Friday, August 19, 2011

Independence Day in Africa!

Editor's Note:  It has been a crazy summer so I am about 1 month behind on this post.  Sorry about that!  I'll try to keep up from now on!  MDL


Dear Family and Friends:

Time to again share a few experiences from Zimbabwe. On July 4th the six missionary couples drove to Imire Safari Park to celebrate Independence Day. It is a nice game park and very close to Harare. It is winter here and quite cold, so the park was offering a good discount to lure people there. We pay our own way on these outings, so a discount is good. We left early Monday morning and came home Tuesday morning. We went on safari, had dinner, and sang every patriotic song we could think of around a big fire in the lodge that evening. There was only one other couple staying there and she was an American and he was French. She was pleased to see fellow Americans and to be part of our celebration. We said the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands on our hearts out on the lawn that morning, with the little guest huts all around us. It was very emotional. We all felt very close to our country and have deep appreciation and love for it. Living away, makes you really aware of the wonderful country that we call home. We all had tears in our eyes when we sang The National Anthem, God Bless America and America. This is a 4th of July to remember, no fireworks, parades or other celebrations, but very wonderful just the same.

Elder Bean had written a letter previously addressed to all American missionary couples serving in Zimbabwe and to the mission president and sent it via e-mail. The letterhead read: “State Department – United States of America” – Informing all of us that we would be excused from our mission responsibilities on Monday to celebrate Independence Day. It was very well written and looked very official and he signed it, Uncle Sam. It really did look authentic and I am not sure our mission president, who is Zimbabwean, wasn’t sure it wasn’t. Elder Bean then told him he wrote it and the president gave us permission to take the day off and celebrate.

We rented two safari vans and all enjoyed a game drive and were fortunate to see a black and also a white rhinoceros. They are the first we have seen in this country. The rhinos were carefully guarded by a man with a rifle. A few years ago they had a breeding program at this park and had approximately 15 pairs of rhinos, when poachers came in the night and killed them all, The rhinoceros is being depleted all over Africa because poachers can get a lot of money for their ivory horn. In some countries they are also used as an aphrodisiac, so rhinos are always in danger and there are very few left. The African rhino will one day be totally extinct, unless things change drastically. The park now has two breeding pairs and we were especially interested in seeing and taking pictures of them.

As our vans entered the entrance to the park, we saw a family of elephants standing by the gate. There was a small baby elephant in the group and they came very close to the van for a picture taking session. It is always a treat to see the elephants, but you don’t want them too close, we thought they were going to put their trunks in the van. The park also has an elephant that thinks he is a water buffalo and hangs out with the herd of water buffalos. He fights off any male buffalo that tries to take over his herd. So far he is the dominant male buffalo (elephant) and takes care of and protects the herd. The park rangers have tried several times to put him by the elephants, but he is convinced he is a buffalo and always goes back to his herd. The next day we loaded up the two vans again, and went out to an area where they had three elephants waiting for us to ride. Elder Bean rode one again, but I stayed behind and just took pictures. Previously I had ridden an elephant and the blanket under me kept slipping to the side and a few times I thought I was going to fall off. Elephants are very tall and the ground was very far down - so once is enough. An elephant carrying one missionary couple stopped and rose up to feed on branches in a tree and the couple nearly slipped off the backend. Elephants are too big to boss around, so even though there are rangers watching out for you, elephants do what they want.

It was very cold that morning and last week the whole area had frost. We had gotten up early before the sun came up and it was very cold in the safari vans. It still was very beautiful to see the elephants walking towards us in the tall golden colored grass with the sun just coming up over the horizon, there are certain moments here that seem unreal, and you feel like you are in a movie. This was one of them. We went back to the lodge, had a wonderful breakfast and then drove back to Harare to change our clothes and go to the office. It was a wonderful time for all of us Americans to be together and celebrate our country’s independence and one we will remember forever.

We have checked out an area called Mutoko, to see if a new water project and training in sanitation would be feasible there. We met with the district administrator in charge of the water in that area. He said they do not need any new boreholes drilled, but asked if we could rehabilitate the boreholes that now exist and are not working. They were drilled in the 1980’s, so are now broken down, rusted, parts have been stolen and are now useless. He asked us to rehabilitate 124 of them, but we are probably going to do around fifty or sixty. Rehabilitation means that everything will be taken out of them – all parts, pumps, rods, etc. and everything new will be put in. They also need new cement aprons and most of them require fences, so essentially they will have fifty to sixty new working boreholes. This area is very dry and quite a long distance from Harare, so our sanitation training team will be required to stay overnight during the week and will go home on weekends. We haven’t made a firm decision yet, but we think this might be our next water project. Villagers are again using the river and other polluted places for water.

We have started our newest water project and sanitation training in the Pote (po tay) ward, a ward is like a county in America. We have also introduced a maturation project in the three schools located there. This project is intended to help the girl child as she matures and starts her monthly cycle. Most of the girls in this age group stay home from school four or five days a month. They usually do not have much information about what is happening with their bodies and what to do at this time. This is something that is not talked about in their culture. The Church will provide two treadle sewing machines to the high school and one to each of the primary schools, as well as all items and materials needed to sew sanitary pads and pad holders. They will also provide two pair of panties for each girl that will be used to attach the pad holders. The material will be provided for the sewing of small purses to hold the completed pads which can then be carried to school. We will be training six women from the community, hopefully some mothers that have girls at the school, and two or three of the girls in sewing the pads, pad holders and the purses. We will provide the patterns, scissors, thread, Velcro, pins, needles and other needed material. We also have a recipe for making very effective soap for washing that will be given to each girl. Our goal is to have this program sustain itself through the years and will encourage the girls and the women to sell the pads to the community and use the money to buy more material for making more pads. We think this is a much needed program and the schools are very excited about it. We also will provide a training class not only on how to make these items, but a little bit of sanitation, hygiene and basic information to all the girls in the school. The culture here does not permit talking openly about personal matters, but from what we have seen and heard it is a welcome subject for both women and girls. Our hope is that they will use the sewing machines to make other items to sell and to help with financing this project in the future.

It is very cold this time of year and I feel so very sorry when we see people walking along the road in very skimpy clothing. I especially feel bad when you see the children. We had a private voluntary non-profit organization request a donation towards their educational “halfway” learning centre. This organization has a database of more than 500 orphans and vulnerable children. At the present time they are helping 50 children at their centre. Most of them are street kids who survive anyway they can They attend the learning centre and have never accessed formal education owing to not having birth certificates, financial instability, illness and orphan-hood Their parents have died of AIDS and they have no relatives to take care of them. Most of the children at the centre are HIV and AIDS infected and are very vulnerable to everything from hunger, cold, sickness as well as not having anyone to protect them on the street.

We were very impressed with this organization’s work. We had the lady in charge come to our office and we discussed how we might help out. The next day we loaded our truck with 50 blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, toys, toothbrushes, school supplies and other things we thought would help. We drove to a very poor crime-ridden and scary part of Harare where the centre is located. The Catholic Church is donating some rooms in their church for educational and other help for the kids. This organization also assists the community in child protection and awareness programs that promote the rights and welfare of children in Zimbabwe.

The children arrive in the morning without breakfast and stay most of the day. The organization feeds them something called Mahewu for lunch, which is served from a bucket with the children each drinking a cup full and, of course, there is only one cup to drink from. We think we should buy 50 cups and take them to the Church, so each will have their own cup. Mahewu is a very thin, watery looking gruel, but we were told that it had a lot of good nourishment in it. It didn’t look very good, but it is at least something for them to eat. They leave the school at about 3:00 pm and they are on their own and hopefully can find food at the soup kitchen up the street from the Church. It is very heart wrenching. What is also amazing is how polite and well mannered they are. They all stood when we entered the room and welcomed us and when we left they all stood again and thanked us and wished us safe journey.

While there, we opened a sack of wooden blocks we brought and dumped them on the floor, along with some soft cloth balls and some home-made wooden trucks. It was amazing, the kids dropped to their knees and immediately started playing with the blocks, the wooden trucks, and throwing the fabric balls. They were as excited and happy as if we had brought them a million dollars worth of toys Elder Bean started throwing a ball to them and the kids were so excited to have someone play ball with them. We had them queue up and gave them each a warm blanket, a tooth brush, a pencil and other various items. It was wonderful and sad at the same time. Elder Bean walked into their small class room, where some of the older kids were studying Shona, he pretended that he spoke Shona and took the chalk and started writing crazy letters on the black board and they loved it. We can’t do much, but at least there are a few kids in Zimbabwe that have warm blankets. Thank you LDS Charities and the people who contribute to the humanitarian fund.

We also gave some warm blankets and a few beautiful Relief Society quilts, to our house keeper to give to some of the families in her neighborhood. She asked us if we had anything warm that could be given to the kids. We do have a used clothing container at our office and we found some warm sweaters and pants for them and then we decided to also give them some blankets and quilts. She told us that her next door neighbor had two very small children who were almost naked and bare foot and were shaking and shivering that morning when she left to come to our apartment to clean. We couldn’t stand hearing that, so we immediately got into our quilt container and gave her some blankets and quilts to distribute to some of the other families in her neighborhood. I asked her to display two of the quilts so the Relief Society woman could see where some of the quilts are going and how much good they are doing. They are going directly to families who desperately need them. The next day she told us that the people who received them were all so very grateful and told her that they had not slept for several nights because of the cold, but they are sleeping very well now. They also said not only were the quilts warm, but very beautiful, and they could not believe that someone so far away who did not know them, would give them such a beautiful gift. I am including a picture of her in front of our apartment showing off the beautiful Relief quilts.

We also handed out several more blankets and quilts to an orphanage that houses 30 small children. The kids at this orphanage also have parents that have died with AIDS or their fathers or relatives are in prison. The people running the orphanage came to us wanting help for a poultry project, which we had to turn down, because they are so risky and the Church has stopped approving them We had previously visited this orphanage and saw the need, so we decided we could at least donate some blankets, scarves, hats, laundry detergent and other things to help them. We took our new office couple from Caldwell, Idaho, with us and we played “Ring around the Rosy, London Bridge is Falling Down and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. The kids loved it and so did we. We also brought them several of the beautiful Relief Society quilts. The quilts are not only extra warm, but are also appreciated for their beautiful patterns, color and hand work. One woman at the orphanage looked one of the quilts over very carefully and said; maybe I can make a quilt like this too. So they not only provide warmth, but inspiration to the creative women here.

We checked on our water project in Muzaribani to see if everything was completed to our satisfaction. We plan on doing the water handover the first of August. This has been our problem water project and at last it is finished; 48 latrines are now completed in the area and our contractor threw in five bonus ones. Elder Bean loves to give the contractor and our site monitor a bad time, so when we checked to make sure the latrines were completed to our satisfaction. Elder Bean told them the latrines were way too small. He proved this by putting our monitor in the doorway of one and then pretended he was stuck. The poor man was not sure he was kidding, but when he realized it was a joke, we all got a big laugh. You can see in the picture how dry the ground is and how hard it was to drill and find water in that area, it is very expensive to drill a dry hole and we had to recommit and change water siters and finally all the holes yielded water and the people are very happy. Evidently we are one of the few NGO’s that stuck it out and finished what we had promised to do.

We held a branch conference this month at the Kadoma branch, which is the branch we are responsible for. Their chapel burned to the ground about six or seven months ago and it is a real eye sore. We were delighted to hear that the work on the new chapel would be starting very soon. We had complained to everyone we could think of and wondered why someone had not done something about it. We were also told that missionaries will be sent there in the near future. They are a strong branch and have a large attendance on Sundays, but have never had any young missionaries serving there to motivate and help them. I taught Relief Society training on Saturday and taught the Relief Society lesson on Sunday. It was fun to put a table cloth and a basket of flowers on the small table in Relief Society room.the women loved it. We left the table cloth for them to keep and they will have no problem finding flowers outside to decorate it each Sunday. It was great to see how happy it made them to look at something pretty while they are listening to the lesson. Elder Bean taught the “He is Risen” lesson to the adult Sunday school and taught 19 young Aaronic priesthood holders in a tiny room for their priesthood meeting.

It is hard to believe that we have been on our mission for one year on July 24th and we are on the downward side. Time is going very quickly and we have a lot of things to accomplish in the next six months. We are anxious to see our families, but we are still enjoying the challenge and satisfaction that this mission provides. It is a hard mission in the respect that we miss some of the modern conveniences that we take for granted at home. It is amazing that we no longer are surprised when we turn on the water tap and nothing comes out and how excited we are when the water does come out. We are delighted when we flip the light switch and the light turns on. Things like, clean water, or even just water, electricity, heat, paved roads, not having to put bleach in our water to wash dishes, eggs, fruit and vegetables, the list goes on and on, but the rewards and blessings are worth it.

Elder Bean’s two sons, Roger and Brett, will be visiting us in September and we are excited to show them around Zimbabwe and spend a day in Botswana. We plan on taking them in our truck to visit projects and maybe even have them participate a little. We will also see if we can convince them to ride an elephant and walk with the lions. I am sure they will do that.

We love the beauty of this country.

Love to all

Elder and Sister Bean