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Time flies as I wind down my last week here for the 11th time. I haven’t written as often as usual but that isn’t for lack of interesting things to write about, such as:
1) waking up a few weeks ago around 5 a.m. to the sound of something like machine gun fire or a severely dyspeptic vehicle. It was indeed machine gun fire about half a mile away as the crow flies. One taxi [van] company didn’t like passengers using the competition so they started shooting at the “Brand X” taxis, injuring passengers who were innocently sitting there. Amazingly no one was killed. Also amazingly – or maybe not – no one was arrested.
2) visiting a couple of my young adult “kids” from Jo’burg, one of whom teaches kindergarten. For my teacher friends reading this, you will gasp when you find that she has 64 children in her class!!! She does have one aide, but even so, I can’t imagine how she manages to stay sane.
3) hearing how one of the guys who works here figured out a way to keep his shack from burning down. He likes to read at night but until recently, his shack had no electricity so he would have to use a paraffin lamp. If the lamp fell over, it could start a fire, so to stay awake and alert while reading, he would sit with his feet in a basin of cold water. He’s very happy now though because he had electricity installed “like a mlungu,” which means like a white person.
4) thinking to myself, wow, this is a really hard rain. It was hard for sure, but it wasn’t rain. We had a hail storm with strong enough winds that it broke 21 windows on the back side of our building, including 2 in my room, and pock-marked the tops of all the vehicles with little craters. The wind was so strong that a small rat met its demise by being blown from the roof onto the windshield of King’s Hope’s van. I’ll spare you the photo, but I do have one.
The weekend before last, I went with my friend to a very remote, rural place in the mountains of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. I was there once before, in February, 2009. As you can see in the photos, the area is beautiful and very primitive. Cooking is by campfire as there is no electricity. Check out the iron. They put coals from the fire in it. Personally, I don’t see any good reason to iron anything there, but they do. The purpose of the visit was for him to conduct a ceremony with his extended family to bring the spirits of his ancestors, in this case – great grandparents – from where they were buried back to where the family now lives. It involved bringing some particular kind of branches back from the burial site, introducing the spirits of the two great grandparents embodied by two goats to the home, slaughtering a cow and the two goats, brewing traditional beer from sorghum, feeding everyone, and making bracelets from the goatskins. As a welcomed guest, I was given a bracelet from each goat. They are still wet when you put them on (yuck), but fortunately, they dry fast and in the drying process, they shrink enough that they can’t come off. You wear them until they fall apart and come off by themselves.
I have spent the majority of my time on the school uniform and dental projects for the OVC kids and many of you have been so incredibly generous in helping these projects to happen. I have been unable to personally thank whoever deposited a cash donation into my account because there was no identifying information, so I will thank you here on behalf of the 4 or 5 kids whose teeth you enabled to get fixed. All in all, 32 kids have gone to the dentist – for the first time, I might add. Many had seriously rotten, painful teeth and they would have suffered indefinitely. As for the school uniforms, we outfitted 31 kids with 160 parts and pieces. You guys are awesome and the kids are so grateful.
In a previous email, I mentioned the neighbor ladies who makebaskets and mats. Another one’s son makes beautiful wooden spoons. The baskets are dried grasses coiled with strips of plastic from different color shopping bags. They call this “upcycling,” i.e., using recycled materials to make something of greater value. The mats are made of straw and woven with wool. Some of my sweet kids were happy to show you the items as you see in the photos. If you would like to buy any of these crafts, let me know which things you have your heart set on and I’ll reserve them for you. I don’t put prices on anything. Offer what you feel it’s worth and know that the money all goes to these projects I work on.
I’ll be back in California on Tuesday, not wanting to miss Thanksgiving. You have a wonderful holiday as well.
Marilyn Traugott retired in 2007 as manager of Mercy Hospice in Redding after a career that began with the program’s inception in 1978. Marilyn has an Ed.M. in counseling from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Prior to working in hospice, other professional experience included teaching special education, developing medical education materials and counseling at-risk youth.