Thursday, October 27, 2011

Swaziland part 9.5 (at Bheveni)

Back at the carepoint, we were able to give the bomake the large wooden spoon and pot that we had purchased for them. They were so excited - you would have thought that we had given them a car!

We had one last craft to do with the kids - Mandy printed out all of the profile pictures that we had taken of the kids and we had them decorate a foam picture frame to put the picture in. This was a special treat for them because it is rare for those kids to get photos. When we set the frames down and gave the kids stickers to decorate them, the kids had no idea what to do. It was another of those "aha" moments; one where I was reminded of just how different life is there. I can't believe that after being in Africa for a more than a week and seeing everything that we witnessed, I hadn't thought that maybe those kids had never even seen a sticker before.

Once we showed them how to use the stickers they went crazy with them. Some ended up on the picture frames but more ended up on the kids themselves. It was a riot to watch them stick them on their faces and arms!

Khaya in "traditional" wear - I think every one of us did a double take when we first saw his ensemble.

We also had the children write a note to their sponsor - or future sponsor. Some drew pictures while others wrote sweet messages. We knew that the people back home would love to hear from the kids they spend so much time thinking about and praying for.

Our team spent the rest of the time we had soaking in all we could at Bheveni. While we missed our families back home we knew that this was our last day with the kids. I went through several emotions... happy, sad, giddy, somber - it was like the hormones of pregnancy all over again. :) Mostly we all played with the kids and talked with the ladies from the carepoint.

Meredith enjoying the company

Gcebile and me - LOVE this lady.

Steve doing one of his many card tricks. Kids and adults alike went wild when he pulled out his deck of cards.

Painting nails... I bet I painted more than 500 fingernails this day. There was usually a huge group surrounding the two of us that had the polish out.

DeNise with a few of her new friends.

The women from our team decided to leave a bunch of the clothing we brought behind. We brought several skirts and a few shirts to the carepoint this day to leave with the bomake. I had sewn most of my skirts (with the intention of leaving them) so I made sure to make different sizes. Then I put in some stitches so they would fit me while I was there but that I could easily take out so they could fit all of the different women there. Those ladies lit up as we passed out the clothing. Gcebile was so sweet - after I gave her one of my skirts, she snuck away and put it on over what she was wearing. She then showed me she was wearing it and said "Please take my picture."

The time was approaching when the kids were getting ready to go home. We all gathered on the play structure for a group photo. Mike said a few words to the group (with the help of a translator) - and our team was getting emotional. The funny thing was, the people of Bheveni weren't sad. They clapped as Mike said that we were sad to be leaving but that we had our families to go home to. Over and over on this trip I was amazed by these kids. With all that they go through, what little they have - their joy is unexpected and, really, unparalleled. Although cliche, I think that this is the hardest thing for me to reconcile after the trip. How can I ever feel anything but content with all that I have when these people have such joy with so little.

Steve and Mike handing out our final gift: bags of candy that we put together for the kids.

We wrapped up and started to say our good-byes. A lot of hugs, a lot of tears on our part. I had one teenage boy (that I had only a short conversation with one day) approach me, give me a hug and say "I will never forget you." I gave Khaya a hug - he's pretty young and seemed unfazed by the good-bye - but I was teary-eyed. We were lingering; I don't think any of the B-Team were ready for our time here to be over. I had a moment - where all of the meetings, the sewing, the collecting and sorting of supplies - where all of the prep for this trip sort of flashed through my mind. I couldn't believe that it was coming to a close.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Swaziland part 9 (the safari)

We were up and at 'em early for our drive to the Hlane Big Game Preserve. I was pretty excited to see a little more of Africa. As we made it out of the city and were heading into the country side, Kim and I were talking about how much we wanted to see what we call "the Lion King trees." You see them on all of the nature shows (and of course, in The Lion King.)You know, these bad boys:

This is a photo from the internet. I didn't take it.

As we approached the reserve, there were wild animals running along side the road. We saw a few wart hogs and smaller animals and also a giraffe up ahead in the distance.

Just inside the reserve.

In the jeep, ready to go!

Just as we were ready to head out into the reserve, a younger guy - all by himself (and who didn't speak Siswati or English) was added to our jeep. Of course, he was seated right next to me.

Our driver turned around to face us and went through the rules: Don't get out of the jeep, don't make loud noises, it's fine to take pictures, and my personal favorite - "If, don't scream."

We started out driving through an area that had impala (African antelope.) As soon as the driver said impala, that stupid song from the 90's (?) - you know the one: "I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller, I wish I had a girl that looked good I would call her, I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat, and a six-four Impala" - got stuck in my head. So that was pretty much the soundtrack for my safari.

We drove around for awhile looking for lions. The driver had told us that there would be a chance we wouldn't see any but he made a couple laps hoping we would spot one. Unfortunately we didn't see any. We did, however, get a good look at a family of elephants.

It was amazing to be so close to them without anything in between us. None of the elephants seemed to even care that we were driving so close. We were parked near the herd and the driver was telling us some interesting facts about elephants. Now, my ears still hadn't "popped" from the flight and I was having an issue hearing everything he said. When he would say something, someone from the seat in front of me would translate because of that. I caught a few words - "...elephant .... pennies off ....urinate." I whispered "What did he say about elephant pennies??" Kim (who was in front of me) started to laugh and said "He didn't say pennies... he said PENIS." We're still not sure if he was just making these facts up as we went, but he said that if you see an elephant's... uh, pennies.... it means he's either urinating or trying to cool off.

Anyway, when we were parked there, we watched them for several minutes. The driver was talking some more and I noticed one of the larger elephants had stopped eating and was walking towards us. I got excited and said "How cool is that? That elephant is wiggling it's ears and coming so close!" That's when someone from the seat in front of me said "The driver just said that you can tell an elephant is upset if it stops eating, moves it's ears and comes closer." We retreated pretty quickly.

This one was so close - it seemed like I could just reach out and touch it!

We also got a good look at some rhinos. We saw two standing together (a mom and baby?) near a crash of other rhinos that were laying down and taking it easy. Again, so cool to get such a close look!

We pulled away from this group and were driving when we met another rhino standing in the middle of the road. As we approached we noticed that he was standing there - pooping. As soon he was done he sauntered off of the road and walked away without giving us another look. My kids love this story.

One of my favorite parts of the reserve was when we were at a watering hole. We got to see a few elephants using their trunks to suck up the water and put it in their mouth.

Other creatures we saw - turtles, lizards, vultures, birds - this one was pretty cool:

After the trip around the reserve, we sat down in a covered eating area and had some lunch. It was a beautiful day with amazing scenery. There was even a rhino resting near where we ate - and there was only a small fence separating us!

The safari was awesome... but we were all anxious to get to our next stop: Bheveni.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Swaziland part 8

I can't remember if it was this morning or the next, but Steve and Mandy had a visitor in their room. They had left the window open and there were no screens....

Sunday - a day without time at a carepoint. We started the day off going to a traditional Swazi church that was located near Bheveni. As we approached the church, I was amazed at how nice the building looked. Not huge or flashy, but nicely kept. I wish I had pictures to show but I didn't feel comfortable pulling my camera out... it just seemed rude.

We got off the van and walked toward the church and were greeted by many people. Several of the older women came right up and greeted us with hellos and hugs. They were all dressed in their best clothes - for some that meant clothes that you would see at a church here in the U.S. and for some it meant something a little less clean or a little more worn. I loved that it didn't matter ... it really seemed that everyone was welcome.

As we were led into the church, we were ushered to seats. Men sit on one side of the church, women sit on another and the children have their own section. Right away I recognized a few of the Bheveni kids and gave them a big wave. As the service started several of the women that had greeted us outside started singing. I'm telling you - I have a real theory that if you are born in Swaziland, you are blessed with a beautiful singing voice. It sounded amazing. Even though I couldn't understand what they were singing at times, it didn't matter. It was give-you-goosebumps-crazy-good. There were several times when the women would burst into song, sometimes getting out of their seats and walking around while they sang. It was certainly different than anything I'd ever experienced. One of the songs was a greeting we did to each other... we had to sing a few lines and then hug each other. I immediately thought of a friend from church back home. She and I always talk about how the most uncomfortable part in church is when you have to greet those around you. At least at home you don't hug complete strangers. :)

They brought us up on the stage to introduce us and to tell them what we were doing at the Bheveni carepoint. I think something was lost in translation because after each one of us said our name and where we were from, the translator would repeat it and the crowd would giggle. I think Britt got the most reaction after the translator said "Britt Bush, Texas." I heard one person in the front row giggle under his breath "Bush....Texas." Maybe it had something to do with the former president? I really don't know.

The preacher did a great sermon and it was so nice that they had a translator for that. As the service wound down, Dennis was asked to pray. In the middle of his prayer, a huge gust of wind came through and rattled the building. We all looked over at Dennis to see his reaction but he was as cool as a cucumber.

We walked outside and chatted with some of the people. I had to go to the bathroom really bad so I grabbed some of the kleenex I had stashed (all of us ladies had been carrying kleenex around all week. Many of the bathrooms lack toilet paper) and headed to the outhouse. It was a bad sign that I could smell it from something like 40 feet away... but I had to go bad so I persevered. I stopped using my nose and tried to get my business done as fast as possible. I had to pick the seat up off of the ground but then thought better of it. I did the squat maneuver and got out of there as fast as I could. Certainly the worst Biffy I've ever used. But every trip has to have an outhouse story, right?

In the afternoon we went to the market to do some souvenir shopping. I had plenty of anxiety about this because we had been prepped that you don't ever pay full prices. At the market you are supposed to dicker the price down. It is expected. It's also something I'm completely uncomfortable with.

The market was set up like a big flea market. There was a never ending line of small shops. Many of them had similar things but it seemed like most had a few original items. As soon as you walked close to any of the shops the person would try like crazy to get you to enter. We heard a lot of "lines" from the shopkeepers, usually something like "I give you good deal. Just for you!" Kim and I stuck together through the whole shopping experience so that we could give each other moral support for the bargaining. We did pretty good - neither one of us paid full price for anything but I think we both felt guilty asking for a smaller price. I didn't even make it to all of the shops. I hit my limit of both stress and souvenirs so back to the van we went to wait for the others.

My only regret is that I didn't find a Swaziland t-shirt there. I did get the kids each a carved wooden box and Dustin a mini bongo drum (hey, the big ones can't fit in a suitcase.) I also got the most beautiful serving bowl that says Swaziland on it. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of my time in that beautiful country.

Swaziland part 7 - Bheveni Fun Day!

Without a doubt, this was the day that I anticipated most. We were going to spend an entire day at the Bheveni carepoint having a P-A-R-T-Y!

As we approached the carepoint we could see a sea of red and bright green shirts playing. Almost all of the kids were wearing the t-shirts that we had handed out the previous day! The first order of business: ICE CREAM! For everybody!

For most of the kids there it was their first time trying this tasty treat. It was so fun to watch the reactions to the first taste. In some instances, it was watching a baby try "real food" for the first time; A squinty look, a few seconds in the brain to compute, and then a big spoonful.

I think these kids were just hamming it up for the camera. :)

I'm not sure who accomplished this next feat, but we acquired a jumpy house for the day. I don't think there was one single kid who didn't try it out.

We brought nail polish with and painted nails and did some face painting. Boys and girls alike wanted both done. I painted many suns and hearts on faces that day.

For lunch we surprised the Bomake and the children with Chicken Dust (which is really just a big piece of chicken with seasonings on it.) It was something they were crazy about!

Lining up to get the Chicken Dust.


The most amazing part of the day for our team is when the bomake presented us with lunch. They had killed three of their chickens (that is a HUGE sacrifice for them) and had prepared chicken and pap for us. Dennis said that in all of his years of bringing groups to different carepoints he had never seen bomake do this for a group. We felt really, really honored. Now, remembering that our group is all American, you can imagine our surprise when each of us had something "extra" in our bowl. Mine had a few chicken livers. Mandy, on the other hand, had this:

I wish I had a picture of her face the first time she saw the chicken foot. This was another 'This is Africa' moment for us; they don't waste anything from the animal. Nothing. I was trying to figure a way around eating the chicken livers without insulting our gracious hosts. I was about to try them when Dennis' wonderful, native Swazi wife (who was sitting right next to me) whispered "I will eat them for you. We always eat them." Just one more way having Dennis (the native New Yorker turned Swazi 7 years ago) and his native Swazi wife with us made this trip a successful and fun journey.

And Mandy? She didn't eat the chicken foot and all was still well. :)

We had a chance to sit the Bomake and Bogogo down and give them each a few small gifts. Things like reading glasses and small sewing kits, some lotion and hygiene items. We really just wanted them to feel special that day - to know how much we really appreciate what they do for those kids every single day. Steve said it best when he told them "Our group are like the hands... people see and notice what we are doing. But you women are the heart of this place and the heart of these kids. People might not notice the work that you do, but this carepoint could not go on without you."

It was such an awesome day. For this day we got to let go and forget about the difficulties these people face, even if for just a few hours. We got to run around and be silly with the kids and dance and be goofy with the bomake. There were so many smiles... and the laughter and joy could not be contained. The only downside was saying goodbye to the D-Team. This was our last day with them. What they do for Bheveni and many other carepoints is unbelievable. We tried to explain to them how incredible they are - and I hope they took it to heart because they are amazing people.

The B-Team (us) and the D-Team one last time.