized the country, stayed on.  In the cases of many countries, the colonizers seem to have returned to their European homes. 

In some countries, like Ghana, the indigenous people groups “won” their freedom from the colonizing country and took over the leadership of their country.  In South Africa it was different as the indigenous people groups did not “win” their freedom, instead they struggled through Apartheid and must contend with the colonizers on an ongoing, daily basis.  This is of course only my reflection from an outsider’s point of view, it is possible that South Africans themselves see their lives in a totally different way.  What I hear often from the descendants of colonizers is that they are from South Africa but they are not African.

In some ways this is like the United States of America.  The colonizers never left.  The Europeans continued to push into the Native American lands until they had implanted themselves from sea to shining sea.  And then America created an abysmal other part of history by bringing black slaves from Africa.  “We” pushed the indigenous population into reservations and then forcibly removed other people groups from their native country and forced them to live on this new soil with no hope of returning to their original roots.  The African Americans are not colonizers.  And what of the Americans that are of Asian heritage, or South American heritage?  They are not from colonizer stock either.  This is the first time that I have given thought to this kind of issue, and it has all stemmed from what I am seeing and experiencing here in South Africa.

In three days I will return to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a week.  I will be staying with a good friend while I am there and, leaving behind my own time of being a student for a week, I will focus on my own lesson planning for the semester at the Nile Theological College that is upon me.  I decided not to go directly to Juba, South Sudan from South Africa because the culture shock would be too great.
I have found this to be true each time I have gone anywhere besides Nairobi or Addis Ababa.  When I returned to the United States last summer, 2012, I chose to leave via Dubai (UAE) and to return via Dubai.  It was a grueling journey that I won’t repeat because it required more hours in the air and more legs to the journey than a straighter shot would have; but it helped having a step in between the U.S. and South Sudan.  While Dubai clearly is not a developing country, it is a different culture.

Nairobi, Kenya is a different city altogether from Addis Ababa or Pretoria.  Nairobi is gigantic, mammoth, modern.  It is more European than Addis Ababa, without being a colonized city.  The colonizers I think perhaps conformed more to Africa than expecting Africa to conform to the colonizers. 

As I have more thoughts on these issues, I will continue to blog and to share them.  Perhaps you, my reader, will find them of interest.  Perhaps you have not contemplated these things before either and will value having a new perspective opened to you through my own perspective and my own eyes seeing things both in a new way, and just plain new things.  In this way we can share this continuing journey of mine.  Together.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Just about up to date with South Africa!

August 12, 2013

The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians Conference was an intense 4 days of about 70 together at a conference type center near the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.  The Circle is nearly 25 years old and was founded by Mercy Amba Oduyoye who will turn 80 years old in October.

The schedule was very tight as paper after paper was presented to the assembled women with time for questions after each panel.  A panel consisted usually of four to five women who had papers on similar subjects.  For instance:  Gender, Religion Health and (Single) Women.  Different perspectives on different issues facing single women in differing countries were presented.

There were a total of thirteen panels and only two of them were run concurrently.  It was overload for myself and so I took several opportunities to enjoy space to myself in the room that I shared with one of the assistants at the conference. 

I also enjoyed the wide eyes that greeted me when the women would ask where I am from.  My standard answer has become “I am an American in mission in South Sudan.”  It is of course the South Sudan part that gets the wide-eyed reaction/response.  It appears to me that the global community has not done a good job of helping people understand that there are now two countries where one used to be.  Sudan and South Sudan.  I spent quite a lot of time educating people on the split, how long South Sudan has been independent and what are the challenges that each country is facing. 

The Circle has many books in publication now.  I learned that much of the production of the academic literature has taken place after the once-every-five-years meetings.  The Executive Committees would meet to create a framework and a topic for papers, then invite members to write papers that were then included in a published book for the Circle and also for readership beyond the Circle.  The books that were offered for sale this year included several that deal with HIV/AIDS, a very relevant and high focus issue in Africa today.  In fact in one of the panels, Gender, Health, HIV and Aids (Part Two) one of the Circle Women, Pauline Wanjiru Njiru, presented a paper that shared the plight of grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren in the era of HIV at Mai Mahiu, Kenya.  The said that these grandmothers are having to learn to be mothers again and they are facing stigma in light of this because the generation of daughters that they had finished raising have died from HIV/AIDS.  They are facing a lack of resources and are, in their own impoverishment, trying to care for the children of their dead children.

It was a difficult Conference in terms of the subject matter that was presented, in terms of the honesty that was present, and in terms of frank talk of the challenges that we as women face; both in Africa and beyond.  There were also times of celebration, joy, deep solidarity, despair, weariness and satisfaction that we are on this journey with sisters that understand one another.

I had time to reflect on troubled places in the world.  A lot of the troubledness has to do with colonialization, in whatever form it happens to present itself in.  Colonialization can be like a rose; a rose by any other name is still a rose.  OR, if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, chances are that it is a rat.

In Belfast the deep societal divisions are caused by the choking relationship between Protestants and Catholics.  The root of this chasm goes back several centuries to the time that England allotted Irish land for plantations to Protestants from Scotland.  These Protestant Scots immigrated to Catholic Ireland and there has been upheaval ever since on the island of Ireland. 

In South Sudan there are deep tribal divisions.  My students in Malakal have told me that it was the British that stirred up the animosity between the tribes.  Apparently before the British and Egyptians colonized Sudan the tribes lived in relative peace (something like the situation in Palestine when previous to the creation of the Jewish State of Israel the Muslims and Christians and also the Jews who were present lived peacefully side by side).  The British created the idea of markings for each tribe and carried this out in such a way that the markings are still used, although the practice is dying out.  This is good in that they present health risks when they are performed. 

The United States and South Africa have both experienced deep racial divides between blacks and whites.  Another way to put this is that the divides are between black Africans and those who are from white European backgrounds.  When I heard about the story of colonialization in South Africa (and I am quite sure that I still have much to learn to be fully correct in my assessment) I understood that first the Dutch came, then the English, and somewhere in the mix came the French and the Germans.  When I have an Afrikaner (Dutch heritage) complain that only the black South Africans are able to find jobs I do not have much sympathy.  Who colonized whom?  Who was here first folks?  From my vantage it continues to be the black South Africans in servitude to the white European South Africans.  I’m not seeing too many South Africans of European background serving as maids and gardeners here.

In Soweto there was a Catholic Church that gave refuge to the black South Africans during apartheid.  I was so strongly reminded of Ebenezer Baptist and America’s own Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the army of unnamed women who were the backbone of our own Civil Rights Movement.  And then we could speak of/think of/cry many tears for the American Indians who have been displaced from THEIR land and cultures and languages by the very same white European colonists who created apartheid in South Africa.

I only began to under colonization, and this in an extremely rudimentary way, years ago at the beginning of my global life at a Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) store in the Seattle area.  I was looking for an adaptor to take to Europe.  I still didn’t understand the difference between convertors (that change the electric current from the American 120 to the rest-of-the-world 220) and adaptors that are used to make the plugs on appliances fit the electric outlets of various countries.  I asked the clerk at the store why an adaptor that would work in England also worked in Hong Kong when they were at opposite ends of the world.  I heard my first, “colonization” at that moment.  And thus the education began….

When I was in the Philippines during my time in China I was surprised to find out that Spanish was no longer the language there.  I also found out that English was the language of access.  To education.  To medical services.  To anything that was necessary for a decent standard of living.  English was the language of the oppressor.  Granted Spain had been the first oppressor, but around the world the primary language of the oppressor is English.  Having said that, Arabic, French, German, and I am sure others, are also languages of oppressors.

I learned during my Europe year in 2006 that in a foreign country I needed to go to the best hotel in order to find someone that spoke English when I needed help.  The shopkeepers generally did not have that level of education. 

I also learned in the Philippines that there is a Filipino language!  Tagalot.  Then English.  Then if a student, or anyone else I suppose, still has a desire to learn more languages they can go for Spanish. 

Language and schooling is yet another issue.  I finally understood during my time in Khartoum why it is that missionary parents usually choose to put their children in schools for children of foreign parents, or to homeschool them.  If a missionary child in Khartoum had gone to a local school they would have been taught in Arabic.  Upon returning to their home country at whatever future date that child would be at a great disadvantage and also would not be on track with the curriculum that would be necessary to go on for higher education in her or his own home country.  I have heard of children who were not well enough grounded in any language to be able to progress well in studies.  Something to think about.

More on South Africa.

August 12, 2013

I am back at the guesthouse in Pretoria today.  I find my heart crying for South Sudan.  Coming back from Johannesburg was a world much like the United States.  Large cities where the outskirts basically blend the cities together, going from one to the other the only way a person can really tell the change is that at some point the buildings become more sparse.  Freeways and freeway signs abound, as do overpasses and vehicles. 

I assume that even South Africa has pockets of deep poverty hidden away in small villages that exist somewhere in such a large country.  I didn’t see anything like what exists in South Sudan.  In all honesty I have seen only Juba and Malakal in the South.  Juba is not nearly as massive as Johannesburg or Pretoria; it is however much more developed than Malakal. 

What hurt me the most was Soweto.  I could see that the people there definitely live a different life than the people in the neighborhood I am in here in Pretoria.  One begins to “see” the lack of educational opportunities in the kinds of clothing that are worn, in the weariness on faces, in the way that people clump together outside of neighborhoods.  Even in this economically disadvantaged area I did not see anything like the kind of poverty that we live with as “normal” in Malakal.  And frankly the most stressful and visually clear poverty I have ever seen in all my years of traveling and cross-cultural experiences were in a town in Mexico in 2005.  Not having lived in the town, only being a visitor, I don’t have an intimate knowledge of that poverty.

I found a woman at the Conference who has been in South Sudan and understood the things that I was saying.  I didn’t receive an invitation for Easter.  After church I went home.  Alone.  This woman told me that South Sudan is not typical of Africa, due to the amount of trauma that the country has experienced and not receiving an invitation to someone’s home is a part of that trauma.  I shared with her about people, both adults and children, using the streets of Malakal as a toilet.  I have seen adults using the streets, or the large empty fields as well, as toilets.  At one point when I was ill and a colleague took me to a clinic in the town the doctor talked to me about how unsanitary Malakal is.  He mentioned the fact that people defecate in the streets.  I know.  I have witnessed this.

As she said, it will take Malakal, and South Sudan, many many years to catch up to the development of other parts of Africa.  And this means catching up in many, many ways.  Developmentally the social, emotional and spiritual aspects of human existence must grow as well as the ability of the government to educate all of the girls and boys in the country.  The infrastructure must grow as well, including a system of roads and increasing food security.  People don’t want to grow crops because someone else will likely steal what they grow.  If what they grow remains in their own hands there are few ways to get excess to market, as there are not paved roads to access other locations.  Rainy season renders the soil of South Sudan impassable and crops rot in the places they have been stored.   I was asked if I knew of any women in South Sudan who would want to participate in the work of the Circle.  Not yet.  It is going to take time to bring the education levels up to the point of participation in the kind of work that the Circle, and other organizations, do.  The awareness that Theological Education is for females as well as males is going to have to be developed as well.  I am not sure that we will have any female students at the Nile Theological College this coming academic year, and no one but myself seems to find that incredulous. 

My heart weeps for Malakal and for South Sudan.  Prayers abound that change will be more readily sought and seen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

South Africa Continues....

August 11, 2013
South Africa

This has been a busy, busy time both the last two and a half months in Pretoria working on the Research Proposal for the Doctor of Theology in Missiology degree and also here in Johannesburg at the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.

I have learned, for instance, that Africa has Francophone speakers in countries that were colonized by France, such as Congo; and Congo is distinct from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) {that has been in world headlines for having a tremendous problem with the raping of women).  In countries that were colonized by Portugal, such as Angola, there are Portuguese-speaking people.  We have had one woman here at the Circle Conference from Angola.  We communicate with her primarily by smiles and hugs.  And then there are Anglophones, those who speak English because they were colonized by Great Britain, also popularly known as the United Kingdom (UK). 

It appears from what I have been able to glean that those with languages other than English may not use tribal languages within the countries.  The French speakers, for instance, that we have here at the Circle Conference (CC) appear to speak even with one another in French and not in yet another tongue.

I knew that South Africa (SA) had been colonized by the Dutch in the Netherlands.  I did not know that then the British had colonized some parts of SA, they were known as the Boers.  The Dutch lineage appears to have become the Afrikaans, a spoken language that is somehow similar to both Dutch and German and yet is uniquely South African.  I have also found that the French Huguenots and Germany have had a hand in South Africa.  This is along with 11 official indigenous languages.  Someone said to me, “No wonder SA is known as the Rainbow Country!”  The United States is known as the Melting Pot, I guess that is a different root concept than Rainbow Country.

The racial divisions between white and black South Africans are palatable.  I sense that the different population segments live totally separate lives.  I even sense this in the shopping malls.  It is as if each people group lives in its own bubble and they just pass each other without interacting at any meaningful level.  This is most similar to the experience I had with Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.  It is less so in the Republic of Ireland because it is a majority Catholic country and there did not appear/or feel to be as much polarization between the two populations as there is in Northern Ireland that is definitely a Protestant majority country.  The Protestants seemed to be wealthier than the Catholics and the two factions had very different cultures, even within the same country.  This is how I am experiencing South Africa.

More to come….