Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nelson Mandela Square

A few nights ago, we had dinner with some other missionary couples at the Nelson Mandela Square where there is a large statue of there of Mandela as well as some billboards and other commemorations. Most people know that Mandela was a famous South African activist who was key to bringing an end to apartheid and also an advocate for human rights throughout the world. After witnessing years of inequality and oppression, he became a member of the African National Congress party in the 1940s. He led both peaceful protests and armed resistance against the white minority’s oppressive regime. His leadership was seen as a threat and resulted in imprisonment for twenty seven years. Even in prison, his influence continued and he became the face of the antiapartheid movement both within his country and internationally. Due to world pressure, he was finally released in 1990 and helped orchestrate the eradication of apartheid. After a life of hardship, he became the first black president of South Africa in 1994 and helped his country transition to a free society. Due to ill health that resulted from his years of confinement, he retiring from politics in 1999, but remained a devoted champion social justice around the world. He died in 2013 at the age of 95. When you drive through Johannesburg, you can see the evidence of the love and appreciation that his country has for him in signs and banners and by the frequency with which his name is used, such as on Mandela Square.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

South African Babies

Babies are cute in any part of the world, but the ones in South Africa seem especially so. Maybe it’s because we miss our own grandchildren so much or maybe it’s the contrast of those big bright eyes with their dark coloring. In any case, they are really cute. Here are just a few pictures of some of the babies that have been in the church meetings we have attended.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Montecasino Bird Aviary

Coming from Las Vegas, we were interested to find that there is at least one very large casino in Johannesburg called Montecasino. We wanted to go there, just to see how it compared to Vegas. No surprise, the casino itself it pretty much like any other. To me, it had the feel of the Luxor because it is felt closed in even though it was very large and in the shop area, it had used the painted sky idea that is used in Caesar’s Palace. There are no pictures here of the actual casino floor because they didn’t allow pictures there; that was interesting.

The real reason we went to Montecasino though, was to see their huge bird aviary. It is he only one like it in South Africa, maybe all of Africa. It had a bird show—sort of like a Sea World show, and then there we were free to walk the grounds with 60 species of beautiful African birds. There were also some reptiles and mammal that were fun to see. My daughter, Amie likes to take pictures of birds. A good memory was sitting with her in our "park" while she waited for pictures of the bluebirds. Because of that, I thought she and her PegBuddy family might like to go along with us on this adventure. The photos would have been much better if the flesh and blood Amie had been along, but these are fun just the same.
The casino with painted sky (sorry having lived in Las Vegas, we're hard to impress with casinos :)
Sophia's friend
and Haley's
Caleb wanted to ride the iguana, but it looked too hungry.
Amie got a little too close to the parrot while she was taking pictures.
and Paris had a hard time getting away from this guy too.
a hornbill
African owl
pretty parrot
This is their national bird--a handsome guy
and you know this one--he sells cereal on the side :)

Sunday, March 23, 2014


When women go on a trip or prepare to live away from home for a long time as senior missionaries do, they think not only about how they might like their destination, but how their hair will like it J Even though I love South Africa, my hair doesn’t behave well here—it has just enough curl to be frizzy in the humidity and in the front, it does this funny little wave that looks like I’m trying to do an impression of a 50’s film star. I notice that white South Africans wear their hair quite short or they have it in ponytails or tied back in some way most of the time. Black women, though, with their curly to kinky hair, create art with their braiding. I wish I always had a camera handy to take pictures of the many intricate designs that I have seen, but here are a few examples of their beautiful braids. The last picture is a guy so they sometimes braid too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What We’ve Been Doing

Least everyone think we’re just running around visiting crocodiles and fording flooded pathways, I thought I would create a post to explain what our day-to-day work is like. As CES S&I missionaries, our short job description would be to coordinate the Seminary and Institute programs in the Johannesburg South Africa Stake, which consists of eight units (six wards and two branches.)

Seminary and Institute here isn’t like it is in the states where a stake may have two or three seminary teachers that teach all of the students in the stake each day at a stake center or institute building. Here because distances are great even within a ward or branch, there are more and smaller groups. In our stake, we have 16 seminary classes and 9 institute classes. Each of these programs is taught in a separate place, at a separate time, and by a separate teacher. Some are daily; some home study that meet weekly and some entirely home study. Classes vary from a few students to 20 or so. There are many active members who are not enrolled mostly because transportation is such a problem.

We are responsible for training the teachers in an approach that discourages lecture and encourages students to participate in a meaningful way, taking responsibility to both learn and to participate in teaching others. We try to do this through in-service training each month and through one-on-one conversations with teachers, based on our observations or their questions. Most of our teachers are very good, and for the ones that aren’t there yet, we remind ourselves that they are volunteers, willingly giving their time to help young people. We are also working to visit each of these classes, but we still have a few that we need to either schedule or figure out how to visit at the times and places the classes are held. Another part of our work is gathering the monthly attendance reports and recording this in an online system called WISE. You’d think this would be the easiest part of what we do, but it has actually been the most challenging. We might say, “can you scan and email your report?” but we have teachers who have no scanner, no computer, no Internet. Some have phones but not ones that can take and send pictures. Then the system itself is a trick to learn, like any such program, but we’re getting it done and enjoying the experience of being here.

Just as in anything that has to do with teaching, the kids are what makes the effort worthwhile, and we have enjoyed the visits to the classrooms most of all. No matter the dress or the complexion of the students, they are the same the world over. It’s fun to just see them laugh and learn and interact with each other and with their teachers. Here are just a few of the seminary or institute classes that we have visited.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Crocodile and Reptile Park

Not so many years ago, African crocodiles were on the endangered list because everyone wanted a crocodile bag or shoes or something else made out of their hide. As a result, they were hunted and killed in large numbers. In response, some people started to "farm" alligators or to breed them in large areas in captivity. Just protecting them and hoping that they would recover naturally would have taken many years since because of natural predators, about one in a hundred crocodiles make it through the first year and only about one in 300 until they are three. The farming of crocodiles produced numbers large enough to legally sell for commercial purposes and also to release back into their natural habitats enough crocodiles that they were able to recover in about twenty years.

Now I have to admit, I am not happy enough about that to go and visit crocodiles in their natural habitat, but we still wanted to see them. So today we went to the Crocodile and Reptile Park. It was Sarah's family's turn to go with us on an African adventure so they came along, some more eagerly than others :)
When we saw these guys from a distance, they looked like rocks lining the pond. Not rocks you would want to go rest on for sure!
These guys are only three and are already big. They are massive when they are fully grown. A tall man could easily lie inside one--however, the crocodile would transform him to small pieces so several tall men could fit. About 400 people are killed every year by crocodiles in Africa. They are not suitable for pets :)
Here's Brian watching the crocs from a safe distance :)
Abby didn't want much to do with the crocs, but she had fun riding on this big turtle. She said it was nothing like a horse though.
Sarah wasn't even too keen on this baby one, but she had to come along anyway so she had her picture taken with him. He  is pretty newly hatched but could probably eat her (the PegBuddy her :) 
The boys were pretty excited about this python. I can't remember what kind he is. It's really surprisingly heavy.
This is a comparatively small snake but one I would never drape around my neck. It is the green mamba that is not only deadly but I understand also aggressive. It would be a tossup as to which I would least like to meet in the wild--the crocodile or the green mamba. I might take the crocodile.