Saturday, May 31, 2008

All things working together...

Yesterday one of the mission's sponsored students (who attends the Chitundo school) showed up here with an elderly woman who carried a tiny, little baby. She was the baby's grandmother, and had recently lost her son and daughter-in-law. She is a widow herself, and is now left with this baby who is now 3 months old, plus two other children. She had been feeding the baby a mixture of ground peanuts, ground field corn and water. The baby looked very bright and alert, but at 3 months of age only weighed 2.2kg. She knew she needed help, and when Pindurai, one of our school kids, heard about her plight, he took her under his wing and brought her to the mission to seek help. I had just set aside some baby clothes a few days earlier, and we had infant formula at the health post. I was glad also to be able to send her home with some veggies which are regularly donated to the mission's feeding program by a nearby commercial venture (actually, the entity that bought out the farm the mission used to be based on). Since it was late afternoon and the granny still had to get back home 15 km away, I decided to take them plus the food for the 23 sponsored kids at the same time. When I dropped her off, she was SO thankful for the help. She attends a local church and had been praying she would be able to find help for these orphaned grandchildren. Pindurai then helped her carry her goods home. I was very proud of him!

Below: Bags of green beans donated by Vanduzi Lda. Beneficiaries, besides the school children the mission feeds, include orphan homes and those with special physical needs.

Another cool thing happened this week. Last year, we were donated some solar powered MP3-type players that have the entire Bible recorded on them. They're wonderful here because you just set them in the sun and turn them on. We’ve supplied them to people and places where we felt they would get the most use. One of those places was the community health post we run, since there are usually people on the veranda waiting to be seen. Apparently, a few weeks ago, a drunk guy camestaggering past the health post and heard the "radio". He was quitecaptivated by the thing and slowly came closer and closer and finally came right up onto the veranda and sat down and listened for aboutan hour or so. Then got up and left. The next day, the same man returned,sober, and asked if he could listen to some more. As he sat listening,tears started rolling down his cheeks. Ernesto, our health care worker, asked him if he could help him. The man said, "These words are going straight into my heart, are they true? I’m not doing what’s right. My drinking hurts me and my family. I want to stop. Can this God really help me?” Ernesto answered his questions then called a pastor in the area to talk to the man. When Ernesto told me this story the following week, he summed it up by saying, “God got into that man’s heart.” (Ernesto holding the small unit--taken on the health post veranda.)

Other wonderful things worked together for good this week: the pouring of the preschool floor and progress on our house (below). Tomorrow we welcome a team of nursing students from Prairie College (Alberta, Canada) who will spend 3 weeks fulfilling practicum requirements here. Apparently camp life last year didn't dissuade them from returning! We all look forward to having them again.

Last but least...there's one thing that, since yesterday, doesn't look like it's "working together" at all anymore. In my rushing around getting many things done, I made the mistake of absent-mindedly leaving our small house generator hooked up when I flipped the main switch to the big generator. I won't go into detail of how things are wired, but, this is a definite no-no! My dad walked past the small generator about 10 minutes later and figured something was wrong when he heard humming and saw smoke rising from it. :( After it cooled, he pulled it apart somewhat to see the extent of the damage. Apparently, lots. Hopefully it can be repaired, or parts can be replaced. Then it can work together for good again too.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Building and more building. And a snake.

Okay, relax. It was a baby snake. That’s not where I’m going to start this entry anyway. The creepy stories always go in the last paragraph.

This week we celebrated a fairly exciting event—the installation of a culvert on the mission’s entry road. Dwight has been searching for months to find the right culvert at the right price, and last week he finally found it! Two actually. These things weigh close to ½ a ton each, so loading and unloading them was quite interesting to watch (for me). Funny how it’s always interesting to watch other people at work. I mean, I could have lent a hand, but I was the designated photographer, so I was otherwise engaged, so to speak. :) Everyone was quite proud of the finished product. The doors for the grain shed also finally got finished this week. The shed was built earlier this year with adobe blocks (produced by a machine that was donated to the mission), but the doors were a bit slower in coming. The carpentry shop has a LONG “to do” list as I imagine all carpentry shops must. But finally this week, after months of waiting, the doors were finished and installed. It think they look too nice to be hanging on a shed, but the wood we work with here, for the most part, is all hardwood and quite beautiful. It can be as tough to cut through as iron at times, but it’s well worth the effort!

This is inside the grain shed. Palettes (also made from beautiful wood) were made for the sacks of maize to rest on. Safe storage of food against rats, weevils, dampness and theft is a big challenge for us, and we hope we’ve now got a handle on at least a few of these. With rising fuel prices and this year’s poor crops, the food shortage is sure to turn critical. (This is Mushu, making sure things are rat-free).

Here’s one of the other ongoing projects in our ever-busy wood shop: window frames for our house. Yay! I must say that now that the walls are going up and our house is starting to resemble a real house, I’m much more enthused about all the work it is taking/will take yet to build it. The older you get, the harder it is to start over again.
This week we received the official “ok” to start work on the training center. Dad and Dwight went to the site to “shoot some levels” (no weapons involved, by the way). What they discovered about the proposed site—chosen because we found water there—is that there’s much more of a slope than meets the eye. Hmm. History repeats itself. We discovered the same thing where we’re building our house too. The guys asked me to take photos of them showing the difference in levels from different vantage points. Looks like a scene from “Honey, I shrunk the kids” to me. Once this construction gets underway there will be a whole lot more work for that wood shop! Snake paragraph (aka last one): I almost stepped on this little guy this morning. Dwight and I were merrily walking along and suddenly my feet started doing the backward two-step...a-a-a-a-g-g-h-h-h. I think my conscious mind only kicked in after the danger was past. It’s funny how one’s senses at times can kick in with a reaction to something before the brain has entirely registered what is going on. He was pretty small, maybe 7” long or so, and being juvenile made him pretty hard for me to identify. I think he’s a boomslang (tree snake) with that stubby nose and huge eyes. Yes, Boomslangs are poisonous. So we gave him the proper respect that poisonous snakes deserve, and since he was little and not in our immediate backyard, we let him carry on his merry way, head up and weaving side to side.

PS: btw, someone (Dan from Three Hills, Alberta) discovered some information about our sterilization pot. It’s actually an accessory that’s used to sterilize dressings INSIDE a larger, pressure-cooker like pot (like the one pictured in the previous blog post). Well, that’s good to know! Thank you Dan.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Just Google It

A few weeks ago, our main health post received an odd looking “sterilizer” pot. The two Socorristas (Health Workers) were quite excited about this new sterilizer but they weren’t sure how to use it. “You need to see it, Senhora,” they said, “then you can tell us how to use it.” I needed to go cover the shelves and tables with plastic later anyway, so that would be a good time to see the new item. We worked together to cover the wooden table first with cloth, then with the clear plastic. In the end were quite pleased with the result, and it will certainly be easier to disinfect than varnished wood! As we replaced medicine bottles on the table again we got busy discussing drug dosages and liquid concentrations and I nearly forgot all about the new sterilizer until I was halfway out the door. “Oh, hey, that new pot! Let’s have a quick look at it before I go.” They proudly pulled this shiny item out of its box for me to see.

“Some new instruments came with it: kidney basins and forceps” they said smiling wide. That was great news. But... I’d never seen a sterilizer pot/autoclave that looked like this. Actually, I’d never seen a small one in my life before! Any hospital I’ve ever worked in used huge, commercial sized electric ones. I was at a complete loss to know how to operate this odd item. I assumed that the clamps on the lid and on the side metal sheet were for sealing off the unit to create pressure inside. There were no gauges, dials or rubber rings though.

“So, did it happen to come with a user’s manual??” I asked hopefully.
“No. Nothing. It just came like that.”
“Hm. I’ll have to go home and google this!”

They don’t have computers and certainly not internet (yet), so I tried to briefly explain internet and google. Have you ever tried that before? Explaining something to someone who has no idea what you’re talking about? I’m sure I sounded like a raging lunatic. “First, you use a computer like the one in the mission office. Then, there’s a system for getting information from a place where other people put it, also using computers. It’s sort of like the radio you know? You can get text and photos and sound, but with a radio you only get sound. (I should have stopped after the first sentence. Things just got worse after that.) It’s like a library, but, you don’t go there. The information gets put into this sort of library, then comes to us from outer space through a dish, a satellite...” (note to self: next time, JUST google it). I’m sure they were quite lost with my weak explanation of internet and google, but they nodded politely anyway. Using a pot had never been so complicated before!

I went straight home and spent more time that I care to admit googling “autoclave manual stove top pressure-cooker type sterilizer”. I even threw in “Africa” and “rural health post” in for good measure. Of all the pages I searched, this was the most basic model I found online.

This was a little disconcerting, especially since the one clamp that was tack welded on the side is already broken on our “new” pot. I told the socorristas that for now, we’ll just keep it in its box and use cold sterilization methods for our dressing instruments.

Last Saturday, this young man came to speak to us. The mission sponsored him for a year to attend a special school for the blind where he learned to read and write in Braille. He has since returned home and is in a regular school now. But he has faced a few challenges, as you can well imagine. A few months ago, he requested a radio so he could know what time it was so he wouldn’t be late for school. An alarm clock is not quite as helpful as a radio since you usually have to set and check clocks. Radios just need new batteries from time to time. This week, he came to ask for assistance with a Braille typewriter. He’s been taking notes in class using his Braille tablet, but it’s too slow a process for him to be able to keep up with the teacher. Here he’s taking Dwight’s phone number, a process that took several minutes. We told him we would do what we could to help him find a Braille typewriter. A first good step would be to conduct a search using google to assess costs, etc. But I didn’t mention googling or internet because that would take me down a path I didn’t care to go again. Just google it.

Our week was much fuller than this, of course, so I’ll just leave you with a few more pictures before I close. Dad and Dwight doing some measuring on the old farm’s entrance road. We need a culvert like this one at the new farm to divert the huge volume of water we get flooded with during torrential downpours in the rainy season. Me getting medical boxes ready for the student nurses from Prairie who are due to arrive here at the beginning of June for a 2 ½ week practicum. It’s great to have the surplus of supplies left by the previous nursing team. Thank you USASK nursing program and those who sponsored them!

Until next time.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Goat (instead of soap) on a Rope

Maybe you've heard the saying, “You can make an elephant go anywhere he wants to go." Well, goats are about the same: they're not nearly so big, of course, but they can be downright impossible to lead! Just ask Francisco (one of the mission-sponsored orphan boys). He had his work cut out as he tried to lead his 2 Christmas goats home this week!

This past Christmas we decided to promote donations towards Unique Christmas gifts for needy families in Mozambique. One of the options on the donor “wish list” was a goat, and to our delight, donations came in for close to 52 goats. It has taken us a few months to source, purchase and transport that many goats, but we finally did and they arrived just last week. There aren’t many animals for sale here since during the war this area was a hot spot for warfare, and animals populations were largely wiped out. In some of the more isolated areas north of here, where fighting was less intense, herds were somewhat preserved. So when we need to buy animals, it always involves quite a bit of leg work to find them and arrange their transport.

(Goats on the truck.)

Once the requested number of goats had finally been bought and collected—no small task—they were ready for their 4+ hour truck ride to the mission for distribution. It was a long haul and by the time the goats arrived here, they were pretty anxious to be off that truck and turned lose to graze. We dropped what we were doing as soon as the truck arrived, piled in our vehicle and hauled off to accompany the truck for the “goat deliveries”. On our way out of the mission we stopped to take some blue rope to help ease the process of making the goats go where we wanted them to go. :)

This was our first stop, at the home of a widowed granny who cares for orphans. It was a bit of a walk in from the highway. As you can see, goats on a rope are good...but goats on Elias’ shoulder is even better! (Elias is one of the mission's of many great staff we have here. Carrying the goats was his idea.)

Grandma Vaida is new to our program and was very surprised when we popped in with goats for them! Dwight took some time to tell them the goats were gifts, who gave them, why the gifts were given at Christmas...basically a story of God’s love.

Then it was over to Elias to give basic but VERY exact instructions on how to care for the goats. This is a precise art, you know, and he is an expert.

Next stop was at Francisco and Mibia’s. They are also orphans who live with their widowed granny. 4 goats on 2 ropes + 1 girl = oops!

Next, we dropped some off at Salete’s home. She looks after her orphaned grandson (in her arms). Here she is posing in front of her new home (last year her hut burned to the ground and she lost everything. The mission has helped her rebuild a better home).

After a long day, the last stop was at George’s place. He’s one of the mission staff who also cares for orphans. This little girl in her dirty dress was priceless!

Dwight and the driver reasoning with the Flora and Fauna official. Ten minutes later we were free to carry on with our deliveries.
Delivering goats to our community chief (front right--hand on head) who also has orphaned grandchildren at his home. I wish all who gave to this effort could have been with us to witness the expressions of joy!

Here, his grandson, "little Eduardo", shakes hands with "big Eduardo"--his name's sake--(aka Dwight since "Dwight" is difficult for them to pronounce here).

Goats were delivered to a few other places including a church-run orphan care program. But we weren't able to finish deliveries that day as it simply got too late. The rest came home with us to be distributed to their respective homes over the next few days.

Many other things happened this week, but since this blog is so long, I'll leave those news items til next week. Dad got stuck into work fairly soon after our arrival (a week ago yesterday) and has already fixed many things and helped us work out the trusses for our house. Did I tell you my dad can fix/make anything? :) But all the work aside, it's been fun just hanging out with him. I wonder if we can convince him to stay longer?

Sunday, May 04, 2008


On Monday last week, my dad, Dwight and I left Curitiba for South Africa while Mom and Lucas headed back to Canada. Our time in Brazil was very positive, but by the 3rd week we were ready to get back home again to the work that awaited us. We said our farewells to all including Rick and Heather who will remain there for a few more months. This is a very new environment and culture for them to adjust to, but they are committed to their task of language learning, and we know the Brazilians will take them into their hearts and homes in a big way.

We landed back in South Africa at O.R. Tambo airport, Joburg on Tuesday morning after a fairly uneventful trip. Prebooking seats on SAA (South African Airlines) turned out to be impossible to do, so the 3 of us had rather strange seating arrangements on both flights. The food was the usual curious assortment of prepackaged items, plastic cutlery and hard dinner rolls. And just about the time we decided the best part of the meal would be the coffee at the end, we hit bumpy weather and were advised that "Coffee and tea service will be suspended due to turbulence." We figured that once we were through the turbulence the suspension would be cut short and we'd get the better part of our meal. We waited and we waited. The crew picked up our empty trays but we held on to our tiny coffee cups, assured that our few sips of tea and coffee would eventually be served since by that time we were back to fairly smooth sailing again. When the lights went out and the movie started, our cups were still shiny and clean and our sugar packages unopened. *sigh* Apparently, coffee and tea had been cancelled altogether.

We drove to Whiteriver from Johannesburg the day we landed. We first stopped to check in with Hebron on leadership books that were being printed. They were ready, so we loaded them up and headed out taking turns driving since we all desperately needed sleep after the night-long flight. As it turned out, this week was "rife" with stat holidays and the one, after the day of our arrival, was the only one we had for doing business. So we rushed around on Wednesday getting urgent supplies, checking mail, etc., got packed and ready to leave on Thursday and headed out to Mozambique on Friday. Since we were in the Cessna we were limited with weight and had to leave some stuff behind for our next trip with the pick-up in June. We flew home with Dwight as pilot, my dad as co-pilot and me in the back seat. As luck would have it, for the last leg of the trip we hit turbulence. The clouds looked white, soft and fluffy enough, but once inside them we felt tossed about like popcorn in a popping machine! As I scrambled to buckle myself securely to my seat again, Dwight shouted from the front: "We're sorry to announce that coffee and tea service will be suspended due to turbulence!" That was least on this flight we had our own yummy snacks and drinks (even if just cold water and pop) to enjoy whenever we wanted. Move over SAA!

Right now we have the weekend to unpack and catch our breath before Monday arrives. It's very nice having my dad here. He had to spend his first night in a tent but has now moved into his own bedroom (the mission's one and only guest bedroom at this an otherwise unfinished guest cottage). He's already finding work he wants to tackle.
Our house has made good progress...except for the one doorway the bricklayers mistakenly bricked up. So there will be a bit of undoing of work there. The next step is the cement beam that will now be placed along the tops of all the walls so we can start putting trusses up for the roof.

One of my tasks for today is to sit down, pen, calendar and paper in hand, so I can get my week's work organized. But first, since I'm on terra firma and any turbulent weather is far above me...I'm getting myself that cup of coffee! TTYL