If Only She Could Talk….Chris Cheek, Long-Term Volunteer

It has been a week of raw emotions.  If only she could talk….

No food after midnight.  If only she could talk….

Two hour ride to the hospital and hungry.  If only she could talk….

Crying to stay in my arms.  If only she could talk….

Hands and arms in big purple cast.  If only she could talk….

Tubes and wires.  If only she could talk….

Nurses and doctors.  If only she could talk….

Cries of pain, moans of discomfort, morphine, tylenol.  If only she could talk…

As I sat by Shirley’s bedside in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit I heard the little boy in the room next to ours say, “I can’t move.”   I remember thinking how I wish Shirley could tell me what she was feeling.  As she cried out I did not know if it was from pain, not understanding why she was there, missing her home – I just wish she could have talked to me.

The week has been long, most of my days and nights are spent with her in my arms.  My hair needs to be washed, I have tylenol stains on my shirt, mashed potatoes on my pants, my back is sore – her weight has doubled with the two large cast.  Two weeks ago I would have written my update at 5 am with a cup of coffee in my hands. Today I’m just getting it started at 7:30 pm and the caffeine from my coffee has long been gone.

My rhythm of life has changed and for the next few weeks there is nothing more important than the rhythm of comforting a little girl named Shirley.  Emails will be late, phone calls missed, no time to Google, stains on my shirts.  How I wish she could talk and tell me when she hurts, if she is hungry or she just misses home.  But she is 16 months old and she can’t tell me, so for now I will just hold her and love her.  We will play when she wants to play, I will rock her back and forth in my arms and I will let her sleep on my chest when she wakes in the middle of night crying.  I will cook her mashed potatoes or pasta, feed her bananas and green beans.

The week has been raw – If only she could talk…….

The journey continues…..from Africa to Staten Island.

GoGo and Shirley

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Shirley and GoGo come to America! By Chris Cheek

A five hour drive, crossing the border with an envelope of legal documents allowing me to take a baby out of the country of Swaziland for three months, several hours in the airport and 20 hours on an airplane with a 16 month-old – Shirley and GoGo came to America!

From temperatures of 107 – 109 in the shade for weeks to 19 degrees with wind chill factors 9 degrees and snow.

It is 4:30 AM and I’m sitting with Shirley in my bedroom for the next three months. She is playing with her doll and we are listening to Swazi Gospel music as I write.  My thoughts are fuzzy from jet lag, but clear enough to be grateful for all the people along the journey from Project Canaan to New York.  All along the way people helped with our bags, paid for my dinner, helped me through long lines, shared books, the list goes on and on.  They came into our lives with compassion, helped and quietly disappeared on their own journey – random acts of kindness.

The journey has been in the works for months. Shirley needs to have the second round of surgeries due to the burns she received at birth after being thrown into a pit latrine and then having fire dumped on her by her mother….to read the full story see Janine’s blog:


Over the next three months you will find these updates will change from life living with 106 abandoned children on a farm in the bush to the journey of an almost 60 year-old woman, living with a 16 month-old as mom after 33 1/2 years since she had a 16-month old.  The changes have already begun – I now focus on nap times, diaper changes, meals on a schedule and poop has become a major word used in my vocabulary.  Whereas my daily routine is changing I find the renewed memories of the true innocence of a little one waking in the morning in a crib next to my bed well worth losing some of the personal freedoms that come with grown children.  There are doctors appointments and surgeries ahead of us, getting used to the cold, new people and places in our lives.  I know there will be moments of laughter and fun with Shirley, time comforting a little one that is away from home and her family for three months, pain and confusion for Shirley as she goes through more surgeries and times of comic relief as after 30 + years a 60 year-old woman cares for a 16 month-old.

I am honored to have Janine and Ian’s trust to be her caregiver and “mom” over the next three months.  I pray for guidance as decisions are made, strength and energy to keep up with a 16 month-old and the love and lessons of the next three months.

As I close this out this week I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the irony in the fact that I have spent my life wanting to live one of service in Africa.  Finally, after all the years of raising my boys, traveling with them as they lived out their dreams, the doors opened for me and God led me to Project Canaan.  I have over the past year learned many, many lessons and I can say without a doubt that I have been given much more that I have given and I know that God has an incredible sense of humor as He said to me about serving in Africa – “just kidding about living in Africa, I am going to send you to New York to live on Staten Island a few blocks from the ocean, in the middle of winter to take care of a precious little girl from Swaziland.”   The mission is good, New York/Staten Island is wonderful – it is the living near the ocean in the dead of winter up north for the next 3 months that I have laughed at many times because of how I hate the cold –  “God has an incredible sense of humor.”

The journey continues as Shirley and GoGo travel to America…….


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Storms Rolled In, Wind…Rain….Lightening Came, Second Highest Temperature in the World, Baby 105 Arrived & I’m Late Writing this Sunday! – by Chris Cheek

A new week has begun and I’m late, late, late writing. I love beginning a new week looking back over the week before & writing about the journey, sharing the stories of my life at Project Canaan. My morning began as a typical Sunday morning, with my cup of coffee & the time to think about writing. Then I got sidetracked by babies and a rocking chair.  Baby after baby would take their turn, (Enoch, Shirley, James, Joash, George, Samantha, Jacob, Aaron, Adam…..) crawling in my lap, snuggling for a few minutes of rocking, then down they would go to explore the world around them.

I kept thinking I should be writing, but the gentle rhythms of a Sunday morning in Africa won my time.

It has been an interesting week. I guess I say that every week & so I believe that makes every week an ordinary week filled with extraordinary experiences.  On Dec. 2 Swaziland recorded the second highest temperature in the world for that day. Temperatures reached 43 Celsius, with my trusted converter, friends, that is 109.4  Fahrenheit.

That is just plain hot. There are no words to describe it. All I wanted to do was stand in a cold shower. I’ve been told we can expect the same temperatures in the upcoming weeks. It may be a degree or two higher or lower but in that range. The number really doesn’t matter when it gets that hot…hot is hot, even when the wind blows it is hot air. Come, winter, come!!!!

Following the heat came a much welcomed storm with rain!!!!  The country got hammered with wind & lightening but the need for water is so dire, that the storm damage & over 24 hours of no power was a small price to pay for the life-giving water that fell. We are still in a drought and many people are without food & facing a long hard year.  For most it is too late to plant maize. The growing season will be short & the yield low. The people that could plow after the rain are still facing devastating challenges, because if no rains follow, the seed will fry & not germinate. Prices will rise & the sick, the elderly, children & parents will sink deeper into the arms of malnutrition & hunger. Come, Rain, Come.

Yes, I did say over 24 hours & no power. For a family in America it would be a slight inconvenience. For us it means water has to be boiled to be drinkable (105 children – many with weakened immune systems), no ceiling fans in 100+ degree temperatures, antiretroviral meds not kept at stable temperatures, a weeks worth of meat thawing, and crying babies that can’t sleep from heat & total darkness.  “It ain’t easy….”

As the power intermittently came back, storm damage cleaned up, the phone call came. Out of the chaos of heat, storms & no power we got a new baby boy just about 24 hours old. Our 105th baby. That gives us 105 children 4 years old and younger.  One hundred and five little ones that have a place to be loved & call home, food when there are droughts, health care when sick, love & hugs when the lights are out from the storms.

Rocking on Sunday morning to the slow gentle African rhythms….

The journey continues…..


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Adventures with Anthony – Chris Cheek, Long-term Volunteer

By Friday afternoon of each week I typically have mapped out in my mind what I want to write about in my Sunday Update.  This week was no different until Saturday morning arrived. I was up at 5, like my normal morning, coffee by 5:30 and my day was under way.  I had a few things I wanted to complete on my “to do” list but mostly the day was going to be one of play & laughter.

Then about 10 am arrived & Anthony stopped by the toddler home to say hello & to see if I wanted to ride into town with him…and I never turn down an adventure with Anthony.

Turns out it was more than just a trip into town with Anthony. Every Saturday he takes four of our three year-old kids into town, along with an auntie. This week it was Joshua, Jeremiah, Hope and Sarah’s week. For the four of them this was their first trip to town for something other than a doctor’s visit. What an adventure this was going to be…and we were starting with lunch at KFC.

The plan was to be loading the car at 11 and we would be on the road right after…but like I said it was the plan. Just before we started to buckle the kids in Anthony’s phone rings.  Someone was injured on the farm & they needed him to come quickly. Our nurse was gone for the weekend & so was our paramedic. We have our nurse practitioner but she was about 20 minutes away. Anthony is in nursing school & could assess the injury & then we could decide what we needed to do next. So kids buckled in with Gabi (auntie) in the back seat & Anthony driving & me riding up front.

As we are turning the car around Anthony says, “The petrol is very low. Sure hope we can make it to Tri-Cash” (the petrol station). I look over & the warning light is on, the marker is on the “E” and we’ve not left the farm.

We drive over to the dairy because that’s where Anthony received the call from, to get there & find out we needed to go down to the field where the cows were feeding. Turns out some workers were building a feeding station for the cows & one had cut his arm. It was a decent cut but not bad enough to need stitches so Anthony sent him to get it washed out & bandaged.

In getting everyone settled in the car we had forgotten to get plastic bags. Sarah gets car sick, so you always need to be prepared. Next stop was at the farm building to get garbage bags. All the time I’m looking at the big red warning light … petrol is low!!!!  All I could imagine was being out in the middle of the bush with four excited three year-olds, one being car sick & us running out of petrol. Not a fun image.

Once we had the garbage bags we were off on the Saturday adventure.  On the dirt road we decided we would count cars – only saw one, but did see two cows & we crossed the river.

In my mind I had mapped out checkpoints: the dirt road off the farm, the dirt road by the orange groves, the first tarred road, the main road & then Tri-Cash.  As we reach each one I mentally checked it off.   We had made it that far & not given out of petrol until we arrived at Tri-Cash. Not only had we made it to the station, but Sarah had not gotten sick.

Fuel in the car, everyone buckled in again – we had to unbuckle so they could stand up & see the fuel being put in the car. We were off.

We saw busses, red cars, white cars, blue cars, chickens & cows. We saw trucks. We saw a large fish (picture will be on FB today along with the pictures of our journey.)  We saw oranges for sale. All the things a three year old would find exciting & fun.

We were so close to town, one more turn & about 10 minutes ….. Sarah got sick. Ah! We were so close to making it. We pulled over, got her out of the car, cleaned her up & changed her clothes, cleaned the car, all seat belts back on and off we were again, KFC bound!!!

First stop once in KFC was the bathroom. Then we all lined up in the queue to order our food. All four kids were not saying a word, eyes wide open, watching everything happening behind the counter.  We then went over to our table where everyone learned how to drink out of a straw, had catsup for their chips (French Fries) and finger licking good chicken.

The kids talked to the grandfather beside us, even shared a fry or two with him. He tried to sell us his DVD of him singing Gospel songs but we managed to get out without the purchase of a DVD.

Once everyone was finished I went up to order ice cream, where I had a slight communication problem. I stepped up to the register & said I would like to get four ice creams please. I was told, “We are not selling ice cream because it is wet.” And I responded, “It’s ok, we have napkins.” She said, “No, we are not selling it, it is wet.” I said, “I know it is ice cream.” Then I realized she was telling me it was not frozen, the machine was not working. It was liquid.

We made a quick bathroom stop & then went for a walk, the kids taking in everything. There were cars & buses, people walking by, horns blowing, fruit stands, shops and shops with clothes & shoes.

Once we completed our walk around town, next stop…The Riverstone Mall. We rode the escalator, up & down and up & down, followed by the lift (elevator) made another bathroom stop and played with the electronic doors. The fun of watching 4 children telling the doors to open & close, it was magical.

After exploring all the fun things in the mall our next stop, the grocery store where everyone got to push a cart. The kids would load their carts & Anthony, Gabi and I would put all the items back on the shelf.  We checked out at the register & every kid gave the lady money. They discovered the candy bars at the checkout counter. Almost had to buy two candy bars, but being the expert mom that I am was able to get the candy bars before they got them opened.  Each child had something to carry out of the store.

One last command to the doors to open & our mall adventure was over.  We paid for our parking, loaded the car & seat belts buckled. Only a few blocks away the heads started to nod and eyes got heavy. They all drifted off to sleep, first Sarah, then Hope, followed by Jeremiah, but Joshua – he was still going strong. Looking out he window not missing a thing, “Look at the car GoGo. See the chicken, a cow, oh a red car” then a calm quiet came over the car & as I looked in the back seat the 4th one finally gave in & was sound asleep.

In the quiet I started to think back to when my boys were that age and I don’t remember the wonder & excitement that I saw today. Maybe it is because memories have over time faded or maybe it is because those were things that they experienced so regularly that there was never that child awe of an electronic door, an escalator or filling a grocery cart. Maybe it was because as a young mom I just missed it in the simple things of the every day life. Whatever the reason I got a second chance on Saturday to see four little ones experience their first trip to town, a trip seen through the eyes of a three year old.

Oh, and we didn’t make it home without Sarah getting sick one more time. We made it all the way back to Project Canaan & were just getting ready to drive up the last hill to home, when out of her sleep she sat up & got sick.

The journey continues…..

(Pictures will be up on FB from our adventures in town.)


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