I began this trip open minded, not expecting anything, but hoping for everything. Hoping to experience as much as I could, though I was blind to depth of what these experiences may be. Now that this trip is near its end, I have time to reflect on my journey. Africa has blessed me interactions with the most honest, genuine, hard-working, and thankful people that I have ever met. Africa has also blessed me with personal experiences of emotional pain and physical suffering, as well as with experiences of genuine faith and meaningful prayer. On this trip I have learned the dynamics of agriculture, Gods farming vs. Contemporary farming, as well as how conservation agriculture can be accessible and beneficial to the people and the earth. This Journey has affirmed my decision to partake in biological and agricultural studies, as well as use my talents as an artist to observe and communicate with the natural world and with people’s of many cultural backgrounds. I am thankful for the growth that I have gained through this journey through the mother land. From this Journey I have been inspired to compose a bit of poetry:
Borrowed breath’s, I have taken deep
Resting bodies on a mountains peak
Plowing fields until arms are weak
With a daunting hope for a harvest to reap
Prayers are given to God for growing
Respect to the ancestors for they are still glowing
The wonders of earth, in my sight, unfolding
This life I live is mine for molding
The people I have met while I WALK this journey
Keep proving to me that all life is WORTHY
Worthy of interaction, not to be hurried
Affirmation that LOVE is the essence so purely
From all beings I can LEARN
Real knowledge is rightly earned
A wise being leaves no bridges burned
Life lived IN LOVE, is a life Fluid yet Firm.
Samuel “Naleli” Agoitia
One thing that has stood out to me during our stay in Lesotho/ South Africa is how welcoming the people are, and how they incorporate song into their lives. The first afternoon that we were at Tlokoeng, the women of the village took many of us girls aside and showed/ taught us traditional Lesotho song and dance. They even had dressed Terra, Natasha, Camile, and Emma up in traditional dresses.
The songs they sang were beautiful. There were no instruments used besides buckets that the elderly ladies used as drums. They sang in harmony and we all held hands. The women would bring some of us forward into the middle of the circle. We sat on our knees and waved our wrists in a hula-like movements. Another part of the dance was to shift shoulders back and forth so their chests would move forward (however you were not supposed to use your torso). The women were very inclusive in making sure everyone was dancing. They brought a thin blanket by and threw it over Camille’s head and we all danced and sang around a bamboozled Camille. Eventually Bill and some of the other girls came and the women of the village encouraged us to dance up to Bill (because he is supposedly our chief) on our knees and give him a gift (but all they had handy as a makeshift gift was toilet paper- it was all very funny).
These women were very adamant about us learning their songs and dances. When some little kids pulled Amanda and me away and we sat and talked with them, the women came up to us and told us we were lazy for not dancing, and for hanging with the little children instead.
It became apparent to me that singing and dancing is an integral part of community, establishing and strengthening the interconnectedness of this vibrant mountain village.
One of the great things at Bethel College is the commitment to service and the love for a little place called Camp Mennoscah. I’m sure you won’t be on campus long without seeing someone with a Mennoscah t-shirt, or hear a story that begins “last summer when I was counseling…” It’s true, there are other camps where Bethel students volunteer or work and love, but as my brother once said, “Bethel goes to Camp Mennoscah.” Last summer all 8 summer staffers were Bethel students and a large number of the counselors were.
Camp Mennoscah is a small camp owned by the area conference of Mennonite Church USA (with which Bethel is also affiliated). It’s located in the middle of nowhere about an hour and a half away from Bethel. In the summer, the cabins (without electricity) are beastly hot, but those who fall in love with Mennoscah love that place with a fierce devotion, proclaiming there’s no other camp worth talking about.
This month the 2012 catalogs rolled off the press and were ready for tabbing and addressing. With a bare bones staff at Camp during the “off-season” (read, not summer), they turned to Bethel students to help get the job done. A group of about 8 Bethel students came and went from the mod 4C to get help get the catalogs ready for the mail. Check out a couple of the pictures of Bethel students hard at work. It was a lot of fun to sit around, looking at the pictures from last year, talking about favorite memories and looking forward to next year. You could feel the excitement in the room.
We are nearing the end of this first Bethel College Interterm adventure in China! After a little extra sleep, we enjoyed another fine buffet breakfast at our comfortable Longmen Hotel. Then it was on the bus for our international departure point, Shanghai’s modern Pudong International Airport. Our first stop was the Longyang Road Station where we made a brief visit to the Mag Lev (“magnetic levitation”) Museum, then boarded the Mag Lev train for a very, very fast trip to the airport! Our luggage would remain on the bus to be picked up later curbside at the airport.
This technological wonder that is the Mag Lev train is being employed operationally for the first time in the world in Shanghai! The basic principle involves magnetic forces to both propel the train and hold the carriages a fraction of an inch above the steel rail while the train is moving.
This was our last full day in Shanghai—and the last day of our China Interterm adventure!
We were met as scheduled in GM’s modern office block by a lady who showed us a scale model of GM’s facilities at this location and, to our pleasure and surprise, invited us to do a walk-through of its assembly line.
Our Guide, Jack, also noted that GM is a generous employer in terms of year-end company bonuses paid just prior to New Year festivities. This year, reflecting a record sales year, most GM employees will get a year-end bonus equal to 16 times the workers monthly salary! The general comment from our group as we completed this 45-minjute walk-through was that the GM visit was one of most interesting of the China Interterm experience.
This afternoon was “free time” for the Interterm group. A few of us visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center on People’s Square, a high-tech facility that depicts the past, present—and planned future—of one of the world’s most dynamic cities.
Looking back over our five day stay in Shanghai, we were impressed with the city’s dynamism.
Jim from Shanghai
This was a day of sightseeing—our destination was Suzhou, located about 100 miles SW of Suzhou (“Su” -” fish, rice and grass”; “zhou”- “state” or “city”) is a booming city of 7 million with a history of some 2,000 years. It was mentioned by Marco Polo in reports of his visit to China in the 13th century! The “grass” refers to mulberry bushes, the staple of the city’s silk industry.
Our first stop was the 1,000-year old Fisherman’s (“Master of the Nets”) Garden, formerly owned by a wealthy Suzhou gentleman, Mr. Li, but taken over by the newly-established communist government in the 1950s. This garden, a smaller replica of which exists at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is an aesthetically-pleasing combination of trees, rocks and water.
The next stop was the No. 1 Silk Mill, a city-owned silk spinning and weaving factory established in 1926—connected to the usual retail outlet for the finished products. After lunch we were told of the life cycle of the silk worm and learned about the complexity of silk-making.
Our last stop in Suzhou was the Grand Canal, the man-made structure dating from about 850 AD. (We understand that American astronauts remarked that China’s Great Wall and the country’s Grand Canal were the only two man-made objects visible from space!)The Grand Canal, extending a few hundred miles from Hangzhou and Suzhou to Beijing, was constructed to facilitate the transport of products originating in south China—rice, tea, silk—to a demanding royal family and other government officials in Beijing. Today only about two-thirds of its length remains navigable. We were ushered onto a motorized craft with capacity for perhaps 25 passengers and treated, despite continued light rain, to an interesting 45-minute trip up and back on the Canal.
Jim from Beijing
Our visit this morning was the Shanghai Stock Exchange located across the Huangpu River in the city’s ultra-modern financial sector. We were met by our host for the visit, Mr. Jackie Liu, Senior Manager, Global Business Development, who informed us that China had two stock markets–this one in Shanghai and a second in Shenzhen outside of Hong Kong. Mr. Liu noted that today a remarkable 75% of Shanghai residents own stock.
Interestingly, the multi-story modern office block that houses the Exchange was constructed with a large rectangular hole through the entire building from perhaps the 9th through the 15th floor, done at the suggestion of the feng shui (“wind”, “water”) masters who reviewed building designs and considered this air passage the most favorable for financial success of the institution! We were surprised at the continued importance of feng shui in the location and design of Shanghai’s modern buildings!
When we are not working in the fields, helping Neal with his research or weeding, our time at the mission is relatively free. Over the past week I have found joy in this down time.
After a hot morning of work, a few of us walked down to the river that runs by the mission. The water is fairly shallow, but it moves quickly and is crystal clear. We explored up stream a ways and found a deeper spot that was shaded by a beautiful willow tree. We lounged there in the water for a long time, talking and cooling off. Some of us even washed our hair in the clear water and did some laundry. It was a very refreshing afternoon.
Later in the evening, we sat outside watching the sunset, the clouds and sky transition in a gorgeous aray of colors. And as soon as the sun set, stars began to appear. There was no moon and no light pollution in the valley so the night was pitch black and the stars were bright as ever. I have never seen so many stars in my life! I was completely mesmerized by the night sky and spent a long time watching the stars move across the sky before going to bed.
Here in Lesotho, I feel much more connected with my environment. Everything we do here relates to the land: We work in the fields, we eat the tomatoes and apples from the mission gardens, even our recreation is centered around the landscape. And when so much of one’s life is focused on the surrounding land, one feels a much deeper sense of gratitude to the earth and to the Creator. This is something I feel very strongly here in Lesotho.
Our business visit this morning took us eastward across the Huangpu River on a 45-minute drive to Pudong’s business district. Of Shanghai’s 23 million residents, about 13 mn live west of the river (Puxi) and 10 mn on the eastern side (Pudong). Travel across the river is now facilitated by 7 tunnels and 6 bridges! Enroute, our local guide Jack noted that 25 years ago Pudong was largely vegetable gardens and pig farms. Today this highly-developed area challenges Hong Kong as the financial center of East Asia.
Our destination, International Exhibition and Trading Center of Wine and Beverages, is where we met Wanny Zhang, who was to describe in general terms the work of this state-owned business. In the most general terms, the objective of the center, established in 2008 and now comprising some 80 members worldwide, is to help foreign distilleries and breweries access the Chinese market—a market that has grown in the last few years by a remarkable 50% annually.
On Thursday January 12, Neal, Bill, 5 other students and I traveled up the valley to set up research plots on some fields there. We drove in as far as we could and then hiked in 4.5 miles to a village where several famers live. It is located where the two mountain ranges in our area meet. The amazing view made the long hike worth it.
We split up into two groups and set up plots on different fields. When we returned to the village some of the women had prepared hot tea and steamed bread for us. It provided us with much needed energy to finish our work.
We were very hot and tired on the hike back, but it started raining for a while which was very refreshing. After the rain, we saw a huge full double rainbow. It was so beautiful with the mountains in the background. Bill enjoyed a horseback ride the whole way back.
When we returned to Maphutseng, the rest of the group had prepared a celebration for Bill’s birthday which was that day. We had cookies and sang Happy Birthday. It was a great day!