Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Day trip to see Whales - 21st August 2004

Life Change Teams are demanding, provoking and challenging - travelling thousands of miles, to another culture, living alongside people existing in extreme poverty. For these reasons, our Team Leaders wanted to build into our three weeks a few excursions so that we could experience being tourists in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. 

Our first outing was to Hermanus, on the coast, where we hoped to be able to see whales! The Southern Right Whale migrates the the waters off southern South Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winter. They seem to favour Hermanus' waters because of their unique warmth, which is ideal for birthing their calves.

We needed to be back in Grabouw for 2pm, for a teaching session from Angela Kemm. Therefore we needed a fairly early start to allow for the hour's journey and enough time to hopefully see some whales. Our journey began, following the route of the Grabouw bus, but when we met the main road we turned right, up the hill, past a farm shop and up to the N2 road. At the T junction we went left, away from Cape Town. On our left, away in the distance, we could see the mountains which surrounded Grabouw, but our route took us through rough scrub land, before climbing up again to go over the Houw Hoek Pass. Every so often we would catch a glimpse of the ocean; more so when we turned off the N2 and down towards Hermanus. 

After we had parked, we decided to head to a nearby coffee shop. Our early start had left many of us in need of a caffeine boost. We pulled tables together so we could all sit round, already we had bonded as a team. As we sipped our coffee a text message came through from my sister, Melanie - the British rowers had just grabbed gold in the coxless four Olympic Race in Athens. I had been disappointed that our trip coincided with the Olympics, but Melanie had promised to text me with Olympic news so I didn't miss out! She was true to her words! I replied, saying we were in Hermanus, and hoping to see whales. Quick as a flash, she replied, saying she could see Wales most days... (Living on the Wirral peninsula, you just need to look over the Dee Estuary!)

It would have been easy to waste our morning in the coffee shop, but Roger reminded us that we didn't have loads of time in Hermanus, so we roused ourselves and headed out into the overcast but breezy day. We walked down to the sea front and looked over the wall, our eyes raking the water for anything that looked like a whale. Someone shouted, and we looked over to see which direction they were pointing - but they were pointing down, to the low bushes the other side of the wall: dassies (or rock hyrax to give them their proper name). These small rodent-like mammals, were eating the leaves of the bushes - but a nearby information board put us straight. Not rodents, and their nearest living relation is the elephant! But they look nothing like an elephant! We watched the dassies for a while, before reminding ourselves we were supposed to be looking for whales.

Once again, we heard a shout go up, and this time it was for a whale! It didn't reveal much of itself to us, but we could just about make out that there was a calf with it, just seeing their backs rising out of the water. We kept watching, hoping that we would see them properly breaching the water, and maybe diving, showing their tails, but sadly that wasn't to be. We were aware of time ticking on, and slowly made our way back to the minibus, with the odd glance over our shoulders, to make sure the whales had not decided to party once they had seen us leave the sea wall...

We took a different route on our return journey, following the coast to the west. This offered us beautiful views of the rugged coastline with some spectacular sandy beaches with ocean waves crashing onto them. The sun came out as we stopped for lunch at Betty's Bay. The driver of the minibus knew of a good cafe there - his local knowledge was really useful, as it was an unpromising exterior, but the food was amazing! I had the Cape Malay style lamb curry, slow cooked and oh, so tasty. I've been looking for the recipe to recreate it ever since, but none has come close!

Roger needed to chivvy us again to get back on the road and we carried on driving around the coast - ocean on one side, steep mountain sides on the other. We turned a corner and suddenly we were looking across a huge bay, to mountains in the distance. This was False Bay, with Table Mountain and others in its chain in the distance. We stopped for a few moments to take a team photo with this backdrop, and then set off again, as it was already past 2pm. 

As we rounded another corner, we could see another town, Gordon's Bay, and there in the sea below, was what we first thought was a log, but then realised this was another whale! Much closer to our temporary home. The irony was not lost on us! However, we had enjoyed our outing, and would not have seen the dassies or had such a delicious meal had we just gone whale watching in Gordon's Bay.

From Gordon's Bay we drove back up to the N2, and turned right onto the busy road, at the base of Sir Lowry's Pass, snaking ahead of us up the steep mountain sides. At the top, the minibus pulled over into a small viewpoint car park, where we were able to take in the view, albeit hazy, across False Bay to the back of Table Mountain.

We were very late back, and apologised profusely. We settled down into one of the classrooms, and listened as Angela taught us - inspiring us with stories of how God had been moving in the Township, with miracles, and people's lives totally transformed. She encouraged us to pray with those we met, with the children with whom we were working; raising our faith that lives would be changed through us working on our team. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Afternoon routine - 20th August 2004

Before I knew it, lunch was being brought into the therapy room for the children. Or that is what we were told it was... It looked more like greyish brown sludge. Janet explained that soup and sandwiches were provided for the preschools, crèche and orphanage on a Friday lunchtime, along with other charitable organisations in the town, by a church int the area. As most of the children had feeding and swallowing issues, the sandwiches were liquidised into the soup, producing the sludge. Even though it was a while since breakfast, one glance at the children's lunch stopped any hunger pangs I might have had!

However, the children were hungry and had no other lunch option. Lizzie suggested that I feed Leroy, and I was directed to a bag, hanging on the side of a cupboard, to find a bib for him. Lizzie put him back in his chair, and, once the bib was round his neck, he eagerly opened his mouth for his food.  Unfortunately the food did not stay in his mouth and dribbled down his chin. And so began the battle to try to get more food inside this baby than ended up in the bib. He coughed and spluttered as he tried to swallow it, and soon I was wearing some of the food as a result.  Oh dear! I persevered with feeding him, and eventually there was no food left in the bowl. His bib, on the other hand, was soaked in food and saliva. I hurried to take it off, before his clothes underneath it were soaked too, but Leroy dissolved into tears. I wasn't sure what I had done, so I got him out of his chair for another cuddle, but that didn't help much. I felt useless at that point, and handed him over to Lizzie.  It was, after all, time for us to head back to the church compound for our own lunch.

Hannah and I walked back, sharing our experiences of the morning, looking forward to our nice lunch awaiting us, but also eager to return after lunch.

Over lunch we heard how the rest of the team had got on that morning. As the preschools and crèche were only open in the mornings, several other team members came back with us to Asiphé.

The children with cerebral palsy were all in bed when we got back, but the five mobile children were up (A, D, R and N having returned from preschool / crèche) and when we arrived they led us outside to the garden.There was a large trampoline there and they took turns to be lifted up to have a bounce / be bounced. Then they wanted us to push them on the swings, which were made out of old car tyres. It started to get cold outside - it was winter, after all, and we persuaded them to come inside with us.

There was a quiet hubbub or activity coming from the bedrooms, and we looked through the doors to find the housemothers sorting pyjamas and bowls of warm water and towels. It was time to get the children clean and into their night clothes. Once again, I was pointed in Leroy's direction and shown his nightclothes in a pile. I started to undress him - layer upon layer of clothes! No central heating in the middle of winter here - they had to keep warm as best as they could. There wasn't that much left of Leroy when I got down to bare skin. His round face had given the impression that he was quite a chubby boy, but with no clothes on, it was clear that he wasn't. I thought back to lunch time and wondered if he had still been hungry when I took his bib off... He was wearing a worn cloth nappy and stiff rubber pants. The nappy was soaked through when I took it off and his skin looked a bit sore. Lizzie showed me how I could lay him in the bowl of water, supporting his head. He loved that water and started moving his legs a bit in the water, and then kicked them a bit more. It was lovely to see him enjoying some freedom of movement. As the bedroom was not very warm, I was worried he would get cold if I let him enjoy the water for too long, but he wasn't best pleased to be lifted out of it. I wrapped him in his towel, and was then shown how to massage his skin with some sweet-smelling baby vaseline. Then it was time to get a clean cloth nappy on him, and to layer his night clothes on - long sleeved vest, long sleeved t-shirt, pyjamas, socks, cardigan - and he was back to being a chubby cuddly baby again!

Once the children were clean and clothed they were put back into their chairs and pushed into the therapy room, and put in front of the television which was showing a children's video, while they waited for their evening meal.  As some of our team were going to the youth club meeting that evening, we needed to get back to the church compound to ensure we had eaten our meal in time, so we left the children and house mothers to manage the evening feeding routine by themselves, wondering why we had just got them clean and into clean clothes, when the evening meal was likely to be as messy an affair as lunch!

We had a busy weekend planned, so we bid the children and staff of Asiphé farewell, promising to be back on Monday morning, and walked back to our temporary home, along the road in the gathering twilight, satisfyingly tired after a busy day.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Getting acquainted - 20th August 2004

It rained that night. Heavy rain drumming on the corrugated iron roof, echoing across all the neighbouring roofs; drowning out the barking dogs, the drunken shouts, all the other sounds of the township. And I slept deeply - my best night since arriving in South Africa. When I woke in the morning, it was clear the rain had kept everyone else awake!

That morning there were only two of us intending to go to Asiphé - others were keen to help with the pre-schools and crèche. Thirteen of us would only spread thinly across the five different children's work venues.

Hannah and I set off along the red dirt road. The heavy rain had excavated great craters in the red dirt road, leaving deep puddles, with river beds joining them together. But the sun was starting to shine through from underneath the clouds, and making the raindrops on the fences sparkle.

When we arrived at Asiphé there was only one mobile child there to greet us. Little M seemed like a little lost thing without her four playmates. The older two were at pre-school; the younger two at crèche. But M was pleased to see us, and reached for our hands and led us through to the therapy room. All the other children were here, some still being fed breakfast.

Our role was to help out wherever we were needed, and mornings were always taken up with physiotherapy exercises for these children - most of whom had some form of cerebral palsy or head injury. Lizzie, one of the house mothers, showed us how to do slow stretches of the children's tight limbs, taking them through their full range of movement. She demonstrated with K, the 8 year old girl who had been sitting in her wheelchair watching television two days earlier. 

Lizzie kept laughing in embarrassment at her English, which was great - no need for embarrassment. She then suggested that we choose a child and go through the same routine, while she talked us through it.  I paired up with a little three year old boy, C, who had a gorgeous slightly crooked grin.  He was very patient with me as I fumbled through the exercises - too patient for a three year old...

After about thirty minutes, we'd finished the routine, and we were encouraged to move on to another child.  Baby Leroy was sitting grizzling in his wheelchair. I was inevitably drawn to him, and Lizzie showed me how to remove the tray from his chair, so I could undo the strap holding him in, and lift him out and onto the floor. Rather than calming down, Leroy just kept crying. Lizzie encouraged me to work through the exercises anyway, even though he was very obviously tired. I persevered, and finally had worked through the programme. We both breathed a sigh of relief and I snuggled him on my knee. Once again, he turned his head in towards my body, and fell asleep.  I was ready to sit there holding him, but the house mothers tried to get me to put him down on the floor to sleep, so I would be free to work with another child. I'm a rebel at heart, and wasn't happy with the suggestion. I had an inkling that this baby had rarely been allowed to just sleep on someone's knee - usually put in his cot, on the floor, somewhere else, so that the someone holding him could use their time elsewhere.  I decided that, for once, he could sleep his sleep out where he had fallen asleep, and shifted my weight back so I could lean against the wall. For half an hour I sat like that, gazing down at this little scrap asleep in my arms.

Lizzie realised I wasn't budging so started talking to me, telling me a little about Leroy. How he had been given up for adoption at birth by his birth mother, but due to concerns about his health he was put in foster care so that tests and assessments could be carried out.  Had these concerns not been present, he would have been adopted as a newborn baby - there is high demand for babies with Leroy's ethnic origin. Sadly for Leroy, an MRI scan showed a large extent of brain damage and the diagnosis of cerebral palsy was made. With this diagnosis, adoption was no longer feasible for him - no one would willingly take on a child who would need such a high level of care for life - not when healthcare and education have to be paid for.  It was at this point, when he wasn't even four months old, that Leroy was taken from his foster family and handed over to Asiphé. According to the doctors, Leroy would never walk, or talk, or learn, he would be "like a vegetable", to use Lizzie's words, echoing what she had been told. But my two, albeit brief, meetings with this baby had already told me this last prediction was wrong.

Lizzie's attention was needed elsewhere, so I was left to my thoughts, all the while feeling the warmth of Leroy's little body close against mine. The more he slept, the more relaxed he became, his tight limbs becoming floppier, more normal. After a while he began to stir and slowly, reluctantly, opened his eyes. I decided to try a bit more physio with him. Wow! What a difference! His arms were still quite relaxed and he let me get his arms higher than earlier before he started objecting. I decided to try each day to get more movement, with the goal of getting them right above his head before it was time for me to head back to England. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Frustration - 19th August 2004

That evening in our team meeting, Roger and Chris, the team leaders, explained that we had been asked as a team to paint the toilet block, and some of the walls in the church. The majority decision was to do that first, so we needed to delay starting working with the children - preschool, crèche or orphanage.

As I have a form of arthritis, the thought of painting did not fill me with any enthusiasm - rather, with a whole lot of frustration. I was worried that if I did too much physical practical stuff, I wouldn't be fit to do what I'd come out to South Africa to do.  Chris saw my dilemma and suggested that I make drinks and prepare the lunch for the workers.  Remembering that we were there as a team, rather than a group of individuals, I accepted the compromise. Chris and Roger also asked for someone from the team to take responsibility for the food budget and doing the shopping. So I volunteered for that role too. But I just longed to get back to Asiphé to those gorgeous children!

I dug deep to find my servant heart and happily made drinks and lunch. 
Mid-afternoon I found a willing volunteer to get the bus down into town with me. I also was given special requests for extra snacks from some team members.
Once again, I loved looking out of the window, drinking in new sights and sounds on that bus journey down into town, through the outskirts of the township and then onto a bigger road. We went past the Appletiser factory (Grabouw is a big apple-growing area), then past the day hospital and down to a T-junction with the main road. We turned left and drove on down the hill, past the court and the police station, and the post office, and finally turned into the car park by the two supermarkets.

That shopping trip was much easier, with just two of us, mostly sticking to our shopping list and choosing what to buy.  And keeping within our budget. I was fascinated by the different produce that was for sale, and spotting some well-known British brands, at inflated prices.

We then faced the problem of needing to get the shopping back to the bus stop. The bags were heavy, and we wished we had enlisted another helper! But we managed to haul it up the steep steps up onto the bus, and to stop the shopping rolling out of the bags as we swung round the corners and over speed bumps. On the way back we spotted a baby on his mother's back - held in place by a wide Burberry scarf - so incongruous amongst the rough shacks.

When we got back to the church compound, Gerrit was there looking at the painting that had been so-far accomplished.  He realised that it was a bigger job than we could probably finish, given the need for long ladders and platforms to do the higher parts of the walls. Therefore, he was going to ask someone he knew owned the ladders, to finish the rest of the decorating! Great news for me, as we could begin working with the children the next day - Friday.