Friday, May 30, 2008


This isn't Boipelo, but imagine for a moment that it is. This child attends the same creche (preschool) as Boipelo, at one of the day centres we operate. Boipelo is five years old. His doesn't have a dad and on Monday, his mum died. Boipelo is now another of our orphans. He hasn't been at the creche since Monday and we don't know where he is. The funeral is tomorrow and after that we will find out where Boipelo is staying and take on a greater level of care for him.

Look at these eyes. Imagine being utterly alone at age 5. The amazing thing is that Boipelo's story is quite "normal" in township life. You get so used to hearing these stories that they almost -almost- don't shock you anymore. But they should. May each one fuel in me the passion to do all that I can do (which granted, isn't much, but's what I can do).

I love the Boipelos of this world. Their stories make my heart ache. I love South Africa, and I am not afraid to walk amongst the pain. In a manner of speaking, these are my people now, my fellow countrymen, my brothers and sisters, my children. "Now about brotherly love we do
not need to write to you for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do... Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more." 2 Thes. 4:9-10

More and more.... this is my challenge, and one I offer to you as well. Don't get caught up in the petty irritants of each day. Love - love God and love people - more and more.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another Trip to Swaziland

I went to Swaziland over the weekend (in case you were wondering why I was so quiet). Some facts about Swaziland:
  • Population: just under 1 million
  • Not one movie theatre in the whole country
  • One can use Rand or Emalangeni interchangeably (SA and Swazi currency). This is good if you are coming from South Africa, but not good when you come back, as Emalangeni is not accepted in SA.
  • There are as many cows, goats and people in the road as there are cars.
  • AIDS rate: 40%
My friend Jane and I did some art projects with orphans over the weekend, led worship at a church on Sunday morning, and had lots of fun avoiding potholes, speed traps and road works on the way there and back.

I am struck by the fact that Swaziland is a kingdom. It's official name is "The Kingdom of Swaziland", and it does indeed have a King (King Mswati III) who has 16 wives (give or take a few). The concept of having a king or queen - the concept of sovereign rule - is so foreign to me. Having grown up in a democracy where the individual's voice is prized above all else, it is hard to get my head around the idea that in a kingdom, the wishes of the ruling king/queen are prized above all else.

This, of course, filters down to and colours my Christianity. Do the wishes of my God, my King, take precedence in my life, or do I count my voice and desires as being of utmost importance? I find myself feeling pensive today, reexamining just who sits on the throne of my life.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In Case You Wondered...

... what three weeks of garbage collectors being on strike looks like. Dan took this picture from somewhere in our neighbourhood.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yes We Have No Strawberries

I've been here over eight months now, and I've learned a lot:
  • how to drive on the left side of the road
  • how to get around large cities and pass slow cars in your own lane of traffic
  • a new vocabulary
  • the metric system
  • how to shop, live, pay bills, etc.
I've also learned a fair amount of flexibility. Things that would have made me quite upset in the States are now only "minor irritations" - power outages, no garbage services, being one hour late for an appt., etc. (Mum and Dad, I know you are giggling uncontrollably at this point, thinking of me and the word "flexible" in the same sentence, but I can assure you that it is indeed an emerging skill for me!). I was really proud at how much I have grown... until the other day. Until I took my daughter on a "Mommy date". Until we walked up to the smoothie counter.

They make six kinds of fruit smoothies. Emma wanted a berry smoothie. They couldn't make it, because they had no berries. So Emma ordered a different smoothie. They couldn't make that one either, because they had no pineapples. Emma ordered a third smoothie. They couldn't make that one, because they had no strawberries (which we knew, but even though there were other fruits in it, they couldn't just leave the strawberries out). To make a long story short, they could only make two kinds of smoothies, both heavy on the banana. So Emma ended up with an... I don't know... banana-something smoothie.

As for me, I just wanted a peanut butter smoothie (which doesn't involve strawberries or pineapple). I asked them to leave out the banana, as I am not keen on bananas. The following conversation actually ensued:

Smoothie worker: No bananas?
Me: No bananas.
Smoothie worker: Are you sure?
Me: Yes
Smoothie worker: Just peanut butter and yoghurt?
Me: Yes.
Smoothie worker: No bananas??
Me: That's correct.
Smoothie worker: But then you will only have peanut butter and yoghurt.
Me: Yes, I know. That's okay.
Smoothie worker: Are you sure?
Me: Yes!
Smoothie worker: You really don't want bananas in it?
Me: NO.
Smoothie worker: Sure?

Suffice it to say, that whatever pride I felt in having made progress with regards to flexibility flew out the window that day. I have yet to get it back. Every time I look at a banana I feel a twang of guilt.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name...

... would be confusing!!

When we moved to South Africa, we landed at Johannesburg International Airport. It's now called OR Tambo International Airport. It used to be called Jan Smuts International Airport. This would not be so bad except that the road signs have not all been changed, so half of them say Johannesburg Int'l Airport, and the other half say OR Tambo Int'l Airport. Even this is not so bad, since there is only one International Airport in Johannesburg, and it is easily accessible. But what about city names?

Polokwane used to be called Pietersburg. When we first moved here, we had a bit of trouble navigating the highways, as they don't post directions. If you want to take the N1, which goes north/south, you have to take the N1 towards Johannesburg or towards Polokwane, which means you have to know major cities and where they lie in relation to where you are. When we figured out that Johannesburg was south and Polokwane was north, we thought we knew all there was to know. But then half of the signs said Pietersburg, which messed us up (moment of panic!) - which direction are we headed in now? When we finally realised that Pietersburg and Polokwane are one and the same, we breathed a sigh of relief.

Nowadays, it doesn't matter if we're headed toward Warm Baths, Warmbad or Bela Bela. It just means we're going north and we'll get there eventually.

The Dustbin Fairy

Yesterday someone emptied our trash bin. This would not be a blog-worthy subject except that the garbage collectors are still on strike, and our garbage bin has been overflowing for a good two weeks. When we came home yesterday to find it emptied and placed neatly by our garage door, it was like Christmas morning magic, if you know what I mean. But who? And why? Most of our neighbour's trash bins are still full.

So.. a big hearty thank you to the Dustbin Fairy. I didn't know you existed, but may I safely say that you ROCK!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Weekend of Livers

I hesitate to write about this, because my South African friends will think nothing of it and will tease me mercilessly for even mentioning this, SO... read at your own risk!

I've discovered that I like eating liver. I had lamb liver wrapped in caul fat for dinner on Saturday (commonly known around here as "Skilpadjie"). Dan braaied them, and they were excellent. On Sunday I had chicken livers in monkey gland sauce for lunch (which contains neither monkeys nor glands...). They were also excellent. Oh, and then there's my favourite snack, liver spread on crackers. I could eat that every day!

I don't know why Americans aren't big on eating liver. People here eat it all the time, and it's a good source of nutrition. Strange how food habits differ so widely between cultures, and I don't just mean the issue of what ingredients are locally grown and available - I mean the difference between what is considered "gross" and "delicious".

Americans are pretty picky eaters (no offense). I can think of a million foods that most Americans won't eat but the rest of the world enjoys. I tried to think of American foods that other nations/cultures would disdain. I came up with Jell-O salad: If you ask me, food shouldn't wiggle. I'll stick to the livers, thanks.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Holding Hands

... makes my heart warm and squishy.....

On Orphan Centres, Broken Hearts and Love

Monday was the opening day of our new orphan day centre - iThemba la Bantwana - for kids from Kgotlelelang Primary School. 40 children came. On Tuesday after school, 76 children came. Yesterday, 112 children came. The school has 105 children classified as orphans. Amazing - one school, 105 orphans.

Yesterday Christo and I went out to Tsakalani, another centre. We were surrounded by children who all ran to give us hugs. The first girl to reach me wouldn't let go. When the other children had finished and went back to what they were doing, this little girl was still clinging to me. Christo and I had to go to a meeting with one of the local pastors, and after that we came back to spend more time with the children. This little girl immediately came back to me, sat next to me, and just clung to my arm for dear life. She wouldn't make eye contact until it was time for me to go, and then she looked up at me with eyes I shall never forget. I nearly cried.

I gave the children all the love I had - every last drop - and when I left I found that my heart was still full of love. I wonder how God must feel - how many sets of sad eyes look to Him every day, and if His heart ever breaks from so much love. I wish I could tuck this little girl (her name is Vali) into bed every night and sing her lullabies, hold her tight when she cries, make sure she is warm and fed.

Maybe it is only through a broken heart that love can flow, seeping out of the cracks and crevices to touch a fallen world. I hope - I really hope - Vali knows that she is loved.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Week in Numbers

Certified documents required to renew my son's passport: 7
People living in my house: 8
Stomach flu victims, also in my house: 3
Groups on strike: 2 (garbage collectors and school buses)
Garbage piling up: a lot
Children who must find other means of transport from school: also a lot
Sinkfuls of dishes washed: 21
Loads of laundry: 8
Culture shock moments: 1 (no mustard on hamburgers... ever)
Orphan profiles completed: 48
Measure of gratitude for all that I have: innumerable
People I miss in California: 5,000??
Love for South Africa: an INCREDIBLE incalculable amount!

Friday, May 9, 2008

You Must Pay to Save the World

Yesterday we were driving the Danish dudes around Pretoria. We had to get on the N1, which means paying a toll (Freeways are not "free" here, and aren't even called freeways. Every time you use the highway you have to pay).

An ambulance came up behind us, red lights flashing, and zoomed passed us just before coming to the toll gate. I was sure they would flash some card, or the toll gate operator would press a switch to lift the gate, but no... the ambulance slowed, stopped, paid the toll, and then proceeded onto the highway, red lights still flashing.

I don't know why but Dan and I laughed and laughed. The poor EMT had to pull out his R5,80 like everyone else before going on to save the world.

Kind of shatters my image of heroes... like Superman having to pay to use the phone booth to change into his costume. It takes away some of the invincibility.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I Miss You, Too!!

Mum and Dad emailed me this photo this morning, which warrants a bit of explaining:

Before Dan and I moved to South Africa, we stayed with his parents for eighteen months. During that time, Mum and I discovered that we both make patterns with eggs as we remove them from the carton. Why?? Because if you remove all the eggs from one end, the carton becomes unbalanced in weight, and the next time you pull it out of the fridge it flips and sends eggs flying! I know this from experience, but then, maybe you don't have flipping egg cartons like I do?

Anyway... it became a game between Mum and I to see who could make the most interesting pattern with the eggs. We both looked forward to the next time we needed an egg ("An egg? I'LL get it! No, really, you just sit here and relax..") so we could either rearrange them or discover what new pattern had appeared overnight.

When you move halfway around the world, these are the sorts of things you miss, arranging eggs with your mother-in-law and being silly with those whom you love and hold dear. Small, and a bit strange to anyone else, but a treasured memory for me.

If you'll excuse me, I need to go do some rearranging in the fridge....

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Three New Boys

Meet Jonas, Aidin and Jonathan. They are staying with us for two weeks, as part of a Danish team that came to put on presentations at the schools in Soshanguve. The team is made up of 14 Danish kids (and 2 adults) between the ages of 16 and 18.

I am partial to "my" boys. They are polite, engage in interesting conversation, wash my dishes and make their beds every morning. Can I keep them, please??

I have always wished - from the time I was a child - to have a home where people feel welcome, a home that is available for people to use, if needed, and a home where people can come at any time and know that there is a cup of coffee, a meal, a warm bed, and lots of love waiting for them.

I must confess that hospitality is not my strong point, but God in His providence had me live with my in-laws, who are fabulous in the areas where I am weak, for eighteen months (Thanks, Mum and Dad, for teaching me, and for your incredible patience!).

My house does not look like a museum. My furniture doesn't match. There is often a "Hansel and Gretel" trail running through the house (either of chip crumbs or sticky juice spills). But if people feel cared for, if they know that they are valued, that there is someone here to listen to them and encourage them, then who cares if it's clean?

May our house not be merely a house, but truly a home - for my Danish boys, and for everyone with whom we cross paths on this journey called Life. May it be a place where people find love, hope and healing, and where they find these things in God.

The Danish have a word, "hoogli", which is not translatable but describes a feeling or setting that is "cosy, warm, beautiful and a delight to your soul." It's time for a little "hoogli" in the Erickson home... South African-style!

You Say Gasoline, I Say Petrol, Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

Today the price of petrol went up 55 cents per litre. This translates to about US$4.76 per gallon. I know those of you in the US are complaining about the rising cost of petrol (gasoline), but you really do have it better than most countries in the world. Late last night there was a queue at the petrol station, as everyone was topping up their tanks before the price increase today.

This is a photo of a Smart Car. I think it's electric, which means I'd save a fortune on petrol. But given our precarious situation with electricity (i.e. load shedding (known in California as "rolling blackouts", which led to having The Terminator for our Governor)), I don't know how practical the Smart Car is. It also will not hold five people (or eight, as we have three Danish dudes living with us for two weeks).

My friend calls my van a "Boeing." I think, despite the fact that petrol is expensive, I'll keep my "Boeing". I feel safer when those taxis are edging me out of my lane... If only I had a few turbo engines, but then, that would require more petrol, wouldn't it?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

All in a Day's Work

What are these, you might ask? The tools necessary to save a neighbourhood and my sanity! It went down like this:

A few nights ago, the neighbour's house alarm went off. This happens occasionally, and is often a "false" alarm, in which case the alarm is shut off by the owners. If the owners are not home, the alarm company usually comes out to investigate and make sure all is well.

When several minutes had passed - and then hours - and the alarm hadn't been turned off, we called the alarm company to find out what was going on. The neighbours were apparently gone and couldn't be reached. The house was fine. The alarm company was going to continue to try to reach the owners.

Two DAYS later, the alarm was still going. By this time, I am feeling like a Guantanamo Bay detainee, and everyone is grumpy and on edge (two nights of no sleep will do this to a person). So.... enter two very cool people (who shall remain nameless) who borrow a ladder, climb over a wall, pacify three dogs, climb up another wall, snip a few wires, and... Peace. Quiet. Calm.

I am looking forward to sleeping tonight. And to my two new heroes - you so totally ROCK! I am in awe of you! For risking life and limb, braving dogs and spiked walls, the neighbourhood (and me especially) is eternally grateful.