Tuesday, January 12, 2016

holiday in the sun

In my last post I wrote about the homesickness I felt leading up to the holiday season. It was a bit more difficult to get into the Christmas spirit this year, but I eventually did. Anna made a Christmas playlist and sent it to me on Spotify, I visited the mall at V&A Waterfront with its giant Christmas tree and Santa’s workshop and impressive lights, I attended a Carols by Candlelight service a friend was performing in.

The mall at V&A Waterfront goes all out.
On my last day in the office, I got to go into the field with some colleagues to deliver drought relief packages to members of a small Afrikaans-speaking parish. (Shout out to Episcopal Relief and Development for helping to make that possible!) While most of them didn’t speak much English, I learned a few new phrases including Geseende Kersfees or “Merry Christmas.” I also saw how relieved and grateful they all were. One woman held my hands and spoke in Afrikaans for a full five minutes while I nodded and pretended to understand. I did get the gist though; she said baie dankie (meaning “thank you very much”) probably thirty times and wished me a merry Christmas and a happy new year. I realized that this is why I’ve been able to go into a community as an outsider and say “HOPE Africa” and instantly be welcomed. To many people, HOPE Africa has felt like an answered prayer, like the very hands and feet of Jesus, a sign of hope when they needed it the most.

Before I left home, I was connected with Anne Chenoweth who lived with her ex-husband as missionaries for seven years in South Africa at the end of Apartheid. Her daughter Anna-Grace was born here and moved back to Cape Town a few months ago. Anne was visiting her for Christmas, and they graciously invited me to spend Christmas Eve with them at the hotel where they were staying. We chatted and caught up by the rooftop pool, retreating to the sauna when the Cape Town wind got a bit chilly. It was nice having a relaxing girls' day and trading stories and learning more about how much Cape Town has changed in 20 years. They are those kinds of people who make you feel like part of the family right away, and I’m so grateful.

Thomas arrived from Hawston that evening, and we went together to the Christmas Eve mass at St. George’s Cathedral. It was a really beautiful service with all the “bells and smells,” and it dawned on me then that it was, in fact, Christmas. Desmond Tutu was in attendance, and while I didn’t get to talk to him, I was about three feet away from him at one point which was enough to make me completely starstruck. We also got to speak with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who I’d met briefly in Sewanee last May. He asked us about our placements and thanked us for our work.

On Christmas Day Thomas and I returned to the Cathedral for another service. We got there early and took some photos. Afterwards we went to Reverend Rachel Mash’s home for lunch. Rachel heads Green Anglicans, the environmental office of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which shares an office building with HOPE Africa. It was super sweet of her to think of us and invite us to spend Christmas there. Her children Shawn and Kira are both in University so it was nice meeting and chatting with them. A couple they know spent Christmas with us as well. They are originally from America but have lived in South Africa for the last 20 years; the husband works as a geology professor at UCT, and they are a hoot. Lunch was completely delicious, and we played a hilarious game of Dirty Santa (also known as White Elephant or Secret Santa depending on where you live).

The roses in the garden at St. George's Cathedral reminded
me of the Christmas hymn "Lo! how a rose e'er blooming"
and also made a nice Instagram photo
The first couple weeks of December were the hardest. I didn’t know where I’d be spending Christmas until just a week or so before, which was a little daunting, and since I didn’t have cold weather and constant Christmas music on the radio and countless parties to attend, it felt like Christmas snuck up on me. I was afraid it would pass by unnoticed or that I’d feel lonely and isolated. I met an American a few months ago who told me she’d lived here for 15 years and Christmas never felt like Christmas to her which really worried me. It all sounds silly now though.

I just needed to have a little faith because it worked out to be one of my favorite Christmases. Of course I was missing my family, but I enjoyed getting to see them all gathered via Skype. My Christmas resembled the first Christmas more than any others. It was warm, for starters. It was about pilgrimage, hospitality, finding God and grace in unexpected places, and strangers coming together as friends. While I did receive a few gifts, this year was less about giving and receiving presents and more about being present with others and in this place. And of course, it wasn’t too shabby spending the holiday soaking up sun by the pool either.

Nativity at the Cathedral
I hope that wherever you found yourself this Christmas season, you found love, warmth, and light.


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