Archive for January, 2009

In Your Face

Rachel just posted some new pictures at the end of the picture section…

While she was doing that a man rang the bell at the front gate.  In his broken English he asked me for some old clothes, money and a job.  This is the fourth person to come to the gate looking for a job, but the first asking for money.   I was not sure what to do, and we could barely understand each other.  Fortunately Adrian was in the cottage and went out to speak to him for me.  None of us had any old clothes, and we have already hired a gardener, so we gave him a bag of bread and fruit.

In America it is fairly easy to ignore poverty if you want.  Here it is in your face and at your gate everyday.


Differences in Everyday Life

People have said they would like to know what our “everyday life” is like,  so I will try to give you a sampling…

Here are some differences we have noticed…  There is no heat or air conditioning in homes or schools, no screens on the windows, no shower doors, no dishwasher, no fans in the bathrooms, etc.  The lack of bathroom fans and shower doors combined with the humidity results in everything being wet all the time.  When people get up in the morning they turn off the alarms and open all the windows – remember no screens, so opening kitchen windows opens the possibility of monkeys entering!


Our living room (lounge) window

There are very few convenience foods (like grated cheese, frozen foods, pre-made mixes) or convenience items (plastic containers are used in lunch boxes rather than zip-lock bags).  People don’t seem to use napkins (called serviettes) regularly and often don’t wear shoes in public places!

Rather than saying “oh dear” or “that is too bad” people often say “shame.”  Rather than Good-bye white South Africans usually say “cheers,”  Black South Africans say “Go Well” and “Stay Well.”

No one goes out at night.   Grocery stores, malls, shops, almost everything closes around 6:00.

Back to food – There is no orange juice!!  There are numerous fruit juices, mostly blends, but none that have only orange juice.  There are not only no Costco or Sams Club stores, but everything is sold in small quantities… For those of you familiar with the metric system, juice comes in 1 liter, milk in 2.  The largest snack bags Americans would probably consider only 2 servings!  Refrigerators are small, so people go to the grocery store frequently and buy enough for a day or two.   Store parking lots have people in them that you tip to keep your car safe.

Even wealthy children here have much less “stuff” than American children.  The kids play in their yards in groups or with parents, but not outside the gates… This means no bike riding or children playing ball in a cul-de-sac. (I don’t think they have cul-de-sacs here anyway). Rather than hearing children outside, you hear dogs barking almost all the time.

When we leave the house, or before we go to bed, we hide everything of value… Our computer is put in one place, the MP3 player in another, cameras are hidden, money is put in a variety of places.  This is disturbing (especially at night) if you dwell on it too much, because it is admitting that there is a real chance we will be robbed.  (If we are we don’t want to lose everything.)  Anyway, when I leave the house in the morning I need to hide everything, then unlock the door and trellidoor, get everyone out of the house, close the door while I arm the alarm, then quickly go outside and relock both the door and trellidoor before the alarm goes off.  Then I unlock the car, push the button to open the gate, back out and reclose the gate.  The worst part is when you realize you have forgotten something and you need to open the gate, two doors, disarm the house alarm and then rearm it and relock everything!

Did I mention people drive on the wrong side of the road?  This also means the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car… I got into the passenger seat at the grocery store the other day!

All “petrol” stations are full serve and only accept cash.

All school children wear school uniforms, whether in government or private schools, and need to pay school fees.  This of course adds to the difficulties for the nations poor.

One of the biggest differences between here and Bridgewater Virginia… a majority of people have dark skin, and they are usually walking.

Sermon on the Mount

Those of you who know me well know that I struggle with understanding God’s role in suffering. Every time I hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount I am hung up on one section in particular – Matthew 6:25-34… Jesus is telling us not to be anxious for anything, and specifically mentions what we eat, drink, and wear.
“…Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … ”
Being here in Africa raises this problem for me again – certainly these starving children are more important to God than the birds! Why aren’t they being fed?
…”But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious saying ‘What shall we eat and drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
There are numerous people here and in other African countries who proclaim the name of Christ but do not have food, drink, or clothes…

Does anyone understand this? Questions have already been raised by Ruthie like “why does God let them live in such a broken down place?” or by Rebekah, ” why isn’t God taking better care of His children?”

I would love to hear your thoughts…

Education in South Africa

Our close friend, Drew Miller, spent a month in South Africa, finding out about their education system through the Rotary International exchange program. Read about his experiences here.

Swimming and Security

Rebekah and Ruthie will be taking swimming lessons from a lady in town that our friend Kristi recommended.  The paper I was given outlines the schedule and fees but, unlike what I am used to, it then gives half a page of precautions and warnings about security including… “…there is a 15 minute period between lessons when our vehicles can be stolen; this is due to parents driving in and out.  This heightens the chance of a hijacking taking place instead of theft.  Be aware of vehicles parked in a bus halt with unknown people sitting in them.  Don’t take for granted that one is safe…”  It goes on and on.

It is hard to determine how real the risk is.  So far we have felt relatively safe here, as if we live in a larger US city.  The violent crime rate is high in the townships, rural areas, and cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria.   We know there is a significant theft problems where we live, but if we are careful, is there much danger?  The family from Zimbabwe told us that white South Africans are so afraid of blacks that they exaggerate the risks.  They maintain that it is safe for us to go into “black areas” … everyone would know we are Americans because white South Africans would “never go there.”  We will be cautious, but don’t want to be prisoners in our home either.

This is a strange place to live!  We are starting to get used to the alarms, gates, razor wire and consistent barking of guard dogs.   There is always a thought about crime in the back of your mind, but to dwell on it constantly would lead to insanity.  We appreciate your prayers for our safety and for wisdom as we make decisions about where to go and what to do.

So this is Africa…

We wanted to see monkeys… well, we saw monkeys!  These photos were taken in our backyard this morning.  Check out Brian’s post (In To Africa) which includes a video of the monkeys.  They are loud!



This was really our first normal weekend here, and we had a wonderful time.  Saturday the five of us drove two hours to Giant Castle Park in the Drakensburg Mountains.  The beautiful pictures do not due justice to the amazing scenery we saw.  We had a great time hiking to the caves where Bushmen had painted on the rocks as long as 3000 years ago!


Driving to this beautiful place required us to drive through many towns where the poverty was almost overwhelming.  We saw women and children carrying water (often on their heads!) from the town pumps to their dwellings, goats and cows in the streets, children playing in the mud, tons of people walking, and thousands of shacks.  The round “rondavels” were neat to see, but the mud and stick shacks were difficult to drive past.  Rebekah in particular was moved by the sights.  She wanted to give the children we passed everything we had in our car – six granola bars, water bottles, and cameras.  We tried to explain that we could not start giving away food unless we were prepared to be swarmed by hundreds of hungry people, that we did not understand the language and could put ourselves in an unsafe situation, etc. but she was adament that we needed to return when we were more prepared.  In this way she is very much like me!  Rachel wrote about her perspective and posted some pictures on her sight (RCubed in South Africa)


On Sunday we met two women at church who had moved here recently from Zimbabwe.  They and their families joined us at our house for lunch.  We had a great time learning about their country and visiting with them for several hours.  It was neat to watch the girls play with 7 year old Ano and 3 year old Toto as if there were no differences between them.

They are trying to visit Zim at Easter time to bring food to their relatives and would like us to go with them.  We will look in to that possibility if it is safe.  Zimbabwe was considered the “Bread Basket” of Africa until fairly recently, is supposed to be an incredibly beautiful country, and Victoria Falls are claimed to make Niagara Falls look small!  Regardless of whether we go with them, I loved talking to them and hope to continue building those relationships.

It was a great, African weekend!


I have started to add some pictures… Most are cleverly under “pictures,” but there is also one at the end of the text entitled “Guilt.”  Keep watching for new additions.

January 2009
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