Saturday, January 26, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

Yes, we finally made it home again! Packing the Isuzu was a bit of a challenge with all we had to take back: boxes of leadership books, donated used clothing, 2 doors, a vaccuum system for the wood work shop, tools, electrical cords, etc. One had to hold one’s mouth just right!

It took us a day in Maputo to finish up the business of importing the vehicle and wood working equipment. Many papers needed to be signed and stapled together, then we needed to get license plates made up and put on the vehicle before we could travel. We first found 3 license-plate-makers who were either shut down or couldn’t do the job before we found one who could! We gave them the plate # we needed and they went to work on making them while we waited. When the license plates were done, a guy brought a cordless drill out to the vehicle (on a main city street) to put them on for us. He also had to slap on the required stickers. We don’t know why they’re required, they just are here. And if you don’t have these, your vehicle could be impounded and you get fined. So these are very important decals!

Maputo is a crazily busy city, so we were very glad to finally leave. The highway wasn’t as bad as I had expected with all the rain, but it had its spots just the same. Most of the bad patches in the road had no warning signs at all, they sort of catch you unawares, ambush style. In one of the worst spots the soil in the potholes is grey like the pavement, so you can’t even see them coming. Again, if you hold your mouth just right, you may negotiate that part without doing too much damage!

How do you like these caution signs on the main North-South highway in the country? Maybe our decals could be put to better use :)

It was an odd feeling to find home just the way we and the kids had left it 3 weeks previous: spare mattresses and pillows in the front room, Christmas decorations still in place and cups as they were left in the drying rack. A few new things had added themselves to this collection as well --spiders and their webs! I hate it when they do that...just move in uninvited. I wanted to unpack but soon decided I first needed to pack the Christmas stuff away and get rid of the unwanted little guests. Spiders were everywhere—in every corner, under every shelf, behind every cupboard/table...actually, it would be easier to tell you where they weren’t. So I got to work with my bug spray, broom and vacuum cleaner. I must have killed at least 50 daddy-long-legs plus a few other interesting types. This little spree quickly turned into major spring cleaning since there was mildew to be dealt with too. Then I decided I needed to get some laundry done, so needless to say, yesterday was a busy one.

Work-wise we’re still spooling up. We’ve had a few medical urgencies come to our attention already including an elderly gentleman who was found very sick and abandoned in the bush. He’d been there for likely 2 days or so and was very dehydrated and weak. Dwight took him to the Vanduzi hospital right away (since his needs were beyond the scope of our bush health post practice) and was pleased when caring, compassionate staff took him under their wing.

I guess I should sign off for now and get back to the work of finishing up laundry, unpacking suitcases and boxes and storing my Christmas stuff finally. Maybe if I hold my tongue just right, the work will get done quicker!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Can we go home now?

(Sunset--Mercy Air farm)

Well, we're still in South Africa... On Wednesday this week we managed to get the new pick up (plus extra wood working equipment) imported. It was a very long hot day spent first at the clearing agent's office, then at the border. We sat literally for the entire day between these two places as the heat soared to somewhere into the 40's. What made things hotter was the fact that:

1. The air con in our old pick-up quit working

2. South Africa is experiencing 'power shedding' which means there are black outs from time to time, so while we waited for the clearing agent to process papers, we couldn't find one little corner in the border town of Malelane that was cool enough to sit and sip a coke. We tried one promising spot that looked shadey, but the heat was so stifling we decided to rather drive around in our oven-warm pick up least the air moved in there!

It was 6 p.m. before we managed to leave the border for Maputo, and unfortunately straight into a vicious storm. At the customs office in Maputo we were told we'd have to leave both vehicles there, locked up for the night (the new one was being imported, and the old one was carrying other goods for importation...which apparently could absolutely NOT be unloaded into the new pick up to overnight there.) We hadn't expected a night away, we thought we'd make it back to Mercy Air to sleep that night! Such was not to be the case. At 8 pm we found a taxi and finally made our way to a hotel for the night. No clean clothes, no toothbrushes...sounds fun right? At least the hotel had air conditioning and good food!

Early the following morning we unloaded the goods from he old pick up and headed back to Whiteriver (South Africa) to wait while Mozambique customs processed paperwork. Here we have a place to stay and can get work done :) We now have a few days to wrap up business here and do minor repairs on the old pick-up...such as fix the air con before we have to make the 2+ day trip back home in the heat! If Mozambique's roads have deteriorated further due to heavy rains, our trip home may just delay us a few days more. But I hope not. It's nice to go away, but it's also nice to get back home. Right now, for us, it's definitely time to get back home!

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Definition – A slang term for a newcomer…Variations: Nube;Noob.

Our son has just started a new job as part of his Engineering co-op program. He’s had to relocate to a new town and a new home in order to start this new job! So I think the term ‘newbie’ definitely applies to him right now! We’ve been in fairly close contact with him to hear how things are going: “How’s the new home?” “Are you comfortable?” “How do you like the job?” “What kind of work are you doing?” etc. We’re parents. We need to know these things.

This silver Toyota pick-up is also a newbie. It is a replacement for the Isuzu (below) that has served us well for the last few terms, but which unfortunately is starting to crumble under the harsh demands of work in rural Mozambique. By my standards, a suitable pick up for the Mozambican bush must have two essential qualities: dependability and durability. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve tacked on a 3rd essential quality: good suspension!
Like our 1982 Toyota pickup, nicknamed ‘The Beast’, the Isuzu (below) has performed a wide variety of tasks in generally tough conditions. It hasn’t been quite as durable as the old Toyota, but its smooth-riding independent suspension certainly added years to our lives. After almost 300,000 km’s of hard work and in need of major engine/4X4/front end/electrical system overhauls, the Isuzu is now best kept close to home, not doing anything too heroic!
Transporting tools and equipment for construction.

On one of its many trips transporting food for orphans and the school feeding program.

Dodging potholes on Mozambique's N1 highway. I rated this portion as mild-medium severity because even though we have to drive on the dirt shoulder most of the time, at least the holes are less than a foot deep!

'The Beast' (below), our first ever Toyota pick-up, did okay in terms of dependability and durability, but its suspension system was sadly lacking! I used to joke that I needed a body brace to help hold me together whenever we bounced and jolted over the ridiculously rough roads! Although it was pure work-horse through and through, its rough, bone jarring ride is partly what earned it the name ‘The Beast’!

The pick up that endured 1001 Mozambican adventures! One day I'll write a book, or at least devote an entire chapter in a book, just to this vehicle and all we went through with it.

The new Toyota will certainly undergo trial by fire on its maiden voyage as it heads for home loaded down with important supplies over the pot-holed roads of a flooding Mozambique! (Hopefully the highway is still intact.) We hope to have all the import papers finished by next week, and believe me, there are many to organize. And at least for the moment, we’ve decided to hang on to the Isuzu. It can likely still be of use on the mission if we just adapt its job description.
Follow-up news:
*Although our kids managed to get back to Edmonton after being rerouted in New York, Amanda's suitcase didn't. I guess it figured it needed a few more weeks of globetrotting. Thankfully, after some stress and much follow-up, it finally arrived in Edmonton, Yay! Supposedly it found its way to San Francisco...does this make sense to anyone?
*Heavy rains have brought flooding to parts of Mozambique. Sadly, crop failures and resulting hunger are anticipated. Mercy Air's helicopter is scheduled to leave tomorrow to assist in flood relief operations.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Delayed Departure

Mushu's nemesis, Russell, back for a visit, is NOT what Mushu asked for this Christmas!

Amid all the rain and mud of late, we somehow managed to get off the farm without getting royally stuck. The roads were still quite a mess, but at least it stopped raining for about 36 hours before we left. I think we all had visions of us sitting again, in our finest, suitcases loaded in the back, stuck up to the axels in mud! But we made a run for it and made it! What a relief it was to know that now, the only thing between our kids and their flight home were the hundreds of kilometres of highway, a border crossing and hopefully no complications in between! Here we are at the ever-abandoned Caltex station. As we left though, another vehicle pulled in, so I guess I can no longer say we've never seen anyone there!

We left home on Monday morning and their flight left Johannesburg on Wednesday evening.
All went well for the first 6 hours of our 3 day drive to Jo’burg. The highway that was quite good last year has since experienced a resurgence of innumerable potholes.
Scenes along the way (this is the smooth part of the highway).
Dwight was doing pretty impressive work missing them, but one caught him by surprise and we hit it pretty hard. This is not a strange occurrence since our vehicle has driven bad roads all of its life, but lately it has been showing signs of growing tired, and that pothole proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back! Suddenly we were sitting at a slant and it felt like we were riding on a rock. It took us a little while to eventually see what had gone awry...a torsion bar that supports the suspension had snapped in two. I think visions of us being stuck in Mozambique for a protracted period with a broken vehicle were starting to form in all of our minds! Since we were headed to Mercy Air on our way to Joburg, Dwight called Ron Wayner at Mercy Air to let them know of our little hiccup. He assured us that the vehicle was in fact still drivable, but the drive would be a bit rougher and slower. Needless to say, we were up EARLY the next morning to make good time. We arrived at Mercy Air by suppertime on Tuesday evening, had supper, visited with friends, and got the Mercy Air van ready so we could carry on with our trip to Jo’burg the following day.

Here we are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for our 3rd day of travel. That day’s trip went off without a hitch other than the mud flaps hitting the rear tire and giving us a scare. By 3:30 p.m. we were at O.R. Tambo International Airport and now we REALLY breathed a sigh of relief. The closer you get to the airport, the less there is that stands between you and your flight, right?? We met friends for supper right there then made our way to the South African Air Lines desk in International Departures. The place was wall to wall with line-ups with people. As we headed to the airline desk, we were told we would have to enter the queue. Well, said queue first zigzagged by the desk like they all do, then it took off down one hallway, turned the corner and disappeared down the next! And there we stood, queued for 2 hours while the kids’ boarding and departure times came and went.
But we weren’t alone; many other exasperated passengers were also delayed because of ‘system failure’! At least that flight was delayed so all the passengers could get on. And surprisingly, it arrived in New York on time although they had to delay disembarking due to the high volume of passengers coming home after the holidays. Air Canada which was the kids’ next flight wasn’t as kind though, and even though they were at the gate within the allotted time, their seats were given away!
One of exasperation's many faces.

From there they were rerouted to Calgary where very kind friends picked them up and drove them home to Edmonton. You bet we have a bone to pick with Air Canada! We along with thousands of others, I’m sure.

Currently we’re back at Mercy Air nursing our broken vehicle that somehow reminds me more and more of humpty dumpty every day! It will require some repairs, and we're seriously scraping our pennies together to put toward a replacement for it. Hopefully this all won’t take too long. We need to get back home, and we don’t need any more delayed departures on this trip!

Just a bit of wet grass that decorates the edge of our swamped entry road. It has purple and red blades on it which is about the only nice thing about the road right now!