Thursday, August 27, 2009

St. Paul's Youth Project - Painting the Clinic

The big project for the week was to paint the non-operational clinic at St. Paul’s in preparation for it to (hopefully) open up again one day. The clinic hasn’t been open for a couple of years. It was filthy and in a state of disrepair. I agreed to paint the clinic with the youth from St. Paul’s as a mission project for the church. (In Swaziland, “youth” has a different meaning than in the US. In Swaziland, a “youth” is anyone who is not married up until about 30.) We were supposed to start painting the clinic last week, but St. Paul’s was supposed to get someone in to patch up the cracks and holes in the walls and floor but of course that didn’t happen. One of the groundskeepers, Timothy, finally started patching up the walls last Friday and finally finished on Monday of this week. On Monday some of the youth came and helped us move everything out of the clinic and sweep the walls and floors in preparation to paint. We couldn’t believe how quickly they moved everything out. Oh to have that energy! Then on Wednesday, more of the youth came back. We put a base coat on all the walls and then followed it with light yellow. We only painted the walls and window sills. The roof and doors looked ok. The youth put the base coat on all of the walls and painted 4 ½ rooms out of six with the light yellow paint. They had fun while they worked; laughing, singing and joking with one another. They had so much fun that it took Jeri, Gary and I two hours yesterday afternoon to clean the paint off the floors and then all day today to scrape the paint off the places where it didn’t belong, finish painting the two rooms and to touch up places where they got yellow on the white ceiling. The finished product looks very good though. The youth were amazing. They were so eager to serve. It was great fun.

An example of the state the walls were in.

Let the painting begin:

What would mission be without PBJ sandwiches for lunch?

The painting team, closing prayer, and then the team with t-shirts we gave out to thank them for their help. They loved the t-shirts. We discovered that most of those who helped us paint were going to a youth convention in South Africa Wednesday evening. That must have been why they left so suddenly. Some of the youth that didn't paint asked they where they got their t-shirts and they told them they should have come to help paint. JAMS stands for Jesus As My Savior. They really liked that.

The cleaning begins! This part wore us out, but it was still worth it to have the youth help us paint the clinic.

The finished product.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Holiday in KwaZulu-Natal

Here are some pictures of our holiday in South Africa. We all had a great time. It was good to get away (no phones or computer) and relax. For me, it was also great not to have to drive for a week. As always, I am amazed at the diversity and beauty of Africa. The area of the KwaZulu-Natal coast is about 3 to 4 hours from Manzini. Unfortunately, it took us almost two hours to get through the border gate because of the long line of people wanting to cross. It normally takes only about 20 minutes or less, but it was a Monday holiday so people were returning to South Africa after a long weekend. It was also the last week of the second term for Swaziland schools which is when the 7th graders who can afford it go on a week long field trip to Durban. The border post we were going through is the quickest way to Durban from Swaziland.

We started our trip by meeting up with Richard, about 2 hours late, in the town of Hluhluwe (pronounced shashloee) where we visited with a few of the people associated with ZUMAT (Zululand Mission Air Transport). ZUMAT is an organization that flies Doctors and medical supplies into the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. They will also air lift critically sick or injured patients out of the rural areas to a hospital so they can receive adequate care. It was very interesting to talk with them and hear some of their amazing stories.

After ZUMAT, we drove to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park which was only about an hour from the town of Hluhluwe. We spent the first two nights there in rondavels with thatched roofs. The name of the lodge was appropriately named Hilltop and was beautiful. During the day we drove through the park and saw elephants, warthogs, rhinos, zebras, giraffe, a hyena and several varieties of antelope and wonderful birds. The countryside was so different from what we have so far experienced in South Africa or Swaziland.

I think this is the sweetest picture. These two zebras were so cute and cuddly and the Rhinoceros was so big and magnificent.

This is a male Nyala.

I love giraffes!

On Wednesday we drove to St. Lucia which is about an hour or so South of Hluhluwe on the Indian Ocean. We stayed in a park called Cape Vidal which is a little north of St. Lucia. It was like going into another world. The beach was beautiful with white fine sand and the beautiful blue ocean with its great waves. Considering it is still winter, the water was pretty warm, though we didn’t do more than get our feet wet. We stayed in a quaint log cabin just a (large) sand dune away from the ocean. If it hadn’t been for the monkeys and small antelope that wandered around the cabin I would have thought I was in California. Both evenings I walked a little bit down the road to see if the little store was open. The first night it was almost dark when I started. As I walked I had a brief thought that it probably wasn’t a good idea to be walking alone without my phone or even a flashlight. It wasn’t far, but when I saw the monkeys I remembered that this IS Africa and I remembered that there were signs to be aware of leopards, hippos and crocodiles. I put those thoughts out of my mind and kept walking. On the day we left, we gave one of the workers a lift back to St. Lucia. He asked us if we had seen the Leopard that had been hanging around the store the last two nights!

The road to Camp Vidal. Hippos and crocodiles live in the lake.

The beach at Cape Vidal.

Me ready to go for a walk along the beach. I didn't have all of this with me when I went to the store in the evening.

On Friday we drove to Maphelane which is on the south side of the St. Lucia Estuary. The information about the park said the road could be difficult to navigate. We thought it was because of sand. We were wrong. It was because of all the potholes, the hill and the sharp winding narrow road. We stayed in a log cabin again but it wasn’t quite as quaint even though the floor plan was identical. This is a fisherman’s camp. The water coming out of the tap was usually a shade of yellow to light brown. We usually take bottled water with us just to be safe, but when we stopped in St. Lucia to buy more groceries, we completely forgot about getting more water. We boiled some water and let it cool so we could use it as drinking water. We used some in the morning to make coffee and it was so gross and salty we had to throw it away. Then Richard read the information sheet that came with the confirmation of the reservations and saw that we were advised not to drink the water in the cabins. Luckily the (very) little store they had sold bottled water. The beach at this camp was just as beautiful but not as rocky. It was a great beach for walking in the waves, fishing from shore and swimming.

On the road to Maphelane we drove through a couple of mangrove tree forests. They were amazing and very spooky.

This is me trying to be brave enough to cross the mouth of the iMfolozi river about 2 hours before low tide. I almost made it, but chickened because every once in a while several big waves would come at once and the current got real strong as the ocean and the river collided and fought over which would go out to sea and which would come in to shore! Our friend Elfie walked across it at low tide so if I had waited I could have made it. Oh well. It was fun.

Our cabin:

Gary and Richard trying to light the gas stove in this cabin. It was a real hoot!

Sunrise at Maphelane.

The black streak in the ocean is a crocodile. Jeri and I called it a sea crocodile. We watched it for a long time while trying to figure out what it was. It was not stationary but kept moving down the shore. Gary thinks it was just a rock. But when we told our friend Elfie who lives in St. Lucia about it, she said they do get washed out through the estuary and struggle until they finally wash up on shore and then walk over to the fresh water of the estuary or river. Is it real or was it a figment of our imaginations?

On Sunday we parted ways with Richard. He drove back to Johannesburg and we headed up towards Swaziland but we had made reservations to go on a afternoon drive at a rather small game reserve called Tembe Elephant Park. We thought it wouldn’t take much extra time to go there. As usual, we were wrong. It wasn’t that far off of the highway to Swaziland, but the road we had to travel on was horrible. Some of the potholes had to be a foot deep. We were driving in the little VW citi (rabbit) that Gary and Jeri have rented while they are here. Some of the potholes were wider than the car! We thought we would have a lot of extra time, but because of the roads we barely made it there on time for our drive. Tembe is on the part of land just below Mozambique and to the east of the lower part of Swaziland. This area was once covered by the ocean so the ground is mostly deep white sand. Vusie was our guide. He grew up in the area. He told us that Tembe was created because the elephants kept terrorizing and killing the local Tembe tribe that lived in that area. The government finally decided to fence the elephants in and move the people to an area right outside of the park. Vusie was very informative and had great eyes. We saw one of the biggest elephants I think I have seen so far. And then a bit down the road he spotted a pride of Lions. There were at least 8 and more likely 10 lions in tall grass about 100 yards off of the road eating the day’s kill. (It looked like it was probably a large male Nyala.) We had to use binoculars to see them, but we could see the Lion, and couple of lionesses and about 5 or 6 cubs. We watched them for at least 10 or 15 minutes. The cubs were so cute. They would go pounce on the Lion to wake him up and he would kind of swat at them, and then lay back down. Then they would wrestle with each other. The lionesses (and sometimes the lions) team together to catch the food but the lion is always the first to eat. When he is full, the rest of the pride eats. When they had enough to eat, some would lie on their backs with their feet up in the air, others would just kind of roll around and others, would flat out go to sleep. We couldn’t believe we were sitting there in the middle of the “bush” in a big jeep tour vehicle without any windows, solid doors or a roof watching lions about 100 yards away from us.

After a bit, because the sun was starting to set, we had to start back to camp. We weren’t too far down the road when we saw a herd of about 17 elephants of different sizes walking towards a watering hole by the side of the road. There were at least 3 real small ones. They stopped at the watering hole and played in the mud, drank the water played in it. They didn’t pay any attention to us. Unfortunately we finally had to leave because we were late getting back. We stopped by the camp to get some coffee because we were freezing and Gary needed some caffeine before we headed back to Swaziland. We were a bit worried about the road and how long it had taken us to get to Tembe. The border closes at 10:00 pm and we didn’t get off of the drive until after 6:30. While we were waiting for the coffee, we went to stand by the big fire they had going to try and get warm. One of the staff asked why we weren’t staying and then where we were driving to. When we told them Swaziland they said they were afraid we wouldn’t make it to the border. To make a long story short, they gave us a deal on a room and we stayed the night. It was a fantastic experience. We slept in a tent that was unlike any tent I’ve ever seen. It was a luxury tent complete with a beautiful shower, electricity, an electric blanket, and a very comfortable double bed and a twin bed. They also fed us a great dinner and a wonderful breakfast the next morning. When we left we felt like we were saying goodbye to family. It ended up being a real good thing we stayed. Not only was the road horrendous, but there wasn’t a sign at the road we were supposed to turn on so we ended up driving about 30 minutes out of our way before we realized we were going in the wrong direction. It would have been worse at night. Its little things like that that reminds us that we aren’t in Kansas any more!

I think this may have been the largest "lonely bull" elephant I have ever seen. The male elephants don't hang with herd of female, baby and teenage elephants so he wasn't with the herd at the watering hole which is why they call the male elephants lonely bulls.

The picture isn't real impressive, but believe me, in person the site was awesome.

Outside our tent. It was in the middle of the bush like no one was around. You could sleep, take a shower or sit on the pot will watching the small antelope right outside. The inside was like a luxury hotel.

Looking back on the week I hear my mother's voice saying "Don't you ever get tired of going?" My answer to her was always "no." That would still be my answer with a few qualifiers. One, how can one ever get tired of reveling in God's beautiful creation? And two, yes, I hate to say it I do get tired more than I used to, but I'm not going to let that stop me until I'm too tired to move and then I'll rest, or I'll keep going until there are chores to do and then I'll rest instead of doing mundane chores! I can hear my mom chuckling, shaking her head and saying "That's my Chrissie!"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Update For Week Of July 31 - Aug 9th

I just realized a week has gone buy since I updated my blog. The week went by quickly. Last Friday night, (7-31) we drove to a small game park in Swaziland called Hlane Royal Game Park. (Hlane is pronounced shlanee and means wilderness.) It’s only an hour away from Manzini. Gary, Jeri and I spent the night there. The camp we stayed in had very nice cottages with screened in porches, hot and cold running water, a gas stove and refrigerator, but no electricity. And the best feature of all is that it was very close to a watering hole where Rhinos, hippos, warthogs and antelope hung out. At night we could hear the Lions growl in the distance. We went on a night drive and Gary was able to see his first Lion and since this trip was his birthday treat, it was even more special. The park doesn’t compare to Kruger National Park, but it was so peaceful and the best part was that it was only an hour away!

On Saturday morning, we took what we thought would be a small drive through the park to go look at the other camp. We took a wrong turn and ended up driving over 20 km of a small bumpy thorn infested road before we finally found the camp. The cottages there have electricity and are newer and nicer, but the atmosphere wasn’t near as Africany (is that a word?) as the camp we stayed in. The worst part is my car immediately started over heating again and there was nothing we could do but keep going and then drive back to the camp we had stayed at. We did find a more direct way with a better road to come back on.

My car has had periods of overheating over the last 4 or 5 months. No one knew why and when we got back to the camp and then started out onto the tar road the temperature started going down. From the game park, we were driving across Swaziland to Nhlangano in the Mahamba circuit to attend a fund raiser they were having. We literally drove across Swaziland which can be done in a little over 2 hours. The car seemed to be doing okay. We were halfway to Mahamba when it started over heating again. But it seemed like we could control it. We checked the water and oil and the levels were fine. By the time we got to Mahamba the family day fundraiser was almost over. But we could see that everyone was having a great time. They had inflatables for the kids to jump in and a big game of volleyball going on. There was playground equipment for the children to play on and the women had cooked up food that could be purchased. This is the first time since being in Swaziland that I’ve seen anything like this done with the Methodist Church. And to think it was being done in the most rural and poorest circuit; amazing. The sky was threatening rain so we stayed just long enough to say hello to the people I knew and give them a donation. Then we drove to the Mahamba gorge which was only about 10 minutes away. We stayed a little longer there so the car could really cool down and so that Gary and Jeri could take in the beauty of the gorge while we ate our PBJ sandwiches. We headed home with just enough light to get to Manzini right about sunset. The car was really overheating the entire way home even though the car had cooled down and everything looked ok. The most puzzling part is that it didn’t seem to make sense when the temperature gage would go up and then come down. One second it would be in the red and the next it would be normal. We got home just before it started raining which is very unusual at this time of the year. (Winter, which is what we are in now, is the dry season.)

On Sunday, during the pouring down rain using Gary and Jeri’s car, we went up to Mbabane to attend the Healing Place Church. It was their final week in a 4-week series on HIV/AIDS stressing the importance of knowing one’s status because as scripture reminds us in John 8:32: “Then you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” On Sunday they had arranged to have testing organizations such as Baylor Clinic , a free clinic for children and their mothers who are HIV+ run and funded by Baylor University in Texas, and PSI (Population Services International) which provides HIV testing and prevention products and education to come and test those who wished to be tested. The choice to be tested or not was an individual thing and the results were confidential. I chose to be tested not because I had a fear that I had contracted HIV, but because I wanted to know about the testing process and know what it felt like to be tested. How can I suggest others be tested if I haven’t gone through that experience myself? I found it very interesting that even though I had no doubt I would be HIV-, I was still a bit nervous especially as the tester started asking me questions such as if I got a positive reading would I be able to tell people and ask for help and who would those people be. That question really made me pause. Yes I know a lot of people who are very familiar with HIV/AIDS and I have many close friends and a good circle of support. I know it isn’t a death sentence if one knows their status and takes care of themselves, but to actually think about whom I would tell and what their reaction might be? Who would be the first, best person to seek spiritual and physical guidance and support from? WOW.

Monday morning I started the process of taking my car in to find the problem. The shops and even mechanics are so specialized and not necessarily specialized along the same lines as they would be in the States so it is hard to figure out where to go for help. But luckily the radiator shop that replaced my radiator about a year and a half ago told me about a mechanic that he refers everything to. He turned out to be a very nice guy. He’s Portuguese. He said it sounded like possibly the cylinder head cover may be warped. I choked at the possible costs of the various scenarios, and left a bit stressed but also very grateful that Gary and Jeri were still here so I wouldn’t be stranded and have to go through this alone. I HATE dealing with car problems. Oh, one little side note. While I was at the radiator shop, after the owner told me where to take my car he noticed a thorn sticking out of my tire. He reached down and pulled it out before I could stop him. Yep, the air came flowing out of the tire. Luckily there was a tire shop next to the radiator shop and they plugged the tire. And luckily it was only one thorn and not as big as any of the three thorns that were pulled out of my rear tire a month or so ago. I’m praying this plug holds because I’m really not in the mood to buy my seventh tire in two years. Not yet.

Monday afternoon Bethuel and I went to Lomngeletjane to talk with John the builder about some issues we both had with how things were being done. It turned out to be a good meeting except I am overwhelmed when I think about all of the additional things that have to be done to build a house: flooring, cabinets, shelving, plumbing, electricity, geysers (hot water heaters), etc., etc., etc. I pray the funding will come so we can finish this.

After our meeting, I did have a small task to take care of which gave us, or at least me, a feeling that I had accomplished something positive on that day. When the Nashville team was cleaning up the worksite around the latrines, I found that there were some rolls of used fencing left over from what was donated by the US Embassy last year. I had asked John to dig it out of the weeds last week because I had a use for it. I was amazed to learn that he actually did that. I wanted to take some to Tiphelele’s mom so she could grow vegetables without the cows, goats and chickens eating everything she plants. I was very impressed to see that she had already gathered many poles. So using alternative means, as is always the case here in Africa, we tied a roll of it to the bumper of Gary & Jeri’s car and dragged it to her house! She was so pleased. We also took a couple of smaller rolls to the storage/office building to be stored safely so that when Mthokozisi and his sisters moves to his grandparents homestead we can take it to him so they can grow a garden. By the time we were done it was close to 4:00 and of course we hadn’t had lunch yet. It’s not like one can run to the corner McDonalds and grab a quick bite. Oh well, TIS (This is Swaziland.)

Tuesday was a special day for me. It was the third anniversary of my mom’s death and the second anniversary of when I arrived in Swaziland. I borrowed Gary and Jeri’s car so that Thoko and I could go to Lutfotja Primary school to discuss the progress of the children that are part of Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu and leave transport money for those children who are either sick or need to go get their monthly (ART) medication. We then went to Salukazi and talked with the head teacher there about what we had found when we did home visits on the children she recommended for the project. We were surprised that at a school that has one of the higher OVC (Orphan and Vulnerable Children) rate that we didn’t find children that were HIV+ or very sickly. The children recommended needed financial support and wanted their school fees paid, but unfortunately, that is not the primary purpose of Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu. We discussed the possibility that since the community is so rural and isolated and appears not to be as educated as other communities that perhaps we needed to rethink our strategy at this school and try to arrange to get an organization such as PSI to come out to the school and do education on health in general and HIV/AIDS specifically and then follow it up with testing, spiritual counseling, etc. While we were meeting with Ellen, the head teacher at Salukazi, we heard this rather irritating and loud noise that was being produced by some children outside. I got up to see what was making the noise and found a high school boy playing with a “toy” head had made. It was made out of a long stick, a small wheel, some copper wire (no one wants to know where he got that from!), string, a tin can and a couple of corn cobs. It was really ingenious. He would push it along the ground and use the corn cobs handles as if they were gear shifts on a motorcycle. As it rolled along the ground it would make noise which was carried up through the wire to the tin can and amplified. It would make a louder or softer sound depending on what he was doing with the handles. I was so amazed. Imagine out here in the middle of no where a kid that is that smart and talented. I pray that somehow that child gets to college because who knows what he could become! Alas, I doubt very much if the child will be able to have that opportunity based on where he lives. But one can always hope and encourage him to keep at it.

That evening we had a Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu committee meeting to discuss our findings and plans. When we have these meetings at night, it means that I need to take Thoko and Thini home because they live so far from Kombi stops and Kombis are very unreliable at that time of night anyway. Because of the heavy rain on Saturday night and Sunday and the fact that we were using Gary and Jeri’s little VW Citi-gulf, I had to go the long way to take Thoko home. The long way means we don’t have to cross the river and the road is better but it is probably at least 45 minutes of driving one way. Once again, I thanked God that Gary and Jeri were still here when my car was out of commission so that all work didn’t have to stop and I wouldn’t be stuck at home.

Wednesday was a light day. Since my car is out of commission I can’t really schedule a lot. I accompanied Gary and Jeri to Mbabane to pick up their new passports and then did a couple of errands I needed to do up in Mbabane.

On Thursday morning, I knew I would be stuck at home which I was actually looking forward to. I got up and made my coffee, checked my e-mail and started getting motivated to get a lot of things done, including this blog. Unfortunately about an hour later I was freezing, realized my stomach was very upset and I started aching all over. Yep, I got some sort of a 24 hour flu. I stayed in bed under multiple covers feeling too bad to sleep and too cold to move other than to take Tylenol and thank God for the makers of it. I felt better on Friday but not great. Matter of fact, it is now Sunday again and I’m still kind of out of it. Not having a car and being in limbo doesn’t help. The good news about my car is that they didn’t need to replace the cylinder head cover. They only had to grind it down and put on a new gasket. They were also replacing the thermostat because though it worked, it was a bit sluggish and then they would check into the mystery of why the fans don’t seem to come on to help cool the engine. So the cost could have been much worse. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get it finished by Friday afternoon. Oh well, I can be patient.

So it wasn’t a very glamorous or productive week but it was still a week of challenges. They were just different than they normally are. Next week we are heading off to meet Richard in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. It is only about 3 hours or so from here along the Indian Ocean. We are going to look at a couple of projects and spend some time enjoying another bit of God’s beautiful creation and spending some time in retreat to renew and refresh ourselves. This part of South Africa shouldn’t be as dangerous as the other parts I usually go through and we are taking limited things of value. Please pray that this will be a safe and renewing time for all of us.