Sunday, March 23, 2008


Today is Easter Sunday and usually we are at home with family. If it is a year where we are with Vig family we would be spending the day walking the family dogs down the roads and around the walking paths and man made ponds near my parents home after church and before a mid afternoon Easter lunch. Lunch is preceded by a ‘little lunch’ consisting of cheese, crackers, mixed nuts, potato chips and soda while we prepare the main courses. We eat well and play well, filling our time after our meal with more grazing from the ‘little lunch’ spread while we section off into pinochle teams. A few rounds of Grandpa and Kevin trading victories in a fierce bidding wars we then move on to more games. Loaded Questions, What’s Wild, Phase 10 and more.

Should Easter be in Iowa with the Harty family, our weekends are quite similar. Instead of walking the dog (Loki seems to prefer sporadic sprints from person to person and a foray to the creek behind the house) we spend our time getting lost on the way to church (my fault, though my young cousins could improve their navigator skills a bit!) followed by an afternoon of catching up over wine and cold beer as we prepare for an evening feast. A few games of hearts will break out with frequent and fantastic accusations of games past in which the queen of spades was unfairly dumped on someone the entire weekend. Post dinner entertainment is always provided by our innately talented and always delightful cousins performing a recently created and perhaps once rehearsed stage number. Choreographed to one of the latest top 20 hits and delivered with conviction and star power, Casey Casem would be proud. I look forward to it every time.

This year’s Easter is a tad different. A morning spent over coffee and strawberry pancakes coupled with good books and a plan homemade pizza as our main course for dinner (Safiri chose a freshly caught gecko for his entrĂ©e) take the place of ham, potatoes, lefse, pie, squash buns, bars, cookies and cheese platters. We miss the tastes of home, but enjoy the tastes of Africa. Gone are the chocolate bunnies, green shredded plastic, new sundresses, pressed khakis and pastel decorations. Found are the comforts of hymns from the next door church in the morning, quickly replaced by the subtle yet steady thumping of African house music streaming from multiple locations around the village. School holiday now in full swing, kids are free to continue their sandlot soccer matches in the street from dawn till dusk. Dodging broken glass and rusty chain link/barbed wire fencing in bare feet to chase a homemade plastic bag soccer ball for eight hours a day. Local shops are closed, though our yard is apparently still open for grazing by the neighborhood goats. People are with family and friend and they wave as they pass us on our front porch with our books and special holiday treat, a two liter bottle of 7up. We smile. To us it feels like any other day in South Africa. Villagers did not go to church today because it was a special day, they went because the go every Sunday and more each week. The pastor at the church my family attends back home once referred to the existence of religious submarines; people who surface at church only twice a year on Christmas and Easter but otherwise stay submerged. Those people do not exist here. Our neighbors did not get together with family just for the holiday. People either live with their extended family, see them every weekend, every month or every quarter, whenever jobs and available money allow for leave and/or travel. The same bogobe, merogo and chicken are served as the main meal, only larger portions denote a celebration of holiday. That seems to be the guideline for measuring the importance of events here, proportion. Whether it is Easter Sunday, the funeral we attended for a grade 6 boy on Friday morning, the wedding on the far side of town or monthly pension day sales. Life is pretty much the same, just more of it. Two helpings of bogobe for each at the table, adding the one tie in a wardrobe to the daily frayed, off-white shirt and plaid blazer, polish on the shoes, lipstick, hair extensions, nail polish, glassware replacing plastic, coke and biscuit appetizers, etc. These are not huge changes and difficult to see at first. After eight months here, we are seeing them more clearly and recognizing the significance of small changes. They are not extravagant in price, the way we like to associate positive change with higher cost back home. Instead they are extravagant in the detail of simplicity. People here (at least still in the villages) do not need to impress anyone so much with cost or brand or status, but work to make it known their efforts are to show their family, friends and guests that their presence is important and they value that presence in their lives, a presence they strive to acknowledge every day. Life is short here and people spend it doing what they love with those they love.

It seems that the story of the religious submarines can be extended to include other categories we are often concerned with back home: social submarines, familial, academic, political, activist, environmental, the list goes on. Obviously we cannot shed our submarine tendencies on every issue and every group that we follow or belong to, but there are some that can be given up much more easily than others and some that people sink into without ever knowing that they do it. Spend a few months in a village in rural Africa and it is easy to see what has been just above the surface in life if we only stopped to come up for air once in a while. Makes you want to sell the submarine and buy a sailboat.

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