In the past few days so many people have asked me, “So how are you settling in?” It’s insane to think I have only been here 26 days… 2 days shy of 4 weeks. I feel like I’ve been here a life time already. I’m really enjoying it here.
Let’s start with an update on working in Personnel. It’s actually hard to explain what I do because it can be SO varied. Personnel is absolutely overlapping with recruitment, finance, immigration and member care. And I could be doing any or all of those at any given time depending on a person’s situation.
We get a lot of people enquiring about OM and so we have a small team of people called “mobilizers” that filter out those who are just asking questions to those who are genuinely looking to volunteer with us. From there, the mobilizers send Personnel the information of these potential recruits and we go through the application process. Depending on what area of OM they want to volunteer I could be talking to any one of 100+ OM bases around the world. If they want to volunteer for something in South Africa then I just work alongside that particular base. Then, while a recruit is volunteering with us I help to look after them and recently the OM South Africa leadership team were looking for someone to oversee the exit interviews and so I asked to be that person.
Basically when someone is leaving OM they’ll have a final interview with me assessing their experience with OM. This is after they have all their formal leaving interviews and appraisals. The exit interview is more looking at where we as OM can grow and develop in supporting our volunteers.
It seems along with my daily jobs I have some bigger projects on the side. Last week one of those projects was to compile information regarding visas from about 100 recruits. This past week I’ve been sorting out our file room and this week I hope to shred everything that is over 5 years old. One of the core underlining things my job entails is working with a computer database system that hold everyone’s information. Thankfully it seems things are going well with learning this database and I seem to pick up on it all quite fast. I knew all those hours spent using Facebook would come in handy!
On the side, I’m aiming for one day a week, I’m doing hands on ministry. So far I’ve got to spend a little bit of time with Aids Hope and last weekend I went to Durban for partnership functions. Durban is on the East coast of South Africa and about an 8 hour drive from Pretoria. It was cool to drive through and to see more of the country. Partnership functions and connecting with churches is definitely the more glamorous side of what OM does.
On the Saturday morning we had a partnership brunch whereby business men and women were invited to attend. Whilst they enjoy a spectacular meal we put on a program sharing what OM does and why we would like them to partner with us. Usually these said business people will give financial donations but sometimes they are able to give more specifically. For example, if someone owns a factory that makes stationary then they may give a donation of stationary for our Aids Hope school kids.
On the Sunday our team split up and went to 3 different churches and shared at a total of 5 different services or meetings. We share about missions, what we do in OM and why the world needs more missionaries. This is a great time to share specifically about the programs OM South Africa does and to encourage people to get involved.
Our weekend was exhausting and so Ema, Deborah, Josh and I decided to go Shark Diving at the aquarium next to where we were having one of our functions. Jonathan took pictures from the viewing floor. It was so much fun. I laughed so much I’m sure I would have drowned. P.S. I think I need to elaborate on the enormity of me getting in the water – I have a serious phobia of FISH! True story! In fact I was so scared of them touching my toes I kept my feet moving at all times… And accidently kicked Josh a lot. Including in the head haha. OOPS! The drive back from Durban was rather entertaining! I saw 10 tornados, monkeys, an out of control bush fire and ostrich.
I think this is a good spot to share about some of the people I’ve made friends with here. You know, I started writing their names and nationalities down for you but there are actually too many people to list for you. There is a girl here called Chanri and she was actually one of my cabin mates 5 and a half years ago when we were on the ship. Now her desk is the one next to mine. It’s cool how our paths have crossed again like this.
So there are a couple pieces of news for you. Firstly, the visa situation. After a lot of prayer and discussion I’ve decided I’m coming back to England at the end of November. There is nothing I can do about the visa here. Dad and I will go down to London and visit the embassy in person in order to sort out my visa. My chest X-Ray will be out of date and so I may need to get that redone however we will still go to the embassy without it in hope they can just accept my current X-Ray.
It will take a minimum of 30 days to process the visa and should I need an x-ray I’m intending to give a leeway of an additional 30 days. So bizarrely enough, it looks like I’ll be home for Christmas, Laura’s 21st and a friend’s wedding. Work wise there will be lots for me to do but I can do it all from England which means I will continue to work with OM South Africa whilst I’m back.
The car situation also continued to be a bit of a drama haha. Last week we decided the best way forward is to wait until the person I’m buying the car from is back in South Africa. There’s just too much red tape involved trying to sort out the tax for the car when it’s not in my name.
So, so this means I’m quite limited in how I do things as I’m so dependent on transport (public transport and walking are not options) but that’s OK. I do enjoy my down time on an evening because I’m with people from about 7.30am until 6pm. Plus I live on the property of my boss and her family so I get to spend time with them outside of work hours. Weekends are quite busy! :)My first weekend here in Pretoria I did a lot of chilling out; my second weekend was sports fanatic weekend whereby I watched a 3 hour cricket match, a 5 hour swimming gala and then a football match on TV; last weekend I was in Durban (if we’re friends on FB you need to check out my album called “Remember Who You Are.”); and today I was at Aids Hope in Mamelodi for a braai.
It’s such a sad situation in Mamelodi at the moment as there’s a serial killer who is raping and killing young women. The police are on it but it’s not like England. Mamelodi is one giant township of around 1 million people… where and how do you even start looking for a killer? So it’s been additionally hard for the Aids Hope Team who live and work in Mamelodi with all this extra turmoil going on. The community keep taking things into their own hands which makes things so much worse. There have been many “suspects” who have fallen victim of revenge beatings and even one person was killed. Sadly they killed the wrong person and so the serial killings continue.
Speaking of safety, the car I hoped to get is operated by a standard key and an immobilizer. And it has a hijack button that sets off a crazy alarm should I need to press it in such a situation. Surreal.
I know I have so much more to share with you all but it seems all memory has left me at it inches closer to 9pm. I’ll save anything else to share for another time! 🙂
So here I am!
I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this blog and starting with my entry into South Africa seems logical – I tried to make it glamorous. I really did. I searched my brain for great phrases to step off the plane and into the country with. You know, something to carry with me through thick and thin. Maybe not even a phrase or word but a profound conviction. But I think tiredness was suppressing every in my brain and as I stood at the baggage carousal I did the whole “What have I done, I don’t want to be here” conversation with myself. Thankfully I did have enough wisdom floating through the haze to recognize the transition signs. So in that moment of panic and even now when I have a little “Oh no what have I done moment” I actually try to not dwell on any of the thoughts that could potentially send me off the edge. That, and I’ve just been trying to walk life with Jesus. I attempted to watch a movie in bed last night with Him but if we were to judge how that was going by my waking at 3am this morning with my glasses still on and no memory of falling asleep then I would say, I’m still finding my feet with this concept of living intimately with God haha.
What is Pretoria like? Well leaving Johannesburg Airport and driving to Pretoria was slightly bizarre. It reminded me a lot of home. Miles of just… land. Like the Lake District. Except, the ground is orange, red and brown; the grass is dried out green; the wildlife consists of giraffes (I’ve yet to actually see them); the second day of spring consisted of blue skies and a high of around 27 degrees C… It’s hard to see how I drew the connection to the Lake District but somehow I did. Go figure. I think it was more to do with the way that for miles there is nothing but land and roads and then all of a sudden there is what I can only describe as “random islands of community”. I say this because it’s like there are literally islands of densely populated areas surrounded by enough land to think “Why don’t they just spread out more to give everyone more space?”
My flat is pretty cute. It’s like 3 rooms all joined together in a line. When you open the sliding door you step into the kitchen and living area; the next room is my room and attached to the bedroom is a bathroom. My flat is where the domestic maids would once upon a time live. The mini kitchen/living space was added on in the past 5 years. Over the past 2 days I spent most of my time unpacking, cleaning and making the flat more my own. Actually on that note, let me tell you about my community.
I live in a gated community. There are maybe 50 houses in this community surrounded by walls and electric fences. You drive up there are security guards. But then each house has walls, electric fences, signs saying “Armed response”… I’m not sure you’d believe me but the neighborhood it’s quite beautiful, safe and peaceful all things considering. I asked some of the long term people and people from Pretoria about safety and it’s not as bad as the horror stories everyone seems to be telling me. Thank God. Outside my community is a mini shopping complex and get this… It has a Hooters. The first thing you are greeted with as you come and go from my community is this Hooters. Which I just think is so comical. And Dad, I hate to tell you but apparently it’s a “conservative Hooters”. The girls wear tights under their shorts and vest tops instead of tops that resemble bras. It’s the most random mini shopping complex too. It does have normal stuff like a McDonalds and a supermarket but along with Hooters it also has a business called “Play Time Café”. Put it like this, it has neon lighting and about a meter past its open doors it has a wall preventing you from seeing actually IN the “café”. Somehow I don’t think this is a café.
It all feels a bit surreal here in South Africa so far. Here they have people to fill up your petrol at the petrol station; when I say hello to the maids standing on our street taking a break from their work they call me “Ma’am”; there are signs for an “internet monitored baby care service” (creepy); the Woolworths looks like it’s either associated to M&S or someone went to England, checked out M&S and stole ALL the designs and layout… I’ll have to add to this list as I continue to experience South Africa. In amongst all of this I was also talking with my manager and saying that there is a lot of respect here in Pretoria. Like those maids, I am WAY younger than them and therefore my Western ideology tells me respect should be the other way around. But as it is, that’s not what the deal is here. I’m definitely sensing the skin colour ranking here. I dunno, I’m still trying to understand. It’s a bit surreal.
Speaking of differences between England and South Africa. OMG the driving?! Roundabouts just got more confusing and I fear greatly for the day I drive again back home. So the deal with roundabouts is: mini roundabouts, if you’re turning right then you don’t have to go around them you can just go anticlockwise; if you’re all approaching a mini roundabout from the same exit some will go clockwise, others will go anticlockwise immediately after, and both vehicles just hope they won’t crash into each other when they reach their exit at the same time; and at all roundabouts you don’t give way to the right you go according to who reached the roundabout first. SAY WHAAAAT. So if there are several cars all at the roundabout before you reach there, no matter what the entry point is, you wait until they all go before you. My head hurts just thinking about is.
Yesterday morning I went to Mamelodi. And that was a pretty awesome experience. One of the OM South Africa projects is Aids Hope and they have been working alongside a primary school educating the final year group on Aids, HIV and Sexual Health. Here in South Africa primary school finishes at the age of 13. The class had around 60 kids and statistically speaking 1 in 5 of those 12-13 year olds will have Aids. Which means 12 of them. It’s quite a lot to take in and I couldn’t help but look at their faces and which of them would one day die from Aids. There’s a lot of sigma and ignorance surrounding Aids here in South Africa and so a lot of what Aids Hope does is correct these beliefs (i.e. sex with a virgin will cure you) and break down those barriers (i.e. we are all loved and equal regardless as to whether one has Aids or not). Tradition, witchcraft and culture makes it really hard to challenge and correct attitude towards Aids. Once I get more settled in my role I’ll also take up a ministry day which will most likely be working with Aids Hope. I can’t wait.
I should tell you what Mamelodi is like. Imagine an “island” of an estimated 1 million people living in makeshift one room shacks. Shacks that are smaller than the shed at my parent’s house. Surrounding the entire place is rubbish. I kept seeing rubbish being burnt and I asked my manager if they were burning the rubbish off – thinking they were trying to rid of it. But she told me no. They burn the rubbish to keep warm and to fend off evil spirits. I don’t think there is any real way for me to explain what these places are like except to take photos. However these are not really places I would dare to get my camera out.
I have been in South Africa for 58 hours, less than 2 and a half days and I feel like I’ve been here for a life time already. Stuff even happened today that I can’t share except to say it was literally a “Paul style jail break”. If you wanna see the bible stories in the 21st century you gotta leave the western world to see them for real. Absolutely crazy. I also had my first day at work today! It was fun! I think I’m going to really enjoy my job…
That’s it for now!
P.S. I was asked what I’ve been eating since I got here. So far I have been eating a lot of peanut butter on bread; bananas here are 40p a kilo so I foresee a lot of them in my future; and the only weird stuff I’ve tried so far was raw beef called Biltong. Eak!