Bloem in June

So where are we going? It’s about time we discussed this. I’d only been for a day or so before deciding to move there during a traumatic week in February. Of course I wanted to go and have a proper look straight away – naturally the kids were concerned about schools and where we’d live. The next week everything went back to normal though, and I had to get my head around waiting til JUNE. It was horrible.

By the time June rolled around I had heard things about Bloem. “The last bastion of racism”, “The naff-est place in South Africa”, “The city of roses” (I’m not mad-keen on roses but I’m going to try – don’t hate me in the meantime), “Roses and rugby”. It seems everyone had an opinion on it, even a lady selling crackers in Tesco, who called it “a dorp”. (Afrikaans word, meaning a little town, but she translated it as “a dump”)

Also there’s a saying about Bloemfontein, “You cry when you arrive and you cry when you leave”.

So when I finally arrived I had many inner thoughts, ’WHY do you cry when you arrive?” which sometimes descended into fear, “Lord WHY are you ruining my life exactly? but also a bit of “How bad can it be?” which sometimes ascended to faith, “Wow, here’s somewhere that could really do with some people to champion it, and after all, remember when that guy Nathaniel asked “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” and look what happened there….” (John 1 v46)

Map-of-South-Africa-according-to-CapetoniansWe stopped in Capetown on the way. Now, you need to know that Capetonians can’t conceive of ANYWHERE being worth living other than their city, which is stunning. Basically I kept hearing the same stuff, “You’re going where??Why??” and it made me pretty jumpy. But those same people usually went on to say….. “but I must say, the people there are the nicest, most hospitable people you’ll ever meet”, to which I thought “GREAT. I’ll take it”. Because at the end of the day, what makes life sweet? It’s people. No point having the edgy art gallery/ hipster cafe/ cultural epicentre on your block if nobody speaks to you, right? By the way, the black bit in the middle of this map is Lesotho.

So by the time we left Capetown I was itching to get to my new home. We were looking over the runway and there was a tiny little plane, the same proportions as the Playmobil plane, with the Lesotho flag on the tail. When we lived in Lesotho, there was a taxi rank at the top of our road, and I saw the state of their cars up close: those things were help together with cellotape and chewing gum. I said to Col, ‘I pity the folks who are going on that plane…’ and then nearly choked because it turned out WE were going on that plane!! An emergency hatch was by my knees, flapping open exposing the cables behind. The safety talk comprised of some quick-fire-instructions given to the passenger in front of me, ending with “Any questions?”. Gulp.

I remember eating nuts and revelling in it – no ‘caution this may contain nuts’ here. And we loved looking out at the stunning sunset and our beloved Lesotho flag flying us ‘home’. Bloemfontein is a great base for us to go in and out of Lesotho, enabling us to carry on with all that we’ve been doing there. I decided to throw myself into the trip, opting to drive through the city and we joked saying ‘Yey, a KFC drive-thro!’, ‘Yey, they’ve got a Tyre Mart!’ etc.

The people we met WERE lovely, and they were rightly proud of the Bloemfontein welcome I’d heard of. We had 2 and a half days – frustratingly short. Apart from meeting with the guys at the church there in the evenings, we looked around 5 schools and 5 houses. Anyway I’ll tell you the fun bits. We walked into an estate agent’s and met Annette sitting in her pink swing coat. (They don’t have heating out there – prepare for a lot of whinging about that in the future). She was all hair, nails and bling – pure positivity – I loved her. “Look, I’ll show you some houses and the Holy Spirit will show you which one is yours!” she said. We nearly fell off our chairs, coming from a country where people lose their jobs for even mentioning their faith. Annette very quickly tucked us under her wing, and took us around, explaining how things work, asking me how she could help, planning BBQ’s requiring maxi dresses, painting a picture of where we could live and where the kids could play and how they’d get to school, planning road trips to fabric shops even … I couldn’t have asked for a better companion in my hour of need.

The other lady I remember was working in a school library. We were wandering around the school looking in windows and chatting to pupils (again, it felt very odd) and she stepped outside for a long chat (leaving all the school children unaccompanied). When she heard we were moving there, she said, “When you get here, you must come for coffee, I’m free Wednesdays and Fridays. That’s just how I am” and I thought ‘wow, how many mums stand in school playgrounds in the UK for YEARS without being invited to somebody’s home…..?’ She asked what Colin did, and he said he was a ‘pastor’ (not really, but it’s the easiest word to use). She literally shouted “AWESOME!!” right there in the school corridor! It seems Colin will be cool at last! He’s been telling the boys hey, they’re going to have a dad with a cool job now, so he’s not an embarrassing dad anymore. Go Col!

Another funny health and safety moment happened in the boys’ school too. When you leave the UK you become aware of all these mindsets we’ve been conditioned with… no nuts on planes, no talking to children you don’t know because they’ll assume you’re a paeodophile, no leaving children alone in the library as there’ll be a lawsuit if one of the books catches fire .. blah blah…. But this next story in the boys’ school left even us wincing. So we’d had the tour around and at the end I asked the receptionist if there was a pool, as we hadn’t noticed it. She replied, ‘Yah..shame… a little boy stuck his arm down the filter and got completely stuck so the fire brigade had to come out and they’ve had to dismantle the pool for now”. No embarrassment, no outraged radio phone-in, no cover-up.. the head teacher walked past during the story and didn’t flinch with ‘don’t tell the visitors that!’ – nothing. Nobody turned a hair. It was SO funny trying to pull the right faces.

So there’s my main memories of Bloem in June. Racist? Well, that’s why we’re relishing the challenge of building a multi-cultural church. Most hospitable people ever? So far, it seems so. Naff? I don’t now yet … but I’ve decided to love that city. My own response is in the form of a blog/ social media plan celebrating the place. I’m going to forage for goodies and put them on my Bloem blog (which will probably be boring for UK friends) and hand out these little cards to advertise it/ make friends/ connect with businesses out there by giving them free advertising.

Bloemfontein blogs - card

And on the back of the card will be this, advertising the 5gofurther blog so those folks can get to know us/ our church community/ the Lord… Mwa ha ha haaaaa… my master plan unfolds…..

Five go further - card