Friday, July 29, 2016

From Drakensberg to Durban...

I am writing from onboard my new home on the Africa Mercy! Woo-hoo! I’m exhausted, but happy to be home! On Wednesday we pulled into the port of Durban, South Africa and I got to see the white hull of the Africa Mercy for the first time and let me tell you, it was a surreal experience after seeing her in so many videos and photos over the past five months to actually see her in real life! I must admit that while I’ve known for a while I would get here, I was thinking, “She’s real?!? There really is such a ship?!?!!!” I am also officially reunited with my Mommy, who got here before I did and found me as I was bringing my luggage to my cabin! She’ll be working housekeeping for the sail to Benin!

            Before we get to that though, I’ve spent the past two-ish weeks among the Zulu people in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa by Dragon Peak (I didn’t get to see a single dragon though ;0) and it was…COLD!!! We stayed at a former air force base and it was one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen, but there was a lot of dashing to the fireplace in the early morning and burrowing as deep as I could go into my sleeping bag at night. Lots of hot tea was in order as well! 

I had the privilege of helping in a Zulu kindergarten class (they call it grade R) and there was so much that I found similar and a few things that I had to giggle at because they were just different. Though their classroom was bare and the ceiling was dripping and the electricity was flickering and although we were able to see our breath while doing math because there was no heater and although a goat was poking his head into the kindergarten classroom, they were just going about their day being kindergartners. They did stations and practiced counting and recited the months of the year. They pushed while getting into line and sometimes some got in trouble (although when they got in trouble the teacher twisted their ears! Yikes!). They played with blocks and played pretend and had snack (although it was rice and beans, which some of the littles who forgot a spoon ate with their hands or even a hand that was covered by a mitten and then proceeded to lick the mitten clean). They laughed and played and loved. Just like me and my littles! It made me feel here in South Africa a little bit like I was home.
Kindergarten teachers unite!

         Something that the upper school grades were working on while we were there was practicing for a big “cultural competition” that was being held at the end of the week for all the surrounding schools. We had the privilege of watching their rehearsals and then we got the HUGE honor of actually going with them to the competition at the end of the week! Our leader dropped us off at the highschool where the competition was supposed to be held and we traipsed inside only to find out that we had apparently been dropped off at the wrong school. So, we bundled into a stranger’s car who was supposedly going the same place and we made it! The competition was held out in a large open field with a big area roped off for the competing schools to perform. The judges sat at a table at one end of the roped off area. We found our group (it felt so good to be “part” of their school even after only being there a few days…like we belonged there and were helping to represent Zuzimfundo School) and played games with the kids until we got the all call over the speaker phone that it was time to get costumes on. And that’s when it turned into a true cultural experience. All the groups of ten to sixteen year olds started stripping down right out there in the open field. We were put in charge of helping the girls get their “costumes” on which consisted of tying together their strings of beads. They had little bloomers on and we tied skirts made from strings of beads around their waists and beaded collars around their necks. They also had beaded armbands and ankle “bells” made from the top of aluminum cans that made a pretty tinkling sound as they walked. And that’s it! All the girls were completely topless and no one was concerned. Maybe that’s what it felt like in the garden of Eden. The boys had on little animal skin loin clothes and crisscrossing “suspenders” made from sheep wool. The competition began and one group after another performed traditional Zulu dances and songs, some completely acapella and some to the beat of drums. We got treated with such honor and got the best seats, right up front (where we could see everything…and I mean everything! :0). They kicked high into the air and every time their bare feet would hit the ground, little puffs of dust  would explode around them. It may not have been my preferred style of dance or costuming, but oh was it beautiful and unique and such an incredible experience to be a part of!

            Today was our first day of teacher orientation, which consisted mostly of how to secure and tie down everything in our classrooms so it won’t fly everywhere on the sail! It’s going to be a little tricky once classes start on the sail, but I’ve told one of my soon-to-be-kindergartners that if I get seasick and have to lay on the floor of the classroom during kindergarten, she’s in charge of taking over, so we’ll be in capable hands! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to head out to “ stowaway watch” soon…not even joking!

Amazing Grace in London

*This was from two weeks ago, but I'm just now getting a chance to put it up...DREAM COME TRUE!!!

Today I went into London on our 12 hour layover with four friends! They knew how much I wanted to see Wilberforce's grave in Westminster Abbey, so that was our first stop. We walked to the Abbey only to find out that it costs 20 pounds to go inside! I asked the lady standing at the door if she knew where William Wilberforce was and she looked very confused until I rephrased and said, "I mean, do you know where he's buried here?" She didn't know who I meant but she went off to find out. My friends meanwhile told me they would all chip in to pay for me to get to go see his marker, which was so sweet, but I said no! The woman came back and says that Wilberforce was buried just inside the entrance, just about 20 feet from where we stood outside! She could tell how much I wanted to go in and asked if perhaps we were students because there's a discount and I said, "no but I'm a teacher! Are there teacher discounts?" And my friends chimed in, "we're missionaries! Are there missionary discounts?" We were just sorta joking and working any angle we could to try to get in. Another worker came over and said he heard us saying we're missionaries and that technically all clergy get in free so if there's a way to prove it, we could go up to the inside counter and try getting in for free that way! We got so excited and all went up to the counter just inside the Abbey and explained and showed our letters that say we're working for mercy ships that we need to present in South Africa. The woman called her manager and we explained it all over again. She called someone and then told us that since we weren't priests we didn't count as clergy. I was so bummed! I think she must have heard us talking about seeing Wilberforce because right after saying "no," she said, "It's just William Wilberforce's grave that you want to see?" and she was met with a resounding "YES!" from the five of us. And then she personally walked us into where Wilberforce's grave is and showed us the statue of him and by this time I was crying because we had gone through so much to try to get in there and I was so excited that a way had been made just for us! Then...the cherry on top of this whole saga is that she asked if I wanted to get a picture with the marker even though there are signs posted that say no photography! And that is how I ended up getting into Westminster Abbey for free with four lovely friends by my side and getting my picture taken (while still crying unfortunately) William Wilberforce's marker and walking around London the rest of the day with puffy eyes, but a heart overflowing!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Bon Voyage!

Some of the places we'll be visiting in route to our new home on the Africa Mercy

It’s finally time to get in the air and get over there! I want to give you all a heads up that I probably won’t be able to update the blog until possibly the end of August, but I’m absolutely positive that when I get back on grid, I will have stories to tell! My group flies out on Wednesday from Texas and we should arrive in South Africa about 36 hours later (obviously we do not have a direct flight). Once in South Africa we will be spending time working alongside an AIDS clinic for a little while before boarding the Africa Mercy (where my Mom will get onboard too…ask her for details about that grand adventure if you haven’t already heard what she’s doing) for the sail around the cape, and up the coast to Benin. We may have intermittent wifi availability somewhere in there, but we very well may not, so if I can write anything I will, and if not, I’ll see you on the other side of the world!

*Prayer Requests:
1. Pray that we bring God glory and represent Him well to all those around us whether on the airplane or in the AIDS clinic or on the ship or wherever we are and in whatever situation.
2. Pray for safety as we fly, drive, and sail into this new adventure
3. Pray that we will all stay healthy
4. Pray for flexibility and cultural awareness and sensitivity as we travel to new places and meet new people
5. Pray for me and my fellow teachers and kiddos who need to dive right into the school year while on the sail (and especially that none of us will be seasick and throwing up while we’re supposed to be teaching and learning…we’ve been duly warned about the crazy rocking of the ship, especially around the cape, and about how many people get seasick and I reeeeeally don’t want to be one of them!)!

I love you and I am so thankful for your incredible support! See ya on the other side!

Beth / Miss Kirchner / Miss Beth (as I’ll be known in this new kindergarten classroom which will most likely have started next time I write!)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I Love Mail!

If you are interested in mailing any letters or packages to me while I am onboard the Africa Mercy, everything is sent to the headquarters here in Texas and they will forward it on to the ship. Here are your two choices:

Beth Kirchner
Mercy Ships – AFM Crew Mail
PO Box 2020
Lindale, TX 75771

*If you send letters/packages via crew mail, they should get to me within 2-3 weeks, however I will be charged $8.80 per pound upon receiving it so if you choose this method it would be really helpful if you could put the cash to cover the cost of the package inside the package itself so I can pay to receive it. Packages cannot exceed 18inches in length.

Beth Kirchner
Mercy Ships – AFM Container
PO Box 2020
Lindale, TX 75771

*A giant shipping container is sent to the ship every couple months so if you write “container” on the address then there is no charge per pound and no size limit, however it will take a few months to get to me.

A FEW LAST DETAILS: Packages will need a detailed list of all contents of the package taped to the outside of the package. Also, please make sure not to send anything hazardous (the only thing I saw on the hazardous material list that I could possibly imagine anyone sending me is nail polish)!