This Blog serves as two things: a photo-diary of our lives between 2007 and mid 2011, when we saw some incredible things and met some amazing people; and a reflection of our more normal lives since then.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Lots to talk about

Moving: So, we arrived in Durban mid morning on Wednesday 1st September after seventeen days at sea. 27 hours later, 156 of us moved off the ship in thirteen Land Rovers and two coaches, and two removal vans carried our gear:

The journey to our new home took us two hours, away from the coast and into the hills on winding roads with views over farmland and Zulu communities, but the higher we drove the more miserable the weather became, with wind, rain and mist – it was more like driving in North Wales in mid-winter than South Africa on the 2nd day of spring. We arrived at Applesbosch tired, hungry, cold and miserable, and then had to unload the trucks and set up home. We hastily made curtains at our windows (blankets, sheets, bits of cardboard, even a spare mattress – we looked like a bunch of refugees), and had not a glimmer of comfort or luxury that first night. South Africa uses different electrical plugs from the rest of the world, and the 500 adaptors ordered for us to plug in our essentials were the wrong size, so we couldn’t even turn on our mood-lighting (important, right?). The following morning arrived bright and clear, praise the Lord, and my spirits lifted (although Sally’s plummeted as she saw the size of the job of cleaning and unpacking ahead of her); we continued unpacking our personal things, and setting up the offices needed to keep the crew functioning and preparing for our next Field Service in Sierra Leone – HR, Finance, IS, the Academy, and the electrical adaptors arrived late on Friday. It is amazing how quickly 156 people can move their stuff (compared to, say, 10 people moving the stuff of 156 people)…

...but even so it seemed to take a lifetime to pass every box, every bag, every trunk, every duvet, pillow, fan, bike, computer (of which there are 80), garbage can, cooking pot, box of paper, folding chair, little school desk, giant bean bag…you name it, we moved it. We are still aching and bruised.

Appelsbosch is tiny Zulu village about 90 minutes drive from Durban, established many years ago by Swedish missionaries who were working amongst the local tribes. In the early 1990s, the apartheid government built Appelsbosch College of Education, which was used to train 800 black teachers at a time, although it was only in use for less than two years before the apartheid government fell and the college was closed. Ten plus years later, Mercy Ships has rented the whole site from a guy who has just leased it for 5 years from the government - it is huge, with a massive gym, acres of office space and classrooms, a big dining room, and very basic accommodation for 800. It has hardly been touched since the teachers walked out and locked the doors in the late 90s – there are still papers on desks, books on shelves, pictures on walls, chemicals in the labs, and even preserved biological specimens in formaldehyde. One striking thing is that there are very few electrical sockets in the offices – obviously when it was designed no-one expected computers to come along. There are some offices without a single electrical socket. The dorms are in a sorry state – most of the ground-floor external plumbing has been looted, and recent attempts to rectify the issued have failed, and we are constantly without flushing toilets. The toilets and sinks are all stainless steel (mmm…nice), and the buildings consist of miles of echoing grey shiny floors, walls and door, and the slightest sound at night is amplified a thousand times. I think this is what prisons are like. It is clear that the apartheid government didn’t waist any money on luxuries or niceties (or even coloured paint). But we are slowly making the place home and adding niceties. Sally and I have a room with 2 single beds pushed together with a cheep foam double mattress, and a couple of desks as bedside tables on which live our bedside lamps & alarm clock; Noah had his own room next door, Anna and Libby share a room across the corridor, and we have another room to use as a living room – although it is so vast, grey, shiny and echoing that we don’t spend much time in there.

Breakdown: Two days after our arrival at Appelsbosch, we got the opportunity to shop. 103 of us headed 60 minutes into Durban to the Gateway Shopping Mall – the biggest mall in the southern hemisphere, apparently. On the way the Land Rover I was driving overheated, and we ground to a halt. Other crew picked up Sally and the kids and carried on to the mall, whilst I waited for the breakdown truck. I sat on the motorway embankment in the warm sunshine and prayed that God would send me a man who would take me quickly with minimum fuss to a Land Rover mechanic locally, and that I could join Sally and the kids with little delay or cost or complication – I still didn’t have a single cent of South African Rand on me. The AA man arrived after 30 minutes, and took me to a Land Rover dealer less than a kilometer away, who was still open and accepted the broken down vehicle happily. Praise God! I think it could be the beginning of a beautiful 4 month long relationship; I’ve got 18 Land Rovers for the guy to work on. Anyway, the AA guy waited for me and dropped me off at the mall, where I joined Sally and the kids after only an hour apart, and we spent the rest of the day in a frenzied and stressful shop, trying to buy a few things to brighten our dull grey rooms and find other crew with room for us in their Land Rovers. But the highlight of the day was when our beautiful girl Anna – who will be 9 on Tuesday – had her ears pierced to recognize her coming of age.

Zulu church: On Sunday we joined the local Zulus in their church service in the Lutheran Church in the village. It was the first un-amplified church service I have ever attended in Africa, and it was wonderful - some of the congregation sang in Zulu and others in English; sometimes we knew the songs, sometimes we didn’t, and sometimes we sang a completely different song than everyone else. But is sounded beautiful, and it didn’t matter – I know God welcomed our praise and worship in whatever tongue we sang in. The pastor switched rapidly between Zulu and English – it was exhausting keeping up with him. Zulu singing is wonderful – loud and harmonious and deeply moving. I will remember it forever.

Settling in: Monday, 8pm: We’re still settling in. We are just about comfy in our dorm rooms, and all the offices are set up, but none of us can work because the computers aren’t connected yet. Tomorrow our own cooks take over from the caterers, so we should be back to our usual diet (without any Zulu “pap” wheat, whatever that may be). Today I drove 30 kilometers to the nearest town of any size – Wartburg, the home of many German settlers – in beautiful sunshine, over rolling hills and past sugar cane farms, while listening to great music on the local radio station. Great. I think we will enjoy ourselves here. Olly

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