Cultural lesson over grilled cheese and French fries

map_of_south-africaWe arrived in Bloemfontain tonight. And arriving was busy. After an 11 hour flight, in which we sat in the back row of the top floor of a massive airplane, we then stood in line at customs for 2 hours. And you get 30 minutes of free internet so that was not much help. But everyone was patient and after 11 hours of sitting 2 of standing helps balance it all out. We then had to find our baggage, recheck our baggage, walk a half mile to our gate and had about 30 minutes till our next flight. We were hoping to grab a quick lunch but settled for trail mix. Also we learned our colleague Adey (from Ethiopia) missed her flight and cannot arrive until tomorrow. Our hotel is nice, there is a couple from the States here that works for the Reformed Church and also live in Holland. We have met them before so they are gracious hosts. The hotel does have a few rules posted on the wall:
NO SMOKING in rooms
NO ALCOHOL in rooms
NO GATHERING in rooms
NO VISITORS in rooms
SILENCE after 22h00
We will do our best to comply. Right now it is 8:00 pm and can hardly stay awake.
But onto our cultural lessons and some first impressions. While the airport here is tiny, the city is quite nice. It is a little bigger than Holland. The roads are better than in Michigan, driving seems logical; people stay in their lanes, follow lights and signs, park normally. Granted they drive on the other side of the road here and we did see a herd of goats walking down the side of the highway, but otherwise, pretty normal. The city itself is very “Midwestern” We ate at the mall at a chain called Beans & Mug which looked just like any chain in the States, maybe Applebee’s? We also saw a McDonalds, KFC and Toys R Us. There are many white people here but they are all Afrikaans. We were told that most people we run into will assume we are Afrikaans. So over dinner (grilled cheese and fries for me, jill had a pulled pork sandwich and our friends had a salad, a chicken sandwich and milkshakes, they told us about South Africa. They have been doing work here, through Christ Memorial Church for many years. They typically come about 3 times a year for 4-6 weeks. So in random order here is what we learned:
1. Botsebelo (the township we are working in 50 minutes outside of Bloemfontain) has about 200,000 people. Over half are considered youth. 65,000 are considered OVC’s (orphans and vulnerable children).
2. The unemployment rate is 70% and many people receive grants from the government (pensions, being a foster parent, HIV). The people that do work are all in the service industry: police, teachers, nurses, store clerks etc).
3. In Botsebelo there is an extreme amount of poverty and very little wealth. There are a lot of squatters, people who have “homes” that share a common water spicket and no electricity. Many homes are tin shacks or cement block homes typically with outhouses.
4. 1/3 of girls between 18-30 are HIV positive. There was a small study that said that 20% of school girls and 8% of school boys are HIV positive, which leads us to believe that girls are being sexually assaulted.
5. Schools are mostly government run and in bad shape due to lack of resources.
6. The country is mostly Christian (80%). There is tolerance of other religious, but also some fear of Muslim extremists.
This is all I have in me for tonight, so tomorrow I will work on more of the info of the groups of people we are working with. We start our training at 9:00 and have to leave our hotel at 7:30 and I have a day of travel to make up for in sleep.
Oh, and I can’t forget this: there was an adult man walking in the mall sucking on a pacifier.

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