Saturday, November 28, 2009

Africa's Sex Appeal

“Africa is not that Sexy,” read the article headline in the latest Relevant Magazine issue newly arrived in far off Mmametlhake, South Africa. Yes, it’s true. Africa is not that sexy.

The African cause. No matter how many dollars are poured into aid and development. No matter how many celebrities stand up in support of their favorite charity. No matter how many politicians visit the remotest parts. Africa is not that sexy.

I thought it was when I moved here. The sex appeal and the romanticism of living in the African village. The simplicity of it. Working with your hands. Teaching and serving. Making a difference and making life long friends.

But simply put, it’s just not that sexy.

The pit latrine. The insects the size of my fist. The passive aggressiveness so prevalent in South African culture. The corruption and nepotism that runs rampant and seemingly unchecked. The stereotypes one African culture has about another, leading to xenophobia and racism. The unemployment rates. The widespread alcoholism. The violence. The crime. The poverty. The hungry. The sick. The dying. None of it sexy.

But when was it supposed to be sexy. When was giving a cup of water or a loaf or bread ever supposed to be sexy? When was caring for the widow or the orphan ever supposed to be sexy? When was loving others as yourself ever supposed to be sexy? Was acting out the gospel message ever supposed to be sexy?

I don’t think that it was. People didn’t believe in Jesus because of his sex appeal. They believed because of the simple complexity of grace and the fullness of love. And the people he lived among and served weren’t sexy. But they carried in them a need for the love of God and his mercy.

No, when you look at it, Africa has no real sex appeal. At least what I have seen of it. But it has a lot of people who have a lot to give and a lot to receive.

Life is not easy here. Simpler maybe, but not easy. It’s not romantic. It’s not ideal or even that fun a lot of the time. But it’s a place where Jesus is. It’s a place where God is moving and working. And where God’s people move and work. It may not be sexy. But I do believe that it holds the quiet beauty of a place being shaped and formed by the hands of God.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Pre-Technology Kind of Life

I just wrote the following article for our monthly (or sometimes monthly) Peace Corps South Africa newsletter and thought some of you out there might be interested in the read:
I was talking with another volunteer the other night about life in the village without a computer. Her laptop recently had a bad run in with an electrical storm and she’s now learning to live without until she can get it fixed.
My own computer’s power adapter went out back in July. At the time, I was able to easily get a replacement, but unfortunately the box store that sold it to me sold me the wrong adapter. It was just an amp off from what it needed to be, and that one little amp fried my ac/dc connection and the screen. Four months later, and I just heard the good news that my computer is on the way back from HP.
I greatly admire those volunteers who decided not to bring a computer with them, but I was not hardcore enough to be among that crowd. I need my fix—Gmail, Facebook, The Office and movies galore. In the first few months at site, I developed a reliance on it for brain-numbing entertainment and a taste of America.
Without my computer, I was at a loss. Within a month, I had read ten books and worked my way through two books of crosswords. Bedtime went from 11pm to 9pm. I cooked, baked, exercised, wrote letters, journaled and eventually found that I was sitting for long periods of time doing absolutely nothing.
After that first month, I began to adjust and being computerless did not bother me quite as much. I grew accustomed to the new forms of entertainment and discovered a sort of nostalgic enjoyment for pre-technology life. I discovered life at a slower and more enjoyable pace. I discovered the joy of simpler pleasures and rediscovered old hobbies.
Now that I have a computer again (I have a loner from a friend for a few weeks), I am certainly enjoying and reacquainting myself with the technological wonder that is the computer, but it’s nice to know that I can live without it. That I don’t really need the fix. It’s not the most profound of self-discoveries that I will experience during my Peace Corps experience, but it is a step towards deeper self-awareness none the less. And I certainly didn’t know that all that time without a computer would bring me to a better understanding of myself. The experience brought home to me that our time in Peace Corps is on one level about coming to a better understanding of ourselves and what we am capable of—whether its life without a computer, a toilet, running water or Chipotle. I think we are unimaginably capable of pushing ourselves beyond the limit we previously knew. With a world of limitless possibilities, new depths are always possible.