A month before I turned 21, I boarded a flight bound for Cape Town. My plan was to stay for six months.

Two years later, I was still there, speaking vows that wed me to a South African man.

Within three years of our wedding day, we had two kids.

Just after our second child’s birth, my mom was re-diagnosed with cancer. The breast cancer she endured four years prior had returned with a vengeance, and metastasized throughout her bones, lungs and liver.

Eighteen months later, we adopted my husband’s cousin, who was orphaned at the age of six.

He spoke no English and had an undiagnosed hearing disability.

Those were turbulent days.

 

Lord, protect my heart.

 

When we got married, my husband and I made an agreement.

If it was the Lord’s will, we would spend the first five years after having children in Cape Town, then move to the States for the second five years of our kids’ lives, before returning to South Africa.

Shortly after adopting, I was ready to make the move. My mom’s health was declining, and nobody knew how long she had left.

I was desperate to be with her.

We started the paperwork to obtain a green card for my husband.

I went to the U.S. Embassy to register our adopted son and get the necessary documents to make him a U.S. citizen.

That’s when I heard the news.

 

Read the rest of this story over at Katie Reid’s site by clicking here.

 

 

I had marveled at the majesty of it for weeks, but I’d never been to the top.  Then one day my chance arrived.

The student ministry where I worked was hosting a social event for students, and we were going to climb Table Mountain.

 

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The plan was to meet at the campus ministry office at a certain time, then carpool to the base of the mountain.  Of course, since it was college students, we got off to a late start and were seriously delayed by the time we started our hike.

 

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Several students lagged behind while others literally raced to the top.  The average climb should take between an hour and a half to two and a half hours to reach the flat-topped peak.  Since I was staff, I felt I should stay with the last students, to make sure nobody got lost or gave up halfway.

 

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We reached the top just in time to catch the sunset.  It was gorgeous, but obviously posed a problem.

The sun set and we were climbing down on the east side, the path cast into a dark shadow.

Nobody ever told me that going down would be harder than climbing up.  

My thigh muscles were tense.  It was dark, except for the large spotlight at the base of the mountain that lit the mountain at night for the city spectators to enjoy.  Behind me, a student held a flashlight, but the light danced and shook with each step he took, making my descent even more precarious.  Then, “Whooaa!”

He slipped, and my heart skipped two beats.

I thought we were both going down.  

After several more slips and frayed nerves, we finally reached the bottom.  Even in the car, I had to sit in the driver’s seat for about five minutes before my legs stopped shaking enough drive my manual car back to campus.

But it was worth it.

 

This is Day 30 of 31 Days of Life in South Africa.  Tune in tomorrow for Five Minute Friday and a final, fabulous giveaway!

The African wedding is not an afternoon affair.  It’s not even an all day affair.  It’s an occasion, and sometimes it spans over days, at times up to a week.

But even before the big day, there are months and months of preparations that span far wider than just the bride and groom, or even the bridesmaids and groomsmen.  It’s a union of two family groups, and negotiations must be made.

In South Africa, these negotiations are called lobola, another name for a bride price.  It used to involve a payment of cows from the groom to the bride’s family, and was most often negotiated by the bride’s uncle in her absence.

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A white tent will be erected at the bride’s home, hours will be spent on hair getting done, and the cooking will never end.

 

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Sheep are slaughtered, sometimes even a cow.  There’s no such things as invitations; it’s a community event and all are invited.  Some people attend because they’re family, some go because they know the couple.  Others show up for the food.

Traditional fabric is purchased and clothes are handmade for the whole bridal party, both men and women.  Often the bride will wear a white dress for the ceremony and change into a more traditional attire representative of her culture for the reception.

 

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If nothing else, there will be singing.  Lots of singing.  A myriad of voices rising and falling according to the moment.  And where there is singing, there will be dancing.

It’s not a somber occasion by any means; it’s a celebration.  Of the liveliest kind.

 

This is Day 29 of 31 Days of Life In South Africa, a series in which each post has been written in five minutes flat.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click here.

 

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We were at a campus ministry retreat when we heard the news.

My husband’s uncle had passed away.  His mother’s brother.

We left the retreat to prepare for a nine-hour drive to for the funeral.  I was just under three months pregnant with my first child, and still experiencing a fair share of nausea.

We rode with my husband’s mom and arrived at the family compound, where grief and sadness hung thick like a canopy.

The town was much more rural than Cape Town, and though I had been there a few times, this would be my first Tswana funeral.

The next morning I woke up and walked outside to brush my teeth.  The only water source at the house was a single tap on the exterior wall, which emptied into a drain in the ground.  No sink.  To brush your teeth, you had to put water on your toothbrush outside and find a place to spit in the dirt.

 

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Before I could even make it to the tap, I was greeted by a row of cousins, each with a plastic tray on their laps.  On each tray was a sheep’s head — eyes glazed over, limp tongue sticking out.  The cousins were using flat razor blades to shave off the sheep’s hair.

 

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A wave of nausea swept over me.  I covered my mouth and rounded the corner, tying to get away from the sheep.  Around the bend were more cousins, elbows deep in huge metal bowls filled with sheep intestines.

And such was my initiation to the Tswana funeral.

 

This is Day 28 of 31 Days of Life in South Africa, a For the rest of the posts in this series, click here.

DSC02802.2I’m thrilled to be able to introduce you to my real-life friend today, Patrice Gopo.  Though we are both Americans, Patrice and I met in Cape Town, where she lived for two years.  Patrice has been a great encouragement to me, particularly in my own writing.  I’ve also relied heavily on her hair advice ever since my daughter was born.

Patrice graciously accepted my invitation to guest post here as part of 31 Days of Life in South Africa — a series in which every post has been written in five minutes flat.  Enjoy her five-minute reflection, and be sure to check out the links to other writing of hers at the end of the post!

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South Africa.

It’s the abundance of texture. Ripples across a scalp. Tight spirals sprouting from velvet, brown skin. Dense coils stretching out into regal, black crowns.

Each day I notice them. Black women wearing their hair without the burden of chemical straighteners, without the expectation of making already perfect strands become something else. It’s black women on trains, in cars. At Woolworths and Shoprite. Black women in tall buildings in the City Center. Black women sweeping someone else’s kitchen floor.

And for just a moment, I think I can pretend the feel of my natural spirals is not linked with being counter cultural or making a statement against skewed beauty standards. I can forget the way I wear my hair is connected to a long journey of embracing what God created. As I watch these countless women, I feel free to shed the complication and say that this is simply hair. That grows. Like the nails on my fingers and toes.

Perhaps this is just my imagination. Perhaps these styles—these ripples, coils, and spirals—hold the same heft and meaning here in South Africa as in my country. Maybe.

But still I like to think at least some of these women experience weightlessness where hair is just hair and nothing more. I like to think, at least for a moment, I step lightly too.

 

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Patrice Gopo Head ShotPatrice Gopo, the child of Jamaican immigrants, was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. After marrying her Zimbabwean sweetheart, she spent two years living in Cape Town, South Africa. In the midst of other writing projects, from time to time, Patrice enjoys exploring the subject of natural hair. You can read more of her pieces related to this topic here, here, here, and here. Patrice lives in North Carolina with her husband and two daughters.