Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

Volunteering, Day 3

Today we worked in Ward 14, the thoracic-cardio-something-or-other ward. I helped bathe patients, prepare and serve their breakfasts, mopped floors and helped patients with toileting needs.

The doctors are coming by to do their rounds, but there are still no nurses to assist with things like putting in an IV drip, wound care, etc. There are many volunteers, and they are wonderful, but without medical training they can only do so much.

After we finished in Ward 14 we headed over to Ward 22, the nursery. At least three of the babies in there were orphans. It was heartwarming to see the soldiers playing with the babies and taking care of them. One of the soldiers is even making a plan to adopt a baby who had been abandoned by its mother.

I got to hold and rock a little boy. I thought he was six months old or so, but he was over 2 years. He is so malnourished that he can't walk, and he suffers from TB and AIDS. His mother just passed away and there is no father. He desperately needs ARVs, but without parents or even a guardian to consent to the treatment he will not receive them. And without them, he will die.
He cried when I put him down. He cried when Dan put him down. That cry - such a weak and feeble cry - haunts me. I cannot fathom being two years old, so sick, and utterly alone in the world.

As we left the hospital we had to walk through the striking workers once again. They were dancing and toyi toyi-ing, and my brain could not handle the juxtaposition. I felt a surge of anger well up in me. And now I am back home, staring at this screen, wondering what my duty as a Christian is. What does God want me to do? How far must I go to love my neighbour?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Reflections on the Week

Being a 30-something American, I've never had to make the choice between safety and doing what's right. And I think that is true for most of my generation. But volunteering at the hospital in South Africa forced me to do just that. I had to decide which was stronger - my sense of safety and security, or my conviction that helping at the hospital was the right thing to do.

Whether I was actually in danger or not is debatable, but walking through the protestors definitely ruffled my sense of safety. Something happened when I crossed that line, however - when I passed through the hospital gates - I grew up a little.

Some things in life are more important than preserving a sense of safety and security. I think of those who fought in the World Wars, of those who smuggled Jews out of Germany during the Holocaust, of those who value human life over selfish gain, of countless millions whose names I shall never know because they remain obscure to the world's eye.

Ambrose Redmoon said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear." And it was Jesus who said, "Love your neighbour as yourself," which prompted the question, "Who is my neighbour?"

If you needed medical attention, would you be outraged if there was none to be had? If you needed to give birth, would you be upset if you had to do it on the streets? Whatever rights you demand for yourself, are you willing to demand those for your neighbour, for your fellow countryman?

Jesus also said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Volunteering, Day 2

We went back to Dr. George Mukhari Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa to volunteer. We reported to Major Masuku in Ward 15. We mopped floors and I made the patients laugh by trying to speak Setswana. (Dan made them laugh just by virtue of being a white man mopping floors!)It must be so hard to be a patient and wonder if you will get the medical care that you need. It was sad to see doctors debating over when to do surgery on a patient because of lack of nurses to assist, and a patient going from ward to ward looking for a spine doctor to help him (this poor man really shouldn't have been walking).

The SANDF (South African National Defense Force) are wonderful and are doing a fantastic job keeping the hospital running. The other volunteers are also great and we have formed a sort of cameraderie, looking out for one another and devising ways to get past the strikers and into the hospital. One guy we helped yesterday helped us today by telling us to use the vehicle entrance rather than the pedestrian entrance. Yesterday he became part of our group of 5 that the hospital administration were looking for (I don't know how we suddenly became a group of 5, but it was funny how we stuck together after that).

I also must commend the doctors and nurses who aren't striking. It is actually dangerous for them, as many of them are receiving threats by their striking colleagues. Keep them in your prayers, as well as the patients.

South Africa may be limping along at the moment, but there are some fantastic people living here who put their personal safety aside for the greater good.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trying to Volunteer

We went to Dr. George Mukhari Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa to volunteer. We had to walk through the protestors to get to the pedestrian gate, which I confess was a little scary. The security guards were refusing entrance to the volunteers- I think because the strikers were intimidating them. We phoned the contact number for volunteers, who phoned the CEO of the hospital, who said that volunteers should have access and that the police was supposed to be helping facilitate things. But the police were nowhere to be found.

The SANDF (South African National Defense Force) has been put in charge of the hospital. Occasionally a few soldiers would walk by to patrol the crowds outside the hospital gate. I went up to every solider I could find (especially the one with big guns) to ask for their help in obtaining our entrance to the hospital. We tried every entrance, every guard, every way we could think. I prayed a lot.

After four hours we were granted entrance, and assigned to help in the orthopaedic ward. We go back tomorrow, but I am a bit nervous as to whether we'll have problems at the gate again. We were given access letters by the hospital administration, but the security guards seem to be under control of the unions. The union workers would stand at the gate and tell the security guards who to let in and who not to let in.

Inside the hospital, however, the SANDF was doing a fantastic job. I saw soldiers folding laundry down in the linen bay, administering drugs to patients, and making sure the hospital was kept in peace. Outside the gates, however, it was chaos.

Here's me posing with two members of the SANDF. I wanted to ask if I could hold the gun, but thought I better not:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interesting Times

The teachers and hospital workers have been on strike for over a week now. Some schools have closed, but for those that remain open, the doors are locked for security reasons (to protect the teachers who refuse to strike, as well as the students). Many of the government hospitals have been hard hit, and patients are being transferred to private hospitals or left unattended. Several patients have died because there are no staff to attend to their medical needs. The staff that wants to continue working are being threatened by the striking workers. 2,400 soldiers have been deployed to 42 hospitals across the country to help out, but it isn't enough.

Tomorrow we are going to volunteer at one of those hospitals. A call has gone out for volunteers to help mop floors, cook food, or do laundry. We obviously can't fill in for the doctors or nurses, but we can do a little bit to make the hospital more pleasant for the patients who are having to endure a harrowing hospital experience. So many South Africans have already stepped up to the plate and are helping out. I am so proud of them.

Tonight in the news we found out that the police, traffic officers and prison wardens are planning to join the country-wide strike beginning on Saturday.

The country has quickly fallen into turmoil following the successful World Cup, but I believe it can also quickly turn around, if we each do our part. Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." South Africa is teetering on a precipice between despair and greatness. Pray for South Africa. I want her to be great.

Monday, August 23, 2010

You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression...

...unless you're visiting Auntie Hope.

Auntie Hope has Alzheimer's, and once a week I spend the morning with her because she's lonely. Every Monday morning I have to re-introduce myself to her as she has forgotten who I am. And every Monday she tells me that she's only been in the retirement home for one week and doesn't know anyone yet.

Auntie Hope tells me the same story over and over and over again, but I have to be as interested the 10th time as I am the 1st time because in her mind, she's telling me for the first time each time.

I have learned to slow my sense of time when I'm with Auntie Hope. I've learned to just listen, and to love her for who she is, not who she was. I have learned to smile and not sweat the small stuff. I love my visits with Auntie Hope because they are teaching me unconditional love.

Auntie Hope has an amazing life story and still has much to offer the world. She doesn't know who I am each week and yet she willingly opens her door to me and makes me tea, serving it in her best china. We'll take walks together and just enjoy the birds and the plants, soaking in the winter sun's feeble rays.

Auntie Hope is teaching me to be more like Jesus, though she doesn't know it, because she has shown love and hospitality to a stranger (me) each week, and she handles life with such courage and aplomb. I hope I can be like Auntie Hope when I am 84.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Don't Be Caught Without One

You might be interested to know that here in South Africa, you must have a TV license in order to have a TV. This license must be renewed every year, and you will be hounded starting three months prior to your renewal date to "urgently renew" said license.

I went to the post office today and was pleased to find out that you can pay your TV license renewal fee (or apply for a new TV license) at the post office. They even provide a handy brochure with Frequently Asked Questions, such as:
  • What is a TV set?
  • Do unmarried partners sharing a residence need separate TV licenses if they have more than one TV set?
  • What happens if the cheque I use to pay my TV license fee is dishonoured by the bank?
  • What must I do if I don't want to pay a TV license?
You might be pleased to know that if a house has more than one TV set, only one license is needed, provided that all of the TVs are used by members of the family only (which prompted the next FAQ, "Who are regarded as members of the family?")

You might also be interested to know that a TV license inspector can, at any time, enter any premise to carry out an inspection. He/she has the right to request you to produce your TV license, ID document and TV license account number, as well as the actual TV for inspection.

Sadly, if you don't want to pay a TV license, the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) must be satisfied that you have no such equipment in your possession (see FAQ, "What is a TV set?").

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not so SIMple

I needed to buy a SIM card for a cell phone. I went to the Virgin Mobile shop close to our house, where there were hundreds of SIM cards available. The only problem was, the shop clerks wouldn't let me buy one. They said I could only buy a SIM card if I purchased a cell phone contract, but if I wanted pre-paid cell minutes, I had to buy a SIM card at Checkers. That made no sense to me, but there are still many things in this country that make no sense to me, so...

I went to Checkers. They told me to go to CNA. CNA told me to go to Jet. Jet told me to go to Ackerman's. Ackerman's told me to go to Edgars. Edgars told me to go to Click's. Click's told me to go to Musica.

In the end, I went to every shop in the entire shopping mall that sold SIM cards, and the only shop that had them (Virgin Mobile) wouldn't sell one to me.

I ended up driving to Pick N Pay and found a SIM card there for 95 cents. I took it home - tired, grumpy, yet satisfied - and was about to put it in my cell phone when I read the following:
South African law requires you to register cell phones. In order to activate your SIM card, please provide proof of residence, ID, and take it to your local Virgin Mobile shop, who will kindly assist you (this is the part where I screamed).
Yesterday I felt like we had come so far. Today I see how far we still have to go.

A Shift in Pizza Culture

Five days after we first moved to South Africa, we were more than a little culture shocked and went to a pizza parlour for something "known." As it turned out, the pizza toppings included bananas, avocados, mince, anchovies and chicken livers. So much for seeking comfort food!

As time went on, I began to see South African pizzas as something entirely different than American pizzas. When I stopped expecting them to be like they were "back home," I began to appreciate them for what they were - different, but still good.

We've been in South Africa for nearly three years now, and last night we had pizza again. The toppings on our pizza were avocado, peppadew, kalamata olives, brinjals (eggplant), and mushrooms. After the first bite, I sighed a happy little sigh and said, "You know, I think I like South African pizzas better than American pizzas."

We've come a long way in three years.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Candy Floss Experiment #2

Not quite perfect, but getting there....

Are you Mad???

I try to keep an open mind when it comes to South Africa. I have always tried to be positive and to be an advocate for South Africa - focusing on its potential, how far the country has come, and the good things. And yes, I still have much to learn.

HOWEVER... this time I'm a little peeved. If the ANC wants to control the media, then it is doing exactly what the Nationalist Party did during Apartheid years. When you do away with free press, you are no better than your oppressors.

Wake up, South Africa! Don't make the same mistake twice.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

'Tis the Season to Strike

The teachers went on strike yesterday in South Africa (as well as many other government-paid employees). A note went home with my children saying that school was optional. There would be supervision, but not necessarily teaching.

I felt like such a foreigner - do I send my kids to school or not? How long will the strike last?

As it was, I kept them home, and as far as the strike goes, tomorrow is some sort of deadline with the threat of an indefinite strike looming. Striking seems to be popular in this country. I don't think I've ever seen so many different business sectors go on strike - the garbage men, the electricity workers, the teachers, the rail workers, the soldiers (yes, the soldiers), the nurses, etc.

In the teachers' defense, teachers are among the lowest-paid professions in South Africa. I think they deserve a raise. Let's just hope the government thinks so as well.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Candy Floss Experiment #1

What I learned:
  • how to burn sugar
  • how to entomb my hand in candy floss
  • how to look like Frodo in Shelob's lair
  • that it is a bad idea to make candy floss on a windy day
What I still need to learn:
  • how to get the candy floss to stick to the stick
  • how to get the candy floss to stick to the drum
  • how to get the candy floss to stick to anything but me

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What a Sticky Mess We Weave...

... when candy floss gets on your sleeve!

I volunteered to help at my kids' school's Soap Box Derby next Friday. The school told me that they have a candy floss (cotton candy) machine but no one knows how to use it, so would I please take it home over the weekend and figure it out? (Why do I always get the sticky jobs? Last time it was the slurpee machine...)

I spent the afternoon looking up "How to Make Candy Floss" articles on Google and WikiHow and ended up with YouTube disaster videos of candy floss-making gone awry. (I confess I'm a little scared now. Is it too late to back out?)

I finally found a "Candy Floss Making Tutorial" video that tells you everything you need to know about the Gold Medal X-15 Whirlwind Candy Floss Machine. I could not stop laughing. It sounds like the name of a fighter jet. In fact, it's so impressive that I might just add this skill (assuming I can master it) to my C.V. - expert operator of the Gold Medal X-15 Whirlwind (both the X-15A and X-15R models) candy floss machine.

But the truth is, learning to operate a candy floss machine is like a bad, bad pick-up line: "You see, there are these two floaters attached to the head that give additional air current to control the floss, and if you twist the leading edge of the floaters down like so, you'll get more lift to the candy floss."

More on this later...

Monday, August 2, 2010

To Come Right

Here's another one:

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

In Afrikaans:
"Ek kan onder alle omstandighede regkom deur Hom wat my krag gee." - Filippense 4:13 (NLV)

Back to English:
"I can come right under all circumstances through Christ who gives me power."

The phrase "to come right" would be understood by anyone who speaks English, but it is not a phrase used in American English at all. In South Africa, however, it's a different story. When my son corrects his maths mistakes he tells me "I set my sums right." When someone is sympathising with me they will say, "Ag, don't worry. It will come right in the end."

I love this phrase because it is filled with hope. Things that were wrong, bad, distasteful, sad, or unpleasant will be set right, made right. Even our very selves can "come right" by the power of God.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Found in Translation

I've decided that it's time to make a concerted effort to learn Afrikaans. I've been learning slowly over the past few years, but it's time to get serious. To that end, I've been doing my Bible reading in Afrikaans. As I read the text in Afrikaans, I have my English Bible and the dictionary nearby to help decipher the words I don't know.

I decided to start with Philippians as it's my favourite book and only four chapters long (can't be too hard, right?). What I didn't expect, however, was that as I read familiar passages in a foreign language and mentally translated them back to English, they took on fresh and exciting meaning because I saw them in a completely different light. Case in point:

Phillipians 4:7 in my English Bible (NIV) says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

In the Afrikaans Bible (NLV) it says, "Omdat julle aan Christus behoort, sal die vrede van God julle harte en gedagtes soos 'n veiligheidswag oppas."

Which, translated back to English reads, "Because you belong to Christ, the peace of God will guard of your hearts and thoughts like a security guard."

See what I mean? When I think about God's peace being like a security guard that watches over my heart and thoughts, I get an amazing mental image that I didn't have before. And I love it.