Sunday, December 26, 2010

On Pause

It’s that funny time of year where the busyness of life gets put on a longish pause for Christmas celebrations. If Christmas falls mid-week, it tends feels like a weekend, which is a bonus because you still get the weekend anyway. If Christmas falls on a weekend there's still a bit of a bonus because then things start unwinding from Thursday onward. So either way, Christmas creates a pause in most people's routine.

The "Christmas pause” lends itself well to taking stock of the past year’s (and years’) events. I always find myself comparing where we are now to where we were a year ago, 5 years ago, and so on. This year, the reminiscing drove me to scan some old black and white photos of some of my childhood Christmases.

They say that many things throughout our lives are measured by our first experiences with them. I'd say that is also true of Christmases.

Here’s a photo of one of the earliest Christmases I remember, set in the beautiful coastal mountain range in B.C., Canada.

(My brother, my sister, and me...with my first medical bag :))

The air was fresh, the snow—perfect snowman/snowball quality, and the smell of wood smoke often hung in the air from some or other home’s fireplace. THAT…has been a tall order for subsequent Christmases to meet, especially considering most of them have been spent in the tropics. Snow and snowballs are a bit of a rarity here!

But the wonderful thing about Christmas is that it is not only celebrated on the outside. It is celebrated on the inside, in one’s heart, as well. And while I find that my earliest Christmas may have the upper hand when measured on the outside, on the inside, each and every subsequent Christmas has been celebrated with a much deeper appreciation for the Child who was given to us whose name is: Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Since the week has been put on pause for the last few days, I’ll post a few photos of some of our pre-pause and mid-pause moments.

Tony and Leila, friends from Maputo, came to spend a few days here last week.

Leila enjoying a few moments with the ladies and children at the mission's grinding mill (below), located by the school and new clinic.

While showing them around, we popped in and checked progress on the mission school's health post.

Pindurai, one of our sponsored students who has an artistic flair, busy painting the walls.

While on the veranda one night last week, I discovered a most beautiful sky just waiting to be photographed. I didn’t even come close to capturing its awesomeness, but here are some of my humble attempts.

Above photo: part of Orion at the top and the moon peeping through the trees at the bottom.

Moon behind the trees to the right, and a few cloud puffs floating by.

Our orphaned klipspringer, who is still with us, goes “on pause” quite often when he needs a break from his busy life of bottle-feeding, grazing, running, jumping and bunting.

He has a fine pair of pointy little horns starting up, so we’re busy devising a scheme to handle the bunting part before we get seriously jabbed! Him bunting is cute, for now, but it won’t be for long.

(If you look closely you can see the one tiny horn poking out above his eye, just to the right of the black diamond on his forehead.)

Last paragraph = eeby jeeby ☺

This is our buggy, spidery time of the year where the difference between a “swept and de-webbed” house and a "buggy, spider webbed" one is measured in mere seconds. All you have to do is turn your back and they get busy moving back inside. And I’m not kidding about that.

Thankfully this one was outside. This guy spun his fabulous web across our driveway during the night. We took the web down for obvious reasons. Sorry big guy :S

That’s it for now. Happy Holidays everyone. I’m going on pause for just a while longer!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reduce Noise

Maybe things aren’t all that noisy. Maybe we’re just getting old.

(Joao: event coordinator and all around good-guy!)

Or, maybe those squawking party-favor horn things that the kids were blowing on yesterday reached a higher decibel level than the loud music the sound system was cranking out!

Either way, the mission was a noisy place yesterday as we held two parties. First was the orphan Christmas party, and what a grand event that was.

What makes for a great Christmas event?

1. Good music.

Not traditional Christmas carols though (those are too foreign), but rather “Charamba”, the preferred African Christian singer in these parts. Actually, any ordinary event is made special by playing a “Charamba” CD. As loudly as possible.

Dwight and I feel that if you can hear the music at a volume setting of 5, there’s no reason to set the volume at 10. Apparently we’re wrong.

Enjoying (loud) music while waiting to be seated.

Oh, and don’t forget to make your own music too.

Farai beating the drum with impeccable rhythm.

2. A nicely decorated place.

Not with mistletoe and gold and silver balls, but with balloons of every shape and color! We did set up a fake tree though, seeing as how mine was available

since this year I did something different and made my own Christmas twig tree.

We had hoped to have the cement floor poured earlier this week, but that didn’t work out. There always seems to be a shortage of cement here for one reason or another. It’s quite the saga. This time, apparently the cement factory “broke” last week. So we did our best to pack down the dirt floor then spread some sand over that.

3. Good food.

Not turkey though, because fowl is not served at a “real” feast. Goat, or sheep is preferred. So we did a sheep in a huge pot.

with rice and a salad, then sweets.

4. Good drinks too, and what could possibly be better than orange Fanta? Especially when it’s served cold!

5. Good entertainment.

On a screen, if possible. We were happy this week to come across a nicely put together (and fairly culturally appropriate) powerpoint presentation of the Christmas story. There’ll be no going back to just reading and showing pictures from a book now!

And then, there are the fun games. You can always go back to fun old games!

6. Gifts for everyone.

Since these orphan children live at home with a caregiver (usually a granny), the grannies attended the party as well. As did those with physical disabilities who also receive help.

Those with babies and small ones prefer to sit on the grass mats.
Anyway, it's traditional to sit on a mat.

Everyone got gifts.

And it wasn’t even too warm to wrap up in the gift fleece blankets that came from Grande Prairie (Canada).

The "adults side" of the party.

But you wouldn’t catch me under one of those blankets, nice as they are, not on a hot muggy day like yesterday! In fact while much of the party carried on, Dwight and I were busy up at the hot office sweating it out and trying to get our internet sorted out. We had a wild lightning-zapping, thunder-clapping storm on Thursday night that our modem and routers didn’t take kindly to. I guess they don’t like too much noise either because it was “all systems dead” the following morning. ☹

And so we spent the better part of Friday talking to and trouble shooting with our internet providers in the UK. There is no cell coverage in the office, so it means we have to stand just outside the office. That’s where the reception is--but not in the shade. It’s always smack dab right where the intense African sun beats down in earnest. Good thing I brought my umbrella and gave it to Dwight so he wouldn't get sun stroke. Also, if you can find a high spot to stand, you get fewer dropped calls.

Dwight roasting in over 35C talking to guys in the UK where it was apparently snowing at the time. (Don't worry, he didn't fall.)

This isn’t our first time doing this, so we have the system down pat. Dwight does the talking and I write down the instructions. Then he hangs up and we go inside to carry out said instructions. Then it’s back outside again to call the guys in the UK to report our findings and to get more instructions. Sometimes I stay inside the office and we shout back and forth to each other through the open window, but that’s not always very effective.

Standing by the window to relay IP numbers at one point, and I noticed these tiny ghecko eggs. (I think they're ghecko eggs.)

Half way through this process, it was time for the staff party to begin, so we took a break and joined them. We were also celebrating the retirement of one very special elderly gentleman: Fernando, the mission school’s cook.

Dwight and Gabriel present Fernando with a walking stick. He and his wife (left) also received chairs and a table.

He has faithfully and lovingly served the school and its students for many years and we are sad to see him go. But we’re happy for him as well.

Then the staff had their Christmas party and received their gift grocery bags,

all while listening to “Charamba”…very loudly.

I must admit that I can’t help but enjoy the lights and noise at this time of year because it makes me remember the deeply meaningful and central reason for it all: our Messiah’s birth.

I’m pretty sure celebrating with the volume set at 5 or so would be sufficient though ☺

PS: You’ll have to forgive the softness of most of the above photos. The camera we were using must be getting tired. I did my best to sharpen them in iPhoto.

Interesting that the most helpful adjustment in sharpening them was labeled: “Reduce Noise”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No Small Challenge

I love everything about Christmas, from the Amazing Reason we celebrate right down to the twinkling, colored lights. When our kids were small and their eyes full of wonder, there was no effort too big to tackle at Christmas time. Even the most tedious of tasks, like putting fine detail on gingerbread houses, was fun. But I have to admit that now that I no longer have little hands a-helping or small, wonder-filled eyes a-watching, I prefer to keep the tasks short, sweet and simple.

While in South Africa a few weeks ago, I spotted the perfect alternative to the fiddly job of setting up our usual Christmas tree: a simple but attractive "twig tree". As I took a photo of it I thought, “We live in the bush and have twigs…this will be a snap!” I had no idea what I was in for. Let me summarize my steps for you in case you get the same idea:

1. In the morning, go bush whacking to source a fallen tree with the right shape of branches. (Shape is important.)

2. Get scratched and poked by twigs while selecting, dragging home, and trimming choice branches.
3. Inflict minor hand injury while tapping, banging, twisting, and almost turning self inside-out while trying to pry open varnish containers sealed tight by +/- 10 years of hardening by lack of use.
4. Assemble white acrylic paint, paintbrushes, glitter, newspaper, and a container of water and one of gasoline (for clean up).

5. Get to work and get varnish, paint and glitter on respective branches and dowel sticks, plus on fingers, hair, and in nice glass of coke with ice, too.


6. Get annoyed with pet buck who won’t stop giving everything “the taste-test” and in doing so, knocks things over and generally...well...can be a nuisance.

Tasting newspaper

Tasting varnished branches

7. Get sidetracked while varnishing and decide to be real productive and recoat several household items like precious-to-beholder-bush-wood, a basket, and "the hippo".

8. 8 hours into making said “simple” twig tree, drill and re-cut holes in Christmas tree balls so they fit on dowel sticks.

9. Make supper, prepare vase for twig tree, do more drilling, then realize it’s 10 p.m. Go to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

Ah well, I have to admit that despite this being no small challenge, it was quite fun. And hopefully as a result we’ll have a lovely Christmas twig arrangement that we’ll enjoy for the rest of the Christmas season.

But something happened this week that challenged me on a much deeper level. A child was hit by a vehicle on our stretch of highway and was left unattended while the anxious crowd gathered to discuss what had happened. Dwight and Celestino were nearby and when they stepped in to help, they noticed the child bleeding heavily so took action to stem the flow and took the child to hospital. Sadly, he later lost his life. These types of accidents are not unusual in these parts, especially as the number of vehicles on highways increases and as rural communities grow and set up homes and marketplaces along the shoulders of highways.

For me, to work with people in identifying the things that can be changed and then to put those into practice so lives can be saved…THIS is no small challenge. But one thing I know for sure, the results will live past Christmas season.

Otherwise, it was a very cool, rainy week. So rainy in fact that the resulting mud brought all the big machines to a standstill. Even the backhoe that finally arrived to start filling in the Training Center’s foundations couldn’t carry on and had to be parked until next week.

Training Center in background. Foreground: obvious reason for backhoe to stop :P

Flying ants always come out after a rain, and somehow, they find their way to any light. This is our kitchen wall with a flashlight shining on it (after the generator goes off). The window screens were all CLOSED, btw.

Some things don’t stop just because it rains though. One of those is the ripening of fruit! And so the litchi harvest carried on through rain or shine.

Litchi sorting. Left: Jose, the guard keeping an eye on things.

Another thing that doesn’t stop just because it’s raining is bats stealing and eating litchi’s in the night!
Fruit bat (from Kruger Park, tourist photo. Not mine, unfortunately.)

I think as the litchi orchard grows in productivity, so does the number of fruit bats that descend on it each season. If you walk in the night, you can hear the swoosh from their great wings and the munching of fruit and dropping of seeds to the ground. It's like a huge, invisible banquet taking place.

One pile (of many) Litchi bat scraps

Jose, the above pictured guard, went on a “bat hunt” one night with our b-b gun but only managed to shoot one. So I guess bat control is no small challenge either.

Anyway, I’d best run along for now. There's a certain “simple” twig tree I really need to finish.

PS: You may want to check Dwight's latest blog update too.