Lauren Francisco is the newest blogger for The Mennonite online. She is a member of Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Virginia, and just began a year of service with Mennonite Mission Network in South Africa. Photo provided by Lauren Francisco.
Three plane rides, two cups of tea, one plate of chicken curry and I already feel the transformation taking place.
I arrived in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa after a 24-hour journey from Richmond, Virginia. I was greeted by The Ranchod family (the most amazing hosts ever, by the way). They welcomed me with hugs, a temporary home while I find a place, smiles and the kind of sparks in their eyes that light up the dullest and dimmest of rooms.
Over a decade ago, my family hosted them within the U.S., where they resided for the most “transformative” years of their lives. Here I am, typing this, thinking to myself, “Wow, they’re about to witness their past in my present.”
Upon picking me up from the airport, we rode throughout the city, Uncle Flinn and Auntie Karen pointing at the beautiful mountains in the backdrop, the roads to drive towards and the streets to avoid. Trying my best to hold onto every word, hand movement, gesture, I found myself zoning out, thinking that in a few weeks time my senses would not be as heightened and alert to the booming traffic, gorgeous views, and of course, what I feared most-driving a stick shift on the opposite side of the vehicle and road.
Coming back to reality, I shook off those thoughts and fully dived into the present. I’m glad I did.
Hours later, although I am no longer in the backseat of Uncle Flinn’s car, it feels that way. I’ve been sitting at the kitchen table for three, four, five, maybe even six hours, listening more than speaking, asking more than assuming, and learning more than teaching.
The depth of conversation that I had with their four daughters still resonates with me throughout the night. It takes months, sometimes even years, to dive into such meaningful and enlightening conversation with people your age, and here I am, enjoying it after just one cup of tea.
They shared with me the life-changing differences between life in the United States versus in South Africa. They told me that I, of course would witness these differences for myself, but me constantly being aware that my stay here is temporary and I have the U.S. to fall back on will affect my experience.
I asked them what they meant by that, and what I got from it was the following (paraphrased): “You constantly have to think. You have a “free” way of thinking, meaning you’re accepting, open and willing to experience and adapt. Here, nothing can be mindless, from driving, walking, where you visit, who you’re with, what you’re wearing, how you speak, and what you eat/drink. People are constantly watching. When things are done out of the ordinary, or non-traditionally, be prepared for questioning. With Apartheid only ending only in the 1990’s, this nation will likely remain behind in it’s progressiveness. We’re America in the 1970’s. Yes, laws have changed, but minds and practices are habitual and hard to change as quickly as governing parties can end. Enjoy yourself, but always keep in mind that the people you interact with will likely not see the world how you see it. Be cautious, but do not change.”