Sunday, August 31, 2014


While driving one day, we came upon this massive wall and I couldn’t resist getting a picture, both because of the enormous scale and because of what it represents as the tallest of thousands of walls that we have seen in the Johannesburg area. The people who live behind the walls are convinced that they are necessary, and with our mere seven month of experience, I won’t contend with them. Still you wonder how a society was brought to that opinion. There are places in the US with walls of course. In Vegas most of our walls could be climbed over or even stepped over and seemed more a way of defining our inhabited space from the uninhabitable desert. But South African walls are serious walls. They are high, thick, barbed and topped with razor wire or rows of electrified fence. It would take a thorough study of the country’s history to really understand, but it seems that the obsession with security has stemmed not just from apartheid and the explosion of anger it created, but from the social walls that were built and fortified from the time whites stepped onto the cape. Too often in any society, when one group sees a way to dominate, they will create separation and then the explanations to explain them.

Some walls benefit us—humans construct walls and join them to create homes where we can be safe from the elements, some physical or mental walls separate us from what might actually cause harm. But we should consider the justification and validity of our walls. How did they get there? Who and what are we keeping out? Do they keep us safe or hinder our growth? After all, our exits from these fortresses, through guards or electronic gates, are just as cumbersome as are anyone else’s entrances. I wonder what understandings could be reached, what friendships could be made, what greater progress could be made without so many mortared bricks and buzzing wires.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Helping Hands, Downtown Johannesburg

Helping Hands is a program in which church leaders and members get together to provide service and disaster relief to those in need.  Members of wards and branches throughout the world provide time, labor and materials to help improve the community or to give aide to the needy. Helping Hands groups often respond quickly to disasters or other community needs, but at least once a year, there is an organized effort throughout church units to find a planned way to serve. Projects might benefit parks, schools, recreational areas or wherever a need exists. This year, two of the wards that we work with, Johannesburg 1 and Johannesburg 2, combined their efforts to thoroughly clean an “old age home” or what we might call a rest home. We joined them in the project and spent a morning cleaning walls, floors, beds, bathrooms, or anything else that came into our path. While we cleaned, ward members had a chance to talk to and sing for the residents. As you can see from the pictures, it is a very old rest home in a very old part of Johannesburg. The pictures in the bottom are to show the neighborhood where the facility was located. I would guess that this place was government run; in any case, there didn't appear to be many resources. From the water I'm pouring, you can see that the cleaning was needed and the bathroom we're cleaning there is a place you would never want to need. The residents were smiling when the members left, but so were the members. Service is an important teaching for Church members, and the project benefitted the workers at least much as the recipients. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Attendance Records, July

For the 27 classes seminary and institute classes that we support, attendance records are due at the first part of the month. They are recorded in an online system called WISE and take a bit of time to record since you are recording attendance, assignments and reading for every student. Calendars have to be adjusted depending on school holidays or any time that class was cancelled for any reason because successful completion is achieved by a percentage in those areas. All of that is complicated by the fact that reports are sometimes difficult to collect, handwriting is hard to read and students are often registered by the name they choose to go by rather than what is in the church records.  Up until now, I have been taking care of the attendance records while Elder Davie has managed the online banking system that we use. This month, Frank decided that he would like to learn the WISE system. It definitely took some time for the first go round, but all records are in and July is buttoned up. Good job Elder Davie!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Food Lovers and Food Disparity

In a few posts I have mentioned the wide gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa. While some places we visit are crowded townships made from cinderblock, tin siding and tarps, there are other parts of town that are as nice as anyplace in the US. Food markets are no exception to this disparity. We see vendors that sell their few products from crates set up on street corners. They might have a few bunches of bananas, some suckers and plastic baggies filled with something that looks like Cheetos puff balls. Other stands are set up with produce or roasted corn. People buy food from these as they walk to and from work. From there there is a wide variety of grocery markets, some very small and some that aren't much different than Safeway or Albertson's. On the far end of the spectrum, however, there are some massive food markets that are so overfilled and so opulent that they seem like they might be frequented by Capitol citizens from the Hunger Games movie. The pictures are from a market called "Food Lovers." You can see that even the olive oil and water are a little over the top. After I took pictures for a while, a security guard came and told me that I was not allowed to photograph in the market. Maybe he thought I was going to set up a grocery store even more elaborate.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mosetlha Bush Camp, Madikwe

Since we arrived, we have been hearing about the "bush camp" at Madikwe. A lot of people think that Africa is jungle and some of it further north is, but most of the animal habitat is what they call "bush." So when you stay at a bush camp you are out in the middle of a reserve as opposed to staying at a hotel or lodge. As you'll see from the pictures, even without electricity or running water, they have perfected ways to make it a very comfortable "bush" experience though, not at all like a scene from Out of Africa :) There were comfortable beds, oil lamps, "safari" showers, and excellent meals. The camp is surrounded by an electric fence about six feet high that keeps out the elephants but other animals may wander through. A water buffalo came to drink from a bird bath one evening for example. 

Madikwe is the fourth largest game reserve made up of 75000 hectares (about 185000 acres)of bush. The reserve has all of the "big five" which are elephants, rhinos, cape buffalo, lions and leopards plus wild dog and cheetahs which are sometimes added to the big five to make up the big seven. With the reserves we have visited, we have been able to see all of the seven except the leopard. Madikwe also has hundreds of species of beautiful birds--they say about 340 species. We were lucky to be in a cabin that overlooked a small watering hole where the birds would congregate in masses. During a two night stay, we were able to go on four long game drives and saw many, many animals. 

We saw the lions that we were hoping to see--a male and a female at different times. We weren't able to see a leopard, but they are so evasive that some people who have been to many game reserves have never seen one. Another guide had spotted a small female leopard not far from where we were but she had just made a kill and every time a vehicle would get near her, she would run, leaving her meal. They don't like to interfere with the feeding of the animals, so no one else approached. We were lucky enough, though, to watch four cheetahs for about half an hour who didn't seem to be disturbed by our presence at all. In fact, as you can see they very obligingly posed for us.
Our cabin
Inside--Frank is relaxing
The bathroom sink--a regular toilet inside, but flushed with a bucket.
The luxury shower--water was heated in a "donkey boiler."
A nice common area
Male lion--he had been injured by a competing male so he allowed the vehicle to get pretty close
A herd of about 100 water buffalo came to drink quickly and then disappeared back into the bush
Hard to tell the scale on this little guy. He's about seven, which is still small for an elephant--they grow slowly. We saw a really small one, but his mama wasn't allowing any photo ops.
The four cheetahs busy marking territory that allowed us to photograph for quite a while
We saw quite a few rhinos--white rhinos meaning wide mouth rhinos that graze rather than browse like the black rhinos (they are all actually the same gray color)
A mama rhino with an adolescent and a baby
A mama lion who was out hunting; she was waiting quietly in the grass for an unsuspecting victim.
And us on one of the morning game drives.
A lilac breasted roller--probably one of the prettiest birds anywhere.
I forget what these are, but they were so colorful and cute
They were several different colors--blue, yellow, red, violet.
 And there were lots of them, probably 50 or so in the trees at a time. They all landed, 
dropped and flew away together.
 This shrike has an amazingly red breast. 
 African gray Lorie or also called the Go Away bird because it sounds like that's what he says.
A shot with a hornbill and a shrike in the tree at the same time.