A Family of Children

Hey everybody!

Just a quick update on things here as well as the story of a family that my school in Calgary is funding a new house for.

So, quick update on me.  I had to cancel my trip to Zambia.  I’m still not over this virus.  Frankly, I’m tired of talking about it and just hope that I’ll make some progress this week.

Now, onto the story.  I’ve mentioned before that my school got connected to and raised funds for a new home for the two boys I did my community stay with; Mthandazo and Sipho.  There house is now complete and they’re all moved in.  My school raised so much money, over $13,000 CDN, that we were able to build a second house for another child-headed household.  I wrote a story for them for our school newsletter and I’ve more or less included it below.

Ernest is an nineteen year-old, grade eleven student.  He and his younger brother, sixteen year-old Sthembiso, head their household, which includes their younger sisters; thirteen year-old Thobile and eleven year-old Bawinile.

The four children lived most of their lives with their mother and father in their current house.  The house is really just a small, one room shelter consisting of sheets of scrap metal, patched onto wooden poles found around the community.  There is no electricity or outhouse toilet.  The children fetch water from the community pump, like most households in the community.  The gaps in the roof and walls are easily penetrated by rain and the flimsy door provides little security, a particular concern as the girls get older.

In 2007, their mother became very ill and passed away the following year.  Though losing a parent is devastating on its own, in many poor communities in South Africa, people often deal with terminal illness without access to hospitals or doctors.  Children watch parents die before their eyes and the emotional wounds that result are as difficult for the children to deal with as having to move on without their parent.  Given that the family lived together in one small room, the children were likely not spared any aspect of their mother’s death.

However, these are not the only challenges the children have faced.  Shortly after their mother passed away, their father left the family with no explanation.  He simply disappeared one day.  He is still living in the community but has taken another wife and has little contact with the children.

The children rely on food parcels provided by their local care workers and money that Ernest makes doing yard work for neighbors on weekends and during school holidays.  The three younger siblings also participate in a government-feeding program at their primary school.  The children receive regular visits from Siyabongile, a volunteer care worker with the local community organization that Hands at Work partners with, called Senzhokule Home Based Care.  Siyabongile cared for their mother during her illness and has continued to be the most constant adult in the kids’ lives.  She asks them how school is going, whether they have enough food, and just what’s generally on their mind.  Without her, Ernest stated that there would be no one speaking on their behalf.  It was Siyabongile who brought the children’s living conditions to the attention of Hands at Work.

A recent development has created tension between the two boys.  A neighbor they have known for years has taken in Ernest. He sleeps at the neighbor’s and shares their meals.  Ernest explains that their house is just too small for all of them and he no longer wanted to share a bed with his brother while his sisters slept on a foam mattress on the floor.  The day-to-day role of the running the house has now fallen to Sthembiso.   It is obvious that Sthembiso feels abandoned by his brother.

However, the family will soon be living together again.  A portion of the $13,000 raised by Calgary Science School will provide a three-room house for the children along with basic furniture and house wares.  The cost of this project has been projected at $6,650. The foundation is already complete and the walls are going up.  The kids should be in their house in a just a few weeks.  The children are excited about having “a real home” and it is so great to see their usually stoic faces change to smiles when they talk about the house.

I’ve only visited the kids a few times, due to me being sick.  But each time I grow more and more attached to Bawanile.  The first couple times myself and Sam and Busie met her, she never made eye contact and just sat with her head down.  The last couple times I visited, she was laughing and singing with her neighbors. She even hugged me back last time!!  It is seriously humbling to be a part of these kids’ lives.  Their resilience amazes me beyond words. Anyway, I want to get back on my feet so I can go see them more often and update you on the progress of the house.

Senzhokule Home Base Care and Hands at Work in Africa wish to express their gratitude to Calgary Science School.  You are changing the lives of these children.  Stay tuned for more updates on this project and others.

From left, Ernest, Bawanile, Careworker Siyabongile, and Sthembiso.  Missing is 13 year old Thobile.

 

The children’s current home.

 

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Going Back to the “Real Africa”

Greetings again from South Africa! Just a quick update on things here. I’ve been generally lounging about the last five or six days as the mono symptoms flared up again. I had a busy couple weeks and last week I just kind of hit the wall. I’ve realized that I need to do a better job of dealing with this, making sure I get enough rest. It’s kind of proven that it’s not something that I can just work my way through. The whole ordeal has brought up a lot of my insecurities over being productive (or, rather, feeling like I’m not) and worrying about whether I’m being a wimp or not. Being sick has a always been a stressful thing for me. I always debate about what I need to do, like just suck it up and keep working or whether to stay home and whether I’m making the right decision. Like back home, I can remember lying in bed home sick and changing my mind about twenty times about whether I was well enough to go back to work the next day. I’m not good at making these decisions.

So, I am in rest-and-get-better-mode as I am heading to Zambia on Wednesday, March 16. I’ll be working in Kitwe, which is the second largest city in Zambia, after the capital, Lusaka. It’s in the Copperbelt province and is the copper mining center. This is one of the newest Hands At Work service centers, working with around eight community organizations in and around that city. I’m told I’m very fortunate to be able to work with Blessings and Tuwela, who run the service center. I’ll be more in the thick of things and I think it’s going to be a steep learning curve but I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty and helping where I can.

I’ll be in Zambia for basically the rest of my time here in Africa. My colleague here in South Africa, Busie, is getting married on Easter Sunday here at Hands so I’ll be coming back for that and then the last couple of weeks of June. But other than that, Zambia is my new African home.

My trip to Zambia also officially brings an end to the drama that has been my futile attempts to go to Nigeria. You might recall that I tried to go in November, when we couldn’t get things together in time, and then again in early February when the Nigerian Embassy denied our application. This is an election year in Nigeria and tensions are beginning to mount. There have been protests and some violence and the word is that the government is not keen on having too many foreigners in the country. So, Nigeria is not meant to be this year. At this stage in the game, I’m focused on what I’ll be doing in Zambia so it’s not a big deal, though Nigeria would have been a great experience in so many ways.

As for things in South Africa, I have some great news. The house that we began for Mthandazo and Sipho what seems like so long ago, is finally complete!! The doors and window panes were put in last week. I’m hoping to deliver their furniture, which was donated by Hands, this Friday. My school funded this project and another house for an orphan family that I’ll tell you about soon.

Mthandazo is in Gr. 12 now and Sipho is in Gr. 8 at the same high school. They both seem to be doing well. We had a great day together a couple weeks ago. We went into Nelspruit to buy some housewares for their new house and ended the day playing games at the amusement center in Riverside Mall. We did all the regular stuff, like the bowling into the small little circle targets, dropping coins to win prizes, and beating the crap out of each other in combat video games. I even showed them my Galaga skills on the retro arcade game.

I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s kind of awkward in a way to “treat” the boys to entertainment like this. After all, they barely have a meal or two each day. But I figure that in addition to helping them with the basics, doing special things like this is good too. One thing that was cool about the day at the mall is that, to me, it’s kind of a glimpse into the South Africa of the future. There is a growing black middle class here and there’s something about seeing people who not so long ago weren’t even allowed in a mall like this, let alone have the financial means to do so, enjoying a family Saturday playing games and going to the movies. Health, education, food security, these are the important things but it’s nice for me to see people who have those things also enjoying “the finer things” of life. There’s kind of a dignity about it. And I think part of me likes taking the boys to places like that because I want to show them that they belong there, too. That they have every right as much as anyone to go to a mall and enjoy themselves once in a while.

The next step for Mthandazo is to secure a national ID card for him. Like many people in the communities, he doesn’t have a birth certificate. He was likely born in a community without a clinic or hospital and his parents never registered him, which would have been a financial and logistical challenge. So, in order for him to apply for university as well as grants and bursaries (he wants to study education), he needs his ID number. His mother is still alive so that should help things. However, he has his deceased father’s surname, so that poses a challenge. He thinks that his there is a death certificate for his father so that’s the next step, to locate it. There has been a lot of fraud with the Home Affairs offices in South Africa regarding these kind of processes so we will really need to have our ducks in row to get this done. This process is something that we are focusing on at Hands as it is such a barrier for kids in the community. It is even more brutal for the children of illegal immigrants. There is almost nothing they can do, even if they were born here and went through the South African school system. Without their parents having and ID, it seems impossible for them. This is an area of advocacy that we need to focus on.

It’s humbling to see the challenges the kid has and the way he faces them. He never gives up. Like, he keeps pestering me about helping him with the ID and each time I realize what courage that takes for him. Making sure everything is in place for him as he graduates high school is one of the things I am committed to seeing through before my time is up here.

Anyway, that is about all for now. Thanks for reading!

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Midpoint Reflections: B.A. (Before Africa)

So, I’m a little over the midpoint of my time here in Africa.  I thought now would be a good time to share my reflections on my time here.

I think it’s best to start with things before I even left home this past August.  I first came to be with Hands for a month in the summer of 2007.  I had wanted to go with one of the short term teams that my church had been sending out for a couple of years but no trips ever fell during the summer, which as a teacher was the only time of year I could disappear for four or five weeks.  So, one sunny day in late June, I had a casual coffee with the head of the missions team at our church, Mark Crocker, and he suggested I could probably go on my own.  About three weeks later I was on a plane.  When I came back, I was definitely changed by the experience.  I was more appreciative of the life I am blessed with and touched by the stories of the people at Hands I had gotten to know.  However, I had no plans to come back.  In fact, I really didn’t want to.  Mixed with the inspiration and relationships I had taken away from Africa were memories of the dust, different food, getting very sick (I was in bed for a few days with a serious case of the traveler’s flu) and generally missing the comforts of home.  I still thought of coming back but I think at that time it was more from the lens of wanting to be some sort of super Christian and that going to Africa would be the absolute greatest sacrifice and gift of servant hood I could possibly offer God.  I mean, I was happy with my life back home.

I started thinking seriously about coming here for a year around September 2009.  The first time I remember it really starting to build was at an Oasis concert.  I just had this overwhelming feeling that I was meant to go.  It was during the song “Wonderwall”.  Now, I like Oasis and love that song and have heard it probably hundreds of times.  But that night something hit me.  It was these lyrics that really spoke to me:

And all the roads we have to walk are winding

And all the lights that lead us there are blinding

And maybe

You’re gonna be the one that saves me

And after all

You’re my wonderwall

Now, don’t ask me what those lyrics really have to do with going to Africa.  It’s not like the Gallagher brothers were likely sitting around their flat in Manchester reading A Long Walk To Freedom and then writing that song.  I certainly didn’t run and book my flight as soon as I got home.  After all, this was an Oasis concert, and I had had a couple of those killer Saddledome beers.  I was pragmatic enough to give it some time.  Think about it, pray about it, just let it sit for a while.

Then, in November, George Snyman, one of the founders of Hands at Work, came to my church like he has most every year.  There was a fundraiser dinner for Hands at Work one night at which he spoke and I went along with some friends from work.  Over the next couple of days I felt reconnected with that feeling I had at the concert.  Then, on the following Tuesday or Wednesday night, George spoke again at Ambrose College.  I only decided to attend at the last minute as I was tired and I think it was in the middle of the teaching chaos that is report card time.  It was that night that I decided I had heard enough.  Enough from God, from George, from my own thoughts, heck, from Noel Gallagher for that matter.  I made the decision that night.

So, I had a good nine months or so from that night until when I would ultimately leave.  I don’t remember who I told first.  The first person I can remember telling was my boss, Darrell Lonsberry.  I explained my plans and the possibility of taking a leave of absence from my teaching position.  He was immediately supportive and the teachers and students at my school have ended up being a big part of everything I’ve done over here.  I think I told my family next.  I don’t remember exactly how they reacted, I think a little surprised and definitely concerned.  But what matters is that they’ve been with me through it all, from helping getting my house ready to rent, to helping me financially, to calling all the time and sending a killer care package.

So, from the time I made that decision to the time I left, I definitely had some “Am I really doing this?” moments.  All the reasons why I was happy to never return to Africa after my first trip came back to mind at different stages and in different degrees.  I remember thinking I would really miss my pillow top queen bed, my kitchen, buying food at Safeway, skiing in the mountains with my friend Shaun, ice fishing with my buddy Jeff, Friday floor hockey at school, picking up a medium Sammy’s Pizza in Cedarbrae on the way home from work.  I remember one specific moment of dread when I got up for work on one of those dreary Tuesday mornings in the middle of February when winter looks permanent and the time until the next holiday equally as far off as spring might be.  I remember driving in my car thinking that I was seriously underestimating how hard it would be.  I mean, I remember being kind of ready to go home after about the third week during my first time in Africa.  But, as I got into my day those thoughts disappeared.

In fact, as my departure date drew nearer, I became more and more at peace with my decision.  The most stressful element of the whole thing was renting my house out.  Or more specifically, getting it cleaned and organized to show condition.  But like most things we dread because they’re crappy and we don’t want to do them, once I actually got going, and my family pitched in massively, it was soon over.

So, the day I got a on the big bird for Johannesburg, via London Heathrow, on August 29, I really had no second thoughts.  That is, until me and my fellow volunteer, Morgan, got to London.  We took the tube in during our layover and walked around by Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the usual London stuff.  I got this feeling that I didn’t feel like being away from home.  I’m actually kind of a reluctant traveler.  I love the experience of travel, how it changes you, how your life back home is kind of suspended while you’re in this alternate universe.  But I don’t actually enjoy being away from home.  I like home.  I like my family, friends, house, car, couch, all that stuff I mentioned earlier.  It’s kind of a love/hate relationship.  I love what it gives me but I don’t like to leave home to do it.  So, walking around London, I got this feeling like I don’t really want to be here.  I want to be back home.

Thankfully, I didn’t get the same feeling when we landed in Jo’burg.  It was the opposite.  It felt kind of like coming back home, especially when I arrived at Hands village.  Anyway, more about that next time.  Wherever you are, TGIF and have a great weekend.

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Mono Chrissa

So, not a whole lot to update you on as the past couple of weeks have been pretty dull for me. I’m still getting over the mono, though as of today, I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, as I’m feeling a lot stronger. The past three weeks have been pretty frustrating. It just seemed like there was no progress. I’d done nothing but lie around in bed trying to sleep but I wasn’t really getting better. My sleep schedule has gotten a little out of whack in the process to the point where I’ve often been sleeping during the day and then unable to sleep at night. Mono is a strange illness in that often I would wake up and feel better, only to do something like cooking or washing dishes and then feel utterly exhausted. I went into the office Thursday morning and was pretty wiped after a couple of hours. In any case, I am really hoping that things are starting to change for the better.

I’ve had no shortage of support the past few weeks. Because I’m living up at the farm, about 10 minutes from Hands at Work village where almost everyone else lives, being sick up here can be pretty isolating. Lots of people have pitched in to bring me groceries, meals (like Jayme’s famous Old School Saskatchewan Borscht) or just come up to visit. Family and friends from home have also called often, which always makes my day. I’ve also seen a doctor who was very thorough, which gave me much needed peace of mind as not knowing what’s wrong is perhaps the toughest part of being sick over here. In any case, I don’t want to take these things for granted as they are not a given for so many others over here.

Having no TV and internet up here has given me all the incentive I need to do a lot of reading lately. Something I’m just finishing that I recommend to anyone interested in Africa is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a novel about an American family who come to a rural village in the Congo as missionaries in the early 60s. Though it’s fictional, the author herself lived in the Congo as a child and what I’ve found so interesting about the book is how it touches on a lot of different areas in a really profound way. The book really draws you into the issues of colonialism, family brokenness, religion, and cultural attitudes without really being overtly about any of those things. Each chapter is told through one of the female family members, whether the mother or one of her four daughters so builds in these different perspectives that kind of weave together. I’ve also gotten into crossword puzzles. However, I must admit that I cheat by using the dictionary and thesaurus on my laptop. Is that really cheating??

As for other news, I’ve previously mentioned the hen and cockle-doodle-doing rooster we have up here on the farm. A couple of months ago, the hen gave birth to about twelve chicks. It was neat seeing the chicks run around, following their mother. What was not so neat was watching our Rottweiler, Boo, eat one of them in front of my own eyes. This happened shortly after the chicks were born. Boo apparently ate another before my neighbor Weston gave her a spanking. She seemed to stay away from the chickens after that but then Barney, the lab-cross puppy, who isn’t too much of a puppy anymore, chowed down. He got spanked and stopped. Then Weston and his wife went away for a week. Apparently, Barney and Boo saw this as an opportunity to have an all-you-can-eat raw chicken buffet because overnight they ate all the remaining chickens. That’s it, all that’s left is the hen and rooster. I think we’ll have to make a chicken coop if we’re going to try raising chickens again.

Before I go, I quick update on the house being built for Thembo and Eric, the two boys I stayed with back in September. Things are going well, though with me on the shelf and not able to get materials to the builders, things have been at a standstill for the about a week. In any case, the foundation and walls are pretty much done. All that’s left is the roof, floor and plastering the walls. Then we need to put the doors and locks on, install glass in the window frames and furnish the place a little. I can’t wait until the boys move in. They’ve been super excited about everything to do with the house. After school, they change out of their uniform and help the builders by fetching water, mixing cement and doing anything else.

Anyway, that’s about all for now. Talk to you again soon.

Chris

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My Week Long Sleepathon

So, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged.  One reason is that I’ve been home in bed for most of the past week.  Let me explain.  Back in November, I was hit by a high fever for a couple of days.  I went to the doctor and she ran a bunch of blood tests and came to the conclusion that I have Epstein Barr virus, which is basically what we refer to as infectious mononucleosis back in Canada.  I started to feel better and went to Zambia for three weeks, where I was definitely dragging.  I tried to get as much sleep as a I could and following the Christmas break, I was feeling pretty decent.  However, after a couple of weeks back to work, I was dragging and feeling generally rotten again.  Back to the doctor this past Monday.  She told me to take the week off and do nothing but rest, so that’s what I’ve been off to.  She also ran a bunch of tests that showed that it’s likely the same virus from November lingering on, or else a milder recurrence.  Anyway, I am eager for it to go away.  This is especially a strange way of being sick as I don’t really feel ill but just extremely tired and weak.  I sleep about 14 hours a day lately.  Hopefully I’ll get over this soon.

I was scheduled to go to Nigeria this coming Sunday for two weeks.  Apparently, one part of the visa apps that Lynn and I submitted required further info from the Hands at Work Nigeria side, so our trip was once again postponed.  I actually submitted a wrong passport number, though we caught it and got it corrected before the application was received.  Anyway, having the trip postponed turned out to be a blessing as I don’t think dragging my can around Lagos is a good idea right now.  Nonetheless, Nigeria Trip Attempt 3.0 is scheduled for early March.  I’ve got a good feeling about this one, ha ha.

This is a bad time to be sick as there’s a lot going on in South Africa right now.   In December we came to the realization that we’re not having close to the impact here that we need to be.  The Hands at Work model is generally different from other NGOs operating in Africa.  We don’t deliver any services, meaning that we don’t feed the kids, visit them, make sure they’re in school, do counseling, drill boreholes, build schools, etc.  Rather, our reason for existing is to build capacity in community based organizations, usually called home-based care.  A home-based care organization is comprised of local people in that community who have committed themselves to caring for the orphans and vulnerable children that live among them.  They’re the ones that do all of the work in the community.  Our role is to support them.  This means providing training, mentoring, helping with strategic planning, accounting, administrative support (documentation, writing project proposals, communicating with donors), partnering with churches and donors, etc.  Basically, helping them to care for more children, more effectively.

This is a messy process.  What caring for a child means and how to do it are things that can be quite subjective.  The old model of aid and development, though proven to be ineffective and even damaging, exists for a reason.  It’s much easier to dump money into a community or go and do the work yourself and then just leave.  From a distance, this model often looks more “efficient” and “effective” as you can do more things quicker.  But at the end of the day, has anything or anyone really changed?  The old adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish…” is gospel.

There are really two things we focus on: helping the care workers to effectively care for the orphans and vulnerable children and to get the local church involved and to help these organizations to run (connect them with donors, plan projects, all the stuff I talked about earlier).  All the care workers are volunteers.  Most have a real heart for the kids.  But one of the challenges is that most care workers come from a background of limited education so there is a lot of support to give on the management side.  As well, one of the reasons most of these (largely) women choose to invest themselves in the lives of these kids is that they themselves have experienced a lot of what these kids are going through.  One of the care workers I’ve come to know is almost exactly my age (36) and she’s a grandmother, three times!!  She was first pregnant at the age of twelve.

South Africa is much different than, for example, Zambia, in that the family structure is much weaker.  This is mostly a legacy of apartheid, in my opinion.  With the segregation of “white” and “other” living areas, many men could not live in the cities or areas where they found work.  They had to go live in squatter or work camps.  In even these, only the worker himself was allowed to live, the rest of his family was forced to stay, or move, to a “homeland” or “Bantustan” area, set aside for blacks.  So you had generations where men lived away from their families, only coming home a few weeks per year, leaving children essentially fatherless.  The role of the husband and father was reduced to that of financial support.  This situation is also one of the key factors in the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.  Men cut off from their wives would engage other sexual partners.  This was especially true among mine workers, who worked and lived in particularly brutal conditions.  Of course, the virus would inevitably be passed on to the spouse back home upon the man’s return.

So, in the communities I spend my days in, there are very few fathers present.  Whether they choose not to be present or are away working in Johannesburg or elsewhere (the decision to go away to work without bringing the family is more a financial necessity), there are very few families where the man is around.  So, the care of the children, both within individual homes and in a greater community sense, is left to women.  Even then, there are many women away working, often as domestic workers in private homes in the cities, leaving the role of the mother to the grannies.  To say that grandmothers are carrying South Africa on their shoulders is not much of an understatement.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll blog a little more over the next few days.  My fellow Canadians, Todd and Katie from Lloydminster, are staying next door to me and I am scamming their laptop and 3g modem now and then.  The laptop is even a Mac.  I’m not even wasting time trying to figure out which “window” to open.  Until next time.

 

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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 18 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 24 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 19mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was December 27th with 65 views. The most popular post that day was The Zambian Taxi Magic.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, lindylouand4drews.blogspot.com, touch.facebook.com, and google.de.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for “bettina jacob” + calgary, africa poverty, feeding africa, “kid doesn’t want to live at home”, and kabwe.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

The Zambian Taxi Magic December 2010
1 comment

2

Me July 2010
7 comments

3

The Rainy Season, Dog Poaching, and the Electric Fence November 2010
1 comment

4

Settling In October 2010
3 comments

5

The Honored Visitor December 2010
5 comments

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Happy New Year!

So, as I write these words, it’s exactly 5 hours and 9 minutes until midnight.  I don’t really have any plans which is exactly as I usually like it.  Tomorrow we’re having a big brai (barbecue) up at the farm so I’m making sure I’m ready for that.

So, Christmas in Africa was a good time.  I had the boys, Thembo and Eric, down for a few days and that was the perfect way to spend Christmas far away from home.  Though I do often think about home, I found that having the boys around kept me busy and having fun.  It was great to experience so many things that were new to them but also brought home a lot of the kind of tension, for lack of a better word, that I often feel here.

The first full day they were here, of course, we had to go to Kruger National Park, possibly the best public game reserve in Africa that is a mere half hour from my doorstep.  Though the boys have lived there whole lives less than hour from Kruger, they had both never been there, likely the same as most everyone in their village.  It was strange for me to think of Kruger as a bargain (their admission was about $8 each) but that combined with needing your own transport makes it impossible for most people in the community to experience.  It is strange that almost 90% of South Africans are black, yet probably 90% of the people we passed in the park were white.  This is the reality I find difficult to deal with here. Every parking attendant, house maid, street vendor is black while almost every doctor, business owner, etc. is not.  It is a long road to equality here.

Anyway, it was HOT that day, close to 40 degrees, so we really only saw animals up until the afternoon, after which I believe they all gather together in the shade under a massive tree and laugh at all the white people driving around trying to spot them.  Eric was the master at spotting animals and the highlight was watching a herd of elephants cross the Sabie River, meters from where we were.

My friend, co-Hands at Worker, and fellow Calgarian, Morgan, is housesitting a really nice, big house over the holidays here and me and the boys were invited to stay there.  To say they enjoyed it is a bit of an understatement.  We made a good dent in the DVD collection, with Pirates of the Caribbean the favorite (all three). Incredible Hulk, King Kong, and Rocky V were not far behind.  We had a brai (African barbecue) where we ate our body weights in wors (sausages), chicken and steak.  All of the Canadians left here for the holidays, Lynn and Jayme, Tyler and Alicia, Kristal, Morgan, Katie and Tood, as well as two great Zimbabweans, Emily and Margaret, myself and the boys had a truly memorable Christmas dinner.  Honestly, it was as good as any I remember.

It was a bit strange when it came time to take the boys home.  After them living like kings (in their eyes, but pretty much like me everyday) it was time for them to go back to their lives.  The night before, we were watching a movie and Thembo turned to me and said, “Eric’s not happy.”  “Really,” I said, “What’s wrong?”  “He wants to stay,” Thembo replied. “Maybe just until the New Year.”

Though I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, it did bring home the uncomfortable inequality between me and the boys.  It is tempting to want to turn into Santa Claus.  For the sole reason being that I was born to a middle class family in Calgary, Alberta, Canada my daily lifestyle was something they had never, ever tasted.  And I’m not just talking about the game parks and movies.  They hadn’t ever used a shower before.  I caught them admiring the flushing of the toilet.  When I bought the meat for the brai, about $25 CDN worth, Eric laughed and shook his head when I pulled the money out of my wallet.

Now, I don’t believe it’s about those boys being able to live in a big house and watch King Kong on the big flat screen and fire up the barby every day. But, it’s about these two boys, both bright, both good students, both responsible, both living on their own, to become what they’re born to be.  Everybody deserves to watch the elephants cross the river in the national park, their national park, that sits less than a $20 bus ride from their house.  But it also reminded me of why I came here.  I can honestly say that it’s an honor to be part of these boys’ lives. Seriously, it really is.

Something that George Snyman, the founder of Hands at Work, said while in Canada a few months ago has really stuck with me.  He asked this question:

Think of your time, your talents, and your treasures.  Basically, the freedom you have, the gifts you’ve been given (career, etc.) and your finances.  Now, ask yourself this fundamental question.  Are you entitled to it?  Or are you entrusted with it?

Yes, I earned my teaching degree, I earn my salary, I pay my mortgage.  It’s true, but the opportunity to have all of these things was really just an accident of geography.  Was I not born in the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary to a hard working home builder and nurse; was I born in a village to parents under apartheid or worse, what would I have had the chance to become?  I don’t mean just a job, I mean would I have had the chance to become me? I’m learning from people here who give themselves to people who can never pay them back.  I don’t believe anyone ever has perfect intentions.  It’s always at least a little (or a lot) about me.  But, slowly, ever so slowly, I’m beginning to accept that I wasn’t given all this opportunity and stuff just for me.

Anyway, this is getting pretty heavy for New Year’s Eve!  I’ll leave it at that.  Have a great New Year’s and I’ll talk to you again next week!

Chris

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