“Where have you been so long?”
“I live in the States now. Wisconsin.”
“Is it cold there?” my questioner asked warily.
It only he knew! I took advantage of being back in Johannesburg to visit my old writers club, Writers 2000. The group meets the last Saturday of the month in the elegant clubhouse of a retirement center surrounded by manicured gardens.
Today for Tomorrow lesson one was about journeys—to places like Mpumulunga or Johannesburg or the one each of us makes through life. Lesson two is about dreams of where we would like to go on our life journey.
I took a stack of library books about places one might visit—Namibia, Swaziland, the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa—and another stack about jobs and professions. It does this librarian’s heart good to see the children sitting on the steps devouring books. One girl held an armload, not wanting to give any to one of the younger boys. “He can’t read yet.”
I got there early. Very early. I was afraid of rush hour traffic, but of course, it was Saturday and traffic was light. Even though I was early, children streamed ahead of me through the gates of Central Johannesburg College, Alexandra Campus. They were neatly dressed, many in T-shirts that said Rose-Act Saturday School. The program out of Rosebank Union Church in the wealthy suburb of Four Ways rents the college facility for an extra-tuition school for children from the crowded Alexandra township across the road. (For my American readers, “tuition” here means “instruction”, not the money paid for a private school, although these students do pay a modest fee to demonstrate their commitment to be in class.)
“Has anyone here been on a journey? I asked. For most of the children in the after-school programs for orphans and vulnerable children in Tembisa a trip into the city of Johannesburg would be an adventure. One boy tentatively raised his hand.
“Where did you go?” I asked him.
By all appearances it was an idyllic little town surrounded by miles and miles of sweeping grasslands. The streets around the classic Dutch Reformed Church at its heart reminded me of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe—broad enough to turn a span of eight oxen. The houses were quaint reminders of a former era. They were a bit run down, perhaps, and the unpaved side streets showed erosion from recent rain. Most of the buildings were Edwardian or late Victorian. A good development committee might turn the town into an arts center or major tourist attraction. But the era was not as idyllic as it appeared on the surface.
Six hundred girls in blue cotton pinafore dresses with crisp white blouses looked up at me from the auditorium floor at Kingsridge Senior Primary School in King Williamstown, South Africa. They sat in neat rows from grade four to grade seven, while we talked about the stories they tell and the stories told to them.
“Your life is like a story,” I told the girls. “You are the main character—the star of the show!” They smiled and looked pleased. “You are not only the main character,” I went on, relying heavily on Daniel Taylor’s ideas in Tell Me a Story; the Life-shaping Power of Stories. “You are also in some ways the author. You get to decide what happens in your story.”
I first met Crystal Warren when she presented a paper on HIV&AIDS in South African children’s books at the Potchefstroom University conference on children’s literature in 2007. Although I was in the process of leaving South Africa at the time (I had literally moved out of my house, but not yet made it to the airport), I knew we were kindred spirits. When I discovered I would be traveling through Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape recently, I determined to stop and visit her and the marvelous collection at the National Literary Museum where she works.
One of the things I most love about the family of God is friendships that last over decades and generations. More than twenty-five years ago the Guimaraes family showed up at the door of the house we had borrowed for two months in Maputo while we looked for a permanent place to live (a challenging enterprise in a communist country as Mozambique was at the time.) They were a Brazilian family with two little girls the age of ours, and since ours had just come from Brazil the four were soon dancing and squealing like long-lost cousins. (Okay. Priscila and Eunice had a little brother, Gerson, but he hardly counted at the time since he was only three.)
As my daughter drove me to the airport, I was suddenly reminded that I was leaving my comfort zone. What have you forgotten? my cramping stomach asked. What all-important detail have you let fall between the cracks? Usually my husband takes care of travel logistics; I am notoriously bad at them. But he was already in Africa. And he would not be meeting me in Johannesburg to pick up the pieces either. This time I would be the one to pick him up when he arrived at Oliver Tombo International from Mozambique on Saturday. I was on my own to pick up the rental car and find my way to the mission guesthouse.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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