That was dinner on the first night of my 7 day community stay in the extremely rural village of Gottenburg South Africa. No running water, no toilet, and lots of cock roaches. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I truly saw the African lifestyle. I lived with a very nontraditional African family: a married couple with two children! Felix and Florence live in a 2 bedroom home and share a property with Felix’s mother, or “gogo”- (grandmother) and his niece and nephews- Ntombi who is 19 and in grade 12, Ralph 17, and Rich 14. Felix and Florence have a 3 year old adorable boy Reveal, who looked at me the first few days like who are you and why are living in my house?! And a 6 month baby girl Reality. To my surprise I had my own room and own bed. My family was absolutely wonderful, I experienced hospitality to a whole new level. They treated me like a royal guest and I had to fight to help them around the house. While I was worried that a full week- Friday to Friday would be too long when plans changed and I came home a day early I wasn’t ready to say goodbye! Another short-termer at Hands, Michelle came with me and stayed with a more traditional African household: her host Doris has two children and lives with her parents, 17 year old sister that has a month old baby, brother, and nephew.
During my stay I experienced a 3 hour long African church service all in Tsonga language. Thankfully a woman translated for me. To say they sang and danced would be an understatement. They joyfully gave all of themselves in praising the Lord. I also got a taste of the role of women in Africa, they work so hard, doing everything! Felix is the coordinator of the home based care organization so he works very hard, but I met many families in which the men don’t work and the woman is responsible for everything. I have never met stronger more resilient women than I have here in Africa. I also experienced how routine and simple their lives are. Church, school, and chores make up most of their time and when they aren’t doing that then they sit and talk. Felix and I went to register orphans for USAID one day and it took 3 hours to visit 3 houses because there is no such thing as being in a hurry when you know the whole village and enjoy talking to each person! He tells me “I am a man of the people!” Another reminder of what the African people do best: live simply and relationally.
I really enjoyed my time in Gottenburg with Felix and Florence’s family. I now have a second home here in Africa. They truly cared about my well-being and went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable. One night Florence tested me to see if I preferred rice or mealie meal. I took rice and for the rest of the week she made a special thing of rice just for me.
Two of my highlights from my time in Gottenburg- on Wednesday evening after dinner Florence put on some music and I heard a familiar strum of the guitar and thought hmm that’s not the usual African music. It was a worship CD she had been given from America! We both knew all the songs and sang together, it warmed my soul and was just what I needed. Then the ever energetic and enthusiastic Ntombi came in and I taught them the actions to Lord I Lift Your Name on High. They did it over and over. I loved every moment of it.
The second happened the day we arrived during our Home Based Care visits. The second patient we saw that day was an old gogo. She walked very slowly to us using a big stick and I wondered if she would make it, each step seemed more painful. She told us that her feet, legs, and back have been in serious pain for several years now and medicine does nothing. From the moment she sat down I couldn’t take my eyes off her dirty, tired feet. While someone read some scripture I felt the Spirit telling me to wash her feet and I tried shrugging it off thinking how uncomfortable that would be and possibly culturally inappropriate. When I couldn’t shake it I asked her if it would be okay for me to wash her feet. They brought me a basin and soap and before I knelt down to wash them I said (with an interpreter) because you have served your family all your life and are now in pain I would like to serve you. She was so worried that I was getting dirty and that they would need to bathe me afterwards! I don’t know if what I did meant anything to her but I will never forget that moment.
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