Saturday, July 25, 2009

Half Lemon, Half Orange

This week I asked Simon, one of the Health Care Workers, his opinion about a certain situation. His response?

“Ehmmmmmm…I’m thinking, half lemon, half orange.” He said with a wide, confident smile.

“Oh, you mean it’s so-so? Kind of not-so-good, kind of good, then?” I asked.

“Yeeeessssss!” he said nodding his head enthusiastically as the smile got so wide that his eyes crinkled at the edges.

I think I’m going to use that “half lemon, half orange” expression a time or two myself. It seems fitting for those situations that are of a not-so-good, sort of good kind of nature.

In fact, today was a "half lemon, half orange” kind of day. We had decided that although we had other work that urgently needed our attention, we should make a quick trip to town to pick up some stuff before we got totally absorbed in the leaders’ intensive seminar next week. It’s always nearly impossible to get away when those seminars are on because each day’s schedule is back-to-back sessions. We thought we’d do a quick morning trip and be back by lunchtime. That would give us the afternoon to focus on the work we really wanted to get done.

So off we headed into Chimoio, our nearest business center about 45 minutes away.

First, we needed cash. This is not a cashless society--at all! The cues at the ATM’s were ridiculously long though, and banks were closed, so we had to resort to trading foreign currency on the “parallel market” (aka: independent money changers who ply their trade in the streets, many times, right outside banks).

Then we headed for the propane gas outlet in high hopes they’d be open on Saturday—not a popular notion here to be open on the weekend-- AND that they’d have some full cylinders to exchange. (We run gas fridges and stoves, so propane is about as essential as water for us.) Wouldn’t you know it…they had one full tank for us. (Bingo! Orange ☺)

Then we headed for the grocery store to pick up our week’s groceries. Things were busy, but then they usually are at our one and only true grocery store in town. When the full bill had been totaled, I pulled out a credit card to pay (this is the ONLY store in town that accepts credit cards—what a luxury). When the lady at the till saw my credit card, she said apologetically, “Ohhhhh…we can’t take cards today. The machines weren’t working and the bank has removed them all. You have to pay cash. We accept Mozambique Meticais, South African Rands or U.S. Dollars.” (lemon. major lemon) We had not counted on this new development. Cash flow is always a challenge here because, like I said, we’re not a cashless society at all and banking/dealing with multiple currencies is a real challenge! After some “Ohhh’s” and “Hmmm’s” we decided on a careful combination of Rands and Meticais. We certainly couldn’t leave our week’s food supply sitting there at the till!

Once that and a few more stops were done, it was time to head home. Oh, but to be on the safe side, we decided we should get some fuel. So off we head to the nearest fuel station. Problem is, there is a critical fuel shortage here right now so it took us 3 station stops (of arm waving and “No! No fuel here!”) to finally find the one and only gas station in town that had fuel (orange, I guess). You can tell if a station has fuel these days because of the long cue outside. So we entered the cue (that, would be a lemon) which at that point extended outside the station into a lane on the wrong side of a main highway.

We're the silver pick-up above. Gas station in the distance.

Yes, it was a bit disconcerting to have big semi’s barreling down on us! (Remember that we have right-hand-drive vehicles and drive on the left-hand side here).

I think the entire countryside showed up for fuel right then, everything from pedestrians wanting as little as 500 ml to huge buses (below) that wanted goodness-knows-how-much and did their best to cut in line. Actually, nearly everyone was cutting in line. For almost an entire 2 hours, we waited, in line, for 32 litres of diesel.

This guy just kept inching closer and closer and would have run us right off the track had Dwight not gotten out of our vehicle and gone and talked to him through his front windshield (he seemed oblivious to my talking and arm-waving right beside him).

In fact, he actually ran right into the guy behind us. There was a rather heated debate going on about then. Just one of many, mind you. I imagine that maybe the gold rush was something like this?

Finally we made it to the pump and got our fuel. ☺ Phew. By the time we got home, it was nearly 4 p.m. Time to make a fire for hot water, sort out a few details for the pastors who were arriving for the seminar, and get supper on. So much for getting much else done!

Here are a few of the promised photos of delightful, recent developments (yeah, oranges).

The Mercy Air plot, house foundations being dug and garage/storage area which is already up (building at top of photo).

An orphan/widow home that went up and was painted in our absence. I think it's beautiful. Note the guinea fowl between the house and the stick hut :). I know, they're small in the photo, but I love the fact that they're there.

Brand new latrines at the nearby preschool. Gotta love the pink flower which, of course, denotes "girls".

I better run, we'll soon be offline for the night. Here's hoping you have more oranges than lemons this week.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Going Home

Finally, after months of travel, this week on Monday we got to head home.

Departing Kruger International Airport (KIA), South Africa.

On our way home, we fly right over Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger Park (below) en route to Vilanculos, Mozambique where we clear customs.

The view of the Mozambique coast at Vilanculos is always breathtakingly beautiful with its bright sand, clear blue water and low tides.

This airport is quite small with only 2 immigration and 2 customs officers. So if too many people arrive at the same time, things get pretty hectic. Murphy’s law was in full effect on Monday, I guess, because three commercial flights arrived at the same time we did. It took several hours to get our passports stamped, customs/aircraft documents cleared, the plane refueled and back in the air for the last 1 hr. 40 min. flight to Chimoio.

Oh yeah. I had this open when we were at 9,000 ft (where the air is "thin") then sealed it to land.

Talk about flat!

When I see stuff like this, I have to marvel that our bodies handle pressure changes as well as they do. I'm sure thankful I don't look this flat once we land!

And that made me think about the whole pressure thing. There’s a lot to be said about our resilience when faced with pressures of different kinds, and most often, it's only once we're through it that we realize we "made" it and didn't end up too flat for all of it. We truly are wonderfully made!

It was smooth sailing on the home stretch so Dwight had a chance skim the news headlines (remember, we’re flying—not driving)...

while I got stuck into my next lesson in statistics.

And now, even with all the chaos of just having arrived home, unpacking our suitcases, unpacking and reorganizing stuff we left stored away,

...organizing goods left by others (medicine, used clothes, etc.--and oh, look what we have here on my bulletin board--better keep my eyes open for surprises :P),

and even with me being sick for a day in between…It’s still good to be home!

And now that I'm home, I have a “to do” list that’s about a foot long which includes final prep on my Preventive Health Manual for the intensive seminar next week, visiting: orphan homes, the school, the local hospital director, (a bunch of other stuff,) and taking photos of all the recent developments here. I’ll do my best to post them by next week.

But that’s next week. Right now, it’s Saturday. And since I’m still officially recovering from the flu (or (relapsing) malaria…one really never knows for sure which is which here but that's a whole other blog entry), I’m going to grab a 2nd cup of coffee, put my feet up and relax.

OR, maybe I'll sort through those cases of donated medicine on the veranda that I can barely wait to get my hands on!

Oh, and Mushu says "hi".

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Give me a break!

We decided that after about 4 months of a fairly relentless 7-day-week furlough schedule of travelling, speaking, promoting, etc. (no, furloughs are not missionary “holidays”), and before we plunge head-long back into our roles in Mozambique, that this would be the best time to escape for a few days’ break. Besides, we wanted to do something special for our 28th wedding anniversary.

After considering a few different options, we decided Kruger Park was calling our names. Ah yes, the sights and sounds of roaming animals and red sunsets was very appealing, so we set about booking online. Unfortunately though, the park was full. Kruger tends to be a busy park at the best of times, but it’s also high season now as school is out (I think just about everywhere in the world), so, sadly, our booking attempt was turned down. We even decided to try a day-trip a few days later but were turned away at the gate. Too many people. “Give me a break!” I thought. I bet the animals were thinking the same thing.

At the place we eventually found

So we decided to go for somewhere “near Kruger” and were delighted to find a place that is situated in a smaller park that borders Kruger (along the Crocodile River) and that boasts a few animals of its own. On our way in, we spotted some hippos loafing, snorting, and wading, as all hippos do, along the river’s edge.

This spot was about a 20 minute walk from where our room was, but we could still hear their thunderous snorts quite clearly. It’s rather like a lion’s roar (in depth and volume) in that it is much deeper and louder than you can imagine, and it tends to vibrate the very inner core of your being. A hippo can be a huge, nasty beast (I believe they come 2nd only to the croc in terms of fatal attacks on humans), so I was grateful for the fences that separated us from them. But even so, I like them—from a distance—and was thrilled that the hours of our time away were punctuated by frequent snorts from the nearby hippo pod!

Animals within this smaller park are free to roam everywhere, and that includes yards, fuel stations and the like. We were on a walk one day, busily chattering to each other, when we suddenly notice a few large male kudu just a few meters from where we were. They stood and stared at us as we stared back at them. I think in their minds they were processing, “Okay, so, what now?” and so were we. I fumbled with my camera case and managed to get a few not-so-great shots of them after they’d figured out that what they should do now is “walk away” nonchalantly.

A small herd of warthogs wandered through the place while we were there, so I took a few snaps of Mr. Pig for you to see up close. Gotta love that hair.

Dwight beckons Mr. Pig to "come hither". Mr. Pig maintains a safe distance.

I had to get a picture of some of these paintings of Great Tuskers that hung on the walls (traditionally classified as an elephant that carries ivory of 100 pounds (45 kilograms) in ONE tusk. Bull elephants with huge tusks are a target for poachers, and therefore are monitored (even named) in most parks. This painting is of “João”, one of the original Magnificent Seven who roamed Kruger in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and who was named after a Mozambican park labourer.

It was a nice break away, but it was short as we still had last minute things to get and organize before heading to Mozambique. One of the items we needed to get was a small (power) generator.

This is a particularly economical unit that uses gasoline to put out 12 volts, which is then converted to 220 volts. Wattage output is determined by draw (for those of you who are electrically inclined...basically it means that the less power you use, the less fuel the engine consumes.) And it’s quiet, so that’s an added bonus.

From the sounds of things, our need for this little machine could be much more urgent that we realized since the province where our mission is located has experienced a “break” in diesel supply (aka: there’s an (unexplained) critical fuel shortage). This has brought things in the area to a virtual standstill. For the mission, limited diesel = limited driving and limited hours of power since the main generator uses diesel. Let’s hope this “break” is a short one as well!

Ron and Barb (Mercy Air) return today from their week of work on the mission. This means that our house is now empty again and ready for our return. We leave tomorrow morning, and thus closes the “Furlough 2009” chapter in our lives!

Dwight and a Swiss guest at Mercy Air S.A. put the Cessna away after Dwight took it for a test run and general systems check. Regular "checks" are always good to do on planes :P

I better run for now. Time to pack again.

TTYL (so long as we have fuel for internet, that is)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Going Home

5:30 a.m.
July 1, 2009

If you think it looks like we’re going nowhere fast in this picture—right from square one which was the Northwest airlines check-in counter at the Edmonton International Airport--you’d be right. That’s because our carrier, Delta, recently merged with Northwest Airlines and our ticket issuance and seating arrangement fell through the cracks somewhere in the shift. When we tried to check in (above: Dad Lagore and our kids, Russ and Amanda, wait patiently with us), Dwight was told that our tickets had not been “re-issued” (what with all that merging and all) but it had to be done before they’d let us on the flight. He was instructed to contact Delta and request the re-issuance. At 5:30 in the morning. I know certain places in the world where this would definitely NOT work!

But lo and behold, when he called, Delta was on the job and we got the tickets re-issued and carried on with our marathon trip! I’m happy to say that we got nearly everything packed we needed to (save those bulky walkers…we’ll work on those next time), and through security without any hitches.

A 2-hour flight got us to Minneapolis and the next one, to Atlanta, Georgia. For me, going any place in the southern U.S. is a treat because:

1. The South (Texas, to be exact) was one of my childhood homes and going back always conjures up fond memories.
2. They have nice, stiflingly warm weather.
3. You randomly get called you “honey” and “sweetie” by people you don’t know at all. Obviously the terms are used loosely, but still, it always makes me smile.
4. They drink wonderfully REAL iced tea made from scratch.

From Atlanta onward, our seats were supposedly not booked together. I had visions of us “pssssst”-ing, waving and motioning across the width or length of the Boeing 777, over the heads of countless curious passengers, in an effort to communicate basic essentials to one another like “I can’t find my passport!” or “I have the toothpaste…you wanna come get it or shall I try and toss it?” (Haha, just kidding.) This is a 15-hour flight (thanks to the jet stream, it’s 2 hours less going than the 17 hour flight coming), which is a long time to sit in a confined space and nod off with total strangers on either side! Thankfully, the lady behind the Delta counter was able to put us together in the bulk row seating. The draw back was that we sat beside a squawking 8-month-old baby, but I had earplugs and we got a few sweet smiles out of her, so it was okay.

By the time we got out of the Jo-burg airport with our luggage and a vehicle, it was around 9 p.m. and close to 0-degrees-Celsius-freezing-cold. It’s winter here and there is no central heating, so there’s little escape from the chill. It had been awhile since we’d had real food so we found a place still open and when we were done, we happily crawled into beds, wonderfully heated by electric mattress pads, for a good long sleep.

Your first clue that you’re back in Africa is when a restaurant looks like this on the inside:

And the traffic is all driving madly on the wrong side of the street. And there are power failures at the most inopportune times. And you can smell the smoke of uncontrolled field grass fires outside.

Ah yes, Canada is a good place to call home. But Africa is our home as well.

We head to Mozambique in about a week’s time. I expect busy times are in store for us once we get there, but it will be nice back in our little house in the bush once again.