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Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Construction Photos

Below are some photos of the work being done on the Restoring Hope Village property.  We completed another 40 posts today, and after tomorrow we should be well past halfway done with the fence construction.  Hopefully within the next two weeks we'll be able to report that it is done!

There are many more photos and video clips posted on the Restoring Hope International Facebook page.  This is just a sample.  They kind of show the steps of the process.  First, you dig the holes - a very tedious task given the soil type of our location.  Then, you set the posts using lines to keep them straight in a row and all the same height.  In addition to the lines, you have to level every post as well.  Once they are set in the right place, you lock them in that position within the hole using bricks propped against the sides.  Then you fill the hole with concrete, further securing the post.

Typically we set the slats in the fence the day after planting the posts.  You have to level the bottom slat.  Then you slide in the remaining 5 slats for that section.  Once the last one is in you realize that while the bottom one might be level, it still looks crooked.  So you take out the top 5 slats, adjust the bottom one accordingly, and then put the other 5 back in.  And you do this on every section.  So tomorrow we'll be setting 40 sections of slats.  Once all the slats are in place, you come behind the fence with a special mix of concrete and trowel it into the gaps, locking all the slats into place on the fence and also making theft a considerable chore.

Hopefully, when you're all done you have a nice, straight, solid fence.  Right now the concrete posts and slats are so new that they are extremely fragile.  They crack from time to time, but usually not badly enough that they are worthless.  We've only lost 1 post and probably 6 slats so far.  Thanks for your continued prayers as we continue with the work here.

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Our New House

We have been able to settle in to our new home over the last couple weeks.  Amber has been doing most of the settling, since Brian & I have been at the property almost every day.  You can see in some of these pictures that moving is just as chaotic in South Africa as it is in the US.  We are happy to have our dog back.  Meredith and Drake in particular love playing with him in the yard.  Of course, seeing the sun is just enjoyable in itself after this past winter in Iowa.

A couple of notes on these photos:  First, the satellite dish was there when we moved in and isn't functional - kind of a bummer with the World Cup coming up.  Second, since we live in a townhome, yardwork is included in our rent.  So we have a beautiful lawn and landscaping.  Third, our house comes with two small balconies.  One of the pictures is the view from our balcony and is quite aesthetically pleasing.

The house is two-story, something very uncommon here in South Africa.  We have 3 bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs with the kitchen, living room, office, and another bathroom downstairs.  Ben, my cousin, is sleeping in the downstairs office for the next few months.  It is really very nice to have our own home again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Trophy Display

If you watched any of the 2009 Confederations Cup last year, you probably noticed a buzzing sound throughout the games.  It sounds like someone kicked a beehive.  And truth be told, if I were to personally walk up and kick a beehive, the result of that would probably be much more tolerable than what I am about to describe.

Part of the preparation for the World Cup involve the distribution of Vuvuzela’s.  Vuvuzelas are the horns that you see in the photos here.  You can purchase one for about $1.50.  If you buy one in an actual store, as opposed to a street vendor, they frequently come with a pair of earplugs.  And earplugs are badly needed.

Anytime you are in town, you will invariably run into someone blowing one of these things.  Indoors, outdoors, it doesn’t really seem to matter.  When I was at the Telkom office in the mall, you could barely hear the sales lady over the sound of people blowing these infernal inventions.

While the noise made by vuvuzelas is mind-numbing, the excitement in the air is contagious.  I’ve always thought soccer players were kind of wimpy, a case only made stronger by my roommate in college, who played on the Faith soccer team.  But even I’ve caught a case of Soccah Fevah.  Think how exciting it would be if the Olympics were to be held within 2 hours of your hometown.  This is how South Africans feel.  And it is a fun atmosphere to be in.

Just this past Thursday the actual World Cup Champion’s Trophy was on display at the civic center in Welkom.  Imagine a town of 400,000 soccer-crazed people.  Add in 80% unemployment and the fact that most schools made this a field trip day, and you’ll begin to see how many people had time on their hands to pack into the center of town.  The line to see the trophy was well over a mile long, wrapped around and around the civic center area.  Most of the people waiting were decked out in their finest “Bafana Bafana” gear (that is what they call the national team).  There were even people tailgating.  The feeling was not restricted to any one demographic group.  We saw blacks, whites, young, old, men, women.  Everyone has Soccah Fevah. 

Of course, you know that since vuvuzelas are so annoying, I had to purchase one for myself! 

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Random Photos

First, I have to apologize for the infrequency and lack of information on these posts.  We are borrowing the Niehoff's internet, so it isn't exactly convenient right now.  On a positive note, we have signed up for phone service, which is the first step toward getting our own internet service.  So hopefully by the middle of June we should have access.  And that isn't an exaggeration.

So, here are some photos from our first week in the country.  We have been busy with construction almost every day.  If you would like more construction photos, go to the Restoring Hope International Facebook page and you'll see the progress.

Here is a brief description of the photos found here:
1.  We didn't have pots and pans for a few days, so we got a very small grill.  Our other grill is coming in the container, which due to a strike has been delayed in the Middle East for several weeks.  Good times all around.

2.  Drake and Liam getting cleaned up.

3.  This is Meredith in the middle of the night on our second night in the country.  Jet lag also affects children.  Fortunately, she spent a couple hours coloring, then fell asleep on the floor without disturbing others - namely her parents - too badly.

4.  Drake decided to disrobe and use his Pack'N'Play as toilet facilities.  Which he then thought was fascinating.  Needless to say, he and his bed needed a significant amount of scrubbing.

5.  Meredith is cuddling with Alli, her bear that Aunt Rosina took her to make.  "Alli" used to be her imaginary friend that lived in California (this according to her).  Now Alli is her teddy bear.  So we're making some progress on the whole imaginary friend thing.

6.  Reunions have been every bit as joyful as we anticipated.  Here Meredith is with Val, one of our dear South African friends.

7.  Another reunion that we have enjoyed is with the boys from Thabong.  Pictured here are DJ and Brilliant.  Several of them are still in college, so we won't see them until the next school break in June.  DJ and Brilliant have been helping with construction.  If you look at the Facebook photos and video, these are the two you'll see working with us.  It was encouraging to us that on our first day in the country, during lunch break, these two boys were asking us many spiritual questions.  We haven't been able to start the Bible Study back up yet, but that hasn't prevented some good conversations.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Relay Iowa Update

You may remember from previous updates that Bill Raine, the guy who nearly died several times on his visit to South Africa, organized a fundraising event for Restoring Hope Village.  The event was a continuous relay across the state of Iowa, starting at the Sergeant Floyd Memorial on the Missouri River in Sioux City, and ending at the Mississippi River in Dubuque.
That event took place last weekend, with several teams making the trek.  You can find photos of this event on the RHI Facebook page.  Here is a small sample.
The event was a great success and Bill was able to present RHI with a check for $5,000.  He has already set dates for the race next year, so start planning to join!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - And we're off...

After 7.5 months filled with travel, living out of suitcases, and mooching off friends and family, we’ve finally returned to South Africa.  Come to think of it, since we’re missionaries, we’ve been mooching off friends and family for almost 3 years now.  Which brings up a funny story.  I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but when we first returned to the US, Meredith asked someone for some money to buy something.  I think maybe we were at one of Tim’s football games and she wanted something from the concession stand.  Anyway, I thought that would be a good time to teach her some etiquette and remind her that asking for money isn’t a polite thing to do.  I told her “Meredith, we don’t ask people for money.”  Then I remembered “Oh, wait…that’s pretty much all we do.”

On a serious note, we want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their generosity.  Looking back over the last several months makes us realize that God does mighty things for His name’s sake.  The project that He has led us to is tremendous, but it is His work and therefore is His responsibility.  I am reminded of a quote from Pat Hanna, a close friend of the O’Tool family.  When we were in Carroll sharing the vision of Restoring Hope Village at the very beginning of our furlough, Pat said to me “this is God’s work and I have no doubt that God provides through His people.”  We have seen this happen firsthand over recent months, and we are grateful to our Father and to you who have provided for us.

With Pat’s quote in mind, I want to share with you some quotes that we heard on our recent excursion from Des Moines to Johannesburg.

  1. When we arrived at the Des Moines International Airport, or DSM in airport code-speak, we immediately began to check in at the Delta desk.  The agent assisting us was Lorretta B., a very helpful and kind woman.  During the process of checking us in, she came across Meredith’s passport.  She punched the name into the computer and then, with a puzzled expression, typed a few more keys.  Obviously she didn’t obtain the desired response.  So she typed a bit more, again with futility.  Finally, she turned to the other Delta agent and said “Hey Tony, check this out.  Have you ever seen this before?”  This is never what one wants to hear when embarking on a cross-continental flight.  Tony comes over and peeks at the computer screen.  Then Tony types a few keys, pauses, frowns, types a few more, then finally finds some sort of success.  Now Loretta B. can complete our check-in.  With the problem finally resolved, Loretta B. explains what the issue was.  It turns out that a Meredith O’Tool is a potential terrorist with the Irish Republican Army.  Funny coincidence.  And now Loretta B. knows what the computer screen looks like when checking-in a potential terrorist.

  1. You’ll remember Tony, the Delta agent in the previous narrative?  Tony must have noticed that our final destination was Johannesburg, or JNB in airport code-speak.  He asked why we were going to South Africa, and we told him that we live here and are building a new children’s village.  His response was one we’d never received before.  Tony said “Watch out for the brain worms.”  Now we’ve lived in South Africa for about 2 years now and I’ve heard a lot of things, but have never heard about Brain Worms.  I thought he was pulling my leg, so I kind of laughed like you laugh when you think someone is pulling your leg.  But he wasn’t.  He went on to share that his brother-in-law, or second cousin, or some relation like that had spent some time in South Africa and had contracted worms that went to his brain and eventually killed him.  Delta agents are full of quotes that you don’t want to hear when embarking on a cross-continental flight.

  1. Anyone who knows us well probably knows that Amber is what I will call a Just-In-Case Packer – meaning we usually have any necessary item for any conceivable event.  When the Stangl family held their concert and Ellie & Zach shared stories from South Africa, Zach had a great line.  They showed a photo of our container arriving two years ago and said “While we were there Amber’s suitcase arrived…”  That isn’t terribly far from the truth.  Now remember that we arrived in the US on October 1st with five suitcases.  Seven months later as we prepared to depart for South Africa, we learned that we had accumulated enough to fill at least 12 suitcases.  Fortunately (for me anyway) we could only bring 6 suitcases back.  Susan Niehoff can confirm that packing is like a huge jigsaw puzzle, trying to find the right items to fill both the size and weight you have available.  For a couple days we sorted and packed, resorted and repacked, until finally we had everything just right.  The rest of our stuff was boxed up and shipped to the O’Tool homestead for our use next time we return.  Upon arrival at the airport we had many hands to help us carry everything to the appropriate destination, but not without mentioning the volume of our baggage.  They should have seen what we left behind.  Amber’s response was one that I’ll treasure always, and one that I will need assistance holding her to.  I wrote it down immediately so as not to forget.  She said, and I quote “Now we won’t need to buy anything next time we’re back.”  In her defense, she is always prepared, and I would be lost without her.  I have a fantastic wife – I call her my Swiss Army wife.

  1. Quote #4 is our favorite quote of the trip.  Traveling with children can be a challenge, especially when one of those is a lap child on the airplane.  I have always heard of the wonders of bulkhead seating, but had never experienced it personally.  When I went to the Czech Republic I was scheduled for bulkhead seating, but since I was the third shortest member of that particular basketball team, I had to give it up to some of the more lanky members.  Alas.  This time we had hoped upon hope to get bulkhead seating, allowing Drake room to play and sleep, whilst allowing Uncle Lou some extra leg room.  Our chances however, looked slim.  One can only ensure bulkhead seating at the gate, and our flight from DSM arrived in ATL only 50 minutes before departure.  We blitzed through the ATL airport, only to find the gate packed with previously arrived passengers.  In fact, we cut it so close that they were already boarding the plane.  Just as we screeched to a halt at the departure gate we heard our named called over the intercom.  I fought my way through the crowd and waved at the Delta agent, Shindana, to let her know we had arrived.  She called me right up to the front of the line and said “We’ve been waiting for you.  Let me see your passports.”  I gave her our documents and she told me to call the whole family up.  I did so and as we were waiting for Amber and the kids I thought I might as well at least inquire about the doubtful availability of bulkhead.  I started to say “I don’t suppose there is any chance…” and Shindana cut me right off.  She looks at me and says “I already took care of it.”  It took her about 2 minutes to enter our passports and print our boarding passes.  Then she leaves her post at the desk, cuts over to the front of the boarding line and says “Let’s move it people, the O’Tools are coming through.”  She cut a wide swath for us to come right on through and she took us right onto the airplane, where we found a whole section of bulkhead just for our family.  What an answer to prayer!

  1. This next quote kind of goes along with the previous one.  After being paged and as I was fighting my way up to the departure gate, some random guy who looks like my Uncle Joe sees me and announces to everyone around “Hey, the O’Tools are here.  They’ve been waiting on you for like 3 days now.”  So apparently that wasn’t the first time they paged us.
  1. While waiting for takeoff both Meredith and Drake wanted to look out the plane window.  Unfortunately, we only had one window seat, meaning Drake was crawling all over Meredith.  She looks at me in exasperation and says “He’s getting on my nerves, Dad.”  I wanted to respond “yeah, try being a parent sometime.”  But we received grace and that was the extent of Drake getting on Meredith’s nerves for the remainder of the trip.

  1. This final quote is kind of a post-script.  Brian & Lois met us at the airport and took us back to their house in their van.  We arrived in Welkom 23 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Des Moines.  The kids got lots of sleep on the airplane, but I think Amber and I got a combined 30 minutes.  Needless to say, we were ready for some sleep…but our children were not.  Eventually, Amber went and slept with Meredith in Liam’s toddler bed.  This left me to sleep alone in a nice queen-sized bed.  The next night I learned a valuable lesson.  Never say to your wife “Why don’t you sleep with the kids again.  That was wonderful.”