Archive for April, 2009

We Won!

I never win anything, until now.

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

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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.

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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…

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Election Day

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We survived election day, and so did most South Africans.  It was a remarkably quiet day with limited violence and only a few cases of reported voting irregularities.  It was fascinating to watch, as this is only the fourth election the majority of South Africans (non-whites) have been allowed to vote in.

Voting is serious business here, so most people had the day off, the taxis did not run, and the streets were deserted.  Many walked great distances to wait in lines for hours.  Voting is still a paper and pen event, and all votes are counted by hand, so the results are not official.  As of now, it appears that the ANC will maintain power with Jacob Zuma being elected.  The question really is whether they will win a 2/3 majority.  This is the main fear of the opposition parties (25 of them!) because if they do they will have the power to change the constitution.

The unofficial next President of South Africa Jacob Zuma

The unofficial next President of South Africa Jacob Zuma

Not everyone is happy with the choice of Zuma...

Not everyone is happy with the choice of Zuma...

My Zulu friends explained the voting process to me and there are several differences from the American process.  Having a hand counted paper ballot is the first, but most interesting to me is the process that has been developed to prevent people from voting more than once… When a person votes, their thumbnail is coated with black permanent ink.  This lasts at least five days and alerts voting officials that you have already cast your vote.  It leads to humiliation if a person does not vote because it is obvious to everyone around them.  Also adding to the greater than 80% voting rate is that whenever a person wants assistance from the government for anything, the agencies first check to see if they have voted.

If you are interested in politics,  SA history, or want to learn more about Zuma’s interesting rise to power,  check out several posts and linked articles Brian put on his blog.   I hope Americans appreciate the amazing freedom and democratic process we have in our country.

Swaziland

Welcome to Swaziland

Welcome to Swaziland

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We got to use our passports again during the Easter holiday as we traveled 8 hours north to the Kingdom of Swaziland.  Friends of the Passaro’s ministry donated their timeshare for all of us.  Thank you!

Swazi is run by King Mswati III , one of three remaining monarchs in Africa.  He currently has 13 wives but chooses a new one each year.  He has significant ground to cover to catch up with his father who had 120 official wives, with unofficial estimates putting the number of wives and mistresses at more than double that!  Swaziland is now the country with the world’s highest HIV infection rate in the world – around 39% of the adult population is known to be HIV positive.

As with South Africa and Lesotho, Swaziland is incredibly beautiful but the people are suffering with outrageous poverty.

This is Swaziland…

Old tires on the roof are supposed to protect the hut from lightning strikes

Old tires on the roof are supposed to protect the hut from lightning strikes

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swazi-grocery

Swazi soccer

Swazi soccer

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The long walk for water done twice daily

The long walk for water done twice daily

This is also Swaziland…

The hotel

The hotel

The kids were served ice water at the bar WITHIN the hotel pool

The kids were served ice water at the bar WITHIN the hotel pool

Horseback riding

Horseback riding

Mantenga Falls

Mantenga Falls

If you know me, you can imagine how much I struggled with the chasm between the two Swazis, so…

Tourism is the primary source of income for the local Swazi people, so since our accommodation was free, we spent some money elsewhere 🙂

At the local Swazi Cultural Center where we learned about their customs and history:

The entrance to Rebekah's hut - in the reenactment she was chosen to be the second wife!  I don't think she would do well in a culture that practiced polygamy!

The entrance to Rebekah's hut - in the reenactment she was chosen to be the second wife! I don't think she would do well in a culture that practiced polygamy!

Woman weaving and braiding ropes for the huts

Woman weaving and braiding ropes for the huts

Brian was chosen to be included in a traditional dance.  You should see the video!

Brian was chosen to be included in a traditional dance. You should see the video!

And at the local craft huts:

These huts were lined up as far as we could see

These huts were lined up as far as we could see

Unfortunately, tourism is suffering during these difficult economic times, so almost no one was shopping while we were here.  The shop owners were literally begging us to buy things from them… “I give you good price.”  Rather than a typical American approach to buy in bulk and get good deals, we decided to buy something from everyone we talked to!

They were truly desperate.  She begged me to send our friends to her... Anyone?

They were truly desperate. She begged me to send our friends to her... Anyone?

My Teachers

I have spent significant time recently talking to two Zulu women, Zanele and Precious.  Although lacking much formal education, they are wise and have many things to teach anyone who will listen.

If you recall, Zanele worked for the family in the house we were renting, and now she works for us on Wednesdays.  She and I have lunch together and often spend extra time visiting after she finishes her work.   This week our conversation focused on the upcoming election (see Brian’s post for more info and a link to a great overview article).  Zanele remembers vividly the election in 1994 when Mandela was elected.  During that time, apartheid was ending and black groups, the ANC and IFP,  were fighting for power in the country.  Zanele’s family lived right in the middle of what was essentially a Civil War.  Every night members of these groups would go through neighborhoods killing anyone from the opposing party – women and children included.    Every day Zanele’s family would eat an early supper, and then she would take her one year old daughter, mother, brother and sister out of the house to hide for the night.  They slept in bushes, abandoned buildings, or anywhere else they could.  Before they left, they would dig a hole to bury anything of value.  This went on for months, and the memories of this “hell” haunts her as she thinks about another election.  We have invited her and the family to spend election night with us, and longer if there is violence.

Zanele with Rebekah's "Monkey Punk"

Zanele with Rebekah's "Monkey Punk"

Precious is 27 years old.  She grew up in a township on the South Coast.  She has a daughter Phumla who is almost 11, and they live in the converted single car garage attached to the house we are now renting.  The owners of this house (Jason and Faye) also used to live on the South Coast, and Precious started working for them when she was 17.

Precious’ Mom abandoned her when she was small, so she lived with her father in a small shack that had no electricity or running water.  She said they lived on one meal a day, usually Mealie Meal (like grits).  She said there is rampant promiscuity, and when she was young none of her peers understood how people got pregnant or HIV.  After having Phumla at age 16, she tried to continue school but instead had to find a job to support her baby.  As a result, she never got her Matric (diploma).  Instead she was fortunate enough to meet Faye and become their maid and an assistant teacher in Faye’s classroom.

Precious, Phumla, and their bird Joy.  We bought paint to fix her rusty cage.  Little things mean a lot here.

Precious, Phumla, and their bird Joy. We bought paint to fix her rusty cage. Little things mean a lot here.

When Faye and Jason moved here they brought Precious and Phumla with them.  This is apparently quite unusual; usually they would bring only Precious and leave Phumla with relatives.  Precious has told me several horrible stories of families who have been split up so that the Mom can work.   The lady who works next door to us gets one day off a month to go home and see her daughter, but the rest of the time she is the nanny, maid, and cook, and all for R800 ($80) per month!   Why does she put up with that?  No options.  There is a minimum wage law here which is R100 per day (still only $10), however as Precious pointed out, if you complain or report the employer you will have no job and be risking your child’s survival.

Now that Faye is living in Madagascar, Precious works for another family in the neighborhood.  They have a daughter with Spina bifida, so Precious takes her to school and cares for her all day in addition to being their maid.  She was embarrassed to tell me what she is paid, but finally admitted it is R70 ($7) a day.  If Faye was not letting them stay rent free in this small room, Precious would not be able to make ends meet.

Precious said she struggles with bitterness sometimes, but tries to focus on the ways she has been helped.  Faye helped Phumla get into one of the better government schools and paid for many of the initial fees.  Even the public schools here have tuition and uniforms.  You must apply to the school you want to attend and admission can be denied if you have insufficient funds.   The best schools have high fees, and the township schools that have no books, computers or trained teachers have lower fees.

Thankfully Phumla is in one of the better “white” schools so she speaks English well and is on track to get her matric.  With an unemployment rate of nearly 40%  you need every advantage you can get.  Zanele’s youngest daughter Aphile is supposed to start kindergarten (grade R) next year, but the school they like is too expensive, approximately $60 per month plus transport and uniform fees.

I often feel overwhelmed here.  The problems are so big that you don’t know where to begin.  In some ways this seems like an excuse though, one that many white South Africans have used with us.  However, a very doable $60 per month might change a girl’s life completely, and also help her family.  So, we are going to talk to Zanele and look into school sponsorship.  And for Precious, Jason and Faye are considering emigrating to the US, leaving Precious and Phumla with no place to live and $7/day.  We are working to help her get back in the classroom possibly as a teacher for Bonginkosi Preschool.   It seems like an awesome fit!

My best days are the ones when we help someone in need.  People living in their own comfortable world are missing out.

Bugless

Good news… Brian’s foot is getting better.  The doctor said there was no sinister bacteria, so Brian will continue with the current treatment and keep watching for further infection.

I have so many thoughts swirling in my head tonight that I feel like it might explode!  I will write more after I process my recent conversations with Zanele and Precious.  One major issue on everyone’s mind is the upcoming election.  Brian put a link on his blog to an article summarizing politics here, and the likely outcome of the election next week.  It is an interesting read if you want to get an overview.  If you think American politics are bad, read on…