This place feels strange; light switches are flat and outlets have three holes and the toilets are shaped differently and I don’t have a cell phone.
Mom and dad are far away now, and it will be 4 days until I can call them and tell them I’m here.
It’s September, but it’s so cold. Wrap myself in multiple blankets and cry myself to sleep.
Crying myself to sleep for the next 4 nights.
Reality sets in; I’m lonely, I have no friends here, everything is weird, I don’t recognize much of anything, and what the hell have I gotten myself into.
Poverty: this is different from what the media has shown me.
This cuts deep.
My own eyes; water falls from them.
Started a countdown on my Ipod touch until I am set to fly home.
322…321…320…319…the days are going by so slowly.
I move into my Aunty’s house; she seems prissy and has such a thick Indian accent and I don’t think I like her.
Bucket baths…what is this. No.
Peanut butter toast every day for breakfast because I’m too scared to make anything else. She scares me. I don’t think she likes me.
Got told I’m working with children in Mpophomeni at an HIV/AIDS organization. I don’t like children all too much, so this should be interesting.
Aunty made me go to youth group tonight. Everyone asked me where I was from, said I talk with such a cool accent. I made some friends tonight. I never thought it would feel so amazing to make friends.
301…300…299…things are looking up.
Started my volunteering with the children in Mpophomeni; never have I seen faces so bright and smiles so wide.
They touch my hair and my skin constantly.
I thought I would mind it,
But I don’t.
One girl loves to come up and touch my breasts just to touch them, as if they are different from her’s because of our skin color.
I don’t even feel violated
Because I understand.
250…249…248…this is starting to feel like home.
Making so many new friends who show me the beauty of this place.
Aunty and I have deep conversations almost every night.
She’s growing on me.
She gave me a key to the house so I can come and go as I please. She trusts me. This is good.
Took a visit down to the squatter camp across from my house to drop off clothes I don’t wear anymore.
Personally handed the clothes to these girls, and their smiles were so big.
So beautiful and bright.
Helped the 2 young girls carry water down to their houses, and they invited me in.
One room holding in so much stench
Built out of mud and sticks
And they were so proud to call it their home because THEY built it.
This was theirs.
And I was proud to be in that moment with them.
Gave a woman a pair of my shoes off my feet a few months back
Turned the corner in the squatter camp and saw those same shoes sitting outside her door.
I kneel on the ground and cry,
Because in this place of absolute brokenness, there is Christ.
200…199…198…197…but where is Christ.
Where is He as I watched a young boy walk the streets holding his organs oozing out of his side with blood running down his small body?
Where is He as Emilio sits on the corner of the Muslim bakery everyday not begging for money but begging for someone to give him the time to talk, to share his story?
Where is He in the urine pasted streets of Raisethorpe which I walk down every morning?
Where is He in the graveyard of Mpophomeni, as graves upon graves are being prepared for the usual 5 that will die this week?
Where is He in this church that is so charismatic and scary and unpredictable?
Where is He has my theology is being shaken to its core?
Where is He as I walk her to the clinic after she’s been raped and I promise her I will come see her again but I don’t because I’m so scared of seeing her again because she’s 20 and this never should have happened to her
Where is He as Lungi grabs my shirt on my last day and begs me to come back for her because there is nothing left for her here?
Where is He? Where is this God who says He loves His people and why has He abandoned them here?
Why am I here?
What is this mess?
This chaotic mess of love and sacrifice and pain and sadness and racism and anguish and murder and injustice and poverty.
I’m in this.
And suddenly, these issues become my own
Because these people have become my people
Because they have become my family.
128…127…126…this is my home.
I begin to cry almost every night
But not in sadness of being here.
This time, I cry in sadness of knowing I eventually will have to leave.
100…99…98…97…I am far from God.
But I don’t care right now because I’m trying to figure all of this out.
My faith doesn’t make sense to me anymore.
I’m seeing so much and everything is so jumbled in my head.
My American perspective and my international perspective are colliding and it’s hard.
Kids braiding my hair everyday and I don’t mind at all.
Kati hops on my back and we walk down to the soup kitchen every day. Bad for the back probably, but amazing for the heart.
Learning to Zulu dance from the kids has become a daily “let’s laugh at Abby thing”
And it’s pretty funny, because I end up laughing at myself, too.
I read a part of the Bible in Zulu today, and the kids clapped.
My Zulu is improving.
Just asked Ntokozo. I practice with her everyday.
I told everyone to speak to me only in Zulu so then I could learn and talk to the kids in Zulu because they didn’t know much English.
I guess that means I love those kids.
And I do. I love them a lot.
They greet me everyday with a hug
And sometimes, they don’t let go for what feels like hours
And you know what’s funny? I don’t mind it at all.
When it gets cold out, which it does quite often in Mpophomeni due to the geography of the town, we all snuggle up on the floor together.
Kati never sits still because he always wants to be playing with someone or something
But Andile will lay beside me for hours if I give him my ipod touch to play games on.
They love that ipod touch.
But even on days when I don’t bring it, they still cuddle up next to me.
And I know that they love me even without my ipod touch.
Ntokozo gave me the Zulu name of “Sthandwa”
I asked her what it meant one day
I don’t think I have ever felt more blessed than in that moment.
Playing soccer in the dirt roads in our bare feet
I walk in my bare feet almost everyday, so the stones don’t even bother me.
We have so much fun kicking that flat ball around
And I’ve never seen better soccer players than those kids.
I’m gaining a lot of weight, but I don’t even care.
I feel beautiful because I am beautiful and these kids are beautiful and life is so beautiful.
The mamas tell me everyday that I’m getting fatter and they clap and are so happy.
I used to hate when they did that,
But now I embrace it, because getting fat is beautiful in their culture
And I am in their culture.
And bucket baths? Well, they’re not so bad.
Goodbyes draw near but I don’t talk about it.
I can’t think about it.
It seems almost surreal.
But tears never fail right before I’m about to fall asleep.
And I wake up with puffy eyes as a reminder of the sadness that overtook me 8 hours ago.
I had a going away party at The Red Door, where all of my friends and I would go for drinks occasionally.
It was alright.
I didn’t want it to be real.
I cried on the drive home.
The kids all made me goodbye cards.
They tried writing them in English.
Some made sense,
But I didn’t care.
I knew what they were trying to say.
And they all cried.
They said how much I have changed their lives,
But I will never believe that I changed their lives more than they changed mine.
I see the world differently now because of them.
My heart was broken and put back together by them.
Their tiny little hands that have seen so much hurt and despair and racial injustice and death and poverty wrapped around my heart and pumped grace and love and mercy and patience and kindness into my veins.
No longer would I feel their soft fingers touch my skin.
No longer would I have 5 girls gathered around my hair braiding it.
No longer would I hear their laughter
See their smiles
Hold them in my arms.
Just like that, in a blink of an eye
As I walked to my car
And I waved goodbye with tears streaming down my face
And they all ran to me and hugged me and told me they would never forget me,
It was all gone.
My joy left me that day and stayed with them.
This place is home,
Because home no longer is a place,
It’s a people.