The walls are almost up at Lomngeletjane!

The walls are almost up to the top of the window level at Lomngeletjane.  One more day’s work  and the “block work” should be finished.  Then comes what they call the ring beam.  It is a combination of block and cement work up to where the roof will attach.   Reinforcement bars (we know it as re-bar) and a metal flange is put in the concrete and it will actually be used to  secure the framing for the roof to the structure.  After that the block work will be done up to the gables (the peak of the where the roof will be.)  That should be done in about two weeks.

The walls are almost finished!

Make (pronounced “maa gay”, the term for mother) Busisiwe Mndzebele, the head teacher, is going to go to the Regional Education Officer next week to ask them to come look at the building and then write a letter recommending that Micro Project, funded by the European Union, give Lomngeletjane a grant to provide the roofing and windows.  There is a good chance that we will receive that grant.  The question is how long it will take and if we (I) can be patient.  Busisiwe told me that there is also a chance that they may provide the majority of the rest of the building materials to finish the building because we have done so much!  I gave her a list of the materials we need to finish the school and I printed out several of the pictures of the progress of this building, including pictures of the parents and community members working along with the McNeese team to do the foundation and slab.  She thinks that will help secure the grant.

Once again I am praising God for Busisiwe.  She is such a blessing for that school.  I am also thankful for the McNeese team, the parents and community members that came and worked so hard with the McNeese team, for Sipho our builder (he is fantastic) and for the donations from all of you so that we have been able to get this far on this building.  I don’t have a problem asking for funds from the European Union.  I am in favor of partnerships and if this works, then hopefully we can move on to the next project sooner than anticipated.  I think this will also give the parents and community more of a sense of ownership because they have worked to help finish this building.  So, please say a little prayer that we will get the grant and that it will come quickly so we won’t loose our builder.

Nkambeni Care Point

Today some of the ladies and I went out to Nkambeni care point /preschool.  Nkambeni is a little over an hour away from Manzini.  It’s way out in the rural area in what is called the low veld of Swaziland (lower elevation.)  What this means is that it is dryer and hotter with less access to water than some of the other areas of Swaziland.  Last night and this morning was very cold (upper 30’s, but remember, there’s no heat here.) so going to the warmer part of Swaziland was a good thing.

Nkambeni was built by the Young Men’s Guild of the Methodist Church, Central Swaziland Circuit.  They finished it in late 2006.  It started as a place where kids could come to get something to eat.  And then, as is so often the case with the care points at Methodist churches or schools, it became a “preschool.”  I use the label “preschool” very loosely.  There are generally very few materials and the teachers aren’t trained.  Indeed many of the teachers haven’t even completed a primary level education.  Nkambeni fits this mold.  However, not long after I came in 2007, we did a workshop for the carepoint/preschool teachers.  The two teachers from Nkambeni came.  They were very quiet and spoke almost no English, but they learned a lot.  And now when I go visit Nkambeni I am so thrilled to see that they are still using the concepts they learned.  They are actually doing something with these children.

Today my goal was to read them a story from the Children’s Bible and introduce the kids and teachers to finger painting.  I made 50 PBJ sandwiches to take to the children and also brought oranges.  In addition I still had some toothbrushes and toothpaste that had been donated and the last team left some extra Mardi Gras beads so it was a perfect opportunity to give these items away.  The ladies also brought some clothes and shoes that had been donated for the children.

What a face! Between a white woman communicating by talking a funny language, pointing and making this poor child put his fingers in yucky stuff, this little one looks a little overwhelmed.

This child was a little older and was using both hands, but if you look closely, you won't see smiles on any of their faces. The other amazing thing is that they sit absolutely still and there is no talking. How many preschoolers do you know that would finger paint and only get one hand dirty?

At first I was focusing on not getting frustrated and giving up. It was like pulling teeth to get the ladies focused to come in and help me do this. But after a bit I noticed that all of the Manyano ladies and the preschool teachers where showing the kids what to do. AND they seemed to be really enjoying helping the kids. Not enough to get paint on their hands, but they were fully engaged. That was a minor miracle.

After painting and handwashing we handed out the PBJ sandwiches and oranges. The kids had to sit outside to eat them since their wet finger paint masterpieces were drying on the tables in the classrooms. Oh well.

Juliet, Thoko and Thini ready to start handing out the Mardi Gras beads.

Juliet putting a string of beads on a child. The kids didn't say a lot, but you could tell they really liked the beads.

Three kids with some of their goodies. By the end of the morning I was starting to get a few smiles from some of the kids.

The kids in Swaziland are used to standing around or sitting and waiting for whatever will happen next. Waiting is part of the Swazi way of life. Here the kids were waiting while we made sure every child had everything.

Finally, at the very end I was able to read them a short bible story.  I read to them the story of the disciples trying to stop the children from coming to Jesus.  When I was finished we sang a few songs, including Jesus Loves Me.

When we were done at Nkambeni, we stopped in a nearby town and picked up the Manyano CCS (Christian Community Service) and then went to take some clothing and small food parcels to a couple of elderly people from the church in that area.

This gogo was at the first house we visited. She and her husband live alone in this homestead. She is blind. It was a bit cool out, especially in the shade. I felt so sorry for this lady. I wonder if she ever gets warm on cold days. I also wondered who was going to help this couple cook something to eat for dinner because neither husband or wife could get around very well.

Mr. and Mrs. Magagula with the Manyano ladies. Juliet is wearing black because she is what they can an evangelist.

This is the last elderly lady we visited. Her house was made totally of sticks and mud. We were there a chicken went into her hut, found a piece of food probably left from her last meal and walked out of the hut eating it.

Progress at Lomngeletjane

I went up to Lomngeletjane today to see how things are going.  I was very pleasantly surprised to see that we have walls for all 4 classrooms up to window sill height!  Yebo!  The walls should be completed in two or three weeks if we don’t have any delays such as the blocks not being delivered as promised.

The not so good news is, at this point I don’t have enough funds to finish the building.  The walls will be completed, but not much past that.  We’re taking things one step at a time and relying totally on faith.  When the walls are up the head teacher can apply for a Micro Project grant from the European Union to finish the roof.  However, we don’t know how long that could take.  In addition I’m told that in all probability we will loose our builder because he will have to take on another job while we wait to see if we will get the grant for the roof.  I’m also told that the Micro Project will want to get three new estimates and choose their own builder.  Sipho is a very meticulous builder and a compassionate Christian.  It would be a real shame to loose him, but an even bigger shame to not be able to finish the school before the new school year starts next January.

Sipho is filling the u-blocks with concrete. U-blocks are used underneath where the window frame will go to prevent the wall from cracking due to the weight of the frame. This is the first building at Lomngeletjane that has been built using u-blocks under the windows. I never heard of u-blocks until last week. I learn something new with each building that we do.

“Methodist Day” at Baylor Clinic

Today is the second Tuesday of the month which means it’s the day we take some of our kids from Lutfotja Primary that are HIV+ and on ARV’s to Baylor Clinic at the RFM hospital in Manzini.  On one hand, this is a day that always wears me out mainly because for me it involves a lot of sitting, waiting, hearing about the problems any of the kids are having and then knowing that they are looking to me for help and suggestions to make things better.  Many days it frustrates me and leaves me emotionally drained.   On the other hand, I love seeing the sweet faces of these children especially those that I have come to know a little bit more than others.  This usually happens because they have had a situation at home or they have had a period of ill health and so we saw the child more often, trying to do what we can to help them get healthier.

I love seeing their shy smiles bursting into pure joy when I say hi to them and call them by their name, shake their hand, rub their back or give them a little hug.  I ask them how they are doing and when they are clearly feeling better and I tell them how happy I am.  If they aren’t feeling well I tell them we will do what we can to help them get to feeling better.  I don’t know how much of my English they understand especially the younger ones and and I know that most of the gogos and mkhulus (grandmothers & grandfathers) don’t understand most of what I say, but I know we all share the language of love, compassion and gratitude.   This morning as I was preparing to go and thinking of the smiles of some of these precious children I thought of how much the Lord loves me and how happy he must feel when I come to him with a smile in my heart, thanking him, wanting to feel his presence and just be close to him.  I’m sure He feels the same way when I, His precious child, turn to him as I do when I see the smiles these precious children have for me.  I know that my God rejoices when I am feeling better just as I rejoice when these kids feel better.  And I think that just as these children are so shy, happy and probably amazed that they are being singled out and shown love and mercy, I am so amazed and overwhelmed with joy when I think about the fact that the Lord wants to single me out for His love and grace and  mercy by blessing me in so many ways.   These thoughts made the hard, frustrating moments of the day easier to endure.

Today we also brought two kids from Lomngeletjane to Baylor at RFM.  One is a little girl in grade one who is receiving treatment at a local red cross clinic.  We brought her to RFM two weeks ago because she had a very bad eye and ear infection. She and her gogo are my newest best friends.  The other child is the little girl I wrote about two weeks ago that needs to start taking ARV’s, but there isn’t anyone at home that will monitor her medication so therefore they may not put her on ARV’s.  The good news is that in the last two weeks after much family discussion, the grandfather said he is always home so he will monitor her medication.  However, he (and his wife) have a very big fear and mistrust of the hospital because they have taken 4 sick adult children to the hospital and they said nothing was done for them and they all died in the hospital.  Therefore, he will not come to Baylor clinic which leaves us pretty much in the same position we have been in.  The girl, Coliswa, still has a bit of an ear infection and it is clear that she didn’t take the antibiotics as she should have.  I went into the examining room with Coliswa and her Auntie.  The doctor was amazed to see me but was so happy I was there.  A few minutes later, Thembi, one of our volunteers from Lomngeletjane knocked on the door and came in.  The Doctor was even more excited.  So the good news is the Doctors know that we care about these kids and that we are going to keep trying to do what we can to see that these children get healthy and stay that way.  Thembi also knows that I am not going to give up on this child and her home situation.  I am going to continue to fight for this child (as nicely as I can which isn’t easy for me because when I am upset, everyone knows it even if I am quiet.)

While we were waiting to see the Doctor, I suggested to Thembi that perhaps if we talked to the grandfather and helped him understand that the clinic is different from the hospital and that if we take Coliswa to the clinic she may not have to go for the hospital for a very, very long time if ever, that perhaps he would change his mind and come to the clinic at least one time.  It is the experience of the Doctors that if the person who is responsible for giving the medication comes with the patient at least once so they can hear first hand how the medication should be taken, the chances of the medication being taken properly dramatically increases.  The Doctor made the same suggestion to Thembi and the auntie that I made earlier regarding trying to get the grandfather to understand and change his mind about coming to the clinic.  Great minds!

So, we are not giving up on the possibility of this child taking ARV’s.  The Doctor gave Coliswa more antibiotics and I said that I wanted the grandfather to bring Coliswa’s medication to the head teacher’s office at Lomngeletjane next Tuesday so we can see if she has been taking the medication correctly.  If the medication is not being taken correctly, then we will talk to him and ask the head teacher to be involved in the conversation.  We will go to their homestead if the grandfather doesn’t come.  With prayer and a lot of talk, I am going to stay hopeful that we can get this child on ARV’s, and have them administered correctly so that his child can live a normal healthy life.  So please keep praying and stay tuned.

There was one other thing that really stood out to me today.  The aunties, mothers and gogos, even our volunteers, don’t have the simplest common knowledge about illnesses that we have.  For instance, they don’t know that if a child has an ear infection the neck is often sore as well.  I wonder how a gogo could not know that, but then realize that a) in this country they don’t go to the Doctor very often when someone is ill.  And b) they don’t have the nerve to ask the Doctor to explain something or to ask him questions.  It is just one more way that our cultures are so different.

Pics from my birthday celebration

I had an awesome big “60” birthday thanks to all the calls, cards, text messages, facebook messages, presents and because of Jodi, Maurias and baby Emi who opened their house to our team and cooked an awesome Mexican dinner for my birthday! And to Jacci who baked a wonderful chocolate cake!  I was truly blessed and wrapped in love all day long.  Yebo, Gracias, Siyabonga and Thank you to all.

Several have asked that I put some pictures from my big birthday on my blog so here they are:

This team just made me laugh; especially Michael. He reminded me a lot of my son, Scott. I love everyone of them!

Michael and I posing for a pic.

Michael and I with our serious, angry, don't mess with me faces. Scared? I'm not sure why we were doing this, probably just to see if we could!

Some of the team helping me open my gifts. What a perfect way to celebrate a birthday - surrounded by love with friends who are just like family. But to make it even better, both of my sons called me on my birthday so I got to share the day with them as well! Praise God!

Me opening up one of my gifts from the States. This one had my bathing suit in it which I had left in Austin, so I had to look carefully to see what else I might find!

Jodi, Emi and Maurias, our hosts. Have you ever seen a happier baby? She is just a doll. Love and a huge thank you for making my day so special.

And finally Jodi and my dear sister in Christ, Jacci lighting the candles on my birthday cake. I'm not so sure about the look on my face. I must have been wondering how many candles they were really going to put on the cake!

So now the question is:  Now that I’ve reached this age, do I have to grow up?  I’m hoping not because I’m not sure I can.  There’s too much life to enjoy and I can’t wait to see what else the Lord has planned for my life.

Hlane Royal National Park

Thursday morning the team was able to sleep in a bit.  Then they did some last minute shopping at the local grocery store and the Manzini Market.  Then it was off to Hlane Royal National Park to experience a little bit of the African bush.  Hlane is about an hour from Manzini.  We got there a bit later than anticipated, but luckily we arrived in time to check into our huts (rondavels) before going on a sunset game drive.

Our rondavels.

We split into two vehicles for the sunset drive. The boys went in one and the girls (plus Justin) in the other. Unfortunately, we didn't have an even number of males and females so one male had to ride with the females. Justin was a good sport about it.

One of the first animals we saw was a herd of Wildebeast.

Not long after entering into the outer section of the park, we saw this lion sunning himself. A few minutes after we stopped to watch him from about 15' away, he got up and walked right behind our vehicles and then started pacing. He must have heard or smelled some of the antelope on the other side of the fence.

After a while, the lion started walking down this path and we followed him. He didn't seem to mind.

He was going to a watering hole. He startled us one time by jumping and running a little bit away from us. We must have startled him. But then he settled down and started drinking. We were close enough to hear him lap up the water!

We saw a herd of elephants, but we were looking at them into the sun so it was difficult to get a good picture of them. We couldn't get closer because there were several very young elephants in the herd. Elephants are very protective of their young, so it is best to give them a lot of space if they have young ones. After driving down the road a bit, we found the herd's bull elephant. He didn't seem to mind that we were about 15' away, but he did keep a close eye on us.

This gives you an idea of how close we were to the bull elephant.

A beautiful African sunset. This picture doesn't do it justice.

Shortly after sunset we returned to the base camp because it is too dark and dangerous to drive through the park after dark.  When we returned and started walking to our rondavels, we walked by a pond near the open air restaurant.  We heard this loud snorting sound.  It was very dark, but as we strained to see what was making the noise,  we saw a hippo out of the water near the pond.  I think we spooked him.  It seemed like he didn’t know if he should charge us or go back into the water.  Luckily there was an electric fence between us and him.  However, I really wondered if he decided to come at us if that little 3 wire fence would stop him.  It was totally awesome.   When we continued on to our rondavels we saw that the staff had lit lanterns outside and inside our rondavels.  It was so beautiful.

Two of the three birthday boys. After a great Swazi dinner, we celebrated Michael's 21st birthday, Morgan's 19th birthday and Justin's 14th birthday with presents (pictured), the traditional singing of Happy Birthday in English and Dutch and birthday cakes complete with candles.

AFter dinner we watched Swazi traditional dancing by a big bonfire. Afterwards Morgan & Michael showed the Swazi drummers what U.S. drummers could do.

Then it was off to bed early.  Many of us didn’t sleep real well because the lions roaring and the hippos periodically snorting kept waking us up!  Now, how many people can say the lions and hippos kept them awake all night?

This morning we went on a early morning walk.

Two of the three hippos in the same pond we were near last night.

The guide told us a few facts about hippos which included that they can swim, walk on the bottom of the pond or river or on land and that they can mate on land or in the water. The look on the girls faces tells it all!

We tracked and finally got close to some giraffes. These two were a little shy.

But this young male giraffe wasn't so shy. He walked right in front of us and let us come close to watch him eat.

We saw 8 or 9 rhinos all total. A few times we had to quietly back up and hide behind a bush so they wouldn't see us. We were less than 10' away from some rhinos at one point. This guy was on the road we had to walk on. We were probably about 20 - 25' away from him. There was a female rhino and her baby not far away. When it became clear that the rhino wasn't going to move and let us pass, the guide started using his walking stick to beat at branches to scare him away. (Thank God, white Rhino's have very bad eyesight.) Finally he went running away from us down the road and into some bushes.

Breakfast after our morning walk. Breakfast never tasted so good!

We left the park around 10:00.  I drove with the team as far as Mbabane where we had our last lunch together and then after many great hugs, we had to say good-bye and they went on their way to Johannesburg.  I miss these guys already.  They have been a fun group and are such a great group of Christian young men and women and I pray the Lord richly blesses them all in whatever God’s plans are for them.

To all of you who have been commenting on the blogs: thank you.  I printed them each day and read them to the team.  They were thrilled to hear all the comments and I was so happy to know that ya’ll enjoyed reading the blog.

The team’s last day at Lomngeletjane

It’s hard to believe, but the team’s time in Swaziland has quickly come to an end.  Today the team outdid themselves showing how hard they could work and demonstrating their excellent concrete mixing ability.  Yesterday the team dug the trench for the foundation for the veranda of the classrooms.  Today they mixed and poured the cement that is the base for the foundation.  They finished around 1:00 at which point we had a closing ceremony followed by lunch provided by the school/church/community.  It was a good day and though everyone was saying good bye, Swazi’s and Americans alike held the hope that one day they would meet again.

Absalom, our inspector and Sipho the builder standing in the trench the team dug for the foundation of the veranda. They are planning the next steps in the building project.

David and Justin making sure the trench is dug deep enough and at the same depth from one end to another.

David helping Meluleki (nickname Kim) work like the big guys!

The door handle fell off of the Kombi so the three guys were looking at it discussing how to fix it. Little Kim was copying their every move! Kim is the oldest of 4 children. There is not a father in his homestead. I was so touched watching how much Kim came out of his shy little shell being around these guys. They've given Kim the greatest gift of all - their love and attention.

The finished trench for the foundation of the veranda for the 4-classroom building.

Pouring the cement into the trench.

And finally the last of the trench has cement in it. The team laughed at God's sense of humor. First, they thought they were done with big batches of cement last Friday. Then they found out they were going to have to do the foundation for the veranda. Then this morning they thought they would only have to do 40 wheelbarrows worth of cement. Then they found they needed to make another 10 wheelbarrows of cement, and it still wasn't enough. They had to make a third batch of cement which finally completed the base of the foundation for the veranda.

The drama troupe doing a skit on Adam and Eve. It was very cute. By the way, the third man from the left in the blue stripped shirt and black jacket is Chief Lomngeletjane!

Then the boys did a traditional "gum shoe" skit. They dress up as over weight, lazy men representing the lack of education. I don't quite get the whole thing, but it is hilarious watching the boys dressed up strutting around doing their thing.

The program included speeches from several individuals. David spoke on behalf of the team.

Some of the girls came dancing in. They sang a song about how people shouldn't be lazy about HIV as they danced.

Some of the smaller girls doing their traditional dance. This is the first time these children have performed for anyone. They were a bit shy, but you could also see in their faces that they were proud of themselves as well.

The team on the wall of what will become the 5th grade classroom! Yebo!

The head teacher in traditional attire for married women, Angela in the cloth presented to her by the head teacher, Sipho (the builder) and Michael.

The team and several of the community people who worked with the team mixing concrete, pouring the slab and laying blocks. Together they make an unbeatable team.

Sipho and the two "big guys." Sipho has never worked with a team of people. He usually works alone with one or two people under him as needed. In the beginning, he was a bit skeptical of how this would work, especially with females wanting to work. But after two weeks of working together he told us that the team listened to him, were willing to learn and worked very hard. This was a very big compliment and gives us just a little insight into the learning and cooperation that went on between the members of two very different cultures.