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Home Invasion :)

We were invaded by a thief, but not the kind we expected… It was a huge baboon!

drakensburg baboon

Here is what happened.  Last weekend the girls had yet another school break, so we went to the Drakensburg Mountains for some hiking and bonding time.  We spent two nights at Tendele Camp, and two at Didima Camp in Cathedral Peak.

Both places warn you not to feed the baboons, and claim that the animals can open doors and windows.  Sound far fetched?  Well, Brian had walked to the camp store to buy some firewood and left the front door closed but unlocked.  While he was gone one of the girls started screaming that a big baboon was heading for the front door.  I casually walked over to it and sure enough, he was a few feet away from the door.  I locked it and yelled for him to “get away.”  He did, and ran across the front of the house.  The girls quickly went to check all the balcony doors and I went into the living room/kitchen to look out and see where he went.  I heard a noise and turned around to see a huge baboon in the kitchen, less than 10 feet away!  I think I screamed, which caused him to grab the loaf of bread off the table knocking to the floor several glasses, and run toward our bedroom! 

drakensburg mess

Meanwhile the girls had come into the room from the other side, saw the baboon, screamed, and ran to lock themselves inside their bathroom!  Once the chaos settled and I was sure all three girls were together hysterically screaming in the bathroom, the cleaning lady and I checked out the bedroom.  Can you believe the baboon had opened a locked window to enter and exit our lodge?!  This lady said they pry the windows open by wedging their fingers into the crack and sliding the lock.  Yikes.  As you can imagine this tale has been told with great enthusiasm many times since returning to town!

The baboon was toward the end of our trip, so thankfully we also saw some amazing sights…

 

drakensburg great view

drakensburg mtns

Our cottage in Thendele Camp... Amazing views from each direction

Our cottage in Thendele Camp... Amazing views of the "amphitheater"

The girls enjoying the view from the back patio

The girls enjoying the view from the back patio

We attempted the hike to Tugela Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the world, but the 5-6 hour roundtrip hike turned into an 8 hour event with no waterfall.  To add insult to injury, walking back we got caught in a rain and thunderstorm!  In addition to making us wet and cold, it also made the path slippery and Brian fell while carrying Ruthie on his shoulders.  She was fine, but he pulled his calf muscle so he had trouble walking the remaining 5k.  I had to carry Ruthie and Rachel had to carry the backpack.  Quite an outing!  However, we saw some beautiful scenery, bonded together as a family through difficult circumstances, and had a great time later drinking hot chocolate by the fire.  Who could get too upset with this scenery?

Early on in the hike...

Early on in the hike...Look at that clear blue sky...

Found some awesome rock pools, but no waterfall

Found some awesome rock pools, but no waterfall!

The trail was definitely more technical than advertised..."it is definitely appropriate for a 4 year old..."

The trail was a bit more technical than advertised..."it is definitely appropriate for a 4 year old..."

Where did those clouds come from?!

Where did those clouds come from?!

 drakensburg rainbow

8 hours later we were glad to get back!

8 hours later we were glad to get back!

We relaxed the rest of the trip, had perfect weather, and had a great time (except for the little baboon incident!).

Our "cottage" at Cathedral Peak.  This is supposed to sleep 5?!

Our "cottage" at Cathedral Peak. I can see why the baboons like it here...

Not the second tallest, but lovely

Not the second tallest, but lovely waterfalls

 drakensburg girls behind waterfall

 

drakensburg girls in hats 

In the US, the land here would be prime real estate.  However we have noticed that places like this with amazing views are not valued highly because they are a distance from the cities, so rather than California style homes on the side of these mountains, there are shacks with no running water.   We think it is ironic that the poorest in this country have the best views… I wish there was a way for them to cash in on it.
The Drakensburg Mountains with a rural village at the base
The Drakensburg Mountains with a rural village at the base

Chicken Pox

Ruthie apparently had chicken pox!  I say apparently because we did not know it until they were gone… I told Mom online two weeks ago that Ruthie had a strange rash on her face that spread to her lower arms.  It was not really bothering her so we did nothing.  Well now all of the Passaro children have rashes and their doctor said it is chicken pox.  All of them, including Ruthie,  had been vaccinated in the US and therefore had abnormal mild cases.  Shortly before Ruthie developed a rash, I started having strange pain on the right side of my face and head.  It hurt whenever I blinked my eyes, so was bothering me quite a bit.  I told Brian it felt like I had some sort of virus in the nerve endings, and I was incredibly tired.  Ibuprofen and sleep seemed to help, but now I am wondering if it was shingles.  I still get the pain occasionally, but it comes and goes and does not bother me much anymore.  Where we are in Africa there is no malaria risk, but there are strange sicknesses.  People are not vaccinated for many illnesses so it is common for people to have chicken pox, measles, mumps, etc.  I guess compared to the AIDs epidemic and TB no one really cares about the other relatively insignificant diseases.

Rachel had chicken pox last year and so far no spots on Bekah.  However, Rebekah has been home from school this week with a bad cold.  I may need to take her to a doctor tomorrow to make sure she does not have an ear or sinus infection… I guess this is what happens in winter – yes, winter :)

This is Incredible

We continue to do well here.  There are many “this is incredible” moments, and plenty of  “TIA (oh well, This Is Africa)” moments as well.  The TIA issues usually come down to frustrations with either technology (or lack of), inefficiency, or crime.  Here are a few examples… Every time we go to the computer store to purchase internet airtime they give us a different story, and as a result we spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to get internet access each month.  When making a purchase or reservation, it is common for the “system” to be “down”, ie credit cards don’t work, or they can’t give you the info you need from their computers.  Ironically this happens almost every time we are in the COMPUTER store.  The power supply systems often don’t work either.  Usually driving through town there is at least one area where the traffic lights (robots) are out… As if driving around here were not challenging enough!  We were in the mall last week (yes they have a mall here!) and the power went out – everything went black until the generator came on to provide lights in the hallways, but then all the stores had to close, purchases could not be made with credit cards, and using cash was only possible with exact change because cash register drawers did not open.  The funny part to me was the response of the store workers who pulled out candles and flashlights (torches) immediately because this is a common occurrence!   We have found that the best approach is to plan that places will be closed, systems won’t work, and stores will be out of what you need, so planning ahead and having back-up plans is key to accomplishing anything.

The “this is incredible” experiences usually revolve around the people here.  The stories I have heard as a result of investing in people will stay with me forever I hope.  The chasm that exists between the “haves” (primarily whites) and the “have-nots” (blacks) continues to shock and disturb us.  There are literally two worlds co-existing in a bizarre way that makes it even harder for those in poverty because in addition to struggling to provide for their daily needs, they are also trying to function in a fairly modern world that has left them completely behind.  The infrastructure and basic systems were established for people who are educated, have cars, etc. but most of the population is not and does not.   It is overwhelming and incredible to me that more is not done.

Ruthie and I like to spend our mornings at Bonginkosi preschool in Edendale township.  I need to write more about the school soon, because it is a “this is amazing” place.  But even our drive to and from the school is interesting.  Every time we are there we see something that would never be seen in Virginia.  There are the goats and cows in the middle of the four lane highway, the burning garbage everywhere, the many people walking or piled into black “taxis” or standing in the back of pick-up trucks.   Recently we also saw this:

man along road

This particular day several of us were walking down the dirt road in front of the school to visit the family of one of the students whose mother had died that week, probably from AIDS complications.   This man is in his 80’s and was lying in the middle of the road on a hot day with no water.  The Zulu folks I was with tried to speak to him but he was apparently delirious and unable to give them any information about his family or where he lives.  I was shocked to learn there was nothing that we could really do for him.  There is no one to come get him…the police and ambulance will not pick him up because there are so many people lying around on the road that it is not considered an emergency.  We kept walking with me shaking my head saying, “this is incredible.”  Several hours later when I was leaving the school he had moved only a few feet from the road to the grass.  Ruthie and I went and got the largest water bottle we could find and gave it to him.  After drinking most of it he laid back down in the grass.  We took the picture and drove away saddened.

The following week after leaving the school on the same road we saw a Gogo (older Zulu woman) walking.  There are literally hundreds of people walking, so that is unremarkable, but something about her grabbed my attention.  I stopped and asked her if I could give her a ride.  She struggled to get into the car and moaned in pain as she sat down.  She spoke almost no English, so as I drove approximately 2 Kilometers to her house I tried to determine what was wrong and what help she needed.  She eventually pulled out from her pocket some pills and a paper from the doctor’s office.  Her diagnosis… Pulminary Tuburculosis.  There was nothing I could do except continue to follow her cryptic directions.  When we arrived at her house her eyes filled with tears as she repeated “thank you, thank you.”  I gave her the money I had hidden in the car and told her Ruthie and I would pray for her.  I took this picture after she made it into the house so I would maybe be able to find her again in the future.

lady with TB

As I started to drive away I faced the fact that I would need to find my way back to the main road…a potential problem since there are no “real” roads, no street signs, and we were probably the only white English speaking people for miles.  I asked Ruthie to pray for that lady and for God to help us find the main road.  She did and we easily drove right back to where we needed to be.  I had a brief moment of panic about potential exposure to TB, especially for Ruthie, but then felt very peaceful realizing God had led me to drive this lady so she did not have to walk that far distance, and led me back to safety.  Like the old man from the week before, this lady is also etched in my mind, and the opportunity to help her in a small way was incredible to me.

In a couple of weeks I am going to a Christian AIDS project that assists child-led families whose caregivers have died, or are dying from AIDS.  I am also planning trips to local poor schools and a few orphanages.  I think I could stay here for years and still continue to be shocked by the suffering of so many.  It really is incredible.   However, the attitude of people we have gotten to know is incredible as well.  My friends from Zimbabwe are two perfect examples.

Tsitsi and I

Tsitsi and I

Tsitsi and her husband are attending graduate school in theology and have two children, Ano and Toto.  Until Easter, they had not been back to Zimbabwe to see their parents for over two years due to the expense of it.  They live in a small two bedroom apartment with a total of nine relatives.  The incredible part – Tsitsi never complains about it.  She is content to care for other family members who are less fortunate, and graciously crams into a tiny space with no privacy.  Tsitsi and Kenneth invited our family there for dinner recently where she showed us their wedding pictures.  She told me another incredible story… On their wedding day one of Kenneth’s relatives came and gave them a 6 year old boy as a wedding gift!  This older woman was caring for 18 children…many, including this boy,  were her grandchildren who had been orphaned by AIDS, and she thought Tsitsi and Kenneth would provide a better home.  So, she arrived with him as their “gift.”  I asked Tsitsi about her reaction, and she just smiled and said “Kristin you are not used to these types of situations, but we are.  It was fine.”  He still lives with them.

Tsitsi washed everyone's hands as part of a traditional Zimbabwean dinner

Tsitsi washed everyone's hands as part of a traditional Zimbabwean dinner

Thembi and Rabson only came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in January.  They have been friends with Tsitsi and Kenneth since they were children

Thembi and husband Rabson

Thembi and husband Rabson

Thembi is a computer and math high school teacher and Rabson is in graduate school for theology.  Unfortunately they had to leave their daughter Anesuishe in Zimbabwe with her Grandma until they can earn enough money to pay for the passport.  Zimbabwe has begun to charge exorbitant passport fees, and there are bribes that need to be paid as well, so they could only gather enough money for the two of them.  Yesterday Thembi spent Mother’s Day without her daughter, and today is Anesuishe’s 7th birthday.  In addition, although Thembi has been working for four months here, she still has not gotten paid.  This is apparently fairly typical when teachers are paid by the federal government.   Thembi and Rabson live in one room of a small house and need to borrow money from Tsitsi and others to buy food. Again, what is incredible to me is that Thembi never complains.  I saw her at church yesterday and asked if she was having a difficult time being away from her daughter on her birthday and Mother’s Day, and she just smiled and said “I miss her but am thankful I will be able to call her on the phone tonight.”

Finally, you have got to read this story of our friend Lazarus who we drive to Bible Study each week.

Incredible.

Adventures with Precious and Phumla

If you recall, Precious and her daughter Phumla live in a small room attached to the house we live in.  Although she is bright and talented and Precious works everyday, she barely has enough money to buy the basics.

Saturday morning cartoons in the bed Precious and Phumla share

Saturday morning cartoons in the bed Precious and Phumla share

We have decided that God has brought them into our path for a reason, so we are trying to be obedient to the commands to help the needy.  To help reduce her food costs, we invite them to have dinner with us almost every night.  We have thoroughly enjoyed the time with them, learning about her life and faith.

Fortunately we have also been able to take them on some new adventures, things they can’t do because they have no car or money…

Phumla had never been fishing before, and does not have an involved father to take her

Phumla had never been fishing before, and does not have an involved father to take her

Brian took all the girls fishing, and caught one of the biggest fish he has ever reeled in!  Phumla loved it!

Brian took all the girls fishing, and caught one of the biggest fish he has ever reeled in! Phumla loved it!

Rachel is "morally opposed" to fishing, but she made the best of it!  Here she was showing off the sunglasses she "stole" from Precious

Rachel is "morally opposed" to fishing, but she made the best of it! Here she was showing off the sunglasses she "stole" from Precious

phumla-and-bekah

precious-and-ruth

We went to a neat little town along the Midlands Meander where there was a candle making shop…

Everyone participated

Everyone participated

Precious helping Ruthie

Precious helping Ruthie

After coming home, Precious carefully wrapped the candles she and Phumla made and put them in her drawer for "special occasions"

After coming home, Precious carefully wrapped the candles she and Phumla made and put them in her drawer for "special occasions." It cost me only $.60 for each person to make a candle, but to her it was very valuable and special

On the way back from the candle making trip, we saw a waterfall off in the distance.  Precious and Phumla were thrilled to catch a glimpse.  So, the next chance we had…

Howick Falls, less than 30 minutes from our house

Howick Falls, less than 30 minutes from our house... Look carefully at the top - see the people washing their clothes? (See Picture section)

We hiked to the bottom so we could see the falls up close

We hiked to the bottom so we could see the falls up close

howick-girls

Unfortunately our car does not have room for everyone, so since there are essentially no car safety laws (no car seats - this one we imported - kids sitting on laps, in the front seats with no belts, etc ) we often do things we would never do back home... This time Phumla and Bekah rode in the boot (trunk)

Unfortunately our car does not have room for everyone, so since there are essentially no car safety laws (no car seats - this one we imported - kids sitting on laps, in the front seats with no belts, etc ) we often do things we would never do back home... This time Phumla and Bekah rode in the boot (trunk)

Precious is from Port Shepstone, just under 3 hours from here.  She is the only family member who does not still live in the township where she grew up.  It is both costly and risky for Precious and Phumla to take the multiple taxis home, and without any cars in the extended family there is little way to visit each other.  Phumla and Precious both have birthdays this month, so we decided to drive them home to see their relatives for the weekend.  We are apparently the only white people to EVER enter their house…

Inside the house Precious grew up in with her Dad, Step-Mom, Granny, siblings and cousins... Just some of the many relatives who greeted us!

Inside the house Precious grew up in with her Dad, Step-Mom, Granny, siblings and cousins... Just some of the many relatives who greeted us!

port-shep-kids-holding-hands

Bekah with a mouthful of a Zulu vegetable they shared with us from the garden... It was better with salt!

Bekah with a mouthful of a Zulu vegetable they shared with us from the garden... It was better with salt!

Over the past 7 years, Precious has saved small amounts of money to buy land near her relatives and build a “house of their own.”  We walked down the steep footpath to see it…

The half finished two room house

The half finished two room house

It will take less than $500 to complete the house, but that is significant for them

It will take less than $500 to complete the house, but that is significant for them

Precious dreams of one day living here and opening a Creche (Christian preschool) in the neighborhood.  Presently there are no schools for children prior to Kindergarten, and so the children are often completely unsupervised all day and unprepared for schooling later.

A neighbor's house.  I saw several small, naked children here.

A neighbor's house. I saw several small, naked children here.

The neighbor closest to where Precious is building

The neighbor closest to where Precious is building

On the drive home Sunday Precious told us her family “went on and on” about how friendly and relaxed we were in their home.  They were apparently “shocked” that we would want to visit with them, and could hardly believe that we were trying to learn a little Zulu.  Why wouldn’t we want to visit with these kind and generous people?  It was definitely the highlight of my weekend.

Before we left, Precious’ Auntie, Uncle and Cousins brought us some Zulu gifts, and believe me they don’t have anything extra.

The cousins climbed up their tree to pick a bag full of guava fruit.  Auntie then walked to the water pump to wash them for us.

The cousins climbed up their tree to pick a bag full of guava fruit. Auntie then walked to the water pump to wash them for us.

Gifts of fresh lemons and avocados as well as that huge piece of sugar cane

Gifts of fresh lemons and avocados as well as that huge piece of sugar cane

We are looking forward to many more adventures with Precious and Phumla!

We Won!

I never win anything, until now.

You decide… Are we best fans or worst parents?!

Only a matter of time until we were victims of crime

We are fine, but have joined the long list of people in South Africa who are victims of crime.  They got us.

We have been told that a common problem here is theft of credit card numbers by organized crime.  Waiters and clerks take your card and quickly make an imprint.  Then, for a fee,  they pass the numbers on.  As a result, most restaurants have portable credit card machines they bring right to the table so the card is never out of the owner’s sight.

Apparently somewhere in our travels the card was out of our sight!  Brian wrote more of the details here.  I want to know who took our card, made an imprint, looked us straight in the eye and said “thank you have a good evening.”

St. Lucia

In addition to visiting Swaziland during the Easter holiday, we also spent three days in St. Lucia/Cape Vidal on the North Coast of South Africa.  This quickly became my favorite place we have visited so far.

st-lucia-family-by-water

The water in the Indian Ocean is warm, even warm enough for me to swim!  Although the currents are dangerous and the waves high,  at Cape Vidal there is an enormous Coral Reef which acts like a wall, dividing the untamed water and creatures from a calm, shallow “pool”.   This is where we went snorkeling and saw numerous schools of fish all around us!  Look how clear the water is…

st-l-girls-with-snorkel-masks

st-l-rachel-and-bekah-snorkel

Only a few yards from the dangerous water Rachel was able to see a variety of fish both large and small

Only a few yards from the dangerous water Rachel was able to see a variety of fish both large and small

This was my kind of water - warm, crystal clear, calm, filled with gorgeous fish

This was my kind of water - warm, crystal clear, calm, filled with gorgeous fish

At low tide we could easily swim out to the reef and walk around on it.  Ruthie had a great time exploring the mini pools filled with fish

st-l-girls-on-reef

The only bad part of our adventure was that Rachel was stung by a Portugese Man – O – War!  It was frightening and very painful for her, but I was so proud of her when she went back in snorkeling the next day.  See pictures and read her perspective here.

st-l-wave-and-rock

This area is also known for their hippos.  In the Cape Vidal Nature Reserve there were many places where you could cautiously look for them; they are very territorial and the most dangerous African animal.  They stay in the water all day so they don’t get sunburned (really!) and then head out at dusk to eat grass.  Apparently hippos sometimes walk down the street or into public areas!  We are still amazed that we can drive through areas with wild animals and see them in their natural environment.  This is no zoo!

On a lookout pier - notice the sign next to Brian and Rebekah...

On a lookout pier watching the hippos and crocs in and near the water - notice the sign next to Brian and Rebekah...

The warning sign we were standing next to!

The warning sign we were standing next to!

These four rhinos slowed us down a bit!

These four rhinos slowed us down a bit!

Fortunately we were able to get tickets for the sunset boat ride so we could safely get up close to the hippos and crocs.  Boy, did we get close!

These crocs grow up to 5 meters long!

These crocs grow up to 5 meters long!

Hippos live in family groups

Hippos live in family groups

st-l-two-hippos

Mama hippo with her baby

Mama hippo with her baby

Another baby

Another baby

They don’t look too dangerous do they?

This is a place we would definitely like to return to.

st-l-moon


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