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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Living on a Journey of the Spirit – Chris Cheek, Long-term Volunteer

Water sprinklers, swimming pools, temperatures of 102 – 104 degrees, monkeys playing on the slide, giggles & laughter, carrot cake and “mmm… ahh” the stuff of my week.

Hot…Hot…Hot…the lesson: once the temperature reaches 92 in the shade during the early morning, it doesn’t matter what the numbers are as the day moves on, 102 – 104 it is hot, heat index 114 – it is hot, the breeze blowing hot air – it is hot. The only relief is found when an old GoGo & 38 two year olds run through the water sprinklers. It is only October, about eight weeks from the heat of December… understanding of long, hot summer. Am I prepared? I think not.

In the early morning hours between 5 & 5:30 am as I watch the  sun rising, I begin my day with laughter because morning after morning I also watch the monkeys begin their day playing on the playground. Climbing up the steps to the slide, jumping across the ramp & two and three at a time sliding down the orange circular slide. Reaching the bottom they run back across the sand, up the steps & down again. Over & over, they play together as the new day is dawning. For three mornings I tried to capture it in pictures or video but as soon as you get close they run for the trees. After the third morning I finally surrendered to the fact that there are just some things you can’t capture in pictures. They must remain a fun memory in the pictures of your mind and spirit.

Morning walks around the farm before the hot heat of the day settles in because there are rocks to be found, flowers to pick, animals & creatures to see. “GoGo, look, look!” The voices of little ones that are discovering the world – a time of simplicity, a time of pure innocence & joy. Goats, cows, monkeys, chickens, lizards, butterflies & frogs – all in the day of two year olds living on a farm in the bush of Swaziland.

Giggles and shrills of laughter – pools filled, sprinklers spraying & bathing suits on – first out of the bathroom Malachi then Joseph, LoLo and Lucy. Soon thirty-four more splashing & laughing in the hot, summer afternoons. Frozen homemade popsicles & sips of water out of the long green water hose – the memories of the days of childhood before Cold Stone Creamery, Ben & Jerry’s & frozen yogurt by the pound. Ok, so I like a lot of toppings, so by the pound.

A knock on my door during nap time, a small container handed to me with a gift, an unexpected surprise – a piece of the most delicious, moist carrot cake covered with white, creamy icing. Each bite savored as if it were the last.

“Hamba Lala, Hamba Lala, Hamba Lala” – hands clapping with the rhythm of the rhyme, voices singing and 76 tiny feet marching down the hallway to bed – “Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep, Hamba Lala, Hamba Lala.”

Little ones crawling into bed saying, “GoGo, I want my mmm ahhh, my mmm ahhh.” Everyone knows a “mmm ahhh” that sound that comes with the good night kiss, followed with “I love you.”  The end of my day giving “mmm ahhhs.”

The stuff of my week, playing in the yard & hugging babies, one filled with a new found freedom, a chance to live not tied down by unimportant things. It doesn’t matter if I wear a purple shirt with a red plaid skirt, no make up, or if I’m on time. It is a chance to experience every day in awe of life – living on a journey of the Spirit – all being revealed to me through 102 abandoned babies & 51 strong Swazi women & men.

The Journey Continues…..


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Chickens and GoGo’s Hello – Chris Cheek, Long-term Volunteer

Chickens, chickens, chickens…. every so often a box of live chickens show up outside our kitchen. They are always white and a little smaller than our yard chickens here at the children’s campus of Project Canaan. I’m always amazed at how passive they are & that they will sit in a cardboard box without a lid. Typically the top of the box is only about 6 inches from them when they are sitting down. When they stand up all they would have to do is stretch just a little & they could be out of the box.

I’ve learned over the months when the box appears that the aunties will soon be preparing fresh chicken for us to eat or they will be freezing fresh chicken to take home on their off days. One of the aunties brings them to sell to the other aunties the week after pay day.

I took on the role of chicken chaser after my arrival to Project Canaan when our yard hens come into the kitchen.  Now I feel it is my appointed duty (since I have knowledge that they are on death watch) to become their liberator.  My role has grown from chaser to liberator.

Last week early one morning I was standing outside of the kitchen, and with passion, explaining to the chickens that their time was near. It was the week after pay day & them being in a box near the kitchen was not a good sign. I told them, “r]Run, chickens, run! They are going to kill you & eat you. You can be free! Stand up, jump out and run.”  They did not move. Heck, they didn’t even look up at me as I pleaded with them to escape.

After my passionate pleas I found myself perplexed by the fact they were still sitting there. As I stood asking them why they were not running, our preschool teacher walked up behind me. Bongi asked me what I was doing.  I told her I didn’t understand why the chickens didn’t run for their freedom.  She looked in the box, then looked at me, never missing a beat and said, “GoGo, these chickens don’t run away because they have low I.Q.”  So there is my answer after all these months. Lesson learned. If you are going to raise chickens to sell, raise chickens with low I.Q.s so they won’t run away.  Bongi went off to school & I went about my day. Poor chickens, not so lucky.

The quote of the week…..”No touching GoGo’s hello!”   Translation – “No touching GoGo’s phone.”

Most days, as long as I’m not going into town, I wear stretch yoga capris. There are no pockets in them so a very valuable part of my attire is an apron with a pocket.  The pocket provides a place for tissues for runny noses, gifts of flowers, weeds & rocks, strings, sticks, broken toy pieces and my “hello.”

There are so many ways of life that I have been able to leave behind since leaving the U.S., becoming “free & detached” to living a much simpler lifestyle here in Swaziland, but giving up the phone is not one of them. It is the one convenience that makes life a little easier living on a 2500 acre project with children’s homes & a working farm, 280  employees, two schools (preschool & Kindergarten), a dairy, an artisan center, 102 children, fires, snakes, scorpions, pictures to be taken at that perfect moment and a note pad app to keep track of all the experiences of my life in Africa. (I sound like a commercial, maybe I should reach out to Apple & become their next campaign for iPhone….an old lady & her iPhone living in Africa. )

To help you understand the phone being a “hello” – all of the toddlers love to pretend they are on a phone. They will use anything, it can be a building block, a toy car, a ball, a book, a cup – anything they can lift to their ear. They will walk up to you, look you in the eye and lift whatever they have in their hand to their ear & the dialogue goes like this:

Toddler: “Hello”

GoGo: “Hello”

Toddler: “How are you?”

GoGo: “I am fine, how are you?”

Toddler: “I am fine.”

Repeat conversation, repeat conversation, repeat conversation.  Keep in mind we have 38 toddlers & they all love this. I wonder how many times a day I say this?

This whole explanation about hello is to tell you how the quote came about. One afternoon I was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch and about four of the kids were standing around me with their hands busily exploring the apron, when I heard Peter’s voice from across the yard, “no touching GoGo’s hello!”  One of the kids was trying to get my phone out of the apron & he was quickly correcting them, “no touching GoGo’s hello” and that’s how my phone became my “hello.”  I love the thought process of two year olds.

*A quick footnote, I’ve had a few people join this email distribution in the past couple of weeks, an explanation for them, GoGo is siSwati for grandmother/granny.

This past week as we moved into October it has brought the beginning of the summer heat. We have had multiple days of mid 90’s & no electricity. Oh, how I value my ceiling fan & electricity to run it. As the kids all say “no power” or “all done power” I found myself saying “Eish! How will I make it through December?” Forecast for next week, several days 107 & 108, I’m not prepared.

We got a 9-month old boy this week, Albert. That is his given name by his Swazi mom. We now have 102 children 4 years old & under living on Project Canaan.  We welcome & love Albert, he is now home where he is safe. We are thankful for El Roi, the God who sees.

Have an awesome week….

The journey continues.


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The View From Project Canaan’s Front Porch – Chris Cheek

Several weeks ago, on a very sweltering Swazi morning, I was alone (which is rare) rocking in a large white wooden rocking chair. It sits next to three huge toy boxes all made here on Project Canaan in our woodworking shop. Our front porch is wide & long and extends the whole length of our home.  Our porch looks directly across the yard to the baby home. Each morning at 10 AM, as regular as the cock that crows at 3:29 am, the aunties at the baby home begin the ritual of what I call “the parade of babies.”

The baby home has a covered back porch that is large enough for 20 babies to play and holds a picnic table along with 8 rocking chairs. It is from this porch the parade of babies originates. Rather than walk through the kitchen to enter the baby home the aunties will lead them from the porch around the side of the home and into a side door that goes directly into the bedroom for their morning nap. The parade will begin with an auntie that has a baby on her hip and holding the hand of a little one that is not stable yet on his feet. Then trailing after the auntie will be three or four toddlers following the lead. It is not unusual to them to see a wagon with four babies being pulled to the door then several aunties not far behind with the rest in tow.

That particular morning as I watched like I do so many mornings, except with no toddlers playing around me, I threw up my hand and waved. As my hand went up I had an image that popped in my head of sitting on my grandmother’s front porch as a child watching people walk by, seeing Mr. Lawrence across the street cutting his grass, seeing people coming & going about their daily life rituals.

I cannot even imagine all the hours we spent out “on the stoop” as my grandmother called it, playing, talking, visiting with people as they passed by…stopping their cars in the middle of the street to chat.  A time when we knew all of our neighbors. A time where life was centered around the porch & waving as people passed by.

Since that morning I watch for the moments that take me back to my grandmother’s front porch. Moments that I share with you each week in this update. The moments & adventures of living with 44 toddlers. The moments of a childhood filled with simple play, laughter & wonderment of the world around me. All from the front porch…the front porch of Project Canaan.

Fall, I believe, has arrived. I’ve been in a sweatshirt for three days. I don’t want to jinx myself by thinking it is here & then have Mother Nature throw me a curve ball & hit me with some very hot days. The kids, though, are connected to my soul. They wear long pants, t-shirts & sweaters … no shoes.  Sounds like my perfect wardrobe.  The aunties though are masters. They wear socks & flip flops. I can assure you I’m duly impressed by this talent.  It is amazing. They regularly ask me why I’m not wearing socks. I’m not sure I could walk in flip flops & socks but before winter is over I may have to try.

This week I got to go up one side of the ridge to see the work being done for the firebreak. Denis & one of his workers came by & picked me up & off we headed toward the farm.

As we drove past the dairy we turned onto an almost invisible path. There was only the slight signs where an occasional vehicle was traveling through this grassy area. After a few minutes a more defined path opened up before us & off we went up the ridge. As we got higher & higher so did the bush on each side of the car. It was almost like being at the beach when a wave is swelling up around you and is about to come crashing down on you. We drove until the path came to an end. We got out of the car & Denis was explaining how the workers work their way around the boundary of the property. The firebreak path was about 10 meters wide. It began next to the property fence & went into the bush.

As we looked up the mountain it hit me, we are going to hike up this ridge & as far as I know the snakes are not yet hibernating. Whereas I love an adventure, I was not wanting to come face to face with a huge, poisonous snake. The thought of those snake boots I had looked at back in the U.S. quickly flashed in my eyes & I heard a voice inside me say….”you should have bought the boots.”  I asked Denis, “who’s going to get the snake if we run into one?” He had a good laugh & said that’s why I brought him with us as he pointed to the man that was on this adventure with us. I was not sure if I should be comforted or not because everyone keeps telling me the Swazi’s are scared to death of the Black Mambas.

Just as we walked away from the car Denis stopped & said maybe he should go back & lock the car. Now I started to ask but then decided I just didn’t want to know why he was locking the car. So off we went with a Swazi as the protector from the snakes & the car locked in a place that is at least a 30 minutes drive from the closest person. And the only people with a car with access to that area work for us.

So we hiked up the ridge, saw no snakes, nothing happened that would necessitate locking the car, got to see how we prepare for fire season & got to see one of the most beautiful mountain views I have ever seen at the top of the ridge.

Just to give you an idea of how thick the bush is, we had to back the car down from the ridge because the bush along the side the path was to thick for us to pull into & turn the car around.

The aunties love to look at my pictures on my computer. One night we were looking at pictures from a trip to NYC at Christmas time. A couple of the older kids were still up & we’re looking with us. I pulled up a picture of inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the main chapel. Caleb asked, “What’s that?” I told him church & he quickly responded “Oh, like our church.” As I said yes I got a good chuckle thinking about how it would make Cardinal Dolan feel after all the millions they’ve just spent on refurbishing that church…to know we have a large covered back porch, we spread blankets on the floor for the kids to sit on and out of the mouth of a baby, “it is just like our church.”

This week marked the end of the first term of school for the kids in Swaziland. They are now out of school for a month. The schedule is almost identical to our year round schools. On Friday afternoon our Kindergarten & Pre-K kids had an award ceremony, performed a couple of songs to celebrate & we all got ice cream at the end of the program. It was a fantastic way to end the term.

The kids are all doing well. Right now lots of runny noses as we are changing seasons. If any of you are interested & would like the company name of the maker of tissues we use I will be happy to send it to you. Well worth investing in this company because with the amount of tissues we use….the stock has got to soar based on our usage alone.

Tonight before bed time we were all in the sitting room watching a DVD. I love the way the older kids identify all the characters of what we are watching to one of them. We will be watching and you will hear one of them say that is Ben, that is Rosie, that is Eman (for Emmanuel) and of course any old female….”that’s Gogo!”  It’s ok. I can still out run them on the playground, so for now I will take solace in that.  But I know that day is coming quickly where I won’t be able to out run them.  Oh, life with 44 toddlers.

It has been a fun week & I can’t wait to see what this week will hold from the front porch of Project Canaan.

The journey continues….


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