I arrived in Grahamstown at 11:30pm on Tuesday July 30th. I was wisped away from Port Elizabeth and driven an hour to Grahamstown where I was greeted by the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George, the Rev’d. Andrew Hunter, and his lovely wife the Rev’d. Claire Nye Hunter, at the Deanery. A Deanery—for my friends who might be unfamiliar—is a living quarters attached to a cathedral for the Dean of the Cathedral and her/his family. Some churches that are not cathedral’s also have homes for their pastor/priest/rector; these are called Rectories.
The Hunter’s prepared a cozy room for me on the first floor of their home with heavy blankets, and a blanket warmer. There is no central heating or central cooling in South Africa. This is true, as I understand, because the State cannot afford such. This was also true in Boston, where I lived for a year before moving to Grahamstown—there was no central heating and cooling in many of the buildings there. However, the reason was different. Some of the buildings were just too old to be fitted with central heating and cooling. I make a point to mention that there is no central heating here, and that I was given a blanket warmer, because it is winter here in South Africa. The single narrative that every country on the continent of Africa is ALWAYS scorching is indeed a false narrative. Yet, it is true that the winter weather here is quite beautiful—for the time being. It has reached the low to mid seventies every day since I’ve been here, and the mid to low fifties during the evening. However, I have been told not to get too comfortable. Things will cool down again. It might help if I mention that the degree points I’ve given you are in Fahrenheit. Weather here is measured in Celsius; so, a more accurate account of the temperature during the day would be the mid to high twenties.
Anyhow, the Hunter’s sat with me about an hour more after my arrival and we talked. We sat down in what we might consider in the States to be a family room, and kept warm by the heat of a modest wood fire. The heat of the wood fire was a beautiful accompaniment to the warm coffee and conversation that we shared. Much of our conversation was centered on my flight, as well as the revolution that has defined Egyptian politics for the last two years. Dean Hunter handed me some Time Magazine articles to read that he’d found enlightening, and that he thought might be good reads in case I couldn’t sleep well my first night in the country. Maurice, the other missionary here, as well as the Hunters, warned me that I might not sleep well my first few nights. I was dreading having to head to bed, but I went. I unpacked my first bag and was delighted to realize that my shampoo had spilled while my suitcases were in transit. Thank God that a few pair of my socks absorbed most of the mess, but it was still frustrating to have to clean up. By the time I cleaned everything up I slipped into bed and immediately fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning, enjoyed a glass of fresh orange juice, and walked down to the Cathedral. The Cathedral will receive its own post soon, so I won’t spend much time reflecting on its beauty. However, I will tell you that it is the centerpiece of the town. It towers above all of the other buildings, yet it does not consume them. The Cathedral retains a since of humility although it is sprawling. But…more to come later, no?
I left the Cathedral and almost got hit by a car trying to take a picture of it. If I am being reasonable, I was spinning around in the middle of the street trying to get a good angle, not paying much attention to traffic, and using my periphery to see if traffic was coming. Just a little observation here: using your periphery to see if traffic is coming doesn’t work well if you are standing on the left side of the road expecting traffic to come from the left, when it actually is coming from the right. I’d effectively forgotten that South African’s drive on the left side of the road. I escaped, however, and continued on my way. On the opposite end of High St., where the Cathedral is located, is Rhodes University. I walked down to Rhodes to get a sense of what campus life is like. Colleges and Universities here are in the middle to latter half of their term. I’m still not sure how university terms work here, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon. The campus reminded me, very much so, of U.S. college campuses. The students were dressed similarly, conversing in between classes on benches and near walls where they could sit, collecting loose change and dollars for causes that were dear to them, and holding hands with their boyfriends and girlfriends as they walked out of class. Language was perhaps the most unique quality of the Rhodes University campus. One could hear Afrikaans, and Xhosa being spoken. Sidenote: I’ll also try to write posts about the colonial history of Grahamstown, but more specifically, about the indigenous cultures here. It’s a lot for me to retain, but part of the reason I feel called to mission work is to strengthen my skills as a cultural listener and learner. So, bear with me. I met a gracious young lady who showed me where to find the Anglican chapel on campus. She asked me why I am interested in religion, and I inquired as to what she studies at the University. She studies sociology, and expressed her deep love for Karl Marx, but the frustration she has with the lack of applicability of some revolutionary ideologies as it pertains to African social realities. So, we briefly discussed another one of her favorite thinkers, Frantz Fanon, and the Negritude movement.
After my time at the university I walked back to the Deanery to have lunch with the Rev’d’s. Andrew and Claire, and their daughters. We ate chicken sandwiches in their garden underneath a shade tree amidst the warm stillness of a South African winter’s day. They introduced me to marmite. Marmite is a spread that you put on toast, and is apparently quite popular in Western Europe. It the same color and about the same texture as molasses, but is rather salty. I didn’t use much of it.
Claire and I then headed down to the convent where accommodations had been made on my behalf. A convent is community of nuns. And I know many people will find this interesting, even, perhaps, intimidating. But, the monks and nuns that I have met in the past year and a half of my discernment process have been some of the wisest, sweetest, coolest, and yes, most easygoing people I’ve ever met. When we arrived at the convent—the Community of the Resurrection of our Lord—Sister Nehern greeted Clair and I. I am living on the second floor of an older home that is owned by the sisters. I have my own room, and a second room across the hall for entertaining guests. I have access to the kitchen downstairs as well. The downstairs quarters is occupied by a housemother and three young children that the sisters at the convent have adopted. Two of the young children are also students at the school where Maurice is an Assistant Teacher. After I picked up my keys I headed by the Parish Office for a Parish Council meeting. Parish Council is the equivalent of what we in the states call a vestry. For those unfamiliar with this terminology, a parish council and a vestry are simply a group of congregants elected by other congregants to handle the business of the church and to plan developmental activities for the church. Everyone on the parish council was pleased to meet me. After the meeting Maurice returned to the Parish Office to pick me up, and like a good brother, treated me to welcome dinner at a popular bar here in town called “The Rat and Parrot.” “The Rat and Parrot” seems to be a really popular spot in town. And if I had to guess I would say that many of the patrons were college aged young adults.
Once I made it back home I climbed in bed, slipped on my headphones, and before I knew it was waking up out of fetal position at 5am with my computer and my headphones collected, neatly, beside me. LOL. I’d had a wonderful nights sleep. So, I decided to stay up and begin writing what became my first blog of my time here in Grahamstown.
And this is the end of my second. Lol
I can’t wait to come to you with more. There’s just way too much to write about. So, instead of trying to figure out some system, I’m just gonna write when things comes to me. I’m behind right now, but hopefully I’ll be caught up before Monday.