Marco Spalke and the co-founder of Sibongile, a centre for disabled children in Cape Town. Photo: humedica
Home is the place, where your heart beats for the people
Interview with a father of “Third Culture Kids“
Being of German origin, Marco Spalke has been living in South Africa together with his wife and his two children for seven years already. He works in Cape Town as a missionary and in a centre where children with disabilities have found a new, loving home. As a father of so-called “Third Culture Kids” (for an explanation see series of articles), we asked Marco about the challenges of educating children and living in the cultural environment of South Africa:
Marco, was it a tough decision for you and your wife to leave your comfortable life in Germany behind and live in a completely different culture? What were your reasons for doing this?
The main reason for this decision became clear about eight years ago. My wife and I spent two months in Cape Town with a team of "Youth With A Mission" (YWAM). During that time, many things happened and many encounters took place that paved the way for us and opened up doors for us to go to South Africa.
Yet I had already taken this decision to leave everything behind in Germany earlier than that. I had decided to follow Jesus Christ. When I read in the Bible that he would care for us if we sought his kingdom, even if we gave up everything for him, I took this part of the gospel of Matthew seriously and decided to take this step, wholeheartedly, that is to live a life with Christ. Up to this day I have never regretted this step.
Your children Naomi and Noah are four and two years old. What challenges do you have to face concerning the education of your children in South Africa?
Of course they miss their grand-parents and their relatives in Germany and sometimes they also miss German habits of living; yet on the whole, they get along well here. Learning different languages is not a big problem for our children. The greatest challenge for us is the high crime rate and all the necessary measures of security linked to that.
To give you an example: our children cannot move about freely on the streets or go to kindergarten or school on their own. Constant supervision is necessary. And the question, how and where our children will receive teaching later (at home or in a private school) is still unanswered and will certainly be a further challenge awaiting us.
During our work we often meet so-called “Third Culture Kids“, people who grow up in several cultures, which becomes apparent when you have a look at their passport. These people often feel lost between these worlds, without having an identity of their own. Do you see yourself and your family in such a conflict?
With Cape Town being a quite western-oriented city, we actually don’t miss very much. Though there are great differences between the two worlds of Germany and South Africa, they are not so difficult to cope with. Other African countries are much more challenging in this respect.
Because of our affiliation with "YWAM Cape Town", our children grow up among a lot of nations. Some German missionaries also live here, so there is always a sense of our German home country here as well. In Cape Town you even have the opportunity to cook German food since almost all German ingredients are available in South Africa.
What does home mean to you? How would you define home?
Our home is definitely South Africa. Here we have our apartment, lots of friends and our work. When we are in Germany, we often feel a longing for our home, South Africa.
For me, home is defined as a place where our stay is not only a temporary one, but where our heart beats for the people around us; where we live for a longer period of time and where we have our place of residence.
In South Africa you meet a different culture which, due to its history, is composed of many different influences and mentalities. Is it difficult to connect with people here? How do South Africans react to a development worker who, to top it off, talks to them about God?
South Africans give us a very warm welcome and treat us with a lot of respect. Our advantage is that we had nothing to do with Apartheid and, thus, do not have any prejudices against the people we work with.
Compared to many white South Africans, we have not written negative history and, therefore, cannot be blamed for the past of this country. Compared to an average South African, we can see people here with different eyes. In many regards, the black-and-white thinking of South Africans is incomprehensible to us.
What are the main differences between South Africa and Germany? What are advantages and disadvantages of both cultures?
Time has a completely different role in South Africa compared to Germany. It feels as if our clocks run faster when we are in Germany than they run in South Africa. Especially in Cape Town, people are much more easy-going about punctuality.
Me personally, however, I am very German in this respect (laughs). Twelve different languages and even different skin colours - the differences here are much bigger and cannot be compared to the minor differences regarding people in Germany as, for instance, High German, Low German and Bavarian. And then, it’s also a challenge to create a festive Christmas atmosphere when the temperature is about 25-30 degrees. Yet you get used even to that after some years in this country. As I said, however, it is very western-oriented and we actually don’t miss anything here.