Category Archives: Traveling

We finally saw cats…

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We’ve been in a kind of denial about Kruger National Park having cats — lions, leopards, cheetah, etc. We’d been a couple of times and never seen any hint of them. Yeah, we’d seen other people’s photos, but it was just hard to believe. But, we finally had our opportunity — and it was grand! (Some pictures below!)

Our trip to Kruger was on 2-4 November . The girls did a splendid job and really enjoyed it.

We got to see two young male lions laying right next to the road not too far into the park. The first one we watched for about 10 minutes, he would pop his head up when he heard a noise but was lying on his back/side. As we decided to move on since he wasn’t too entertaining, we were passing the other car stopped with us and then could see there was another sitting under a bush beside him (but we couldn’t see that before). He was sitting up so we watched them for a while before they got up and walked away. We would have assumed they were lionesses until they got up to walk away — their mane was still very light and short. It’s hard to imagine them getting much bigger, but they are young and I guess they do!

We had great accommodations at our camp right next to the river! The vegetation prevented seeing much from the actual cottage, but we had breakfast on our patio which was situated next to the fence where we could see and hear everything. We went for an early (5a) drive on Saturday in hopes of seeing something. The first two hours we saw a couple of elephants. And that’s all.

But as we were heading back to the camp and topped a hill, something little walked out into the road a distance away. I said, “What is that?” The girls thought it was a baboon or monkey (it was that small), but it was walking like a four-legged animal. It sat down in the middle of the road and as we got closer, the mother lion walked out from the other side of the road next to it. Wow! Then two other cubs came out following the mother. They sat there in the middle of the road for a while in front of us. Another car drove up behind us. Then the mother started to walk away. That first cub we saw was very, very slow and the mom lion just left him lagging behind — eventually leaving him completely! We followed her up the road and eventually she walked off the side with the two cubs.

We drove on up the hill (less than 100 meters) and there was another lioness and her four cubs — and a tour truck and other cars around them. This one carried one in her mouth and sat around for another minute. Then we followed (second in line) this lioness and her cubs down the road until she walked off the road with the cubs following. Definitely a great lion morning! We were then surrounded by a whole bunch of baboons and made our way back to the camp and had breakfast and packed up to go out again. The lions definitely made our early morning worth it.

On Saturday, we saw lots of elephants — including following about 15 (including babies) to a waterhole where they played and cooled off for about 20 minutes. It was cool and overcast on Friday (which was nice) but began to warm up on Saturday (though it was overcast until mid-afternoon). We saw a few giraffe and we also found another lioness and cubs down by the Sabie river — we didn’t have a great view but were able to see them down there. We saw the other usual things: mongoose, hippos everywhere, rhinos (and a young rhino, but from far off) and a couple of cape buffalo (not many and on the far side of the Sabie river). We had a large monitor lizard surprise us while we ate lunch at a picnic site. We saw a mother hyena and her cubs as well.

Just before getting to our Saturday night camp, there were a couple of cars stopped. Only one seemed to know what it was looking at — through binoculars. After listening to them try to explain it to the other car I looked at one lonely tree that was over the horizon of the ground (it was about sunset time) and sure enough, a leopard stood up on the branch and then laid back down. We sat there for quite a while trying to help the girls see the leopard through the binoculars. It was pretty much impossible to see without but was certainly a leopard when we got the sights on it. Way, way, way far off (check out the picture with the arrow in the gallery), but we saw it.

When we got to the camp, they upgraded us to a family house instead of our cottage. We wished we had friends and family with us! We had a big place on the Rhino Trail next to the Dam with three patios, three bedrooms, a large living room (with a TV that had no good shows on), kitchen, garage, etc. It was a nice treat — we wished we had arrived a little earlier to enjoy it! We got up at 4a the next morning to go on a sunrise drive (since we learned that 5a is way after sunrise here!). We saw a hyena run across the road, two sleeping rhinos hidden in the bush, some lovely birds, and that’s it. Really. It was two hours of absolute nothing again — with a grumpy little one. We went back to the house, had breakfast, and stayed around there for a couple of hours. Ellianna, Caroline and I went for a walk on the trail by the dam at the camp. We saw a Rhino, squirrel, and a hippo loaded with turtles.

Then we made a much longer than expected drive out of the park — after the guy at camp wouldn’t sell us gas without cash — and he also wanted South African cash, not Swaziland! — and we didn’t think about using the ATM). It was a nervous drive toward the end.

We were backed up down the road by a very, very large elephant bull (with the longest tusks we’ve seen), saw several large journeys of giraffe, and were completely surrounded at one point by a large herd (30+) of elephant passing through. The girls were very excited to see something they had been looking for — a hippo walking because my mom said she had never seen a hippo walking. So, we did spot one walking through the bush beside road up from Crocodile River as we drove along.

Sunday was very, very hot but we finished seeing a mixture of zebra, giraffe, and wildebeest together just before the exit and about six warthoglets with a mom and dad warthog at the camp gate.

Last Wednesday, we went to Hlane Royal National Park here in Swaziland with a visiting lecturer, Floyd Vidler, and met up with our third year students were celebrating with the Allisons. We had a great time seeing more elephants and rhinos (including a baby rhino). We ended the day getting stuck in a mud hole. Oops! After being stuck for about 45 minutes, the park staff came and pulled us out, thankfully. We were a little worried about getting out in the mud after seeing some strange things in the water. 🙂

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3 Months

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Three months ago today we left Texas to begin a new life in Swaziland.  It is hard to believe we have already been here this long.  A few days later we arrived at our new home located on campus at African Christian College.

Overall, things have been really great.  Although I guess we are settled, we are still learning new things everyday.  We are still adapting to a new way of life and doing things…everything really.  I am so thankful we have this opportunity to live life in this totally different culture.  It is crazy at times, but WOW are we getting some great life experiences!  I’m blessed to be able to do this with my sweet family right here with me.  I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Great and wonderful are words I use often to describe our experience here so far.  And it’s true.  It does not mean there are not difficult times.  They have not been often, but I do have frustrations, I do miss my family and friends and some foods from home.  But life here is so much more than the few moments I’m grumpy.  Let’s face it, I was grumpy at home sometimes too.

I’m sure I have said something like this before and I’m sure I will say it again, but I wish everyone could and would take an opportunity to live out some big adventures in life.  Yes, it’s risky, but every bit worth it.  Sometimes I have these moments where I think, “huh, I live in Africa” and honestly I don’t know if I have fully wrapped my mind around that yet.  The advantages our family is gaining far outweigh the “sacrifices” or the frustrations of being in a different place.

Just the other day my girls were telling me about playing at some other kids house that day.  They told me about how the mom got 3 chickens and cut off their heads, how they helped hold one of them and carry it a bit.  And the crazy thing is this did not seem a bit weird to them at all.  We eat our meals sometimes and talk about that this chicken use to live in the chicken coop, but now it’s dinner.  I know people back home raise chicken for meat and then eat it too, but this is a bit different for us.  And we used to have chickens too.

I love that my children go around the house singing in some other language…and I don’t even know what it is.  They are exposed to so many.  We know several non-English songs, but some of them I don’t even know which country it is from.  I love that in normal conversations we talk about different countries in Africa like Zambia (where some of their close friends are from), Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, and South Africa.  My children talk about countries I did not even tell them about…and they know things about them.

I love all the culture we are exposed to each day.  I love the beauty all around us!  I love getting to be with people who are so different, yet alike in many ways.  I love the children here on campus and I love trying to have conversations with them.  I love it when they come to tell Auntie (me) the memory verse they have been learning.  I love when they come to tell me what lesson number they are on in their reading lesson book.  I love when everyone gets my girls names all confused and switched around…then they just call them “that one”.  I love that we get to live on a small communal campus and that we have our own house.  I love that Brad’s parents are here and my girls can just go see them when they want to, or get a chance to ride to town with Papa (which usually involves ice cream).  I love the singing and the voices I get to hear almost daily.  There are many things to love!

I can’t seem to find the proper word to express and encourage you to take a step of faith, to get out of the boat, to think outside the box, to live at least some of your life in a different country.  I just love it.  Don’t get me wrong when I say this, but I’m not the “All American” type of girl.  Yes, I am thankful for our freedoms and for people who keep me safe and Mexican food and all that, but to me the world is so much bigger than that.  I don’t exactly feel this huge culture shock here.  I feel so normal (in a weird kind of way).  I don’t feel there is the whole “keep up with the Jones'” kind of thing here.  I have heard about a book that some people are reading, and I don’t remember the name, but it is about living simply.  Isn’t that something many of us keep striving for.  Well, it’s pretty easy here in Africa.  Especially when you come with just a few bags (okay, well, 15, but for a family of 5 that’s not too bad, right?)  We live very simply, yet we have more than most around us.  Maybe that excludes the King’s wife’s palace that borders our campus.

It seems that so many of the things that concerned me at home, whether stupid or not, are not really an issue here.  I don’t worry that I wore the same skirt last Sunday that I am wearing this Sunday because I wear it almost everyday for chapel too.  I don’t have to wear make-up here, but at home I would not want to go out in public with out it, or at least I would not feel right.  I don’t dry my hair here unless I am really cold.  It is winter.  I have never in my life not dried my hair because I always thought my natural look did not look good.  I’m not saying that my natural look looks great, but I am saying that here I do not worry about it.  I am learning to embrace it.  It just seems that all the things that seem to bog us down or make us feel bad for some reason or another are not issues so much here.  I feel so free.  Maybe it’s just me.

All this is to say, I would really encourage you to look further than what you are always accustomed to and comfortable with.  The world is a much bigger place than where you have “always” lived.  I am not even saying you should move to Africa, but I would encourage you to live an extended period of time in a foreign place.  It will change you and your outlook and maybe even what you think is important.  The whole typical American mindset can cloud my head at times.  It is nice to be able to find a place to catch my breath.  I hope that someday you can do that too.  It is refreshing and delightful and there is a whole world of opportunity just waiting.

Bottom line is — I love living here.

Learning Permaculture at Guba Swaziland

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Learning Permaculture at Guba Swaziland

Rachael and I took advantage of an afternoon babysitter (grandparents!) to make a visit to the first Monday Visitor Day at Guba Swaziland. Rachael found Guba on the internet before we left Texas in her search for organic foods and farming in the area. We were excited to make the visit (especially Rachael) and even more excited when we left.

Many of the ideas and practices were familiar to us (especially Rachael), but this was the first time we had seen them being done in one place.

The guys who started Guba are Swazi and had jobs as agricultural educators with the Moya Centre (a popular local organization working primarily with AIDS orphans). Three years ago, they began to put the principles of permaculture into practice on this homestead. To (over)simplify it, permaculture is a very intentional way of sustainable living where everything is related and plays its part.

Highlights from the Guba Tour

They had detailed plans for each part of their farm and are already showing much progress. Here’s some highlights from our visit and a gallery of photos of some of these items:

  • Guba used a natural filtration system (plants that purify water) to clean up polluted water coming in from the nearby river. Then a solar-powered pump moved the water into water tanks that used gravity to then get the water to the appropriate places on the farm.
  • In construction, they are using natural materials. One finished building was built using rammed earth (which is what it sounds like — ramming earth until it is very hard as the walls). Another was done using mud bricks (stick and mud houses are still the method of the poor in Swaziland). Each used wood framing and also a lime plaster (also natural and allows for breathing) as the outer layer so you couldn’t tell they weren’t concrete construction (the other popular local method and “look”).
  • Water is not wasted with the compost toilet. In its simplest form, this toilet is a bucket with a toilet seat over it. Rather than flushing, you put in ashes (for the smell) and sawdust (to keep it dry). When full, you put it in the compost pile were it decomposes for a year. No, it didn’t smell at all — even though people had done their business in it. Currently this compost is not used for the veggies in the garden. 🙂
  • A rocket shower provided hot water in the bathroom. A large pipe encased a small one where water flowed. Pour in a little paraffin, light it and the flame inside the pipe (rocket) warms the water instantly. When finished, stick in the plate and out go the flames. No electricity for hot water! (Since we don’t have any type of air conditioning or heat — except windows — the water heater is our biggest electricity culprit).
  • The nursery provided a great place for growing seeds and seedlings to continue the cycle of crops without needing to purchase plants.
  • The garden was a beautiful place of diversity with plants intentionally growing amongst other varieties to help enrich the soil, deter bugs, and strengthen each other. For instance, the diversity places nitrogen-hungry plants next to plants depositing nitrogen; and plants that naturally repel certain harmful bugs next to plants that attract them. It certainly made it more interesting than rows of kale or cabbage.
  • We also visited the farm tractor– two large pigs in a movable pen. No part of Guba’s farm had been plowed by human-power or machine-power. Pigs root out the thick thatch grass, weeds, and anything else as their food and soil preparation.

There’s a lot more to say about the permaculture side and the amazing ways they had put the pieces together. I didn’t talk above about rainwater harvesting (and the thoughtful ways they practiced it — even thinking about what to do when the collection bins start overflowing), the compost tea, bird sanctuary, and numerous other things.

Addressing Food Security through Community Development

To me, one of the most exciting things revolves around purpose. They aren’t doing all this to feed only themselves (or only to sell to those with money). They do this to teach other Swazis about permaculture and its value for providing food to families. Food security is a problem in Swaziland — high unemployment, high HIV/AIDS rates, high food prices are some contributors.

The first big class of Swazi students graduates this month. These people — young and old, educated and illiterate — participated in a year-long education program spending one week per month at Guba and the other weeks implementing this new knowledge at their own homestead. According to Guba, success at the homesteads has been tremendous. Guba staff monitors the student’s work, helps with questions, and will continue to monitor and evaluate success for the next two years with these students (even as they take on more students in another round).

We’re planning on a return trip next week with some visitors and staff to begin imagining and thinking about ways we can be more intentional with our gardens and our campus in our efforts toward financial sustainability and faithful care of the earth’s resources.

(If you heard something you wanted to know more about or wished I had taken a picture of, please let us know — maybe we’ll take one next time we go). Learn more about Guba online at http://www.gubaswaziland.org.

All our bags are packed…

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Well, they're almost packed.

One chant that has kept us going through the record Abilene heat this summer is — we’re going to Africa soon. Today has been a celebration of “it’s our last full day of summer!” And realizing that’s pretty unique. You don’t normally have a true “last day” of summer– it just fades into fall. But at this time tomorrow, we’ll be aboard a British Airways flight to London (where it will still be summer, of course) and then to southern Africa, where the high this week is 72. Nice.

Naturally, we’re ignoring the warnings of “there’s no heat” and its in the 30s at night and in the morning, so be prepared to be cold, not a perfect 72 all day– that will only last a few short hours in the mid-afternoon. Regardless, we’re excited about beating the heat.

And we’re excited about the adventure before us. Our biggest worry and fear is the first 40 hours of the trip. Our flight leaves DFW airport at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday. We’ll arrive at our “home” in Swaziland 40 hours later– a 9 hour plane flight, 10 hour layover, 11 hour plane flight, and 5 hour drive to Swaziland from Johannesburg.

Please keep us in your prayers. We’ll be in touch when we awake!