Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kruger Paradise. Oops, I mean Park. Kruger Park.

We took some time this past week to visit Kruger National Park which is very near where we stay at Mercy Air. Although I've been told that theoretically people can only really love other people, I think there are some exceptions. In my case, I love visiting this park because in a way, it's the essence of Africa with its blue skies, fiery sun, and golden grass. Oh yes, and its animals too. Of course.

Can you name "The Big 5" without looking at the pictures first?

This rhino was pretty far away. It took 12x optical zoom plus cropping to even get him this big. These animals are referred to as "The Big Five" because they are the most dangerous for hunters on a safari.
There were other animals too, of course. Here's a pod of hippo. I think they should be included in the big five (I guess it would be called "The Big Six" then) since supposedly they kill more people in Africa than any of the big five.

Not all the animals in Kruger Park are to be feared though. This baby giraffe is still young enough that his horns are fluffy.

And then, there are the birds. There is an amazing variety, but mostly I was amazed by how shamelessly they converged on any possible feeding station--especially the human's "feeding stations". It's against park rules to feed the animals, and that goes for the birds too. That's rather a tough rule to enforce, for obvious reasons.
Five minutes prior to taking this photo, I saw 2 elderly women throwing bread crumbs (likely wholewheat) to a small flock of birdies who were hopping and pecking wildly, happy for the sudden shower of food from above. Then along came a waiter. We couldn't hear what he said, but he held his hands up in front of himself, wrists together, in a hand-cuff-type fashion. The women got the message and the crumb tossing stopped. Rules are rules. Not according to the birds however. As soon as a nearby table was vacated, they were up lickety-split pulling onion rings, chips and what-have-you (assuredly, nothing wholewheat) off the plates then down onto the floor where they could fight over and feast on them properly. This went on for several minutes until the waiter came along and removed their fun. So much for rules.
I did manage to get a few shots of birds in the wild, but to me, these are far more interesting.These are hornbills (like Zazoo on The Lion King). And what do you suppose they're doing here? Not taking care of a cute little lion cub, for sure. They're beggars. All of them.
Except this one. Okay, there were others in the trees besides him. I love the way he's looking at me, judgmentally. I can think of many captions for this photo--especially captions about rules.

At the end of the day, after all the driving, searching and photo-taking we did, we were pretty tired and hungry ourselves! (Heather took this photo--she was still energetic enough :) And I'm happy to say we enjoyed splendid food without breaking any park rules.

As you can see, game-viewing--not business, was the highlight of our week. We hope to finish up some last minute things tomorrow morning, then get packed in the afternoon and leave early the following morning for our remote corner of the Mozambican bush...our own Kruger Park. Minus the wild animals, that is

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Welcome to Africa, Rick & Heather

After many months of hard work itinerating and preparing to come to Mozambique, Rick and Heather are finally here! They just spent 4 months in Brazil language learning, and their tasks now are:

1. Learning their way around the Nelspruit/Whiteriver area so they know where to go to source items and information (which they and the mission always need) and,

2. Purchasing initial set up items to take to their new home in the Mozambican bush.

3. Of course, there are other tasks as well like getting your internal clock in sync with Africa time and figuring out you speak Portuguese in Mozambique but English in South Africa :P
Though they'll have use of the old Isuzu pick-up, a more reliable vehicle is something Rick and Heather will be fund raising for and selecting the right one is the first step.

Poring over the local auto trader.

Checking out what is available.

The five of us (we're here with our niece, Kim) decided to all crawl into one of these showroom models to see how much space there is inside these double cabs with a full complement of passengers. We were just all nicely tucked in with the doors shut when the guys jumped out to examine the engine. It didn't take us ladies long to decide that 3 adults fit fine in the back seat, but now it was time to get out. Heather tried her door but the child lock was on. Kim tried hers...same thing. We called to the guys to open our doors for us, but with the hood up, they couldn't hear us. So there we sat rather helplessly with our windows up and doors locked! Finally I decided that I, in the middle, was in the best position to scramble over the front seat, get out and set us free. It was rather funny and we felt a bit foolish, but no one else really seemed to notice our antics. Just as well.

These guys' antics never go unnoticed though.

From early morning, these Vervet monkeys shriek and scamper across the roofs at Mercy Air playing tag with each other, scouting for food and making a general nuisance of themselves. Forget sleeping past 6 a.m.. But before today, I'd never caught them snooping at me through the sky light in our room. It's a good thing they're cute.

Although our plans for this week include a visit to Kruger National Park, that's not where the below picture was taken. We were surprised to see these two elephants in an empty city lot near Nelspruit. Eventually we figured they must belong to the circus tent just down the way.

Now that I've whetted your appetite for pictures of African animals, I'll try to post some next week. And I'll try to resist the temptation to photograph, once again, the impressive pot holes on our way home. No promises though.

Friday, August 15, 2008

At Paindane

The last item on our “to do” list while Steve & Karen were here was a visit to Paindane Beach in the Inhambane province. We started off the usual way—with a seriously packed vehicle and a 10 hour drive over bad roads. Then, and this is not the first time, we found the least-travelled, two-tire track, cross-country route there is to our destination. Bumping over dunes and getting stuck in soft, deep sand was not the most welcome way to end our day, but we joked about it and chalked it down as yet another adventure in Mozambique. Here are a few moments of our jolting ride. I think the squiggly dash lights tell the tale quite well.

If we hadn’t been ready for a few days of R&R before this trip, we most certainly were by the time we finally got to our beach shack! Here’s the place we stayed in.

It was a very basic structure where everything from 1 meter down was made of concrete (including our beds which were concrete slabs with a sponge mattress on top), and from a meter up everything was made from wooden poles and woven coconut palm crudely slapped together. There was mosquito screen on the windows which they needn’t have bothered with since the huge gaps between the door and window frames and the woven palm-leaf walls offered easy access to the hordes of mosquitoes that came to visit every night! Needless to say, our cans of “Doom” insecticide and “Peaceful Sleep” repellent were well used. This was our dining/vegging/ocean-gazing/photo-taking-of-awesome-sights gazebo. (Paindane reefs and beech: to the left) We were situated fairly high so had a nice view of the ocean and reefs. Beautiful, no?

And amazingly, on vacation, I was up early enough to capture a sunrise or two :)

There were a few days when winds blew some rain our way. This rainbow made a complete half-circle over the ocean.

We were pleased to discover that our trip coincided with Humpback Whale mating season, but we were mostly impressed by the fact that they seemed to like being on just the other side of Paindane reef, directly in front of us. We certainly saw our share of tail splashes and blowhole spume from our back door. This is the best shot I of their tails.

Dwight and Steve standing on Paindane reef, taking a break from snorkelling.

It was a wonderful break for us and a great time together. Yesterday, we took Steve and Karen to catch their flight back home while Kim stayed behind with us to help out for a few months.
This marks a whole new chapter in her life.

We have 2 days now to unpack, make sure work is on track, and repack for our next trip south to pick Rick and Heather up. After many months of preparation, they will finally be on African soil—a new and exciting chapter in their lives too.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A long bush walk

Yes, this is an early post. That's because we leave tomorrow on a week-long or so trip and I've decided to give a quick update before we go.

Our graduation ceremony went off without a hitch on Sunday. It was a great day, the service was vibrant and the graduates were so happy to receive their diplomas. I took a memory card full of cool photos too...which I subsequently made a mistake on while downloading and ended up losing more than half! :( I was in a mad rush at the time and was not happy with myself when I discovered what I had done. The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

Yesterday, Steve, Karen, Kim, George (one of our Mozambican staff) and I went on a very long bush walk. The plan was to visit the home of some people who receive help from the mission: a blind woman and a man with leprosy. We figured the walk would take us, oh, maybe 1-2 hours all together. To keep a long story short, our guide got a little lost and our walk ended up lasting 3 1/2 hours instead! It was a rather hot, dry walk since we left our bottles of water in the parked car. (Figured we wouldn't need the water on a short walk, of course.)

Despite the fact that our little sojourn was longer and thirstier than we had originally planned, it was very rewarding. One of our first stops was to visit an elderly man with pneumonia. Thankfully I had my medical bag so I left him with antibiotics and Tylenol. Our next stop was at this blind woman's house.

She has received help from the mission here for many years now, and in the last few years, this little home was built for her. The message on the wall is a "thank-you" to those who have extended help to her. I thought her idea was very unique, and I was very touched by the message where she thanks everyone for the help she has received and closes with "God be with you. Welcome."

Since it was the search of this gentleman's home that got us lost, we were quite relieved when we finally found him. He has had leprosy for many years and has lost much use of his hands (essentially, only the palms of his hands remain). I got a picture of him here with the new goats which he received from the "Unique Christmas Gift" project. Receiving these goats was a very happy and life-changing event for him!

In a way, the events of this particular day followed the pattern our lives out here in the Mozambican bush have taken for many years. Some days the path seems longer than it should be, and conditions are less than ideal. But even so, I love my "job" and can't think of anything else I'd rather do!


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Putting it on paper and celebrating

We drew quite the crowds as we went to deliver monthly food supplies to orphan homes in surrounding communities this week. Well, we always seem to draw crowds since we are rather an oddity. I’m sure what added to the usual attraction this week was the fact that we brought bright, colourful crayons and dazzling stickers for the orphan children to make personalized bookmarks with. It was tricky keeping the bookmark papers clean since much of life here happens close to the dirt, but then, what’s a dirt smudge or two, eh? They thoroughly enjoyed the chance to do some artwork which gave me some great ideas for follow-up activities.
Karen and Kim cutting out and preparing the bookmarks for the kids.

One of the events we celebrated this week was (finally) delivering the Perkins Brailler to Mateus. Here he is, putting his own unique signature on his “proof of ownership” paper.

Using this method to write is quite the time-consuming, laborious process, and I’m sure the machine will be a much quicker way for him to take notes at school. Let’s just say he’s a pretty happy chappy right now :)

Others putting pen to paper this week were the pastors who came to attend one of several annual intensive seminars that we conduct here at the mission. These men come from near and far to receive training and training materials which they then return to their areas with and use to mentor other church leaders. We had a fairly full-house this time around, and our camp tents were filled to capacity. Dwight, Steve, Francois and Joao held classes in various places around the mission including under a temporarily suspended tarp outside the camp kitchen. Needless to say, we’re quite anxious for the day when these seminars can be held in the proposed training center!
Steve teaching his class with Dwight interpreting into Portuguese.

This class was held in the mission office.
For my session on preventive health, I used smooth stones from the river bed and some decorative marbles to demonstrate the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. It was great fun.
This class took place under the makeshift tarp by the camp kitchen. Here’s Kim, my personal pharmacist—doing up packets of Tylenol, vitamins, etc. for the pastors this week. And who should be overseeing the whole operation, but Les, on her head! (Les may be re-named “Leslie” since Kim sort of figures the chameleon is a she rather than a he.)

Today, we took a brief break from our busy schedule to go celebrate Dwight’s birthday (it’s a bit early—but we will all be travelling next week). Tomorrow, the graduation ceremony will be held for those pastors who have now completed their studies after several years of diligent work. It will be a fine day, and we are expecting some of our local governmental VIP’s to join in our festivities. There are a few more very busy days in store for us next week, then we head to the beach with our family to catch a bit of R & R. We’ll be there on Dwight’s actual birthday, so there is more celebration in store! The sticker Kim placed on Mushu’s head said it quite well...Party on. :)