Week in Review – Chris Cheek, Long-term Volunteer

Once again I sit looking at this tiny phone screen & keyboard as I prepare to write about the week just passed. I find the passing of time & days each week seems to be picking up speed like that of a locomotive heading down the tracks trying to make a scheduled delivery on time.  And as with each week, again, I find myself shaking my head in utter amazement of all that has happened, lessons learned, insights revealed, joy & fun that comes with living with 101 children and the challenges/frustrations that come with living in rural bush country in a tiny kingdom in Africa that is ravaged with HIV, TB and abandoned children. 

Throughout the week I jot down a few words from the events of the week as they happen. It is the jumping off point that I use to help me start this update. This week my notes read:
- Trip with Lucky
- Time Up & Down
- Trip to Siteki
- Follow up at hospital for Phephile. 
- Huge Fire
- Homestead visit with Anthony & volunteers
- Birthday Cake, Birthday Cake, Birthday Cake & Ice Cream
- Finding Grasshoppers, monkeys in the trees, cows, donkeys, goats & chickens
The words that follow the tick marks are the reminders of the “real” of my life in Africa.  The story of my week:
Tuesday – Trip with Lucky
Everyday a young man named Lucky loads the white Project Canaan pick-up truck with sugar beans, ground maize, and Manna Packs and off he goes to deliver to every corner of the country.  We partner with 37 churches and through these churches we are reaching weekly  3,500 orphaned & vulnerable children.    74,000 hot meals are served each month.  On Tuesday I got to spend the day with Lucky. We began our morning on the farm as the maize was ground. We then loaded the truck and off we went to travel the Lowveld & visited 4 of the church partners.  The day was a day of gratitude at every stop as Lucky unloaded food that would last each church two weeks(he delivers to each church every two weeks). A hot meal that will be the only meal the children get each day. A plate with a scoop of pap (maize), a scoop of beans and Manna Rice. 
It really put my shopping for food at home in perspective.  When I needed food, I would go online to the website of my neighborhood Harris Teeter and create my order: fresh vegetables, meats, bread, eggs, cereal, milk, cookies, ice cream, cheese….then at the end of my work day I pulled in the grocery store drive through, pushed the button on the intercom and a home shopper would bring my order out to my car & load it. It was easy & convenient. No thought about it; I needed food, I ordered it, I picked it up.
Time Up & Down
Two weeks ago Phephile came to her new home, Project Canaan.  Because she did not have a hard cast on her leg she and an auntie stayed at Ian & Janine’s house. Twice a day I would take 4 of the girls up to spend time with their new sister.  Each trip up and down the hill to their home I got to see the excitement of the girls in the car & the twinkle in Phephile’s eyes each time the girls walked into her room. She now has a cast on & is living here in the toddler home with us. Something as simple as driving up & down the hill twice a day  – the stuff of living in community, the real stuff of the day.
Trip to Siteki & follow up at hospital
Story told on Janine’s blog: janinemaxwell.blogspot.com 
Tough day!!!!!
Huge Fire
The farm that borders Project Canaan had a huge fire break out. There is no one living on the farm now so no one there to fight the fire. There are no fire departments to come, but to give you an idea of the size, if this had been in the US there would have been between 5 & 10 trucks respond. We had high winds blowing & blowing toward our farm.
The lesson I learned that night was how important the fire breaks are. Our workers spent about 4 months slashing & burning our boundaries & around all of our buildings. That work most likely saved our farm from being destroyed by fire. I stood on the edge of the hill by the baby home and watched the flames light up the night.  I knew that the fire breakers were our first line of defense. I knew our guys were standing by in case some flames jumped the break line and if it would stay off our land until about midnight nature would take care of it. The night dew begins to fall from the heavens  around midnight & by morning there were no flames to be seen.  The order of the land where I now live. 
Birthday Cake, birthday cake….
Ohhh, my!  Have we had birthday cake. The 15th we celebrated 5 birthdays!!!!
Homestead Visit
Saturday afternoon Anthony & I went out to a homestead with volunteers from the World Race Team. They have been here volunteering for the month of September.  We visited a grandmother that is raising 10 of her grandchildren. The grandmother & I are the same age. She is tired & sick. Her husband died in 2000. The oldest child is 17 & the youngest 3.  Life is tough & hard. There is nothing easy here. 
Grasshoppers, cows, donkeys, chickens & goats
The week has been one filled with celebrations, heaviness as a decision had to be made to say no to accepting a child, dangers of fire, the reality of life in a Swaziland homestead & then there is HOPE. It is hope in the eyes of children as they sit in the grass and watch grasshoppers jump, hope as the neighbor’s cows wander up the road & little voices yell “cows, cows”, hope as kids chase the chickens and the goats, hope as two donkeys show up from out of nowhere, hope as our kids walk to Kindergarten & preschool, hope as I crawl into bed exhausted at the end of the day knowing I will never see the world in that same way again.  I see the world in awe, I see the world with hope – the bees are producing honey & the cows are being milked – I live in Canaan the land of milk & honey.
The journey continues…..
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The Perfect Storm – Chris Cheek, Long-term Volunteer

Saturday morning came and with it “The Perfect Storm!”  I woke up on Saturday morning and almost fell out of my bed as I picked up my phone to check the time. I had slept an hour past my normal, automatic wake up time and it was 6 AM. As I quickly came out of that early morning sleep I realized there was a slow gentle rain tapping on the tin roof…ahhh! So that’s why I slept in. Nothing like sleeping under a tin roof while it’s raining.

Instead of rushing to the kitchen for my morning coffee, I just stayed in bed and enjoyed the peaceful rhythm of the sounds. I began to think about some of the changes that are happening here as spring has rolled in. The trees are blooming with rich, beautiful flowers of purple, pink, red and yellow. The mountains are turning from the brown hue of winter to multi-colors of springtime green. Each day more and more colors burst out around the countryside. It is a beautiful time of year.

Just as I was seeing it all in my mind and feeling such incredible peace – a thought popped in my head and panic quickly consumed me. I live in a home of 37 two year-olds and it appeared we have rain that had settled in for the day. That means, no outside playtime. Ohhhh, no! We will be inside all day with 37 active and rambunctious two year-olds.

I caught my breath and thought about a plan. We can put music DVDs in and sing & dance, watch a movie, play games, read books and run up & down the hallway that I think is about 50 yards long playing “on your mark, get set, ready, go.”

Plan was in place, breakfast over and potty time completed. The first DVD was in and we were singing our hearts out. This Little Light of Mine was echoing up and down the plastered blue cement block hallway and then it happened. All the forces aligned. 37 two year-olds, rain and “no power!!!!!”

I had forgot to factor into my great master plan – if it is raining, of course, in Swaziland the power will go out. Yes, The Perfect Storm has new meaning in my life.

It actually turned out to be an awesome day despite the rain and “no power” as all the kids say. The aunties were soon singing African songs and we were all dancing. We played games, sang every children’s song you can imagine, ran races up & down the hall, we counted & practiced siSwati. The power only stayed off for about three hours but we were having so much fun we just kept playing like there was “no power.”

When the day was over 37 little ones crawled into bed, got tucked in, said prayers and quickly drifted off to sleep.  I took a shower and followed them – I had danced all day, laughed & played with both toddlers & aunties, I was one tired GoGo.

Just as I had begun my day, my day came to a close listening to the rain…ohhh, how nice it was to fall asleep to the patter of raindrops on a tin roof.

The journey continues…..


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