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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