Monday, September 29, 2008

Who needs a house full of toys?

Our kids are finding lots of ways to entertain themselves around here. First, there are the new friends they've made at TYB. Tyson and Jori both really enjoy going over to play and they often talk about their friends when we are at home.

Something they have just recently found to be fun is opening and closing the gate. The other day, Darin went somewhere with just Jori and she surprised him by opening and closing (but not latching) the gate. Tyson decided he wanted to try this too, so now they both ask to open and/or close the gate whenever we go out. After church, Tyson got out of the car to shut the gate behind us. He looked SO PROUD of himself standing there. I gave him a thumbs up, which he returned with a little grin.

We did inherit some outdoor toys from Leenstra's that keep the kids pretty busy. They like to golf and play soccer together. Leenstra's also left behind the ultimate in fun-a cardboard box. This has become the kids' bulldozer. They decorated it with stickers and have all sorts of fun with it. It is pretty funny seeing how much stuff they try to squish inside. The box is barely big enough for the two of them, but the other day they had their golf clubs and some buckets in there as well.

When Darin and I were gone on Thursday, both Amos and Mama Rebecca worked hard to keep the kids busy. One result of that was this inventive swing that Amos made. Tyson and Jori can both fit in it together, and Amos even put a base in the bottom so it doesn't just fold in on them.

One final fun thing to do is look for wildlife. Daddy is especially good at finding lizards for the kids to look at. They are both very familiar with the dreaded hornbill and are quick to look up in the trees whenever they hear any bird call. Jori loves finding spiders, “I find a big 'pidah and a wittow one. Two! Two 'pidahs”. Tyson has no fear when it comes to squishing bugs in or out of the house. I wonder how overwhelmed they'll be with all their “stuff” when we get back home?

Technical Difficulties 9/29

The other day, something we had often feared would happen did in fact occur. Our little home away from home not only lacks in lighting, but in outlets as well. There are no outlets in our “living room” except for one next to the desk. Our sofa is on the other side of the room, which means the power cord for the computer is often laying across the floor. So, a couple days ago, someone was using the computer. This person had to get up for some reason and set the computer on the sofa. Somehow, this persons foot got hooked on the cord and the computer fell to the floor. CRASH!

The computer has suffered minor cosmetic damage, a small crack above the screen on the corner. We have also been experiencing random shut downs, usually during the game of Zuma, which is rather unfortunate for a certain someone who is close to beating the game. It almost seems as if the computer begins to overheat, and sensing the danger, it shuts down to protect itself. Poor, poor 'puter.

So, who is to blame for this near disaster? Who would have taken away our main provider of entertainment, our blogging lifeline, our ability to write emails longer than a paragraph and read the epic tales that are sent our way? Was it one of the kids? They are rather clumsy little creatures. Or was it the wife, who once crashed into a car in her own driveway? And the man of the house who once lost a third of a finger in a 40 ton press at work. Could it have possibly been him? Who do you think is to blame?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Full Gospel Church 9/28

This morning we went to visit Amos at his church. It was quite a different experience than Temba Baptist. Amos said church started at 9:30. We arrived around 9:45 expecting to sneak into the back. Instead, we stood outside for the next hour with all the other late arrivals. Thankfully Amos was also late, so we were able to stand with him and hear more about the church. He had his two sons, Elias and Joseph, with him, but his wife and daughter were not there. They go to a traditional African church, which involves ancestor worship. Amos also used to go there, but he used to be very sick and he came to the Full Gospel Church. He prayed, became a Christian, was healed and has gone there ever since. The church is very big on praying and fasting. Amos told us that in January and September the whole church fasts for a whole week and they also fast every Wednesday. There are even rooms at the church for people to sleep in while they fast for long periods of time.

Getting back to this morning, the people inside were praying and singing and one lady told me the ushers must have decided to keep the doors shut so those praying wouldn't be disturbed. Even the pastor's wife was standing around with us. Normally, this wouldn't have been so bad, but this morning it was around 65 degrees and windy. Jori and I both had pants on and ended up being the only females wearing pants. Once we were inside, I also noticed that I was the only woman without a head covering on. All the other women had scarves tied on their heads or were wearing a hat.

Finally, it was time to go inside. The doors opened and we entered along with over half the congregation. Darin and Tyson sat with the men in one section. Jori and I ended up sitting with girls in their teens and twenties, which was the closest section to the men, instead of with the others moms and kids. A woman named Rebecca did come and sit by me to translate as the pastor switched back and forth between English and Sotho. We stood up for a few songs with lots of hand raising and clapping and then the Sunday School kids sang a song followed by the young adults. Then Rebecca said we had to go stand in front of church to be introduced. So up we went along with some other visitors.

I missed out on a lot of the service because Jori was running back and forth between me and Darin. Rebecca gave her a pen at one point, and Jori then wrote all over my arms. Very nice. Tyson came over to tell me he had to go to the bathroom at which point Darin gave the head nod that it was time to go. So out we went. We had told Amos and several others that we would come back another time at 11 and stay for the preaching, which had not even started when we left, and also take part in the lunch they serve each Sunday. We were hoping to just get in our car and drive away, but that was not to be.

Instead, we were ushered into a room with a large table, set with glasses and utensils. One of the ushers that Darin had talked with earlier said that he knew we weren't planning on staying, but they had already prepared things for us, so would we please stay. So we sat down along with Amos and this usher and were all served heaping plates of food. Chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, beets and rice with sauce. The servings were huge and they had brought a plate out for Tyson, which thrilled him to no end. Jori wanted her own too, but we said no. They did bring out a piece of chicken “just fo' me!”, so she was good to go.

We are learning that our kids are not so fun to have in these types of situations. They are loud and always have ants in their pants. We try to interact with the adults and eat the mounds of food in front of us, but then Tyson spits out a mouthful of beets or Jori almost falls of the chair. So we'll have to practice sitting still and using good manners before we go out again. We are very thankful that they are so easy going and friendly to all the new people we meet. Focus on the positives.

We finally got home close to one. The kids each had a sandwich and then it was nap time. They slept over 2 hours. Darin and I decided to start a puzzle we found a couple weeks ago. We put together the whole outside in an hour. Go team Fey. We'll let you know how it turns out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Pics

Just wanted to let everyone know that there are pics now included in the 2 Pilanesburg posts as well as the Predator World one. Hope everyone has a great weekend, it is really hot here as summer is approaching, above 90ยบ today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Building a shower-South African Style 9/26

Yesterday Darin and I went to Mama Catherine's to help out for a couple hours in the morning. Our kids stayed home with Mama Rebecca and Amos. When we got to MC's, it was pretty quiet. The little kids were in their classroom and the older kids and volunteers were busy doing laundry, cooking and other things. I decided to try and help Darin with the shower instead of disturbing the kids' class. The shower is slowly, but surely, coming along. When Darin and Jason started working on it, they were missing quite a few tools that would have been very helpful to them. This caused them to set up the blocks a bit differently than they are meant to be set, which has slowed the process some. I don't really get it, but there is a system that is supposed to be followed. Anyways, my first task was to take a pick/chisel to try and even out the cement shower floor. So try to imagine me squatting down on the cement floor, gently hitting all the bumps and ridges with my pick in an effort to smooth things out. While I was squatting there, the kids all came out for a potty break. The toilet is right next to where we were working, with the shower and bathroom eventually sharing a wall. So Darin is deftly mixing up some mortar in a wheelbarrow and I am hunkered down on the shower floor and we are surrounded by children. Some of them are patting my head and playing with my hair as I continue to pick at the cement ridges. I don't think those are normal working conditions for most shower builders, but whatever works.

The kids head back to class and Darin decides that my chiseling skills could be put to better use elsewhere. Now I am in charge of preparing blocks to be used on the corners of the shower. The blocks we are using have a ridge on top, like a raised center, and a cut out on the bottom, so they can “lock” with the blocks placed below and on top of them. The corners, however, cannot have the ridge, or the next row of blocks wouldn't sit level. My mission is to chip away the raised part of the block to make it flat. So using my little pick and a scraper thing I get to work. Pick, pick pick, I go with block fragments flying all over. I close my eyes a lot to block the flying bits, I suppose safety glasses would have been a better option, but there were none available. I am hard at work, pulverizing the top of the block. Surely, I have removed all of the ridge by now. I decide to take the scraper and file down the remains. So I put the block between my feet to hold it in place, bend at the waist, and scrape. Over and over I scrape, while a pile of block dust coats my shoes. I turn the block over to Darin for inspection. “Not good enough. There's a quarter sized spot that you missed.” So I scrape some more. Fifteen minutes later, my first block is done. For the next hour, that's all I do. Pick and scrape, pick and scrape. When it is time to go, there are four almost smooth blocks ready for Darin to use on the shower corners. Next week, I will try and up my game and maybe double that amount. Do you dare me to?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Holiday 9/24

Today there was a national holiday, Heritage Day, I believe. I don't really know for sure, because no one that we asked actually knew either. It really didn't affect us much, except that Amos wasn't here. All day long Jori asked where he was. We weren't planning on going anywhere today, which was good because many places would have been closed.

After breakfast, we took the kids for a walk around the property. We definitely need to build up their stamina if we plan on doing that again. We hadn't gone far and they were already crying to be carried. Tyson did finally get interested in looking at the big cactus plants, but Jori wasn't having much fun. We headed back to the house for cold drinks and some cookies. Then the kids went off and played together for a long time. They found some water to play in, which was quite fun, and it kept them occupied for quite a while. They also pretended to hunt for hornbills, “booka-booka” birds, and meetah birds. In case you're wondering, hornbills are real, “booka-booka” is the sound that one of the birds here makes, hence the name Tyson gave it, and the meetah is a bird from our Oswald DVD. They had a lot of fun.

It has been much warmer here the past couple days, so Tyson and Jori were both pretty tired after lunch. They took long naps while Darin worked hard to beat Level 7 of Zuma and I read the last Reader's Digest from home. I also played with Tyson's Leapster video game for a while. He has a game called Pet Pals that I got quite good at. Now I can teach Tyson the tricks of the game.

After the kids woke up, we decided to drive over to Tamboti to take another walk. Again, the kids were not super thrilled. Jori actually marched along pretty happily, but Tyson kept saying “can we go back now?”, so after a little while we found a table to rest at and had some pop to cool off. While we were sitting there, a warthog came out of the “woods” and was eating grass in front of us. Derrick had mentioned at a prior visit that a pregnant warthog has claimed his lawn for her afternoon meal time, but we hadn't seen her before today. Tyson and Jori both thought it was pretty neat that a warthog was so close to where we were sitting, but they grew tired of that too after a little while.

We left Tamboti and headed back to TYB to borrow some DVD's. When we got there, they were just getting ready to head out on a tractor ride, so we hopped in the back of the trailer with all the kids and volunteers. There were a lot of us in the trailer, which made for a hot, sticky, uncomfortable ride, especially for the adults. Mark took us for quite a long ride. We saw quite a few bok, including some varieties we hadn't seen before. It was a nice way to end the afternoon. We hung around TYB long enough for Darin to hurt Jori's leg on the trampoline. She's ok, but for a while, he thought we would be heading out to find a doctor.

For dinner, we decided to have pizza and watch a movie with the kids. We borrowed Chicken Little from across the road, and they both seemed to like it. At 7, we put them both to bed and then decided to watch Calendar Girls. That brought us to the very late hour of 9 pm, so I decided to go to bed.

So ends another day in South Africa.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Beware of low hanging branches 9/23

So, a couple days ago I walked into a tree branch, and not just a skinny little twig either. It was actually more of a tree trunk that has bent at an angle and is strategically positioned between our braai area and the house. Now my head hurts, and I am not sure if it is still from being sick or from taking a hard knock to the noggin. Today we managed to get out of the house a little before 9. Mama Rebecca came to clean today and Darin and I had decided over the weekend that it would be wise to get our kids out of the house for the morning so she could have some peace and quiet. So we all got up by 7:30 (well Darin and the kids were up an hour earlier) and were ready to go when Mama Rebecca and Amos arrived this morning. We headed back to Montana where the Kolonnade Mall and McDonalds's are both located. First stop, Mugg and Bean at the Kolonnade, the coffee shop where we have an internet account. Sadly for us, we could not get on line today. The stop at the mall wasn't a total loss as we did get Jori's hair trimmed at the barber shop. She is looking a little less like a street urchin today with her pretty curls.

After the mall, we decided to head to McDonald's. It was about 10:40, so we figured the kids could run wild in the play area for a while before we ordered lunch. While the kids were expending great amounts of energy, Darin discovered that Mickey D's also has WiFi. Today we were able to get on ten minutes for free and download all of our email. Our new plan is to use up our time at Mugg and Bean and then sign up through McDonald's so our kids have a place to play while we are on line.

Tyson and Jori have really been getting along since we've been here. They still have their sibling moments, but they also have learned to play more together, help each other and empathize with each other. Today at McDonald's, Jori was a little too short to climb part of the play structure. After a suggestion from Darin, Tyson willingly let his little sis stand on his back so he could boost her up. It was really sweet. If one of them is crying (or has just been disciplined by mom or dad) the other is always ready with a hug and an offer to “go get your blanky” for the sad sibling.

Getting back to our big day out, we left McDonald's after enjoying some delicious, calorie laden burgers and fries and headed to Pick 'n' Pay. Darin was eager to get more pretzels and chicken and I was super excited to find that Oreo's were on sale. By the time we reached the check-out, our kids were ready to be done. We headed home to our spotless house and tucked them both into their clean beds. They both slept for a couple hours while Darin and I caught up on some essentials like Zuma and reading the Calvin Spark (thanks Amy!). We both managed to head outside for a walk around James' farm. It is much warmer today, probably 20 degrees warmer than this past weekend.

If anyone out there is familiar with South Africa (Weeda's and Leenstra's, this means you!) we could really use some suggestions for things to do and places to go with our kids that are within an hour or two of here. The lack of internet access has made it hard to go back and check your blogs and emails to get ideas for things to do. We have 5 more weeks to fill before we head to Cape Town, so help us fill them!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Dear Darin

Today is Darin's 31st birthday. As expected, I didn't remember until we were sitting down eating lunch. Darin has spent his birthday fixing a screen door, making lunch for the kids and me, and he is now putting the kids to bed. What a guy. We are planning on celebrating at Tamboti with some Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding. Once the kids fall asleep, I may even let him go out on the town by himself. All that means is he can head to Hammanskraal over nap time to go on line and buy some bananas. He's all psyched up to check on his beloved Vikings.

Happy Birthday Darin. Thanks for taking us all on this great adventure. Love you always.

Sunday Guest

This afternoon, Darin, my eagle eyed husband, started yelling for us to all look out the window towards our front gate. I thought there must be an impala out there so I was looking around at impala level. Then Darin said there was a giant lizard out there. We put our shoes on and headed outside with the camera in tow. Sure enough, right outside of the gate was a HUGE lizard, at least three feet long. The crazy thing must have thought we couldn't see it behind the tuft of grass he was “hiding” behind because he just kind of crouched there. Tyson and Jori thought it was pretty neat, although Jori kept calling it a snake. Darin decided to get a little closer, while the rest of us stayed behind the fence. The thing still didn't move, so Darin took matters into his own hands. He started tossing rocks (not throwing) to try and rouse the beast. The first two did nothing, but the third must have been too close for comfort. If you haven't ever seen a lizard run, let me tell you those things can haul tail. It went tearing through the grass and leaves all along the fence and then ran up a huge tree. Darin followed it over there and managed to get a few more shots (pictures, people, he wasn't still throwing rocks).
We walked across the road later in the day and showed Mark Harding the pictures. He said it was a Rock Monitor, a pretty harmless lizard that may hit you with it's tail if you get too close. We definitely reached our excitement quotient for the day, thanks to our friendly neighborhood Monitor. Pictures coming soon!

Guilty Pleasures

Even though we are missing many of the “guilty pleasures” that we left behind (the vending machine stash for example) we are finding new little pockets of joy out here in SA. Darin has discovered a love of Pyotts Honey Mustard Pretzels. At home, he eats a bag of Meijer pretzels within a couple days and had been struggling to find pretzels since we've been here. Thanks to Pick 'N' Pay, his pretzel fetish can go on. I have discovered the joys of Cadbury Milk Chocolate bars. There are a slew of Cadbury flavors, but Milk Chocolate is the way to go. We “inherited” our laptop from Darin's dad, so we really owe him for the next two guilty pleasures, which he had installed on the computer: Scrabble and Zuma. You have all heard of Scrabble, I am sure, but it is way more fun playing against a computer than a super competitive spouse. At least for me it is. Zuma is on a whole different level. It is totally addicting and even someone with as little hand eye coordination as yours truly can actually have success at the game. I even beat Israel's high score in the “Gauntlet”. Sorry little brother.

I have developed a fondness for the Danon Yogurt out here in such delightful flavors such as Cranberry Litchi, Granadilla, Pineapple Kiwi, and so many more. We have a big tub of strawberry in the fridge right now and a couple little cups of Danon. Guess who's eating the strawberry? Yep, the kids. (Don't worry, it tastes fine).

At home, Darin is always harping on me to take short showers. Out here, we have well water in abundance and I LOVE sitting under the close to scalding water for as long as I want, which is pretty long at times because our bathroom is freezing (and we just discovered while we were outside tonight that you can totally see through the bathroom blinds. How nice.)

I am much less concerned about dirt out here. We aren't out to destroy the house, but I think that there is great freedom with tile floors. The kids love to play in the dirt. It's like they can't help themselves. Each time we walk down the dirt road, they have to bend down and pick up handfuls of dirt.

Doing the laundry is kind of a guilty pleasure too. There is something very relaxing about hanging the clothes out on the line and then taking down the fresh, but stiff, items after they have dried. I already mentioned having the washer in the kitchen, but it bears mentioning again. It is just handy dandy.

If you have Nickelodeon, you may recognize the next item on our list. We first discovered “Oswald” on a trip to Minnesota, after we checked the DVD out from our library. Our kids were so entranced that I made Darin buy us a copy of our very own to take to SA. It has been on at least once a day since we arrived, usually more like 2 or 3 times a day. Even Darin and I will sit down and watch Oswald hang out with his friends Daisy, Henry, Weenie the dog and more. We have picked up a whole new vocabulary like “Ring-a-ding-ding” and “he's the coo-coo-craziest”. One downside to the show is that Oswald is very fond of saying “oh my gosh”, something we don't let Tyson and Jori say. We often hear them saying it to each other while they watch, and then they start giggling like they are getting away with something really naughty. Even Jason and Liz got into Oswald, so it's not just us.

They have the best fruit juice out here. Darin's favorites are Litchi and Mediterranean Fruit Nectar Blend. The only one I have a real aversion to is Tropical Temptation. I couldn't figure out why it grossed me out, but then I realized it smelled like strawberry banana throw up, something Jori gave me the pleasure of experiencing.

We'll let you know what else we discover out here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

They're Ba-ack

Many of you may not know this, but the last time we were in SA I developed a deep animosity for the hornbill-think Zazu from The Lion King. Every morning there were at least two of the buggers that would peck on the window and wake me up just as it was getting light, say a little after 5. Every morning “peck, peck, peck, peck” over and over again. ARGH! Super annoying. Well guess what. We now have two hornbills at this house that are dumber than rocks, and I mean no offense to the rocks. These two boneheads keep flying into one of the sliding doors. This door is not a solid piece of glass, so it really doesn't make sense why they'd fly into it. I'm happy that there isn't any pecking, but every time they make contact, it sounds like a door is slamming somewhere in the house-a little disconcerting when you are out here all alone. Stupid hornbills.


So I am obsessed with blogging. Many of you already know that, but even now, with limited internet access, the obsession continues. The difference is, where before I was obsessed with reading blogs, I am now obsessed with writing them. Seriously, I even wrote an SMS (text message) to myself last night in the McDonald's parking lot with a list of things to post on here. It's a sickness people.

Some observations first. It gets dark here super early. When we left Michigan, it was still light until 9 or 10 at night. Here it is dark by 6 or 6:30 at the latest. And I mean DARK. In a way it is nice because there isn't much we could be doing in the evenings anyway. We still eat dinner early according to SA standards (around 5:30 or 6), and then it is bath time and bed time for the kids. Darin and I get to bed a lot sooner too, which is great because we are usually up around 6, not by our own choosing, but the kids.

Out here, your feet are always dirty. Not just a little bit dirty, but filthy. I am over it now, but at first when you'd put a kid in the tub, the water would look a little brown instantly. How is it possible to carry so much dirt around on your body? It is great having all tile floors, because I would hate trying to keep carpet clean out here. It would be a full time job.

I have not driven in over 2 weeks. I have gone for a much longer period (a whole semester in the Netherlands and one in Chicago), but I also had other means of transportation at the time. Yesterday, Darin said “If the kids are still sick on Sunday, maybe one of us should stay home and the other go to church”. Alrighty then, I guess Darin will be going to church as I cannot drive. He hadn't thought of that.

This past summer, the kids and I had a weekly, sometimes twice or even thrice weekly habit of going to Hudsonville Lanes for ice cream. I love ice cream. So far out here I have not been enjoying my ice cream as much. It is just different. I had a much anticipated chocolate shake yesterday and after the first sip I had to make myself drink it. It wasn't horrible, just not what I wanted.

I have become an SMS pro. I love sending text messages. In fact, after sending Darin a brief “i luv u” text and then writing myself a list of things to post, I briefly considered SMS'ing some of you who are reading this right now, even though I knew you wouldn't ever receive them. Strange, I know.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to Pick 'N Pay for the first time. It was like being in a Super Wal-Mart. Everything you need under one roof. This should have made me feel much more at home than shopping at our local Super Spar, where we are usually the only white people around. Oddly enough it made me way more homesick. I almost burst out crying at one point. When we are at Spar, it is such an abnormal experience that I don't feel uncomfortable. Being somewhere so normal, surrounded by so many unsmiling white people just left me feeling sad. Hello, do you not notice that I am wandering around here with a confused look on my face?

So far, our kids have not seemed to notice the color of people's skin. I think this is awesome. I do wonder what is going through their little minds. Do they notice and just not say anything or what? I have found that I am super aware of the color of people's skin, especially when it is outside the new “normal”. Yesterday at the mall one of the “parking attendants” was white. That really caught me off guard. I am also not used to seeing white cashiers, although it also strikes me as odd that at a place like Pick 'N Pay, all the cashiers were black. I have not seen or heard another American (other than the Innotec folks) since we got here. Just something I realized yesterday.

Now for some rambling. Yesterday Tyson asked if it ever rains here. I'm not sure if he's noticed that it's so dry or heard the adults talking about the lack of rain, but it was just kind of funny that he asked about it so out of the blue. He also said that he misses his Michigan house. He thought it would be a great idea to break it into small pieces that could fit on an airplane and then have our house here “with all the people”. I took that to mean that he is liking all the people he has met, but just misses the familiar things from home, especially his toys. We went to a big home improvement place yesterday and the kids were beside themselves when they saw the carts-they were just like the ones at Home Depot, with the cart in front of a little “car” with two steering wheels. They had so much fun “driving” and racing away from Darin and pretending that it was a forklift that they used to pick up a whole bunch of items in the garden center. We needed to get some screen for our front door and it is very hard to come by.

McDonalds's was so good. The fries tasted just like back home and the kids chowed down on their nuggets. We have been trying to limit our going out to eat, but yesterday we didn't plan well enough and were still in Montana at 6 pm with a 45 minute drive ahead of us. Good thing we stopped, because we ended up hitting traffic and had to backtrack and take the toll road home.

Life is good. I actually feel a lot better today thanks to the awesome medicine I got at Clicks. It totally knocked me out and Darin said he didn't hear me cough all night. The medicine I got for Jori was pretty sweet too. She slept until almost 8 this morning without ever waking up. I'm looking forward to drugging myself again tonight. Good times.

Background Info 9/20

Some of you have asked questions regarding different people or places that we have been talking about. I thought I'd give some more info so everyone knows all the background.

Mark and Chris Harding – Tshepo ya Bana(
We met Mark and Chris on our first trip to South Africa in 2002. They were house parents at an orphanage named Bethesda where we were staying with friends of ours from Innotec. Mark and Chris are originally from England, they moved here over 30 years ago when they were in their 30's. Mark was an engineer who worked for the SA government or military. After Mark retired, they joined Bethesda. In 2003 or 2004, they decided to leave Bethesda and start their own children's home, taking 4 boys with them who had been living with them there. Those boys are now all 8-10 years old. Tshepo ya Bana typically has between 10-15 kids living in Mark and Chris' house on their “farm”. There are usually 2-4 long term(3-12 months) volunteers who are there also, helping with the kids and the chores around the house. Most of them are women from the UK or the Netherlands between 20-30 years old. Along with the volunteers, there are 4 “mamas” who are paid South African women working there, 3 or 4 “Uncles” who do yard work and maintenance, and some other volunteers who come to help with the kids or in the garden. There have been 2 couples from Innotec who have spent a year out here, the first with Bethesda and the second with Tshepo ya Bana.

Our “Africa House” - Originally when we made our plans to come here for 10 weeks, we were going to live with an Innotec couple near Pretoria who was here for the past year getting Innotec's block making business started. About 6 weeks before we came, the decision was made that this couple was going to be coming back to the US while a South African man (Bethuel) took over running the block business. So this left us without a home. We scrambled a little, sending out emails to contacts we had over here. The place we are staying in now belongs to Mark and Chris' son and daughter, James and Juliet. It is a second home for both of them that they share, with James staying out here most of the time. He left a month or so ago for a 6 month stay in Asia for his work. So they were happy to have us rent it from them. Amos, the gardener, typically sleeps here during the week for security reasons when no one else is here, but he is going home each night while we are here.

Mama Catherine – We wrote about her work in a previous blog post. She is a black South African woman who runs an after school program for over 100 kids and is also housing about 20-30 kids from 2 years through early twenties at the same property where she runs the after school program. We just met her for the first time last week. Her “children's home” is not at all like the Hardings. She is kind of flying by the seat of her pants and is holding strongly to “her vision” for helping the children and perhaps has taken on too much too soon. I can understand where she is coming from. In order to get funding or support from government or other local programs, she would have to scale back on the number of children she currently is helping, which she feels she cannot possibly do as the kids have no where else to go. So we will help as we can.

Tamboti/Derrick- Darin has a much longer history with Tamboti than I. He stayed there on several occasions with different Innotec groups that came out while first formulating plans for starting a business here in South Africa. When we were last here in 2006, we stayed there for a week, give or take a few days. This is when my irrational fear of leopards really took hold because a leopard had recently killed an animal on Derrick's property. Derrick runs a B&B, has a restaurant, has several 4 wheelers for game rides (he has had various bok, impala, and other animals since he opened 5 years ago and now has several other animals around since Dinokeng began bringing animals in). He tells great stories, has led a very interesting life, and knows a ton about the area. He is now also selling real estate in the Dinokeng area. We enjoy going over there for good food, but mostly for the conversation.

If any of the details are way wrong, we apologize to those of you who may know better (Weeda's Mulder's...)

Hello Officer 9/19

This is Darin again. I thought it was time for me to add some content again. Jason and I were driving to some different shops the other day in Hammanskraal. I was at a green light to turn right(remember I am on the other side of the road, so right hand turns cross oncoming traffic). There was a car in front me also waiting and we were both out in the intersection a little ways. The light turned yellow and then red(the yellow lights don't last nearly as long here as they do back home). The other car was finally able to turn at the end of the yellow light, but it was clearly red for me, but I didn't want to be sticking out into traffic so I went. Just as I was thru the intersection, I saw that there had been a police car coming the other direction and it pulled behind me, honked the horn and put on its flashers.

I was in a very busy street market area, so I kind of pulled onto the curb partly off the street. The female cop got out and I rolled down my window. She said “Didn't you see the light was red?” I started to explain that I was sticking out into traffic, blah blah blah, but she didn't seem interested in hearing my reasoning cause she walked around to the other side of the car in the middle of my story.

When she came back around, I explained that this wasn't my car and we were borrowing it. She not so politely stated that this will be a R1000($125) fine against my name. She asked for my license, I gave it to her, she looked it over for a second and said “This is no good here, it is only good in Michigan.” I tried to explain that I've never had any problems renting cars here with just my MI license before. I also couldn't resist adding that it WAS good in many more places than just MI, like the whole US. I told her that I did have an international driver's license(which I needed to get so that the car owner's insurance company would cover me driving it), but it was back at the place we were staying at. She asked where we are staying, all the time glaring at me in a not very friendly way. I said that we were staying at a children's home outside of town and that we were volunteering there for a couple month's. That apparently was the right thing to say, cause her mood instantly changed and she asked for the contact info and address cause she had just bought a bunch of clothes that she wanted to donate somewhere. So I explained how to get there(I didn't know the actual address) and gave her the phone number. She was now happy and said “Just don't do that again” as she walked back to her car.

Hopefully that is the last time I get the opportunity to converse with the SA police.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Too Much 9/17

This morning all of us, kids included, headed into the township to visit Mama Catherine's place. Mama Catherine is an African woman who is maybe in her 40's. She is running a children's place of safety from a corner lot in Temba. Darin had been there earlier in the week and had been telling me about what the place looked like and what Mama Catherine is doing there, but I was totally unprepared for the reality.

On the lot, there are 3 block buildings the size of a medium sized bedroom, two tin shacks the size of small bedrooms, 2 shipping containers donated by the post office, and 2 outhouses in the corner. There is also a large tent that is used for an after school program. When we arrived, one block building was being used as a creche, a nursery school. There were more than a dozen little ones from about 2 years to 8 years in the room sitting at little plastic tables. This same building is also where the two older boys(in their 20's, who serve as security guards) sleep. One of the tin rooms is a kitchen, and the other one is Mama Catherine's office. There are a couple pieces of playground equipment, but they were the older, metal kind. There was a lot of dirt. At times I felt like I could hardly breathe from all the dust blowing around. There was also smoke in the air from the many garbage piles being burned right outside the fence. The laundry area consisted of a clothesline and 2 plastic tubs. We saw a man doing laundry by stepping in one of the tubs like he was squishing grapes. There were also 2 mesh greenhouses and a decent sized garden at the back of the property. Did I mention the dust? I am still coughing it out hours later.

Mama Catherine has been receiving some assistance from Mark and Chris Harding, who run Tshepo Ya Bana, but I am not sure how long they have been associated with her. I don't even remember hearing about her the other times we have been here. This time a connection was made. A guy from Innotec who was here a couple weeks before us had brought some of the Innotec blocks over to the property to build a shower area. This will not be an actual shower, but an enclosed area where people can either take a tub of water in to clean themselves, or perhaps run a hose into the building from the outside. There will not be a drain. This is a huge step up from the current bathing situation, which is mostly sponge baths in the cramped living quarters.

From talking to Mama Catherine, I know she has been running this place for at least 3 years. She and her husband, who is a policeman, have three children of their own at home, and they have 4 displaced children living with them at their house. She does not live at the location we visited today, which houses the kids we saw there today, and another dozen kids that are older and were at school. She also has an after school program that is attended by close to 150 children. I believe that these kids are given a small meal and just a safe place to go. This is not a big meal that they are receiving, but most likely a bowl of mealy pap. Pap is a staple around here, like potatoes or rice would be for people in other countries. It comes from corn. The garden that they are growing offers some variety to their diets, but not very much. They do not ever have meat or other forms of protein for that matter. Other than the help she receives from the Hardings, Mama Catherine does not have other means of support. Although the government places children with her, they do not give her any financial assistance. From what I understand, this is because either she is not yet a foster parent, or the kids that she is helping cannot be considered foster children because some of them have family in the area.

Mama Catherine gave us the background of some of the kids she houses. Two of them are young teenage girls who have both been raped multiple times. One of the girls was there at the time because she is either too sick to go to school, or the days she does go she causes problems from mental/emotional illness. She is HIV positive among other things. The other girl has not yet been tested, because she does not want to know. She has already tried to kill herself on several occasions. Both of her parents are dead. Mama Catherine also told about some of the younger children who had been abused by their grandmother and are still suffering from these abuses. Many of the kids in her care are sick, but she does not have the means to have them all tested for HIV or even for basic medical care. Her first aid kit consisted of a couple rolls of bandages and a few partially filled bottles of medicine.

Is it too much for you yet? I seriously was just overwhelmed by all the sights and hearing all of the stories. This is Africa. It is easy to forget that we are in a country that is severely impoverished and is suffering heavily from the AIDS crisis, because even though we are close in proximity to these problems, we are still so far removed. There is a part of me that does not even want to go back. Where do you even begin to help these children or this woman who is so overwhelmed caring for the children? I know we will go back. Darin has a shower to finish and I don't know what help I can give, but I will go too.

As I mentioned before, our kids went along too. I don't think I will be taking them back. It isn't for safety reasons, but I think they were both so overwhelmed by the kids and the lack of things to do other than play in hot, dusty conditions. Jori's hair, and mine, was constantly being touched. She'd go from being ok with all the kids pressing in to a kind of panic where she'd start crying. Tyson just didn't really know what to do with himself, but he also is still not in the best health. I had brought a couple small things for them to eat, but not near enough, and there was NO WAY I was going to take even a bowl of mealy pap when even getting that is a struggle. So next week they will be staying back with Mama Rebecca, who just started coming today to do a weekly day of cleaning and a half day of child care. I think it will be better for the kids to be here and better for me to not feel torn between the kids at Mama Catherine's and my own kids.

Good Morning 9/16

Our laptop clock is still set on Michigan time and it is 7:15 am, so good morning to you all. It is 1:15 here and I have had a busy day. It started off with a major lack of sleep. Both kids were up through the night, coughing, crying, needing drinks or noses wiped, and on and on. Tyson was so tired last night. He was asking to go to bed at 5, but we held him off til 6:15. Jori stayed up for another hour or so. Jori is actually standing in front of me right now, with sucker dripping down her chin and hair matted with snot. She's not looking so cute. I have taken to calling her my little urchin, like a street urchin. She is just so raggedy looking most of the time. Anyways, she just got up from a nap. Tyson is still sleeping, most likely because he was up most of the night coughing. Poor guy.

So back to my morning. I was awake a little after 6, but we all stayed in bed until a little after 7. Then I got up and made coffee-yes, I have mastered the French Press. I am pretty impressed with myself. Darin fed Tyson and then Jori woke up a little later and he fed her too. A nice break for me considering I was once again going to be home alone with the kids while everyone else traipsed off to “work”. So by 8:30, it's me and the kids. Amos is here already, which is a great diversion most days. Today the kids are both feeling yuck, so they spend a lot of time laying around watching videos. Honestly, I think that's what they did all morning. I was busy doing laundry. Three loads today plus the 5 yesterday and the laundry is done. While I was waiting for the loads to finish washing, I did some dishes, washed 7 pairs of shoes in a big bucket, and started putting more things away that have just been laying around on the bathroom counter since we arrived.

Neither kid wanted lunch. So after managing to feed Tyson half a Clementine orange, and Jori the other half, plus a banana, I put them both down for naps. Then I continued doing laundry and started making lunch. We had made potatoes on the grill last night and I fried up all the leftovers AND stuck a piece of bread in the frying pan and made some toast! Then I fixed a plate for me and one for Amos and we ate our lunch outside. It is nice talking with him and hearing more about the community that we are in. He was also telling me more about Dinokeng and where to see the animals that are already in the area. I finally finished the laundry after lunch. Are you beginning to see that laundry is a process out here? I am not complaining, because I know that having a wash machine is a huge luxury for most of the world's population, but it is just different than at home.

The washer we have is quite compact. I did find out today that it will hold a load of five towels and a couple rags, but that's about it. Each load takes 30 minutes. There are other cycles to choose from, but I don't know what any of them do, so I stick with the one that says “30 minute”. After the clothes are washed, you take them outside to hang on the line. Then you throw in the next load. You take that out to hang, and by then, some of the first load is dry, so you take it down to fold. Then you repeat the whole process. Each time you have to take stuff down from the line so you can fit the new load. It is kind of relaxing in some ways, but my back does not enjoy it so much.

So it is now quarter to 2 and I have done loads of laundry and some other random jobs around the house and I feel like I have done enough to not do anymore work today. I have no car, and I can't drive here anyway. I do have a phone, but I can only make calls in SA, and other than Darin, I don't know who I'd call. I am becoming quite proficient at SMS-ing (sending a text message). Even if I could get out, I wouldn't be able to leave with the two kids being sick. Even if I were in Hudsonville, I would just stay home. So I am eagerly waiting for Darin to get home so I can walk across the street and be online for a while. Maybe someone from home will be online and I can “chat”. That would be fun.

I hope this doesn't sound like I am not having fun or that I don't want to be here. I really am loving it. I love turning on the hot water heater in the bathroom each morning, I love having the wash machine in the kitchen-it's quite convenient, I love that there are hardly any kids things in this house and that my kids don't seem to mind the lack of toys, I love that it is different here than at home. I just wish my kids were feeling better and that I could get out of the house more. At least I have this trusty old laptop so I can write posts that end up rambling on and on and on. It's like the computer is my only friend out here. Does that make me crazy?

Predator World 9/14

Has your 2 year old ever been stalked by a lion? How about a pack of lions? If you answered yes to either of these questions, welcome to the club. After a healthy breakfast at Leisure Farms, we headed to Predator World. Predator World is like a zoo, only not. There are lots of cages with dangerous animals on all sides. We saw hyena, leopards, cheetahs, lots of lions, wild dogs, snakes, and a some random animals like goats and meerkats, which Tyson says are his favorite. Apparently, Jori is the perfect size prey for the young lions. The 10 month old and 2 year old cubs couldn't take their eyes off of her. If she walked past their cage, most of them got up and walked with her. She thought it was so funny. “They my friends”, she kept saying. No Jori, they actually want to eat you. A little creepy, but kind of funny too. When we viewed the leopards in their cages it was made perfectly clear why we never came across any in the wild. Even when you knew they were in the tree and you were pretty much looking right at them, you still couldn't see the darn things. You all know my history with the leopard by now. They freak me out. I asked our guide what you should do if you come into contact with a leopard in the wild. I am glad I found out, because I would have been eaten for sure. The following is a lesson in dealing with predatory animals. If you are approached by a hyena, do NOT back down. If you take a step backwards, they will know that you are afraid and that you are no match for them. Then they will eat you. If you are approached by a lion, try to make yourself look as big as possible. Make a lot of noise and don't ever turn your back to them. Lions are opportunists looking for easy targets (like Jori) and they will most likely back down if you seem at all threatening. If you are approached by a leopard, do NOT look into its eyes. If you do, it will see that as a challenge, and then it will eat you. Apparently, you are supposed to just keep on walking and not pay any attention to it. Yeah right. Another fun leopard fact is that they like to tease their prey. When they are laying up in a tree, they might toss a stick down on the head of their prey to get them to look up. Then they attack. So, if you are walking under a tree and something falls on your head, keep walking. Never mind that it could be a snake, and not a stick tossed down by a leopard, just keep going. I feel so much better armed with all this knowledge, don't you? The kids were really fascinated by all the different animals, but they were most intrigued by the gravel paths. Seriously, they kept playing with the stones. It doesn't take much to keep them entertained. We were only at Predator World for about an hour. We then headed back to Hammanskraal so the kids and I could be dropped off before the others took Robin to the airport. I was glad to be home and was ready to put the kids to bed. I had a nice night to myself and the others made it home around 10:30. I wish Robin was still here, but am happy she could get back to her husband and family too. That wraps up the weekend. Good times were had by all.

Pilanesburg, for real 9/13

So, after the extended stay at the sketchy ATM place, thanks to the POS, we made it to Pilanesburg. Before we even entered the gate, we saw two elephants lumbering up the hillside. Immediately after getting in the gate, we see more elephants on another hillside. We're off to a great start. I won't even attempt to give you a play by play of all the animals we saw, or the order in which we saw them. I'll just give some highlights. We saw lots and lots of wildebeest. They were everywhere. We'd get all excited like maybe we were coming upon some Cape Buffalo (which neither Darin or I have ever seen) or one of the many species of bok, or kudu or anything other than wildebeest. Nope, it was always the wildebeest. In fact, we drove past the same herd at least 3 times when we were driving on parts of the hippo loop (one of the “trails” you can take) and each time the kids were like “wildebeest!!!”. Yep, and they haven't moved since the last time we came past. We saw lots of zebra too, some of them were right on the road side and would just stare at us. There were lots of little baby zebra too, which were super cute. I don't remember seeing any baby wildebeest. Perhaps that would have endeared them to me more. One of my favorite animals to see are the warthogs. I don't know why, but I just like them. We saw some giraffe, but not as many as we have seen in the past, and we didn't get very close to any of them. We did see way more hippo than usual. They were all lounging on the banks of the dams and other water sources. There were several babies in the mix, which are always fun too see. At one watering hole, we saw both hippo and several crocodiles. I don't know that we have ever seen crocodiles, except maybe some eyes poking out of the water. Jori did not want to leave the crocs. She waved a sad good bye to them. We saw a lot of rhino too. Right before we were leaving the park, we even saw one rhino cross the road in front of us and then start running across a field. That thing was hauling some serious tail! After scouring the landscape for more of the Big Five (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, cape buffalo) Darin thought he saw something under a tree. Thanks to his 20/15 vision, we saw two lions laying under a tree. At first we couldn't decide if they were really lions. “Yes, they totally are. I saw an ear move”, “No, I'm wrong, they are just rocks”, “No wait, I definitely think they are lions”, and so on and so forth. Then one of them turned over onto his back and stuck his paws up in the air (just the fact that he turned over proved that they weren't rocks). We had a pair of binoculars and were all taking turns hanging out the windows (totally not what you are supposed to do in a game park, but we had “spotters” checking for anything that might be ready to attack). I don't know if we even took any pictures of the lions because even after we knew that they really were there, it was still hard to see them. The coolest experience we had involved a herd of at least 16 elephants. There were huge ones, medium ones, small ones and even a very tiny baby one. So stinking cute. We had seen them in some trees and realized that the road we were on curved around to the other side of the trees. They seemed to be moving that direction, so we headed around the curve to catch them on the other side. It truly was amazing. They just kept coming and coming. The whole time the kids were sleeping. We talked about waking them up, but decided against it. Anyways, once again we hung out of the windows to get the best camera angle. Nice and safe. So the elephants keep coming closer and closer. Another car was coming towards us and I think some elephants did not like them. They kind of got driven farther back. We had been left alone until one medium sized elephant ended up right along side our van and then it got a little mad. It kind of flipped its massive ears and made a grunting noise. Darin floored it and we headed down the road a few hundred feet. We just sat and watched as the rest of the elephant crossed the road. The mom with the littlest baby took her sweet time going across. I think she was making sure that we were not a threat. The little baby hooked it's trunk on its moms tail. Super cute. Good times with the elephants. Earlier in the day, before we saw the lions, a car flagged us down and told us to follow them because there was a huge line of cars all watching something and for sure it had to be lion or why else would that many vehicles be pulled alongside the road?? So we followed and when we arrived we could not tell what everyone was looking at. It ended up not being lions, but was an impala that had just given birth. Kind of a let down when you are expecting lions, but it was neat to see such a tiny, very newborn impala, barely able to walk, still getting afterbirth licked off of it by its mom. Good job God! We stopped for lunch at one of the game lodges inside the park and we drove out of the park to get some snacks at a grocery store around 4. Then we headed back to the park until closing time at 6:30. That's when the animals are just getting active, so it was disappointing to leave right then. We had a full day and saw lots of amazing things. The kids were exhausted and after feeding them some Easy Mac (the one the mouse from “Bump in the Night” didn't chew through), they went right to bed. We were going to Braai, but couldn't get the charcoal going. We ended up cooking dinner in random pots and pans provided by Leisure Farms. When I say “we” I mean everyone else. I was putting kids to bed and laying in the room until they were asleep. Much better than cooking dinner! We ate outside, then went in and played cards for a while. Then it was time for bed so we could get up in the morning and head to Predator World. Stay tuned.....

Pilanesburg 9/13

The big day has arrived. We are off to Pilanesburg game reserve to hopefully see lots of animals. After a breakfast of 2 eggs, over medium or hard, bacon and toast, white or wheat, we finally drove off around 8. We had to stop off at an ATM so everyone had enough rand (SA money) to get in the gate. So we pulled into a shady looking shop and Robin, Jason and Liz piled out to get money. Tyson was laying in his car seat in the back of the van baking in the sun along with Jori. We thought three adults in the middle would be a more enjoyable way to spend the day. So everyone gets their rand and we get back in the POS. Darin turns the key and it does nothing. So he tries again. Still nothing, except now the door locks are all going up and down on their own. The guys get out to look under the hood. Not sure what they were hoping to see, but that's what guys do. Then the girls pile out. We leave the bedraggled children in the van. After we get out, we decide to push the van to try to jump start it. The POS had no jumper cables, and the only car around also didn't have them. So Liz, the only girl who can drive stick, got in the driver seat while the rest of us pushed. Robin and I were not much help because we couldn't stop laughing. We kind of drifted away to the side, and soon after, we noticed a bunch of chickens stacked in cages in front of the store. This strikes us as super funny. So we make a video, which I am supposed to be narrating, but I can't because I am laughing uncontrollably and am about to pee my pants. (The video should end up on Facebook soon and she's going to tag me so those of you who are hooked up with the big FB will get to enjoy that little treat, along with several others.) The video is super funny. There are chickens, Darin, Jason and a random African man pushing the van, another guy almost getting hit by the van, the van almost running into the brick wall, and then more chicken footage. All funny. It starts up, but doesn't keep going. So then Darin sees a car on the other side of the wall and asks if they have jumper cables. They do, but the guy is really hesitant to come over. We then realize that the hoards of people we have seen walking past are all headed to a funeral. Not funny, but just par for the course. The guy does end up helping and the POS is back in business. Somewhere in all the chaos I see a sign that reads “Toilets” with an arrow pointing to an area off to the side of the building. So Robin cheerfully agrees to check it out with me. The toilets turn out to be the sketchiest thing I've seen yet. No toilet paper (thankfully Robin was prepared), no seats on the toilet, no locks on the door, no light, no glass in the window except for jagged shards. It was great. Robin took a picture of me peeking through the “window”. Super fun. So now that I know I won't pee my pants, we head back outside to make more videos. This is all within the first 15 minutes of leaving Leisure Farms. We haven't even made it to Pilanesburg! I'll have to fill you in on that craziness later. Everyone just got home with dinner (I'm writing this on Monday night) and Tyson and Jori are both ready for bed, and it is not even 5:30. So I better go help do something.

Are we there yet? 9/12

We left on Friday for Pilanesburg. We headed out for our place around 10. There were 7 of us in a 5 passenger vehicle. It was not very comfortable. I am not sure if either kid was in a car seat. That has been a big change for us over here. When it is just the 4 of us, our kids will be in their car seats, but since we've been here, one or both of them has been sitting on someone's lap or standing up on a seat (when we are just heading across the road) with no seatbelt on. We would not be able to go anywhere with two kids in car seats with the extra adults. Ok, so that was an aside. Back to heading out. Our first stop was to get the rental car. We had rented a 7 passenger vehicle from a guy named Cees (sounds like cease), a Dutch guy who moved here a couple years ago and now runs a huge B&B and rents out cars on the side. We could have fit the 7 of us without any problem, except for the luggage we had with us. Robin, another girl from Innotec who had been here for a month, was heading back home on Sunday. The plan was to take her straight to the airport from Pilanesburg so we had her two big suitcases along. We also had our backpack and another bag with our stuff for the weekend, Jason and Liz's backpack and some random bags with food and odds and ends. With all the stuff, we ended up having two adults up front, 2 adults and a car seat in the middle, and one adult, 2 suitcases, a kid on a lap, and the extra car seat in the back. Guess who was in the back most of the ride? If you guessed me, you'd be correct. It was not only uncomfortable, but trying to hold a squirming two year old for 2 hours was no picnic.

So imagine us heading down the road. Tyson now has a fever and is moaning and crying on and off in the middle seat. Jori is begging for snacks in the back seat. I am frantically searching for the food bag, but it is wedged between the back seat and the hatch. Did I mention that the hatch also has a very annoying rattle and that I can feel air rushing in where there should be no air? Darin's window also seems to have problems. It either goes up super slow and barely closes, or goes up super slow and stops an inch from the top. The right passenger door (the driver's side here in SA) is also looking a little sketchy. There is a visible gap between the hinge side of the door and the frame of the car. Can you picture it?

Around noon, we arrived at the Hartbeespoort Dam. We got out and were swarmed by men selling everything from wooden coasters to oranges. Some of us went to see the dam and take pictures. Darin stayed behind with Tyson, who is now burning up and looking pretty pathetic. We got back to the van and were swarmed again. I was on the driver's side with the kids being ignored by all other adults, who didn't seem to notice that one of our “friends” was begging me for money. He said he was so hungry, so I told him to eat his oranges. Is that mean or what? Finally it was time to get back in the POS (if you don't know what that means, ask someone who does. This is a child friendly blog you know). We went across the dam for a quick peek of the town. God was smiling down on us, because when we pulled to the shoulder to get a picture, we discovered that we had a flat tire. Everyone piled out, except for Tyson, who was still miserable, and me, as I was sandwiched into my backseat corner. They got the spare down and discovered that it too was somewhat flat. It was better than the original tire, so they proceeded to change the tire on the edge of the road, by a huge drop off that led to water. I was feeling a bit ill because I can't stand being so near to an edge like that. Gives me the heebie jeebies. While we are trying to fix the POS, we see another vehicle on the side of the road being pushed directly at us by 5 guys. Turns out some ladies were having car trouble and some guys were “helping them” (we found out from another person who stopped that they are known crooks, which is why he pulled over to keep an eye on things). So Darin and Jason go take a look at that car. The POS had random tools in the back that they needed. So we left Jason and the tools with the crooks and the ladies. Then we headed into town to put air in the tire and spare. There was a small leak in the original tire, but it was easily fixed by 2 guys at a petrol(gas) station. So we now have air in both tires (in case we have another flat) and we go back to get Jason. We have to wait until the other vehicle is fixed because they are using our tools. We finally leave. It is well after lunch, which I am sure we ate, but I couldn't tell you where or what. It's all a blur. Perhaps we ate before we even got to the dam. Oh, now I vaguely remember eating some sausage wrapped in a croissant type thing in my back seat corner that Darin got at a gas station shortly after we went to the mall to pick up the rental that Cees' mother had taken (how nice) and left on empty. It's all coming back to me now.

So we are done with the dam. We are now heading to a place called Chameleon Village, which is like a big flea market/indoor souvenir shop kind of place. It's huge. We have a hyper active Jori running loose and a sick Tyson in a stroller that is meant for a much smaller child. Seriously, it is like a doll stroller. He couldn't even lay back in it because his head would get stuck in the canopy. Poor kid. Darin and I have done the souvenir thing several times before and know that we do not ever end up displaying anything we buy. In fact, most of it has ended up at garage sales. So I picked out a couple bracelets and we bought a pair of wooden hippos. We will be going back to that area when my parents are here, and hopefully everyone will be healthy then. We did manage to find some medicine for Tyson. One of the vendors, who had some bracelets on hold for me while I looked around, actually directed us to another stall. There was a little old lady, wearing a head covering and bright red lipstick selling a variety of items you'd find at a Rite-Aid or Walgreens. Lotion, deodorant, soaps, etc. Thankfully there was the random fever reducer too. We left the others to shop and we went to one of the restaurants that was in the same complex. We ate dessert and then Tyson seemed to perk up a bit. We went back to the shops to find the others. Jori was a great source of entertainment. She was a hit with the vendors. She would giggle and dance and have them chase her. Kind of a flirt. We were just glad she was in a good mood. She did pick up random things from different stalls, but the vendors were all watching and made sure they got their things back from her.

We left Chameleon Village around 4:30 and headed towards our lodging for the night. It was about a 45 minute drive. We were wedged in even tighter now with all the purchases people had made. When we pulled up to Leisure Farms, I was not so sure I wanted to get out. Seriously, it was all a bit sketchy. Thankfully, our rooms weren't in the same place that we prepaid for our two night stay. We were directed to a much more normal looking place. I don't think we will be staying there again. I am not sure that things had actually been cleaned before we arrived. Such is life. We dropped off our stuff to make some more space in the van and headed out to find some food. We ended up eating at another lodge. Jori spent most of the meal collecting cloth napkins and putting them in piles. Tyson played his Leapster, tried to sleep and cried for his car seat most of the time. We were all so hungry. I ordered a hamburger and was a little surprised when a whole fish was brought out with my baked potato. Apparently when I said “Tropical Hamburger”, which Robin then repeated for me, our server thought I wanted fish. Eventually I got the burger, Darin had steak, Jori ate a hot dog and fries and Tyson had nothing.

Then it was back to Leisure Farms where we all totally sacked out until morning. I'll have to write about that adventure later. Be prepared for more incidents in the POS. Yes, I said MORE incidents.


Tyson saying goodbye to his friend Jenna
at the airport

Our "Africa House"

Tyson "helping" Amos

Tyson and Jori with their new friend Amos

Tyson and Stompie swimming

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Kids

Right now Tyson is with Darin, driving Liz to the hospice in town. He loves going on drives with daddy. Jori is in her bed yelling for daddy. She was calling mommy a couple minutes ago, but I told her to stop or she would get a spank. Both kids were up before 6 this morning, so she should ready to sleep again by now, but you never know. Now she's out. We'll try nap time again for both kids after lunch.

Sometimes I think I see less of the kids now that we are here than I do when we are home. It could be that Darin is here and often takes them on a walk or, like this morning, on a drive. There is also a lot more space for them to run around, and since it is fenced in I more easily let them out of my site. You've already heard about Tyson following Amos around and now Jori has decided to follow him as well.

Tyson and Jori have both been making friends across the road. Their favorite friend is Stompy, or as my kids say, Stumpy. The best description I have for Stompy, is that he is the African Tyson. Some of the workers have even said that Stompy has met his match in Tyson. They love to run after each other and go on the trampoline together. They are both high energy and louder than the other kids. Jori tries to keep up with them too. The little girls are very quiet so Jori doesn't pay as much attention to them. We have been going over in the afternoon when the volunteers fill up the little pool. It is a nice diversion for everyone.

Tyson has been loving his Leapster video game. He doesn't totally understand how to use it, but he is catching on. It has been a great diversion for him and it has also become a great help in disciplining him. When he doesn't listen, he doesn't get to play the rest of the day. It seems to have made an impact on him, more than other things we've tried.

Ok, I wrote all that on the 11th. Now it is the 15th, but I'll write some more kid stuff before ending this post. Since being in Africa, both kids have had a drop in appetite. I am not sure if it is the different food or what, but both Tyson and Jori usually eat seconds or even thirds at home, and now they often don't finish what's on their plate. I am having a hard time finding snacks that they like as well. I am used to convenience food, like prepackaged pudding and fruit snacks and animal crackers from the vending stuff. Now I have to remember to make the pudding and I can't find animal crackers. The yogurt must taste different to them as well, because they don't seem to enjoy it as much.

Most days the kids are just tired. They both get up around 6 and Tyson doesn't nap. Jori sometimes takes naps very early in the day and is tired by afternoon again. I am sure that affects their eating among other things. There's lots of whining and frustration. Tyson especially often seems frustrated about different things. Even with all the changes, they both are doing great. We are thankful that other than fever, coughing and runny noses they have both been healthy.

Stay tuned for our animal adventures...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

May I Help You?

Each time you enter a parking lot in the area, you are accosted, I mean assisted, by an overly eager parking attendant. For some, this is an actual paid position. They've been hired by a business to keep trouble out of the parking lot. For many others, it is a way to make some money. Usually when your car is spotted, you'll see arms windmilling around, directing you to park in a certain spot. Oddly enough, you often pass up better spots and endure more hazards, like cars backing up, to get to where they want you to park. When we pile out, Darin usually asks the “guard” to keep an eye on the car. They do much more than that. Most times we have been to the grocery store, and we do go quite often, our guard is right outside the doors, waiting for us to be checked. (Before you leave the store, you must show your receipt, much like at Sam's Club back home, and then you may exit.) So when we exit, there's our parking guy, waiting to help us push the cart or carry bags. Most times he just reaches over and grabs the cart, even as you are still pushing it. Once we reach our car, he helps us load it up, and then Darin gives him some change, and if Darin reads this before sending it on to you all, he can give you an idea of how much he gives.
It's just another thing that makes living here so very interesting.

One Week Ago

One week ago from this very moment, we weren't even on our way to the airport. It was one in the afternoon, so Jori was sleeping, Darin and Tyson were probably bringing the cans away, and I was most likely on Facebook or blogging. We still had two hours to go before Rachel would come pick us up to head out on our adventure.
Now we are in Hammanskraal, South Africa, living in a house that is more of a vacation home. There are pluses and minuses to this arrangement. The positives are many. They far outweigh the negatives. The grounds here are beautiful thanks to Amos. There is a table outside under a thatched roof shelter surrounded by lots of plants and flowers that smell great. There are lots of birds hopping on the ground, flying tree to tree and making all their bird sounds. The only bird I know is the Hornbill, which is my least favorite bird because the last time we were here they would peck on the windows very early in the morning. So they are on my black list, and I have passed the animosity on to Tyson. All you First Rookers who went to Florida know the joys of sitting outside, drinking coffee and just relaxing until mid morning. It's kind of like that, only with kids and no ocean view.
Seriously, so many more positives, but I am going to move on to the negatives. There are no electrical appliances except for an iron, which I do not intend to use, a hot pot and a microwave-Thank God. No coffee pot, no mixer or blender or any other little handy kitchen item. Pots and pans are limited as are cooking utensils. No big deal really, but for someone who already has a hard time in the kitchen, these are big handicaps. Thankfully, Liz is a great cook and very industrious, so I am learning lots of tricks from her. Tonight I even made Gehaaktballen, Dutch meatballs, which, other than an odd texture, were great. There are also lots of bugs in the house. Really not a big deal, but when I remember that Jori is on a mattress on the floor, it is a little disconcerting. It is also very dark in most parts of the house. That is probably why it stays so cool during the day, but it makes reading and playing cards difficult.
In many ways, being here is quite similar to being home. Only I don't have a car, or a phone, or internet, or a washing machine. We are glad that there are many differences, because we want this experience to change us. We have an opportunity to get internet here at the house, but are not sure we want to because we know how addicting it is and what a time drain it would be. It is nice to not have so many things around. The kids have really been great about not having all their things. I haven't heard either of them say anything about toys from home.
Again, this is kind of a random blog. Writing this is just a huge outlet for me, especially with the lack of internet, so I hope you'll bear with me. And really, if you think it is boring and pointless, I don't really care. : )
It is strange to think where we were a week ago and where we are today. I wish you could all just come see for yourselves what it is like, because it is probably very different from what you imagine. We aren't out in a grass hut surrounded by people with painted faces. We are often the only white people at the grocery store, but it isn't such a big deal. Tyson and Jori are huge hits. They both get lots of smiles and people like to touch their heads. I am so thankful for how well they have adjusted to life here. Ok, time to play Hand and Foot, a Fey card game. More later.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Our Day

Life here in South Africa is vastly different than the life we had in Hudsonville. A big difference is that Darin is not working. It has been great having him around. Tyson and Jori love having their daddy around to play with them, take them on walks looking for animals, read them stories and a lot of other fun daddy stuff. I love having Darin around too, but like most men, he is easily bored when he does not have anything to do. He is out at a meeting today in Soweto, which I believe is by Johannesburg, but I do not really know. He and Jason went to the block yard yesterday to meet with Khensi, a young South African who was hired by Innotec here in SA.
Back to our day. This morning, the kids were up a little after 6. Yesterday it was a little later, but the sun is already coming up a little after 5 (which I know from the mouse incident) so it is very bright in their rooms even with the curtains drawn. We tried to send them upstairs to play today, but that didn't last long. Darin took them out around 7 and gave them breakfast. I actually got up shortly after they did and got ready. Then I headed outside to eat my cereal. It is beautiful here in the morning. I couldn't tell you what the temperature is, but it is very comfortable to be outside. It smells great from the flowers. After Liz got up, she made coffee (I haven't learned how to use the French Press yet, so I cannot make my own coffee) and I took a cup of that outside. By now it was around nine, and Jori went back down for a nap. Darin and I sat outside while Tyson followed his new past friend, Amos, around. Amos is the gardener. He has such patience with Tyson's many questions. I decided to head over to Tshepo Ya Bana, the children's home, to check if Mark had heard anymore about his daughter bringing a washing machine over. It may come this weekend, but until then, we will do our laundry across the road at the children's home. I was going to go on line for a bit, but someone else was using the computer. So I came home to get the laundry together, and then we made some lunch. We are still eating on American time around 11:30. Most people don't eat until 1 or after, and then have dinner around 7. Darin left around 12 :30 and we were going to head back across the street to do laundry, but the kids started having meltdowns so I put them down for naps instead. Jori didn't fall asleep again, but did play quietly so I could rest. Tyson is still sleeping. I will have to wake him soon or he will not want to sleep tonight. The past two nights our kids have been exhausted by 7 and have gone right to sleep.
I have no idea when Darin will be home and do not have a way to contact him unless I go across the street. Across the street is about a ¼ mile away and it is not so much a street, but a dirt road. Each time I walk outside our fence I say my leopard prayer, which is basically “Dear Jesus, protect me from the leopards and please don't let me see them coming if I am going to be attacked.” There really is no threat, although there are leopards in the area, but they are always on my mind. I have had a leopard dream every night since we arrived and in a twist of irony, there is a huge picture of a leopard in the room where we sleep. Nice.
Anyways, tonight we are going to Braai, which is grilling out. (Edit 9/11: We never did cook out because we have yet to find a butcher with the kabobs we are set on eating and most days we have tried getting to the butcher, they have already been closed.) By the time we eat, it will have started cooling off. It gets dark here by 6:30 for sure and once the sun is gone there is a chill in the air (for me, not Darin). The last two days it has been HOT, somewhere in the 90's, and the sun is just blistering hot. We kept the kids inside during the later afternoon hours when the sun is at its hottest. We have really been blessed, because the house we are staying in is exceptionally cool during the day. I guess it the construction of the house and the tile floors, but when we just get up and at night I have my slippers and sweatshirt on.
That's pretty much a typical day. We usually get up, sit out for a while, head across the road, come back home, eat here or go out, put the kids down, play cards or read, and then go to bed. It has been great having Jason and Elizabeth here. The kids really like them. I mean REALLY like them. Tyson always wants to go tell them things and show them things and he really responds well to any correction they give (better than he responds to us for sure). Amos is here from 6 in the morning til 4:30, so Tyson has plenty of time to follow after him. Jori has been dragging her “Baby DiAnns” (there are two) everywhere and showing them bugs and birds and lizards. Last night we went to Tamboti lodge next door for dinner and the kids went on a 4 wheeler ride with Derrick, the owner, and saw a Nyala. You'll have to look it up to see what it is. We have also seen a warthog and some kind of bok, which are like deer (Gemsbok, Bushbok, Springbok....) right around here. They are bringing animals in here to start a Big Five game reserve. It is called Dinokeng (you should be able to find it online). There are no dangerous animals here yet, except for the leopards that were already in the area. This weekend we are going to Pilanesburg game reserve, which we'll write about later.
Ok, this is just long and rambling. I just wanted to give you a picture of what we do and what it has been like being here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Today we went to Temba Baptist, which is a church we first visited when we came here in 2002. We were a little worried about how the kids would be because the service is quite long. They both did great during the singing. After taking time to look around and get used to seeing all African people, except for our little group and one other couple, they both were up clapping and Jori was dancing. We brought a few little toys to keep them occupied, but Jori quickly got bored. I ended up taking her outside and gave her the sandwich we brought along. She shared some of it with a new little friend she made. He did not speak English so I could not get his name. She just kept saying “come friend, come” and then off they'd go. The rest of the service, for Jori, was spent picking up “little apples” (a seed of some kind) and sitting in dirt. Needless to say, she was filthy by the time we left for home and her dress will never be the same. She had a great time and the next time we are at Temba Baptist, her mom will smile and watch her little girl with a dirt streaked face make new friends and smile big smiles.
Tyson actually sat with Darin the whole time. Darin said he was quite restless and tipped a chair over at one point, but did ok. After church he was busy making friends as well. We happened to be at church for their cultural celebration. Many of the people at church were dressed in their tribal colors. There was a meal served after church. We were put in a special room with nice dishes and special food while everyone else ate outside. Our kids didn't eat and Jori was crying most of the time. Darin and I took the kids and headed to the butcher to get some meat while Jason and Liz stayed to watch some cultural dancing. It was a long, but nice morning.
Amos, the gardener, goes to the Full Gospel Church. He would like us to visit there and meet his family, so sometime we will get to experience that as well. I am sure they will also have a lively worship service.

Bump in the Night

Darin this time. One thing that I noticed Saturday afternoon while changing clothes in our bedroom was a slight scratching noise coming from somewhere in the little hall between our bedroom and bathroom. I investigated for a while and determined the sound was coming from behind the baseboard below the closet in the hall. I tapped on the board and the sound would stop, but would start again after a while. Maybe a little lizard?? I debated whether to tell Jonna or not as I didn't want to freak her out, but I also didn't want her to hear the noise during the night and wake up screaming for me to save her. A little background info is necessary here. At the children's home across the road, they have had lizards 2 feet long that have lived in the thatched roof ceilings of some of their cottages. While they do keep the rats away, I still don't want to wake up to one staring down at me.
I ended up telling her before bed that night. After laying down, the sound started again. I spent 15 minutes trying to calm her nerves(and mine) by telling her whatever was back there couldn't get out into our room cause there weren't any spaces big enough to squeeze through. I tried sticking a few things in a tiny crack to scare away whatever was there, but to no avail. I even tried squirting contact solution under the crack thinking that might do something(remember this was late at night). We finally gave in and fell asleep, waking occasionally through the night, sometimes to silence, sometimes to the wonderful scratching music.
Fast forward to last night. We hadn't heard anything all day or evening, so we thought maybe our friend had found another home. Around 5:20 am this morning, we both woke to the sound again, this time it seemed louder and it was coming from our pile of suitcases laying 4 feet from our bed. We laid there listening to it as we tried to wake up and get our eyes to work. We turned on the lamps by our bed and couldn't see anything until one of the suitcases started to violently shake and it actually moved halfway across the room as a loud screeching sound filled our room.
I really just made that last sentence up so all of you could feel some of our terror. We couldn't tell where the scratching was coming from so I got up and slowly started picking things up off the floor. So here is a mental picture for you: I'm standing in my boxers with tennis shoes on(in case I have to stomp on something), holding a fly swatter as a weapon to ward off any attack. I moved everything except one last suitcase in which Jonna remembered having some packages of macaroni and cheese in. As I was trying to decide how to move in, Jonna said she saw a little lizard stick its head out from under the suitcase. This brought a wave of relief as there are lots of little lizards around that are an inch or two long and we are used to them. I took a step closer and out pops a mouse. I guess Jonna's eyes weren't quite adjusted yet. We chased the mouse into a corner behind a little dresser. To summarize the next 15 minutes, we tried to figure out how to get the mouse out alive without letting it get out of the room and without it attacking us. In the end, sad to say, the mouse completely disappeared from under the dresser, even though we were watching it the whole time and there were no holes in the floor or surrounding walls. Needless to say, we will be finding some mouse traps today and we hope that our friend was scared enough to stay away from us for good.

Reality Sets In

After a night of our kids falling instantly asleep (after midnight) and staying asleep until almost noon, we were a bit surprised at their ability to stay up until after one last night, closer to two for Jori, and Tyson was still up before 8! Jori did sleep until closer to 10 after a night of tossing and turning on a mattress on our bedroom floor. The whole business of sleeping together was great until one of the kids woke up around 11:30 and then for the next two hours they managed to keep each other awake. Needless to say, it was not a most enjoyable evening for mom and dad.
Today neither Tyson or Jori took a nap. They had fun playing and watching Darin and Jason fix the car. We had another late night, going out to dinner at 7 and just getting home a little before 10. Tyson is sound asleep and Jori is almost there. Hopefully they both stay asleep tonight and sleep in a bit tomorrow. I figure they have to catch up on sleep at some point.
We had a relaxing day. I unpacked all of our things and put them away in closets and drawers. We went grocery shopping and actually have stuff to make a few meals. Lia, who just left SA a few weeks ago, left lots of food stuff too. Tomorrow we are going to make the famous pancakes. We'll see how they turn out. Our stove is very slow to heat up and even when it is on high the temperature is still lacking.
We had a great dinner tonight at Baobob, which is our favorite restaurant out here. I am already looking forward to eating my left over steak sometime tomorrow. So far the only meals we have made at home have been macaroni and macaroni.
Time to sign off. The battery is running low and we can't find an adapter to plug in the power cord. More later.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

We're Here!!

I am sitting in our “Africa House” right now writing this on Darin's laptop. We do not have internet access here, so we will have to upload this when we get to an internet cafe, hopefully sooner than later. Hopefully it works. We had a great trip out here, other than the flights taking what seemed like forever. The kids did great. Really and truly. One big “oops” on our part (mostly my part) is that we took the wrong batteries for Tyson's Leapster so he couldn't use it the whole time we traveled. We were so crunched for time on our transfers that we couldn't stop at any shops to buy the right voltage. In Detroit we were literally running for our plane while they called “Fey, party of four” several times overhead. Amsterdam was a tight connection too, but we weren't being summoned by loud speaker, so we were able to walk at a fast pace and not run. We are so thankful that we traveled with another Innotec couple, Jason and Elizabeth Cook, who helped us schlep our stuff through the airports and have been great with the kids.
Last night we stayed in little cottages at a Nazarene conference grounds. The keys were not available when we arrived and after standing around for over an hour, we finally got in to our room and put the kids to bed. We all slept until 11:30 after getting to bed after midnight. We were picked up from the airport from some very kind people, Bill, Theresa and David. We are actually using Bill and Theresa's vehicle while we are here. They are heading to the States on Sunday. The car is made to seat 5, but this morning when we headed for Hammanskraal (where we are living) we fit 6 people and all of our luggage, which included 5 large suitcases, 2 giant backpacks, two strollers, two car seats, and various pieces of carry on baggage. To say we were squished is an understatement, but we made it. On the way to Hammanskraal, our car started making funny noises. We believe we lost our air conditioning, the power steering started acting up and now the battery light has been on. Once we stopped, we saw that a belt had broken, which would explain seeing something that we thought was part of the tire fly out from under the car while we were driving. Hopefully we are getting all the mishaps out of the way these first couple days and it will be smooth sailing from here on out.
Tyson and Jori are having a great time. Jori keeps saying “We in Africa now?” and she loves to say “hi” to all the bugs and even the spikes on the trees. Tyson has already made several friends over at Tshepo Ya Bana (the children's home). Thankfully we are right across the road and will be able to spend a lot of time visiting over there. Tyson's stomach issues seem to be righting themselves. In other words, the kid is pooping! We are so thankful he is ok. Right now they are both sleeping together in one room. I think it took an hour for them to settle down, but we'll see how it goes tomorrow. We are hoping they both sleep in again tomorrow so that we can all get some much needed rest.
Darin does much better with all the travel and jet lag. I am heading to bed myself and it is not quite 10 pm. We are looking forward to getting out tomorrow and getting some more groceries other than the milk and butter we picked up to make mac and cheese. Thanks for all the prayers. They have been making a huge difference so far.