Monday, February 7, 2011

Christmas in Africa

Dear Family and Friends:

We are in the last few weeks of the Christmas Season, but so far it doesn’t feel like it.  Of course the countryside doesn’t look like Christmas; it is warm, rainy, not many decorations, no busy malls, or Santa holding children.  However, we did see one skinny Santa by a small pizza stop-over, as we were headed for our monthly visit to our assigned branch. He was very enthusiastic, but just a little too skinny to be the real Santa.  I think Elder Bean, however, did get a chance to tell him what he would like for Christmas, just in case.


Boogie Fever
We have been very busy finishing up the sanitation graduation ceremonies in Muzarabani.  We still have a few more boreholes to finish and then we will at last be out of there.  It is such a long way from Harare, and it has been 12 weeks of sanitation training, latrine construction, bore hole drilling and graduation ceremonies in a politically sensitive area a long way from where we live.  The rainy season is now in full force and it will be good to finally not have to drive that far or worry about our trainers who are teaching and staying there a week at a time.  It has not been a good place for us to be, but wonderful for the people that needed water and received sanitation training.

We attended the last sanitation graduation ceremony, six out of six, and as you can see by the pictures, it was a great success and very fun.  Approximately 500 people attended this last graduation.  We invited our missionary neighbors, the Mayfield’s, to go with us and attend the festivities and also help pass out the graduation gifts.  When we arrived there was great excitement, drum beating and dancing.  It was hard to get everyone to settle down to start the program, including ourselves.  It is contagious.

 We started with a prayer and proceeded with the singing of the Zimbabwe National Anthem.  Our site monitor then introduced us and the trainers and acknowledged the presence of the woman councilor over this particular area. We are drilling four bore holes in her area.  She is the so called “Big Drum”.   Elder Bean then spoke and told a little bit about the project and a little bit about the Church’s humanitarian program.  The councilor then spoke and thanked the Church on behalf of her district and was quite complimentary about what the Church had done for the people in her district.  The people, who received the 12 weeks of sanitation training, put on several skits depicting aspects of their training.  We especially liked the skit where they portrayed a family member with a stomach ache and all the many methods they used to try to help her.  They gave her some bitter tasting herbs, which seemed to make it worse, they called in the witch doctor, which didn’t help at all, they then put some sanitation tablets in her water and she started to feel better.  They also did a demonstration on washing hands, washing dishes; digging a trash/rubbish hole away from the house and several other things they had been taught in the training classes to prevent the stomach ache in the first place.

Addressing the Crowd
We loved it, it showed us that they understood what they had been taught and had put the training to use. They did such a good job that even though we didn’t understand the language, we knew exactly what they were doing.

Oscar-worthy Skits
It was threatening to rain during the program, but it held off until everything was finished and we were on our way home. The rain has held off until our graduation ceremonies were over on every one of the six ceremonies we have held.  We really think that although these past 12 weeks have been a lot of work and not in a desirable place to work, it will help many many people avoid the terrible water borne diseases they deal with daily and help to prevent illness and possibly even death.  This area experienced a terrible cholera epidemic last year and we hope this will lessen if not stop a repeat of that problem this year.


LDS Charities Crew
The woman councilor had arranged a nice lunch for us at the conclusion of the ceremony and even invited our trainers.  This was an unexpected show of appreciation, since this is a very poor district and funds would not be readily available to purchase food for a luncheon. We wanted to leave right after the ceremony because of the long drive back, but it was such a nice and thoughtful thing for her to have done, that we gladly accepted. The luncheon was served in a nearby school and the menu was chicken, rice and spinach. Before we ate, they came around with a pan full of water, which they poured over our hands to wash them. It made us realize that the training was already being put into practice. They were so thankful and appreciative of what the Church has done for them, it was rewarding to hear.
Dancing at Handover
We also heard from our driller that the chief administrative officer, aka “The Big Drum” in the area where we are drilling, was still demanding a bore hole in his yard.   When it looked like he wasn’t going to get one, he filled up a freshly drilled bore hole being drilled in another area with dirt, making it inoperable.  The driller called us and wanted to know what to do.  We told him to move out of this area and on to the next district and start drilling and we either would not come back to this man’s area or reassess this problem at the end.  It is so hard to believe he would do such a spiteful thing to deny many others a chance to have clean water.  He is a very powerful chief and is used to getting his way.  Elder Bean and I will make another trip up there and see what is to be done. Again, as we mentioned before, this is not a good area to work in.

Bee and Candle Project
This month we also drove to the City of Bulawayo to hire a driller, prepare the contracts, and start the water project that has been approved for this city.  We have approval to drill 12 bore holes here. We usually do not do them in an urban setting, but this city is in bad need of water.  Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe and so many people are in a bad situation.  We were first contacted by the Stake President, President Makasi.  He said his stake is located in this area and most of the church members are being affected some of the people are totally out of water.  He had contacted us and everybody else he could think of, including the area presidency and the mission president.  They both asked us to help in any way we could, ASAP.  President Makasi said it was affecting the attendance of his Church members because they had to stand in line all day on Sunday to even get a little bucket of water to use for washing, drinking and cooking.  We met with the engineering and water department of the city and agreed to drill 12 new boreholes.  We drove there a few weeks ago to get things started.  
Elder Bean and Mayor of Bulawayo

President Makasi also said that the Mayor of the City would like to receive some donations from LDS Charities for a Christmas party he sponsors every year   He gives these donations to orphanages, hospitals, clinics and institutions.  We told him to tell the Mayor that LDS Charities would love to donate to this special event.  We made an appointment to meet the Mayor and presented him with 15 blankets, 15 humanitarian kits, a big box of toys and baby layettes. Before he arrived, I asked his assistant the proper way to address him, and was told to call him “His Worship”.  It was hard to do that.   We met with him in his office for about 30 minutes or so.  We took the opportunity to tell him about the 12 boreholes the Church is drilling in his city and the several different projects the Church is also doing there.  It was a great PR meeting.  The Church is trying to acquire some land from the City to build a new chapel. They want to buy it from the City and not from a private individual, because it would cost more money from a private person.  We told the Mayor about this and he was readily agreeable to sell the Church some city owned land.  It was a great meeting. He showed us around the council chambers and we took pictures and he asked if we would e-mail the pictures to him.  I think we made a good friend who can be very helpful in doing future projects and aiding the Church in this area.

Presenting Donations to Mayor

We were asked by the mission president to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with 10 missionaries in an area called Gweru.  It is about three and a half hours from Harare.  This area does not have senior missionaries serving there and except for the zone leaders, these guys are a little bit isolated from the main point of strength.  The two other couples, plus the Mission President and his wife also went to different areas to celebrate Christmas with missionaries.  There are only three senior missionary couples in all of Zimbabwe.  They are the mission office workers, CES and humanitarian country directors (us).

The mission president’s wife, myself and the two other missionary wives got together and stuffed  big red Christmas stockings with, toothpaste, toothbrushes, ties, stockings, deodorant, candy and special T-shirts with the mission logo on them, to hand out on Christmas Eve.  We also arranged with a local grocery store to provide sliced chicken, ham, roast beef and cheese rolls for us to take to our various locations for Christmas Day lunch. We wanted the food to fit in coolers so we could transport it.  We planned on making sandwiches, but also ordered brownies, pudding, cookies, a vegetable plate, potato salad and soda pop, water and even A&W root beer that just recently arrived to this local store. This store is owned by a white member of the church, and is the store to go to when you want to buy something that we are a little familiar with.  They do not have much of a selection of foods we are familiar with, but every once in a while, something wonderful appears, like A&W root beer.   It was expensive, but especially fun to give to the African missionaries, who had no idea what it was or how it tasted.  They were first concerned and wanted to make sure we weren’t giving them some kind of beer and wanted to know if it was OK to drink it.  We thought it would be fun to make root beer floats, but could not find any ice cream.

On Christmas Eve we treated our 10 missionaries to a buffet dinner at a game park called “Antelope Park”, it is a very nice game park and a place that you can walk with the lions, (REALLY), and ride an elephant, which of course was out of the question for our young missionaries to do.  We did not want to report any mauling or worse to their parents.   This park is quite well known and so we wanted to go there also.  We had a wonderful buffet dinner, and the guys kept asking if they could go back as many times as they wanted.  The answer was yes, and we think the buffet was totally wiped out when we left.  After dinner we drove to the beautiful new Church and had a Christmas program.  We read the Christmas story and sang Christmas Carole’s and handed out the stockings.  It was wonderful, we got to know the young elders better and we enjoyed a lovely evening together.  We told them that we were their grandparents and they were our kids and this was going to be just like a Christmas Eve with family and we wanted it to be a wonderful Christmas Eve.  They went back to their apartments around 10:00 pm.

On Christmas morning, they met us again at the park and we had arranged for them to go on a game drive.  It was a beautiful, clear, warm day and we loaded them up in a safari vehicle.  We had a wonderful guide who stopped periodically and told them about the animals, birds, vegetation, etc.  He then did a very special thing, which he said was his Christmas present to the missionaries.  He drove us over to see the lions.  This is a park that also studies lions and has an experimental program studying the  habits, behavior and other things to help preserve the African lion, which we understand is slowly being reduced in number all over Africa.  He took them out to the huge areas where the lions are kept, which is usually off limits to the public.  It was fascinating.  There were huge male lions in the tops of trees, which I have never seen before, only in books.  He told the guys, if you are ever chased by a lion, do not climb a tree.  There were many lions in this area and when we got out and went to the fence, they went wild, they roared and lunged at the fence and he told the guys, do not put your hands on the fence.  It was a special treat, but the big male lions are very scary up close, powerful, huge teeth and very upset with us and you could see they would love to be able to get at us.  We took pictures, but it was a little unsettling to see them up close and think about what would happen if the fence gave way. We watched the missionaries very carefully to make sure they didn’t get too close to the fence.  They all wanted to have their pictures taken with the lions in the background.

We were lucky enough to see all the animals that were in the park, zebras, giraffes, elephants, impalas, wildebeest, kudos and all kinds of birds.  When we returned to the park, they wanted to stay and play rugby and soccer on this big expanse of grass by a river; while they were playing; four elephants came to the river to drink.  So we took pictures of missionaries playing ball with elephants in the river behind them.  There was also a big bare place on the lawn covered with dirt. One of the park workers came to us and said tell your guys not to step on that bare spot, because there is a big pit lined with burning coals under that dirt and we are roasting a caribou for Christmas dinner.   It was a nice thing to know because several times their ball had landed close by.

When the missionaries were tired and hungry, we left the park and went back to the Church to eat lunch and we put out all the food we had brought, and they ate, watched movies , ate and later called their families and we suppose ate again.  We left because it was getting very dark and we needed to find our way back to the park, as we were spending the night there.  We had a wonderful day and it helped them and Elder Bean and I get through the Christmas Holidays without too much home sickness.  We want parents whose kids are sent here on a mission, what wonderful young people they are and how well they are doing. These kids are working in a not so comfortable mission, culture wise, environment wise, sanitation wise, and many other differences they confront every day, and they take it in stride.  They are positive, funny, spiritual, mature (most of the time) courteous, helpful.  Many asked if I needed help with the luncheon, cleanup, or carrying things in and out, and volunteered to help in any way.  They must have good parents that taught them well. So many people at the game park asked about them, who they were, who are the young men in white shirts, ties, and were so well behaved?    On Christmas day they wore their casual clothes, but still looked great and just had a wonderful time.  Again so many people asked about them. It was fun to be associated with them. The Church is in good hands in Zimbabwe.

That night Elder Bean and I were quite tired; we were staying in one of those thatched roof huts, on a river in the park.  It was dark and we went to bed and could hear the lions roaring across the river, just like in the movies.  We said this is unreal, where else in the world can you sleep in a thatched roof hut, under a mosquito net and go to sleep while lions roar in the night.  Pretty Cool!!!

We visited an orphanage on our way to Gweru and delivered boxes of toys to the kids.  We fixed a broken down borehole at this orphanage a few weeks ago and had seen the kids and thought it would be appropriate to drop off a few things.  Next year we want to take the missionaries with us to do some service project.  We think it would be a wonderful and make Christmas Eve more meaningful.

We have several more projects ready to start and hope to be able to complete them shortly after the first of the year. Our  plans and new year’s resolution is to do as many projects as we possibly can and to help our brothers and sisters as much as we can in this very wonderful country.  It is hard in many ways, but a very rewarding mission.  We understand that we have two more senior couples coming soon to this mission, and they are sorely needed.  Thank you for remembering us in your prayers and we pray that we will continue to be blessed with health, strength (spiritually as well as temporarily) and safety so that we might complete this mission in the way that the Lord would want us to.  We miss all of you and pray for the happiness and safety of our family and friends.  We think of home always. 

Love, Elder and Sister Bean

Note:  Our wonderful little granddaughter, Sarah Kate, was sealed to her parents in December. The sealing was done in the Newport Beach Temple. We are so grateful and enjoy the pictures.