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.
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.
Firstly I guess I should tell you about the train trip. Well firstly we had to arrive late so we did not get mobbed. When we hopped on the train we had to wait 30 minutes before the train got moving. And it was incredibly bumpy. I went to sleep early cause I was feeling extremely sick. I woke up around 3 in the morning and I vomited. Then I think I stared playing games on my dsi for about 2 hours. Then I went back To sleep and FINALY the train trip ended.That was the great train trip.
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.
Seeing Morag, Andrew’s sister, waiting for us on the platform of Bulawayo station was a welcome sight! We piled into the car (Tarago-type thing) and bounced our way back to Debbie Brennocks’ house. I have wanted to meet this amazing lady, who is the adoptive mother of five beautiful African girls and the energy behind The Sandra Jones Village, for a very long time. Our boys and Debbie’s girls have been getting on famously – and incredibly noisily! Since we’ve been here (about a day and a half) we’ve been on numerous drives around the city of Bulawayo visiting places of huge significance to Andrew and Morag.
It’s been great to see Andrew in his home town and watch his reactions to seeing different things. I had been warned that Andrew might find it very difficult seeing Zimbabwe this way, but honestly, he – and all of us – are loving it! Andrew described all of this in his blog so I wont elaborate.
Okay, first up just a clarification on the train trip. We were not at all disappointed with the ride. We’d done our research beforehand and knew it would be dirty and rough. But I (Andrew) am a firm believer in the creation of transcendent memories. Embarking on experiences so far beyond the ordinary that the memory of them will remain a lifetime. If we’d caught the bus it would have been just another link in the chain of our long travels. The chance to sleep the night with the rumble and clack of a train with the deep velvet African sky rushing past the window was transcendent. We loved it.
Yesterday morning our train rumbled and ground into Bulawayo through the fairly grim Northern suburbs. We were down to 5kph because the tracks and wheels are so worn, anything faster might result in derailment. Litter was strewn everywhere, shanties cascaded down towards the trainline and lots of people stared indolently at the train.
This was always going to be one of the bigger “adventures” of the trip. A lot of locals advised us against it, and we knew it was going to fall far short of palatial. But a night in an African sleeper train was too good to pass up.
Several of these photos are for the benefit of my Dad who used to work in the railway workshops, quite possibly on the very carriage we were on. I’m sure he’ll be pleased these things are still going strong!
Elijah gets set for the night.
Tim gets a welcome.
Warthogs at our front porch.
A Zambezi sunset
Elephants at the waterhole.
Warthog, ostrich and buffalo steaks.
Victoria Falls – We have so many photos of the Falls, this is just a very small sample.