Friday, August 28, 2009

Africa Day Eight...Animal Park

On Saturday, we awoke to rain. What?! It NEVER rains in South Africa at this time of year. My sources had told me I didn't need to worry about a rain jacket since rain was highly unlikely. I went against my own advice - I usually always take rain gear when travelling. I won't make that mistake again. :-)

Steve told us instead of open-air safari vehicles as planned, we would just go through the park in our vans. It would be much drier and warmer that way. Considering it hailed and sleeted throughout or visit, it was a wise move. The park we went through was nice drive from Alabanza so we were treated to some South African scenery. The rest of the post will be heavy on the pictures. Most of the animals were very accomodating to our visit...except for the zebras. No pics of zebras - we didn't see a one.

Gazelle/Deer? Not sure...


Close-up of the Lion

Male Lion





Both Giraffes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Swine Flu Sheeple

I'll get back to my Africa travels soon but first I have to vent. I am so sick and tired of the stupidity of the American public when it comes to the swine flu. I understand it's a highly contagious illness but seriously, unless you have a pre-existing condition, you have a 99.9999999999% chance of getting better after a few days. People, it is NOT time to panic. If you get sick, keep your butt at home, push the fluids, eat chicken soup and veg for a few days. Unless you are in the high-risk category STAY HOME unless you start having trouble breathing, coughing up blood or spike a fever higher than 103 degrees. Then and ONLY THEN should you worry your doctor. Your doctor's office (and the ER) will be full of other people who are REALLY sick and the Tamiflu you get prescribed (if it's in stock) probably won't do more than cut your symptom by a day or two. Following your mom's age-old advice won't hurt either: cover your mouth when you cough, throw your tissues away and wash your hands (WITH SOAP PEOPLE). It's not rocket science.

This all reminds me of 2000-2001 when West Nile came on the scene. I was in MA working for a public health non-profit and I remember the "sky is falling" scenarios we ran into. The government actually had plans in place to convert hockey rinks to mass morgues. What happened then...ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Several people got sick, a few people died and the world moved on to the next health "crisis." Guess what? Random people die from seemingly new and novel illnesses every day. It's part of the way God designed things.

I think my mom probably has it's all a ploy to make people believe in Obamacare. Rohm Emmanuel has never met a crisis he didn't love. Stupid sheep!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Africa Day Seven...To Market To Market

Today is our last day in Joe Slovo. We started the day by visiting with Christina. No one else in this little row of homes is at home. We think that means mom and kids are at the doc getting the little one's sore looked at (at least we pray that's where they are). I have finagled permission to give Christina some acetaminophen for her arthritis so hopefully she can get some pain relief. We visit for a few minutes and then move on. We head off in a different direction than we've been going and end up in a place called "Black Magic." It appears that this is where Wilma and her baby actually live. It definitely lives up to its name; it is dark and just feels very oppressed. Rachel was praying and speaking the name of Jesus the whole time we were in this little village. I personally was glad to get out of there.

We made our rounds and visited with Susan and her family one last time. Keri was taking pictures and Susan's teenage daughters begged us to give the pictures to Chris Brown. We told them he beats his women and they deserve better. They agreed and asked us to give them to R. Kelly (no comment) or Usher. We didn't disavow them of the idea that we see Usher on a regular basis. The stereotypes that persist amaze me. We also visited with Yvonne and Baby Likey one more time. I would have given anything to bring both of them home to the US with me. As we visited and hugged and shared, my heart was breaking for all that I had to leave behind.

We did get to visit with Elyse at her store while we were eating lunch. She gave us a Fanta out of her store (she refused to let us pay) and when we got back to Refilwe, the three of us split it. Elyse's little store does a booming business in Joe Slovo. It is a prayer request though. She often walks home by herself after dark and sometimes with money. This is a vulnerable situation for a woman. Please pray God's hedge of protection around her. Owning this little store is one step toward a dream she shared with me. Elyse wants to be a first-class store owner one day. I have no doubt she can accomplish that goal.

After our morning in the village was completed, Steve took us to the market. The market is basically set up like a flea market but runs like a flea market on steroids. You walk in and are immediately acosted by salesmen begging you to check out their wares. The first table I spied had the nativity scenes I was looking for. He had the three I wanted but somehow, he wouldn't stop there. I was taken three stalls over and shown coasters, artwork, carvings, the kitchen sink, you name it. I finally walked away with the nativities, coasters, two pieces of art and a "free" carving of Africa. Fortunately, all that only cost me about $100 US. I wandered around a little more and tried earnestly to avoid eye contact. I did make one more purchase on side one of the market; a mother/child statue. I've always wanted one and I got mine for less than $8.00 US. I then happened upon the lone guy on our trip, Bill. He had the same dazed look that I know I had. He and I teamed up to get the heck out of the market. We went across the street and I happened upon to necklace/bracelet combos in perfect color combos for mom and Sarah (blue/gold for mom, multi-colored for Sarah). Score!! I bought those, Bill finished his transaction and we got out of there as soon as we could. There is only one word for the market experience in South Africa, CRAZY. It was an overwhelming array of sound and toward the end, I was willing to pay people to leave me alone.

Here are a few pictures from the market:

Outside of Market

Sign for Market

Another Shot

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Africa Day Six...Sister Jeanne

Thursday dawned a bit warmer for us. I couldn't see my breath when I woke up. That was a great way to start the day. Today was a little different from Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursdays, our healthcare workers have a morning Bible Study, training and then an afternoon of paperwork. So, we went right along with them. We started our day singing with the healthcare workers, them in their language and us in ours. We were both singing praises to our King. What a great picture of Heaven.

Sister Jeanne then took over and began teaching out of Mark 2. It was neat to watch this woman of God interact with the healthcare workers she loves so much. You can so see that she has a desire to see them grow in their faith. We broke into groups with the healthcare workers and began to process through the passage. When the workers got up to answer the questions, Sister Jeanne probed and prodded to get more than the "Sunday School" answer out of her students. I was amazed at way of using simple probing questions to force all of us to think but not allow for discouragement because the "right answer" wasn't given immediately.

After Bible Study ended, we transitioned into a time of study on a particular health issue. Today's was mental health. Jeanne spoke at length about mental health issues and how the healthcare workers could identify them and encourage their clients to protect their mental health. We only think our lives are stressful. We as Americans have no clue the stress it causes to be hungry, have a sick child, an absentee boyfriend/husband, no job prospects, etc. We may deal with one or two of these at a time but most of the families we encountered were dealing with all of them at the same time. Most situations were like giant onions, address one layer and under it there's another layer and another and another. It was so apparent there is a need for Godly men and women rise up and walk alongside these healthcare workers, meeting needs and sharing the Gospel.

After the mental health lesson, we broke for lunch and then reconvened in the afternoon for a time with Sister Jeanne. She told us the amazing story of how Refilwe got started. She began her work out of the trunk of her car, dispensing donated drugs to people in need. (In 17 years, she has never had to pay for medications, God has always provided.) Over the years, God moved in other people to provide land, labor, buildings, and supplies to build Refilwe into a community organization that provides foster care, schooling, skills training, home health care and more. It is simply amazing to see how God has provided in this community. You can check them out at

After Sister Jeanne spoke, we headed back to Alabanza for showers before our dinner engagement. None of us had any clue where we were going for dinner. It was all a big surprise as we piled into the vans and started out. We drove for quite a while and then turned down a bumpy dirt road. I asked Steve is this was the Alabanza hazing ritual. :-) He promised us it was worth the bumps. Boy was he right! We pulled up next to a building with a path leading to the front door. The path was lined with tea light candles and led us into a giant room (pictures below) that had a huge fireplace with fire roaring, a long table set up and new friends waiting to serve us. As we all found seats, Steve explained that the staff of Alabanza was serving us tonight by cooking up some traditional South African dishes for us to enjoy. Talk about wonderful food!! We had a beef soup, cheesy bread, bacon-wrapped cherries (don't knock it til you try it), grilled beef, cauliflower and pumpkin fritters (OMG!). All of this was topped off by one of the top three desserts of all time, malva pudding. Let's just say it was divine!! It was such a pleasure to sit and fellowship with our new friends.

Here are some pictures of the day:

Sister Jeanne

Prepping for Bible Study

Backpackers Lounge


Main Course


More later...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Africa Day Five...The Power of Prayer

Wednesday morning dawns and we're headed back into Joe Slovo. Wonder what today will bring? The three of us on the Joe Slovo team spent time Tuesday evening praying for the people we had encountered and would encounter. We headed back out through the fields and the children were much friendlier today, smiling, waving and saying "hello" as we passed by. Already bodes well for the day.

As we rounded the corner into the first area we visited, we were met with smiles from the kids and families. Christina even managed a small grin. What a difference a day (and lots of prayer) makes. The sweet little boys (see picture) were smiling and played with us. Keri broke out the books and we had fun sitting and reading. While we were doing that, Rachel offered Christina a full bath. We had a brought some warm water from home and Christina was open to the idea. After the bath, we got a big smile from her.

Kids having fun with Latex Gloves

We took books to read with the kids

We did have good news from our first stop. Esther (the community busy-body) told us the little boy we "treated" on Tuesday was running and playing much more than he had before we came by. And darn if his sore didn't look better. I still encouraged a clinic visit and the mom promised a Friday visit. Before we left, we prayed over the families and shared the Gospel. I know seeds were planted in this community.

Our next stop took us back to the nicer part of Joe Slovo. Elyse opened a file on Wilma and Beyonce to start the process to get them help. Wilma listened politely but I think she was overwhelmed. Not sure how much we got through to her. After we finished with Wilma, Elizabeth and Elyse introduced us to Chas. Seems Chas is positive and doesn't want to take ARVs. Elizabeth and Elyse thought maybe we could convince him. We talked to him but he refused to open up about his status or much of his health. Our team encouraged healthy eating, following doctors' advice, etc. but there wasn't much more we could do. Finished again with prayer and Gospel-sharing with Chas.

After we finished here, we walked back to Refilwe and had lunch with Elyse outside her room. It was nice to get to sit and visit with Elizabeth. She is a registered nurse from the Congo and is studying for the registration exams in South Africa. Please pray for her. We finished lunch and meandered back to Joe Slovo to see patients in the afternoon. My favorite was a precious baby girl, Likey and her mom Yvonne. Another teen mom, another positive baby. This sweet one (pictured with Keri below) has been sick since birth and mom won't (probably can't) navigate the system to get the baby the drugs she needs to survive. If I could have put her in my carry-on and taken her home, I would have.

Today was such a different day than Tuesday. The children were so much more interactive and happy to see us. We passed out stickers, took pictures, read and just enjoyed loving on kids. Here are a few pictures from our visit in Joe Slovo:

We closed today out by hearing Steve and Teresa's story about how they came to South Africa. It is much too long to post here but suffice to say, this is a couple touched by God and making a huge impact on the people of South Africa. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to spend a week alongside these two. I did go to bed tonight sad and frustrated I couldn't do more. I also wondered about God blessing me with a birthright in the US as opposed to the continent of Africa. Not sure I've completely answered those questions yet.

More later...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Africa Day Four...Joe Slovo

Today was our first day into the community of Joe Slovo. We left our cameras behind today at the request of our hosts. They wanted us to experience the full effect of the communities without cameras distracting us. Elyse was sick today so it was just Keri, Rachel, me and Elizabeth.

We met up at Refilwe and then began our walk to Joe Slovo (we were the only group within walking distance). We started out walking along a path next to the fields where the schoolkids have recess. We were definitely the novelty item of the day with the kids watching us walk by and a few bravely waved hello. We also dodged a few cows and cow patties. :-) Our first homes were about a five-minute walk from Refilwe. We went around a bend, came through some tall grass and emerged just outside a long concrete looking building divided into four homes. Our first "patient" of the day lived here. Christina is a 79 year-old go-go (grandmother). She was less than thrilled to see us - if we weren't doctors, we weren't useful in her opinion. She suffers from arthritis and the after-effects of an auto accident that left a rod in her leg. Her son rarely visits and her home has no electricity, no stove and very little food. Elizabeth says she has her "moods." We cleaned out her home, swept, mopped and beat the dust out of her piece of carpet. Rachel then volunteered to help her clean herself a little bit. Christina allowed Rachel to wipe her legs down with wet-wipes and then apply lotion to her legs and feet. We also gave her part of one of our sandwiches we had for lunch and an orange. Probably the first food she'd had in a day. After we finished, we got a tiny smile out of Christina.

Another sweet lady who lived in this little area was Esther. She was a sweetheart who seemed to be the community busy-body. She knew EVERYONE'S business and alerted us to a problem with one of the little guys who lived next door. Seems he had a sore on his lower abdomen (near the groin) and she wanted us to look at it. Well, of course, I had to. Didn't know what I could do but I wanted to try. It was one of the worst infections I had seen in a while. There was a small sore that was oozing pus and the whole area was red and inflammed. I felt awful but all I could do was put antibiotic cream on it and encourage the mom to take the little one to the clinic. She was less than committed to the idea.

After we moved on from this little area, we came to the "nice" part of Joe Slovo. These houses are basically the size and shape of American tool-sheds. In fact, the one in my dad's backyard might be a little bigger. They had electricity but no running water. Seems these were built by Gary Player (PGA golfer). I don't remember the whole story but it was a nice gesture on his part. Here we met Francina and Baby Erin. Francina was one of the happiest people I've met in a long time. She was so happy to see us, visit with us and show off her precious Erin. Of course, the three of us passed Erin around and loved on her. Those who know me well know I could do that all day. After Francina, we met Wilma and baby Beyonce. Yes, Beyonce. American influence anyone? Wilma is a teenage mom who seems a bit overwhelmed. We prayed with her and the baby and kept moving. We met Andres and his son Junior next. Andres claimed he was falsely imprisoned for two years and just let out in April. (Steve told me later this story probably isn't 100% true.) Junior was a precious little guy and Andres was very willing to share his story and concerns with us.

We broke for lunch, sharing our lunches with Elizabeth and listening to American music blaring from the stereo next door. After lunch, we headed out of the nicer area of Joe Slovo and into the true community of Joe Slovo. As we crested the hill, we could see the streets of shacks laid out before us. We started down the hill and I felt like I was in a "World Vision" or "Compassion" commercial. There was very little activity, the kids we saw had very flat affects to them. There was very little response, very few smiles and a general questioning of who we were and what we were doing. Keri, Rachel and I did the only thing we knew to do, we prayed over this community. We did meet Susan and her family and Susan was a character. I'm not sure if she is a believer but she was the first person who was openly friendly with us. We were able to coo over her grandkids and admire her garden and then prayed over her family before moving on. The three of us Americans kept commenting on how "dark" the area felt and how we could feel the oppression. We continued to pray as we walked, praying for God's work to be seen in the area, God's power to be displayed, and people to see His love.

We finished our visits for the day and headed back to Refilwe so Elizabeth could complete paperwork with her supervisor. Claire (the head of the home-based program)saw us as we got back and asked about what we had taught that day. What?! I didn't know we were supposed to be teaching people anything. Oh well, miscommunication. We'll do better tomorrow. Claire wanted us to talk about keeping water clean, breast-feeding, safe foods for baby, food gardens and anything else we could think of. She also opened the Refilwe library so we could take books out into the communities the rest of the week and read to kids, model good behavior for parents and our healthcare workers. Sounds like we have our work cut out for us tomorrow.

As the groups started trickling back in, we excitedly told stories about our day and the people we'd met and interacted with. I think the vans probably had constant chatter all the way back to Alabanza. After dinner, we sat around the warm fire and shared about our day. Everyone was so thrilled to share about the day and how we had seen God move. We were also able to share our frustrations that we couldn't "fix" the problems we'd seen. Our American mindsets were still see the problem, find a solution, fix the problem. Issue was, that mindset doesn't work in these communities. We had to settle with making notes of problems, sharing it with Refilwe and letting Refilwe fill the need as they could. That was a tough issue for most of us to face.

The day drew to a close with us praying over our communities and our work the next day. We all went to bed excited to see how God was going to move.

More later...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Africa Day Three...Refilwe

After waking up cold and wondering how to get dressed for the day without getting out of my sleeping bag, I finally got moving. We had plans for an early departure (8:15ish) and with jet lag setting in, none of us were moving very quickly. We were excited though, today was our first "real" day of work on the field!

We all piled into two vans for the roughly 30 minute drive to Refilwe. It was the first chance we'd had to see the landscape of South Africa (it was way dark on our ride in from the airport). I can honestly say I was surprised. I don't really know what I was expecting but other than driving on the other side of the road, South Africa looked just like the US. There are homes off to either side, beautiful mountain views and crazy drivers. I was definitely glad I wasn't driving. Right hand turns are freaky!!

We pulled into Refilwe not really sure what to expect. We all pile out and look to Steve and Teresa for directions. They indicate we should follow them and we head out. Their son Alfie (the cutest kid EVER) was quick to yell "poop!" so we could avoid stepping in chicken poop. Yes, there were chickens roaming (ducks too!). We crossed this beautiful brook

and began to hear singing in African voices. Little did we know the voices were from our healthcare workers that we would be spending the week with. Their voices were lifted in praise to our King! What a way to start the morning. We helped pull chairs out and sat in the sunshine. We made basic introductions and then separated out into groups of three to five. It was here that Keri Mason, Rachel Linderman and I met Elizabeth and Elyse. These are two of the most precious women, they have a love and concern for their families and work in the most primitive of conditions to care for the residents of Joe Slovo. Here is a picture of our two workers:

After we had an hour or so to meet, Steve took us on a tour of Refilwe. I am truly amazed at all this organization accomplishes. In addition to the home healthcare program, they offer schooling, foster care, daycare, skilled work training and more. Here are some pictures from the tour:

Creche at Refilwe

Refilwe headquarters

Children at Refilwe daycare

Skills Development Center

During our tour, Steve explained that the Skills Development Center taught marketable skills for community members so they can obtain employment. He also introduced us to the Refilwe sustainability project, earthworm farming! It appears that earthworms are a relatively cheap source of high-quality compost that can be sold to outside nurseries. Earthworm farms run about $8000 to start and the farm will reproduce itself everyone 48 days, making it a great investment opportunity. What an ingenious way to use God's creation to sustain community work.

The tour ended and as we were headed to lunch, Steve took us past one of the informal settlements (squatter's camps), Malachi. Here is what our first look at the extreme poverty showed:

What struck me so about Malachi is that literally across the street from this no running water, limited electricity, poverty-stricken area there was an airport with flights taking off multiple times daily. This dichotomy struck me over and over throughout the week. How does the government explain it? Why do people agree to it? Where is the Church in South Africa?

As we drove away from Malachi, we headed to lunch at the "chicken pie place." It was not like our chicken pie, it was basically a calzone type outside with chicken and mushrooms inside. I don't really care what they called it, it was wonderful!! We were able to sit and visit as a team and enjoy the scenery outside. We kept commenting that it looked like Ohio or TN outside, not like what we expected South Africa to look. Who knows what our American stereotypical minds thought we would see?!

After lunch, we headed back to Alabanza and separated out for showers, dinner and debriefing. We had a wonderful first day meeting new friends and getting a glimpse of the work we would do. Tomorrow would promise to be interesting as we would be turned out into the informal settlements to work.

More later...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Africa Day Two...Baby It's Cold Outside!

I awoke today colder than I think I've ever been in my life. I woke up about 3 am shivering and looking for more covers. Fortunately, our hosts had left duvet covers on the bed so I snuggled further down in my sleeping bag and under the duvet cover. I got warm enough to fall back asleep for a few more hours. When I woke up, I could see my breath indoors. BRRR!!

We all stumbled to breakfast and then the first week's group left to go to Refilwe for church. Our group stayed behind at Alabanza since there wasn't enough room in the vans for all of us. We worshipped as a group with our hosts and a few new friends from Zimbabwe. It was neat to share worship songs, Scripture and stories with our new friends. God was glorified as we sat outside in His creation and worshipped together.

After the group came back, we had a good hearty cook-out with beef and some sort of sausage. It was neat to visit with the first week's group and hear the stories of what they had seen and experienced. It was truly evident that God had moved in amazing ways during the first week. Our team got excited hearing about what God had done. As we prayed the first team off to the airport, reality began to sink in that we were really in Africa and our plans had COMPLETELY changed, again. We weren't really sure what we had gotten into but God knew and was already preparing our hearts.

We topped off the day by seeing the Milky Way (my second experience with this) and heading to bed to try and warm up. Man, when the sun goes down, the temperature plummets.

More later...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Africa Day One...Travel, Travel, Travel

I am going to take the updating nice and slow, mainly because I'm still jet-lagged and feel pretty lousy.

Day One was mostly travel. We left Bham around 3:00 on the ASA flight to ATL. Our flight attendant yelled at us (yes, yelled at us) to be quiet and listen to her announcements so we could get moving. Seriously, does anyone listen to those safety announcements? Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she was probably on her fourth flight of the day and was tired. We were noisy and excited about leaving. Not a good combo.

After changing concourses in ATL, we sat for a while before boarding. The plane we were travelling on was delayed coming in from China so we started out an hour late. Not cool for my nerves. :-) We all get boarded and go through the motions of leaving. We taxi to the runway and then the pilot comes on and says our radio is broken and we have to go back to the terminal so the mechanics can repair it. Then we'll refuel and be on our way. Refuel? We went all of half a mile. Are you sure this plane will fly 8000 miles without refueling???

So anyway, after the drama, we are finally underway. For the first couple of hours, I'm doing good. Not too crazy, dinner was okay and I tried a movie. Couldn't get into "Confessions of a Shopaholic" but "Beverly Hills Chihauha" was okay. I tried to sleep some with a little success. After 12 hours or so, I was starting to get antsy. Our flight attendants had disappeared and didn't reappear until it was time to serve some sort of nasty pizza around with beverage service. After 15 hours or so, we landed in Jo-burg.

After landing, we had to go through passport control and temperature scan. Everyone is worried about swine flu. We all passed through and made it to baggage control. Thank the Lord and Delta, all our bags made it. :-) Our rag-tag crew made it to the lobby and found Steve and Susie Lawley there waiting. We got everyone in a vehicle and started the journey to our home for the next nine days, Alabanza. We topped our LONG day of travel with a wonderful bowl of warm chili and headed to bed.

More later...