Sunday, September 14, 2014

14 September 2014

Snow in South Africa ?


The weather was warm and sunny Saturday August 29, 2014 when we left Port Elizabeth, South Africa to go to Queenstown which is located about 350 kilometers (3 ½ to 4 hour drive) northeast of Port Elizabeth. The route to get to Queenstown is dominantly through moderately hilly country which rises from sea level at Port Elizabeth to about 1,081 meters (3,243’) at Queenstown.
The travel was rather blah - boring as we had made the trip several times and so the scenery was rather familiar and there was nothing to really catcht your attention. The countryside is dominantly utilized for cattle grazing with orange orchards scattered in the valleys. At this particular time of the year when the season is transitioning between winter and spring, the grass is still blond and the orchards are just beginning to show a few brave shoots of growth. Thus, with the whine of our Nissan motor and nothing to alert the mind scenery- wise, it was somewhat of a chore just keeping the eye lids open. Angie was of little help in helping me stay awake except her occasional snore did break the monotony and add some humor.
The regular ascending and descending as the road snaked around the hills hid the fact that the overall elevation was gradually rising.
The weather had gradually shifted from the sunshine we enjoyed at Port Elizabeth to being overcast with intermittent mist and showers as we drove towards our destination. In some places, fog cloaked the hilltops obscuring their view and draped into the lower elevations. There was no noticeable change in the temperature. However,  that was obviously deceiving for as I rounded a corner and a bowel in the hillside came into view, I had to look and blink several times to make sure what I saw was real. Even when I thought I recognized what I saw, I could not make my mind admit it – was it real or was it just a mist of fog that I saw? As I tried to sort it out in my mind, I reached over and poked Angie; look at that hillside, I said, it looks like snow. Still my mind was telling me I was loco, there is no snow in South Africa. She said, yea, it does look like snow!

It was not long until we started to see snow along the highway and then I noticed small, poorly shape mounds at the edge of the road. Again my mind was having an argument with itself. Could those mounds have really been form by a snowplow? No, there is not enough snow for that. But again I was proven wrong as it was not long when distinct rows of snow were present along both sides of the road. There was no doubt about it, the roads had been plowed.
As we continued, there was noticeable increase in elevation and a corresponding increase in the amount of snow that blanketed the countryside. Frequently we observed other travelers that were also intrigued by the snow parked along the road taking pictures of this wintery beauty. Shortly, the road crested and we began our descent from 
 what we later learned was Ecca Pass.

When we got to Queenstown, I told one of the natives what we had observed and asked if it was common for them to get snow. Yes, he said, in 2007 we got over 11” right down here on the valley floor.
Curiosity then got the best of me and I got on the internet and found these headlines concerning the period of time surrounding our travel, “Heavy snow covers vast swathes of the Eastern Cape. Early Friday most mountain passes were closed and a wide network of roads affected. Passenger vehicles were stuck for more than 12 hours.” Hence, a day earlier and what we saw as a wintery landscaped display in the Spring time may have been not so pleasant an experience.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

7 September 2014

''Poverty is a state of mind, if someone wants to live in poverty then they will, if they don't then they will do their best to get out of it, seek help and support and access service providers to help them move beyond the bounds of poverty.'' Anonymous


   Poverty is defined as “the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; a condition of being poor.” But what does that really mean? And furthermore, is it always bad or can a condition of poverty be considered good? You might also ask, do those that others might say are in poverty, consider themselves to be in poverty? Does a condition of poverty, determine whether or not an individual is sad, depressed, and despondent or, in fact, happy, jovial, and content with his life?
   Looking back at my own life, the worldly possessions I recall our family having while I grew up were minimal. By societies standards were we living in poverty? I doubt it; at least I am confident we never considered ourselves to be impoverished. Much of what we had came by the industry of our hands.  In those days, while living on a ranch, everyone worked and contributed to help provide for the necessities of life regardless of their age. Life was good. We always had food, clothing and shelter, i.e., the basic necessities of life. We laughed and we played. Were there times when envy attacked us as we noticed what others had that we could not afford? Yes, but did that constitute poverty? No. Were there times my parents were worried about how to make the dollar stretch to meet their needs? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes but life, as I perceived it, was good.
   Do you have to be destitute to be in poverty? Is it possible that those who are, by societies standards, destitute don’t consider themselves to be in poverty? Could it be that there are those who are in definable poverty are content with living in poverty?
   The philosophers of the world fill endless reams of paper putting forth their views of poverty and the effects of it. And when all is said and done, what they say and think does not really matter much. Nor it is possible to make one shoe size to fit everyone. What one might call poverty, another might call affluence. My point is this, poverty, after all is said and done, is a relative entity. I have witnessed people in the Dominican Republic, Central America and here in South Africa living in the most modest of circumstances. Their homes are often no more than a tin shanty at best, without electricity or water which also eliminates many of the conveniences they offer. We have witnessed women packing water on their heads for more than a mile to their homes; men and women both packing a small bundle of sticks for miles just to provide a little heat for their home and cooking.  

   However, invariably, when you approach them or wave to them, there springs to their faces a bright smile. They are willing, no desirous, to share with you anything they have, including their last kernel of food.
   It became apparent to me in a very real way one day as we were waiting with a group of people for a meeting to start that the lack of earthly goods had very little to do with happiness. In this case, the person in charge of the meeting was late arriving (as is typical here). But instead of those assembled for the meeting getting up and walking out or murmuring, they, in what appeared one accord, started singing. There was no piano. No one stood to invite them to sing. Instead, they just began singing and they continued to sing for 45 minutes until the person in charge arrived. Their voices were loud and clear; they were happy and singing with a voice of joy and gratitude. There was no sign of “Woe me” displayed by these people of very meager means.
   Angie frequently points out that all she has to do is wave or smile at a person and they respond back with faces that brighten up and develop a broad smile. It could be the man selling newspapers on a cold, gloomy morning, the little old man and woman hoeing their garden or packing their burden along a well worn path, a greeting to any of those will always bring a smile. And if you really want to see them smile from ear to ear and stand proudly, all you have to do is ask for permission to take their picture. This is especially true with the children.
   With this backdrop in mind, we thought it would be enlightening to you, and fun for us, to collect a series of pictures that depicted what I have tried to describe above – poverty with a smile.


Lawn Mowing Business

Student From Sudan

Laundry Day

Attending Nursing School

Hand Made Dog Houses/Playhouses

Wood Working Business

That's All

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

3 September 2014


   They came into the chapel together, the old lady in a wheelchair, and an older lady with an infant strapped to her back and a man whom I would guess to be in his mid-thirties. They made their way to the front of the chapel where the lady in the wheelchair, with considerable effort, stood up and maneuvered herself onto the pew. Before the two associates were seated, a gentleman came to where they were and bent over as to speak softly in the ear of the lady that was in the wheelchair. There was a nod of her head and then she attempted to stand.
   The scene was one that held your attention and yet brought a number of questions to your mind. For instance, why was the man attempting to assist the lady who was in the wheelchair and now was struggling to stand up? What was the relationship between the three or was the man just an individual who felt inclined to assist the lady? The second lady, who was she and why did she have an infant on her back; she obviously was too old for the child to be hers?      She, as well as the man, never attempted to assist the other lady but yet, they were all together and acted as if they were going to stay together.
It all seemed a little strange to me and, to be honest, started to raise in me a little irritation. What was the matter with him? Did he not have at least a little compassion for this obviously handicapped lady? It seemed to me that there could have been a little compassion shown to her by either or both of them. It was my first time to be among these people; I neither knew them or anyone else in the congregation. My impulse was to go and offer to be of assistance, but not knowing the situation my intuition told me to stay where I was. So I sat and continued to watch the drama continue to unfold.
In response to whatever the gentlemen that leaned over to talk to her said, the lady took a walking cane from the man with her and struggled to her feet. Slowly, and with much effort the lady shuffled in front of the pew until she reached the end of it and to a position that was directly in front of me. As she turned to sit down, I could then see clearly that her right side was partially paralyzed and her right foot was turned such that she walked on the outside of the foot. Her right arm and hand was held such that you had the impression that they were useless to her. When she attempted to walk, she was only able to lift her foot high enough to allow it to slide along the floor.
The first sign of compassionate service to her only came after she was again seated. It was then that the man kneeled down and began to put a shoe on the crippled foot, which had apparently came off as she made her way to her new seat. He did so with gentleness and tenderness that indicated that he cared deeply for this lady.
That was the last I saw of any of the trio until the next day when we held a workshop in the same building as the chapel. There came the man who had helped the old lady. He introduced himself as Sindiso. It is standard that we ask those who attend our workshops to introduce themselves and tell us why they were there. I was particularly interested to hear him because of the happenings of the previous day. He stated his name and said he was from Cape Town, South Africa. My mind immediately thought, Cape Town, why are you in Sada, South Africa which is 400 – 500 kilometers from Cape Town? Furthermore, Sada is nothing but a spot on the map compared to Cape Town.
   So, I asked, “Why are you in Sada?”
   “I am here to take care of my mother,” he said.
   “You were raised in Sada and then move to Cape Town for work?” I asked.
   “No, I was raised in Cape Town by my mother who lives there”, he responded.
   “So your mother got sick and you brought her here to Sada to take care of her; is there better medical facilities here than in Cape Town?” I asked quizzically.
   “No, she was in the hospital here but they were not taking good care of her so I came back to give her the care she needs,” he said.
   I could see that the riddle was much too complicated to resolve in class and his ability to articulate answers that did not bring more questions, was not adequate to help me solve the riddle, so I moved on to the next person. But, throughout the day, my mind kept coming back to him and to his story. I soon came to understand that he was an intelligent individual. I learned that he had matrixed (graduated from high school) and had held a number of significant jobs. In response to my question as to why he was in the class, he indicated that he was there to learn – learn whatever we could teach him. He liked to learn, to improve himself. But the question kept coming back to my mind about his mother; is the woman here his mother or the one in Cape Town he referred to as his mother, his mother, or are they the same person?
   The answer to my dilemma came later the next day when he asked if we would take him home and talk to his mother about a matter we had previously discussed with him in private. We said it would be a privilege to do so. My mind was reeling with anticipation of finally being able to solve the riddle.
   Upon arriving at his home, my eyes quickly scanned the house and yard. It was a typical house and yard found in a township. The yard was devoid of grass, just bare dirt. Scattered around the yard were a number of trees, now barren because it is winter time here. Sitting in front of a small satellite shack was a washtub with clothes soaking in it. There was a tree stump, partially dug around in an attempt to remove it, located near a rickety wire entrance gate.  The house was a small cinderblock home painted pale pastel yellow so common in the townships.
   The rooms in the house were small; maybe 3-4 meters square with few furnishings except the kitchen did have a refrigerator and electric stove (a rarity in the townships).
We waited in the kitchen area while Sindiso went to get his mother. After what seemed a long time, she came from another room into the living area. She was walking slowly with the aid of a walking cane; each step was made with considerable effort and yet, it seemed like she moved with more ease than she had a couple of days previously when we saw her at church. As she reached to shake my hand, it was with the left hand; the right arm noticeably immobile. As I shook her hand, I was astonished that it was so cold and said so to her. She said, “I was washing clothes outside.” (The day was cold and overcast and hot water for washing clothes is not even a consideration in the townships). But, she also had pride as she expressed this was the first thing she’d been able to help out with.
   We explained to her briefly, that there was a financial program that would help her son to get an education and training in the work he wanted. She looked at him and asked him in her tongue what it was he wanted to study and he told her Physical Therapy. There was question and concern in her eyes and though I could only understand pieces of the conversation (conducted in Xkosa), I understood that she was concerned that he would leave her. However, he explained that he thought he could do the schooling without leaving her and there was great relief in her eyes and she said, “I want what is good for you and this sounds good for you.”
   The next day when I was alone with him, I asked him who this woman was he called, “his mom” and who the woman was in Cape Town he called “his mom?” He explained that in his culture, members of a family often lived with extended family and that he, at a very young age, went to live with his aunt in Cape Town and has always called her “mom.” While living there, his biological mother had a stoke that left her partially paralyzed. The local medical facility was not helping her to regain use of her leg and arm and as a consequence she was getting progressively worse. He felt it was his responsibility to come to Sada and take care of her. So I asked, “Why do you feel obligated to leave your “mom” who raised you, to leave your job, and life you had in Cape Town to take care of someone who abandoned you years ago?” As if explaining to a young child, he said, ”She is my mother, she did not abandon me, she loved me and knew that her sister could give me a better life than she could. She did it for me,” he said. “They are both my mother and I love them both.”
   He continued to explain that the local medical facility was not making his mother do anything to build up her strength again and, as a consequence, she was continually getting weaker so he came home to take care of her. “If you  help someone too much,” he said, “they will not get stronger, but weaker. Each day she is getting better because I make her do things for herself.” He works several hours a day messaging her muscles and working exercises with her limbs.
   I thought back on that Sabbath Day I observed them in Church when he just stood there watching her struggle to move and then I understood that although the tendency was to reach out and help, the love that he had for her prohibited him from doing so. I said to myself, that is exactly what we strive to teach in our workshops of Self-Reliance, we each have to learn to take care of ourselves – to use the resources the Lord has given us. The process is not always easy; in fact by design, they rarely are so that we will grow to be independently stronger.
Our last day we were in Sada, Angie asked if we could take a picture of him with his mother. With a broad smile, he with gratitude agreed. When we arrived at his home, his mother was dressed in her best and waiting for us. As she walked out of her house, using her cane, it required her to negotiate two minor steps. A lady who was there with us, moved as if to give his mother some assistance down the steps. Quickly, Sindiso told her, “Don’t even think of it.” Looking at me he said, “We have to let her do it herself so that she over comes fear and becomes stronger.” It reminded me of a saying of the Lord when He said, “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then I will make weak things become strong unto them.”
   The picture below shows Sindiso, his mother and grandmother (?) Is it really his grandmother? (that is another riddle that was not unravelled).