Sunday, February 5, 2012

Feeling like Iocals and liking it.

There is so much more to tell you about the work, but I felt it most helpful to share my heart first. Please bear with me.

I have been on a few other trips outside the US and I'd describe those experiences as total tourism.  I stayed in a condo or hotel room with other travelers, visited sites and enjoyed activities highlighted in the travel guides.  I rarely if ever interacted with local people.  If anyone at the resort was a local, their job did not include engaging in conversation with the guests.  Matter of fact in most resorts the work staffers were college kids from other countries. I do remember some conversations with local residents in the marketplace but that usually involved bartering for merchandise - not exactly UN worthy exchanges.

I accepted but always wondered if my tourist experience was only skimming the surface - sterile and superficial nothing more. Don't get me wrong! I enjoyed ALL those trips. They were high points in my life's journey.  I simply had a hunch there was more... a potentially richer experience out there I was missing.

Yes, I longed for more, but had no idea how to make it happen until I stepped foot in South Africa with Gloria Lee.  So what was different about this trip?

First off, Gloria is a world traveler and I'm not. Having her travel confidence to rely on, I never felt uncomfortable, uncertain or lost. Gloria exuded a relaxed approach to everything new or challenging. I tagged along and learned. I drove on the other side of the road, badly the first few days, but she never freaked even when it was warranted!

Second, the nature of the trip to South Africa was not touring. Other than two days of down time to explore, we were there to write. We woke each morning, showered dressed and headed out, not to serve our desire to be entertained, but to contribute to a worthwhile project with a Godly purpose.  Yes, we enjoyed the scenery along the way, but that was all secondary to the project at hand.... just like at home.

We spent the first week as part of a collaborative team representative of several countries, but hosted by South Africans.  You don't brainstorm and grapple over details and concepts for four days without getting to know the character and gifts of others around the table.

Lunch breaks together allowed us time to relax and enjoy playful conversations over delicious meals.  Sharing about our lives and countries was at the top of the table conversation topic list.  The self-deprecating laughter over words mispronounced was jovial. (You try to duplicate the clicks of an African tribal language!) Sharing about our favorite comfort foods, some the rest of the group wouldn't eat on a dare, was playful and created bonds of friendship and acceptance.

We stayed in a B&B in a residential area.  The hosts and the staff treated us like visiting friends, not like hotel guests. Our accommodations were not plush, but they were so safe, comfortable, clean and livable, we felt at home right away. The sounds of children playing simply added to the homey feel.

We were invited into the homes of our South African friends. No upgrade tourist excursion can match visiting the living room of a resident.  With babies, toddlers and preschoolers playing on the floor, the Australian, American, Chinese, Malaysian and South Africans gathered there got to celebrate the seventh night of the Chinese New Year by communally tossing a salad with chopsticks. The goal was to see how high we could toss it without making a royal mess. Find THAT listed in the travel guides!  Yes, we Non-Asians were totally spastic, but our Asian friends didn't seem to mind, NOR laugh at us.

Experiencing a South African Braai "barbeque" is one of the events the hotels probably try to pull off, but it couldn't be as special as our braai in a South African's home. They might call it a "Braai" but this one felt just like a cookout in Raleigh, NC.  Everyone brought meats and sausages. The host made side dishes and desserts restaurants couldn't duplicate nor match. Our hosts put us at ease right away, so much so we were quickly sharing political views of the US.  (I can't tell you how settling it was to hear what others think of our economic situation, our president and our legislature and find we are all in agreement. It's a global mess all countries must address!)

View from our Stellenbosch, "Office",The Postcard Cafe
The second week, we "went to the office" each day to write in a temporary office space. OK, our temporary office was a cafe at a local wine farm (in US we say winery) with most amazing view of the mountains, free internet and delicious food for our working lunches, but we were focused on getting work done and we did!  That's not exactly a tourist experience. Working is what locals do and in our minds, we WERE locals and cafe regulars.  Each day we packed up at 4pm and headed for our home - the B&B.

It was those times Gloria and I realized we were feeling like locals and liking it!

Now I've discovered this richer, deeper experience I realize it comes at a cost I never considered. On our last and only full day of sight-seeing there's no wonder we experienced a touch of depression.  Gloria was unusually quiet. I had to fight back real tears as we said grace over our last meal in South Africa. The thought of leaving hurt that bad! I don't know about Gloria, but I know I left a part of my heart with my new friends in South Africa. It makes me sad to think I may never return to retrieve it.






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