One of the most humbling aspects of having an opportunity to be involved with something like the Sandra Jones Village was to know that each of the children there (some 70 in total) represented a heart-wrenching story of unspeakable pain. Yet the place exuded an air of optimism and joy – of those precious kids rising above insurmountable odds and terrible circumstances to find a reason to live within their community of fellow travelers.
When we first went to the girls’ section of the Sandra Jones Village we encountered a girl writhing in pain on her bed because she was suffering from terrible tooth decay. It helped us to realise how important were the 500 Panadol we’d smuggled in past customs were going to be. Yet a few minutes later this same girl emerged from her bedroom with tear-stained cheeks because the whole group of girls wanted to sing us a song of welcome. It’s hard to describe how unworthy you can feel when something like that happens.
We’re home! Several people have warned us that re-entry into “normal” life in Australia can be hard. I know my sister Morag has always found it difficult to come back to the affluence and materialism of Australia after visiting Africa. How can you reconcile everything seen over there with the relative comfort of the West? Worse, how can you explain everything you’ve seen without starting to sound like an over-wrought evangelist? And how do you practically help the great need over there, from over here?
Re-entry started on the plane as we settled onto a QANTAS flight, shocked at just how broad and nasally the Australian accent sounds when you haven’t heard it much for five weeks.
Here’s a few shots from our road trip from Cape Town to Jo’burg.
Okay, so everyone knows we have three rumbustious boys and quite a few folk might have thought we were quite barking mad to traipse around the world with them, taking them into some of the poorest and apparently dangerous countries on earth. But we have to say that, except for a few notable exceptions, they’ve done very well and hopefully the trip has opened their eyes to the broader world beyond Australian shores.
Joseph tells us he has thoroughly enjoyed the trip and the international travel bug seems to have bitten him. He doesn’t like being pressed on his favourite parts of the trip as he seems to have enjoyed it all and especially the people he has met. Tim occasionally grumbles that he dislikes travel, though this generally coincides with when he wants to shock us or get a reaction out of us. He has had the chance to run himself ragged in some pretty wild places and I think he’ll end up with good memories. Elijah is the best traveller – he can sleep anywhere, takes each day as it comes, doesn’t need a schedule and has made good friends everywhere he has gone.
When we left Zimbabwe ten days ago, we thought coming to South Africa for our road trip would be a good ‘buffer’ between cosy Australia and all that we had seen in Zimbabwe. Sorry for calling Australia ‘cosy’, but……!!
Well, our eyes have been opened again in South Africa! Once we left upbeat Capetown with its stark contrast between the affluent and the shanty towns we headed North stopping at different places, as mentioned in previous blogs. A couple of days ago we made the long trek up through the Transkei, which was a political hotbed not so many years ago. We heeded the warnings of our friends and family and stuck to main roads and only travelled in the daytime. Often our eyes were almost glued to the windows as we took in the tin-shack villages and grinding poverty that was so evident. There were desperate hitch-hikers on every stretch of road and every time we stopped someone was trying to sell something.
We woke this morning to some enormous African thunder cracking above the enormous farmhouse we were staying in. The rain was drumming down steadily so we decided to give Addo elephant park a miss and press on to our next destination. We’ve seen a lot of game this holiday already! First we had to negotiate 7km of sticky dirt road. Would have been fine in a 4WD but our Mercedes Vito slipped and slid around. We made it.
The rain continued all day and the N2, which has been splendidly wide since Cape Town, pinched out, and at times descended into some fairly perilous road works. The countryside is still gorgeous though – a mixture of karoo, Transkei and sweeping coastal views. We arrived at Kei River Mouth where we’re staying in the mid-afternoon.
When we were in Cape Town me and my cousin Lance went Great White Shark Diving. We had to get up at like 5:00 in the morning and wake Dad up so he could drive us to a petrol station where we got picked up by a Shark Diving Unlimited van. We were the only people in the van apart from a awesome Swedish guy who worked all over the World and was in Cape Town at the moment. We drove like 2 hours and while we were waiting we watched a documentary about a guy who swam with Great Whites for 30 hours straight to prove that Great Whites can tell the difference between seals and humans. When we got there they gave us some breakfast and took us to the boats. We had the Barracuda the best boat there and they didn’t waste any time telling boring safety rules.
We’ve been trooping around in our Kombi-like vehicle for a week now, and while it is a fantastic, easy-to-clean, easy-to-drive eight seater vehicle, it’s still challenging to be cooped up with five of the male species for such a large part of the day (sorry guys, but I have to be honest!). Our wonderful nephew Lance has the unenviable chance to see our family at it’s best and it’s very worst – farts and all, you might say.
Driving The Garden Route has allowed us to see some beautiful places and we keep saying to each other that we wish we had longer at each place – that is when everything is peaceful and we don’t feel like wringing each others’ necks!
Here’s a few more random photos from recent days. Joseph and Lance went diving with Great White sharks. We don’t have much in the way of photos but Lance took some underwater video and also bought the tour DVD so we have some great footage. The sharks came VERY close.
Also in this set are some shots of the Atlantic waves of Cape Town and the boys having a go-cart ride near Cango Caves.
Just a quick update (this morning South Africa time). We’ve been on the road the last few days, staying with long-time family friends of the Grants as we start to make our way east, and north of Cape Town. The main highways here are excellent – the N2 puts the Bruce or Newell Highways to absolute shame. So it’s easy and enjoyable driving.
Tuesday morning the tablecloth lifted and we were able to get up the stunning slopes of Table Mountain – recently named one of the new wonders of the natural world. The tablecloth had lifted but Cape Town remained swathed in a fog so it was a stunning view – you really felt on top of the world. Joseph and Lance missed Table Mountain because they were near Cape Aghulus, diving with Great White sharks. As soon as we get some cheap internet we will post photos and footage of both. On this holiday Joseph has ridden an elephant, fed lions and dived with sharks. He loves the adventure.
We went from twelve people crowded into a seven-seater minibus with no seat belts (and more potholes than road) to a Mercedes minibus and a spare seat! Oh, but we LOVED Zimbabwe and wouldn’t have changed a thing!!! How could we thank Debbie Brennocks and her beautiful girls enough for helping us experience such an amazing ten days?
We are now staying in a lovely place called Noordhoek in two cute little cottages, with Morag and Lance next door. It’s been fantastic having Morag and Lance to share the boys with. For the past two days we have done a lot of sight-seeing in beautiful Capetown. Yesterday we drove around to different places that Andrew, Morag and Lance remembered from their childhoods.
We we’re hoping to get up Table Mountain today but the tablecloth hung around all day so we will have to wait. Instead we went to the Scratch Patch to fulfill my Mum’s birthday wish for us. Then we went to Hout Bay and I got to catch up with a school mate from Henry Low Primary, Kerry Macdonald. We hadn’t seen each other since we left the school at the end of 1981. Fish and hips at Hout Bay were brilliant.
We spent some time at Sea Point and went on the ferris wheel (far helper than the one in Brisbane). Then we spent the rest of the day taking Lance to his childhood homes and schools. He is loving seeing the city of his birth as an adult!
While we were in Zimbabwe we overlapped two international ‘mission’ teams who came in contact with the Sandra Jones Memorial Village. No names, nationalities or denominations shall be mentioned in this blog, but I wish to comment on their differing methodology.
We will start with Group A. They are in Zimbabwe for nearly a month, and in that time are spending time with only two places (I think). They spent two weeks with the Sandra Jones Memorial Village. In that time a lot of their contribution was practical service. They painted the babies home, they cleared a fire break around Willow Park and as some of them were in the medical field they spent a lot of time tending to the children’s health needs.
Today we had a car restored so we set out on a quick circuit around the city to visit some of my favourite places as a child.
First stop was the National Museum of Zimbabwe, the rotund building near to the fountains and Centenary Park. I’d always enjoyed this place for the entry foyer, with loads of stuffed animals and the gemstone halls which had a replica mine to walk through. In fact that mine earned me two cuts with the cane once as I’d run ahead of my school group to get to it. (My justification was that I went to the Museum so often I was hardly going to get lost – my Principal and his schambok didn’t buy it).
After yesterday’s car dramas and subsequent rescue by our mysterious angel, we awoke this morning knowing there was a much-relied-upon car in need of major repairs and only two days and no cash to do it. Enter diesel mechanic extraordinaire, Lance and his two side-kicks, Andrew and Joseph and ……Hey Presto!! After several messy hours of cleaning engine grease the car is pretty much going (which, in Zimbabwe, means it’s fixed!). Most cars here seem to run on not much more than love!
We always knew when we went on this holiday that there’d be some tense and scary moments. Our missed plane at OR Tambo was one of them, today we had another. Antelope Park is 160km from Bulawayo. We made it up there safely yesterday but towards the end of the journey the car started making unusual noises and the oil light flicked on a few times.
Ten kilometres into the return journey the noises started up, accompanied by the oil light. I wasn’t too perturbed as we have Lance with us and I’m not being biased in suggesting he’s one of Australia’s top diesel mechanics – his position and salary from BHP establishes his bona fides. He topped the oil up, the noise went away and off we went.
After that ‘weight of the world on my shoulders’ blog, I now think it’s time I told you about some of the fun stuff!!
On Sunday afternoon, Morag, Lance, Scott, Andrew and myself headed out to a game park to take part in a “Walk with the Rhinos” safari. It was the first time Andrew and I have been able to do anything without the boys on this whole trip and it was so nice!! Don’t get me wrong, the boys have been great and have added a whole new dimension to this adventure we’re on….but let’s be honest, it’s nice to have some adult time! Thanks to Debbie for giving them a great afternoon with her five beautiful girls so we could get away.
Okay, are you ready for a serious blog?
A couple of days ago we made the extremely bumpy trek in Debbie’s poor old car out to the Sandra Jones Village, about 25km outside Bulawayo. There are two groups of children who live here – ‘The babies’ (there were about thirteen between the ages of eighteen months and six years) and the older girls (twenty-three between the ages of eight and sixteen) – are the ones who will eventually, “hopefully”, move into Hotel Rio in September.
Today we did a walk around the Hotel Rio, a Bulawayo institution which the Sandra Jones Memorial Village will move into from 1 September. Hotel Rio is a place my parents used to take me to on Sunday afternoons on our way back out to boarding school at Falcon College. We would have a final milkshake together in the salubrious grounds, a last luxury before returning to the rigors of Form One out Esigodini way.
Well I guess the first thing I have to say is that it is winter and it HOT. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like in summer. The drinks here are sooo cheap. 80 cents for a can of Fanta Grape. We arrived at Debbie’s house and the first thing I got was a lot of scratches. Their dog Buddy, or I call him Buddy Bum is the dog with ADHD. Luckily their dog Febie protects me and keeps me me safe. all have more info soon I am VERY busy I love comments.
Tim offline goodbye
Today we went to one of my favourite places ever – Matobo National Park. Morag and I particularly wanted to see Shalom, a campsite we frequented often in our youth and a ‘thin’ place, where the veil between heaven and earth is nearly transparent.
We got a little lost on the way, but it was just as well as we gave a lift to an ancient old man to his village. He hadn’t eaten for two days so Joseph plied him with his precious biltong. Eventually we crossed he green fields of Ebenezer Farm, an irrigated oasis in the middle of the dry, drought-blown plains of southern Matobo and made our way to Shalom.
For the past several years the Sandra Jones Memorial Village (SJMV) has been based around 30km outside of Bulawayo at a campsite called Willow Park. There are seventy kids in total being looked after by SJMV. There’s a house in Bulawayo itself for abandoned and/or neglected babies. Out at Willow Park there is a house for toddlers, also mainly abandoned and neglected babies and AIDS orphans. And then there is a crisis centre for victims of terrible acts of sexual abuse.
The SJMV is the only facility in Zimbabwe that can take children who have been assaulted by relatives or sold into sexual slavery from very young ages, and rehabilitate them. Anne’s going to write some more about these incredibly resilient children, their horrific stories and their heroic carers.
These are just a few of the photos from the various parts of the Sandra Jones Memorial Village – the babies home, home for toddlers and the facility for sexually abused girls.