Friday, December 10, 2010

November, Dear November, Where Did You Go?!?!

This November was an incredibly busy one and I apologize for the lack of time to stop and share it with you. Things are beginning to quiet down as the holiday season is quickly approaching. Many places, including the Diocese Office where I find internet weekly, will be closing from December the 10th (today) until January the 10th, 2011. Things just kind of stop, which is a neat concept but something very new for me. Here goes a catch up on the last month or so of my life here in beautiful South Africa and expect another after the New Year is officially rung in.

My weekly routine has been working out pretty nicely. Mondays and Tuesdays I still spend at the state children’s home, Sinothando, hanging out with the babies. We have always had 6 of them, but this month we were blessed to bring home our 7th. I came to find out that Annalise is the sister of our youngest (and my favorite) baby. She had been in the hospital since February when she sustained severe burns across much of her body when someone at the home forgot to check the water temperature in the bath before putting her in. She was in the ICU until September when she was moved to the regular children’s ward before being released early in the month back to Sinothando. Her first few weeks were very tough…still itchy where her new skin is continuing to heal, overwhelmed by the change of scenery with tons of loud and crazy kids running around, etc. She has finally started seeming like what I imagine her old self was like. The older kids finished up school while I was on retreat for Thanksgiving and so they are all around now and boy does that change the energy levels around the property. They are a bit out of control at moments but then so are most school-aged kids who just finished a crazy year (complete with World Cup insanity and the days of school missed due to the strikes back in August and September).

Wednesdays, I still find myself with the home-based care group Phutadichaba. I have lots of fun memories from the month with the awesome caregivers but my favorite was probably the day of our door to door “TB Free” campaign kickoff. I showed up to the office, was handed a shirt to change into (a black t-shirt no less in the African sun), piled in the back of bakkie (truck) with 12 other caregivers and was driven and dropped in the feld (field) along the edge of a farm I didn’t even know existed so close to where I was living. We literally walked and walked and searched for people who lived on the farms in the area to hand them brochures and talk to them about testing for TB. Talk about an exhausting day but on the other hand, I was blessed with some wonderful company and we had an important task. TB prevalence is pretty high here and people aren’t always reliable to take their medications which will prolong their treatment time. It’s a complicated cycle for a curable disease. I’m pretty sure there were several “is this really my life right now?” moments that day as we wandered around in the middle of nowhere. Good times South Africa.

My Thursdays have been spent at the St. Luke’s Creche interacting with some awesome preschoolers. They just graduated last week while I was away in KZN (Kwa-Zulu Natal Provence) and the New Year will bring the next group up. I tried, with mild success, to teach a lesson on dogs – only a handful of the kids can understand English so it makes it tricky. I’ll definitely be brainstorming some other ways to teach them but in the meantime we just played alot. Play is a universal language as is getting them water and soap and having them help clean their tables and chairs. I always smile alot on Thursdays, even when scrubbing dirt and grime off plastic.

There were also many “non-routine” kinds of things going on in November.

My friend Elrico had his appendix removed so I saw another medical facility. He spent two days in the hospital but was up and about enough to make it to Carols by Candlelight at a local public school the day he got out (which I should mention was November the 4th – yes, I saw my first full Christmas production at a public school on November the 4th – so crazy but at least it was kind of cool that night!)

On our way home from the Carols, the clock struck midnight marking my 24th birthday. My host brother, Ralph, ceremoniously pulled the car over on a random street in the Galeshewe township so he and Elrico and Aldean could sing to me. It was the start of a very special day. It happened to fall on a Friday which is Internet day for me, so I got the chance to talk to my parents and one of my best friends thanks to the technology of Skype. Then my pastor took me out to a light lunch with my host brother, Shane, and our friends Quentin and Gavin. I ran a bunch of errands with the guys, went to fittings with them for Gavin’s upcoming wedding, then later when back with the bride, Iris, for her fitting. Eventually, we made it down to Ralph’s house where a surprise braai (bbq) had been planned for me. It was wonderful. Lots of family and friends stopped in and made my day something truly special and one to be remembered.

Weddings. Quentine and Loretta had gotten married in mid-October and it was a blessing to be a part of. We had spent the whole night before decorating the reception hall and then got to watch them finally walk down the aisle and celebrate in style after all the planning and preparing. It was beautiful. Iris (Loretta’s sister) and Gavin’s wedding was almost exactly a month later. Again we found ourselves busy, busy setting up the hall the night before, making sure everything was just so and the dishes were clean, etc. We did have the sound system hooked up and the House music was flowing making it even more of a good time. Their wedding too was simply beautiful and everyone had a great time at the reception. I think we’re off the hook for decorating for the next wedding – Nicky and Bev are getting married mid-December. Yay for all the love.

Nelson Mandela Challenge. Yes, the USMNT beat Bafana Bafana 1-0. It wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve seen played but I very much enjoyed the end result. I can’t say the same for my host cousin, Errol, who is a huge soccer fan. He didn’t really want to talk to me much that day or the next although we had a good time watching the match on TV – both of us jealous of the couple of YAGM’s who had been able to make it to Capetown.

Retreat. What a blessing this time was. Brian and Kristen try to plan the first of our three retreats to be in Pietermaritzburg over the Thanksgiving holiday since it’s the first major holiday we are really missing by being here for the year. I left a few days early and spent some time in Bloemfontein with friends from Kimberley and then with Andrew at his site. We eventually got on our bus to PMB and were the first volunteers to arrive on Wednesday morning to a chilly and drizzly/overcast KZN – quite the change from the very hot, very dry, still praying for rain, semi-arid desert that is Kimberley. We spent much of Wednesday waiting for everyone to arrive from our scattered locations. Turkey Day Thursday we got up early to make the desserts we were in charge of then headed off to play a friendly soccer match at the UKZN fields. We followed up our morning match with a dip in the chilly but pleasant Olympic sized pool on the same UKZN property. It was incredibly refreshing (and for most of the volunteers something they never would have dreamed of doing at the end of November) and quite the change from relaxing watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We ran home and changed, grabbed our food, and then headed over to the Konkol household where we finally got to meet Brian and Kristen’s 6 week old son, Khaya Tews. He was just beautiful and Kristen looked as though she’d had never been pregnant in the first place. Brian’s parents had also been able to fly over to meet Khaya and got to share the holiday with us as well. Kristen had made an incredible meal that we enjoyed over good conversation and the little NFL football coverage that we could find at that time of day on ESPN.

Friday we headed off to the Royal Natal National Park, checked in to the Backpackers where we were staying, and then headed off to the Drakensburg Mountains for a good long gorge hike. It was a slightly overcast day that, although not great for pictures, was incredibly pleasant for hiking. It was so beautiful. Fun facts about the Drakensburgs – they were in consideration to be the filming location for Lord of the Rings movies except they don’t get and keep enough snow to last through the filmings so New Zealand was the choice, and if you want to follow the Mayan calendar and believe the world will end in 2012 these mountains are reportedly the safe place to be. We just enjoyed them for their trails for the day and it was a great day. We stopped at Brian’s favorite pizza place on the way home and enjoyed some high quality pizza. Mmmmmm. Saturday we went to a remote village in Lesotho arranged through our Backpackers. They are helping to build a new school building there and so we got the chance to see the existing building along with where they are in their plans. Things are looking good. We hiked around a lot there too. We were blessed with a bright, sun shiny day, and plenty of cool breezes as we explored the highest country in the world. Lesotho’s lowest elevation point is higher than that of any other country, even though their highest isn’t the highest. Pretty cool. We reached our stopping place for lunch and had accumulated lots of the local village kids as companions as we went along. Our guide, Josh, pointed up and said pretty nonchalantly “There are some cool views if you want to hike up there to the summit”. Well, we’re MUD3 and why not give it a go. Wow, did he not warn us of the elevation change – it was pretty much straight up at a few different points but he was right, the view at the top was priceless. 12 of the 13 of us made it, one of the girls has a serious fear of height when coupled with strong winds, a valid concern as we went higher and higher on the edge of a valley with some pretty gusty winds. It was awesome though. We visited with some of the locals as we returned to the village and eventually made our way in our Kombi (mini-bus/15 passenger-esque van) back to South Africa. We cleaned up in our towers (fondly resembling the Bernstein Bears house) and headed in for an evening of fun at the main lodge of the Backpackers – they have a restaurant that served us a wonderful meal, pool table, rock climbing wall, Internet cafĂ©, book exchange, pool if you were so inclined, etc. Of course we couldn’t leave for dinner until the sun was almost completely gone since we were getting a beautiful view of the most incredible sunset as it dropped off behind the mountains. The number of colors we saw in that 45 minutes or so was just spectacular. We dubbed it a perfect day and we definitely had a good time overall at our stay out there. Sunday we packed up, held our own worship service under a tree looking out at the mountains with a nice breeze blowing through, then headed back to PMB.

Monday was time to head back West but Andrew and I had some company in tow as Joy and Heather decided to come and visit our sites in Bloem and Kim. What a special treat that was. We spent a couple of extra days at Andrew’s site, Lebone Village, working on the farm and even on Thursday right before we left getting to take the kids of the orphanage there to the waterpark. We were slightly terrified of taking 28 non-swimmers to such a place, but it was perfect. The kids were great, knew their limits, but weren’t afraid of the water or trying to learn to swim. It was a really fun day. Then we headed back gathered our stuff and caught a long-range kombi/taxi back to Kimberley. We utilized Internet Friday and then headed in to see Kimberley’s biggest attraction, The Big Hole, it was my 3rd time viewing it but it is still awe-inspiring. Pastor Standaar hosted a potjie at his house for us Friday night and we spent all day Saturday relaxing near the river with most of the good friends I’ve made here. The girls headed back East to Joburg early Sunday morning but it was a really nice way to end our retreat and start off the month of December.

I hope things are well with all of you wherever you find yourself during this holiday season. May it be a joyous celebration of faith and family. I will be spending Christmas with my South African family here in Kimberley and the New Year with nearly all of my MUD3 family hiking around in Lesotho. It should be an incredible experience (and also a very very hot one as summer is getting into full swing around here these days!)

Peace, Love and Prayers from the Southern Hemisphere – Thanks for all of your continuing support!