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Grandma Sunshine August 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bondmitchell @ 10:49 pm

The sun peeked flirtatiously out from behind the clouds, beaming happily down upon the shriveled old woman precariously perched in the wheelchair.  She looked like an African sunbather, out for an afternoon of leisure.  Her head leaned back, glorying in the rays that had stayed hidden for most of the day.  Her body was wrinkled like a raisin, and it abruptly lost its shape underneath the blanket where her legs should have been.  Her wheelchair teetered dangerously on the dirt mound.

The ground upon which the wheelchair sat was littered with trash, haphazardly thrown into her front lawn by “friendly” neighbors.  A ruggedly handsome man smiled warmly up at me from the front of a cigarette carton as I cautiously stepped toward her.   The faint stench of rancid meat and dirty diapers mingled in the air, and I was silently grateful that the sun was not out full strength in order to bring this noxious combination to its full potential.

I advanced toward her with Mike (the outreach director for the church) by my side trying, unsuccessfully, to mask the look of pity on my face.  The lady in the wheelchair waved amiably to us, and as we moved closer I couldn’t help but notice her smile. It seemed oddly misplaced for it contained the rays of innocence and zest for life of a sixteen-year old girl who had just discovered love.  It was like a magic potion.  It was intoxicating, and it filled me with a sense of goodness and joy so that I found myself smiling back in spite of our surroundings.

“How’s the hand today?” Mike asked as he gingerly lifted up the hand in question.

“Ugh,” She flinched as he began to unwrap the bandage on her pointer finger.  Ugh tends to be a universal word for pain, but still her smile stayed strong.  “They are going to take it off on Monday.”

Her finger was black as coal and seemed to be shedding its skin like a snake.  The fingernail popped up so that it appeared to be festering as we watched.  A slight acidity affronted my nostrils as the bandage hit the ground, and I had to check my reflex to pull away.

“Gangrene,” Mike replied to my look of horror. “They’re going to amputate, but it might be too late.  Probably lose more of her hand.”

“Oh my goodness.” It was the only response I could muster.

Mike and I went inside her hut to leave her some soup and bread.  As soon as we entered her “home” I felt tears begin to form.Flies swarmed busily around the shanty spreading germs through the room.  Her entire house consisted of one small room, the size of my storage space, where she, her daughter, and her two grandkids slept, ate, and used the bathroom.  How could there not be flies?

After checking out her living situation and putting away the food, we packed up our group of volunteers to go.  The woman I now thought of as Grandma Sunshine took our hands, and with a smile as bright as the sunshine, left us with the parting words, “God bless you.”

That’s when it hit me like a sledgehammer.  I knew where she got that smile from, the one so intoxicating and full of love-faith.  This woman with no legs, no finger, and no means of support for herself or her family had faith.  A deep, abiding loyalty to faith that I could only envy.

In this dilapidated hut, in this forgotten township, was a beacon of belief.  She is the kind of believer no one can defeat.  A woman beat down by life, but full of happiness because she has the support of God to lean upon.  The ultimate believer and I bow down to that faith and support.

 

July 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bondmitchell @ 6:17 am

July 11, 2010

Mud caked onto my shoes as Bullet carefully and deliberately propped his beloved soccer ball on top of my favorite shoes.  The shell was no longer hard but a muddy mess dripping steadily with slobber. He smiled expectantly at me, his tail wagging in rhythmic happiness.  Despite the shoes and life, I smiled back at him. Not just the imitation I’d been doing of smiling, but the real thing. The kind of smile where you want to laugh it’s so genuine.  The kind where at the moment you are filled with a simple joy that can’t be overtaken.

This might not sound amazing in itself, but death had knocked on my family’s door the past week and had taken my precious Uncle Bill with him.  Shock and sadness mingled while Hayden and I tried to remember any warning signs from our wedding the month before.  But there were none.  The family was left bewildered and in tears.  Suddenly I felt the separation of every single mile from my family as they gathered for the funeral.  The Indian Ocean was an insurmountable boundary, a beautifully elaborate cage I was trapped in.

Poor Hayden. He was a new husband, and he was doing everything he could think of to help me. He held me while I cried, he cried with me, he tried to make me laugh, he even tried some tough love.  But we both knew I was simply grieving, a process as old as time itself.  It’s a hard thing to deal with, to be the one who has to watch the sorrow.  He was helping me simply by being there, but still he felt helpless.  So when an opportunity arose to get away from life for the weekend, he pounced on it.

The guy who runs the gym at Pearson, Kyle, was kind enough to invite us to hang out for the weekend, but he refused to tell us where he was taking us. We gladly accepted the opportunity to have a fun mystery weekend. We met up with a couple of strangers, friends of Kyle’s, on a Friday afternoon to start off on another adventure. They were named Morne and Beverly.

I was forced to shed my gloomy countenance and establish a cheery façade.  Soon, though, it was no longer a façade but a genuine enjoyment.  Beverly chirped cheerfully like a lark throughout the drive, while Morne periodically added little comments with a sense of humor so dry Seattle couldn’t have squelched it.

We stopped to eat at a tiny vineyard restaurant.  Broad tables full of chic pillows and family pets running playfully around the vineyard helped to relax me and enjoy the company as well as the fresh food.

Soon enough we were coasting down a dirt road up to a majestic private home in Plettenberg Bay.  The house was beautiful, but the view left everything else in the dust.  Birds passed peacefully over the valley we looked down upon, passing the pristine lake and lush farmland.

We settled into this new paradise, and out came the booze.  New people and new stories piqued my interest and the weekend turned into a cycle of good food, good wine, and good conversation. The best part was the dogs that Kyle (from the gym) and Sonja (his Mrs.) had brought along: Bullet and Sasha.  They followed you around with worshipping looks upon their little snouts.

The weekend eventually began to wind down, but the best surprise was still in store for Hayden and me.  Kyle and Sonja stopped by her father’s “farm” which turned out to be one of the most magical places in South Africa.  Springbok, water boks, and many more animals all roamed completely undisturbed around the property. And as we approached the heart of the property, the bend in the road revealed the most breathtaking view. To try and describe it would simply be insulting to its beauty.

We returned to PE full of great memories and new friends.  Hayden had accomplished what he’d been hoping for. I was starting to reconcile and heal.  Although I hadn’t stopped mourning, a layer of grief had lifted when Bullet smiled up at me with pure joy on his face

.

 

African prison

Filed under: Uncategorized — bondmitchell @ 6:00 am

July 9, 2010

Here I sit

The birds mock me

with their ability to leave.

To fly home.

Nature has caged me here

with her immense ocean

waving at me with a smirk.

Here I lie.

The wind laughs at me

with the ability to go where it pleases.

To be free.

Nature has caged me here

with her sheer enormity

impassive to my plight.

My jail is exotic:

Clouds that rival those of heaven,

Rocks that conquer waters,

Trees that twist as gracefully as a dancer,

Raw Beauty.

Mother Nature at her best,

my jailer.

 

Grahamstown July 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bondmitchell @ 11:35 am

June 25, 2010

We walked down the street in Grahamstown, passing by young hipsters who were obviously screaming their “unique” and independent identities through their eccentric clothing.  Some seamlessly incorporated self-expression in a flattering, true style while others were second-hand tries resembling mismatched costumes gaudily put together from their mother’s cast aways.  Conformists trying to conform to nonconformist ways.  Although slightly pretentious at times, there was, however, a freedom and independent thought which made the Grahamstown Arts Festival a pleasant change from our restrained home in PE.

Grahamstown was our first adventure towards the heart of South Africa, away from the ocean.  Luscious farmland amid fierce mountains entertained us on the hour long drive. The excursion was graced with large game reserves, and we were on the lookout for any animals in our path.  Our patience was rewarded as we spotted a family of graceful giraffes languishly chewing on some tall trees.  We wondered at their majestic enormity and wondered why you would ever want to shoot the amazing animals that call Africa home.

Shortly after this exciting glimpse, we entered quaint Grahamstown.  We were struck by how similar it was to a small town in the south.  You could have transplanted it to North Carolina and I wouldn’t think a thing of it.  After circling around a few times, we parked and decided to walk seeing as it was 80 F outside and sunny as could be.

As soon as we stepped out of the car, we could feel the artsy nature of the town.  It pervaded everything and lent a fun, devil-may-care attitude to the air.

While we ate lunch, we chatted about which shows to see, and the plethora was overwhelming to say the least.  But as we had watched as masked men followed around innocent pedestrians to promote their show, we decided to indulge in the artsy spirit and see this darkly wicked show.

We approached the theatre only to see two men fighting playfully like little boys.  They swiftly brushed their rough housing aside to greet us to the show.  After we had purchased our tickets, we watched the two men exchanging quick repartee with an ease that comes with having to constantly please a live audience.

“Do you miss it?” Hayden inquired, watching the show the two men were unconsciously putting on for us.

Without hesitation I said, “Nope.”

An hour later, we emerged into the sunlight still quiet and contemplating what we’d just seen.  The other theatergoers, however, were far from silent as the heaped down their praise upon the abstract show.  Hayden and I suppressed a chuckle as we watched the young critics unabashedly critiquing and fawning over the real “art” they had just seen.

We reserved our analysis of “Quack” until we sat down to have a cup of coffee.  We both confessed we weren’t really sure what exactly had been going on, and we enjoyed a moment of mockery as we imitated the budding geniuses who had figured it out so quickly.

After such confusion, we decided to next see some good old comedy.  The next show was corny, but it relished in that corniness and indulged itself. It was a welcome relief to step into the realm of humor, and sit back and relax.

As we walked casually around the art tents, I realized how happy I was to be back around art and the strange people that inhabit such a world.  However, I also realized how happy I am not to be in the heart of it anymore.  Now I can appreciate the true heart of it, and laugh at the pretention of it without being consumed by it.  I was happy with the day but content leaving it behind, holding tightly onto Hayden’s hand

.

 

New Faces, New Friends July 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bondmitchell @ 7:59 pm

June 22, 2010

When we returned home from our honeymoon, we already had a pocketful of new names and phone numbers as well as an email from a new friend, Denny.  Travel is great for getting to know yourself, but it is also good for meeting amazing people.  On our journey, we were blessed to meet interesting, open-minded travelers eager to explore the world and the different people who inhabit it.

Our first good Samaritan was the aforementioned Denny.  A fabulously ridiculous Bafana Bafana hat adorned his head as he checked us in, and Hayden realized he had found a fellow soccer enthusiast.  He was a gentle giant from the turmoiled country of Zimbabwe.  Although his home country did not make the World Cup, he rooted hopefully for the USA, encouraging Hayden to keep hope in his heart for his team.  I spent two nights cuddled up to the fires Denny had built, while he and Hayden conspired over the losses and triumphs of the World Cup. The cozy atmosphere and instant camaraderie created a sense of home we’d rarely felt in South Africa.

Our next encounter with fellow travelers happened while on the canopy tour.  Adrenaline is a funny thing-it produces a propensity to talk incessantly.  Nervously the couple in front of us on the zipline exchanged anxious banter to which we laughed appreciatively.  Likewise, Hayden and I entertained them in kind.  Soon we were talking and joking at every new tree.  Eventually we all had lunch, and they were so kind as to offer us a free place to stay in Cape Town.  Yet again, kind South Africans had not only helped us but amused us as well.

We would have less than 24 hours before we would meet more potential comrades.  Sitting in a cold patio at Ole’s Pub in Knysna, an English couple slightly older than us begged a seat at our table to view the soccer match.  At first, all was serious soccer watching, but as the game became less interesting a conversation was struck up.  Danny and Helen, our English dinner companions, not only loved soccer, but he had coached soccer in the States before their marriage.  Once again, soccer had provided a catalyst to great conversation and a great night. These English folk proved to us how great it is to meet kindred spirits even if they are rooting for your team to lose so their team can benefit.

Our last Good Samaritan came in the form of a quirky, light-skinned South African woman who was also a security guard in Knysna.  I went to the bathroom at the fanzone, only to return to find my husband talking to another woman!  However, it took no time to tell from Hayden’s befuddled look that she had approached him.  Also, the girl’s non-stop chatter won me over in no time.  She ticked off places to go, people to meet, and her telephone number without once coming up for air, as far as I could tell (trust me, I was watching).

We might never see or talk to any of these people again. But for the moment we were allies, friends.  Black and white, English and American, none of that deterred us.  Traveling is learning about others different from you; it’s about appreciating those differences while finding common ground.  And while we might never see these people again, you never know.

 

Robberg July 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bondmitchell @ 9:11 am

June 21, 2010

Hayden and I looked curiously around to find the source of the odd barking noise.  I hadn’t noticed any dogs in Robberg, and certainly no dog could have such a hoarse, loud voice.  Hayden, par for the course, left the trusty path in search of the intriguing sounds.

He disappeared from view, only to return as eager as a child on Christmas morning.

“Seals! Come on!” he said, already headed back.

I followed more cautiously but still impatient to see these amusing animals.  As I climbed through the brambles, I spotted tiny animals lounging lazily in the distance.  The closer I got, the larger they loomed.  Hundreds of them basked, working on their tans while others played contentedly on the rock y seas.  Waves crashed violently on jagged rock- it seemed to them nothing more than a fun water slide.

The colony of seals was huge but more impressive was the entertaining raucous they made.  They barked, screeched, squealed, and then barked some more, much to their heart’s content.  We were in Robberg Seal Reserve, and they were the rulers of this utopia.  As we followed the path they dominated the shoreline.  Eventually we had passed thousands of these fat sunbathers.

Knysna was peaceful, Tsitsikamma was dramatic, but Robberg was ours.  Our secret wonderland we discovered away from the tourist traps.  Off the beaten path, we only found this tiny island thanks to a burnt out, nature-lovin’ hippie we befriended at the Tsitsikamma Backpackers.  There were no signs or tourist restaurants. In fact, we got lost at least three times trying to find Robberg Island.

But once we found it, we knew we’d found something special.  There was a peaceful solitude which was a nice middling between the idleness of Knysna and the intensity of Tsitsikamma.  We traveled a lonely path at a leisurely but constant pace.

After the magnificence of the seal colonies, I thought it couldn’t get any better, but then we found the sand dunes…

on top of a mountain.

On one side the dunes stopped abruptly creating a striking cliff, but on the other side, the sand dune ran the entire length down the mountain.  It was spectacular.  I paused to appreciate this splendid sight, only to see a blur (which I assumed could only be Hayden) flying by me.  The sand was so soft and pliant; you could simply throw yourself around it without feeling any discomfort. It was also perfect for bouncing so Hayden basically sandboarding all on his own.

Once we finally got to the bottom, the ocean was upon us.  It was pristine and the cliffs soared above.  I have to say this is one of the happiest moments I have had in my South African experience.  I played with the birds and the waves; I never wanted to leave. It was just me, Hayden, and God’s work at its best

.

 

Knysna July 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bondmitchell @ 11:18 am

June 20, 2010

Imagine an emerald lagoon silhouetted by soaring cliffs, followed by a small town full of charming coffee shops and gentle hills rolling into the distance. I can imagine it because I’ve been to this peaceful haven.  It’s a small town known for its oyster festival and great honeymoon atmosphere called Knysna.

Once we reached this town, we finally felt like honeymooners.  We ate too much, drank too much, and thoroughly indulged ourselves like the Romans of old.  We took the time to enjoy each other and relax.  We even fell in love with a little local restaurant called Fat Susi’s.

This hole in the wall was owned by a Swiss man with stereotypical Aryan looks and a flawlessly beautiful black wife whose avant-garde style and beguiling smile were almost as big a pull to go back to eat as the scrumptious food.  Little old men sat at this outside café and debated the philosophy of life all day or so it appeared to us.  This was the kind of place where time is suspended; the young and old all stop to relish the moment.

I ate smoked salmon every day, and we sat out in the sunshine to enjoy our cappuccinos.  Hayden even treated himself and had two some days, and I discovered the joys of what is known as a red cappuccino.  A red cappuccino is a delightful concoction made of coffee mixed with rooibos tea and topped with fresh honey, cinnamon, and froth.

This café was the perfect blend of European café, good ole Southern hospitality, and South African winter weather (which was about 70 F).  Knysna was the most relaxing place I’ve ever been.  It was what you pray your honeymoon will be.

When we first arrived in South Africa we hoped for this honeymoon immediately, but we were rudely awakened as to how little privacy we would have. Paper-thin walls separated us from our flat mates, and we have had 4-5 of them in our tiny abode depending on the arrival and departures of COST students.  We have had to share a bathroom and didn’t even have transportation to leave the city.  All of which would have been fine if we’d had the money to travel on our own; however, we have responsibilities and life to live after we leave Africa.  We simply couldn’t blow all our money here.

I was devastated.  The thought of spending our honeymoon  crammed into a flat with countless others was nothing but depressing.  When you spend months consumed with planning a wedding, all you want to do afterwards is relax and have alone time with your new spouse.

Here is where the awesome generosity of Hayden’s school, Pearson High School, comes into play.  Once they found out these newlyweds had no way to get around, they went out of their way to help us with transport.  It started simple-a lift to the mall and ended with them providing a car and atlas of where we should go.

Pearson opened the door for us to travel to paradise.  They helped us and went so far as to get us a special certified letter to drive internationally.  We ended up having the trip of our lives: adventure, relaxation, and countless memories.  Knysna was like something out of a movie.  We have the kindness and assistance of Pearson and their great staff to thank for our truly wonderful honeymoon.