Monthly Archives: March 2012

Fun milk related good news story

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I’ve been helping at The Warehouse with the response to the fire in Langa informal settlement this week. Masses of clothes, food and household goods have come in from at least 15 different churches and we have had volunteers from as many different churches and organisations packing things so they can be given out to those who lost their homes.

We now have 493 clothes packs to hand out and heaps more clothes to pack.

I thought I’d share a fun story that happened today. Caroline, who works for the Warehouse, received an offer of hundreds of packs of cereal a few days ago, she had been unsure about whether to accept it because she thought ‘what good is cereal without milk?’ Then today she got a phone call offering many hundreds of bottles of long life milk. She accepted. And then realised the connection. How’s that for provision and timing!

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Sharing stories of rebuilding

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I’m spending the week at the Warehouse charity/NGO in Wetton, Cape Town (see partnerships page).

Last week there was a fire in the Langa informal settlement and over 300 shacks burnt down and over 1000 people were made homeless in a day.

Just a few weeks before there was an initial meeting between various churches and local leaders about working towards a united response to disasters in Cape Town. I don’t think the timing was coincidence. It meant that when this disaster happened, a network of churches and communities were able to step together into action, responding together in a cohesive and coordinated manner. The Warehouse is acting as a hub for that response this week.

The Warehouse is in fact two large warehouse buildings in the industrial area of Wetton. There are offices, a kitchen and comfy chairs for meetings and coffee but most of the space is full of clothes racks, lots of high heavy duty shelving and a van. Today I had the privilege of working alongside others in that space which is currently more full than usual – bags of clothes, household items and food that people from all over Cape Town have donated to support those imacted by the fire. There were 282 clothes packs for individuals by the end of the day. It was wonderful to be part of the community response.

One of the loving and hard working ladies at the Warehouse today travelled all the way from Mitchells Plain. Much of that area is also informal settlements. Her family were removed from District 6 a generation ago and she still commutes to a church in District 6 every Sunday, because that’s where her family have been baptised, christened and married for generations. I hugely enjoyed chatting to her over a cup of tea, and as a few of us prayed for her and her daughter who has back pain, you could see her face beeming. She has been at the Warehouse helping and sorting yesterday and today even though neither day she had the full fare for the transport to get there at the start of the day. Both days she received the fare without asking for it, from different means. She left at the end of today saying she trusts she will be with us again tomorrow. Her heart to serve and her faith really encouraged and challenged me.

People speak a lot about racial divides in South Africa and it is shocking how deep the divides still run, but today I saw a beautiful unity, respect and community as people served together.

I spoke to one man who brought a van load of stuff donated by his church. He has just turned down a marketing manager role he had just started (with a company car and all the perks) because he feels so passionately about the voluntary work he is doing in the community. He and others from his community have spent the last 5 days rebuilding shacks in Langa and he reported that all of them have now been rebuilt. That amazed me, all the homes rebuilt within a week. I hear from friends here, that is pretty normal, the whole community mobilizes and the shacks are usually rebuilt very fast.

To me that is incredible news, such hope building and encouraging news. In addition to the way different churches, groups and communities are coming together to respond. And yet when I search for images and news items about the fire, and other fires in Cape Town informal settlements, all I find are stories and photos of the devastation of the fire, not stories related to the rebuilding, the community mobilisation and hope. I know people say ‘bad news sells’ but that makes me sad. I know there is a massive task ahead in rebuilding lives and dealing with the trauma but this isn’t a bad start. When there is good news we need to share it, tell our good news stories. Tell of where we see hope, where we see rebuilding, where we see unity. If the newspapers aren’t going to do it, we need to choose to do it ourselves.

Time to stop

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There are a lot of ‘Stop Streets’ in Cape Town. A T-junction or crossroads where you have to stop even if you don’t see any oncoming traffic.

They don’t have Stop Streets in London. People don’t stop often in London or at least I didn’t.

 

I have been learning over the past few years about the importance of stopping sometimes, in fact the importance of stopping often. Stopping to reflect, stopping to look back and to look forward. Stopping to breathe, to reconnect with myself. It doesn’t come naturally but it became very necessary.

It’s easier than we think to take a brief moment to stop and reflect – time while the kettle boils, time in the shower, time when the baby is sleeping or feeding or when we stop at a traffic light. Just brief moments to stop and think ‘what’s been good today?’ and to be thankful.

I tried to discipline myself to have one night ‘in’ per week in London. At first it was a struggle but then I would look forward to those times. I also tried to have a weekend day totally free every month and a weekend or two a year when I would head out of town to a Bed and Breakfast place for a mini retreat.

Time to look back: What’s been a joy to me? What am I thankful for? Who am I thankful for? How can I let them know? And what’s been the low times, the struggles? What have I learnt through them? Has any good come of them?

And time to look forward: What do I hope for? What/who do I want to make my priorities? Do I need to change anything to see that happen?

 

I’m glad for those times to stop and reflect. It helps me be more intentional about the rest of my life. To live with fewer regrets maybe, as time slips by.

The Stop Streets in Cape Town remind me to stop, even if breifly, and to be thankful.

 

John F. Kennedy: ‘We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.’

Beauty revealed

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When I first arrived in my new Cape Town home, I really didn’t much like the plants in this garden – too many spikes, cacti and succulents. They seemed aggressive, harsh, not beautiful. I wanted to see more colour, more flowers, a softer beauty. I contemplated planting roses and other flowers. Until someone pointed out they are not indigenous.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I felt shamed by my unintended horticultural imperialism. De-valuing the unfamiliar and imposing my perception of beauty. Tempted to change it and dominate it, before I had really seen it and known it.

So I sat with it as it was. And watered it.

After a few weeks I now see more beauty and more flowers.

Maybe the flowers were there before and I didn’t see them, only seeing them now as my eyes are accustomed to this garden, its particular indigenous beauty, having stopped subconsciously but arrogantly expecting it to look like an English garden. I can see the beauty in the shape and structure of the African non-flowering plants too – different to the colourful, showy, soft beauty of flowers, but beautiful none the less.  

Or maybe some of the flowers have bloomed since we arrived, as we have watered the garden and loved it.

I think it’s been a bit of both.

Forgive me, my African friends for my ignorance and arrogance. I am learning.

Not wanting to stretch a point but this has made me think. Maybe the plants aren’t so dissimilar to us. Showing our beauty to those who truely see us, who care and nurture. Beauty seen in difference as the lens of expecting familiarity is removed.

On the train

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People say

Maybe you shouldn’t

use the train.

Others say

it’s fine.

Detailed safety advice

is given.

On the train

amongst ordinary people

the perceived atmosphere

of fear and suspicion

the sea of stern faces

seems impenetrable

until it is shattered

by a simple smile

offered

and returned.

The walls come tumbling down

and I feel safe.

Who would have thought it’d be

such a powerful demolition weapon.

To initiate the exchange

can take a little courage

can seem a risk

but the reward of the inevitable response

far out-weighs the cost.

Cameos of humanity:

old ladies chattering

wearing woolen hats despite the heat,

a man with two small children squirming,

someone casually flicking through a paper,

a teenage girl playing music,

a man with a crutch and a red Liverpool cap.

For each, a smile is all it takes

to connect humanity to humanity.

I like taking the train

with the beautiful people of Cape Town

none of them ordinary

each of them precious.

Photo credit: Rudi Novem

All poems and original writing on this blog are Copyright © Hilary Murdoch 2012

Cape Town light

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The light in this city, the ‘Mother City’ of South Africa, seems brighter, cleaner, crisper than in England.

I feel lighter when I’m here.

It’s difficult to describe. I’m still me, but more me, a more peaceful me.

 

With the visual space, up to the mountain and out to sea, comes mental space. In London sometimes I would feel pressed in on every side by buildings, by things man-made, by people rushing, busy-ness and pressure, without space to breathe, space to think, space to be.

I feel there’s space here.