Friday, September 26, 2008

Fire and Alfie the baby duiker

While the northern hemisphere cools down and braces itself for the first frosts and snow falls of the season, we in Africa roast. Temperatures have soared to 40 and 41 Celcius in the past few days, and apparently there is no better time to set the bush alight. It's quite predictable really. We've had several fires along our boundaries already and thankfully, the guys have been able to defend the mission farm. Just one boundary, the other side of the river, remained and it was one we needed to keep an eye on. Our staff assured us no fire on the opposite bank would come over as the riverbed was still wet and the grass green enough from the heavy rainfall this past season.

A few days ago we got to prove their theory when, on one of the hottest days yet this year, fires were lit and the wind blew them in our direction. By mid-afternoon we could smell the smoke and see black, billowing smoke by the river. Dwight and I decided to head down to the river to watch the fire and monitor things from there. Once down by the river, we could see one of the fires but I didn't have a clear enough shot of it with the camera. We decided to head along the riverbed a ways to get a closer look. All we had to do was push our way past some lush, tall green reeds. Turns out, these reeds are a special breed of grass. The blades aren't soft at all, they're like...well, blades! Ouch! We managed to get close enough to get some decent shots and really were tempted to keep following our noses, but after about a hundred and one nasty pokes and jabs, we decided enough was enough and headed back home. 

By then the 2nd fire nearby had really roared to life and we had a good view of it from a higher vantage point (without the poking, jabbing blades of grass). The fire never did make it across that riverbed although we saw a few sparks that blew over with the gusting wind which Dwight rushed to to put out.

One of my very interesting jobs this week was babysitting Alfie (below). Alfie (short for Alfalfa--there's a reason for that name though I don't recall what it is) is a week-old baby duiker. She belongs to Rick and Heather, but they had to go to town one day to process new visas, so I got to watch over this little one while they were gone. 
We've raised several of these over the years and though they're cute, they can be quite the handful. They cry and need milk and make messes in the wrong places if you don't watch them closely (and sometimes even if you do). I don't really want my own anymore to raise, but babysitting one is fine. The unusual thing about Alfie is that she is lame in her front legs, likely because of the way she was strapped to the back of a bicycle by the guy who sold her. We've been watching her progress with a lot of interest because amazingly, she seems to be learning how to walk even though she's crippled. Otherwise, she's your average baby buck with her big brown eyes, loud squeals and a craving for sticks and leaves which she's chewing on in the photo above.

Rick, Heather and Kim had to renew visas this week. Here they are posing with their typed, signed and stamped (it's not official without a stamp) letters of request to immigration for an extention on their visas. 

The guys have made some good progress on the trusses for our house this week. This shot is taken from our bedroom. The dark-wood heavy beams will be exposed (ie the ceiling will go behind them). It's a great bush look--lots of wood!

Crawl/storage space update:

Notice the goofy grin on Dwight's face? I looked the same way earlier in the day while we were packing boxes of used clothing, camping supplies, buckets of paint, etc. down there. Every inch forward requires a great amount of effort here, so when progress is made, we practically leap for joy! Especially when it's progress on something we've had so little of all these years--storage space. Yay! Doesn't it look good with its fresh coat of paint?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Strange Sights, Strange Things

I guess this was the first strange sight of our week and you have to agree, it is pretty strange! It was Kim's birthday and out here in the bush, a special occasion is only as exciting as you make it. So...we pulled out all the stops. The party kazoos (that's what I'm told they are), were especially fun. Their uses know no bounds. Just ask Kim who decided to use hers to blow out her candles. It was hilariously funny, but I think you had to be there:)
Here's another strange sight that wasn't nearly as funny.
In fact, it wasn't funny at all. Our desktop, which has been my lifeline since the loss of my laptop, somehow got infected by a virus, a trojan and a worm. At least that's my understanding of what was seriously "bugging" my computer, and me! I phoned a few people in the know (before I figured out what was wrong) and they thought the computer likely had a hardware problem. They suggested that I unseat then reseat the motherboard and, whatever else, I don't quite recall. I've never touched the inside of a computer in my life before so this was quite a big step for me. They also suggested I try to clean it out inside, which I did. I've cleaned before, so that was no big deal :P I managed to do all this without permanently damaging anything, but it only produced a temporary fix. Aaaagggghhh! Solution #2 was to solicit the help of our son, Russell. He recommended I download a different antivirus program (Avast) which located no less than 51 infected files on our system. The long and short of it is that even Avast couldn't permanently heal the infection, so Francois is helping us take more drastic measures like reformatting the hard drive. 

What I find really strange about all this is the fact that computers, like humans, get "viruses", are referred to as "infected", and need to be "healed". You'd think the computer geeks of the world could have come up with some more technical terms for electronic troubles! One thing is for sure, we can certainly all relate to these ones.
Centering the door frame in my future office was another challenge this week. That's because the doorway is situated at an angle across a corner. I'm sure that sounds confusing, but I decided to do it that way to #1 eliminate an otherwise imposing corner that jutted out into the front room and #2 because I thought it would look nice. It was a very confusing concept for the brick layers. Doors are supposed to go on flat stretches of walls. Putting one on a corner is just, well, strange. Thankfully, in Dwight's absence, Rick came to the rescue and got things on track again.

I was very excited to see this small part of our house nearing completion this week. It's the basement...sort of. We don't really have basements in Africa, so I guess that makes this an oddity in its own right. Because we built on sloping ground, the one side of the house needed alot of back-filling with dirt. This space is the area under a portion of the veranda and would have required around 35 cubic meters to fill! After some consideration, we decided that rather than try to move that much earth one wheelbarrow-full at a time, we'd just keep the cavity and finish it off as a little crawl space to use for storage.

Storage space comes at a premium here and you should see the line-up of boxes of used clothing, medical supplies, etc. waiting for this little room to be ready. A quaint little door has since been hung in the doorway, air vents are in place, next job is a coat of paint to help brighten things up and, voila! At least part of the house will soon begin to fulfill its purpose.

Awhile back, I blogged about a young man who was blind and in need of a brailler so he could keep up with his schoolwork once he started attending a nearby school. Someone graciously responded to this need and now he's in his element. Looks like his classmates are in theirs too. As we snapped photos indoors, throngs school kids jockeyed for best position to peer through the windows at us while those inside could hardly contain their excitement over the visit (mostly it was the presence of cameras). One group of boys even offered to dance for us but their teacher put a quick end to that bright thought. This was, after all, a school. There was schoolwork to be done.

I just had to throw this one in here because it's cute. Kim and one of the orphan children making friends.

I try to keep reptiles in the last paragraph, so here we go. This last picture is really the strangest sight this past week, even stranger than us all dressed up in party hats and masks. This is a pair of Twig Snakes, the Mozambican species, mating. I've never witnessed anything like this before in all my years here. Perhaps more disconcerting than the fact that they were superbly disguised among the twigs of this tree, is the fact that they were making more of their own kind! This is a very poisonous snake.

I guess I'll sign off here for this time. Dwight returned this week from a 10 day trip north holding leadership seminars. He returned with some exciting stories (click here) which he has written up. So if you read this before the link is in place, don't forget to check back.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

The hot African sun

There are some things we like familiarizing ourselves with. And then there are others that, well, we would just as happily pass up on. Like a long walk in the hot sun. But more about that later. First, here are a few shots of Heather making new acquantances this week.

I kinda like him. I think. Hmm, let me think about this awhile (not a direct quotation...but pretty close).

This little guy though, she loved!

(This 7 day old baby is one of a set of twins currently receiving infant formula from the health post’s supplemental milk program.)

We've been doing a lot of walking lately. That's partly because we're busy with the task updating files on orphans and orphan homes that the mission supports. We can drive to some of the homes, but others can only be reached on foot. Doing this has provided a great opportunity for Rick, Heather and Kim to become acquainted with the families and where they live. Getting to know the families has been the fun part. Getting there, however, has not quite as fun--especially considering the fact that last week our spring temperatures were climbing into the mid-30's. These are a few shots of the trips made last week. George and Kim. (George is on staff with the mission and is in charge of food and supplies purchasing and distribution for many of our programs.)
Below is a picture of a home visit that George, Heather, Kim and I went on together. It turned out to be a grueling 3 hour bush walk on a scorcher of a day. We went to visit this little guy. This boy lives with his granny in a fairly remote part of the bush and they have been receiving help from the mission for just over a year now. When we arrive at most homes, we draw a crowd. This home was no different. Here was the small crowd we drew in that community. I guess we are rather an oddity!

One piece of information we needed to get on this visit was a birth date for this boy. People out here often don't know their birth dates since many don't have birth certificates and other useful things like calendars, etc. to help keep track of time. (Even I lose track of dates and I have calendars and clocks all round me :P So I ask the granny if she might happen to know his birth date.
"I don't know. He's 8 years old."

"OK. Eight years old. Do you know if he was born in the summer or winter time?" (Maybe we can narrow down an approximate birth date.)

"Hmm..." She then consults the small group huddled beside us. After some discussion, they agree that he was born in the summer time during the heavy rains.

"Good. Around January then?"

More consultation, then, "Yes. January, 2000."

We asked a few more questions, took some photos and checked to see how her house was holding up, then it was time to head back home. In the intense heat. Unfortunately, the cool hours of the morning were long gone and we were stuck in the mid-day sun. We made a mental note not to do that again.

On Sunday we attended a welcome service for Rick and Heather at Pastor Ricardo’s church. They welcomed them in fine Mozambican fashion with singing, dancing and the waving of scarves. After the service they fed us a wonderful Mozambican meal of rice, stewed chicken and salad. Our compliments to the chef (aka: the pastor’s wife)!
Here we’re enjoying a few special numbers by the youth choir.

Kim testing out her to African bongo playing abilities. Not bad. I wonder if she’ll give up her bass guitar for this? And for those curious to know how progress on our house is going, well, the window frames are being put in and when Dwight gets back from his 10 day trip north doing seminars…we’ll get those roof trusses in place! Getting them up where they are now was an enormous task. But you’ll have to take my word for it since photos of the event went missing with my laptop.

I guess with that I'll sign off for this time. I've had some desktop computer troubles this week so getting this blog pulled together and posted has been quite the challenge.
They say that missionary presentations tend to end with sunset pictures. I can abide by that, especially these days when the smoke in the air produces such fantastic special-effects.

The sun here may be intensely nasty at midday, but by the time it is setting, low in the sky, I've usually abandoned my grudges and savour every moment of watching it sink into the horizon. Yes, this is definitely the best time of day to appreciate the African sun.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Loss and Recovery

This has been a week of memorable events, both good and bad. It started off with us getting ready to return to Mozambique with Rick and Heather. Even though we have a double cab pick-up, it's a Toyota, which means it's compact. Not one of your North American monster-sized pick-ups. The 5 of us fit in the cab, albeit a fairly cozy fit, but the stuff we needed to haul home was sure not going to fit in that small canopy! Extra measures were required so a carry-rack installed and with some fancy packing by the guys, we were loaded to the hilt and ready to blaze the trail to Mozambique.

Well, nice idea. Our blaze was reduced to a dying smolder as we rounded the hill toward the border and encountered several kilometers of back-logged traffic standing dead still! I had to smile as we inched slowly past this "80" km/h speed sign. Yeah, we wish :)

It took us 2 hours to get through the border. That included, besides the good long wait in traffic, getting our passports stamped out of South Africa, waiting in a long pedestrian cue on the Mozambique side, purchasing visitor's visas for Kim, Rick and Heather for Mozambique, getting passports stamped into Mozambique, and claiming our purchases with the customs official. It could have taken longer, but it was long enough!

Once we were across the border, it was back to the business of blazing that trail home once again. This trip home is usually a 2 day, 10 hours driving per day affair, but with the border delay we were now looking at a 12 hour day. By lunch time we decided to make a real quick pit stop to kill the hunger pangs. Then we were off again.

Day 2 should have been a 10 hour drive. That's what it usually is. But on this trip we experienced a rather unfortunate event. As I mentioned earlier, our vehicle--especially the canopy--was stuffed very full. It was so full, in fact, the back hatch on the canopy needed an good stiff push to close "click". Anyway, several hours into our day 2 trip, we stopped at this perpetually unfrequented gas station for fuel. There was no fuel. There were no other customers either, except a vehicle did pull through while we were there. Maybe just to visit with the attendants who spend the majority of their time text messaging on their cell phones. We carried on, stopping a bit further along our way for a road-side lunch.The sun was scorching that day and shade was sparse, so after a very brief snack, we piled back inside and kept driving. An hour or so later, we noticed that the back hatch was open. "What??!! That's not good!" (Why it was open remains an unresolved mystery to us.) We stopped and were not surprised to discover that we had lost some luggage along the way. To be precise: my laptop, my camera (both in their cases), and a backpack full of medicine. These items are valuable so we decided to backtrack and see if we could recover something...anything Our long 10 hour trip home was about to get much longer!

We backtracked to the place where we had stopped at for lunch, and there we were waved down by a gentleman. He told us that a local lady, who lived nearby, had found the camera. We drove to her home and sure enough, there it was. The lense filter had a dent and the bag had a few scrapes, but amazingly, it still worked. Apparently the family had tried it out and decided that what with its charger, cords, memory card and all--out there in the unelectrified bush, it was of no use to them.

This is what my camera was busy taking pictures of during its 2 hour adventure in the hands of its finders :).

The camera-finder and her family. We left them with a thank you gift and were on our way once again.

Sad to say, we never did find the remaining items. We stopped and spoke to at least 10 other people who shook their heads sympathetically. They had no knowledge of the lost bags but they took our phone number and said they would call in case anything turned up. That was nearly a week ago, and so far we've had no calls. I'm very sad about the loss of my laptop. Although I had a few things backed up in one form or another, I lost many hours of hard work, information, pictures, etc. I had been meaning to back everything up for quite awhile, but just hadn't found the time.

Tip of the week: Back up your files. Now :)

My loss, however, pales in comparison to the loss others experienced last week. I refer to this season as the "Season of Fire" because every year, during August and September, most of the African bush burns, totally out of control. There are many theories as to why it gets set alight, but one thing is for sure--it causes wide-spread devastation and loss of property and lives. Last week, many lives were lost in the fires that ran rampant across this part of Mozambique. Two of our staff members lost their homes plus their year's supply of food. It was a very sad week indeed. Please pray with us as we all work towards recovery.

Morning air thick with smoke.

It was good to finally get home after such a marathon trip. Everyone immediately got to work unpacking and Rick and Heather are now busy settling into their new home and environment. One of the essentials initially, is a vehicle, so they will be using the Isuzu. It's had its own problems here and there and requires a bit of attention to get things functioning again . Its chances of recovery are quite good though, thankfully!