Generosity

I took a return trip to the bungee center today to write in my journal, at the scene of the crime so to speak.  Nursing a Mosi beer, I met a guy who was very keen on talking.  He began to share his dreams, his fears, his struggles and took genuine interest in me as I laboured to catch up on writing.  I (apparently) succeeded in disguising my annoyance at his intrusion in my personal time, because eventually the conversation (with me only half-engaged) turned to wisdom.  I noted that one of his statements displayed great wisdom.  He paused, turned to me and said, “You, you too are wise.  I can tell because you stopped what you were doing to have a conversation with me.”  I was immediately convicted.  It is true, I had ceased my activities, but a best only reluctantly.  I tried to model myself on better people than me who take time for people and demonstrate care, regardless of what they’re doing.  Nevertheless, the fact that I cannot remember that man’s name displays my degree of success.  He helped me remember who and what I want to be.

One of those people who does a better job genuinely caring for others I met while in Cape Town.  When I left for my travels, she gave me the names of two people who work in Victoria Falls selling curio and renting raincoats.  “They’ll be the ones on the right when you enter through the middle.  Stall number three.

As I walked through, I asked the first salesman to approach me, “do you know Arthur and Jameson?”  The guy gestured toward a car sitting in the shadow of a nearby tree.  There sat Arthur who I greeted and brought a warm welcome from their friend “Magna.”  Jameson eventually appeared and we all had a long conversation before they invited us to stay at their homes and spend time with them.  Which is just what I have been doing for the past several days.

I spent last night with Jameson in his rural homestead of 49 families, about 20 km from Victoria Falls.  We sat around the fire for a few hours while the neighbors dropped by to greet us.

Jameson’s homestead consists of 2 huts, a fire circle made of clay bricks, a rabbit pen (although the rabbits stay in the hut with him, and “sometimes they make wee on the bed.”), a fenced garden, a ladder up to a low tree branch, a fenced area for toilet privacy, and a fence all the way around (to keep out the cattle–it is useless against elephants–the greatest nuisance and danger–helping to make the cultivation of crops useless, as well, and prompting handouts from the World Food Program).  He also has three chickens.  He told me that he has decided to name the male “Kelvin” (all Zimbabweans call me Kelvin, for some reason).  As we don’t practice infant baptism in my denomination (and thus no godparent status), this is indeed a high honor.

I bought a drum made out of elephant skin (called a ndandanda) from Ma Swazi in Jameson’s village.  They use it for traditional dances.  I couldn’t fit the ndandanda in my backpack, so I had it out at the shop during the day, where it brought some excitement.  Paul grabbed it and began to march around, announcing, “The Prince is getting married!” over and over in his best impersonation of a Nigerian movie.

Arthur and Jameson (and their children) each speak nearly 5 languages.  During breaks from renting rainjackets outside the Falls,  I’ve been learning fragments of Shona, Ndebele, and the closest Zambian dialect for greetings.  Among my other new skills are crushing mielie to make mielie pap and brick-making with the youngest brother, Matthew.  The bricks are made from river sand and cement, then watered for a week, dried for three days before being ready to use.  Matthew made all of the bricks for Arthur’s new house.

The last two nights, I stayed with Arthur in the “compound” of Mkhosana.  His new home is about half finished, but instead of waiting, they moved right into it.  It has sturdy walls made with the “river brick”, dirt floors, and a braai in the middle of the house that they use for cooking.  You can hear elephants during the night.  Arthur’s wife, Rosemary, gets up at 4:00 am to start a fire to heat water for baths in the morning.  Arthur just bought a car, which he uses to take his daughters to school and wife to work before arriving at the Falls around 7:30 each morning.  The kids love the car so much they want to sleep in it.  It’s a major status symbol.

I stayed much longer in Victoria Falls than I had intended, and by the end, I knew almost everyone in the town.  It was quite a thrill to walk down the street and be able to greet each person in their native tongue and discuss the local gossip.  Even the touts stopped trying to sell me old Zimbawe dollars and instead had conversations.  And the key was making time for people.  Victoria Falls is indeed one of the seven wonders of the natural world.  But the real attraction while traveling is not things, but people.  The relationships I’ve been blessed by over the last few weeks will remain long after my memory of bungee jumping evaporates.  Thanks be to God.

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A Tale of Two Movies

I saw two movies in the days before leaving the U.S. that help to express two poles holding the tension into which I make this trip.

“Up in the Air” is about a frequent flyer whose home is in the airport lounges, hotels, rent-a-cars, and one night stands American business travel.  His life goal is to make the 10 million mile club, and he forsakes all true relationships in his quest.  Along the way, important questions arise about the definition of success, and the proper use of one’s time and energy on earth, and the purpose of relationships.  It appears to be leading toward a cathartic and pedantic moral lesson as the protagonist begins to fall in love, only to find his fears affirmed: love leads to hurt.  The movie ends poignantly nebulous, with our frequent flyer staring up at the Departures Board, hitting the road once again.  His boss jests at him, “send us a postcard if you ever get there.”

Invictus is about the ascension of Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa.  Mandela was a reconciler.  As many black South Africans understandably cried for revenge for years of oppression, Mandela steps in with support of the country’s rugby team, long a symbol of white Afrikaner pride.  Mandela memorably states, “Forgiveness is the most important tool in our possession.”  His determination and vision unites a nation.

These two movies frame my fears and aspirations for my year of study in South Africa.  On one side, I fear becoming the man from Up in the Air. I have some of his tendencies: confidence, independence, and self-reliant to a fault.  I have made semi-conscious decisions to sacrifice relationships, specific and general, to the god of travel, adventure and transience.

Invictus, meanwhile, lies at the other pole.  An image of what can be accomplished when you give your whole life to a cause of justice, when you are acutely aware of your vocation.  Furthermore, Mandela was spiritual in his leadership.  I hope to be able to attach and communicate the spiritual foundation for my drive for social justice and vagabonding.

Perhaps it is as simple as selfish versus selfless.