A friend told me that sleeping cleans and heals our brains, like brushing the plaque from our teeth. That’s how church felt my first Sunday back from visiting the USA: brushing the plaque from my soul.
Peace and a sense of belonging enveloped me like a perfume; I greeted every friend with joy, conscious of how blessed I am to know them. Every week, it seems that a new connection unfolds, weaving me more and more into the fabric of community life in KZN.
In the brilliantly refreshing sunset hours of a Friday afternoon, I realized a cherished project: visiting the homes of local Zulu ladies. My dear friend Talitha introduced me to her co-teacher, Nomcebo, and her brand-new twins! They drooled, spilled raisins everywhere, and generally delighted us.
Then we alighted in the girlishly pretty abode of Studla, the mother of one of Talitha’s learners. True to Zululand’s rich culture of hospitality, she treated us to steamed bread and escorted us back along the highway. When she mentioned she had been fasting since sunrise, we marveled at her sunny smile–and marveled again when she returned, wondering, ‘But doesn’t Scripture say we mustn’t look sad while fasting?
On another occasion, while solacing my furry friends on the temporary absence of their owners, I skipped out to a braai under the stars with Tarryn and Cristof – my Bible study leaders. It’s been a while since I’ve tasted anything as delicious as the chicken they grilled over the coals, offset with roasted pumpkin and a fresh salad.
We celebrated an extra-long Easter weekend with a road trip to Swaziland, South Africa’s tiny neighbor. The trip crowned my April with unexpected adventures:
With our Swaziland hosts’ preparing to marry their third son in their backyard, and Talitha newly engaged, it only seemed appropriate a week later when I found myself crammed into a church with at least a hundred other well wishers.
Umama knocked on my door at 7am on Saturday morning. They were going to a wedding, she conveyed in our customary blend of Zulu and English. Would I like to come?
When? In two hours.
I whirled around my little house, dashing off the chores I had planned for the morning, then settled in for the concert of sudden spontaneity and sustained delays sometimes known as ‘African time.’
Apparently, solid concrete requires a drill.
Meanwhile my littlest host brother greets me with a huge grin and a hug every time he spies me. I’d like to claim it’s my sparkling personality, but I can’t deny the truth: He’s anticipating another session with “Doggone Dogs,” a brilliantly illustrated picture book.
Remember him from swaddling days? Now he’s toddling around the yard and pointing to the pictures in our storybook, babbling and mumbling to himself in a game attempt at speaking…Zulu? English? both?
Foiled at interior design, I resorted to exercising my artistic inclinations in the Heese family kitchen. Cooking with Maryna is always a ramble through piquant combinations of unusual spices and vibrant vegetables–and the results are always gratifying.
Back in the nearby mountain town, the local lady professionals honored me with an invitation to join GirlsTalk: monthly conversations with teenage girls on women’s health and relationships. With a mixed band of doctors and teachers, South African and British, Afrikaans and Zulu-speaking, we overcame scheduling mix-ups and limited A/V facilities to talk puberty and growing up at the children’s home.
After a successful session on puberty, complete with dance party and medical Q&A, we celebrated with a quick drive to admire the sunset from the cliff overlooking Swaziland.
At school, my learners delight me with their independence and resourcefulness. Take for instance their response to my childhood storybooks: a Berenstain bears book and an easy reader re-telling of Goldilocks. Both books are great favorites with them, but on one particular day, the class couldn’t settle down long enough to finish reading.
I shrugged it off, directing the Leopard team to lead dismissal. When every other table had trotted off to their next class, I raised my eyebrows expectantly at the Leopards. “Who’s next?”
They beckoned to me. “Miss Kittie!”
Hmm? I advanced cautiously.
“Sit here, Miss Kittie.” They directed me to the empty seat at their table. Amused, I made myself comfortable then looked at them inquiringly. “Yes?”
“Miss Kittie.” They regarded me with mixed gravity and excitement. “Please finish reading the story!”
In April, my school management surprised me with a request to give up teaching in the spare room pictured above. Though I resisted at first, it became clear through many discussions with wise and well-informed councilors that I should prioritize integrating with my school, including adopting as much of their teaching style as possible. As St. Paul reminds us, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has.”
I launched this new term of teaching with visions of overcoming challenges and paving a smoother road for teaching — but I’ve now come to believe that making progress doesn’t mean facing fewer challenges… just different ones.