The Things They Never Told Me I Would Miss About SA

It’s been seven months and five days since I bade a (proudly, only slightly) tearful goodbye to my family on an cloudy Spring day in Johannesburg and climbed aboard a plane to set off on my biggest adventure yet in the even cloudier Liverpool.  I had been warned, naturally, of all the things I would miss – both the obvious (family and friends) and the obscure (basically just a list of things from Cape Town that I can’t possibly miss because I’ve spent less than 0.2% of my life in Cape Town (Is it sad that I went and worked that out?))  I was told in no uncertain terms that I would miss the sun and spiral into deep depression caused by the extreme vitamin D deficiency.  I was assured that I would never make it without the “bigger sky”. I was promised that I would simply perish without delicacies like boerewors, biltong, and rooibos.

Well, quite frankly, we’ve had sun about 50% of the time, the sky is (shock horror) exactly the same size, and though I do admittedly miss my red cappuccinos, I can’t say that biltong or boerewors have been missed.  I can also pick up rooibos at my local Tesco…

But in all the lists that have been published online, and in all the diatribes I endured before leaving SA, there were a few things that were never mentioned.

(There should have been pics, but I’m battling with uploads.  I’ll add them at a later date if I can)

1. They Never Told Me I Would Miss My Accent

“But you live in England – home of the sexy, sophisticated accent!” I hear you cry in indignation.  And to that I say: what, the 15 remaining posh Brits who still live in castles?  I worked in Warrington for a month, and let me tell  you, they open their mouths and it’s the rednecks of the North West of England!

The strange things is that I still mock South African accents.  Suzelle is still funny to me BECAUSE of her accent.  Our diversity of accents, interspersed with those gorgeous bits of vernacular (eina, eish, jol, kip, lekker…), is an ongoing inside joke.  One that I sorely miss.  I find myself making conversation with random strangers in the bus (a massive taboo) simply because I hear a South African accent or a snippet of Zulu.

2. I Was Not Warned I Would Miss The Mayhem

Plenty of people said I would be glad to get away from it.  Never did I dream that I would write a blog stating how I missed it.

Never has the term “first world problems” meant more to me! Here in a genuinely first world country I can say that people just don’t get it!  Priorities are SO warped here.

The absolute chaos that is so frequently the hallmark of South Africa means that we have, for the most part, developed an amazing sense of humour and an absolutely ridiculous level of tenacity.

When I first arrived here, I went to the doctor.  After sitting patiently in the waiting room for about 5 minutes I heard the lady behind me loudly complain that she had waited an “unacceptable” 20 minutes.  To put this in perspective: we were in a spotless, warm, walk-in clinic, with pleasant, knowledgeable staff, preparing to see a fully qualified doctor who would give us a consultation for FREE!

In that instant, I understood South African humour.

Back in SA, my mom headed to Home Affairs.  After waiting a good 2 hours to get to the front, she celebrated rather than complained and the others in the queue cheered!  It was like she had won something!  Comradery and cheer seem to be built upon our chaos.

3. I Was Never Prepared For The Sayings That Wouldn’t Unstick

Everyone wants to be in on the joke.  All jokes.  If I say “Even me!” nearly anywhere in SA, people will understand my reference.  Here in England I just sound as though I’ve forgotten how to use the English language.  And as odd as it sounds, I find I miss quoting Trevor Noah (Vernacular as Dracula’s sidekick needs to go global.  That bit was too brilliant to be confined to SA!) and I miss the 23 years of phrases and thoughts and idiosyncrasies that have become ingrained.  Silly comments about taking a shower, the last dictator standing, “met eish, ja, met eish”… These things don’t get rid of themselves.

As a side note: it was bad enough learning SA polititcs!  I finally got the important stuff to stick and now I have to learn it all over again. Why is there a political party called “The Green Party”? I walked past their offices and genuinely thought it was an events company or something.  How I long for the day when I can turn on the TV and watch a live comedy and actually understand the references – to celebs, politicians, geographical stigmas…

4. I Missed The Warnings On Missing The Wildlife

Now I can’t take full credit for this one as most lists do mention the fauna and flora which flourish across the brilliantly diverse SA.  But what they would do here is launch into statistics and facts about the variety of species and biodiversity and all that boring stuff you learn at school.  I understood that I was leaving all that. That never bothered me…

Until I realised the implications

I walk everywhere here and have been able to see a large amount of Liverpool and while the lush, verdant fields and parks leave me with no hankering after flora, the limited number of birds (BIRDS of all things! I ask you!) made me miss home.  Where here I see pigeons, seagulls, robins, and crows, my view from my window in SA was full of hoopoes, doves, weavers, sparrows, wagtails, starlings, thrushes, hadedas, even the occasional heron, kingfisher, and hammerkop!  I miss the birdsong and the chatter and tiny movement in the trees and bushes. My experience of “wildlife” is so far removed from anything the native here have experienced.

5. They Didn’t Explain How Important Experience Is

This is the last one, but possibly the most important as it potentially encompasses all the other points.

I’ve lost count of the conversations which include the exchange of “I grew up in SA, remember”, “Oh yeah! Of course!”

From armed robbers running through the garden, to walking with elephants, and from picking up starfish in the rockpools in PE and Durban, to knowing a variety of phrases in various languages, I have a life experience so foreign to the people here that I may as well be a new species.  I can’t talk school without explaining IEB vs GDE. I can’t talk animal education without a brief description of the various parks and animals. I never realised how my experience as a South African child shaped who I am.  Even the fact that we had a garden, that we had swimming at school for half the year, and that I remember being taught to track and identify various buck, sets me apart from the people here.

 

And though this post is already longer than I intended, I must say one more thing.

Even though I love England and plan to stay here and make my life and home here, I am indebted to my SA for the person I am today.  The more time I spend away, the more I respect the people and appreciate the place.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika!

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Day 2: A World-Class Performance

Welcome to Johannesburg – a world-class city!  Or so the tourism board insists.  DSCN4487I still question this, but tonight I definitely saw some world-class quality in the show “Stage by Stage” put on by none other than South African theatre star, Jonathan Roxmouth.

I must say, I thought is exceedingly odd that I was walking through a Tuscan themed building while looking for South African things, but I came to the conclusion that that was simply part of the charm – a nod from South Africa to Italy to say, “hey, nice place.  Can we share in it?”.

Monte Casino (for anyone still wondering) is a great place in the Johannesburg for a little bit of fun.  Great place to eat, great entertainment, great shops… and great theatre!  The whole place is designed to look like an old Tuscan village – right down to the pigeons on the window sills – and it’s absolutely fantastic for a night out!  It was at the Teatro – the main theatre – that The Lion King debuted in South Africa.  It was here that I watched Beauty and the Beast and     developed a greater love for Disney, Menken and Ashman, and fairytales in general.  It was here that I fell in love again with a man in a mask who sings like an angel (of music) and writes operas for beautiful chorus dancers. And it was here that I watched Stage by Stage and was reminded of all the reasons I so love musicals.

RDSCN4502ight from the beginning, Jonathan had the audience in the palm of his hand.  He restarted the show four times – once for each time a new passel of late-comers walked in – and each time more hilariously than the last.  He enthralled with humour, story-telling, and fantastic music.  With songs from musicals ranging from Pippin to Jekyll and Hyde to Phantom of the Opera to Les Mis, there was a great variety and many opportunities for the star of the show to show how he became such a star.  I was impressed.  Very.

now in all honesty, I’ve come to expect this kind of quality at Monte Casino – after all, it’s a major tourist attraction.  But doing this tourist challenge I realised tonight that this is another reason to be amazed by this country.  I take it for granted, but as a tourist, this is absolutely spectacular.  This show that l so thoroughly enjoyed was written and performed by a man born and DSCN4504bred in South Africa.  He referenced great South African performers.  He used some of our oh-so-descriptive slang.  He took us back to memorable Jozi moments.  And all of these things were proudly South African.

So here’s to a great man, a great show, and a great country!

#25daysatourist

25 Days a Tourist – My own personal challenge

I have just returned from an amazing two weeks in England – London and Liverpool in the Spring, and a day in Germany.  It was spectacular!DSCN4323

But walking the streets of Germany on my own caused me to get a little more reflective than usual: I find it so easy to see beauty in other places, but not so much in the place I live.  Every corner I turned in Europe led me to another scene to marvel at.  And each new marvel was subsequently compared in my head to something that I then deemed “substandard” from South Africa.

How sad.

How pathetic.

How very blind and naive!

I thought through this revelation on my flight home and decided I wanted to set myself a challenge to see my own home as a tourist might.  To look at my world through new eyes and learn to appreciate what so many will never get to see.

And while I was still trying to decide if I should really follow through, my best friend sent me the following, after doing some “touristing” herself:

“…we need to do more touristing in our home towns”…

Ok, ok.  I can take a hint.

So today marks my promise to be a tourist for 25 days.DSCN4426

I’m going to take my camera everywhere.  No tourist goes anywhere without a camera!  I know for a fact my photography is terrible – at best I can give you a picture that’s in focus and has vaguely decent composition.  At worst, there will be no photo at all.  But I’ll try.

I’m going to look for things that are different or special.

I will not spend any extra money.  This is a hard one because it means not going to the tourist attractions and looking for things other tourists might see.  But I know that simply walking down the streets of London was incredible to me – why should the streets of Jozi be any different?  On that note, however, I will try to be more open-handed.  It’s weird thinking about how much money tourists are willing to part with simply because they’re tourists…

Each day I will put up a new post with my discovery for the day.

So there it is.  10 May 2015 will be day 1 of 25 Days a Tourist. Watch this space!

#25daysatourist

Hope: The strongest magic of all

I am in love with the TV series Once Upon a Time.  I will admit that every cliche makes my heart lighter and every time Snow or Charming say “I will find you, I will always find you” my eyes well up.  But there’s one beautiful theme etched into the very fiber of the show that makes my heart swell every time: hope.

hope 1

If there’s one thing that has popped up repeatedly in my life recently, it’s the idea of hope.  Be it in awesome series, or in an assignment on eschatology – there is always a glimmer of hope.  And though I may not believe in magic, I do believe in hope.

I must confess that in my Disney-addled brain I have come to put a lot of stock in happy ever afters. There is something intrinsically beautiful in the thought of finally having everything work out.  We all wait for it with baited breath.  We feel the pain of a world that is falling to pieces around us.  Like characters from a fairytale trapped in a new, dark place, we too yearn for home – for family.  You feel it in beautiful music when you wish hope 2you could catch that emotion of transcendence and float away on it.  You see it in sunsets and smiles  – brief glimpses of something so much greater than human experience.  That yearning, when led, can turn to hope.  And that hope, when placed correctly, leads to joy and fulfillment.

Doing a study on eschatology is fascinating for me.  It’s like the happily ever after of Christianity – sorry if that’s sacrilege to say, but let’s be honest here.  There is literally a Prince on a white horse in Revelation who comes to save the people captured by the evil beast.  And then that same character waits for his bride who is adorned in purest white.  And happily ever after is eternal.  People diss fairytales… I like to think I’m in one.

But back to the point!

Hope

Fairytales may just be stories.  And life might not always have a happy ending.  But for the Christian there is a hope – one that is confirmed!  Christ came!  He is our hope.  The Christian hope lies in a life beyond this one. Our hope is secured in a place where there are no more tears and no more pain.   Life gets really sucky really often and I’ll be the first to admit it, but there is one thing that never dies – hope.

Those who lose hope are those who will go as far as to take their own lives.

Hope gives us purpose.  Hope gives us joy.  Hope gives us life.
And if I am reminded of my hope in fairytales, so be it!  But put your hope in the one who can fulfill it.  And then remind yourself vehemently and regularly of that hope.  Don’t lose hope – it is the strongest “magic” of all.

 hope 3  hope 5

The Dead Theologian

Hi, my name is Cayley, and I am a theology student.dead theologian 2

(The blogsophere in my mind responds with: Hiiiiii Caay-leey.)

Is there a support group for people like me?  I’m pretty sure there should be one!  I have a feeling that the answer should be “yes, of course!  It’s called the church, silly!”  Unfortunately, I have the feeling it’s not quite so simple.

The problem with studying theology is that it becomes awfully easy to dismiss God as part of your studies.  (Here you go, God, here’s a nice box for you to stay in, right beside Ancient Greek and Demonology.)  It becomes far too easy to dismiss miracles – after all, they happen all the time in the Bible. And speaking of the Bible, that has a habit of becoming a little too much like a textbook.  Nope, better read something else today – just for your own sanity.

It terrifies me that a person who wants to study God would become the person to dismiss him and so easily believe lies!  It scares me even more that I am that person.

I called this post the dead theologian for this reason: we know we’re made alive in Christ.  We have the Spirit of the Living God in us.  We have been raised into the fullness of life with Christ…  Yet something seems to have died.  It’s hard to place my finger on it, but I know it’s dead.  Inside this living, breathing, born-again theologian wanna-be is something festering.  It’s the dead theologian syndrome.

So how do I combat the rigor mortis that is taking over my spiritual life?  How does this dead theologian live again?  Well, as I type this, I realise that the answer is quite simple… it’s just that, as per normal, the practice of it is not quite as easy.

Remember good ol’ Ezekiel way back in the Old Testament?  Well, he had a similar question when faced with a pile of dead bones.  He just got to do it in dialogue and slightly more eloquently.  The Lord asked him if the bones could live; if they could rise again.  And Ezekiel’s reply?  It wasn’t a sigh and a shake of the head.  Ezekiel didn’t hold a memorial.  He simply replied with the only thing he knew for certain: You alone know.

And lo and behold!  The bones lived!  God breathed his Spirit into those dead, dried up bones and they lived!  Those things were well passed rigor mortis.  Those things were practically decomposed.  I’m thinking elephant graveyard in Lion King.  Creepy, right?  Yet God made them live.dead theologian 1

That same Spirit lives today, and that Spirit is in me – I simply need to give myself over to God completely and allow Him to do His work.  As I said, harder in practice…  I’ll take a guess and say that what’s required is a broken, begging, fearful and worshiping heart.  I’m guessing God is asking for free reign. And this is one outlandish request I am more than happy to agree to!

Casting Crowns came out with a song some time ago with words that went like this:

A pastor stands before his congregation
Once a mighty army for the Lord
But now he stares into the lifeless eyes
Believers leading carnal lives
He wonders what they’re fighting for
But driven by a calling on his life

He spoke God’s word like
He’d done a hundred times before
But this time he comes broken and weeping
With tears of a broken heart
And he cries out to the Lord

Oh Lord, send Your wind into this valley
And breathe the breath of life into their souls
And raise them again a mighty army
For soon these arisen warriors will battle again
For they have been filled with the spirit wind

dead theologian 3I’m going to start praying hard for that Spirit Wind.  And I don’t need a theology degree to know that God answers prayers!

And that support group I so desperately need?  Well, church family – sorry for you, but you’re going to have to help this family member who needs to go to rehab…

 

PS.  If you know me personally, please don’t comment to me on what you’ve read here.  As Flannery O’Conner put it, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say”.

FROZEN (be warned, there are spoilers)

frozen 4I realise there are probably a million blogs already on this topic, but here’s my two cents anyway.  I want to recognise the genius that is Disney’s latest offering: FROZEN.

There are about a million things I could gush about, from Olaf the snowman who “likes warm hugs”, to Idina Menzel’s incredible power ballad that results in pure awe, but instead, I want to talk about the point that I think Disney was trying to get across.  See, hidden beneath love-sick teens who “finish each others… sandwiches!” and really awkward duets between one person (“But people smell better than reindeers, Sven, don’t you think I’m right?”), there’s this awesome line that I’m pretty sure is the crux of the story.  And it goes something like this:

“Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart”

frozen 1And we all assumed it was Anna’s heart that needed thawing…

Now maybe I’m stretching metaphors a little too far here, but in my (unabashedly weird) mind I’m seeing some seriously Biblical imagery making an appearance.  “Love covers over a multitude of sins” ringing any bells for anyone?  How about the persecuted one giving up their life for someone who causes pain and is, let’s admit it, pretty selfish?  Still nothing?  How about someone trying to kill the person in charge so he can rule the kingdom?  I’m really hoping something is getting through now…

I know I’ve spoken about this before, but there’s this awesome thing that Disney does which combines timeless movies with timeless truths! In this particular movie what we see is a sacrificial love that covers over the unstoppable results of a frozen, selfish soul.  Did you notice how Elsa realises her power and the damage it causes and runs away, then her sister goes and searches for her!  When Elsa refuses to come back, Anna doesn’t give up.  And when Elsa starts to destroy everything, Anna gives up her life for her!

It’s such a beautiful story!  We’re all pretty much sold on this amazing love story where for the first time in forever (See what I did there?) an act of true love is not true love’s kiss.  So why can’t we be sold on the original story?frozen 2

My youth pastor likes to ask why we don’t rave about Christianity the way we rave about movies.  I haven’t shut up about Frozen – I quote lines, sing the songs, download the sheet music… write blogs… but why on earth did I shut up about Jesus?  I mean, let’s review that story – Cayley realises she is full of sin and hopelessly lost, so she runs away from everything so she can let her sin go.  But Jesus follows, even when Cayley refuses to go back.  Jesus never gives up and goes on this incredible quest to save Cayley from herself!  Finally, in an act of true love, Jesus gives up his life for Cayley – and she is made into a whole new person because of it.

I would read that story and watch the movie! And not just because my name is in it…

Let’s get excited about Jesus again!  Seriously!  It’s all well and good falling in love with Idina Menzel’s voice, but how about falling in love with its creator?!  I mean, she didn’t get that awesome on her own.  And Frozen is not an original story…frozen 3

PS.  If you liked this, check out http://ineverymovie.blogspot.com/2013/12/frozen-cant-control-curse.html   , I’m telling you now it’s better than my drivel.

Clouds

In my head I know that clouds are nothing more than water in the sky.  Schooling and education tend to knock the romantic out of you like that.  But try as my teachers would, there was a little girl – a little romantic – who could never be knocked out of me.  My mind and my heart don’t have to be on the same page all the time, and, honestly, they normally aren’t.  And I like it that way.

One thing about sitting in the car for 12 hours is that it gives plenty of time for cloudsendeavours such as cloud-gazing.  I particularly like what I call fairytale clouds.  Those are the big fluffy ones with flat bottoms and big puffy tops, just like In the storybooks!  But then there are the jagged, geometric ones – they look like someone took a pen full of cloud and constructed them.  Then there are the sweeping, immense ones that dominate vast majorities of the sky and act as anchors.  Little clouds spread their wings and float off the anchor cloud, and tired, heavy clouds return to rest.

Clouds are a happy place.

But the best thing about clouds is that they are forever changing.  I sit in the car and label them – a cat pouncing… a seal… a duck smoking a pipe… a hand full of cauliflower… But I look up two minutes later and everything has changed.  Now my kitten looks more like a clam talking to a Smurf.

The sky gets to be creative.  Everything changes, but everything remains.  The splendour of the sky is never-ending but it’s never constant.  One day the sky will be brilliant azure, and the next, it will be heavy grey.  It’s like the clouds are playing a great big game of hide and seek, and when they’re tired, they come out to play charades.

Clouds are like life.  No really!  Hear me out on this one…

We’re forever moving, forever shifting and changing. We chase something on the horizon only to realise that the horizon is as fickle as we are.  So we choose to be stationary. We sit in our situation trying our hardest not to change, and we find ourselves compromising into something else, being pushed on by others, or simply falling to pieces.  If clouds are inconsistent then my life can definitely empathise!clouds 2

I remember hearing once that the only constant in life is change.  I hate that saying!  Why must everything change?  After all, change is hard.  Girls know how hard it is to change outfits.  Anyone who’s moved will tell you how hard it is to change your address.  Changing lightbulbs – as humorous as the thought may have become – is even becoming complicated.  (How many bumbling bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?)  Why must change be the only thing we can rely on to never change?

But then I think about those clouds.  Can you imagine what would happen if they never moved?  How could regular life continue if the water cycle decided it was over change and it would rather stagnate?  No more evaporation.  No more rain.  No more snow.  No more mist or dew or hail or cloud cover. Quite simply, we could not survive.  Change is what preserves.  Change creates growth and development.  Change is what keeps everything from falling apart.

None of this means I like change.  Mostly, it means I got rather philosophical when I looked at the sky one day.  But perhaps through the practice of putting whimsies into words, I have managed to contain the thought that change is beautiful and maybe help me one day when the change in life seems like just a bit too much to handle.

And maybe next time you look at the sky, instead of seeing cumuli nimbus,   you’ll see an acrobat about to do a backflip off a saxophone…  Or at least something equally outlandish.