Somewhere in the middle of REM sleep, in the middle of a dream about a warm beach or a big steak or a big steak tanning itself on a warm beach, a deep buzzing penetrates our idyllic dream world.
Finally awake, sometime around 7 am, I realize that our South African cell phone alarm is going off. I wonder why it’s vibrating and not chirping, but only long enough to find the button that triggers the snooze.
Thus begins our average day in South Africa.
Gripping against the cold, Stefani and I moan at each other, trying to convince the other to move first. We then push back the covers together and find our way into the icy bathroom. We take turns brushing teeth and popping our contacts into our eyes. Slowly, we begin to realize that we are awake again. We begin to realize that we live in South Africa.
Stef then pours herself a glass of juice from our mini-fridge or finds the box of Frosted Flakes (called Frosties here) and makes some breakfast for herself. I, on the other hand, grumble and turn down any breakfast, a decision that I will probably regret in a couple of hours.
8 am rolls around and Michael (our friend and driver of the church transport) starts “blowing the hooter” (honking the horn) on the church van. Time to go. We climb in with Rosy (who works with the Prison Ministry and lives at the house with Michael and the rest of us) and Michael heads down the road towards the church.
Once at the church, we take on the really glamourous work of the day. I check the church emails and send out the messages that Willie has for the world. Stef helps Rosy with Prison Ministry administrative stuff, like filing or data entry. At some point, we usually head into the church sanctuary to practice music stuff. Stef is the musical genius of the family and she is nursing me along with the guitar. Together we lead worship at the church and we manage to practice together in 30 minute snippets throughout the week.
After all that excitement, one can get rather hungry. So, lunch time rolls around and we have a few different options.
Some days, we make the short trip down to the local train station with Michael. A Zulu lady from the little squatter camp next to the station cooks pap (thick cornmeal porridge) every day and makes some beet root and meat that goes with it. She cooks in her shack and then brings her pots out to the roadside where we pay less than $2 each for a really good, home cooked meal. There is sometimes a question as to whether the meat is donkey or sheep or something else entirely. But, really, it’s reliable and it is filling. We pile up our leftovers for the poor folks who gather around the church and we marvel at how far $6 goes.
Other days, Willie gets this look in his eye and mentions something about “feeling snackish” or “needing a coffee”. Translated, these things mean he wants to go to lunch. So, once or twice a month, we oblige and enjoy a cheeseburger or something like it.
There are other possibilities. We sometimes bring our own lunch, a peanut butter sandwich and a piece of fruit. If everything else falls through, we smile and split a Coke and we decide to wait for food when we get home.
The afternoon is when we get to feed the kids at the squatter camp. Depending on the day, they get little tubs with chicken and rice or soup or a sandwich with fruit. We load up the van and head down to the local squatter camp with Michael. As we approach, the children recognize the van and start running and screaming and generally going crazy. Somehow, chaotically, they form a line, expectant of the food that is coming. We dish out all of the food and each child, in a rather peculiar little tradition, waddles about 10 feet away and then sits on the ground to begin eating. Some of them sit right down and others squat through the whole meal, cleaning every morsel of food from the tub before politely returning it to us.
It is only a 30 minute process and we are on our way back to the church a stones throw down the street.
Back at the church, we do menial work until 4:30. I continue working on the World Hope Africa web site. Stef prepares for her music lessons or discipleship class. I get my notes ready for preaching or teaching my spiritual leadership class. At 4:30, we pack up and climb back in the van with Michael, headed home.
We leave for home so early to beat the darkness. Darkness in Johannesburg is not a good thing. Darkness brings danger, and the sound of gunshots is not uncommon. There are few places in the world that are more dangerous than Joburg after dark. Honestly, we haven’t been out after dark once since we moved here other than being at church and getting a ride directly home. It just isn’t worth the risk. Everyone in the house has been accosted or assaulted (mugged, robbed, shot at, stabbed) at some point. More often than not, it occurred after dark. As a result, we voluntarily imprison ourselves when the sun goes down.
At home, we scrape together dinner. We usually have some combination of instant soup,sandwiches, or cereal. We don’t do much cooking (although we made some killer tacos for the whole house a few weeks ago). Cooking is tough for a number of reasons.
First, one person has all of the pots and pans at the house and it is something of an inconvenience to go begging to borrow them. The kitchen is also not the most sanitary place, so it requires a brisk scrub-down. Thinking along those lines, there are quite a few roaches crawling around the room where the pots are all kept... It’s just not an appetizing experience.
Another issue is the number of people who live in the house. At any point, there are 10 or more people living here at the Mission House. We are the only ones that aren’t South African, meaning we are the only ones who aren’t riding the poverty line. Most likely, we are the only ones who aren’t chronically hungry. While we would love to feed the whole group more often, it can cost quite a bit. There is no rule saying you have to cook for everyone, but it would be too difficult to make a nice dinner for ourselves and look at our hungry friends with nothing.
On top of all of that, it is really cheap to eat out, so we supplement our meager home diet with a couple of meals out every week. On Tuesday, for instance, Stef and I snuck away for lunch. I had a 200g rump steak with chips (fries) and a Coke and Stef had a bacon/avocado burger with chips (fries) and a Coke. It was sooooo good and the total was something like $12 with tip. It ministers to us to be served, costs the same as if we made it ourselves, and is probably much cleaner than the roach-infested kitchen and cookware we would use.
After dinner, things go downhill quickly. We usually watch some TV show or listen to a podcast (check out the Village Church weekly sermon - very good) and then brush our teeth and head to bed by about nine.
Different days bring different experiences. Sundays and Wednesdays don’t see us get home until around 10pm. Fridays are bizarre in that we are supposed to go home at 3:30pm but we usually get stranded until 5 or later. Basically, no day is ever typical. There is usually a minor tragedy (someone has a seizure or dies or is diagnosed or is beaten or is missing or something) and there is never a set schedule to anything with Willie.
Somewhere in all of that boredom, we feed the kiddos, write these blog entries, talk to family, dream about summer, and do household chores. Actually, as I write, it occurs to me that our laundry is probably dry on the line by now. We better go bring it in. Just another atypical part of our atypical existence. We’ll be asleep again soon, dreaming of automatic washers and dryers or something just as exotic.
Life is different, but the same. Life is exciting and new and completely the same as it was in the US. Different faces and a different environment, but everyday life is still everyday life. And everyday life, despite some of our struggles, is good.