Mary, Martha or the girl on Elm Street?

This post is long but it’s been an outlet for me.  So, grab yourself a cup of coffee, tea or whatever your favorite drink is, sit back and relax.

This past week has been a whirlwind.  The date of my departure is quickly approaching and I have several projects that needed to be completed by certain dates.  That’s not exactly a recipe for calm, peace and success in Swaziland!  At the start of the week, I basically had 3 weeks left to get many things accomplished before the dedications of three of the projects start and I leave for a mission trip to Malawi.  When I come back, I have 5 days before a team from California arrives and then a week after they leave before I leave for the States.  I am very well aware of the fast approaching deadlines.

I started the week thinking of Mary and Martha.  You know, Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42?  When Jesus stopped by their home, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to all he had to say, probably hanging on his every breath and word that came out of his mouth.  I visualize her sitting on the floor at his feet looking up at him with joy and wonder showing in her face.  During which time Martha, her sister, was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  After all, Jesus was in their living room!  And I’m guessing that all those pesky disciples where there too.  She had tons to do, to serve him as he should be served.  But that darn Mary (I wonder if she was the little sister…hummm) was sitting there slaking off, visiting with Jesus.  So, I imagine, Martha played the part of the martyr keeping her anger pent up inside her until she couldn’t take it anymore.  Then she went to Jesus and asked him: “Lord, don’t you care that Mary has left me to do all the work?  Tell her to help me!”  But Jesus answered “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  I could hear the Lord saying to me on Monday “Christine, don’t worry about all that needs to be finished before you go.  Don’t be Martha, make time to be Mary.”  So I started my week really wanting a balance between being Mary and Martha.  I can’t just be Mary because there are things that must get done, but I don’t want those precious, personal, important moments to pass me by because I’m so busy attending to my to do list and being very overwhelmed.

I had worked most of Sunday getting organized for the week so that I wouldn’t be so rushed.  Monday started off good.  I was behind a bit on my schedule, to start with, but all was good.  I went to a store (Ackermans) in downtown Manzini to try and buy 83 pairs of school shoes and twice that many socks.  I knew it would take awhile, so I gave the store clerk my list of sizes and styles of shoes I wanted and then went to do some errands around town.  I also went to a few other stores to check their prices against Ackerman’s even though Ackermans has been very good in the past about returning shoes if they don’t fit.  I took my time and returned to Ackermans about an hour or so later.  The clerk was overwhelmed and the store manager was basically useless, but the employees can’t do anything without her approval.  So I calmly rolled up my sleeves and started helping while he called to the only other Ackermans in Swaziland up in Mbabane to see if they had any of the sizes and styles of shoes I wanted.  The clerk and I finally got as many shoes as they had in stock that I could use and as many socks in the sizes I needed and headed to the cash register.  The manager was freaking out and complaining about how much work it would be and how tired and hungry she was and that she had the flu.  (They call everything the flu.)  Her employees were rolling their eyes as she kept complaining.  I kept calm and peaceful even though I hadn’t had lunch either.  I organized everything for them and helped them with as much as I could do remaining quite cheerful and thankful every step of the way.  I even apologized to their other customers and kept my stuff out of their way as much as possible.  We finished about 4:30 in the afternoon.  I had been at this task for 6 hours!  No matter.  All was good and I was praising God for it going as smooth as it did.

I went to bed a little earlier than usual that night because I was getting up early the next morning to go to Nelsprit, South Africa with Thoko, Thini and Sibongile to buy 72 jerseys (sweaters), 45 track suits (sweat suits), and 95 trousers and shirts.  The day started out early and we were almost on our target departure time.  We had a great ride to Nelsprit.  When we got there I took them to Mugg and Bean for “tea” and something to eat before the big job ahead of us.  They were overwhelmed in the restaurant.  They had never been to a place like that so they had no idea what to order.  It was cute.  The three of them ordered the same thing!  We had a nice visit while eating.  Then we headed to the store to get the school uniforms.  I had called the day before, so most of the jerseys and track suits were set out for us.  We just had to make decisions on some of the sizes based on quantity of stock.  No sweat.

When finished with the track suits and jerseys we moved over to find school trousers and shirts for the boys on our list.  We anticipated this was going to be a nightmare because we had the boys measurements, not their sizes.  We had to measure the pants to see what size would probably fit what boy.  It was a rocky beginning, but we finally came to an agreement on how to tackle the task and finished very quickly.  By the time we finally got my credit card to go through, we had been in the store for only 3 hours.  We were praising God for blessing us so.  From there, I took the ladies to McDonalds for dinner before heading home.  McDonalds was another new and very foreign experience to them.  I’m not sure they really liked it, but they did like trying some of the food we eat in America.  I had to confess to them that now that my kids are grown, the only time I eat at McDonalds is when I am in South Africa!

The ride back to the border went smoothly.  It was almost dark when we started (It is winter here), and the road goes through some mountains so there are a lot of twists and turns, but all in all it went well and we made good time.  We were enjoying out time together.  We got to the South Africa side of the border about 7:15 or so.  We rushed through immigration, but when we went to go to the border gate, they asked to look in the boot (the back of the truck) and asked me if I had a receipt, which I did.  But when he saw the amount, he made me go back to this little shack (literally, a wooden shack) to have them fill out customs forms.  I was not happy.  I immediately turned into Dr. Jekyl.  I waited in line quietly but with a very angry look on my face for an hour and had to pay R130 just for them just to fill out the forms.  I amused myself by looking at the maize power cords all plugged into the same outlet, wishing I could take a picture to send to my IBM friends as another example of what NOT to do!

We crossed through the border into Swaziland and was immediately faced with a parking jam because there are very few parking spaces and no order or courtesy.  But we got through immigration in probably less than a minute.  Immigration in Swaziland is much, much more efficient than in South Africa.  But then I had to go through Swaziland’s customs.  Let the nightmare begin.  There is absolutely no order – no lines, no signs, no one willing to answer questions or help you; nothing except a lot of pushing and shoving.  I was there almost 2 hours before I could finally muscle my way to a customs person.  He filled out my papers without saying a word to me.  Then, as he is handing them back to me he asks what I am going to do with the uniforms.  I tell him I am giving them to OVCs at some of the Methodist Schools I visit.  He tells me I can’t do that without being registered.  So I tried a different approach and told him I was a missionary with the Methodist church and I was sure they were registered.  So he says I should have filled the form out in my name and I should have gone to another counter.  I make the mistake of not just saying, “thank you, I’m sorry it won’t happen again, sir.”  We bantered back and forth until I finally totally blew it, raised my voice and said “so you are telling me that I can’t buy uniforms for kids that need them without being registered to do so with the government because the government wants to know everything that is given out?  That is absolutely stupid.”  That really made him mad.  He said he wasn’t going to let me talk to him that way” and walked off.  I thought uh-oh, he’s going to detain me and I quickly prayed for forgiveness, help, and for the Lord to shut my mouth!  Finally another person in the crowd told me to take the forms to the next pool of people fighting to pay their custom tax.  I waited there for another hour or so.  (I’m sure he buried my form at the bottom of the file.)  Basically when there were only about 10 people left waiting in the crowd the clerk finally called me to pay the same tax I had already paid in South Africa.  We left the border at 11:00 PM.  The border closes at 10:00.

I had to take all three women home because they don’t have vehicles and there is no transport that late at night.  By the time I got to driving through the dark countryside on the dirt roads to Thoko’s house, I had calmed down and so I kept reminiscing about my first trips there and the times I got lost.  It was a precious trip down memory lane and quite a learning experience for Sibongile.  I got home at 12:55 AM.

I got up still tired and drove up to Mbabane.  I am house-sitting for a friend and her husband for 5 days while they are away on vacation.  I’m really there so their teenage daughter isn’t staying there by herself. I spent most of the day on Wednesday at the Sandra Lee Center playing with the kids and reading books to them.  It was a nice way to relax and get over my stress.  I was back in Mary mode.  Late in the afternoon I realized I had to go to Ackermans to get the shoes they were holding for me.  After an hour and a half, I finally had the shoes and some socks and went “home” to my friend’s house.

Thursday morning I got up early and headed down to Manzini for a day full of tasks Thoko and I had planned.  I was still hoping it would be a busy but relaxing day. Well, surprise, surprise. It was not a good day.  It started off great.  I got some things done on the computer before heading down to Manzini.  Then I dropped off the shoes I bought at my place and went to St. Paul’s office to see what the progress was on the ladies sewing the girls’ uniforms for me.  St. Paul’s started a sewing project in 2009 or 2010 to sew church uniforms and school uniforms.  The profits are supposed to go to their Mission fund to help out those in need.  I really wanted St. Paul’s to sew the girls uniforms for me even though there prices are a bit high in my opinion.  I gave them the number of uniforms and sizes the first week of June and we set a deadline of June 23rd.  I knew they hadn’t started by June 23rd, and had heard rumors that they had and had not started on Monday, June 27th.  Thoko and I thought I should go see for myself what the story was.  It was not good.  A few uniforms had been cut out, but that was about it. I was furious to say the least.  I was angry with the secretary for not staying on top of it and updating me as I had asked.  I was angry at the ladies who weren’t coming in basically because of their feeble attempt to strike for better pay.  I was especially angry because one of the sewing ladies also helps us with Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu and was with us when we measured the kids on May 31st!  Sadly, I must confess that Mary was long forgotten.  Martha was still struggling to keep her head above water.  Even Dr. Jekyl had been replaced.  Now I felt like the girl possessed by the devil in the old movie “Nightmare on Elm Street.”  I don’t remember the girl’s name, but when the priest came to exorcise the devil from her body, she sat up in bed, her eyes bugging out, and her head spinning round and round while vomiting out what looked like pea soup.  I wasn’t spitting out pea soup, but I was spitting out a bunch of words and I definitely felt like her.

I left St. Paul’s on my way to do whatever I was supposed to do before picking up Thoko in town.  I stopped by the post office to see what had happened to a package that had been mailed to me before the end of May.  While in line Rev. Nyameka came in and got in life after me.  I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled when he heard and saw how angry I was.  But he also knew how frustrated I was because I really wanted to give the sewing project my business, but I was supposed to be delivering the first 20 uniforms this coming Tuesday.  In addition, I am physically out of time to get these delivered because it’s not a simple task.  He listened and we talked about it.  He is very frustrated and angry as well.

I left the post (with package in hand!) feeling a bit calmer and went to pick up Thoko.  I needed to go to the restroom and I thought we could both use a cup of Rooibos tea to soothe our souls.  So we stopped by Baker’s Corner to use their restroom and get tea and a snack to go.  Thoko decided she wanted a piece of chocolate cake.  So I joined her. (It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!).  We ended up sitting in Baker’s Corner eating and enjoying the cake and talking about the uniforms, a plan, etc.  But it was good and I felt much better afterwards. Yes, Mary WAS miraculously still barely alive in me.  Our plans for the day were going to be shot, but the first priority was to find a solution to the uniform problem so we wouldn’t have to face some very disappointed girls on Tuesday.  We went to one place she knew of that was right near Baker’s Corner.  The lady we talked to, Make Nkosi)  was actually a member of St. Paul’s and went to the 8:00 service so she recognized me and I her.  But her prices were even higher than St. Paul’s and she insisted she needed at least two weeks to do the 20 uniforms.  In addition, she wouldn’t entertain doing a smaller number that I could have in a week.  But as Thoko was going through the discussions with Make Nkosi I went to the car to make calls to get to the bottom of what was happening with St. Paul’s sewing project.  (They were rumors and untruths being told by one person to all of us.  It was good I confronted and called her on it.)  Meanwhile, Thoko was also sending a text message to a lady who had sewn some uniforms for us in 2009.  She said she would work night and day to get the 20 uniforms done by Tuesday and her price worked out to be at least 40R cheaper per uniform than either St. Paul’s quotation or this other lady.

So, Thoko and I left Make Nkosi’s sewing shop and headed to Phumapile’s place.  She ran up and greeted us with the biggest smile you could ever imagine.  She was so happy to see both of us and to have our business.  Her smile was priceless and we felt very confident based on the work she had done for us in the past that she would deliver well sewn uniforms as promised.  Thoko and I were praising God over and over again.  Thoko asked her to figure out how much material she would need so we could buy it later in the afternoon.  First we had to go talk to a painter who had been waiting on us for two hours.

So now to the new painter – Babe Sifundza.  He is going to be the painter for the church at Mahlatsini.  We asked him to come see Mthokozisi’s house and give us an estimate of what needs to be done and how much it would cost to finish the house.  The previous painter, Masebenta, had never finished painting and what he did do was not very nice.  Some of the fault was the builder’s, Sipho, for not doing a good job of finishing the building before painting.  But at any rate, it had to be done correctly, and though I was going to try and do it, the reality is, I didn’t have time.  Babe Sifundza seemed like a very nice, knowledgeable painter.  I let Thoko do all the talking, and most of it was in SiSwati, but I could tell by what I did understand and by his gesturing that he was pointing out all the things I had listed as needing to be corrected or finished.  I did talk to him a bit about a few things and he said yes it needed to be done and told me how he would fix it.  His quotation for labor was very reasonable.  Once again, I was praising God for this second earthly angel and I was standing firm that I wasn’t going to allow the past experiences rob me of my faith.

Unfortunately, at some point, the younger father to Mthokozisi (his father’s youngest brother – Mtghokozisi’s uncle) came to unload on Thoko.  He was telling her all kinds of stories and complaining about the kid’s behavior and how he doesn’t want the mother to come back and stay but if she does, she can’t sleep in the new house, etc.  He just kept going on and on.  Thoko was very upset.  We talked about it most of the way back to Manzini.  We couldn’t do much more because her phone and the Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu phone were both out of airtime and my phone’s battery was almost dead.  We quickly stopped to get airtime for Thoko so we could be back in business and then hurriedly headed to the material store where Phumapile was supposed to meet us because it was 4:45.  Stores close at 5:00.  Bless this angel’s heart, she had the material all measured and cut with an invoice waiting for us to pay.  She then took us around the corner to buy the buttons.  Plus, she had worked out a discount for us so the material was about 200 – 300 R less than we expected!

Our Thursday was a very stressful day and we felt like we had been on an emotional rollercoaster ride all day.  We didn’t get to other important things we had hoped to do, but we attended to the priorities.  Except for the St. Paul’s sewing project status which was still uncertain, we finished on a high note. However, we were both very, very drained.  I still had to drive back to Mbabane and make sure my friends daughter was ok and get dinner on the table for both of us.  All was well, and it was nice to have someone to talk about my day with and also to listen to how her day went.

Friday morning, I got up and had to make several calls to get progress reports on the other projects (Mahlatsini and the electric pump for Salukazi’s borehole), buy the paint for Mthokozisi’s house and buy approximately 180 pairs of underpants for the kids who are getting school uniforms.  Then Thoko and I were going to quickly take the paint out to Mthokozisi’s house and be done by 1:00 or 2:00.  I was planning on being back in Mbabane between 2:00 and 3:00.  I found myself working off two laptops, mine and the one that belongs to the people whose house I am staying in, while making phone calls at the same time.  Shades of IBM.  I quickly headed to the paint store on my way to Manzini.  It of course wasn’t simple, and it took me an hour to buy the paint.  Then I had to go to CashBuild to order materials needed to finish Mahlatsini.  Thoko and finally headed out to Mthokozisi’s house about 1:00.  We delivered the paint, found out a decision we had made about a color was incorrect, but it was all good because I had enough paint on site for the painter to start Monday morning and I had the advice of a knowledgeable trusted man about what to get and where to get it.  Plus I then knew what paint I needed to buy for Mahlatsini.  We were actually able to buy the paint needed before leaving Manzini so we are prepared to take it out next week.

I stopped by the grocery store on the way to Mbabane to buy groceries for dinner and while there I ran into Absalom who is the Church’s trust property committee’s lead and the person working with the congregation at Mahlatsini to get it finished before it’s dedicated on July 23rd.  It was perfect timing because I had the quotation from Babe Sifundza for Mahlatsini!  My week was topped off with a phone call from my dear friend and spiritual sister in Round Rock and then a good night’s sleep full of sweet, sweet dreams.  Selah. (pause, or breathe in, breath out)

It’s been a tough week.  I feel now like it’s back to just a struggle between doing everything that needs to be done (Martha) versus taking the time to savor those special moments (Mary).  I am praying Dr. Jekyl and the girl on Elm Street have disappeared for good.  I have two weeks left to get most everything project wise done.  But I feel hopeful now that we can get the uniforms done in time for me to deliver them before I go to Malawi.  And that I can schedule in time the week of July 18th to rest a bit and spend some quality time with Thoko talking about the future of One Child at a Time, One Heart at a Time in Swaziland when I leave and making sure she feels confident that she has all she needs to be our hands and feet in Swaziland while I am in the US.  We also want to spend some time just being sisters.  I am also hoping I can spend some quality time with the kids at Sandra Lee Center and attend my Wednesday morning bible study.  I can do all things thru Christ who gives me strength.  I am going to try much harder to keep Christ as my focus and let the other things work out according to His plans.

One thing I forgot.  Because Phumapile and Babe Sifundza have charged so little labor costs, if they finish on time, I will get them a bonus.  Even though I am in a time crunch, I can’t take advantage of them but yet I don’t want to tell them their prices are too low.  I’d rather keep their wages low and try the incentive way of doing business.  After four years here you’d think I could figure out what works!!!

This afternoon I am heading to a 4th of July celebration at one of the hotels for all the Americans.  It may be the last time I see some of these folks before leaving for the States.  Enjoy the 4th of July.  Let us all remember what this holiday signifies and say a prayer of thanks and of concern for this great nation of ours.  God bless America the land that I love.  And God bless Swaziland and the land and people that I also love.

I hope you all have a blessed week full of “Mary” times.