Profound Moment in a Discount Grocery Store

I dropped my purchases on the counter, smiled, and greeted the cashier in isiZulu. Her at first frustrated countenance softened and she greeted me back.

I handed her my cash. With a look that was somehow slight annoyance and all patience, she calmly told me I was short by ten Rand.

“Oh sorry Sis!” I said as I scrambled through my wallet to find the extra money. “It’s just been one of those days. I can’t seem to focus today at all.”

In complete seriousness and sympathy, she looked me in the eye and said, “It is because Mandela is gone.”

I looked back, shocked at the sudden meeting of our souls, awed by her sincerity. “That’s right, Sis.” I gestured to the pouring rain outside. “All of South Africa is crying.”

She smiled and softly said, “Hamba kahle.” – Go well – and the moment was gone, hurried along by the urgency of holiday customers behind me.

“Ngiyabonga, Baba,” I whispered as I walked back into the watery parking lot, my whispered thanks lost in the deluge.


Snapshots of the Memorial of a Great Man

Waking up on Friday morning, I was greeted, like every morning, by Auntie as she sweeps the floor outside my room.

“Good morning Ra-chelle! Have you heard of Mandela?”

“No, what’s happened?”

“Mandela? He was our hero, he worked to end Apartheid…”

“Oh!” I said, blushing, “I know who he is. Has something happened?”

“He died last night.”


As I write this, I’m watching the live coverage of Mandela’s funeral service in Soweto, a township of Johannesburg made famous for uprisings during Apartheid. Rain is pouring down on the other side of the camera, drenching dignitary and poor man alike. In the midst of the steady drizzle, a gospel choir strikes up song, and the steady commentary, spoken in Zunglish (Zulu and English), remarks on the kind of inspiration Madiba creates, that those who love him will sit in puddles of water to honor him. Important faces flash across the screen – Presidents of the world, past and present, Tutu, celebrities, men and women swarmed by secret service. If it weren’t before, their presence makes it blatantly obvious that the influence of this man has spanned the entirety of the human race.


“Tony Blaire is here,” says my Baba. “And so is the President of Zimbabwe. They hate each other. But today – today they must be in the same place. Because of Mandela.”


And while I’m sure they mourn the passing of a great man, it’s those dancing in the cheap seats, those waving flags, those who, although the service was supposed to start an hour ago, are joyously singing and praising in their trash bag rain coats that really speak to my heart. I don’t know that I can claim that Mandela has made a positive impact on my life yet – I’m just discovering his wisdom, his vision, his writings, and his influence. But as flags wave in the stands, the symbol of the country I now love, I’m struck, at last, with a glimpse of the scope of his effect on the lives of ordinary South Africans. And as I fell in love, every day, with more and more ordinary South Africans, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for you, Madiba.


Just received a text from fellow YAGM Emily Dahle – she’s there, in the stands, and I’m overwhelmed with jealousy and pride that one of our YAGM can be there to commemorate Madiba.


Obama is getting up to speak. There’s something so cool about seeing the leader of my one home standing behind the seal of my other.

Strange to hear him referred to as “His Excellency”.


“God has blessed South Africa,” says Baba as the President of Brazil stands up to speak. “I think so. God has blessed South Africa.”


The Master of Ceremonies is asking for silence and calling out the parts of the stands that aren’t listening. I’m reminded of High School assemblies.


The rain is starting here too. It doesn’t take much poetic imagination to picture that all of South Africa is crying.


It’s hard to say how the people in my community are handling this loss. I’m sure I haven’t been privy to many of the conversations about him that have circled through my community in the last few days. Off-handed comments tend to be more about how much time on the TV has been taken over by remembrances of him. But the ones who seem most affected are definitely the older generations, which comes as little surprise. Those my age or younger understand that something big has happened, but don’t seem to be as emotional. Most expressed emotions of all ages are definitely of gratitude.


Alwande just crawled into my lap and fell asleep as we listen to South African President Jacob Zuma. And here comes Maqhawe to claim my other side. Soon I won’t have lap left to hold my computer as I type. But a beautiful reminder that as more generations are born into this beautiful country, thanks to the hard work and undying dedication of people like Mandela, they will inhabit a better South Africa. I may never entirely understand his influence, but I love these little hands, these little feet, these perfect tiny ears. I am forever grateful to him that these hands can grow up and hold hands with those they love, regardless of race; that these little feet can carry them anywhere in this country, no longer barred because of their pigmentation; that these ears will never have to hear institutionalized hatred thrown against them. And I am so grateful that I was able to be here as this country mourns the passing of an unparalleled man and strives to live out his undying vision.


Siyabonga kakhulu Madiba. – We thank you so much, Madiba.

My Most Recent South African Adventures

Since my last post was so very long ago, I want to try and convey in a condensed way some of what I’ve been doing with myself! Every night I write down something about my day that made it especially South African, my South African Adventures. Here are my favorite.

Nov. 1 – Walked through town today with Thembi to find all the components of my uniform for church. It’s month’s end – when all the government grants, a large percentage of most peoples’ income, are sent out – so the roads were packed. Ques lined most sidewalks. Somehow, we were able to find everything we needed. Somehow, we didn’t drown in the floods of people that are so uncommon on our small town roads.

Nov. 3 – Mndeni and I didn’t have a ride to church today. We started walking into town to try and catch a taxi out to the Township. On the way, Mndeni flagged down a friend and she drove us into town. We flagged down a taxi when we got there and made it to church. Mama Mathupha gave us a ride home. I rarely have concrete plans on how I’m getting to church or how I’m getting home, but I get there every Sunday. There’s something so great about never knowing how I’m getting there, but never doubting that I’ll get there. (Sounds like some deeper life lesson there.)

Nov. 15 – Auntie asked me to do her hair today. I have no idea if she actually liked it because she’s just too sweet to say anything. But good news! She passed her test! We celebrated with some chocolate when she got home.

Nov. 18 – There’s a little boy at the hospital who doesn’t say anything, in Zulu or English. He has the most beautiful big eyes and smooth, dark, melted-chocolate skin, but he always looks scared. I’ve never heard a word out of him. I don’t even know his name. Today, as I was leaving, he gave me a timid smile and a hesitant wave. I think I’ve fallen in love.

Nov. 19 – My little lover boy wasn’t at hospital today. I asked the nurses where he went. They say he got better and went home. I was heartbroken – I had just gotten a wave out of him – until I got out of my own head and was able to feel excitement for his speedy recovery. It’s strange working with sick kids – I’m excited then sad when there are new ones and sad then excited when they leave.

Nov. 24 – Visited Lesotho today with the other YAGMs. Such extreme poverty. It was weird to play tourist for the day. But it was impossibly not to fall in love with the incredible mountain landscape.

Nov. 25 – Worshipped today in Natal National Park. Had to stop and take refuge in the car when a pack of baboons crashed the party. No big deal.

Nov. 28 – Celebrated Thanksgiving with my YAGMs today. So blessed to have yet another family to spend the holiday with. In the last four years, I’ve spent Thanksgiving surrounded by four different families, in four different places, in three different countries. This year’s was pushing to be the best one yet. Thanks to Mom, I was able to make green bean casserole happen in South Africa. Stuffed our faces, filled our hearts, and worked our abs as we laughed non-stop.

Dec. 5 – Nelson Mandela died today. Both Baba and Auntie seem saddened. Town doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all.