My Third Mother’s Day in Africa – Chris Cheek

This past week I found myself time and time again on the playground with the kids just watching them in awe.  Two and a half years ago when I arrived at Project Canaan we had 85 children living with us.  At that time Rose and Gabriel, our oldest, had just turned 4.  On Friday we had two little ones join our family giving us 157 children and Rose and Gabriel turned 6 in late December.  Today as I reflect on the lives of the children in my daily life, the moms/Gogos I have met in the community and circumstances of how hard life is in a third world country for moms/Gogos I find myself focusing on three insights.

  1. Children are children no matter where you are.  They giggle, play, hit and two year olds say no.  They have favorite things, they want hugs and attention.  They are moody and whiny when they are tired and hungry. They love unconditionally.   

Bella giggles, Emmanuel wants to know everyone’s name, Ben dances, Ruth makes faces, Shirley loves cake, Rose is a little mom, Portia hugs and comforts everyone, Caleb is cute, and Miriam is in charge.  The personalities of 157 little ones living on a mountain side are each unique and if you sat back and watched them play, walk to school, eat their meals, explore the world you would never know the stories of how their life began. 

I have watched them grow and develop.  They speak two languages (think about 40+ two year olds say no in two languages), they know their alphabet, they count the older ones read, they know colors and the weather.  They are kids being kids.

         2.  A mother’s love and dreams for her children are for a brighter future and a good life.

On Saturday I was visiting a homestead of a couple maybe in their late 30’s.  They have 4 children.  The wife has a job as a housekeeper for a family in a local gated community.  The husband can’t find work.  If he can pick up a day labor job he takes it, but they are few and far between.  So between the two of them they live on, in a good month, equivalent to about $100.  (Keep in mind that her transport to get to work is about $20/month that comes out of the $100.) 

In addition to her family she has taken in her 17 year-old cousin that has a one month-old baby.  The 17 year-old is a double orphan, both her mom and dad have died.  They are now a family of 8 living on the one income. 

We sat on her stoop as she shared her story, cuddled her youngest child and introduced her family to us.   I watched her eyes sparkle as she introduced her children.  As I was taking this in I thought about how many times I have talked about my boys and how I feel every time I think about the or I share a story about them. 

This mom with her baby in her arms is me and I am her.  Our common bond is our love and our dreams.

          3.   Circumstance don’t define who we are, but often times circumstances overwhelm people to a point of hopelessness.

Last night I sat and watched the winter sun drop below the crest of the western mountain ridge.  The winds were blowing and I found myself deep in thought, “Why have the mothers of 157 children reached a point of hopelessness that they have thrown their children into pit latrines, tied them up in plastic bags and thrown them in the bush, abandoned them on road sides or thrown them in a river?”  “How does a mom living on $100 a month, providing for a family of 8, continue to have a twinkle in her eye as she watches her children play?”  “What has been the difference in their lives that has given hope and destroyed hope?” 

Wish that I could say that I came up with an answer, one filled with great insight and wisdom, an answer that would give humanity a way to work together so that all children live with hope, a chance to play and laugh, have the nutrition they need to grow and develop, health care and the love and twinkle of their mother’s eyes.  There was no reconciliation between my heart and mind on how circumstances impact the decisions we make.  

I begin this morning with gratitude that I will see 157 children laugh and play, I will watch with a sparkle in my eye that comes from memories of sweet cuddles and adventures with my two boys, Joey and Michael that are my heart and why it beats.  I am grateful the circumstances in my life that did not lead to hopelessness and for the opportunity to live in Africa and learn lessons as I walk this sacred path we call life.  

What a wonderful Mother’s Day, the journey continues…….

Gogo

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Taking the Ordinary and making it Holy – Chris Cheek

Sunday morning has arrived, computer started, word document open and ready to write my Sunday Update.  For the first week in almost two years I thought I had found a week I had nothing to write about.  After a few minutes of walking through the week in my mind and nothing jumping out at me to write about I found myself thinking, “have I done anything this past week?”

To answer that questions I clicked on the photo link of my pictures on my phone to see what was on my weekly photo journal of life at Project Canaan to maye help trigger something to write about:

Sunday – Quiet day of reflection, down time, rest

Monday – Transported a mentally instable woman in the back of a pickup truck to the police department as she threatened me with her cane and I played with toddlers

Tuesday – Prepared for coming visitors to Project Canaan, taught ballet and I played with toddlers

Wednesday – New little one arrived giving us 140 children and I played with toddlers

Thursday – Five hour ride to Jo’burg to greet visitors

Friday – Five hour ride back to Project Canaan with visitors, stop at the Glass Factory, grocery shopping and I played with toddlers

Saturday – Marathon tour for visitors of Project Canaan and I played with children

Now here I am on Sunday morning preparing for another week, starting the morning writing like all other Sunday mornings.  Taking the ordinary week of life on a farm in the bush with 140 children and telling the story.  Six weeks away from Advent, six weeks away from my first real time off in two years.  Six weeks to take the ordinary and making it a Holy time because “Advent” is coming.  As each day is ticking past with the rhythms of the day, my anticipation is building, I am “coming” home soon to visit my family and friends.  But for now I have six weeks of the ordinary and I must make each day Holy – for soon Advent arrives.   Yes it was an ordinary week that was Holy I got to “play in the yard and hug babies,” taking the ordinary and making it Holy. 

The journey continues…….

Gogo

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I Know You By Name… Long-Term Volunteer Chris Cheek

This week our 120th baby arrived home to a place of love, safety and family.  One hundred and twenty children with the oldest two being 5 years old.   That is 120 children to get up, dressed and fed, 120 children to run and play.  Ok, so some are too young to run but at least 90 can run or are beginning to run. Days of diaper changing and potty training mutiplied by 120 times. Books to be read, songs to be sung, counting and colors all by 120 little ones.  Laughter and tears, upset tummies and mumps, birthday cakes and water sprinklers (when there has been rain), bubbles and monkies all in the life of 120 little ones. 
 
One hundred and twenty little ones each with their own name. Each one with twinkles in their eyes, moods and personalities. Beth has an incredible gift of language. She has taught me more siSwati than I’ve learned from anyone else.  Daniel that always wants me to “come, GoGo, come.”  Lenah and Abigail giggling like teenagers. Angel and Phephile running across the yard. Isaac with a smile that will light the world and dimples to melt your heart. Seth yelling across the yard, “GoGo, GoGo. ”  Rahab always the last at the table to finish eating.  Roy quiet and reserved, Joash kicking the soccer ball, LoLo singing in the middle of the night and Gabriella with her thumb in her mouth.  They all have a name. 
 
One hundred and twenty little ones that in the past year and a half I have lived with 77 of the children. Thirty- eight have moved up the hill to the big kid’s home (3 and 4 year-olds) and thirty-nine two year-olds now. Yes, I have lived with 77 children and yes, I know their names. I know their laughter and their cries. I see their good days and their bad ones.  They tug on my skirt and they say “and me, and me.”  They call me GoGo and I know their name. The new babies I’m learning and some day I will say I know all their names, but for today I live and play with 77 little ones and I know their names. 
 
The journey continues……
 
GoGo 
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Song of the Night – Jesus Loves the Little Children, Chris Cheek

Finally this week I’ve gotten back on my normal schedule for the first time since early January.  I love the rhythms of my days here in Africa. 
 
My day begins between 4:30 and 4:45 am. I enjoy the quiet for about 15 minutes then go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Once it is ready I find my way back down the dark hallway to my room and begin my morning routine; daily scripture readings, prayer time and enjoying the silence of living in the bush waiting for the morning sounds to begin. 
 
About 5:30 I hear the engine hum of the Toyota pickup coming up the hill to the children’s home. As the truck pulls in the parking area I hear the laughter of the aunties that live out in the community as the crawl out the back of the truck to begin their day of work.  A few minutes later the engine starts up and heads on down to the farm for the next task on the driver’s list. 
 
Soon after the day shift aunties arrive the sounds of the babies waking up echo out the windows of the baby home across the yard and into my bedroom window.  As I listen to the waking babies I find comfort and peace in the noises of the little ones as the sun is coming up over the mountain.   
 
Each morning around 6 am the energy changes from waking babies to the gentle chatter of a few of the girls in the room next to mine as their day begins. The talking is followed with giggles until all ten girls in that room are awake talking and singing.  Some days it is clapping and chanting “dansa, dansa, dansa” siSwati for dance, dance, dance.  Some days it is ABCs, some days it is church songs and some days children’s songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider, but no matter whether they are singing or saying it always fills the hallways and my room with the sounds of joy and laughter.
My body and spirit is feeling so much better now that I’m waking up early and following the natural morning rhythms. Well that is until Saturday morning. As I began waking from a very, deep deep sleep I heard  the song of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” coming from the girl’s room. I felt like I was in a deep thick fog. Through my mind ran the disappointing thought that all week I had been waking up early and now I had slept through my morning prayer time. I just felt completely out of sync, a set back of morning routine, maybe it was going to take me a little longer this time to get back on schedule.
I snuggled under the covers to listen to the sounds of the sweet girls singing, slowly slid my arm out from the cover to grab my phone on my night stand to check the time to see if I could get a few minutes of being lazy before I needed to start my day.  My thumb went on the round start button, the background light came on the screen and there was the time – 2:30 am.  Ohhh my, the whole room of older 2 year-old girls were wide awake and singing Jesus Loves the Little Children – the Song of the Night. I knew immediately it had to be LoLo instigating this middle of the night sing-along and I was right. They all quickly sold her out – “LoLo was singing!”   LoLo continued off and on throughout the night singing and clapping. The other girls would drift off to sleep but LoLo kept going, singing sometimes alone and sometimes with whoever would wake up and join in. I drifted in and out of sleep as the sweet voices of 2 year-olds filled the quiet of the night.
 
Four thirty came, my routine began – coffee, prayers and reading.  Ten little girls finally drifted off to sleep around 5 after two and a half hours of singing.  Nap time came finally at 1:30 pm and a GoGo and ten little girls quickly crawled into their beds for Hamba Lala (go to sleep) time. The joy of living in a house of 39 two year-olds.   
 
The journey continues…..
 
GoGo
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