Published: April 3rd 2008April 3rd 2008
Living by Candlelight
Didn't your mom ever tell you that reading in the dark is bad for your eyes?
It Was A Dark and Stormy Night....
I'm writing this blog entry by candle light as we are experiencing one the planned power outages which have become so common across South Africa. In January, the government-run Electrical Utility announced that the electrical demand across the country had exceeded the supply of available energy. To deal with the shortage they rolled out a plan for scheduled power outages throughout the country. Areas are divided into "blocks" of electrical distribution areas, which are then scheduled for 4 hour power outages every second day.
We were fortunate that the cooler weather in March meant that the use of Air Conditioners went down and there was enough power to avert any outages. April 1 was the start of "Stage 2" of the electrical power consumption plan, which I don't really understand yet, but it appears that things are getting a bit more challenging as we have had power outages each day since. It is a bit difficult to get used to and is frustrating when it happens during working hours.
At the Centre the power sometimes goes off at 12:00 and doesn't come back on until 5:00pm. The kids programs don't really
suffer, but things like the Sewing Program and the office administration grind to a halt for the day. Local businesses are really feeling the crunch. Stores, banks, and factories suddenly have their power cut off for four hours during the work day. In February their were huge concerns when the mines, which are one of the largest industries in South Africa, were closed down because the Electrical Company could not guarantee an uninterrupted supply of power to run the ventilation fans and safety equipment underground. The Mining Companies could not send workers into the mines because the power could be cut and the miners would be stuck underground without ventilation and elevator access to the surface. This, among other things, has caused huge concern that an economic crisis is imminent. With all of the health issues, poverty, and crime that South Africans are facing, the last thing they need now is an economic crisis.
The Electrical Utility and the Government are now reacting to overcome the lack of new electrical infrastructure in the past 10 years and have pledged to build new power plants, and to start renovating and reusing old ones which have been closed down. They expect
that the new plants will be fully operational in 2012, so until then we will have to adjust to the frequent power outages.
Onto more exciting news......
Two weeks ago, we spent three days helping out a camp for grade 8 students. Our church here runs camps for various schools throughout the year. This time the camp was for grade 8 students at Amanzimtoti High School. So at 8:00am on Tuesday morning, Shauna and I arrived at the school holding our two bags packed with a few pairs of clothes, two borrowed sleeping bags and a fair bit of uncertainty as to what we had gotten ourselves into!
We filled the bus with 66 grade 8 students and all their luggage. "Three days of clothes" apparently means something drastically different to a 13 year old girl compared to a 13 year old boy. So after packing each of the boys bags into the bottom of the bus, I worked out a complex mathematical equation to figure out if it was actually possible to fit all of the girls bags into the bus. I decided that it was not physically possible, but when I was told by someone
else that it was indeed impossible, Wesley and I decided to prove both physics and any skeptics wrong. In the end, it was possible, but barely. The fact that the boys each packed light meant that the girls were afforded the luxury of bringing practically everything that they owned, plus more. Some things are universal around the world.
So off we headed to the camp. It rained for the entire hour that it took us to get there. Both Shauna and I were wondering why we had been so naive to volunteer in the first place. The weather forecast had predicted rain all week, so we were trying to mentally prepare for three days cold, wet, mud filled activities, but as we got off the bus the rain stopped, the clouds suddenly disappeared and the sun began to dry up the ground. The nect three days were some of the most beautiful days we have seen and all without a cloud in the sky.
The camp was interesting to start. We had told the kids to put their bags in their cabins and meet in the main hall. The boys each put away their bag, went to the
hall and sat patiently, waiting for the girls to put away their plethora of bags, change clothes, touch up their make-up, swap clothes with their friends, change again and then slowly meander to the hall while chatting to their friends about all the "prospects" at the camp. (As a note: Shauna does not agree with my harsh assessment of the girls in the previous paragraph. My wife has a tendency to always stand up for the "truth" which, I guess, balances off what she calls my "tendency to embellish".)
Anyway, when all the kids were sitting in the hall we came in to see that there was an obvious divide between the white students and the black students. The white kids were sitting in one group and the black in another. It was a weird sight. Kids tend to sit with their friends and their friends are usually the people who have the most in common with them. In this case it just happened that many of these commonalities meant that the kids were also divided by race. We divided the kids into six random groups with eleven people in each group. The groups were all mixed, black and
white, boys and girls, friends and strangers. The groups then had to work together as a team to play games and compete in challenges. It was so cool to see kids work together and get to know each other better. They weren't initially divided because they didn't like each other, they were divided because they didn't know each other. That certainly changed by the end of the camp!
It was rewarding, but exhausting as Shauna and I, along with the six other leaders, hung out with the kids, organized and ran activities and had to cook all the meals for the kids. One of the activities was an "Amazing Race". Each team had to navigate as a team to six different activity stations. Some stations were close by, but others were up to two kilometres away. Shauna and I were put in charge of a station about 1.5 kms away at a farmers dugout/riverdam. Each team had to find the way and then walk to the dam. To complete the challenge at our station the team had to pick four members to float on an inflatable air mattress and paddle to the other side of the small lake, and
Things were uneventful until a girl in the fourth team somehow had her shoe fly into the water. It sank to the bottom before the boys on the air mattress could rescue it. The boys jumped in with a half hearted effort to save the shoe, but it was no use. The girl was quite upset and so we assured her that we would continue to look for it as they went ahead to the next challenge station. After they left, I begrudgingly waded into the brown water and ventured out to where the shoe was last seen. The water was about 8 feet deep at the spot, but the visibility was terrible. I kept diving to the bottom and feeling around for the shoe. I had to keep telling myself that this was probably her only pair of shoes and that her camping experience would be miserable if she didn't have shoes to wear. Shauna was busy making comments about the likelihood of crocodiles in the water, which we both laughed at. I was dealing with the situation okay until Shauna mentioned that all joking aside, there were probably snakes in the water. My compassion for
the girl and the possibility of her shoe-less camping experience suddenly ended as I quickly swam to the shore, with my eyes, as big as saucers, scanning the grassy shoreline for anything remotely resembling a snake.
The shoe remained at the bottom of the lake, but I was relieved to find out that she did indeed have another pair of shoes to wear. Like I said before, some things are universal around the world. Girls and shoes are no exception. Overall, the camp was a tonne of fun. Both Shauna and I had an awesome time and we continue to see kids around town from the camp who recognize us and say "Hi". Was the camping experience worth getting some strange water-borne disease from swimming in the dam? No, probably not, but it certainly was worth the vast expense of energy and severe lack of sleep that occurred. It took us days to recover, now let's just pray I don't get Dysentery.
The Price of Safety
When we arrived home, we had a grim reminder of how dangerous things can be here. As I have written about before, here in South Africa violent crime is quite rampant.
Robberies and car-jackings are common and the murder rate is significantly higher than any other country. There is a grassroots community group in our town that has decided that just complaining about crime is not the answer and so they have decided to actually do some thing about it. They created the Community Crime Prevention Organization (CCPO). The CCPO sells memberships to businesses and residents for about $15 a month and then uses that money to hire local security guards who patrol residential streets, businesses and public areas such as beaches and parks. This is a true non-profit group started by six concerned citizens who are making a big difference in our area. They have been running for just over a year and have well over a thousand members. They are making a big difference and reducing the amount of crime in the area. But sometimes progress can be extremely costly.
Last week a gang of ten armed men robbed the "Spur" restaurant on our street. The gang held up the patrons and took their money and cell phones. They ordered the manager to open the safe and stole all the money. Worst of all, on their way into
the restaurant, they shot the CCPO guard in the head and killed him. The restaurant is just a few doors down from our apartment and we drove past the CCPO guard everyday. Things like this are tragic and they really remind us of how fragile life is in such a violent country. But although tragic and shocking to us, it is barely newsworthy due to the frequency of such horrible crime. The robbery and killing made the front page of our local community newspaper, but the headline of "CCPO Guard Killed During Robbery" ran beside a picture of a small girl with bunny ears and easter eggs celebrating Easter on the beach. The dead guard's name was only mentioned in the second last line of the article where it mentioned a quick note of condolences to his family. Mr. Mandla Zulu died trying to help make the community safer, but unlike Canada, there is no Worker's Compensation insurance policy for him or his family. His family will struggle on, trying to make ends meet without him. Another guy, taken too soon and barely anyone notices.
Our Hospital Visit
On a more encouraging note, we had an awesome opportunity
to visit a local hospital a few weeks ago. Along with our friend Musa from the Seed of Hope, we met up with a lovely lady named Elize who visits the hospital each month and hands out donations in the Children's ward and Maternity ward. Elize and her husband are both retired bank managers who have spent their retirement volunteering in the community. They have a garage filled with donations from various people in the community. They use their own money to buy food packages for people in the Townships. They helped to start an orphanage and personally funded it for a year before permanent donors were set up. Elize gathers toys and stuffed animals for the kids at the hospital. Various ladies groups in the area sew simple clothes for the kids and the ladies at a local seniors home knit baby blankets with donated yarn. Elize and her husband gather all of the donations and distribute them to those who need them.
We loaded up her car with goods and headed off to the Scottburgh Hospital. In South Africa there are two types of hospitals. There are the private hospitals which are reserved for those with health
insurance or the capability of paying for the services. Then there are the government hospitals which are free for everyone, but do not have the same equipment, staff or facilities. For example, we learned that on the weekends, there is only one doctor on staff for the whole Scottburgh Hospital. This doctor will assess and treat all the patients in the emergency room and then run upstairs to deliver any babies that decide to arrive. (We are told that there are about 40 babies born a day at that hospital.) The Scottburgh Hospital is a government hospital, but it has the added advantage of some significant private donations from a family who has owned a local sugar cane company in the area for generations. So despite the conditions at this hospital, it is considered better than most government hospitals. We complain about the health care system in Canada, but you should experience the system here!
We walked through the dark maze of corridors and followed Elize as we made our way to "H" Ward, which is the Children's ward. As we approached the gated entrance, a group of kids in the outdoor corridor spotted us and screamed with excitement.
They came running over and were reaching through the fence as they expressed their excitement as only a kid can. We opened the gate and walked into the Ward and the kids quickly ran back through the courtyard and around through the back door of the ward to greet us inside. The ward was a room lined with metal cribs around the outside with a row of small beds running down the middle of the room. Most of the beds were full and many had a mother or grandmother sitting beside their sick child. In the corner of the room was a couple of small plastic tables and a few small chairs. No toys, no games, no paper, no crayons. We quickly started to understand why these kids were so excited to see us. They were so excited as we opened up the boxes of donations and gave each one a hand made teddy bear. It was like Christmas morning for every child.
We gave each child a bear and then walked around to each bed to hand out bears to the kids that were too sick to get out of bed. Some kids were very sick, but would
try to smile as we put the bear in their arms. Other kids were so sick that they couldn't even smile. The mothers were also very appreciative and each one thanked us numerous times. But there were a few kids who didn't have any parents sitting beside their beds. These were either kids whose families live far away and can't come to visit or worse off, some of the kids have been left by their parents, abandoned in the hospital.
One abandoned baby sat in his crib in the corner of the room all by himself. Shauna was making her rounds with the bears, but when she came to this little guy all by himself in the corner, she couldn't seem to move past him. He was really interactive and was really happy that someone was showing him some attention. Shauna played with him and his new bear and although he was speaking Zulu and she was speaking English, the language barrier didn't seem to matter to this little guy.
Next to him was another little guy laying in his metal crib all alone. He was severely sick and was very thin. He lay there so sick that
he wouldn't look at anything and didn't respond at all to our touch. He stared through the bars in the crib and right through anything else that was in the path. Laying all by himself, dying, and alone, with no one to hold his hand, and no one cry for his loss. Somehow setting a small teddy bear down beside him seemed like such an utterly insignificant thing to do in his circumstance. No one should live alone, and certainly no one should die this way.
Shauna and I stayed with these two little guys for quite a while. It was difficult to justify that anything else at the time was more urgent or more important than staying with these kids. Deep down inside I wondered if I would ever be able to leave, but eventually we knew we had to finish handing out the donations. Elize was busy fitting new clothes onto a group of kids who had eagerly gathered around her. They were excited to shed their hospital gowns and put on their new clothes. Some ladies had also sewn some simple beanie hats that the kids were really excited to put on as well. A group
of little girls were so proud to show off their new clothes and kept coming over to me to model their new outfits and have their picture taken. Once again, some things are universal around the world.
After we had run out of bears and clothes, we headed off to the Maternity Ward. A group of kids followed us to the gate of the ward and continued to smile and wave through the bars as we waved back and continued on through the hospital. We made our way to the Maternity Ward which had two rooms. One room was full of women in labour and mothers with their new babies, and the second room was full of moms and their babies who were born the day before. It is funny what things stand out in your mind, but there was a TV in the room and it was playing WWF wrestling. I'm not sure that anyone was actually watching it, but it seemed really funny that all these ladies were laying there in labour watching wrestling! Maybe nobody could get up to change the channel after Oprah was over.
Anyway, we gave each lady a knitted blanket for
their new babies and then headed into the next room with the moms and babies. Apparently in Zulu culture, the men do not come to the hospital when their wives are in labour. Seeing as there aren't any men hanging around the ward (except for the Wrestlers on the TV), they were a bit surprised when Musa and I walked through the door! Inside were about forty moms, with their little babies, all around 24 hours old. It was discharge time and so the ladies were all packing up their new babies for the bus ride home. We gave away the rest of our blankets and the new moms were really excited to have such a fancy blanket for their baby. I must say, those were some cute babies!
So that's an update on a few of the things that we have been up to in the past few weeks. There is more to write about, but I will leave that for next time. I have added a bunch of pictures of our visit to the hospital which you can see on this page. There are more pictures on the next page if you click "NEXT" at the bottom
of this page. I have also found a way to add video to this blog, so I added two short (30 second) videos. There is one of the Simunye Time class singing a song at the Seed of Hope, and one of our hospital visit. You can watch them in the player at the top of the blog or download them by clicking on the two movie icons at the bottom of the blog. Let me know if you have any trouble.
Anyway, thanks for reading and thank you for all the encouraging messages and e-mails. We'll talk to you soon,
Scott and Shauna
There are more photos below