Nearly two weeks ago I went out for dinner with my friends & as we sat around the table I couldn’t help, yet again, thinking how blessed I am to have this amazing community. Unfortunately the moment was slammed with another thought, “The last time I had an amazing community of friends my brother died. Why do I have this community? Who is going to die this time?”
Lately I’ve been very aware of fear in my life. It’s like my heart is conflicted in a beautiful tension of feeling paralysed & breaking down walls or lies. Let me give you two battle grounds where this is going on.
Firstly, I love my community of friends here; so much so that I made a decision to be very intentional about not letting anything happen to it. For example, our group has guys in it. The fastest & surest way of division happening is to like someone & they don’t like you back.
So I purposely set out to make sure no guys could pick up a signal of interest from me & misinterpret it. In fact I was so set on doing this that it was a surprise to me last Sunday when one guy said to me, “But I thought you didn’t want to be in a relationship. You keep saying you don’t want anything to compromise this community & family.”
I realised then that I can think I’m communicating clearly but what I’m communicating may not be what people hear. I do want to be in a relationship, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid of loss, of rejection, & I’m afraid of losing my best friend (at least you should be BFFs if you’re dating them?! Haha).
After Mike, after my last relationship, after saying goodbye to the UK… I’m not closed to relationships at all, but my heart is fragile to loss & change. This community is my family, I’m scared that too will go away. Yet, if a guy does come along in my life, I do want to be brave enough to jump in.
The second battle ground is this. One of the coolest things about this group of friends is they give me so much permission to be myself… I know what I’m about to say is going to sound like a complete contradiction but bear with me… however, the deeper into community I get, the more this seems to be challenged.
I’m still figuring out who I am. Especially post Mike. A lot changed once he died. Especially the way I see the world, people & life. Certain things became more meaningful & I became a lot more intentional. I like deep conversations, I like encouraging people to be greater versions of who they already are, I like asking people how they are really doing… But in order to do that I first must be vulnerable. Even if my vulnerability is simply asking the question. No matter how great or small the vulnerability, it’s direct contrast is rejection.
The constant threat of rejection is exhausting but lately the consequences of vulnerability seems more intense. Like recently things have happened, or comments have been made to me that were not supposed to be negative but Satan has used it to cut deep into my heart. The thoughts going around in my head subsequently are:
“You drain people Akila”, “People want to laugh & deep stuff doesn’t refresh them”, “Akila people can only handle you in small doses”, “Akila people push you away because you are too intense”, “Akila you are too emotional”, “Akila you think you are trying to treat people the way you want to be treated but really you are just broken.”
I don’t want to be any of those things that are in my head. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I didn’t ask for Mike to die. I didn’t ask for me to change. I don’t want to drain people. I don’t want people to only be able to cope with me in small doses. My heart feel so raw, shaken & vulnerable thinking this could be.
Tonight, before church, I was trying to put on mascara without crying it off & I was talking to God about all this. I said to God, “I want to me just me. I want to be real & intentional. I want the deep conversations. I want to genuinely know how someone is doing. I really love & care for people. Even if people can only cope with me in small doses, I don’t want to change because this stuff matters to me, this is how I show people they matter to me.”
As I’m trying to figure all this out with Jesus a thought came to me, “Akila they’re not running from you, they’re running from vulnerability.”
Later after church I shared my fears with my life group leader & she gave a really beautiful illustration of a needle with thread. The needle point of vulnerability is so sharp that it can be painful for me & for others, but the thread that the needle brings is community.
Community is so much bigger than just a group of people hanging out. If God is the heart then community is what He uses to pump life into our souls. Life that fills our being with purpose. Life that He uses to demonstrate His love, His freedom, His truth. Community is life. Messy, beautiful, adventurous, living life. But it’s His life, & He gives it to us. He calls us to be our Brother’s Keepers.
This fear malarkey is hard core to address, but once upon a time when I was 14 years old God told me, “Akila I made you for people.” I want to be faithful to that calling. It’s my heart, it’s how I’m wired. What an incredible joy it is to be called my Brother’s Keeper. I’m not confused about this, but the fears bury this so that everything dumped on top causes confusion & disunity.
I don’t have a conclusion to this blog post as this is still a journey. But I do know that I don’t want these fears to kill me. I don’t want to change the root of who I am. I do want to grow. I do want to walk in freedom rather than fear. & whilst I’m trying to move away from acceptance in other people’s eyes, I really do hope I can be a good friend to people.
Last week I was walking down Long Street in Cape Town CBD with a group of friends at about 11.30pm when a guy pushed himself against my back and rubbed himself on me. I spun around only to see he was already doing it to another girl who was with us. Then he walked off. It happened so quickly.
Later that evening I was talking about it to the girl’s brother, let’s call him Abs, and to another guy friend, let’s call him Toes. Abs asked me did I say something to the guy and I said, “No, why would I put myself in an intimidating situation? I’ve no idea if calling him out on it will cause him to get aggressive with me.” Abs said, “But Akila, you were with 4 other guys at the time who have your back. What did you think would happen?”
I found myself unable to respond but inside thinking to myself, “You have my back? I didn’t even think of you guys.”
The next night it was New Year’s Eve. We were on the beach overlooking Cape Town City and once the firework shows ended we decided to go to the restaurant directly behind us because for NYE they had a DJ. Once we got our faces painted by the staff – literally, it was white paint and looked freakin awesome – we hit the dance floor.
I never really realized this until I was going home, but all night I had been looking around me. The whole time I was on the dance floor I did what I always do, observe what others around me are doing. Who is where, who looks shifty, who should I be alert to, do I need to protect someone…
Do I need to protect someone? The number one question I continually ask myself.
Back home when we go out I’m usually the oldest one in the group and/or with my younger sister. Between her and the younger ones in the group I end up stepping into that protector role every time we go out. There is always at least one guy who gets far too close, physical or friendly. Whilst it’s such an honor to be used as a trusted shield by my sister or our friends, I have to switch off my brain, compartmentalize any fear, and address the guy.
The guy’s reaction 99% of the time is either to then hit on me, or to get aggressive. Once a guy punched me three times in the face and busted my lip when I explained the girl wasn’t interested. Another time the guy grabbed my hair so hard I landed head first on the edge of the street curb which caused my head to bleed.
But on the night of NYE something magically strange happened on the dance floor.
I was dancing next to the sister, the same one who was with me on Long Street the night before, and noticed the guy behind her was bumping his backside against her. So I grabbed her hand and spun her into the opposite direction. But then that left me with butt guy and I was thinking, “Oh no?! Where do I go?! His butt is going to bump into me now?!”
I think I dived to the other side of our circle of friends but when I turned around Toes had moved into the spot where the sister and I were. I wish I filmed it because it was genuinely the funniest thing – Toes had no shame, he just danced the same way as the guy, backside to backside, and soon enough the guy moved away.
After a while the lights dimmed and the music got better so myself and two other girls moved to the center of the dance floor. And we just went for it dancing. I could see this tall, creepy, older dude dancing near us and sure enough he made a move on one girl. I grabbed her away from him but then the creep started hitting on the other girl. I grabbed her too and held onto them while dancing in hope that creep would get the message that we were not interested. But as I looked over my shoulder all I saw was Toes and Abs leading the other guys in our group across the dance floor straight to us. They gathered around us dancing and Toes made conversation with creep.
P.s. creep doesn’t deserve a capital “C”.
I cannot tell you how much that blew my mind. It was so simple and non-threatening but so effective. It never crossed my mind that I wasn’t the only one observing things on the dance floor. I never thought our guys would have our backs like that. I never thought they would step into that protective brother role. I never thought it because I never saw it before.
I know what happens when I say no. I know what it’s like to be hit repeatedly in the face and on multiple occasions. I know what it’s like for guys to force their hands onto me. I know what happens when a guy 60 years older than me kisses me inappropriately. I know what it’s like to not be able to press charges because there, “isn’t enough evidence to make the case stick in court”. I know so much more than what anyone should ever have to know.
More than anything I know exactly what it’s like to be a woman in a world where men are animals.
I didn’t know, genuinely did not know, that a group of guys, like my friends, could exist. I don’t know what overwhelms my heart more with love and gratitude – that these guys exist or that I have the joy of calling them my brothers.
I shared some of my personal life story with a friend on the way back to Pretoria from Cape Town. And after she asked me do I have someone who can help me work through some of the things I’ve been through. I do have people, but I said to her, “Do you know what, God’s really amazing. The stuff He’s doing in my heart is insane. I can’t escape Him. He’s using so many people and situations to address things in my life and to heal my heart. It’s absolutely incredible. Just like the other night the way the guys responded on the dance floor. That whole event has shifted so much in my heart.”
I really wish I could show my South Africa family how much God is using them. I’ve said this before but I can’t help repeating it when I realize how full my heart is when I think of them. I actually kinda get sad at my human limitations in expressing my gratitude to them. But I guess I can only keep encouraging them with words of affirmation; and before God just continually ask that He blesses each of them.
In the mean time, I’m so so so freakin blessed to call them my brothers and sisters. Teddi, thanks for pushing me to write about this.
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!