Mission Trip-Heart for Africa in Swaziland
October 23rd, 2008
We arrived in Swaziland at the Lugogo Sun hotel outside of Mbabane around 5:30 in the evening.We had been driving for about 5 hours from the beautiful Drakensberg mountains.The arrival in Swaziland didn't come without issues however.About 15 miles before we were to cross into Swaziland, Brent was pulled over by traffic control.He was driving 96 km/h in a 60km/h zone.It's bad enough getting pulled over in the states, but in Africa, you just didn't know the ramifications in this country for such an offense.The traffic control gentleman asked Brent to get out of the car.I was in the back seat with the kids telling them that everything was going to be fine (if you read our London blog, this might not carry much weight with the kids).However, the kids seemed not phased.I was the one shaking in my boots.Brent and the traffic guy were talking at the rear of the car and I thought for a moment that it was getting intense.Then I saw Brent laugh, and my fears were a little quelled.A little while later Brent got in the car and I was sure we were going to be cutting our trip short in order to pay the fine.I asked what happened and he said at first the guy said we had to go down to the station and pay the fine right away and that it was 1200 rand ($120 dollars).Brent told the guy we were running late to a mission trip and would he take 400 rand and call it a day.That was great, bribing a traffic guy so we wouldn't be late to do God's work.It definitely didn't sound quite right.On top of us getting out of there in one piece and with our shirts on our back, the traffic guy told us a better way to get into Swaziland than we had mapped out and escorted us to one point and then had another car lead us to the border.It was crazy.When we got to the border, Brent had filled out some paperwork at the border patrol.Shortly after the information went in the computer, we had another snag.The license plate number the attendant entered matched that of a stolen car.Maybe it was the karma from paying the traffic guy earlier.Well, we got that sorted out and there was a woman there that was going to Mbabane and she offered to have us follow her so we wouldn't get lost. It was a constant yin yang going on between our snags and silver linings.T.I.A., as they say here, "This is Africa".
We settled in that evening and met the mission trip folks the next morning at breakfast.
October 24th, 2008
We were part of a small group of eight volunteers and three Heart for Africa members (Sam and Emma were two of the eight volunteers).Usually their trip teams are larger when they come in the summer, more families and a better time for people in the states to take off.The other volunteers had been on at least one Heart for Africa trip and seemed very at home.Brent and I quickly fell into step with them.
First, Lori Marshall a mother of four from San Diego was our eternal sunshine.She was so upbeat and positive.She had recently experienced some personal loss shortly before this trip.Her oldest daughter lost her baby in the final weeks of her pregnancy.Lori decided that since she didn't have a grandbaby to hold, she would come on this trip to hold and help these kids in such great need.What a bold and brave thing to do.Emma really bonded with Lori as Lori gave her lots of attention and never overlooked her.Lori was our temporary "Gogo" for the kids and spoiled them with love and a few souvenirs to remember our trip.
Mike Higgins hailed from New Hampshire and we frequently gave him a hard time about his accent.We would ask him to say "Holly" and then "Harley" accusing him of pronouncing them the same.He was truly one of the sweetest most gentle people I have ever met.He and his two siblings own and run a restaurant and Inn back in New Hampshire called the "Old Salty and Lamies Inn".He even has his own label for his New England Clam chowder.Sam enjoyed playing tic tac toe on Mikes work pants, with a sharpie no less.Sam told him "my mom never lets me write on my clothes".He was Sam's hero after that.His wife and kids made handmade notes for him for each day he was gone.Each note was in its own envelope and was not to be opened before the designated day.How absolutely precious is that!
Then there was Ruth Noble, a youth minister from Toronto, Canada.Ruth didn't mess around and told it like it was.She led our morning devotions (we started having quick devotions in the van on the way to the orphanage so we didn't lose any work time).She really wanted the best for the kids and I wouldn't be surprised if she ended up in Swaziland one day full time.She also was very sweet to Emma and Sam and they will miss her.
Then, last but certainly not least, was Cory Way.He was also from San Diego, and led the worship times.Best described as a 21 year old, guitar playing, aggravator of children.He was sort of the big brother to Emma and Sam.Sam of course loved him, but Emma had kind of a love hate, much like I did growing up with my big brothers.For example, he got a hold of Emma's journal and in pen, wrote "..Then we met Cory… We love him, he's so strong and handsome".She was livid, steam coming out of every orifice of her body.I kept telling her that one day she would read that and just laugh so hard.She was not convinced.I thought it was hilarious of course.As usual, she got over it.
Then there was the Heart for Africa folks that made it all come together.
Jabulani Tsabedze - Swaziland Field Coordinator.He told us his life story and how he became a staff member for Heart for Africa.He turned his life around when he saw so many people around him dying of AIDS, specifically his best friend whom he shared similar life habits with.Jabulani was spared and in return turned his life over to Christ and now has a wonderful wife and children.He was my window painting hero while working on the new home for the kids.
Shirley Ward - Swaziland Country Coordinator.For those of you that know my friend Ann-Marie, she was the Swaziland version of Barbara Pecuch.She worked tirelessly organizing all parties involved in this mission trip.Found day laborers to help finish up the grouting, gathered a group of volunteers to help us finish some of the cleaning, brought daily supplies for our job needs, organized our sack lunches through the hotel, picked up and dropped off people to and from the airport, coordinated the move of 50+ children and the "aunties", collected the new items to go in the home, etc.I could go on.She never stopped and had a very no nonsense, yet deeply loving way of handling it all.She was amazing.
Ian Maxwell -Economic program developer.He and his wife Janine, head the Heart for Africa organization.He just went with the flow.He and Shirley were calling each other back and forth trying to organize the move with plans changing every minute.He just kept on smiling and had such a great sense of humor about it all.His wife was not there on this trip, but they are both obviously very devoted to this project and have a huge heart for these orphaned children.
The smaller group allowed us to get to know one another and was more relaxed.Almost all of the kids in the Emmanuel Kayelethu orphanage have been severely abused and about 50% of them have AIDS.Their previous home, which was a rented place they were quickly out growing, burned down.They were leasing a home temporarily. The lease ended on Wednesday, Oct 29th.This means the new home needed to be in a condition where they could move in within only 5 days.There were a lot of things to be done and there was no "Extreme Home Makeover" team that was coming.So, there was a lot of painting, cleaning, and tile grouting that we had to do.It felt good to do some manual labor knowing that we were helping some kids have a home.We quit working that first day about 4:30 and headed out to meet the kids at their temporary home.As soon as the van entered the property there were a dozen kids running after and alongside the van.They were so excited to have visitors.We piled out of the van and began meeting some of the kids.They were all beautiful children, with an uncontrolled excitement.Emma and Sam were a little overwhelmed.The orphan children were very curious about them. Emma's hair was a novelty to them and they quickly flocked to her.Emma wasn't sure what to think.Later Emma told me they were pinching her, which I'm sure they wanted to get her attention and didn't mean anything by it, but Emma was not convinced.We went to the baby room where two new babies had arrived a few days earlier.We all had to pick up and hold the babies.
We made it back to the hotel and cleaned up before dinner.We all met at the restaurant for dinner.It is strange to be in the middle of such poverty and then have a plentiful buffet dinner in front of us.It's not that we felt guilty; I think it's just that we don't look at things the same way. I think the best way to describe it is, we have been blessed and given so much, so now we are responsible for so much.You know the saying, "to whom much is given much is required".
October 25th, 2008
Day two of our workday and we were more determined than ever to get to work.It was a cold, rainy day, so that wasn't so great, but it didn't seem to bother Emma and Sam and we just tried to ignore it.Unfortunately, we weren't able to do much outside.One of the jobs was painting these red, metal windows that crisscrossed on the glass.There was so much metal to paint.We all started painting the windows, but then some took over other jobs like tiling and priming the interior doors.Somehow, I missed that opportunity and just stuck to painting the windows.I can only speak from my experience, as all of the volunteers were of course having their own come to Jesus experiences, but if I never have to paint metal again it will be too soon.The paint wasn't sticking, the brushes were losing their bristles faster than a balding, middle aged man, and there were more cracks and crevices than the Grand Canyon.God has such a sense of humor.Offering ourselves for work was not enough; he was going to give us a lesson in patience and steadfastness.We all had mixed feelings of wanting to give our best like we were preparing this house for a King, yet knowing that no matter how hard we tried, we just didn't have the tools for perfection.So, we wanted to have joy in our heart, but didn't want to do less of a good job just because we were doing this for kids who probably wouldn't notice how good a job we did.It was conflicting.Plus, in all fairness, we are spoiled Americans who are used to buying the right tools and materials for a particular job.
We left there, a little before dark (there is no electricity our there) and we all finished the day trying to grout as much tile as we could so it would dry by the next day.We were all wiped out by the end of the day and couldn't wait for a hot shower and good food.
October 26th, 2008
Halleluiah, praise the Lord, we got a day off and celebrated the Sabbath.We drove out to another Children's home called El Shaddai for Sunday church service.This was a phase 4 home, which is the last phase in the mission projects.There was such a difference between these kids and the ones we met at Emmanuel.You could just sense a calm confidence in them.They had structure, love and enough time to help some of their earlier, more painful memories fade a little.Emmanuel, a phase one home, first needs to get out of crisis and then those kids will start getting the structure and foundation they need. El Shaddai sat high on a mountain with absolutely gorgeous views everywhere you looked.Most of the land in Swaziland is considered National land, owned by the king.The king appoints chiefs in the various regions to appropriately portion out the land to the native people.When a person receives a piece of land there are specific rules to what you can do with the land and even though you may build a home and have generations of families living on this land, one never owns the land.The other type of land ownership is private ownership, much like we are used to in the States.El Shaddai is on National land.
The church sanctuary was a simple building with open windows and wooden benches.Some of the girls at this home stood up and sang a few songs ocopello.I sat there listening to these natural, beautifully harmonious voices and thought "this must be what heaven sounds like".
After church we toured the facilities and I walked into one of the dorm rooms.At first I thought I had walked into the girl's dorm room because it was so neat and tidy.Then after closer inspection, realized it was the boy's dorm.Colorful murals of kids playing soccer, beds made, books put away.So much pride and appreciation for their home.It was shaming, thinking of my own kids, having to be told umpteen times to clean their rooms, pick up their toys etc.
We then met at Charmain's home, the home's minister and director. She made a variety of pastries and had tea and coffee waiting for us.Her husband Kallie was away that weekend on a father/son camping trip.Emma and Sam played with her adopted daughter Naomi, while her adopted son, David took a little nap.We also met Margie, a lady from San Diego, that was a full time staff member there.
We left there and made a brief stop at a roadside market.Then headed for the Glass Factory, where handmade glass was blown and made into works of art.We spent some time there shopping at the various boutiques around the factory.
October 27th, 2008
We geared up for another work day at Emmanuel with renewed strength from our day off.It was overcast and we pretty much just got to work.I went straight to the windows with my fellow window painter Jabulani.Brent worked mainly on the interior doors. Not much to report that day.Some of us were sitting outside having refreshments by the pool when we got back to the Lugogo Sun.A couple heard us talking and came over to us.It turned out to be a couple from Michigan that had just flown in to discuss some Heart for Africa business.Ron and Jan VandenBrink would be there a few days before we left and then stay on a few days after we left.Ron is a physician and also on the board for Heart for Africa.We sat out and visited before we all went into dinner.We really enjoyed talking with them and getting to know them.
October 28th, 2008
We got to experience the African version of a Home Depot.We needed some supplies, so we all buzzed around Build It looking for various items.Jan came with us that day while Ron and Ian attended a meeting that morning.The store was quite a bit smaller than our spacious Home Depots, but no less busy.
We arrived at Emmanuel a little later and of course, got to work.Ian and Ron joined us at Emmanuel later and then most of the guys took off for the rental house to start disassembling the kids' bunk beds.Jabulani and the girls stayed behind to continue getting the new house ready for the move the next day.I think we all had to adjust our definitions of what "move in ready" meant.We just had to surrender our expectations and do the best we could.It just wasn't going to be perfect and that had to be Ok.
October 29th, 2008
MOVE IN DAY
We didn't know if we were coming or going.We all went different directions.Brent, Mike, the kids and I went to the new house to try and finish up some projects.Mike was going to work on a plumbing issue ( a pipe or something broke in the boy's bathroom and pretty much flooded the boys common room one day).He needed a gas torch to fix a pipe, but the torch wouldn't work.Then he decided to use the shop vac and tried turning on the generator, but it wasn't working either, needed a spark plug or something.So he was demoted to cleaning windows and toilets.TIA. There is no job too big or small for any of us.Jabulani came out later with four volunteers from another organization to help clean the windows.They were a God send.There were more windows on that house than a skyscraper (or at least it felt that way).Then after the windows were done, the volunteers and I started washing dishes and setting up the kitchen.Then, we had no water.What else could go wrong?Well the plumbers happened to be there and Mike started investigating the problem with the plumbers.Unfortunately, the solution was not a quick one.A new pump would have to be purchased and installed.This wouldn't happen until late the next night.
Ian, Ron, Jan, Ruth and Cory went to the rental house to help pack up the kids' and house mother's things for the big move.They came to the new house later that afternoon.
Shirley and Lori went shopping for some items needed for the house and from the sounds of it, did some other things that were not on their list.Flexibility is imperative for this job.
We finally came together at the end of the day and the kids pulled up in a bus around 4:00 and started piling out.It was exciting to be there when they arrived.They all went in different directions.There are about 50 kids in the orphanage. The most exciting moment however was not watching the kids but the house mom's when they saw the kitchen. As a house mom myself, to a much smaller family, I completely identified with the joy of walking into a well stocked kitchen.They opened the cabinets and looked around at the stoves and sink and began screaming and jumping around like they had just won an exotic vacation and a new car on The Price is Right.I couldn't help myself from crying along with them.It was absolutely spirit filled.
Some of the Heart for Africa folks immediately began assembling the bunk beds.I think I held a few babies and walked around in a daze.Actually I do remember setting up a few beds with Ian.After the kitchen scene, everything was a little blurry.We left putting in the last screw using a flashlight.
That evening for dinner we went to the Royal Swazi, a sister hotel to the Lugogo.It's a little fancier than the Lugogo and we got a different selection of food at the buffet.I think our whole family had the "make your own pasta", yum!We all slept well that night; in fact we slept well most nights.
October 30, 2008
Breakfast at 7, but I woke early again and went down to the restaurant at 6:30 and got on our computer.I enjoyed my little quiet time.Today is our last day at Emmanuel and we are planning to go out and do some last minute bed assembly and whatever else needs to be done.
We arrived and I think I just wanted to hang out with the toddlers for a little while.The "auntie" had the 7 toddler boys in a semicircle and was feeding them some kind of corn cereal out of one large bowl, alternating from one boy to the next.I asked if I could feed them.As soon as she got up to hand me the bowl, all the kids started to cry.They were not happy having their food source disappearing on them. I quickly sat down and started doling out the porridge like I was dealing a deck of cards.Each got a spoonful and opened their sweet little mouths like baby birds waiting for a juicy worm.Some of them looked a little sleepy and one of them was starting to close his eyes and sway like a weeble wobble, but was back at attention when the food came around to him.The auntie was unpacking all of their clothes into a new bureau.
Brent was helping with the beds and whatever else needed to be done.
Sam played with the kids, but there was one boy in particular that he seemed to bond with the most.Zethembe said he was six, but when we looked at his profile, the birth date listed would put him at 10, almost 11 years old.He was the same height as Sam and definitely didn't look 10.He is HIV positive and had a toothless, sheepish grin.They both enjoyed playing soccer together and made bow and arrows out of small sticks and rubber bands.The kids at Emmanuel are very creative, making toys out of whatever they could find.Emma came in with me and started helping keep the toddlers entertained.We sang and played with them.I could tell Emma and Sam were taking things in a little differently.Sam made no distinction between him and the other kids.Little boys speaking a different language, from very different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds and they were just content hanging out, kicking a ball, shooting handmade bows, running around.So innocent and simple.We could all learn something from their blindness to the things that unnecessarily separate so many of us from each other.Emma was more observant, taking it all in, holding the babies, wanting to help.This has a lot to do with their gender, age and personalities.Emma notices so much.
The rest of the group was helping wherever they were needed.Putting beds together, holding babies, playing and singing with the kids.
One of the funnier moments that I actually missed because I had to leave with a crying baby was when Lori, one of the volunteers, wanted to speak to all of the kids about picking up their trash and having some pride in their new home.She was standing in front of the majority of the kids and had John, a teacher and spiritual leader, beside her to translate in SiSwati.Instead, when she would say something in English, he would just repeat what she said in English, but with a little different accent.I'm sorry I missed that, it sounded pretty hilarious.
Before we all left, the kids gathered in one of the main common areas and had songs and bible verses prepared for everyone.A very sweet moment to see them so excited and proud.Different groups would perform their particular song/dance.Then, Heart for Africa presented the gift packs to the kids.They were so excited.In the gift packs were bedding, clothes, toiletries, flashlights for the bigger kids and their own towels.Things that we just run to Target and buy when we need them, never realizing how fortunate we are just to have those simple things.The aunties got some cash and new house dresses.They were pleased to have a little something just for them.
We hugged the kids and said our goodbyes, confident in some way that we would be back.I remember thinking to myself that I was glad that I had the freedom to leave.It's not that I wanted to get out of there, but just knowing that I had the freedom to leave and thinking of the women, some around my age, were there with about 50 kids, no electricity, no water (temporarily),no transportation, and they couldn't jump in a car and take a break, go shopping, to the movies, get a massage, etc.I don't think they were necessarily feeling that way, they don't have the same perspective that I do and I don't have their perspective, it's just interesting to try and put yourself, as you are, in someone else's situation and imagine what you would feel like.
Brent and I took our kids back to the hotel to swim, while the other volunteers and staff went to the New Hope center, a phase 4 home.Our little foursome just needed a little down time.
We all met by the pool later and exchanged photos and e-mails.We burned CD's, passed our memory cards, and small external hard drives around.It was great.We moved to the dining room to enjoy yet another buffet, our last dinner as a group.I can't remember what we talked about except that we all enjoyed each other and felt the small group allowed us to get to know one another a little better.Lori, our surrogate Gogo, bought the kids a t-shirt with the Heart for Africa logo.She also gave Emma a little necklace with a green stone shaped like a heart and Sam a carved, wooden key chain.She is so generous.
October 31, 2008
Halloween and no costume to wear.It's kind of strange not celebrating our common holidays, but it's nice too not to worry about all of that.The mission trip was officially over and we said our goodbyes to the gang.The kids were the saddest to see their new friends leave.They really bonded with the group and everyone was so good to them.The kids have been with us ,for the most part, for the last 6 weeks and they were glad to have some new faces to give them attention.
We met for one last group breakfast and reminisced about the trip and how we would like to make plans to visit each other in our home towns.We took a group photo before the gang loaded up in the van with Shirley and headed for J.berg for their various flights.
The Bockholts were now back to us four and no more.We set out for the Candle Factory a few miles from the hotel.The Candle Factory was accompanied by a few other shops, a café and more outdoor market stalls.The kids loved the Candle Factory and watched Abraham mold and shape the warm wax into an orange and white water buffalo.They were so focused on his every move.Mom and dad took advantage of this quiet moment and walked around the shop, picking out a few gifts and souvenirs.Abraham madethe kids two small elephant shaped candles.They laid down some money to show their gratitude and we were off to the next shop.We went into the Rose Craft store where wool and cotton scarves, purses, table cloths, ponchos and pillow cases were displayed.We purchased a few gifts there and then picked up a few things at the market stalls where the locals set up shop.We were on a "mission" to find some things for "Old Man", Mkoulu (don't know the spelling) from the orphanage.Mkoulu, which we were told means "Old Man" lives and works at Emmanuel.He needed some new rubber boots and since he was now moved from the house to the shed, we thought he could use a battery operated lantern.I think I felt a little guilty since I'm sure I offended him when I was asked him to move his things out of the house before the children came for their move in that day.Anyway, we found what we needed and got John, the children's spiritual leader at the orphanage, a few things as well.We headed to the Cultural Village and paid our fee and entered the working Swazi village.It began to rain pretty fiercely, so the cultural dance was to be performed at the restaurant.The dancers were dressed in traditional Swazi dress then sang and danced for us.They even pulled "volunteers" out of the audience and gave a quick dance tutorial.Brent and I ended up there in the course of the performance.I'm sure we fit right in.
We took a short tour through the village huts where the Swazi traditions were explained to us.The rain had let up a little, but then began to pour again, so we headed for the car.But, not before our guide pointed out the rock high up on a cliff in the distance, known as Execution Rock, where criminals were pushed to their death for their wrongdoings.
We headed down to dinner and said our goodbyes to the buffet and to Ian, Jan and Ron. We also met Wayne who was there for the next week to discuss the newest venture to purchase land for an agricultural and dairy farm where Heart for Africa planned to run a business to help sustain the orphanages they supported.This prospect is very exciting and as it was explained to me, it was truly a God thing.
November 1st, 2008
I woke up around 6:00 a.m. and started packing our things that entropy had once again taken a hold of and strewn all around the room.It was another re org and this time I was determined as if this were a pass/fail moment and I was going to get this spatial conundrum figured out once and for all.I accomplished quite a bit and the rest of the family started waking up.So, we headed down to breakfast for our last buffet. We are so going to miss that. So spoiled! We finished packing and I took the first load down so I could also clean out the car before the kids got down there. When I walked down that morning I combed the parking lot and didn't see the car.I was frantic.I went into the lobby and dropped off the bags and ran upstairs to let Brent know that our rental car was stolen.We all went down to inspect and poor Emma was getting more anxious, flashbacks of our missed flight in London, I'm sure.We got down and Brent found the car immediately and looked at me like I had lost my mind.I told him I saw that car but it looked too clean to be our car.There are men in the lot that constantly wash the parked cars for the guests.I guess they knew our car needed some love.
We packed up and headed to Shirley Ward's home, the lady that works for Heart for Africa, and dropped off some things we bought for Mkoulu.
We left for Graskop, South Africa and decided to take a shorter scenic route.It was a little rough but we made it through and blew a kiss goodbye to Swaziland and entered South Africa again for our next and final leg of our African adventure.The three hour drive to our lodge was a very nice drive and we arrived at our lodge 5.5 hours later.We seem to travel in a warped time continuum stretches in an outwardly direction.Everything takes us twice as long as we are told.