Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Utopia to Harsh Reality

Jeri, Gary and I went on a little road trip last week. On Wednesday we drove to the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa to see some of the natural sites in that area that I have heard so much about. The area we went to was west of Kruger National Park about 4 hours drive from Manzini. What I had heard about this area didn’t prepare me for the awesome beauty we found. Once again, we found ourselves saying over and over “This isn’t anything like I would expect Africa to be like.” The area looked more like California, Utah, Colorado or Idaho than Africa. We marveled at the beauty and kept trying to remind ourselves that we were in Africa, not the US. We stayed at a small old mining town in the mountains (about 4200’). It was a quaint little village with excellent accommodations in renovated houses from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. They all have that English touch and the look from that time period. The food was great and very reasonably priced. We even had a huge claw foot bath tub in our rooms! For me that was such a treat because I haven’t been able to take a relaxing hot bath since coming to Swaziland. I truly thought I was in heaven. The only thing that reminded us that we were in Africa was the people constantly wanting to wash my car or asking us to buy nuts and the row of stalls selling handicrafts every place we stopped. There was so much to see and it was such a wonderful respite that we ended up staying two nights instead of one.

On Friday morning we headed back to Swaziland planning a stop over in Nelsprit to shop for some things we can’t get in Swaziland. We slowly meandered through the hills taking our time enjoying every last second of the beautiful country side. Our first stop in Nelsprit was at Builder’s Warehouse. It is a new store in the newer, modern part of Nelsprit. When we pulled into the parking lot I reminded Jeri and Gary that we were back in the real South Africa and therefore we had to take our cameras, phones, etc. with us when we went inside the store and we had to keep all of our valuables out of sight. Even though we did that we still felt like we were back in the US. The store looked just like a Lowe’s’ or Home Depot. We even remarked that the only clue that we weren’t in the US was the type and name of the heaters they were selling.

From Builder’s Warehouse we drove to the old downtown area to go to a material store I knew about which sells a lot of great African print material for very reasonable prices. As we drove into the downtown area, 2 or 3 guys started running towards my car waving us down. I don’t remember if they got in front of my car or if I stopped to hear what they were saying but they kept pointing to my car saying there was something wrong with my tire. I know I didn’t open the door and waved them off and kept going. But since tire issues have been such a problem for me, I pulled into an empty parking spot about a half a block up the street. I debated shortly because I would have turned right at the next street and found a place to park because the material store was on that corner. The parking/”security” guy tried to tell me I was parked to far from the curb. I told him I was only going to be there a second. I remember pulling my keys out of the ignition when I turned off the car and opened my door. (Thankfully, that is one habit I followed.) The next thing I knew the guys that originally tried to stop me were running towards my car. I told them there wasn’t anything wrong with the tire, and was irritated. Then they started pointing to what they thought was wrong with the car. I started to get back in my car and all of a sudden there were 4 or 5 guys around the car and one had opened the back door and was reaching inside. Jeri, Gary and I didn’t know what was happening because it was all happening so quickly. I was fumbling trying to put my keys back in the ignition to pull up the window thinking for some reason that they were reaching through the back window. Then we realized what they were doing and we were all screaming “”Stop, get out, don’t do that, give it back to me, etc.” They had grabbed Jeri’s purse which was actually under our coats and were running away with it. Gary took off after them and then so did Jeri, I was screaming at the parking/”security” guard to do something and stop them, and he just stood there looking at me shrugging his shoulders. I got out, locked the doors, and started to go after Gary and Jeri but they were walking back to the car because Gary had lost them. But we decided to try and find them where Gary thought he had last seen them. Gary almost got hit by a speeding car as he ran across the street and I was thinking I shouldn’t have left the car because they may steal it. So I returned to the car. Jeri and Gary came back just a few seconds after I got back to the car. They had no idea where the guys went and they realized they shouldn’t be chasing after a bunch of thugs.

So I pulled out of the parking spot where we were and drove into the next block where we saw a couple of police men walking. We told the two policemen that we were robbed and asked where the Police Station was so we could report the crime and get an affidavit of the theft so Jeri and Gary could get back across the border. He told us how to get there, when I asked if we should drive, he said “no, walk” and pointed to a security/parking guy who would watch my car. We then discovered that we were less than a block away from the Police Station! We weren’t too sure about walking to the police station or leaving my car but they kept insisting it was ok. The security/parking guy walked us to the police station and even took us inside and made sure we were in the right spot and that someone was going to take care of us quickly. When we left to go to the Police Station I took my purse and the backpack with my laptop in it with me. I’m sure I looked like a scared tourist walking down the street with the look of panic, fear and anger on my face, my purse on my shoulder and my laptop bag over my purse. And for good measure I was clutching my purse to me. Actually the Police took our statements pretty quick. It only took us about an hour or so. When we finished we walked back to my car distrusting everyone we saw on the streets. We were pretty shook up and in shock. We immediately drove to a store similar to a Target to get a new cell phone for Jeri and Gary. A new law was put into place on July 1st which required proof of residency in South Africa to buy a cell phone. I was actually keeping things under control pretty well until then. And unfortunately I went ballistic with the poor saleswoman. Luckily Jeri had calmed down by this time and asked to speak to the manager. We explained the situation to him and luckily I had my passport with the temporary resident permit for Swaziland, my Swazi ID as well as my US drivers license. They finally allowed me to buy the phone. We all calmed down, apologized for being so irritable and then went to get a bite to eat before heading back to Swaziland. I realized after that little blow up that I had to just ask God to help me let go of the anger and fear and for Him to deal with the thugs. I couldn’t take out my troubles on the people around me and needed God’s help to get me through this. The rest of the trip back to Swaziland was uneventful – thank God.

As we have relived those few minutes several times, I keep reminding myself that things could have been much worse. We could have been hurt and they could have taken both of our purses, my laptop and even my car. And luckily Gary had most of the cash in his pocket. It gave us just a glimpse into what people who are victims of physical assaults and robberies much worse than ours must feel like. Today we heard about a family in Mbabane that were robbed at knife point outside their home yesterday and I heard about one of our pastors that was driving to Johannesburg last week and was stopped by thugs and robbed of 13,000 rand. I think God was reminding us that we need to be more careful and be on alert at all times. I know I have become much too complacent and have let my guard down. It’s a fine line between being open, accepting and loving versus being on guard and watchful for potential harm. I pray the Lord will give me wisdom in this area. I want to be vigilant, but I also want others to know I’m a Christian by the way I talk, look and behave.

The following are a few pictures of our few days away in God’s spectacular creation.

The following three pictures are from a viewpoint called God's Window. It isn't what we expected, but it was breath taking. The most amazing thing is that at the top of this area was a small rain forest. Walking through this area was the first time since coming to Africa that I felt like I was actually in terrain what I thought Africa was supposed to look like!

This is the Blyde River. After checking into our Hotel at Pilgrims Rest, we took a dirt road to what is known as the Potholes. We crossed this river several times as we drove along the dirt road. This is one of two rivers that flows down into the Potholes.

These are called the potholes. This reminded me more of Utah than anything I expected to see in Africa.

The Pinnacle. The second picture is of the waterfall at the start of the gorge leading to the Pinnacle.

Berlyn Falls. From here the water goes down a beautiful gorge full of trees and big boulders. Unfortunately because of the time of the day and the resulting position of the sun I couldn't get a good picture of it.

Lisbon Falls. There were a couple of sets of falls here that make up Lisbon falls. The first one is the longest drop and the second picture shows the second stream that comes down another path and then eventually dropping all the way down. Both were beautiful.

Mac Mac Falls. These were named after a Scottish mining camp. Everyone's name was Mac something so the camp and the river became known as the Mac camp. Then they tried to divert the river to make mining easier and what happened is that the water was only partially diverted the result being two falls instead of one. Hence Mac Mac Falls!

The following are pictures of the cottage in Pilgrims Rest. Check out the bath tub! I haven't seen one like that in ages.

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