24 hours: From one extreme to another

Yesterday, Saturday, my friend Dianne and I went to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary about 15 km from Manzini.  It is small reserve with mostly small wildlife such as  antelopes (Impala and Nyala), “hoofed mammals” (zebra, hippo, wildebeest, and warthog) and crocodile.  The neat thing about this sanctuary is that you can drive, walk, or ride bikes throughout the park.  As we were driving toward the start of the hiking trails, we went by the hippo & crocodile pool.  There was a crocodile sitting on the bank of the pond right next to the road.  We parked and walked as quietly as we could to as close as we dared to see it up close and personal and of course take a picture of it.

No, this isn't a stuffed croc even though it looks like it. When we drove by here on our way out of the park it had moved to a little island a few feet off shore.

Then we drove to the rest camp, parked the truck and went for our little hike.  We went on a 2 1/2 hour loop that took us through fields where the antelope and “hoofed mammals” (minus the hippo) were grazing, by some beautiful streams, then up and around the back side of the hippo & crocodile pool.  It was a beautiful hike and the weather was absolutely perfect.

Just as we were getting into the truck to leave I decided to quickly go throw some garbage into the rubbish bin.  As I was doing so something caught my eye; it was the rear end of a hippo right on the other side of a 3 foot stone wall!  I quickly went and told Dianne to come.  It was so incredible to be so close to such huge animals.

I've never been so close to hippo's before. They were maybe 15 feet away!

We got home from our hike and then dinner about 6:45 pm.  I barely had enough time to take a trickle shower (Yes, the water isn’t flowing well again.  TIA), change into long johns with a long skirt and a sweater over it, grab a heavy jacket and then go pick up 3 ladies to take to the all night vigil for No-no Mkhonta.  We got to the Mkhonta homestead which is about 29kms out in the rural area about 8:30 pm. I was glad that Thini was one of the ladies with me so she could help me remember where to turn (I call her my Ace navigator) and was also grateful that they had posted signs at each turn.  Being very used to driving in the middle of the rural area without many markings to tell me where I am, I had written down the kilometers between each turn.  (I’m getting smart in my old age!)

There were many people already at the homestead when we arrived.  The family had erected a tent along two sides of the house and they had a generator to provide electricity to the homestead.  There were many benches set up on the cardboard floor of the tent.  There were also benches set up outside of the tent near where women were cooking over open fire.  We were directed to sit on one of the benches near where the ladies were cooking.  No-no’s mom stepped outside briefly to greet us.  She then told me it is against custom for her to be outside greeting the people; all of the women in the family are to stay inside the house where the casket containing No-no was.  But she wanted to say hello and thank me for coming.  She offered us tea and scones.  Sipho stopped by briefly and also greeted us and thanked me for coming and bringing “my team.”  I left the ladies about 9:30 and drove back home.  I wasn’t sure I could stay up all night long and Dianne has only been in Swaziland for 2 days so I didn’t think I should leave her alone all night.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

During the night, probably about 100 or so people gathered at the homestead to pray, hear sermons and sing all night long.  I set my alarm for 4:15 am and by 4:30 or so I was dressed and out the door again to go back to the homestead for the funeral.  Funerals generally start around 6:00 in the morning.  The funeral was just preparing to start when I arrived.  They brought the casket out at the beginning and put it in the hearse, which was a pickup truck with a camper shell.  Then the women from the house and Sipho came out.  The women sat on floor of the front porch and Sipho sat with the men under the tent.  There was more singing, a few speeches, and I assume scripture and other words of comfort.  Then everyone rose to follow behind the hearse on foot for about 1 km to an area that is set aside for burials of family members in the area.  I was told it was too far for me to walk so I must drive there.  They always tell me it is too far for me to walk so I must drive and I am the one silently screaming “I want to walk!”  But Sipho came up to me and asked if I would drive his older aunt to the grave site.  Of course I said yes and felt a bit better about having to drive.  Four ladies rode in the cab with me and about 6 ladies climbed into the back of the truck.

At the grave site, there was a few more words said and lots of singing.  In Swaziland, they lower the casket into the ground and then the women of the family come and throw handfuls of dirt onto the casket.  Then, the men in the family shovel the dirt until the casket is securely buried.  The rest of us stood and watched and sang until the job was done. Sipho ceremoniously put one shovel of dirt onto the casket, but then sang with the men leading them in what and how many songs to sing.  The loving way that he would glance to see that his daughter’s casket was being buried correctly and then turn back and start another song with an expression of love on his face touched my heart because I could tell he was singing for No-no.  During one of the talks that Sipho and I  had he told me how much she loved to come to church and sit with her daddy even though she should be sitting with her mom or the children because she loved to sing with the men.  Let me tell you: when the men start singing during a service, there is nothing more beautiful than hearing their rich deep voices as they sing from their hearts.

Though I hummed as everyone sang, gently dancing with them to the music and singing the parts of the songs I sort of know, even though I don’t know what the words actually mean, I found myself getting angry.  Angry that small children such as No-no have to be struck down before their lives really begin because of the dreadful disease called HIV/AIDS.  I kept thinking: Because of the sins of our fathers (and mothers and forefathers).  And then I prayed for the Lord to heal the people of this country, this continent and the world from this disease.  Please don’t let more children suffer.  I knew I had to let go of the anger and keep my hope in the Lord.  It’s the only way things will change.

When the burial was finished, we all had to sit on the ground for a prayer.  Of course I didn’t know that.  All of a sudden Thini turned as if she was getting ready to leave and then told me that I must sit down.  I responded by saying that I was okay, I could continue to stand.  I assume she was tired of standing.  There was another young woman next to Thini who was offering her piece of cloth that she laid on the ground for Thini and I to share.  She told me that before was the time for standing, but now it was time to sit.  So I sat.  The local preacher prayed, and then for some reason the men stood up, but the women stayed sitting on the ground for another prayer.  Then Thini and the young woman told me that we could stand because it was time to go.  Most of the ladies I drove down piled back into my truck and we went back to the Mkhonta homestead.  The time was about 7:45 am.

At the homestead we were all given a take-away container of food that some of the ladies had been working to prepare through most of the night.  Each container had rice, potato salad, strips of beef in a gravy, cooked cabbage and beets.  As always, it was delicious and while it was a little strange to be eating such food for breakfast I was so hungry I really didn’t care.  We were able to say good-bye to both Sipho and his wife.  Sipho asked if I could take a few of his family members back to Manzini with me, so 3 ladies sat in the bed of the truck for the ride back.

Driving back was the most difficult part because I was so tired.  Even though I had gone home to sleep, I didn’t get much.  I was struggling to stay awake especially since the ladies fell asleep.  At one point I know my eyes shut as I drifted off because I could “see” a guard rail like we have in the States in front of me and there aren’t any like that in Swaziland.  Luckily as I swerved to not crash into the guard rail I woke up just before running off the side of the road.  I praise God for that literal wake up call.  Luckily if I had run off the road at that particular spot there was only a small dip at the side of the road so we wouldn’t have been hurt.  But I’m still singing God’s praises for keeping me from harm.

I got home about 10:00 am.  I was tired but knew I wouldn’t sleep.  So, I decided to do a couple of things.  First on the list was to see if I could figure out why the toilet wasn’t filling.  For two days we had to fill the tank up using a 5 liter water bottle in order to flush it.  I was able to get the inner workings apart and find the little screen filter completely clogged.  I even managed to get it put back together correctly after only one incorrect attempt.  Since I was on a role, I decided to see if I could fix the tailgate on my truck.  When I stopped at the bus rank (stop) in Manzini to let the 3 ladies who were riding in the bed of the truck off, I couldn’t get the tail gate shut.  There is a rubber bushing on either side of the tailgate where the latch is.  Both bushings had moved around so that the latch couldn’t shut.  I managed to get them back into the proper position.  Yebo!  Two things accomplished in one morning! And that was the end of my day.  For the rest of the day Dianne and I have been sitting and watching season one of “24” that I brought with me from the States.  I was just too tired to do anything else.

So, such is the 24 hour period in the life of a missionary in Swaziland, Africa on Saturday to Sunday, July 31st – August 1st, 2010.  From the thrill of walking so close to God’s beautiful, amazing creatures to the sadness associated with burying such a young, sweet girl to everyday maintenance.  It’s all in a day’s “work.”

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