Of course I'm not wearing it, silly!
I’ve taken a little holiday – literally, to uMhlanga Rocks north of Durban (much more on that soon); and figuratively, as in not writing for quite a long time. But on my 55th birthday, I’ve decided to get back on track and put my thoughts down in words, and turn my intentions into actions.

As I’ve grown older, my birthdays seem to stir introspection rather than generate excitement as they once did. I still enjoy my special day, though it’s not the thought of presents or growing older that makes me smile. Perhaps because the date is such a tangible marker of what was and what is yet to be, it’s impossible for me to not spend time reflecting, then redirecting my thoughts, attitudes and actions to bring them in line with who I want to be. I can’t imagine a birthday occurring when I don’t realize I can make improvements in the way I live and love.

What I recognized this year is that I am content. I noticed it the day I went shopping for a new swimming costume (bathing suit) to wear to the beach while we were on holiday. In years past, this has been a dreaded experience sometimes reduced to squeezing my eyes shut, grabbing a few suits off the rack and then dragging my feet to the changing rooms with the horrible lighting and worse mirrors. It’s never been fun, always an exercise in chastising myself for not being more disciplined in my diet, my aerobics, my hairstyle, my mani-pedis...…

This year it was different. Not because I’ve been any more disciplined in my lifestyle (though perhaps I have, a little), but because when I looked in the mirror instead of seeing the same old pale fat legs I saw legs strong enough to carry me from my house to my grandbabies’ home at a moment’s notice; strong enough to stand in the dusty winter wind as I served soup to people who would eat nothing else that day; strong enough to spend an afternoon walking around a hot, dry section of Swaziland, stopping to visit and pray with people whose legs can’t hold them up or get them from place to place.

Instead of seeing the same old flabby arms, I saw arms strong enough to lift grandbabies high into the air just to hear their giggles; strong enough to share hugs in times of joy and sorrow; strong enough to hold my camera steady so I can record the beauty of God’s creation around me; strong enough to lift bags of mealie meal (cornmeal) and rice and clothing to share with people who need them.

Instead of seeing the same old too-big tummy, I saw years of plentiful meals shared with beloved family and friends; I saw Steven cooking healthy food for me and our family; I saw the recipes for special treats shared by special people; I saw God’s incredible creativity in providing me with food that looks and smells as good as it tastes.

Instead of seeing ugly grey hair that’s too straight, I saw shining silver strands announcing to the world that I’ve had enough years of life to gain the wisdom necessary to look for the beauty in all circumstances, to gain the sure knowledge that today’s troubles will pass and joy will come in the morning, to REALLY believe that God works all things for good when you trust and obey Him.

And instead of beating myself up over ragged cuticles and peeling polish, I decided that it was fine for me to spend some time taking care of my nails, if only for the joy of hearing my granddaughter Lily say “Nana, you nails so pretty!”

So, without any regrets, I bought the suit designed to give the illusion of slimness, with the added benefit of a tummy tightener. I also bought a light cotton shift to cover it all, and some shiny shoes that match the whole ensemble. Hey, every woman knows new shoes improve any experience!

There’s a lot to be said for being content with who you are now, knowing that there’s still time for improvement in the future.

Handpainted tea cozy, tray cloth, crocheted doily with beads to cover creamer (to keep the bugs out), and lovely pewter sugar spoon
The Irene Village Market in Centurion, Gauteng is a wonderfully fun place to shop. It’s a grand craft fair with African artists selling their wares. The first time we went, we bought paintings, carvings, artsy stuff. The next time, I set the hospitality theme with the first purchase of a hand painted tea cozy and tray cloth. Steven continued the theme with his purchases of a cutting board and salt & pepper grinders made from the wood of indigenous trees.

But back to me. People here still “serve” tea. They have beautiful tea sets with matching plates and tea cups. They take their time savoring their coffee or tea as they dunk their biscuits (cookies) or rusks and enjoy them to the fullest. Sarah uses a beautiful tea set left in her cupboard by the owner of the house they’re letting (renting). My owner left a very utilitarian (by that, I mean ugly) insulated stainless pot, sugar & creamer. So I bought my own cheerfully round white teapot, sugar & creamer.

And when I saw the pretty pink roses painted on the tea cozy and tray cloth, I knew they would complement perfectly my tea set. Then, when I saw the pewter sugar spoon, spreading knife and olive fork – that was too perfect and completed the service. Until I saw the crocheted and beaded doily that you lay over top of your creamer to keep the flies out. That really was everything I needed. It’s all quite lovely together.

I smile when I see the tea cozy because it brings to mind a long-ago Christmas in Pottstown, PA. It was 1982. Sarah was only a few months old and Steven had just gotten out of the Navy. We had a huge mortgage ($600/month) and a car payment on top of that, which is to say there wasn’t much money for purchasing gifts. I decided to make gifts, which started the tradition of making Christmas decorations for the siblings. But that year, I had the perfect gift in mind for my Mama.

While I was still living at home, Mama would make us a pot of tea and we would sit and visit. Not just any old tea would do, it had to be Bigelow Constant Comment tea, a wonderful blend with orange and spice that smelled as wonderful as it tasted. It was a great memory, and I wanted to show Mama how special those times were for me. So I decided to make her a tea cozy.

For the uninformed, a tea cozy is an insulated blanket for your teapot, to keep the contents warm between pourings. I had the perfect plan – I bought two of the solid colored oval quilted placemats with a ruffle along the edge (think 1980s), folded them in half and sewed them together. Perfect! I was very pleased until Steven saw it and asked “Why did you make your mother a toaster cover?” I assured him that Mama would know it was a tea cozy, and then I hedged my bet by inserting a box of Constant Comment before I wrapped it.

Christmas morning came, and we were all happily exchanging gifts and expressing gratitude at how perfect each gift was when Mama opened her present. She pulled it out of the box and without hesitation said, “Well, thank you for the toaster cover!” Steven busted up laughing, fell off the hassock he was sitting on, rolled on the floor and all the while Mama is getting louder and louder, saying “Tea cozy! Tea cozy! I knew it was a tea cozy!”

Just typing the story has me laughing out loud. 

Isn't Sarah's teaset pretty?
Don't you agree that utilitarian is the right word?
Last Thursday, Steven woke up with a nasty lesion on the calf of his left leg. It had a black center and he thought it was a spider bite, but he couldn’t feel a “core” to pull out. Friday he had two more: one on his left forearm and one on his neck. He wrote me a note asking me to field strip the bed, as he was not interested in getting bitten again.

I stripped the bed down to the mattress, washed all the linens in bleach, and put the mattress pad outside on the line – I even pulled the bed out from the wall – no spiderweb, no indications of spiders anywhere.

When he came home Friday night, he felt awful. He thought he had the flu, so he started taking flu medicine. Saturday and Sunday he still felt awful, and had bad headaches. Monday morning he woke me up to ask me to schedule an appointment with a doctor. He had a rash from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.

The doctor let him share his tale of spider bites, but after an examination and a couple questions, she asked “Have you been recently to the lowveld?” He said, “Swaziland, but that was two weeks ago.” She told us it often takes 10 days for the symptoms to show up. And he had all the symptoms.

Tick fever (rickettsia) is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. They pick it up from animals in the wild, then transfer it in their saliva when they bite people. African tick bite fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are caused by the same bacteria, but I’m happy to say, the African tick bite fever is much less severe.

Once he started telling people about his experience, he’s heard lots of stories about what they went through when they had it. It’s not uncommon here.

Fortunately, the sickness responds well to antibiotics. The doctor started him on those and pain meds. A testament to the severity of the headaches is that Steven took the pain pills. Before we left Nebraska, I threw away bottles of pain killers from the time of his back surgery because he refused to take them, choosing instead to just deal with the pain.

Another good thing is that there is no recurrence of symptoms; once the meds work their magic and eradicate the bacteria, Steven will be well. Praise God for modern medicine!

In all our married life, I have been the one who attracts the ticks. Steven jokingly told someone the other night that when we were warned about the ticks in Swaziland, he had counted on the fact that his personal tick magnet would spare him the agony. Not this time!

If you want more information, this is the website we used to confirm the diagnosis:


Most of these are labelled "Womens"
Before we left Witbank for our mission trip to Swaziland, I helped sort out the clothes that had been donated. As you might expect, I had to discard some items. Some peoples' first thought might be to cluck their tongues and say “If this is too disgusting for you to wear, why do you offer it to others?” But I'm a little more understanding – I get clothes are some of our "things," things that remind us of where or why we got it or who we got it from. I believe people don’t really see how ratty something is if it’s special to them. Maybe the only way they are able to give it up is the knowledge that someone else will benefit. Some people even donated underwear! It was nice stuff, though, so we put it in a bag to hand discreetly to the women of the church to distribute as necessary.

Just as a sidenote, only men’s woven boxers have a fly here in South Africa. The knit ones look like little boy training pants, without the super heroes.

We just separated the clothes by women, men, boys, girls, babies. There were also bags of shoes, accessories, linens and curtains. We had one bag each for the babies and the boys. Girls and men had two bags. Women had 153,567. Just kidding! But women’s clothing definitely topped the charts. I puzzled over that ratio the whole weekend, and our leader Nicole offered the most plausible reason. She said men & boys wear the same thing over and over without thinking twice, so they not only have fewer clothes to donate, when it’s bad enough not to wear, it’s too bad to give someone else. Babies soil their clothes or the good ones get passed on to friends and family. Girls have favorite outfits that they wear until they can’t be worn again.

Speaking from experience, women like clothes. We shop sales for recreation. And we change lifestyles – we trade our jeans for business suits or vice versa. And we change sizes. Here’s hoping the lady who donated the 3X clothing lost weight!

We loaded all the clothes we received into the two trailers we were hauling. Once we got to Pongola KZN, we transferred all the clothes to the One Heart trailer. When we got to camp, we divided them so we had a little something for everyone at each of the two churches we were visiting.

So many people!
My husband Steven helped distribute sweets to the kids. It was one of those miracles you read in the Bible -- no matter how much we handed out, it seemed we still had the same amount when we left, so we left it with the churches.
Trying to quickly assess what would fit and please each "customer" was no easy task!
We ran out of boy’s clothing too quickly. We were so grateful to a woman in Connecticut who knits beanies and sends them to One Heart, because when we ran out of shorts, pants and shirts, we could offer them a colorful hat that made them smile.

The lines of people seemed never to grow shorter – people kept coming. There was one young boy who enjoyed being in line to get the sweets that were handed out, and to sing the songs, but the closer he got to the door, the louder he cried because he didn’t want to go in. Turns out the health department also comes to the church to meet the community’s needs and he remembered getting an injection there!

I hope his new memories of what happens at church have him eager to get to the front of the line next time.
Distribution was done inside the church buildings. People had advance knowledge that we were coming, so they were waiting when we pulled up. Pastor Themba had the children line up according to their age, then he told them the orphans got to come in first for their one article of clothing.

We brought all the bags we had, opened them and laid them out on the floor: ladies got one half of the space, and the other half was divided into quarters. Team members got familiar with what was available with a general idea of sizes, then as each child came in, the team member chose ONE suitable article of clothing and put it on the child before sending them on their way. The kids were generally compliant, not complaining if they were given something a little too big. Some of them shook their heads “no” if the clothes were too small, though.

There were a couple ladies who were quite verbal about their desire to choose their own clothing, but as a rule people were grateful for what they were offered. If they were wearing skirts, we tried to find them another skirt; pants, the same. If they were wearing short sleeves, we tried to find them long sleeves or vice versa. There were some dressy dresses and two piece suits, and some rather large sizes that no one who came that day wanted, so we left them at the church for the leaders to distribute. Surely there are women who sew and will alter what they can use.
I was sure pleased that my grandson Adrien had found a few items he could share -- the little boy in the plaid shorts was pleased, too. He was really pleased when I showed him the magic of the adjustable elastic waist.
This is the little guy who didn't want a shot!
These beanies could be called "smile makers"!
Here's a sweetie dragging his lolly on the ground. Unfortunately, the kids seem quite comfortable with dirt.
Some folks were curious as to what was going on, so they peeked in the back windows.
Pastor Schalk's Power of Hope is based in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal South Africa. I believe this vehicle was sponsored by a house church in Holland.
Delicious sugar cane!
Swazi gold!
Some of the members of the Shiselweni Reformed Church Home-Based Care. Pastor Themba is in the blue shirt.
As best I understand it, Pastor Schalk van der Merwe's Power of Hope Ministries in uPhongola, Kwazulu-Natal, planted churches in Swaziland and Pastor Themba shepherds them. Pastor Themba organized our weekend, which consisted mainly of distributing the donations we had collected in Witbank and Pongola and visiting some of the more desperate members of the churches. Then we offered salvation through Jesus in our dramas and showing the Jesus Film in the Swati language.

Pastor Themba had arranged for a young woman in grade 11 and a young man in grade 10 to interpret for us. They were members of the local church, and quite helpful with the distribution as well as with communication. Swati is very similar to Zulu, so some of our mission team were able to converse with the local people. English is spoken in Swaziland, so I was constantly searching for a local I could talk to. Friday I saw a beautiful little girl in a pretty white dress and I said “You are so beautiful!” She blushed and covered her face with her hands, giggling. I asked “Do you speak English?” She said, “Yes!” I said, “What’s your name?” And she said “Yes!” Apparently she has a few more words to learn.

The churches we visited were in rural areas, and we had to pass through the sugar cane fields to get where we were going. Sugar cane is called “Swazi gold,” because it is the main cash crop in the country. One of the interpreters told me 90% of the population (in the area we visited) were employed in the sugar cane industry, either in the fields, the mills or transporting it. She was gnawing on a piece of cane and when she found out I had never tasted it, she broke off a piece to share. It was so juicy and sweet! I implored Dave Robb, driver of the Land Rover we were in, to stop at the grocery store so I could buy some to bring home to the grandkids. He said you have to pinch (steal) sugar cane; they don’t sell it. After the harvest, people are allowed to pick up what’s left, so I guess that’s not really stealing.

The sugar cane fields were lush and green, well-cared for and irrigated. The land around them was brown, cracked and dry. There’s been a drought, and no vegetable gardens are growing. We saw lots of goats, a few pigs, and chickens eating whatever they could scratch up. Some fields also had cattle grazing. Steven and I both commented that the landscape reminded us of Arizona. We were able to witness a couple gorgeous sunsets as we prepared to show the Jesus Film.

Pastor Themba recognized a need in the rural area where the first church is located and his church came up with a solution. There are many people who are unable to care for themselves or the children in their homes for a variety of reasons. Pastor Themba instituted a home care team, a group of volunteers who go into the community on a regular basis to check on these people, to see what they need. Pastor told us that these volunteers, whose own cupboards are often bare, still find something to share with the people they help. They have learned to trust God for provision of their basic needs. This is the team who determined who was most needy and would receive the 10kg bags of mealie meal (20 pounds of cornmeal). They also determined who would be getting the bags of rice and canned goods. We left a box of Swati Bibles at each church for Themba to hand out as he was lead.

So I’m back from a mission trip to Swaziland for 5 days, and I can’t post my blog – either there is no internet service, or no electricity, or neither!

But as Ryan Langkilde, the pastor who trains church members for mission trips, says, “Mission trips are like a big slap in the face from God.” Smack – you think you don’t have enough? Smack – you think internet is a necessity? Smack – you think electricity is a necessity? Another way to put it is that mission trips give you a new perspective on your abundant life. Steve Livingston, one of the board members for One Heart International, shared what someone said at the end of a mission trip – “Not everyone is called to missions, but everyone should go on one mission trip.” I agree wholeheartedly.

There was no mission house in Swaziland, so we pitched our tents at Nisela Game Reserve, near the city of Big Bend. Steven and I bought a whole camping set for R1998 ($199.80 including tax) at Game (Wal-mart). It included a tent, two sleeping bags, two camp chairs, and a sun shade. He and Jean-Marc Masson put it up in no time, then we set up the sleeping bags. Steven used the little self-inflating pad, self-inflating pillow and extra-warm sleeping bag we got when I went to Lesotho in the winter. I used one of the sleeping bags that came with the tent (such a bright happy green color!), a pillow & blanket off the couch, and put all that on an inflatable mattress. The very cool LED lantern that Steven bought to hang in the tent stayed on the shelf in our living room, next to the sunscreen.

It’s spring in Swaziland, and the sun gets downright hot in the afternoon. When you’re not in the sun, it’s more comfortable; and when the sun goes down, it’s time for a jacket and a campfire! Unfortunately, the first night another team member, Candra, and I had terrible headaches and nausea and had to go to bed early. More unfortunately, when Steven and Jean-Marc came back to the tent to sleep, I woke up and discovered that my mattress had pretty well deflated! Turns out, the camping sites were under thorn trees, and one of those pesky thorns on the ground had pierced the tent bottom AND my mattress. Fortunately, we had the patch kit and between Steven, Dave Robb and Steve Livingston, the balance of my sleep was like floating on a cloud.

Nisela had showers with lots of warm water, sinks with running water, mirrors, and flushing toilets. There were campsites with shelters and electricity. There was a cleaning station with big sinks & cold running water. No plugs, but that was resolved with some duct tape (don’t leave home without it!). There was a huge web that big spiders called home in the thatched roof.

All that to say, the people we met over the weekend had it MUCH rougher. Families of six lived in a one-room mud and stick structure with a thatched roof. They cooked on a fire they built outside, if there was something to cook. They walked almost 10K (five miles) to collect water. We were taken to the home of two elderly women – one of them was blind and unable to walk, the other had difficulty walking. They were sitting on their mats outside when we got there, eating rice and chicken. The one lady explained they were having chicken because they were lucky that someone had ridden over their hen, so they had to eat it. These ladies also had to fear for their safety – one night a man broke into their home and raped one of them. Still they smiled at our visit.

I was struck by the fact that we saw lots of little kids, and lots of old people, but not many 20—40 year olds. That’s the age group that has been decimated by AIDS. Their children are being raised by their parents or, in some cases, people who are not even family. I never voiced it, but my heart broke with the knowledge that these grandparents had lost their children. I expect to die before my children, but that cycle of life has been disrupted by disease. If the little ones haven’t lost both their parents, the remaining parent has oftentimes gone in search of a job elsewhere, so they’re still basically orphans.

Our first stop was at the Moriah Center, a day-care and teaching facility for orphans. These children are fed three meals a day, taught, and encouraged to have fun as children should. The mission team joined in the dancing and playing, then things got serious when the two white teachers, young women, had to tell the children this was their last day with them. They had come from the UK and spent one year with the children of Big Bend, and their sad tears were genuine. Pastor Schalk (skulk) took up a collection from the mission team for them so they would have some pocket change on their trip back, and when he presented the money to them, they said “We’ll give it to the soup kitchen.” He strongly advised them to keep it for themselves.

Our days were full, and long. The sun had long ago set by the time we got back to camp, but there was a warm meal, a comforting campfire, warm showers and warm beds waiting for us. So we weren’t really “roughing” it.
Wonderful venue -- there's not only campsites, there's beehive huts, a restaurant, a gift shop, animals ... flushing toilets, warm showers -- who could ask for anything more?
We shared this great tent with Jean-Marc
T carried a 10kg bag of mealie meal (cornmeal) to these two sisters who have limited mobility and no family caring for them. They were eating a chicken they cooked after it had been hit by a car.
Pastor Themba had the children line up by age, then instructed that the orphans come in for clothing before the others.
This lady was raising six grandchildren. Others expressed sympathy that these children had no parents, but my heart went out to this woman who had lost her daughter.
Kate & Ashley from the UK hated saying good-by to the kids. It was heart-wrenching to hear them try to get through the farewells they had prepared.
We were in awe of the beautiful sunsets we witnessed.
Gas fireplace, warm blankets -- my fav place to be when the power goes out!
Come snuggle with me under my fuzzy polka-dot blanket while I describe my first winter in Witbank. Understand that in South Africa, winter is from May to July. Locals tell me that this has been a mild winter, relatively speaking.  www.southafrica.info gives a good description of this season: dry, sunny, crisp days and cold nights. I’ve never even noticed many clouds in the beautiful blue sky. In a testament to the “dry,” I’ve lost count of how many tubes of hand cream I’ve gone through.

When I kiss Steven good-by at 6:15, it’s maybe 35 degrees F. He tells me (I don’t have firsthand knowledge) that it’s warmer when he wakes up before 5:00. About 10:00, it’s comfortable to walk in a sweatshirt at about 52 degrees. Temperatures peak around 14:00, at a warm 60 degrees. Around 17:00, a chill is creeping into the air and when the sun goes down, it’s cold, even if the thermometer says 50. Here they report temps on the Celsius grade, but I’d never get out of bed if I thought it was 3 degrees! So I keep my phone on Fahrenheit.

You know what all those up and down temps mean – a lot of layering when you dress, so you can pile it on, pull it off, and then pile it on again. Jeans, short-sleeved tee, and a hoodie is my usual plan of attack, unless really cold temps are indicated. I do have Under Armour and a winter coat with matching hat, gloves and scarf, but I only wore those when I was on the mission trip to Lesotho. My winter coat is one of those four in one deals, so I’ve mainly worn the inside lining as my coat here. Steven’s mom bought me gloves that I can use my android with in a variety of colors, and I keep those in every pocket of my outerwear.

When the sun goes down, regardless of what the thermometer says, the cold chills me to my bones. My nose gets cold and starts running, my ears and hands and feet cry out for warmth. There are blankets on the couches that I cover my head with and wrap around me. The best feeling in the world is turning the electric mattress heater on high, letting both the sheets get warm, then sliding in. Ahhhh. I’ve perfected my tossing and turning to the point that I can get toasty on every side!

What I find most strange is that there is no central heating in the houses here. The house we’re in has under floor heating in the kitchen and master bath, but the owners warned us we’d tear through electricity if we used it. Since Eskom does rolling blackouts in the winter, there’s more than enough reasons NOT to use that. What do we do? We thank God for all the windows in this house. I get dressed, pull open the curtains in the bedroom, go into the living room and pull those curtains open and lift the shades, too. If I’m going to be working in the office, I lift the shades in there. Light and warmth from the sun – life is good!

If I keep the doors to the living room and bedroom closed, they maintain a little warmth. Additionally, we join the chilly citizens who carry portable electric heaters from room to room. We bought one of those oil-filled radiators that we keep in our bedroom, and found another one under the stairs that we put in the grandkids’ bedroom. The owners also left two halogen heaters, and they warm things up, but they’re bright as the sun! No sleeping in a room with those things on. In the office, there’s a panel heater attached to the wall, but I’ve sat at the desk with my feet on the thing at full throttle and still had frozen toes. There are space heaters in both bathrooms that have fans and they keep the air toasty, which is a very good thing when you have to move around wet AND naked!

We have a gas fireplace that I’ve gotten quite proficient at using; I just have to remember to close the damper when I turn it off or its purpose is defeated. It meets design criteria of being beautiful and useful. The thing is, you have to sit right there in front of it to take full advantage of the warmth. But there are worse things than simply sitting in front of a pretty fire snuggling with your honey – like freezing!

We’re moving into spring now and I’m looking forward to the blooming flowers; but stay tuned, I’m certain to find something I can whine about! Not really; South Africa is a great place for us to live.

It's warm, but it's B-R-I-G-H-T
The radiator has a warm, comfortable look & feel
The tile all over everywhere keeps things chilly, but the heater with a fan helps
Evelina & Tando
When I first arrived in South Africa and I saw a black woman with a blanket wrapped around her waist covering her legs, I thought she was cold. Now I think there must be a baby around and start looking for the little darling.

Women of all ages carry babies of all ages on their back here, using a blanket to secure them. I’ve seen it at the mall, at the crèche (nursery), at the soup kitchen, in Lesotho when I was on the mission trip, on the side of the highway as the mother waits for a ride, and sadly, even on the beggar at the corner of Mandela and Bethal.

The police have arrested the beggar several times for child endangerment, but apparently for her the risk is worth the amount of money she collects. In the Witbank News there have been articles about her, and the police have even asked people to stop giving her money, but a seemingly poor woman with a baby on her back is hard to ignore.

The babies appear to enjoy the ride, and when they begin to fuss the women shake their torsos up and down to quiet them. The little heads swivel all around so they can take in the world. And they see the same world as their mothers. They’re there as the dishes get washed and the vacuum gets run; as the food is cooked and served; as the groceries and other necessities are purchased; they’re there as their mama chats with her friends. They see and hear and smell everything – they don’t need Fisher-Price toys to keep them stimulated! It’s certainly better than lying in a playpen for hours each day.

There are obvious benefits for the mothers, too. They have two hands free, they know where and how the baby is (no monitor needed!), they experience physical as well as emotional bonding, and they always have someone to talk to!

I've always been curious (and a little concerned) as to how the women were assured the blankets wouldn’t come off and the baby fall out. One lady told me they start practicing with dolls when they’re 10 years old, and start carrying their siblings and cousins soon after that. My friend and domestic worker, Evelina, brought her beautiful 9 month old grandson Tando to our house last week and I saw how she loaded him up. It was quite a relief to me to see that she used a large pin to keep the top of the blanket secure. Otherwise, she did it pretty much the way it’s shown in this video I found on youtube.

Evelina had the blanket tied around her waist, hanging down toward her feet. Then she bent forward at the waist, put Tando on her back, and kept her hand on him as she raised the blanket up over him. At 9 months, he’s been through this enough times to know to grab ahold of her shirt and lean into her quietly. She secured the blanket around her chest, then she pulled his feet around her waist and I could see them sticking out of the blanket. He laid his head on her back and went with her through her day as she did her work.
Evelina put Tando in many different positions throughout the day: sitting up in a nest of pillows, lying on his belly, and he took his nap lying down, but I’ve seen little babies sleeping on their Mama’s backs. These women must have strong backs! There is some concern regarding health issues if the child spends the majority of time being carried this way. Depending on how large the woman is, the child’s hips and legs are always spread wide. Because the baby rests his head on the woman’s back rather than holding it up, his neck muscles may not get strong early on. And because the child is always facing left or right, rather than straight on, some people fear peripheral vision is sacrificed.

I had the opportunity to chat this morning with a doctor from Nigeria who carried both her daughters on her back. She listened to the above list of concerns and shook her head through the whole litany. "No," she said, "keeping your baby close has no harmful effects; unless the cloth comes apart and the baby falls." Myself, I believe the doctor. Surely if these issues were widespread enough, babies wouldn’t still be carried the way they have been for generations.

That’s how their little worlds get expanded!
When my grandson Eli would get too agitated, my daughter Sarah would ask her friend & domestic worker Sarah to carry him on her back. It calmed him down.
Basotho women receiving clothing on mission trip to Lesotho. Babies everywhere!
Can you guess which issues are in Afrikaans?
I subscribe to the idea that every home should have many, many magazines around all the time. The articles are a quick read and oftentimes offer a new outlook on an old idea. Before we left the US, I transferred my subscriptions to Southern Living, Cooking Light, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, and Reader’s Digest to a variety of family members for their reading pleasure. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I took advantage of the free tablet edition (on my Android) with a print subscription (sent to a family member).

When we got here, my darling daughter Sarah handed me a bag full of magazines she had been saving for me to peruse and get a taste of South Africa. She had all the Good Housekeeping issues since they started selling it here in January 2012. I limit myself to reading only the appropriate month's issue, a year later.

It didn’t take me long to hit the magazine stands in the local grocery stores. What a selection! It rivals Barnes & Nobles! What caught my eye, though, was the fact that there seemed to be two of each issue. A closer inspection revealed that one issue was English, and one was Afrikaans. The other thing that caught my eye was that the magazines were often in a clear wrapper. I was delighted to discover the reason – presents!

The magazines aren’t expensive, either. They cost between R25 ($2.50) and R35 ($3.50), which is a little less than I recall magazines costing in the US – and there are no presents there. So about the 25th of the month, I go magazine shopping: Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, Ideas, Joy!, Country Life, Getaway, and Food & Home.  I also grab the proprietary issues from the grocery stores PickNPay (Fresh Living) and Woolworths (Taste). They sell Oprah here, too, but since I didn't enjoy it in the US, I can't imagine I would enjoy it here.

I’m not too keen on decorating or gardening magazines, because I don’t get to do that here. Travel magazines I like, and we get good ideas of where places are and what to expect for what price. Food magazines we both like. Because the seasons are opposite here, the recipes are seasonal for South Africa and they use the appropriate (though different from my lexicon) words for ingredients. Also, recipes are in metric measurements, and the temperatures are in Celsius to match the oven. Ideas is a craft magazine full of good ideas that I'm convinced I'll do someday. Of course I was very excited to find Reader’s Digest, because of the great jokes I can listen to Adrien read out loud.

My loot from magazines includes a bracelet, cookbooks, a sample of coffee, samples of women’s hygiene products, and a Tinkerbell cake decoration! How cool is that?
As I started reading the articles in the Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping, I realized I had already read some of them! It makes sense that winter articles in the US could be recycled for winter articles in SA. Some of the articles contain content new to me, because it’s pertinent to this country. Some of the jokes in the Reader’s Digest are funny, and I’ve seen them before but they still make me laugh. And some of the jokes don’t even earn a grin – I guess you have to develop a taste for South African humor (or humour, as it’s spelled here).

For instance, from the April 2013 SA RD: A woman walked with her young child to school. When she got there, she heard the teacher whisper to another, “That child looks like a dog!” Outraged, the woman told the teacher she was going to report her to the headmaster. As the woman and her child entered his office, he said, “Sorry, ma’am. Did you not notice the sign outside saying “No pets allowed’?”

In Good Housekeeping, the fashion pages match the fashions displayed at the mall. As I said, the recipes are seasonal, so those ingredients can generally be found in the grocery stores. And there are some editorial articles that just open my eyes to the way things are done here, or thought about, and it makes me say “Ah ha! Now I get it!”

So I guess I subscribe to the idea that the reason many, many magazines should be laying all around the house is to open a window on this new little corner of my world.
Last Thursday, July 18, Nelson Mandela turned 95. His birthday is a big deal in South Africa, not just because of the people’s affection for him, but because of International Nelson Mandela Day.

According to the website www.mandeladay.com: “Following the success of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park in June 2008, it was decided that there could be nothing more fitting than to celebrate Mr Mandela’s birthday each year with a day dedicated to his life’s work and that of his charitable organisations, and to ensure his legacy continues forever.

Mr Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.

Mandela Day is a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time, just as Mr Mandela did.”

Wednesday I went, as usual, with New Life Missions Church to serve at the soup kitchen in Klarinet township, then over to the crèche (nursery) to give the little ones oranges, soup and rolls. The people I interacted with were bristling with excitement: “Tomorrow is Mandela Day!” They knew from past experience that meant people would be coming by truckloads to do kind deeds in their neighborhoods.

All the radio stations were encouraging people to do something to celebrate, and they were offering all kinds of suggestions: Join hands with your co-workers to participate in the Hands Across South Africa project; help elderly neighbors with yard work; spend an hour purging your closet of unworn clothing and donate it; donate & serve food to those less fortunate; bring a cup of coffee to a worker….

One of the ladies who also serves at the soup kitchen told me about her plans for Mandela Day. She lives in a township near Middelburg (the next town over) and there’s only one chemist (pharmacy) to serve a great number of people; there are always lines. Susan is multilingual, so she went to the chemist to do what she could to assist, by helping people fill out paperwork or find the medications they were seeking, whatever. She shared her Mandela Day story from last year: She was at one of the municipal offices waiting to take care of private business first thing in the morning. A bakkie (pick-up) pulled up, and some people began serving coffee, tea, cake and even sandwiches to everyone who was waiting.  She said “I’m really glad I was there at 8 o’clock when the office opened, because at 9:07 when people went to the bakkie for a treat, the people said ‘Sorry! Sixty-seven minutes!’ and they put everything away and drove off!”

I don’t think that’s exactly what the organizers had in mind. I think the idea is that you discover just how easy it is to help others, and how good it feels when you do that. There are so many large and small opportunities to help your neighbor, whoever that may be, EVERY day of the year. I hope that some of the organizations that planned a charitable activity this year will find a way to continue serving where they’re needed.

I also think the organizers were trying to help everyone realize that they could do something for someone else. When I asked Evelina (our domestic worker) & Collins (our gardener) what they were doing for Mandela Day, they just shrugged. Apparently there is a widespread belief that it is some people’s duty on Mandela Day to be available for others to bless! I’m not trying to disparage my friends; I know from conversations we’ve had that both Evelina & Collins help their neighbors and families in a variety of ways, whether it’s Mandela Day or not.

The people here think Mandela Day is as big a deal everywhere as it is here. The UN declared it an international day of service, but I’d never heard of it before. There was a tweet from the US Embassy in South Africa that the US was pleased to honor Nelson Mandela with a contribution of some large sum of money. And it appears that South African embassies around the globe were doing good deeds for their neighbors.

I like this year’s mantra: “Take Action; Inspire Change; Make Every Day a Mandela Day.” I won’t be waiting 365 days to spend 67 minutes being kind; I’ll be looking for large and small opportunities every day. Won’t you join me?