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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Crime & Punishment

It is common in South Africa to have problems with water and electric supply. Sometimes we have a water main break, or construction crews are working on something, causing our water source to be cut off. As for electricity, there would be two main reasons one would lose power. The first is that South Africa forgot to build additional power plants over the years, leading to a decided shortage of available electricity. To remedy this situation, they will turn off the power to certain portions of certain cities at certain times of the day. While this is becoming a less common occurrence, load sharing continues to be an un-popular fix to the crisis. Fortunately here at The Pines we seem to be on the same grid as a hospital down the road, meaning they really think twice about shutting off the electricity to this little district.

The second and for us more common reason one might lose electric supply is through theft. Copper currently has a high salvage value, so many people turn to that as an alternative source of income. While you may think to yourself that stealing live high voltage lines seems to be a dangerous proposition, you must remember that some of these people are desperate enough to attempt many things we would deem a bit risky. They have also shown themselves to be quite resourceful when they truly set their mind to it. The process for stealing this copper is really quite simple. They will dig a hole underneath the line, then light a fire, causing the insulation on the wires to burn off and thereby grounding out said wire. Once it is grounded out there is no longer a danger of electrocution (theoretically), and they are able to then dig out and remove a section of wire.

About 10 days ago, two of our buildings lost power due to just such a scenario. Upon inspection, vandals had removed a large section of wire right up to our fence.These two buildings have been without power since then, and one of them houses Leonard our gardener, his wife Temperance, and two small children. Electric crews have been working to replace the missing section with overhead aluminum wiring. In the meantime, Brian put a band-aid on the situation by running an extension cord from the main building, but this didn't allow sufficient current for them to also run the overhead lights usually left on for security purposes.

Which brings us to Sunday evening. About midnight Amber & I wake up to something banging against our window. I look out and there is Brian throwing rocks or some such projectile in an attempt to waken us. While it would not be out of character for him to decide to waken us just for kicks, I proceed to ask him what was so urgent. He told me he had received a call from Temperance that someone was snooping in or around their buildings. Leonard normally works nights, so Brian and I were called upon to investigate.

I quickly dressed and grabbed a few items I thought might be useful. Brian of course had done the same. My weapons of choice were a 28 oz. framing hammer, Amber's bottle of pepper spray, and a mag-light (unfortunately my sleep deprived brain failed to remind me to put on a belt before I left, limiting me to one hand on the pants and one holding my other three items). I almost grabbed my camera but ultimately chose not to. In hindsight it would have made for some great pictures. Brian's favorite tools were an aluminum bat and high powered flashlight. Oh, and I also grabbed my realistic looking Airsoft gun, in case we needed some additional aesthetic persuasion. Maybe if I shot him in the eye...

Anyway, by time I had dressed and gathered the necessary equipment, Brian was already over at the other building. I hurried to catch up with him and in my haste failed to see the black man standing nearby. In my defense, black people here can be hard to pick out in the pitch dark of 12:30am. An acquaintance of Brian & Lois uses the term "Our non-reflective friends". So when I do finally notice said man moving around, I nearly clawed him with the back side of the hammer. Remember I said Leonard normally works nights? Apparently he had this night off, a fact which would have been useful to know.

So here we are, the three intrepid men setting off to find whoever or whatever was making the suspicious noise. Behind Leonard's building is a courtyard, and we were fairly certain that if anyone was still around, it would be in this area. After a brief inspection, we found where more wires had been cut and removed, but the courtyard itself proved empty. Also bordering this courtyard is a large, mostly empty, machine shed type building. While I finished the systematic search outside, Brian & Leonard went into the building to have a look-see. Suddenly, I heard Brian call my name in the tone of voice that said to hurry. I ran into the building to see Brian focusing his beam of light behind an old cupboard.

There, hunched down trying to hide was a shabby looking man. Once he realized we had indeed noticed him curled up back there, he stood up. He had a small piece of wood, maybe 18 inches long. It was particle board so it would have just broke if he tried anything, but nevertheless, we held our distance. He began inching toward us, as we were between him and the only door. Brian & I both told him to get down, a technique learned from watching Cops. The man apparently didn't understand the bad boys were coming for him. He also didn't understand English, so Brian yells to Leonard to tell the man to get down, assuming that since Leonard speaks both Sesotho and Xosa that he would be able to communicate with him. Leonard proceeds to say "GET DOWN", not in Xosa or Sesotho but in English. While I would like to mock the decided lack of brilliance there, I really am in no position to throw the first stone. Remember that we work mostly with children over here, and one of the most important things to know how to tell a child is, of course, "Get down". It wasn't until this morning that I realized that I myself know how to say this in Sotho, but in the excitement of the moment, I completely forgot (for the record, it's "Doula Fadsi").

While Leonard and I are both forgetting that we know a little Sotho, this man continues to try to move toward the doorway. Brian lucidly performs a flanking maneuver and I advise them all that I have pepper spray. Since the man shows no propensity to cooperate with our request to get down, Brian tells me to go ahead and spray him. Looking back, I think I was more curious to see what would happen than I was thinking about the appropriate spraying technique. If I can offer a suggestion to anyone required to use pepper spray: Make sure you use the whole bottle. Unfortunately, I just gave him a quick 2-second spritz in the face. It took a second for him to realize it wasn't that comfortable a feeling, but once it kicked in he wasn't too happy about it.

He obviously couldn't see too well, but he did find an object laying on the floor and picked it up, holding it as if he planned to throw it at us. Leonard and Brian both backed through the doorway and at this point the man turned to me. I quickly regained my lucid thinking skills, and shut off my light, knowing (or hoping) that he couldn't see well enough to find me in the dark. I think that is the one thing I did correctly throughout the whole affair. After realizing he couldn't see me, the man turned and ran out the door, throwing the object in the general direction of Leonard and Brian. He then kept running/stumbling all the way across the courtyard to the fence on the far side. It took him a bit, but eventually he got up and over the fence.

We again completed an inspection to make sure there were no accomplices lurking about. We located the hacksaw he had been using, and found the piece of wire he planned to salvage. It was about 10 feet long and loaded with copper. After locking everything back down, we returned to our respective homes to attempt to catch some sleep with what remained of the night. As you can imagine, sleep didn't come quickly. About an hour later Brian heard someone back in that area again, so he drove his truck around to the backside. The same man it seems had returned to find his hacksaw and copper, but obviously we had removed them. Brian called the armed security but they didn't arrive in time to apprehend the man. It's probably just as well, since we have been told in a situation like this the crook is fined less than $5 and released. Petty crimes like this are such a common occurrence that there is no way they could hold all of the perpetrators. It's at times like these where we miss our American dog Hank. He would have ripped anyone apart if he thought it would help. Molly the weiner dog just doesn't cut it. Hank would have made sure that crime doesn't pay.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Growth

As you know from reading our materials in the past, our purpose here at The Pines is to raise children who will be able to impact South Africa, both spiritually and physically. This is truly a long-term ministry, and it may be years before we see results from the work we put in. That isn't to say we don't see any results now. It is quite rewarding to work with these kids, both at The Pines and in our other outreach efforts into the community. Any person who has been here can attest to that. Once you come you leave your heart here. From time to time God blesses us with encouragement. I've attached a photo that is an example of some of the growth and maturity we've seen in these kids since we've been here. Before we came some of them were UI fans.

If you can't tell from the photo, we are all wearing ISU shirts. Of course, this may be the wrong weekend to bring it up, considering the recent game against Nebraska and all.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - PETA

As long as we're on the subject, I need to relate to you a story that happened recently here at The Pines. Each Tuesday and Thursday evening I hold Bible Study with the 8 oldest children. One thing you quickly learn is no matter what these children have been through in their short lives, they are by no means lacking in personality.

A couple weeks ago we were discussing the Bible, where it comes from, and how we know it is true. One of the reasons I pointed out is the history of Biblical facts vs. Scientific reason. I was explaining to them how throughout history the "wisest" scientists made outrageous claims that contradict what the Bible says. For instance, they learned the story of Christopher Columbus and how he was warned that he would fall off the end of the earth if he kept sailing west.

Another example is the conflict between Creationism and Evolution. We got into a discussion of where everything came from, and why God chose to make things the way He did. I posed the question to the children "Why did God create plants?" The answer given by one of the boys was "So the animals could have something to eat." This of course logically led to a second question "Why did God create animals?" Using a tone of voice that could mean nothing other than "Duh", the same boy responded "Because they are so delicious."

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Fires

This past Sunday evening it rained. This is a big deal, as it is the first rain we have received since late May/early June. A couple weeks ago we had to dig a shallow trench to run some water lines.In August we had to dig through concrete and rocks to run a sewer line and I would rather have to dig through concrete than through the dirt that hasn't received rain in so long. So we're glad that the rains are seemingly back for the summertime. Things should start to green up here soon.

Of course, since we hadn't had rain for so long the grass around here was pretty dry. Apparently one of the favorite pastimes in South Africa is lighting dry grass on fire. One day Amber was here at The Pines alone with the children and mamas and a fire started in our little section. The wind blew it into the grounds here and it started to burn the grass toward the building. Lehlohonolo, an 11 year old boy quickly took charge, getting all the shovels and rakes passed out and starting a bucket brigade with the other children. Obviously this wasn't his first fire.

I arrived home shortly afterward and the fire was almost completely under control by that time. It wasn't that we were terribly frightened, as the grass close to the building is kept too short to endanger the building, but it was very cool to see the kids jump right into action and take responsibility without being asked. And one can never do a job around here without some time afterward to wind down.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Birthday Card

Children need to learn how to work. At least that's what Frank & Maggie told me for the first 18 years of my life. Looking back, I see the wisdom, not only because it teaches children talents that will help them be successful later in life, but because then that means less work for you as the parent. Now that I think about it, maybe that's why Tony and I learned to mow the lawn at such an early age. I remember that as children we were always excited when the remote control was lost, because one of us got the job of being the designated remote control, hence allowing us to watch television as well (this is quite a treat for the typical home schooler). Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't always an accident that it kept getting lost.

Now that I've learned the value of teaching small humans to do my menial tasks, I agree that the children here at The Pines should also develop a strong work ethic. So it should come as no surprise that the children here do have daily chores, things like cleaning up rubbish, working in the garden, picking up doggy poo, etc... On top of that, when we are working on a specific project we frequently call upon them as a source of quick labor. I think it was Confucious who say "Many hands make light work". Recently I was pulling up bricks from an old, unused walkway to be re-used as border for a splash park we made for the small children. I needed help transporting the bricks from the walkway to the aforementioned splash park. And for those of you reading this and not just looking at the pictures, I'm sure you've guessed that some of the children were assigned to this special job.

My birthday is September 3rd. You may be asking yourself "What does that have to do with anything?" Well, as it turns out, birthdays are a big thing around here. So big that the children decided to make birthday cards for me. This was the same day I asked them to move those bricks. My favorite card came from two lovely young children, Rafiloe & Lehlohonolo. They are reasonable young people and wanted no wasted effort. Please see the pictures below for the birthday card I received. Obviously with this day being my birthday, it still did not exempt me from policing those who would attempt to shirk their duties, nor would I be free from acknowledging those who so diligently carried out the assigned task.

This is the front of the Birthday Card. As you can see it is nicely, yet efficiently, decorated with the cupcake/candle combo sticker. Obviously sending the message of "I wish you to have a happy and healthy birthday, with many more to come" (Click on the card to read)

This is the back of the birthday card. All business. It's kind of like the south african mullet seen in the post below, only in reverse. The back page - all business. The front page - party. And we're happy to see this kind of efficiency from the children. (Click on the card to read)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Update on Boetie Boet

Last week I told you about a small boy named Boetie Boet. See that update for the details of his hospital stay. Basically, the doctors thought he had drug-resistant TB, and the potential treatment called for him to spend 9 months to a year in a hospital in another city. In the meantime, we were waiting for his test results. The tests involved him coughing up phlem and the doctors would take that and use it to grow samples that they could test to see what kind of TB he had. That is a six-week process before they can even determine treatment.

In the meantime, we were visiting him almost every day. Either the Niehoffs, one of the housemothers, or I would go and spend 1-2 hours with him at the hospital. On Tuesday the Niehoffs were out of town and none of the mothers were available so I went and brought him a few treats. I spent some time reading to him and started to attract a crowd. When I finished the book Boetie Boet actually wanted me to leave so he could get on with playing with his friends.

Anyway, on Thursday I dropped Mama Angelina off for a visit. About an hour later I went back to the hospital to pick her up, and there she is standing on the curb with none other than Boetie Boet himself. Apparently the tests came back and he does not have the resistant TB, but rather another strain which is supposed to be more treatable. Angelina had a bag of medications and since he has already started treatment there should be no risk of it being communicated to the other children. We are praising the Lord for this, and all the children and mothers were happy to have him back. I wish I had video of the reception he received from some of the kids, as they were so excited to see him.

The honeymoon, however, was fairly short-lived. The next day we caught one of the other children twisting his arm behind his back. We're not sure the reason, but obviously they've all adjusted quickly to having him back here as part of the family again.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Fashion

Here in South Africa, the mullet is not only cool, its recommended. I'm working on mine now.