Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Tis the Season

The holiday season always seems to be a time when we all give thanks for the great things in our lives: family and friends, roofs over our head, our health and all the blessings that we have. I have been thinking about what I am thankful for a lot lately, especially because my life and my work here has helped me to prioritize and appreciate what I have even more.

There are two things that I wanted to briefly write about, to highlight some of the frustrations, and common practices in South Africa, which I have been thinking about a lot lately.

About a month and a half ago, much to our surprise, we had two break ins at our house. We live in suburbia, comparable to Southern California, a place that you would not expect to have break ins. But, what we have learned is that you cannot expect anything here. Life is different, and South Africa is a completely different world. Just because it looks like America does not mean that it is comparable to the States. At any rate, one morning we awoke to find our back sliding door unlocked and open, and things strewn about on the floor of our living room. A robber managed to steal computers, iphones, ipods, sneakers, money and a door key while we were all asleep. Then, a week later, another(or the same) robber returned and while we were eating dinner downstairs, climbed onto our upstairs porch, opened a window and stole sneakers, a camera, a wallet and some soccer jerseys. It was such a mess, and certainly a huge wake up call for all of us. We learned that just because a place looks safe does not mean that it is safe. What is the most disappointing thing to learn is that in all honestly, people don’t really care about these things. Petty theft is so common here, it’s almost a rite of passage. Everyone we have spoken do has experienced a similar(or worse) situation, and the police here barely even bother with reports. They don’t really care, so they don’t even bother trying to help. It’s completely jarring to think that this event which impacted our lives so much is just another day in South Africa to most people. While these experiences have made us grow and we have learned a lot from them, it also makes me wonder if I could ever actually live in a place where events like this are common practice, and having your guard up is just part of life. Who knows. One thing that we have to be incredibly thankful for is that the robbers were only looking for things, not for us.

Another thing that I wanted to touch on briefly is one part of my week that always humbles me. Usually once or twice a week, one of the interns brings the trash from the office out. Where we bring the garbage is to a large pile of trash, mixed with twigs and branches. This pile sits right behind the Primary school where we work, and often you will see kids rummaging through the trash. And, the common practice with the garbage is to simply light it on fire, rather than disposing of it any other way. I mean, in all honestly, with the other things to worry about in the township, why would anyone be concerned with where their trash is going, or that they are releasing harmful toxins into the air every day? Either way, every time that I throw our black trash bags onto the pile, I always have to step back and think about things. As small of a thing as it is, that is one thing that I still have yet to fully accept. We see a lot of things on a daily basis that are quite shocking, but that we are learning to accept as part of the scene. But this garbage pile is something that I can never really get over. It makes me think about the frustrations over lack of recycling and compost in the States, and in comparison to garbage situations in most countries, we are extremely progressive. As I said, although small in the scale of concerns that South Africa faces, this small act that I am contributing to always makes me stop and think, and appreciate the every day novelties we are blessed to have in America.

So, in between holiday parties, gift shopping, skiing, skating, shoveling snow, baking and celebrating, try and remember all the great gifts that we all have every day. It’s easy to forget all that we have to be thankful for, and even seeing such hardship here sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own world that I forget to step back and appreciate all the wonderful things in life. I hope that these two small glimpses into life in South Africa help you to appreciate and recognize the gifts of life in America.

Well after work this week I am off to Tanzania with Rosie and Anna for Christmas, leaving this Friday, so I will have lots of stories and photographs to share when I return. I hope you all have wonderful holidays, and happy new year!

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