I See Her in Them

South Africa LadiesEvery time I see an African domestic (maid) with white children, a wave of sadness comes over my heart. I understand the cultural dynamics, the legacy of race in this country, and the economic inequity to know the reason for and, in a way, the necessity for these domestics. But my heart feels sad all the same when I see situations as I described.

I think I know why I feel the way I do. My grandmother on my father’s side was a domestic. Grandma was an educated lady. She was a teacher, but when she got married, as was the custom of the day, she stopped working to stay at home as a housewife. Eventually, for her family to earn extra money, she worked as a maid for a doctor’s family. In Jim Crow South, this was one of the few things black women could do to earn an income. Thankfully, the doctor and his family treated Grandma well; and she talked fondly about them until the day she died.

My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a domestic. She was a formidable, God-fearing woman. She raised half of the children–both black and white–in her small Southern town. When she passed away, there was standing room only at her funeral, as the entire town, all of her children, turned out to pay tribute.

My great-grandmother on my father’s side was an ex-slave. Queen was her name; and according to the family stories, her named suited her. When freed, she was given land in her own right. That land is still in my family today.

So I think the reason why I feel sad when I see African domestics taking care of white children is because I see my grandmothers in them. I wonder if they have good situations in caring families, as my two grandmothers had, or if they are treated badly. I wonder what children they have of their own whom they are struggling to support, to give a leg up in the world. I wonder if they are happy. I wonder if they are really queens underneath their doeks. I think my grandmothers would be proud to know that their hard work has not only paid off in their children but also in their children’s children and in their children’s children’s children. I wonder what my grandmothers would think of me. What would they think of my serving as a missionary in Africa? I hope they would be proud. I like to think that they would.

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St. James Beach: one of my favorite spots to walk
St. James Beach: one of my favorite spots to walk

Yay! Tomorrow I get to go home. I thought as I packed up for the next leg of the recent church trip. On the St. George’s trips to South Africa, we spend our first week in Johannesburg and then fly to Cape Town on Friday. Normally, when I repack for this leg of the trip, I think, I get to go to Cape Town tomorrow! This time I thought, I get to go home. Yay! I miss the mountains and the sea. I miss my flat and my bed. I miss my friends. I miss home.

This line of thinking is a good sign. Cape Town is indeed becoming home to me. However, I was a bit unnerved about this first feeling of home, and I fought against it on the flight to Cape Town and for several days afterwards. Nashville is where my family and friends live; it is where I grew up. It’s home, not Cape Town.

And yet Cape Town is feeling more and more like home, and that’s good—I keep telling myself, although a part of my heart stings. I have had several feelings of “home” during the past month—playing board games on Easter afternoon with the young members of the Adams family, my dear friends, visiting a friend who had a recent operation, routine grocery shopping at the local shops, curling up with a good book on a quiet evening.

Yet it’s ironic; the more I live into life here and the more Cape Town becomes home to me, the more homesick I get for home. I feel the tension. At times it’s intense. At times I want to go home and hug my family. I miss them.

Friends via Nashville Connections
Friends via Nashville Connections

It’s hard living in the in-between of two homes, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a natural part of adapting to cross-cultural living. I look forward to the day when I can call both cities home without an ache in my heart or at least without the intensity of the ache.

As believers in Jesus Christ, living in the in-between is nothing new. It’s what we’re called to do, being dual citizens of heaven and earth. And at times, that type of living is difficult as well. It is also a tension.

I’m praying for the courage to live with the tension.

Too Young to Die

Within a matter of minutes, I received news this morning that a childhood friend of mine and a cousin of mine passed away. They were both young men, my age. The day has been wrought with emotions—shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, despair for the families. Young people are not supposed to die.

As a SAMS missionary, one of the things I have to do before I depart for the field is to make a will. I had this task on my to-do list for July, but I still haven’t done it. I have been putting it off. I don’t like to think about my immortality. There is something unsettling thinking about my demise. I should still be dreaming about my wedding, not thinking about my funeral. Young people are not supposed to die.

I plan to live for scores to come, and longevity runs in my family. I picture myself being a grumpy, but lovable old woman full of spunk. And I see myself “going out” at the ripe of old age of 100+ doing something I enjoy—playing tennis, belly-laughing at an I Love Lucy episode, traveling.

But the events of today serve as a reminder to me that life is a precious and holy gift. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Life is precious and holy. Let’s never take it for granted.

Transitions

A few days ago, I put away my winter clothes and brought in my spring and summer clothes. The change of the seasons is a bi-annual tradition for my closet, but this time I felt sad. The next time I perform the ritual, I’ll be cleaning out and packing up my closet for good; and I’ll be getting rid of some clothes and shoes I cherish.

One of My Favorite Dresses
I will be taking this dress with me!

When it comes to possessions, my books will be the hardest things for me to give away or to sell. Deciding which ones to take with me will be like selecting favorites from your children. Perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic, but you get the picture. I love my books.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m attached to my clothes and shoes just like the next woman. Deciding what to take with me and what to leave behind will be hard. Rearranging my closet was just another reminder of my transitioning life. In a way, I think I have begun to start to grieve my old life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still super excited about the next phase of my life, but change is change; whether good or bad, it’s always challenging.