Friday, October 31, 2008

Cape Town 10/31

Before I tell you what we've been up to, Darin wants to make sure I wish you all a happy Reformation Day. That being said, we are in Cape Town. We are in the most beautiful “cottage”, which is what the lady we are renting from calls it. It is more of a condo, 500 meters from the beach, with a view of both Table Mountain and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. We won't be making it over to Robben Island, as today was booked and from tomorrow through November 16 they aren't taking people over there for some reason, so it is nice that we can at least see it. We did go to Table Mountain today, which I will tell you more about in a bit.

We left the Gariep Dam by 7:45 am. My parents were up before 5 and managed to catch the sunrise, which is beautiful even on video. They took the kids out to a playground after breakfast, Darin and I finished packing, and then we headed out. It was another long day of driving. It did not start well. Tyson was crying and saying he had an “owie tummy” and looked all pasty white. He was in the far back, so we switched him and Jori and then my mom held him on her lap and he held on to a plastic bag, just in case. He ended up falling asleep for almost an hour. It was funny, though, because if my mom would try to tip his head back to lean against her, he would pull forward so his face was almost in the plastic bag. Poor kid. He never did throw up, and seemed to perk up after sleeping a bit. We only made two long stops, and a couple roadside potty breaks for Tyson. For like 4 or 5 hours, there was NOTHING to look at, except for some sheep and cows. Seriously, it was barren.

We made it to the “Dune View Cottage” around 5:30. We would have been here sooner, but as soon as we got close to Cape Town, we hit traffic. Such is life in the big city. As I said before, the place we are staying is so nice. It has cement floors, which turn our feet black, but are awesome because there are no worries about the kids spilling anything or tracking in any sand or dirt. Darin and I ended up in the master bedroom. We did offer it to my parents, but having Jori sleep with them was part of the deal as her crib wouldn't fit in the other bedroom. We both have a view of Table Mountain, so it all worked out. Tyson is on his own in the 3rd bedroom. While we do have a beautiful place to stay and a great view, we also have lots of traffic right outside our door. It was so loud all night. Between the traffic and the wind coming off the ocean, I'm surprised I slept as much as I did.

Right after we unpacked the van, we headed across the road to grab some dinner. We went to Spur, as it is family friendly and has a play area for the kids. Tyson and Jori were both pretty restless and a little out of control, so it was a fast dinner and then back to our place to put the kids to bed. Once they were sleeping, we played a quick hand of Canadian Salad, then my parents went to bed and Darin headed back to an internet cafe that was right by Spur. I was going to stay up, but was so tired that I went to bed without him.

This morning we were all up pretty early. Once again Papa and Grandma came through for us this morning by taking the kids across the road to the beach. While they were gone, we found out that our video camera is no longer working. It could be from sitting in the blazing sun the whole drive down to Cape Town, especially since it says right on the camera “Do not leave in high heat, such as in a vehicle”. Bummer. My parents and the kids came back, and we all piled in the van and headed to Table Mountain. Once again we encountered quite a bit of traffic. Thankfully we had Doris with us, so we weren't just driving around aimlessly. For those who don't know, Doris is a GPS system that Leenstra's left behind for us to use. She's awesome. She even knows when there is a roundabout coming and tells you which exit to take to get out so you don't keep driving in a circle. Anyways, we made it to Table Mountain and thought we were in for a long wait because there were already so many cars parked along the road. However, when we were leaving, we realized that we were some of the early birds, as the line of cars now snaked down the mountain about 3 times longer than it was when we arrived.

So, Table Mountain, what can I say. We got to ride up on a huge cable car with a spinning floor. It was pretty sweet. You just stand there, the floor moves and you get to see a different view without doing anything. Table Mountain is about 3400 feet up, so the view from the cable car was amazing. Then we got off and I realized that being on Table Mountain was not going to be so much fun for me. Do you remember what I wrote about being at the Hartbeespoort Dam?? Well, my fear of heights kicked in big time. Don't worry, I wasn't hyperventilating or anything like that, but I was not enjoying myself. Having the kids up there was freaking me out. There were some lookout points where they could have slipped right through the barrier that was supposed to be holding us all back from the edge. When the other adults had the kids, and I wasn't looking at where they were standing, I was ok. It really was breathtaking up there. Then I would remember that my little babies, who tend to not listen, like to run away from adults, and had both already tried to climb on a “barrier” to see what was below, were up on a huge mountain and my stomach would drop and I would start breathing faster and my heart would race.

We left Table Mountain around noon. Then we took my parents to catch the boat to Robben Island, found out there were no spots left on the boat, drove around down town for a bit, then dropped my parents off by a church they wanted to see. It is now after 5, and Papa and Grandma have not returned. They are either taking a bus or taxi back to save Darin from driving through all the traffic. Darin is just starting to peel potatoes, Jori is watching cartoons, and Tyson is in time out. Life goes on as usual, even on vacation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Til We Meet Again 10/29

Yesterday we said our good-byes. As you can imagine, it was not much fun. We headed over to TYB around 9, so we could catch the little ones before their naps. It was nice to play with them again, but also so hard knowing that we may not see some of these children again. I was doing ok until I said good-bye to Lobisa, the little 3 year old girl. She said “Auntie, you will come back tomorrow” and then I could feel my eyes filling with tears. How do you explain to a 3 year old that you are going away and will not be coming back to push her on the swing, or help her pretend to fly like a butterfly? There are so many volunteers coming and going, so the kids are familiar with saying good-bye, but still, they are so young and have already had so much loss in their lives. Once I started crying a little, I could hardly hold it back. We hugged all the kids, said good-bye to the Mama's, Papa's, Uncles and Aunties. I hugged the Harding's, said good-bye, then made my way to the van before I started bawling. Stompie followed us out and stood by the gate with his thumb in his mouth and his other hand on his ear, the classic Stompie pose.

Everyone else finished their good-byes and then we headed home to make lunch. Tyson and Jori were both so tired that they both fell asleep after we ate. My mom and dad both took naps, Darin was doing something on the computer, and I was able to have a nice talk with Mama Rebecca. She was asking about what it is like in Michigan and if we see elephants there. I told her that all we see are squirrels and birds, which she thought was strange. We also talked about our mutual fear of snakes for a while. I am so glad that we were able to sit and talk for a while without the kids running around and interrupting. I think that's the first real conversation we were able to have.

Around 1:45 we headed to town for one last visit to the internet cafe. While Darin and my mom were on-line, my dad was talking to the owner of the internet cafe about all sorts of spiritual things and I was sitting outside with 2 little girls singing songs. They were so cute. Cindy was 4 and Vicky was 2. Cindy counted to ten for me, and of course her little sister had to try to do the same. Then Cindy sang me a song in Setswana until it was time for us to go.

After leaving the internet cafe, we headed to Kentucky Fried Chicken to meet Julia, Bethuel's wife, who was going to follow us to Mama Catherine's. When we drove up to MC's, we could see that there were several vehicles on the yard, some pulling trailers. The tent was packed full of people, and we could see several white people, which was very odd. It turns out that a group from a church in California had been out in SA doing some mission work, and somehow they found out about MC's. They were doing some sort of program, handing out sandwiches to the kids, and also bringing medical supplies to MC and some toys for the kids. There were so many people milling around. It was kind of chaotic, but it worked. Mama Catherine was so glad that we could finally make it in the afternoon to see all the school kids in their uniforms. The kids all looked so nice. I am so very thankful that Julia was able to go with us. She speaks Setswana, so she and MC were able to communicate so easily and she could also talk to the children. I gave her the tour of the grounds and when we were finished she said “There is much to be done here”. That just made me feel SO wonderful inside, just knowing that someone else had been out to MC's, had seen what she was doing and the areas where help is needed. Before we left, Julia made plans to go out to MC's again. I know that God is at work. So many things have come together in a way that only He could have made possible.

It was so hard saying good-bye to all the children we have met at MC's. Musa, who is about 10 years old, told MC he wanted us to stay. I found little Tshepo in the crowd of people so I could carry him around for a bit. Four little girls were crowding around me, hugging my legs. It was just overwhelming to me to look around at all the faces of people we have come to know in such a short time and not know when we would be seeing them again. MC kept saying “You cannot go. You must stay here”. It was just hard to say good-bye and get in the van and leave. We kept heading towards the van, but then we'd think of one more person we wanted to say good-bye to, like Grace. Then the church group handed out soccer balls, and a huge game of shirts vs. skins started up. It really was so neat to see so many kids laughing and running around and having such a great time. I only hope that there will be more times like that for all those children in the future.

We did finally leave. We said good-bye to MC and her husband one last time, said good-bye to Julia, got in our van and drove away. Only God knows when we will see any of them again. I am hoping it is sooner rather than later.

I am so thankful to everyone who has offered help to MC. She kept saying that a weight has been taken off of her shoulders, and that she is just so grateful for all the things that we were able to do for her. I know that many people are also praying for MC and the work she is doing. Keep praying. There is still much work to be done.

We finally made it back to our house at 4, which was a bit later than we had planned on. Tyson and Jori were having a lot of fun with Mama Rebecca. They had been busy helping Amos too. It was time for more good-byes. We have gotten so used to seeing Amos almost every day and having Mama Rebecca come to our house. Tyson and Jori had colored pictures for them and it was so sweet seeing them give their pictures and say good-bye. It just made me sad. They are so young, and they just don't get it that we aren't going to be seeing Amos or Mama Rebecca again. We were able to spend almost an hour with them, and then Mark came, picked them up and they were gone.

After spending some time packing some stuff up and eating French Toast for dinner, we headed to Tamboti for one last round of dessert. In some ways, it was a mistake to go. The kids were so tired and it wasn't very pleasant having them along. It was nice to say good-bye to Derrick and Pixie and Sam and have one more bowlful of Cape Malva pudding. On our drive home, Jori said “We see Amos and Mama Becca”, which made me sad again. We got home around 7:30, gave the kids baths, and put them to bed. Once they were asleep, we played Canadian Salad with my parents. Then Darin and I finished packing up and finally went to bed around 11.

This morning the kids were up around 5:30. Darin let me sleep for another 45 minutes, but then it was time to get moving. I just felt so heavy all morning. It was so sad to think we were leaving our Africa House and we wouldn't be coming back. And yes, I did cry. This has been our home for 2 months. Two WONDERFUL months. We really have been so blessed by this experience. It is overwhelming to think of going back home and losing the closeness that we've experienced here. It's always stressful trying to get packed up, but it was especially hard this morning because I was so emotional. We did eventually get everything packed in the van. Amos arrived earlier than usual, so we were able to say good-bye to him again, which was nice.

After a very long morning, which included picking up our original car in Montana, bringing it back to it's owners in Johannesburg, and heading to Sasolburg to drop off our extra luggage, we finally got on the road towards Cape Town. We encountered a lot of road construction on the way, which added a good hour to our trip. We finally made it to Forever Resort Gariep Dam at 6:30, made some mac and cheese, and put the kids to bed. Now it is just after 10. We just finished playing two rounds of Canadian Salad and now we are heading to bed. Our next stop is 3 nights in Cape Town. It will be nice to be in one place for a little while. Til later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back to Pilanesburg 10/27

It's Monday night. The kids are in bed, Darin and my dad are getting ready to head over to TYB to go on-line and talk to Mark about some stuff for MC, my mom is resting on the couch, and I'm writing this post. We got back from the Pilanesburg area around 4:30. We had a wonderful time and saw so many awesome things.

We left our house around 7:30 Sunday morning. Our first stop was the Hartbeespoort Dam, which everyone except yours truly enjoyed. I am not a huge fan of heights or water, so being way up high looking down on water is not my idea of a good time. Having my kids way up high looking at water is enough to make me sick. Seriously, my stomach hurts just thinking about it. We all made it safely back to our vehicle and headed off to our next stop, but before I get to that, I want to report that we are so happy to NOT have the POS van that we took to Pilanesburg with Jason, Liz and Robin. We lucked out and got an SUV for not very much more money thanks to the workings of one of the volunteers across from TYB. We can actually fit a couple suitcases behind the back seat, so we are super excited for that. I'll call it a van anyways, because that's what I'm used to) Getting back to our trip, after the dam, we went to the Elephant Sanctuary. I was totally stoked to go walking with the elephants, but it was not to be. We found out that the elephant walking was part of a two hour program that included feeding, brushing, walking and other elephant activities. We did not have two hours to spare, so we did not get to walk the elephants. Maybe next time : )

We kept heading towards Pilanesburg and I think we entered the gates around 10. It was a beautiful day and we were ready to see some animals. There is no way I will be able to remember all of the things we saw or in what order, so I'm just going to put it all out there. We saw so many rhino. They were everywhere. We also saw a lot of elephants, but not up close like we did back in September. There were impala, wildebeest, warthog, waterbok, red hartebeest, and lots of zebra. We saw a little fox-like creature twice, almost hit several guinea hens, and saw a few groups of giraffe eating leaves that were way up high. We stopped and ate lunch in the park and let the kids stretch their legs for a while. We saw warthog, more guinea hens, and even a rhino while we were having lunch.

Soon after we left the lunch area, we saw a few cars stopped on a rode straight across from us. So we turned around and headed over to see what they were looking at. When we got there, we could see the driver of one van pointing something out to a driver a few cars ahead of us, then he spoke to the next car and the next. Finally, it was our turn. What was so interesting that this guy was staying put to pass it on to so many other people? Do you want to know? Really? Ok, I'll tell you. Right at the base of the hill, under a curved tree branch, there were some lions eating a zebra. I KNOW!! Of course, I couldn't see a thing at first. It turns out I was looking under the wrong curved tree branch. Even when I knew where to look, it was still hard to see. Then one lion stood up, looked over our direction with blood all around her mouth, walked a little ways away, and then plopped down in the tall grass. Another lion soon took her place. You could see the zebra's leg flopping back and forth as the lion tore at the meat. Darin even took a video and you can see the zebra being eaten! It's pretty amazing. Our kids had no clue what was going on, and they really couldn't see much of anything. Tyson did ask if the zebra needed a bandaid, so Darin filled him in on the whole circle of life, or whatever you want to call it. Sad for the zebra, but pretty awesome for us to see.

After seeing the lions, we could relax our eyes for a while. Up until that point, we had all been straining so we wouldn't miss any lions that might have been hiding out. We saw more rhino and elephants and hippos, and a whole lot of other game. Our kids were getting pretty restless, so we started making our way to our game lodge, Bakgatla, which was actually in the game reserve. We got there around 4:45 and as soon as we brought our bags in to our chalet, we put on our swim suits and headed to the pool. Tyson and Jori had so much fun. I don't know how many times Tyson had asked “Now can we go swimming”, while we were driving. I think he even asked when we were watching the lion eat the zebra, so he was obviously excited about going swimming. The water was not very warm, but that didn't stop them from having a great time. There was a kiddie pool, and it was shallow enough for Jori to sit in, and if she kept her head tipped back a little bit, she even kept her mouth out of the water. She thought it was hilarious, and we all did too. Just a little head poking out of the water.

We let the kids swim for about an hour, then went back to our chalet to get ready for dinner, which started being served at 6:30. This is usually when our kids go to bed, and neither of them had taken a nap, so they were pretty wound up. Thankfully, the dining room was really empty, and there were a few other kids who were also running around, so they didn't create too much chaos. Dinner took a long time to be served, and when it did come, our order wasn't quite right, but we ate, had drinks and dessert, and then headed back to put the kids to bed. Once they were sleeping, the adults started playing Up and Down the River, a card game. Our intention is to play every night and keep a running total of points. We haven't decided on what the winner will get, but I'm sure we'll come up with something.

After a very good nights sleep, we woke up this morning and headed straight into the game reserve when the gates opened at 6. The animals tend to be most active early in the morning and at dusk, so we wanted to maximize our opportunities for spotting game. We saw warthog and impala right away. We saw a few rhino too. We were trying to decide what road to turn down, when two game drive vehicles came past us. We decided to follow them to where ever they were going, because the drivers often radio each other if they see something exciting. We turned on a dirt road and could see cars and game trucks all lined up on the side of the road. We made our way over and were told by one of the guides that there were at least 5 lions in the area. We had to wait for some of the traffic to clear up, and then we saw them. Two lions, a male and a female, were laying under some trees. The area must have burned recently, because there were only bare branches and hardly any tall grass. That made it so much easier to see the lions. One of them stood up, but only for a moment. We backed our van up a bit and we could see where a few more lions were laying under a bush. You could see them move around a bit, but otherwise they looked like rocks from our vantage point. After taking some pictures, we drove ahead a little bit where a few other vehicles were stopped. Right in plain sight was a huge male, just lounging in the burnt field. His back was to us the whole time, but you could see him perfectly. We took more pictures, waited in vain for him to get up, then finally drove off.

We decided to head back to Bakgatla to have some breakfast and get ready to go. We all ate together, then my mom and dad took the kids to the pool (Tyson had put his suit on before we headed out at 6!) so Darin and I could go back to the chalet, get ready, and pack up the van so we could be ready for the 10 a.m check out. We got everything finished, turned in our key, then went to watch the kids swim for a bit. They were laughing and splashing and having a great time. We let them swim for a little bit more, but then they had to get out so we could go see more animals and also because the sun was shining pretty brightly and they didn't have sunscreen on (bad mom, I know. Jori had major tan lines just from being out for less than an hour this morning!). We headed out around 10:30, and started making our way to the gate we had come in through the day before. We knew our kids wouldn't be able to last for too long in the van, and we had already seen so many wonderful things. We did see some rhino right next to the road. There was a mom and baby on our left side and two other rhino on our right. We also saw some kind of bok that was only a few days old. It was so small and cute. It was chasing a guinea hen around, which its mother did not approve of. We saw more hippo just before we left around noon. Jori had fallen asleep, so we decide to give Tyson some fruit snacks to keep him happy, and drive on to Chameleon Village for lunch.

We made it to Chameleon Village around 1. The kids were both awake and crabby. Thankfully, they could run around outside while we waited for our food. After eating, it was time to shop. I had a list of things I wanted to get, but kept getting side tracked by the vendors telling me that I must come see their shop next. I wish I had taken a picture of the place. It's like a giant indoor flea market, with all little booths. So many of the people are working together, so if you are looking at something in one shop, but don't like the color or the size, they just run over to their partners shop and bring you what you are looking for. I let Darin do all the haggling once I had picked out what I wanted. Papa and Grandma bought the kids each a little something, which they were just thrilled with. At lunch, Tyson had whispered to both Darin and me that he wanted a crocodile, which was an odd request because he has never talked about crocodiles and we didn't see any at Pilanesburg this time, but whatever. So Tyson is the proud owner of a wooden crocodile, and Jori has a new dolly, with a baby on its back. We were at Chameleon Village for a couple hours, then we packed up and started for home. Tyson fell asleep, Jori played with her new doll, and after a quick stop to pick up some milk, we made it back home in time to see Amos before he was picked up by Mark.

Now it is just after 8. The guys are still gone, my mom is in her room reading. I can't believe how much I've written. I also can't believe that tomorrow is our last day here at our Africa house! I started packing a bunch of stuff tonight because I know that there are so many things I'll want to do tomorrow. We are hoping to leave pretty early on Wednesday morning so we can get to our first B&B early enough to look around a little bit and enjoy some of the fun things they have on site. We're staying at another Forever Resorts (like at Bela-Bela), so there should be plenty to do. I'm sure Darin will find plenty of internet cafes to stop at on our Cape Town trip, so you'll be hearing from me!

Monday, October 27, 2008


So my last couple posts have been a little depressing. I don't want to give anyone the impression that we aren't still having a wonderful time here in SA, but it is hard to say good-bye. There are a lot of things that we won't be seeing again, for now. The Kolonnade mall, more specifically the Mugg and Bean where we spent a lot of time on-line, Temba Baptist Church, or any of the churches we've visited,
McDonalds's of Montana, where our kids made lots of friends and expended a lot of energy, the block yard. The list goes on and on. We've started saying good-bye to people as well. Tonight we went to TYB to say so long to Fetsie, who will be going back to school on Monday for the week. We are leaving tomorrow for Pilanesburg and won't get back until quite late in the day on Monday. That means we will have a lot of good-byes to make on Tuesday. TYB in the morning to play with the kids, one last trip out to Mama Catherine's in the afternoon, and we're planning on one more trip to Tamboti to say good-bye to Derrick and Pixie (and I need to have one more helping of Cape Malva Pudding!).

While we are starting to feel a bit sad about leaving, we aren't just sitting around and moping. We have been out to MC's a lot. I actually should call it by it's actual name, Tshwaraganang, which means Come Together. We went on Thursday morning, with one of the volunteers from TYB, to work on the shower and also look into other areas where we could be of assistance. Darin and my parents have been back there two other times to help out with some projects. There has been such a huge outpouring of support for Mama Catherine and the work that she is doing. My parents came with financial gifts from several friends, family, and church members. We were able to do so much with these generous donations. One concern that has been so heavy on MC's heart was that she did not have sufficient funds to buy uniforms for all of the children in her care. On several occasions she spoke of how she hurt because the children without uniforms could not go to school. Now those children will be able to go to school. MC was SO proud to show off the shoes, dresses, shirts, sweaters, pants and socks that she had purchased, all the right color and style that each school required. There were enough funds given for uniforms that MC is able to set some aside for the children who are too young to attend school this year, and also for those who will be going on to highschool next year. In addition to the uniforms, we were able to purchase a clothes washer, a refrigerator, a gas tank for cooking, new window glass to replace several windows that were broken, and two grocery cart loads of groceries. We also have given MC money to purchase a water tower (a huge need as they were without running water two of the days we were there), kitchen items, such as knives, cups, and kettles, and a few months worth of electricity and some gas for her truck. We are leaving some money with Mark Harding, who will be finding an electrician to bring power to ALL of the buildings on the property.

We are also excited that there are others who have expressed an interest in helping MC, both with ongoing financial needs and also with hands on interaction. On Tuesday afternoon, Bethuel's (from the block yard) wife, Julia, will be going with us to MC's. When we went to dinner with them on Tuesday night, we found out she is in the process of getting her social work degree. When she heard about what MC is doing, she was very excited because she has an interest in finding out what needs are in the community and what is being done to meet those needs. Both she and Bethuel were also excited because their church has been looking for an organization to get involved with in a more physical way. It would be great if MC could have more resources channeled her way, and I know that she will also make others aware of the greater needs in the entire community, not just at Tshwaraganang. Darin and Bethuel also talked about the possibility of using the Innotec blocks to build some more permanent structures at MC's.

We have also been going to to TYB to visit with the Hardings and play with the kids. Yesterday, Chris picked up a 4 month old baby, Lerato. She is the baby sister of Nozepho and Sibusiso, however, neither of them know she is their sister. She was thrown in the garbage by her mother when she was born, which was the reason the other two children were taken out of her care. For the last four months, Lerato has been in the hospital. I was able to hold her for a few minutes today and she is just the most precious little thing ever. Makes me miss having a baby! As soon as Jori saw me holding her, she came rushing over to say “My Mommy!”. She got over her sour mood very quickly when she saw I was holding a baby, and not one of the bigger kids. Then she wanted to hold the baby too.

Since my parents have been here, they have been taking the kids on lots of walks (don't worry, the rhino's haven't been spotted in this area, yet). They've gone over to Tamboti to collect porcupine quills and they've been out hunting for hornbills too. Tyson loves to go out with Grandma Willie and look for “bad guys”. I think they pretend to be police officers and the bad guys are breaking traffic rules. Today Grandma Karen was one of the “bad guys” who got pulled over for hitting a rhino and yesterday Grandpa Rick was driving too slow. They were both given a “ticket” by Tyson, one of the many leaves he collects along the way. I am not sure if he decided to throw you guys in jail or let you go! Today, he only gave me and Darin tickets, but Papa had to go to jail.

So, I just wanted to let everyone know we really are doing well. Sad about leaving, but still enjoying life in SA. Tomorrow morning we are heading out to Pilanesburg bright and early. We are hoping to see lots of animals and Tyson can't wait to go swimming. On Monday, we'll go for a game drive early in the morning and then stop by Chameleon Village for some shopping and I am really hoping we can stop at the elephant sanctuary to walk the elephants! Sorry for the lack of pictures lately. We'll try to get some up before we head to Cape Town, but you never know.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

It's all about Perspective 10/22

Before I start writing about Perspective, I want to say a big WELCOME to Papa John and Grandma Willie! They arrived in SA last night a little after 9. Darin and I both went to get them, as we had been out to dinner with Bethuel and his wife, Julia, earlier in the evening. It was so wonderful to see some familiar faces and finally be able to TALK and talk and talk. Tyson and Jori were so excited to see Papa and Grandma this morning.

Anyways, this afternoon I went to Mama Catherine's to see her after school program and to go along with her on some home visits. I arrived a little before 2. There were about 50-60 kids there already, and more coming down the road. MC took me to the kitchen to show me the meal that these kids would be getting, rice and some kind of curry mixture to put on top. There are not near enough bowls, plates or utensils to go around, so the kids were bunched around the “dishwasher”-a tub of soapy water and a tub of rinse water-to clean up a bowl and spoon that another child had just finished using, a cycle that was repeated over and over.

We didn't stay at MC's for long. We headed out on foot to make some home visits. I am not going to give you a blow by blow, because I honestly can't even process all that I saw today. We first stopped at a “child-headed household”. A child-headed household is exactly what the name implies. It's a home where the parents have died and there is not a granny or grandpa or any other family member to watch over the kids. Many of these kids have been on their own for over 5 years already. None of the homes we stopped by has ever received any money from the government, even though they are supposed to be receiving a grant of 600 Rand per child per month, which at today's exchange rate would be just under $60 US per child. The first house we were at had three sisters between the ages of 17-26 and 11 children from the ages of 3 months on up living in the home. I use the term “home” very loosely, because these were tin shacks, one that was actually falling apart. They were using a big garbage bin to hold the tin door shut from the inside, or it would have just been standing, or rather falling, open otherwise.

After stopping to talk to a few more people, we went back to MC's to get her “bakkie”, or truck. It is actually her husbands vehicle, a very old, very small Nissan that has definitely seen better days. I don't think that my door was ever shut all the ways, and MC's swung open at least once while we were driving. MC told me that she usually walks to make all of her home visits, but we didn't have much time, and we had quite a bit of ground to cover. There wasn't anyone home at our first stop, but MC just walked right in. A couple minutes later, Thandy, a 17 year old girl, came home. She said that she lived with her 21 year old brother, who is in his last year of high school, and her 9 year old sister. There is also an older sister, but she has gone to Jo-burg to try and find work. There is no income for this family. They had no electricity and the only food I saw was a head of cabbage and a half eaten bowl of mealy pap that had flies crawling on it. I am sure that this would be a meal for one of the kids later on. Both parents died of HIV/AIDS some years ago. They have tried to get the government grant that they are owed, but have been told they are too young to collect it. When their older sister comes home, she is told that she doesn't have the right papers to collect the grant. Each time they get the papers together, the definition of “correct” seems to change.

We got back in the bakkie and drove to another township. We stopped and talked to Joanna, a 15 year old girl who I think had an older brother and a 12 year old sister. Like the other families we stopped to see, they also lived in a one room tin shack. Have you ever been in a tin shack?? It was around 90 degrees today, but it had to be at least 20 degrees hotter in the houses we visited. All but one of the homes we stopped to visit today were one room shacks with holes in the roofs. I think 2 of the 5 had electricity, but am not even sure of that. After MC talked with Joanna a bit, we followed another girl and 2 little boys to another home. When we walked up, there was an older woman and 7 or 8 kids from about 3 years old to highschool age sitting or standing outside of the house. One little boy was coming out of what looked like a pile of tin with a couple blankets draped over it. This, I found out, was the bathroom. MC talked with the granny and the kids for quite some time. They had not had any food that day and most likely would not have any until the next day. It turns out that there are 21 children living with this granny in a one room tin shack, with one double bed and one thin mattress. The bed took up just under half of the whole “house”. There are 21 children sleeping there. 21 hungry children. MC has tried to get the neighbors to help them, but no one in the area has money to spare. The main source of food for this “family” is rotten fruits and vegetables from the shops in town. No one delivers this rotten food to them, they have to walk to get it, in the heat, often barefoot. None of the kids that were there when I went with MC were in school because they didn't have a uniform. I don't know about the kids that weren't around.

It is 9:30 pm right now. I am sitting in a HUGE house, with a ceiling fan going overhead, lights on, a tight roof. My kids are each in a room bigger than most of the houses I saw today, in a warm bed with a belly full of pizza. I don't know if any of the people I met today are sleeping. It is raining outside. To me, rain on a tin roof would be unpleasant. Rain on a tin roof that has gaps and holes big enough to see through is just wrong.

Perspective. You see a place like TYB and you think to yourself “how do they do it?” Sure, they have food to eat, a roof over their heads, and a bed for each child, but there aren't very many extras and there are 6 children sleeping in one room and 5 in the other. That's not what I would call great. Then you go to Mama Catherine's and you think “this is where I should be giving my time, not TYB”. They have over 25 kids in two little buildings, they often go without electricity, or maybe have to skip a meal or eat a much smaller portion because there just isn't enough. There are kids that can only go to school 2 days a week because it takes too much gas to get them back and forth on the other days. Then you go out into the townships and you see children who have no one to look after them except for an older sibling. Many of them depend on Mama Catherine for any food they get or money for electricity. Then you see a place where there are 21 children living in a space smaller than your bedroom.

I honestly can't even really think about it all. I wish I had my camera along, but the pictures wouldn't even show the reality.

Blah 10/20

That sums up how I feel right now. We leave Hammanskraal in just over a week, and I am really starting to feel so down about it. My parents arrive tomorrow night, and while that makes me excited to see them, it also makes me even more sad because their arrival means our time in Africa is three weeks away from being over. So many mixed emotions. I should be packing up the things that we aren't going to use in Cape Town so that I will have more time to spend with my mom and dad, but I just can't bring myself to start packing. It just really makes me sad.

We have had such a wonderful time here. We have made so many new friends, some from this area, others who are visiting or volunteering from other countries. Our kids have formed relationships with the TYB kids, and also with lots of special grown-ups like Amos, Mama Rebecca, Derrick and Pixie, Mark and Chris, and so many others. They won't be able to grasp that when we leave here next Wednesday, we won't be able to see their friends anymore.

We have also seen so many needs here, at TYB, Mama Catherine's and in the community as well. There are things that we have been able to do to help, but other things that we wish we could do, and would be able to do if we had more time here.

We are heading back to Michigan, where we will be greeted by gloomy, overcast skies and leafless trees. Out here, we enjoy sunny days and now rainy nights that will soon make this whole area green up. We love to be surprised by different animals that appear each day. Impala, kudu, wildebeest, giraffe and so much more. When we get home, we'll be lucky if the neighbors dog stops by for a visit.

I am looking forward to seeing all of our friends and talking to our families by phone. So don't think I don't love you or miss you people. I really do. I just don't miss much of the other stuff. I am sure that once we are home, I will gladly settle back into watching TV, and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms or any of the other things we've been missing out on while we've been here, but I also know I could survive without them. I am really excited to be back at our church, although we were so blessed this past Sunday when we attended Eastside Community Church, where the Leenstra's went when they lived in SA.

Anyways, I'm just sad. So if you don't see a lot of emails or blog postings coming from me, that's the reason why. Or I suppose I could have been attacked by a rhino or some other creature, but that's not likely to be the case.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring 10/17

Last night(Friday night), Darin and I headed into Pretoria for a night on the town. We left the kids with Kirsten at 5 and off we went. About 10 minutes into our drive, we could see that we were heading into something other than the sunny and dry weather we've grown used to. The sky was very dark, there was a lot of lightning and it was getting windy. Of course, we kept driving towards the bad weather. We were, after all, headed to Baobob, so we couldn't turn back. We did have some rain while we were driving, but by the time we made it to the restaurant, it was pouring. Thankfully there was a parking garage, so we didn't have to go out in the rain. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, and yes, Sarah Weeda, I ate a garlic cheese roll for you! We hung out at the mall for a while after we ate. We went to an internet cafe, where I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with my good friends Amy and Pauline. We even did a little shopping, which is fun to do when you are out with no kids. Around 9 we decided to head home. We are becoming such early birds out here in Africa, most likely because at least one of our kids is up between 5:30 and 6 every morning.

It was still pouring when we went out to the car, and the lightning was still flashing. As we got closer to our exit, we were excited to see that the rain had made it to Hammanskraal! It often stays south of this area because of how the land lies and some other reasons too, but I am not a meteorologist, so I don't really know why. When we pulled off the main road, we could see that some large branches had blown off the trees. We also noticed that the guard who now sits at the entrance to our road (because of more game being released, I believe) was sitting in his little wood shack in total darkness, which we thought was very strange, until we realized the power was out. We drove up to our gate and could see that Kirsten had lit some lanterns. When we got to the house, she said the power had only been out about 20 minutes, but Tyson had insisted she get the lanterns ready when the storm first started a couple hours earlier. She had no problem getting Jori to bed, but Tyson did not like the thunder and lightning and tried to convince Kirsten that he should sleep on the sofa. She didn't let him, but it did take her two hours to convince him to stay in bed. That's my boy!
Anyways, when we got up this morning, we still didn't have any power. Our water was running very slowly because without power the pumps don't work. We all kind of sat around, and I eventually went back to bed, because getting up a little after 5 in the morning does not really work for me. Around 10, the power finally came back on. At least it came back on in half of our house. All of our bedrooms are still without power, and the water pumps are still not working. Darin and Mark Harding are outside right now trying to figure out what's going on. I don't mind the lack of electricity, although our kids do miss their sound machine. I am not so keen on the whole water issue. Thankfully the tanks were full to begin with, so we are getting water, just not very quickly. Just another day in Africa.

Four wheeling 10/16

This afternoon, we went over to Tamboti to go on a quad ride with Derrick. We were supposed to go yesterday, but the only automatic bike he had was broken, and seeing as I have still not learned to drive a stick shift car there was no way I was getting on a manual bike. Derrick stopped over this morning to let us know the automatic bike was fixed, so we headed over there around 4:30 to go on a ride.

Tyson and Jori were both SO excited. They love to just sit on the quads whenever we are at Tamboti, so to actually go on a ride was like a huge thrill for them. After I drove around on my bike a little to get the feel of it, we headed off. Derrick went first with Tyson sitting in front of him, then came Darin and Jori and because I was riding the quad that smoked the most, I got to go last in line. Away we went! Over the sandy soil, under the thorn bushes and around the rocks and termite hills.

After riding along for a few minutes, we made our first stop at the “warthog hotel”. This was an area where warthogs had dug several tunnels all close together. Derrick believes these tunnels are all connected in the middle, but one would not know for sure unless you crawled through the tunnels to check it out. An interesting fact is that, during the day these holes are used by porcupines as a place to sleep, and at night when the porcupines head out to find food, the warthogs move in. In this same area, there was another giant hole that is home to a 16 foot long python. I am glad it was not home when we were there. While we were walking around this area, the kids both picked up some porcupine quills. Somewhere along the way, Tyson lost his quills, but Jori held them tightly in her chubby little hand the whole ride. She said they were from a zebra, which kind of makes sense because the quills are black and white.

The most interesting story about this area is that this is where a leopard attack happened a couple of years ago, right before Darin and I stayed at Tamboti. Derrick had driven past there one day and found a porcupine with a broken neck with its stomach split wide open with all the meat eaten. There were leopard prints all around and they traced the tracks for a couple miles before losing them. I found this out during our stay when we were sleeping in a tent on stilts about ½ mile from the kill site. This is where the irrational fear of leopards had its birth.

It was now time to continue our ride, so we all started up our bikes and took off. I did have to stop at one point, because one of my flip flops fell off. Thankfully Darin looked back and noticed I had fallen behind. I caught up in time to see Derrick pointing out some blesbok next to the four-wheeler trail. He didn't stop driving, so after a quick glance at the bok, I kept going. A little bit later we saw a herd of impala. Neither the blesbok or impala ran off when we came barreling down the road, as they are quite used to the intrusion.

We rode on for a couple minutes and then Darin stopped in front of me. He whistled at Derrick, who was ahead of him, to turn back around. Standing right off to our left were 4 giraffe! To quote Derrick, they were simply “stunning”. We all turned off our bikes and just watched the giraffe eating leaves off the tops of the trees. They didn't seem too bothered by our presence, so we were able to just sit and take pictures and listen to Derrick tell us all sorts of information about these beautiful creatures. I could have sat there for as long as the giraffe stayed in the area, but we did have to keep driving.

So we continued on. Did I mention that I have never drove a quad bike before, or if I have, I don't remember the experience? I kept telling myself “it's just like driving a jetski” only if you fall of on a jetski, you hit water and had I fallen off the quad I would have landed on hard rocks and thorns. I am just not comfortable driving something other than my minivan, so this was a big stretch for me. It didn't help that my quad, which had just been fixed the night before, was having some issues. Before we left, Derrick told me the left hand brake didn't really work because someone had crashed the bike into a tree. Well, what he didn't know was that the right hand brake was also not in good working order. We'd be driving along and the quads ahead of me would slow down and I would squeeze my brakes expecting to slow down as well, but no. That was not to be. One time, I just shut the bike off because I didn't want to crash into Darin. The accelerator was also having a little problem. Darin told me that if I just took my finger off the accelerator, the bike would start slowing down on its own. Well, I would be driving along, see the guys ahead of me make a sharp turn, and realize that my brakes were not going to be much help. So I would try to decelerate far enough before the turn so that my bike wouldn't tip or anything. My finger would go off the accelerator, and my bike would just continue on at the same speed. Huh? One reason my flip flop fell off early in our ride, was that I put my foot down to slow myself before a turn. Ok, so I know that wasn't really going to do anything, but I had to try something. Needless to say, it was an interesting ride.

That's enough about me and my tale of woe. We kept on riding and ended up back by the giraffe, only now there were 6 of them! We were even closer to them now, and they still didn't get too skittish with us there. It really was an amazing sight to see these animals up close. Tyson, however, was more interested in riding on the quad than seeing giraffe and was soon asking to turn the bikes back on so he could ride some more.

We got back to Tamboti without any mishaps. One of the volunteers from TYB was there when we got back, and when she heard we had just seen giraffe, she was all ready to go on a ride of her own. So our family packed up and the quads went on without us. We got home and started making french toast for dinner. While we were all in the kitchen, Tyson said “hey, I see something out there on our road”. Sure enough, there was a mother kudu and her baby right outside our gate. Darin went out to get a picture (because no one seems to know what a kudu is), but they ran off before he was even halfway to the gate. For those of you who still do not know what a kudu is, you can go to and search for “kudu pics” and your curiosity will be satisfied.

Friday, October 17, 2008

You can't do it all 10/16

That's what Darin said to me this morning at Mama Catherine's. I had just spent 15 minutes walking around the property with MC while she showed me all the needs that they have. She does not talk about any “wants”, everything is a need. MC showed me the broken windows in the buildings where the kids sleep each night. She showed me the empty box of laundry soap, a box that she had just purchased that morning. We went into the boys sleeping quarters, the one building on the property that has electricity. However, there had not been electricity for a couple days because there wasn't any money to pay for it (you pay for the electricity in advance, and when the amount you purchased runs out, you have no power until you can pay for more). MC told me that the older kids were trying to do their schoolwork outside, using whatever light was given off from the lights of the township to read.

We went in the kitchen, which gets its power through an extension cord that brings electricity from the boys building. As there was no electricity when we were there, all the cooking was being done over an open fire. At 11 am, when we were starting to think about eating lunch, the kids in the creche were just getting their bowl of porridge for breakfast. There is no refrigerator in the kitchen, although several of the children are on medication that needs to be kept cold. They don't even have an electric kettle to boil water, something that costs around $10 and seems to be a common fixture for most people.

There were some older girls doing laundry by hand. I asked if they were volunteers, but MC said they were teenagers who should have been in school, but their school is too far away and she does not have enough money for gas to bring them to school every day. She had already taken them two days of the week. There were also three boys who looked to be about 12 who weren't in school for the same reason. I don't really understand the whole school system here, but I think that the kids can't transfer to a closer school because they are either missing paperwork, or they aren't “legally” in MC's care, so she can't just move them to different schools. While we were in the creche, she had 5 kids stand up who were between 6-9 years old. These were kids who could not go to school because they don't have a uniform. Different schools must have different requirements, because some of the other kids who don't have uniforms are still able to go to school. They just stand out as being different.

After talking to MC, I went over to where Darin was building the shower. I told him all the things she had just shown me and then asked if he had his wallet with him. That's when he said “you can't do it all”, which I know is true, but still, you have to do something, right? Darin did have his wallet, so I gave MC some rand to buy more electricity. She said thank you, and then immediately sent one of the boys to walk to the place where they buy the electricity, which was over a mile away.

We have recently found out that several people are interested in helping Mama Catherine, which is just awesome. We know of people from Washington, California, Wisconsin, Michigan and more that are going to help financially. We have also talked to Pixie, at Tamboti, about MC and she is hoping to get her church involved in some way. I wish we were going to be here longer (and that I could drive around by myself) so that I could try and do more. You may not be able to do it all, but in this situation, even doing a little makes a big difference.

1497 10/15

What's the significance of the number 1497, you ask. Well let me tell you. Darin and I slaved away on our giant puzzle night after night. It was difficult work, putting together the “Big Five” and the surrounding landscape. I mean, the leopard was pretty easy because of the spots and all, but the rhono, elephant and cape buffalo are all pretty similar in color. It took us a lot of patient work to put our masterpiece together. However, in the end, we couldn't even complete our work. Somewhere, there are three pieces of our brand new, 1500 piece puzzle just waiting to be put in place.

THIS JUST IN: Our number of puzzle pieces put in place has just increased by one. Tyson and Darin found a piece this morning, laying outside of the “pump” room. How did it get there you ask? Our best guess is that the night we ran out of water, some puzzle pieces must have been stuck on Darin's shorts, and made their way outside when Darin was working by the water pumps. So there still is hope that we will find the other two pieces!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bela Bela 10/14

It is Tuesday afternoon, almost 4 pm. We just got back from our night away in Bela Bela a little before 3. We had a great time. We stayed at a place called Forever Resorts Warmbaths. It was a large resort in the city of Bela Bela, which was called Warmbaths just a few years ago. Confusing, I know. Anyways, we got to Bela Bela around 3 yesterday afternoon. Tyson and Jori kept asking “when are we going to be at Bela Bela?” and we'd say “this is Bela Bela”. They did not like that answer. I believe they thought Bela Bela was a person. Tyson did catch on eventually, but the whole time we were gone, Jori would say stuff like “this Bela Bela's soap” or “we at Bela Bela's house”. So we check in and go to our chalet, which was way nicer than I expected. We were in a “self-catering” chalet, which meant we had a little kitchenette to cook meals. We didn't bring any food along, so our first stop was to the local Pick 'N' Pay to get a few things. We also hit up the local Shoe City, because somehow in getting the kids out the door of our home in Hammanskraal, we forgot to take a pair of shoes along for Jori. So we hooked her up with some super cute “crocs” for under $3!! She was very excited about her new shoes.

After getting groceries and shoes, we went back to our chalet to put everything away. Then we headed to Spur, a South African restaurant, which was located in the resort. The had a kids play area inside, which made waiting for our food so much easier. I decided to try the fish and chips. I was expecting American style fish and chips, which was not what I actually got. The fries were normal, but the fish was a piece of fish with some skin and bones still in it, that was breaded and fried. It was not my favorite, but I ate it anyway. This may have been a mistake as ever since I ate that meal I have been having terrible, I mean TERRIBLE pain in my chest area. It started right after I finished eating. I thought my whole meal was going to end up back on my plate, if you know what I mean. I didn't have an upset stomach, but it was more like indigestion or heartburn, I am guessing as I have never really experienced those either. So, if anyone with a medical background is reading this and thinks that what I am experiencing is NOT NORMAL, please comment on this blog so I can seek medical attention. No, seriously I am sure it is fine, but every time I eat, the pain comes back and it is just pressure in my chest. Maybe I have fish bones caught somewhere in my digestive tract. Who knows.

So back to our trip. We brought our swim suits along with us to Spur because we had read that some of the swimming pools were open 24 hours a day. Luckily those pools were right outside of Spur. So Darin and the kids got ready to swim, while I was trying to convince myself that I was not going to need of a trip to the hospital. Now the thing about Warmbaths/Bela Bela, is that just like the name says, the water is like a warm bath. There are natural hot springs in the area, and this resort has totally capitalized on that. Several of the pools are filled with this naturally warm water. They had a pretty big “kiddie” pool that Darin took the kids in while I sat and watched. They had SO MUCH FUN. It was like having a giant bathtub to play in, complete with a slide and a hot water fountain shooting up from it. The water was shallow enough that both kids could stand in it the whole way around. Jori did go under a few times, usually because she was jumping and slipped, so Darin had to stay right next to her. Thankfully Tyson was content to stay close by so I could keep an eye on him from where I was. Eventually, I decided to join them. It really was nice. We were the only people out in any of the pools. It was dark by now, but there were spotlights shining on us. So we all swam and splashed and slid for about an hour. Then it was time to get the kiddos home to bed.

We ended up splitting the kids up and then we each slept with one of them. They were pretty tired out so they fell right asleep. Darin and I ended up watching some Robin Williams movie that we had never heard of and after watching it, we knew why. We went to bed only to both be woken up much closer to 5 than we would have wanted. Darin said Tyson was up right after 5, and Jori was up around 5:30. We both stayed in our rooms longer than that, neither of us wanting to disturb the other one. Needless to say, we got an early start to the swimming pools today. Darin took both kids to the pool by himself so I could go to the spa and set up a time to get a massage. Yes, Darin encouraged me to treat myself and I was not about to turn him down. I made my appointment, then went to watch them all swim for a little while. At 9 am I had the BEST massage ever. It was called a Lomi Lomi Massage, which is some Hawaiian method where they use their hands and their arms to massage you. It was awesome. I wish I could go back right now. An hour later, I went back to get the rest of my fam. Then we all headed back to our chalet to eat some food and finish packing before our 11 am checkout. It was quite nice, because even after checking out, we could stay in the resort and use the pools.

After eating some snacks, we decided to check out some of the pools that we hadn't yet been to. This turned out to be a great decision as the first pool we went to not only had cool water, but it also had a water slide that both kids could go down on their own (Darin had taken both kids on a few of the other slides, but they were not the most kid friendly). It was over 90 degrees out, so the cool water felt great. Tyson was tall enough to go down the slide by himself AND he didn't need to be caught at the end! He was so proud of this, and it was great watching him do this “big kid” thing all by himself. Jori also went down the slide by herself, but needed to be caught at the end. She loved the fact that she could go up the stairs and get on the slide all by herself. We were probably in that pool close to 45 minutes. Then we checked out the wave pool, which was also filled with cool water. This proved too be a little too much for our kids who were both shivering now. So we headed back to the kiddie pool to warm up. It was getting after noon now and both kids were showing signs of getting tired, so we decided to get dressed and go. On the way out of town, we stopped at Wimpy, another South African restaurant that I compared to an Arnie's or Russ' in Michigan, simply because there were so many old people in there.

Finally, we headed home. Now Tyson and Jori are watching Oswald and Darin is getting ready to head into town to go on line and stop at the Post Office to get a package!! Can't wait to see what it is. He found out from Mark at TYB that 5 pm is the best time to go to the Post Office, so hopefully he will be able to get right in. Then, around 6:30, I will be going to pick up the girls from across the road to go out to dinner at Tamboti. Hopefully, I will be able to eat something!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stare Down, Africa style 10/12

This morning, Darin headed off to church by himself. We told Amos at least one of us would go to hear his pastor preach today, and seeing as Tyson was awake before 6 this morning we were not feeling like it would be such a great idea to have our kids at church. So Darin left and the kids and I decided to head out for a walk. That's not totally true either. I decided we would all go for a walk, the kids didn't think this was such a great idea. Jori was asking to be carried about one minute into the walk, and Tyson thought it would be a better idea if Darin drove us somewhere instead.

Anyways, we start walking on one of the roads through the farm. It was quite hot, but the kids each had a bag of cereal to snack on and I did remember to bring water. They were pretty quiet, other than some complaining about how far we were going. We had just stopped so Jori, who was being quite pokey, could catch up to us when I saw something move ahead of us. I am horrible with distances, but I'd say less than half a football field in front of us some impala were running across the road. I told the kids to be very quiet in case there were more impala around. Right then, a male impala and toddler sized one, starting crossing the road. Then they both just stopped and stared at us. I mean, no movement. Tyson and Jori actually stayed pretty quiet. Jori was “talking” to the impala and even started walking closer to them. Still no movement. So I told them that if we were very quiet, we could walk closer and see if there were more impala behind the trees. The little impala took off as we got closer, and we could see the whole herd watching us. The male just kind of stayed put, to keep an eye on us I am guessing. I did make the kids walk behind me, because I wasn't sure if he would go after one of them if he felt like we were a threat. We just kept getting closer and closer. The whole herd took off through the tall grass. The male slowly followed them, but he kept an eye on us the whole time. It was awesome.

We kept walking, but didn't see any other game. We turned back to go home and about half way down the road, we came across that same herd. They were farther off the road than they had been before. They did poke their heads up to watch us, but they didn't run away at all. Usually I am not super excited about seeing impala because they are everywhere. They are WAY cooler when you see them while out on foot. This same herd has been outside our fence the past few mornings, but they usually take off pretty quickly if you try to get a closer look. So that was our morning adventure.

Later this afternoon, the four of us headed out on a walk. The kids were in no mood for this, so Darin ended up taking them home and I went on by myself. I decided to walk around the whole farm, hoping to see some game along the way. Darin had given me the ominous warning to watch out for snakes, so I was a little paranoid about running into a puff adder or black mamba, but thankfully that didn't happen. I had made it half way around the property and was headed back towards the house when I thought I saw something off to my right. So I slowed way down to take a look. Right off the road, like 100 feet away was a HUGE kudu. Again, I was pretty sure that the kudu would run away before it would ever attack me, but kudu are large animals and I am sure they could do some major damage without really trying too hard. I thought it was best to keep moving, so I slowly walked down the road, but kept looking to my side. The kudu was staring back at me every time. I walked past a tree and lost sight of him for a second, but then he was right on the other side of the tree. I thought that was kind of odd that he would move so quickly, and then I realized there were two kudu standing right next to each other! So now I had two sets of eyes staring at me. This was even better than the impala.

I made my way back home to where Darin had started making dinner. After was ate, we decided to take a drive to see if the kudu were still in the area. We got back to the area where I had seen them earlier, and they were gone. In their place, however, was a herd of wildebeest. Our car startled them and some headed across the road. We got to watch several of them pass right in front of us. There were also some off to our right that just kept on eating. After watching them for a few minutes, we drove on. I thought I saw one of the wildebeest that had crossed the road under some trees, so Darin stopped the car. Well, it turned out to be one of the kudu from earlier (my eyes are horrible at dusk!). While we were trying to get a better look at him, we saw the other kudu come out from the trees as well. They were not very close to us, but for someone like Darin who has perfect vision, they were close enough!

Maybe this week we'll run into some rhino!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

What's the haps? 10/10

We have had a great week here is South Africa. We've played with baby lions, met new friends, relaxed, and had our first rain fall. Yes, last night it rained one whole millimeter. It isn't enough rain to green things up around here, but it did settle the dust down, which is great. Today we also learned that a herd of rhino is supposed to be released in the Dinokeng Reserve next week. That means we will have to be a lot more cautious when walking outside of our fenced yard. Apparently rhinos will look around for an area they like and then settle in for the long haul. Wouldn't it be really cool and also really freaky if they picked a spot by our house? I think I'd rather know they were a safe distance away, close enough to drive over for a peek, but far enough away that I can still walk across the road without worrying about a rhino attacking.
We just got back from Tamboti. We ate French toast at home and then headed over to enjoy some dessert. As always, Darin had the Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding. I have been trying different things on the menu, but thanks to Liz and Jason, I discovered the wonders of Cape Malva Pudding. Yum. Something that makes the Cape Malva even more appealing to me is that the kids are not so very fond of it, so they end up eating most of Darin's dessert, leaving me to eat my fill. Darin just read that and hit me. He's over it now.
There are two words over here that people say that I just love. The first is “shame”, which you'd think means “what a pity”, but doesn't. For example, we ran into Pixie, Derricks wife, after having our dessert. We told her we had just given the kids baths and came for dessert and she said “shame”. Not sure why, but I like it. My other favorite is “clever”. Today, Mama Rebecca said Tyson was a clever boy because he got her the wipes, when she was going to just use toilet paper when changing Jori, a common practice here. It just sounds so sweet to call a child “clever”. Oh, there are a few more little phrases I like, such as “is it” which is like saying “really” and “just now”, which means “in a little bit” and “now now” or “right now”, which both mean what they say. So tuck all these words and phrases away in case you ever come to SA.
There is one place those phrases will totally not come in handy and that would be at Mama Catherine's. Darin and I went today and Mama Catherine was there when we arrived. I asked her how I could be most helpful, and she said to keep the little kids busy. Then she told the kids to go to their “classroom” and then left me there to teach them. The only problem was that not one child in the room spoke English. When you ask “what is your name” the most common reply is “I am fine”. For the first few minutes, I just stood in front of the chalkboard doing nothing but smiling a kind of forced smile. I mean, I had NO CLUE what these kids could even do, or what they knew. So then I had them all count to 10, and they did it with huge grins on their faces. So I decided to try the ABC's. Again, huge grins all around, but there were less participants and many letters were skipped over. So I thought, why not work on the letter 'A' and have them each write it on their paper. Again, the language barrier proved to be a problem as I couldn't find anything for them to write with and no one understood what I was asking for. So I was pantomiming “writing” on a piece of paper, which was met with blank stares. Then Grace, the teenage girl I wrote about before, walked in and saved the day. She found the crayons. So I had the kids write the 'A'. Most of them did that and way more. I had one kid write the numbers 1-5. I was starting to feel really out of place and then I was saved again, this time by a young man who said he was the teacher for the class. However, he wanted me to keep teaching them, saying they could probably learn more from me than him. Sorry, dude, but I have accomplished nothing in the 15 minutes I've been in here. So I gave him back his class and went to help Darin. I ended up really helping him today, amazing, I know. I stacked two whole rows of blocks on the shower. Correctly. We had to stop sooner than Darin had planned because we ran out of blocks. Must have been the unexpected boost in work effort that I provided. So next week we will go back again and hopefully get the shower finished.
We have no big plans for the weekend. We do need to head out to, where else, but Pick 'N' Pay to stock up on some essentials. I'm guessing we'll hit up McDonald's again too, but maybe we'll decide to go back to our first internet hang out, Mugg and Bean. We'll see.

C-A-T 10/8

We just wanted to let everyone know that Tyson learned how to write the word CAT today. He knew how to make the T, as in Tyson, and we started working on the A a few weeks ago. I am definitely NOT cut out to be a home school teacher, so the letter A was as far as we had gone in the alphabet. This morning, Tyson's very patient daddy taught him how to make a C and next thing you know, he can write C-A-T, CAT! Great work, Tyson!

He has also been spelling words for us, which I love. I asked him to spell God and he says “God. God. Guh Ah Duh. Guh, Guh “G”. Guh Ah, Ah, “O”. Guh Ah, Duh “D”. Guh Ah Duh. God!” It's all so systematic and just makes me smile. He also likes to pick out words from the books we are reading. Of course, Jori hates to be left out so she also has to point at something on the page.
Both kids are really into magic tricks right now. Mom and dad, but especially dad, have been having fun making things disappear and then reappear in a kids' ear. Neither of them has a clue, so it is really funny to see how big their eyes get. Jori now goes around the house saying “Afri-cadabra”. How cute is that?? I think Darin said it that way one time, and it has stuck.
Just wanted to give a kiddo update, especially for the Grandma's!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Inside House Pics

Some have asked for a few more pics of inside the house. Here you go!

Looking in from the front door, thru the kitchen, into the living room

Looking back to the front door from the living room

Looking up to the loft from the living room, our converted "puzzle room"
The kids enjoying a bath in the master bathroom
The area between the bedrooms and living room, also the access point for the lizard!

Rhino and Lion Park 10/7

This morning, we left the house at 8:30 and headed to Johannesburg to visit the Rhino and Lion Park. We had heard great things about this nature reserve from Scott and Lia Leenstra, so we had to check it out. We got to the reserve around 9:30. As soon as we entered the gate we saw all kinds of game. There were loads of ostriches, wildebeest, different types of bok, zebra and warthogs. We were also very excited to see Cape Buffalo. This is the first time that either Darin or I have seen the buffalo, and I've now been here three times, and he's been here at least twice as many times. There was a whole heard of them just lounging by the road. They are HUGE, way bigger than I thought they would be.

After a quick stop for a bathroom break, we decided to check out the baby animal area. This area was set up like Predator World, where you can walk past different animal enclosures. The animals here looked a lot healthier than the ones from Predator World. I even thought the cheetah looked pretty majestic, where as I previously thought they were kind of scrawny and mangy looking. (Is “where as” even proper grammar? As I was writing that sentence, I kind of felt like that Miss America contestant “...such as the Iraq...” Do you all know what I am talking about?) Anyways, we saw a big cheetah, some little toddler cheetahs, and a young leopard in one section. The leopard was beautiful. It came right up next to the fence and if you squatted down (or are 2 years old) it was eye to eye with you.

We were kind of getting in the way of a large group of people that was trying to make a video of the animals, so we decided to head to a different section of enclosures. So we headed to a gate only to be stopped by the most ugly bird I have ever seen. I am not kidding. Just take a look for yourself.

See, I told you. The thing kept poking its beak through the holes in the fence. Not only did we have to make sure we didn't get bit, but we had to keep the crane from leaving its area, so we couldn't swing the gate open wide and walk around it. Oh no, we were going to have to try and squeeze past it. Well, then two more cranes joined their friend. They looked like a bunch of old grizzled men, with balding heads and frizzy little tufts of hair. At one point, Tyson reached his hand out to point something out to Darin and one of the cranes bit him! Not terribly hard, but it grabbed his hand. Poor Tyson. I wasn't there to witness this abuse to my child because I had gone to ask one of the people working there how we were supposed to safely get past the cranes. The guy I found was totally not helpful. He said “You know they don't have teeth.” Ok, sir, teeth or no teeth, I do not want that thing to bite or peck or do anything to me or my children, who are well over a foot shorter than these toothless birds. At this point, I didn't even know that Tyson had already become a victim of the cranes long, pointy beak. While I was over talking to Mr. Sensitivity, a FEMALE worker noticed the rest of my family standing at the gate and came and shooed the cranes away. Hooray!

After the whole crane debacle, we were ready for something a little more warm and fuzzy. So we decided to venture into a cage of lions. Seriously, we were in a cage with real, live lions. Take a look.

These were three month old white lion cubs. They were so cute and soft. They loved chasing after the basketball. Unfortunately, Jori was once again the perfect sized prey. There were several times when she would crouch down and a lion would “stalk” her. The worker who was in the cage with us had to keep stepping in and pushing the cubs away. She also got nipped at a few times, but thankfully no teeth to skin contact was made. Jori was a little less sure of being with the lions after one jumped at her, but she was a trooper. She kept laughing and “talking” to them. There were also a few times when the cubs went after Tyson, but that was mostly because he would take the basketball and then not throw it to the cubs, so they'd start walking towards him trying to get the ball. It really was an awesome experience. I mean, how often do you get to play with baby lions??

After playing with the cubs, we walked around a few more enclosures. There were some huge tigers at this reserve (and no, tigers are not native to Africa) that were pretty scary looking. They are just so big. There was a reptile area right next to the creche, so we made a quick walk through there. Then we saw some crocodiles, monkeys, and meerkats. Then it was time to head back to the car.

We were now ready to drive through the “Lion and Predator Camp”. These are separately fenced in areas that house different kinds of predators. They are not only kept separate from each other, but also from any possible prey. We drove through the lion area first, and after searching all over for the lions, we finally found the whole pride laying in the grass next to the road. Not as exciting as seeing them walk through the tall grass and onto the road, but still pretty cool. There was a massive male, 3 smaller males, and 4 females. We took some pictures, then headed to see the wild dogs. Once again, we searched and searched only to find the whole group of them laying under a tree. The cheetahs were our last hope at some excitement. Maybe we'd see one race across the open field, or at least walk across the road. Nope. The only cheetah actually in the open area was laying under a tree. There were also some enclosures just outside the fence that each held one cheetah. I'm not saying it wasn't cool seeing all these animals, but the kids were more excited about the juice boxes Darin got them than they were in looking at the animals.

It was getting close to noon, and we had plans to meet some people Darin knew for lunch. So we left the predator area, intending to drive by the rhinos, took a wrong turn and ended up just leaving the park. It was a lot of fun and I would definitely go back. We missed a whole area across the road with hippos, hyenas and more, but we did need to get moving for our lunch date. We met up with Anton and Carolyn Hol at their house near Joburg. The Hol's are originally from Pella, IA. They are currently missionaries with the Church of the Nazarene in southern Africa. They travel all over, to Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, but they keep a residence in SA because it is the only country where they can get all the supplies they need. Darin first met Anton a few years ago because he was using a block making machine that Innotec was interested in learning more about.

We had a great time visiting with them. They are grandparents, so of course our kids loved them and they were so patient with our kids. They even had play tools, which totally thrilled Tyson. We had an all-American meal, hotdogs, hamburgers and baked beans. It was all so good and familiar. We even had chocolate chip cookies for dessert. The chocolate chips had come from the states, as they are not available in SA. I even had the opportunity to meet a young, American mom. Seriously, I almost wanted to just start crying because it has been so long since I have been able to talk to someone LIKE me, who is dealing with young kids, and who understood everything I was saying, even if it was “slang”. She had a five year old son that came over to play with Tyson after he got home from school. The Hol's were great too. It was fun talking with them about all sorts of topics. We even found out that Carolyn is related to the pastor who previously served at Bethel CRC in Lynden, WA, where my dad is currently the pastor.
The whole day was lots of fun. The kids did great considering they were stuck in a car for much of the day and didn't have naps. We drove through a lot of rush hour traffic, and finally made it home after 5:30. We reheated some pizza for dinner, washed the kids feet with wipes (we are out of water, AGAIN), and then put them in bed. Another wonderful day in SA is done.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mystery solved 10/6

A couple weeks ago, we came home to find thatch scattered about in the room between our living area and bedrooms. The back part of the house was added later, so part of the original structures roof is actually in the house. We assumed that it was some sort of animal, but we weren't sure what exactly. We mentioned it to James in case there was something specific he wanted done about the situation. He suggested putting cheese in the rat trap he had nailed on one of the beams in case it was a squirrel/chipmunk type creature. They often take up residence in thatch roofs. The other possible suspect was that it could be a lizard.

After lunch today, we went to put the kids down for naps. When we walked through the connector room we noticed quite a bit of thatch on the ground. Darin had both kids in Tyson's room and I was in Jori's room, putting her crib together for the 100th time. Then I heard Darin say in a very serious voice, “Jonna, come out here right now”. So I went back to Tyson's room and there, in the corner, was a huge Rock Monitor. Remember him??? This one wasn't quite as big as the other one we saw outside, but it was not small either. Darin ushered the kids out of the room while I went to get the camera. After sticking the kids in the living room, Darin went to get Amos from outside, to see if he had a good plan for catching lizards. So Amos comes in and proceeds to tell us that he is scared of lizards and always calls Mark when there is a lizard in the house. This time, Amos did not let his fear overpower him. He asked for a box, so Darin got the kids' “bulldozer”. Amos went out and got a broom and after a few attempts by the lizard to escape behind a chair and under the bed, he managed to prod it into the box.

The next step in the lizard removal process was to take our new friend away from the house before letting it go. Darin was originally just going to set it free outside the gate, but Amos said it would head right back to the house. So we decided to pack up the family for a little ride. I offered to drive, but Darin thought it would be better if I held the box. Wasn't that so thoughtful of him? So we drove a little ways down the road and then piled out of the car. Since Darin is a much faster picture taker than I am, I was in charge of setting the lizard free. I laid the box down on its side and nothing happened. Then a head poked out. I gave the box a little kick and the head went back inside. Then I tipped the box over, forcing the lizard out. Unlike on the slippery bedroom floor, the lizard had good traction on the rocky soil and took off. We did manage to take a few more pictures and the kids said their good-byes. Then he was gone.

We all piled back into the car and headed home for a second try at nap time. Apparently, having a lizard in the house was way too much excitement for the kids. It is now an hour and a half later, and they are still not sleeping. In fact, I just went to check on them and they are both in Tyson's room, reenacting the great lizard capture. At least they'll go to bed early tonight, right?

Caution: Student Driver 10/5

Today, on the way to church, Darin decided that I needed to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car. First, he drove us to church, where we actually made it through almost a whole service (okay, so Jori and I ended up outside again, but we did make it through one point of a three point message). After church, Darin started out driving, but 2 blocks into the drive, he pulled over and told me to drive. If only the people of Temba and Hammanskraal knew what was about to take place. They surely would have stayed off of the road. I actually drove us to the grocery store and after picking up some essentials, I drove us home. Safely. I even got up to the speed limit a couple times. I did not pass anyone, but the roads weren't actually that busy. There were never more than 4 cars lined up behind me at a time. Totally kidding. It was more like 8 cars. Actually, the only vehicle that was ever close to me was a truck that was totally speeding and flew right past our sometimes pokey Citroen. I'm definitely not ready to drive into Pretoria, but if Darin would get bit by a snake, I'm pretty sure I could get him to the local hospital.
In case both Darin and I would become incapacitated, we are in the process of training Tyson the rules of the road. He drove us to Tamboti this afternoon. Well, he was sitting on Darin's lap, and Darin was manning the gas and brakes, and holding on to the steering wheel for the most part, but there were a few terrifying, I mean exciting moments when Tyson was in charge of the steering wheel. He actually did pretty well. It must be all that training he's getting from playing Cars on his Leapster.

Caution: Student Driver 10/5

Today, on the way to church, Darin decided that I needed to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car. First, he drove us to church, where we actually made it through almost a whole service (okay, so Jori and I ended up outside again, but we did make it through one point of a three point message). After church, Darin started out driving, but 2 blocks into the drive, he pulled over and told me to drive. If only the people of Temba and Hammanskraal knew what was about to take place. They surely would have stayed off of the road. I actually drove us to the grocery store and after picking up some essentials, I drove us home. Safely. I even got up to the speed limit a couple times. I did not pass anyone, but the roads weren't actually that busy. There were never more than 4 cars lined up behind me at a time. Totally kidding. It was more like 8 cars. Actually, the only vehicle that was ever close to me was a truck that was totally speeding and flew right past our sometimes pokey Citroen. I'm definitely not ready to drive into Pretoria, but if Darin would get bit by a snake, I'm pretty sure I could get him to the local hospital.
In case both Darin and I would become incapacitated, we are in the process of training Tyson the rules of the road. He drove us to Tamboti this afternoon. Well, he was sitting on Darin's lap, and Darin was manning the gas and brakes, and holding on to the steering wheel for the most part, but there were a few terrifying, I mean exciting moments when Tyson was in charge of the steering wheel. He actually did pretty well. It must be all that training he's getting from playing Cars on his Leapster.

“I didn't know you could move so fast” 10/4

Those were the words spoken by my husband just moments ago. What was the reason for my swift feet? Apparently giant spiders don't travel alone. Once again we had an eight legged visitor in our bathroom. This time Darin was the lucky person to first spot the beast. It's after 10 here, so the kids are sleeping and we will be going to bed soon, so I had to go serve as an extra set of eyes as there was NO WAY we'd be going to bed if that thing managed to get away. I even kept guard by myself as Darin went in search of the camera. Sadly, it must be in the car, so we have no photographic evidence, but don't worry, you can just go back to the “All creatures great and small” post and imagine the same spider pictured, only a maybe a shade lighter in color.

Our can of Doom again proved to be quite handy. We are going to leave it in the bathroom from now on. Once again Mr. Spider climbed on the fly swatter and was transported thru the swirling vortex of horror. Now the two spiders have been reunited in the septic tank. Let's just hope spiders have a two per household limit, dead or alive.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

An Oops and a Welcome

So, I am apparently not very on top of birthdays. My dad's birthday is actually tomorrow, the 5th, not the 3rd as I mistakenly wrote before. So sorry dad, and Happy Birthday tomorrow to you! I also forgot to send our niece, Makenna, a birthday note because I thought her special day was in October, when it was actually in September. So an oops and a sorry to Papa John and Makenna.

We also want to say welcome to our new nephew, Zachary Justin Moss. Congratualtions to Daci and Justin and big sisters Brooklynn and Makenna. Make sure you give him lots of hugs and kisses from his cousins and auntie and uncle in Africa.

Lights Out! 10/3

Late this afternoon, I headed over to TYB to help out with the kids and go on line for a while. It had been overcast for much of the day and windy. While I was at TYB, the wind was really picking up. The kids were all laughing at all the stuff blowing around and Themba and Fetsi kept repeating “ It is going to rain soon. It is going to rain soon”. I thought I better get on line in case there was a storm coming. I had just opened my hotmail account when the lights went out. There was a whirring sound of things shutting down and something in the office kept beeping. So after a quick email to my parents, I shut down the computer, said good-bye and drove home.

So, it's about 4:30 when I get home. It is still light out, but there are only windows on one side of the house, so it was already pretty dark inside. James, who had been over at TYB, told me there was a gas burner in the closet that we could use to cook things, so we hauled that out and then quickly decided it would be too much work. We decided on sandwiches and pudding. Quick and easy. Thankfully, both water tanks had filled up during the day, so we did have some water, even though the pumps didn't have power to run.

After dinner, we decided to head outside. It was still really windy out. There was a lot of stuff on the yard from the trees-branches, flowers and leaves. The kids loved running around. We played Red Rover, Ring Around the Rosy, London Bridge is Falling Down, and more. Today was another no napping day, so at 6 we took the kids in, put their pjs on and put them to bed. They were both asleep in less than 10 minutes. It was really dark in the house now. We did have a big flashlight, and Darin had filled one lantern with oil (quite the process), so we did have some light. We decided to watch a movie, hoping that between the DVD player and computer we would have a couple hours of battery power. So, we spent the evening watching Legally Blonde 2 in a very dark house. We did have to stop the movie on more than one occasion because something would land on one of us. It was usually just a moth, or there wouldn't be anything there when we'd shine a light around. After the big spider we saw this morning, we weren't taking any chances.

We were almost to the end of our movie when all the lights came back on. After almost 4 hours of not having power, we were back in business. Darin was most excited that we could turn the ceiling fan on again. It was really muggy today and our house, which is usually cool, has really heated up. So ends another day in the bush.

Friday, October 3, 2008

All creatures great and small 10/3

First of all, Happy Birthday Papa John. If any of my siblings read this today, make sure you call and wish dad a happy birthday!

So, we have seen an abundance of wildlife all around us. We drive around and see impala and wildebeest, there are lizards climbing on trees-close enough for us to touch, and birds of all colors and sizes squawking and flying all around. We love to see all the wonders God has created.

However, we have been noticing a lot of creatures in our house lately that are not so thrilling to behold. There is a swarm of bees around the house. When you are outside, you can hear a steady buzz that reminds you of their presence. That buzz has also moved into our home. The bees seem to especially like our upstairs “puzzle room”. Darin, armed with his trusty fly swatter, usually kills a handful each time we go up. The ones that decide to cooperate get a chance to fly out the window to freedom, but many have met their doom at Darin's hand. We have also spotted a few frogs in our house. Now, frogs are harmless and Amos said that when frogs start coming inside that rain is sure to follow. So they are kind of little bearers of good news. However, at night when it is dark in the house, you can't always see the frogs that are lurking around. This makes walking in the dark quite hazardous. The thought of stepping on one of their squishy little bodies makes me throw up in my mouth a little, so I have started shuffling my feet when I have to walk in the dark. Bees and frogs, I can live with.

This morning, however, we had a guest that I hope does not have any relatives in the area. I was in the bathroom, taking my vitamins (just for you, mom), when I happened to see something in the reflection of the mirror. I turned around to get a better look and immediately walked out of the room, calling for Darin to come RIGHT NOW. What had I seen that sent me scurrying for the protection of my husband? Take a look at this.

Now, we have seen a lot of spiders around here, but none have been so big and hairy and just disturbing to see. Darin said he has never seen such a big spider here, and he's been to SA 6 times! Darin sprayed it with a bug killer called Doom. That caused him to fall to the ground and seemed to slow him down. After posing for a couple pictures, Mr. Spider latched on to the fly swatter, and was then dumped in the toilet. Darin wasn't able to flush him right away, because we ran out of water again this morning. Needless to say, I am in no hurry to use that toilet again anytime soon.