The sun has just peeked over the hills to the east, bringing a little warmth to the small patio from which I write. The air is crisp and I have to remind myself that it is winter here. The roosters are crowing and an occasional dog barks off in the distance. My fingers wrap around the small teacup, soaking up what little warmth it offers and I enjoy a sip of what will be my morning staple, Nescafe with powdered cream and sugar. Honestly, it isn’t about the coffee this morning. I’m in Africa, a land that is so foreign but has welcomed me with open arms and invited me in. I am in awe of its beauty and am bursting to share what I have seen so far with everyone I know. I am captivated.
Across the street, there are eight birds sitting atop what used to be a beautiful tree but all that is left of it is a stripped carcass. The birds look plump on the brittle twigs that are supporting them and they make unfamiliar noises, very unlike the birds at home. There isn’t a breeze in the air at all. As the sun inches up, it exposes a layer of smoke in the air. Many locals rely on fire to heat their food and warm their bodies after a long cold night so there is always smoke in the air. The winter is also the best time to burn off hillsides strewn with tall grass left from the rainy season. If left to grow, the grasses are too inviting for snakes and other critters to hide in so burning is the best option and it is not uncommon to see many hillsides alight with flames. You would never see this in the states.
Today is Sunday and I am excited about attending church here. Breakfast has been served, showers taken and beautiful skirts donned as we head to Pastor Walter’s church at Timbutini. This is my first view of the rural countryside and I am eager to see it all so I take the seat next to our driver, Gift. Being a victim of motion sickness does help me plead my case and I am thankful for the front row seat. We turn off the main drag and travel down a rough dirt road, kicking up a cloud of dust as we go. We arrive at the church, a simple rectangular building with a few windows, and make our way inside. There is a cement floor and plastic chairs to sit in and we divide women on the left and men on the right, as is their practice here. We are the first to arrive (better than being late) and make our way to the chairs as a woman begins singing from the back of the room. At first I thought they were still practicing but one by one, voices are added as the people come and fill the room. Everyone knows the words and joins in in perfect harmony to create a moving mixture of layered melodies. I have no idea what they are saying but by the time the room fills, I don’t care. I just close my eyes and listen. This has to be a piece of heaven on earth.
The service begins and the translators effortlessly guide us through the sermon. They are amazing, switching from English to siSwati and back to English again as the pastor intertwines both languages as he speaks. At moments I think I’m understanding siswati only to realise that he threw in English words and I didn’t notice the difference. The sermon spoke to the issues of the area, focusing on God’s timing in our lives and entering into relationships when it is the right time. With the area so riveted by HIV/AIDS, it was a call for abstinence.
Three hours slipped by with ease and the service was over. Even though I really wanted to document the service, I just didn’t feel right taking pictures so I snuck a few unfocused attempts on the way out. You’ll get the picture all the same. We milled about afterwards, using our minimal knowledge of siSwati greetings and hoping that we weren’t offending anyone. There was no need for concern, everyone was very welcoming and quickly, it was time to board our buses and head to the orphanage in town to play with and love on some kids. The story will continue in my next post…