Thursday, February 27, 2014

Clouds Johannesburg Style

We have had quite a bit of rain lately so there have, of course, been lots of clouds. I'm not sure if it's the fact that there is a lot of moisture everywhere or if maybe these clouds build up over the ocean and come in, but in any case, Johannesburg gets some pretty dramatic clouds.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Elder Davie Walking His Elephant

Next in line to go on an outing with us was Rebecca’s family. Since Maddie loves animals and Savannah made friends with a baby elephant when she was in Thailand, we decided we should take them to the Elephant Sanctuary near Johannesburg. These are not animals taken from the wild, but ones that have been rescued for one reason or another and cannot be released into the wild. The day was both educational and exciting. We learned for example that elephants don’t purposely travel to a particular place to die, but that as they age and their sixth and last set of molars are worn down, they migrate to places where the foliage is softer. They are eventually not even able to chew that and that is when they die. We also learned that their amazing “memory” is actually a passing back and forth of information between elephants even large distances away. This is accomplished through a low rumbling sound that they make which is then amplified through sort of a baffling system in their skulls. Pretty interesting stuff. You can learn a lot more at but for the blog, let’s get to the pictures:
It was enough to think about keeping your hand where the elephant could get it during the AND more importantly not getting walked on so Rebecca rode in Elder Davie's pocket on his elephant walk.
Maddie wanted to watch the trainers with the elephants (she just turned around to say hi :)
Checking out the teeth--anyone want to be an elephant dentist? It looks like we are directly under the trunk, but we were off a little to the side--the trunk is so heavy that they warn you not to get under it.
Elephant skin is way, way more rough than it even looks.
Frank and I with Timba. Savannah is there too (in grandpa's hand)
Here is the elephant "kiss"
And the result of the elephant kiss :)
Jim didn't want to get too close to the big bull elephant
I fed the elephant since Jim didn't want to--I don't blame him, this is a very big male that isn't even allowed to be around the other elephants. The angle of the shot doesn't do justice to his size, but his trunk really is as amazingly long as it look!

Restrooms :)
If you think what we are doing in these pictures looks a little dangerous, apparently they do to! 
My turn to walk--trainers were nearby telling us exactly the pace to keep, etc.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Weekend of Learning

Our weekend was a busy one and a good one. We visited this institute class on Saturday morning at 8:00 when most young people would prefer to be asleep. They live in old Johannesburg in a very low economic area, and the teacher and all but one of the students were immigrants from French speaking countries. They spoke heavily accented English and we had to listen carefully, but the comments from both teacher and students were humbling. They spoke of challenges that make many we experience seem like small inconveniences. The students were searching and hoping for jobs, dreaming of getting an education, doing whatever they can and relying on faith that their lives can be better.

The instructor said that his family came to Johannesburg to try to get work but they were unemployed for many months. They had little food and slept on the floor with no mattress.  He finally got a job that didn’t pay much but was grateful to work into something a little better.  His wife looked for a job for two and a half years before she found one six months ago. Now he says that her starting time is 7:00a, but he said she is there every day at 6:00a. He said that is how you know if someone has really worked for a job. They would always be there early no matter what the situation; the person who was given the job might show up a half hour late. He talked a little about political situations and of not having freedom. He gave the example of many black people who “ran away” as he put it, during apartheid, but were now having trouble getting back into the country. He counseled his students to never run away and to never complain even if they are hungry—and he didn’t mean if you missed lunch—he meant really hungry.  We complain over so little sometimes.

We went from Johannesburg to an outlying city called Cosmo City. It is also very low income housing, but not as compact. Cosmo City is a small branch and they meet in what they call a “container chapel” which is several mobile home type classrooms put together. We were supposed to visit a seminary class at 2:00p but we discovered it wouldn’t be held because of a stake girls’ camp. Since our 4:00p visit was in the same place, we just waited and watched some amazing birds in the field near the chapel. A little before 4:00p, the instructor showed up which was great, but then African time began. He explained that some of the class members were gone to help with girls camp, but said a few were coming and that he would go pick up one of the class members “right over there.” We thought he was pointing to some nearby houses, but then he disappeared into a field and we watched his white shirt until he was at least half a mile away at which time he disappeared behind some trees and was gone a very long time. About fifteen minutes later, two young men showed up for the class but then one said that he was going to go pick up another one. They also disappeared down the same path. Finally the instructor came back alone—the girl had to work and could not be at class. We waited until almost an hour past starting time and then said we would visit at another time. As we were pulling out of the church, we could see the other young men coming in the distance. J

Today we went to another outlying village called Ennerdale. They also meet in a “container chapel”, but it looked like they were about to outgrow it as every chair was filled in sacrament meeting. I would guess there were at least a hundred members there. A nice thing about the Ennerdale Branch is that they have a really nice garden that helps feed the needy members. It also gives them a place to work if they are receiving church assistance. Except for difference in skin color, it could have been a sacrament meeting anywhere in the states. The girls had just returned from girls’ camp and talked about their experiences through a few tears, after which the high councilor spoke encouraging members to attend the temple. The YSA meeting was well conducted and well taught; 16 in attendance. The youth here are really sharp. Young Women’s meeting was just like home—music, theme, some giggles, and a lot of participation from a bunch of cute girls. They had won a trophy at girls’ camp for the best skit and they were pretty excited about that.

After the meeting, a young man was baptized in a brick font that has been built in the center of their courtyard. When he bore his testimony he said that his conversion began with a knock on the missionaries door. I thought he had made a mistake and meant that it began when the missionaries knocked on his door. But no, he went on to say that when the missionaries moved to his neighborhood, he knocked on their door to ask them “what they were about.” When they explained a little, he asked them if they could teach him. Those were probably happy missionaries! But we have found that people are very open here, we have received several missionary referrals that we got just by talking to people in the stores, and we’ve also given out a bunch of pass along cards; 16 so far. The people who take them are sincere—they ask questions and want to know if we have a website and make sure that we have their addresses correct. It seems there really are a lot of people looking for the gospel here in Africa.

Friday, February 21, 2014

High Security

If you had magnified the picture that I took of Frank and I in front of the place that we live, you would see that the fencing has very wicked looking barbs at the top to keep intruders from climbing it. There are a lot of variations of this and many properties use tightly looped concertina wire. This is the view out of our front door. It is taken through the bars on our door that lock securely outside of our locked door. Similar bars are on all of the windows. Outside, the entire property, including the owners’ house has either this mason fence that is from seven to eight feet high or the barbed bars shown. Atop either is another three feet or so of electrical fence. In addition to that is a security system that alarms when someone walks near—like us when we are going to our car in the morning. The owner says that he would rather be safe and sorry and I don’t blame him. He has a beautiful wife and four precious children. Our 15 year-old neighbor told us that she had heard that in the states houses weren’t even fenced; that was remarkable to her. Almost every house in the neighborhood is like this, except a few for which the house itself becomes a fortress in the front, but the back is fenced in a similar way. I would have thought with the country’s history that it would be only the affluent that uses such security measures, but even away from the city, very modest homes are surrounded by fencing and concertina. Of course the shantytowns aren’t fenced; buildings there are so dense that it would be impossible to know where to fence if they could. I wonder if such high security is a habit that has persisted from a time when there were riots and bloodshed or if statistics still warrant them. In any case, while we are here we feel securely secure.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Making Progress

Amie requested more pictures of us so this is a picture of us in front of gate that encloses the property where we live. We live in a nice little cottage behind the main house that you can partially see through the gate. The other picture is of us with another missionary couple, the Clowards, who we have been walking with and working with. They were originally also called to Johannesburg but their call was changed to Botswana before they left the states. After being in Botswana for three months, the government decided that their paperwork had not been completely correctly and they were ejected. So now they are an additional CES couple working in the Soweto stake like we are working in the Johannesburg stake. A strange string of events has ended with them being housed almost across the street from us. Right now both couples are just trying to figure out where all of the seminary classes are and who is teaching them. There is a lot more distance here between members, other members and the church buildings than in the states. Those distance and long school schedules make it difficult for the young people of a particular ward or branch to all get together at the same time. Because of those factors, we have a lot of small seminary classes and the majority are home study seminaries. In our stake we have identified 30 seminary and institute classes for eight units.

Now that we are getting at least a partial grasp on who, when and where, we have begun to visit classes and get to know teachers better. We have already conducted three inservice meetings, separated by three areas of the stake, again because of distances. Two were well attended but it seems there must have been some confusion of times for one groups because we only had three at a meeting that our coordinator said is usually very well attended. In any case, we met a lot of the teachers but not all, so that is part of our task right now. We have visited three classes and will visit three more on Saturday. We may not be able to visit all because they are in homes in very early hours or in less safe areas where we wouldn't visit at the times scheduled, but we'll certainly get to all we can. On Sundays we will also attend young single adult and youth classes so that will give us a chance to get to know the youth of the area. Africa is statistically a very young country, in large part because of the massive aides epidemic that left many children parentless. So the church is very young too, and that is probably a big reason for their emphasis of seminaries and institutes.

Another problem caused by distance is getting the materials that teachers need. The new curriculum for teacher inservice and for students themselves is wonderful, but all of the manuals and supportive materials were quickly distributed at the beginning of the year (January for them) and now teachers are asking for manuals for students or or the Gospel Teaching and Learning manual for themselves and we aren't able to provide them. The same with scripture mastery cards, training DVD's and other supplemental materials. They are ordered but mail is very slow in coming I guess.

There are so many things we just take for granted living in the US that become obstacles in other places, but the people are very patient so I guess they must be used to it. We're making progress, but we, the Americans, would like to get them all materials they need completely and efficient, but I guess we will learn to be patient too :)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Street Corner Vendors & Beggars

On almost any corner or intersection in Johannesburg and surrounding area, you will see street corner vendors trying to sell their wares or in some way get you to give them money. There are also a lot of people begging. Among the lower class, unemployment is high in Africa and people do whatever they can to feed themselves. We were instructed to absolutely not open our windows to buy from them or give them money so we try not to make eye contact at all. This of course feels rude and stingy, but since we want to come home safely, we are following all the safety cautions. It is interesting, however, to see what a variety of things people do or sell. Some you would expect, like signs asking for help and people selling newspapers or distributing flyers. A lot of them are dressed in bright orange jumpers and often have signs that they wear on their heads. One young man was expertly doing back handsprings in the center divider and especially hard to ignore was an older man with palsy, whose body was so twisted that it was hard to see how he could keep his balance to walk along asking for money. Last night, we were driving home in the dark from a chapel on a heavily traveled separated highway with three lanes on each side. Twice we stopped at lights and saw beggars one sitting and one kneeling in the dark in the middle of the lanes!!!  That was really crazy. 

Sunglasses are offered in a lot of places, as are phone adaptors. I’ve seen a couple of men with toys that they built—one was an intricate aluminum contraption that walked along in front of him, probably pushed along with a wire. Another man had a few beautifully made propeller airplanes made out of what looked like used foam core political posters. I thought of a few grandsons who would love the airplanes! Many different foods are offered too—beautiful mangos, yellow plums, stocks of bananas, bags of potatoes and corn, either fresh or roasted right on the side of the road. Interestingly, if you get out of the city, corn often grows unfenced and right on the side of the road, but we are told that people know exactly who each section belongs to. Probably the two most interesting vendors that I have seen were a man with a large fish impaled on a crooked stick so that it would jut out into the road, and another man with a lot of paint rollers, lying either on the grass or raised on poles. The rollers weren’t new; they looked like he had gathered them from building sites and then washed them thoroughly so that he could re-sell them. You have to give the people credit for the ingenuity and determination but for at least some of them, I would wish for a safer way for them to do it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Our Weekend

Our weekend was a working weekend. We studied and prepared on Saturday morning for an in-service for seminary and institute teachers in the Johannesburg I and Johannesburg 2 wards. We left early to make sure we could find the chapel and it was a good thing because it took a while and was in a difficult place to find. The “Joburg” building, if I understood correctly was the first large meetinghouse built in Johannesburg and at one time was the stake center. As in many large cities, the affluent population has long ago moved to the suburbs so the buildings that now surround the chapel are high-density housing and inner city businesses. The chapel is still beautiful though and you could see that it was a refuge to the members of the two wards who attend there. Even on a Saturday, it was busy with various meetings and with members coming in and out. The feeling in the in-service meeting would be impossible to put into words. All of the teachers were there and all participated with such powerful testimonies of the work that they are doing with the youth. Not only were the teachers present, but both bishops were present, one in his traditional dress, which I loved. Both bishops are such powerful leaders and so dedicated to the youth in their wards. Our CES director also came and took a small part of the meeting. The more I am around him the more impressed I am. He is such a wise man and in all of my experience with teachers, I have never seen a better teacher. Sunday, we attended an outlying ward where we spoke in sacrament meeting about the Seminary and Institute programs. The bishop also spoke to encourage his youth and he is also an impressive leader. The same is true of the people who led and/or taught the Young Single Adult meeting and other meetings we attended. The picture above is of a young sister who so skillfully taught the Relief Society lesson on families even though she herself is not yet married.

It has been only two weeks and we are already in awe of the members here and of their great spirits. It is evident that we are here to support the work they are doing and not to show them how to do it. So to any of you who are thinking of serving a couples mission, here are some thoughts:
  • If you think that you are coming on a mission because your are a great teacher with much knowledge to impart, prepare instead to be taught 
  • If you think that your area of service will suffer without your great leadership experience, prepare to learn true leadership from great men and women who show the way with wisdom and love. 
  • If you think that you will go to a foreign land and show them how the church should operate, prepare to have hear them not just explain the programs of the church, but to live their underlying doctrines and principles, sacrificing so much more than we do to do so.
  • If you think that your great insight will allow you to explain how church members can solve their problems, prepare to watch as they brilliantly map their own destiny, overcoming great obstacles that might have defeated you. Prepare to be grateful if they let you be a part of their progress. 
  • If you are a senior missionary thinking of coming on a mission, don’t come thinking that they won’t be perfected without you, but that you might not be perfected without them. Prepare yourself to be humbled, to gain knowledge, to understand wisdom, to learn patience, to be challenged, to be grateful, to be happy and to be amazed.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Valentines Day at Lion Park

For Valentines Day, we went to the Lion Park. On it's website, Lion Park describes itself as "focusing on the well-being of the various species, in particular the endangered Wild Dog, the rare White Lion and Cheetah. We are neither a game reserve or a Zoo, but rather a breeding ground and sanctuary for important species." It is listed as one of the one hundred tourist destinations in the world by Newsweek magazine.

For this destination it was the Zamora family’s turn to accompany us on this outing. Eva and Ella were excited because they both love animals. For most of the shots of the family with the animals I had to resort to Photoshop because neither the park rangers or the animals themselves were keen to my setting a PegBuddy anywhere near them (not to mention my hand or myself J

Ella was not worried about dangerous predators (she has probably watched too many animal trainer movies) We were lucky to see this one walking around because they usually sleep in the mornings.

Eva found Timon and they became immediate friends.

Melanie was being a little silly riding the emus around. They are quite a bit smaller than their cousin the ostrich and apparently not dangerous because they wandered around like chickens pecking at the grass.

Kilo stayed busy visiting with the wild African dogs. They are actually more endangered than most of the endangered animals we hear about. The guide said there are only about 200 of them left. 
This one of Ella really was taken by the baby lions because we were allowed, a few at a time, to go in and pet them. It was mid morning so they were very sleepy. 
One of several of the deer family we saw. This one is an impala; we also saw gazelles, springboks and some others. 
A mama zebra with her baby 
And me with some baby lions—if I go back next year I won’t visit them :)