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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - The Water Park

It's been quite some time since I've shared any personal stories on this forum.  Granted, there have been small anecdotes, narratives of ministry, and assorted other yarns here.  But for quite some time there has been a veritable drought of sorts on the exciting chronicles of life.  Mainly that has been because our lives have been, relatively speaking, quite boring.  It has mainly consisted of getting out of bed, going to work for Louis, taking care of children for Amber, spending some family time together in the evenings, then putting the kids to bed, finishing up random office chores such as sermon preparation or RHI business, then going to bed ourselves.  In an effort to please the tens and tens of people who read this here journal, and in the spirit of sharing a bit of the goings-on in our life, I will now attempt to make a short story long.

In August, just before the arrival of our first team, we took our car to be cleaned.  For various reasons and in many ways we tend to stick out from the crowd.  This time it was our strange accent that gave us away.  "A strange accent from the Midwest?" you ask yourself.  "But I thought no one from the Midwest other than those from Minnesota or Wisconsin had strange accents?"  And you would be correct in these thoughts.  But when one lives in South Africa, as we do, and when South Africans speak English as they do, which they do, then we who have excellent pronunciation and good diction (except for my lisp which my Aunt Theresa was first to point out but which my grandma says is there!) sound strange.  Did you catch that?  In other words, people can tell we aren't from around here.  Such was the case on this particular bygone day now in question.

As we paid for our car cleaning the lady in charge asked why we were here.  Normally people are completely astounded, as Welkom is a major destination for no one.  The travel books have this to say about Welkom: "Welkom is known for it's light traffic, due to the many traffic circles instead of the more traditional intersections.  Also, 90% of all birds native to southern Africa can be found in this area.  Other than that, there is no reason to go to Welkom."  Many people include various expletives when asking why we have come to this area.  It is only compounded when they learn we are actually Americans, since almost everyone's dream is leaving this town to live in America some day.

Once we told her we were in town to build and run a children's home, she warmed right up to us.  Her name is Suzanne and both her husband and brother are in sales at various local building materials suppliers.  She gave us their contact information and told us to tell them they better give us a good deal "or else".  Well, turns out Suzanne and her husband Ignus are new Christians, are about our age - at least about my age.  Amber is in another generation altogether, but we try to include her as much as possible.  Amber's only real difficulty is understanding all this newfangled slang, so we have to be careful.  She also can't believe how these computers really make her adding machine seem "a bit out of date."  But she's a trooper and tries her best to fit in.  All this to say we've been able to make some new friends, and it works well for them too, because they lost almost all their old friends when they gave up their old lifestyle.  They also have three children that are close to our children's ages.  Shaznelle is 7 and she and Meredith get along famously.  Schalk (pronounced Sk-all-k) is 5 - Meredith calls him Skunk and the two girls spend most of their time avoiding him.  Leanae is about 6 months.

Well, Ignus and Suzanne knew of this water park on a farm about 1.5 hours from here.  Since we also enjoy water parks, we agreed to make a day of it.  The only caveat is that apparently the place is quite popular, so much so that one must arrive at least 30 minutes before they open to get in line so you can be one of the first into the park and stake out one of the prime plots under a tree, near a picnic table, and within sight of the kiddie pool.  Parents understand the value in this.  If you're not a parent, maybe one day you'll understand.  Ignus was adamant that we arrive early in order to claim the best location in the entire park.  Since opening was at 7:00am, this meant that we had to leave Welkom at 4:45am, an admittedly ridiculous and outlandish hour.  But we grudgingly agreed to do so.

One advantage to living in the Southern Hemisphere is that our days are at their longest right now.  By rights South Africa should be split into two separate time zones about two-thirds of the way through the country.  But in an effort to keep things simple, some wise person, at some point in years past determined to just overlook this time zone thingy and make the country one big zone...which is nice.  Either this same wise person or another wise person decided that this country would also not participate in the greatest of US traditions known as Daylight Savings.  This means that in December-February our daylight starts roughly at 4:45am as well, giving us ample light in which to make our pilgrimage to this water park.

Well, things went swimmingly for the first hour of our trip.  Then, as we neared the juncture where we would turn from the main road to head toward the water park, near disaster struck.  It was early, my clock was a bit off from awakening and becoming active at such an hour.  My body apparently decided it was time for my bowels to wake up as well.  Only problem was I didn't know this until it was almost too late.  There was very little warning, and I mean very little.  There was a brief period of desperation as I internally discussed whether to pull over or whether I had enough intestinal fortitude to make the next town.  Ignus and Suzanne had told us that we would stop in a small town for ice and the signs showed that town was close, so I decided to make a run for it (pun intended).  Of course, it was at that time when we came right up behind a car that was out for a very early and very, very leisurely morning drive.  My forehead broke out in a sweat as...well, you get the idea.  And then I come to find out that someone had played a cruel trick, as the aforementioned sign that showed we were drawing near to our planned stop was misplaced.  It said Orkney  -  20km.  At least 5 km later we passed a second sign.  It said Orkney  -  19km.  I'm not sure how that happened, but it wreaked havoc on my already fragile psyche.

Amber must have noticed the beleaguered look on my face, the distress radiating from my body.  She graciously asked me what the problem was, why I was so distraught over the slow driver, and why these two misleading road signs were such a big deal.  I had to explain my problem - and do it in a most dignified manner.  So I resorted to proper medical terminology, you know, diagnosing my condition with that word that starts with "D" and ends with "rhea".  Now, apparently Drake has entered that stage wherein he hears everything said, then repeats it to himself over and over again.  He also is in this cute stage where he likes to sing to himself.  So he spends the next 10 minutes singing "Diarrhea, diarrhea, diarrhea."  In case you were wondering, this didn't help at all.

Well, finally I can see the town in the distance, even passing a sign that had a food, gas, and toilet icon - oh, the blessed toilet icon.  I thought since we were planning to stop anyway I could disguise myself by using one of my precious children as a diversion.  You know that children always need to use the facilities on a road trip of any length.  That way I would be saved the embarrassment of explaining to our new friends why I was so desperate to stop.  Alas, this plan was all for naught.  I couldn't take Meredith with me, and there was no way I could keep an eye on Drake whilst also...  So I had to throw the car into park, make a dignified sprint to the restroom and find out it was a one-holer and that one hole was occupied.  At this point there was no dignity left (and must not have been much to begin with if I'm posting this story).  I needed to make sure whomever was occupying that stall was aware that there was a growing queue for use of same.  So I proceeded to knock both politely and urgently, so as to convey that I was a nice enough guy but please hurry.  And it must have worked, because presently the stall was vacated, but not for long.

But now this unforeseen delay had set us back maybe 5-10 minutes, and Ignus was clearly feeling pressed about our prime real estate awaiting at the water park.  We quickly loaded back up and hit the road.  Drake continued to serenade us with his new song for another 10 minutes, only this time it was more funny and less distressing.  Soon we turned off onto a back road that would take us over the bridge, through the woods, and to our destination.  After about 5 miles on this back road we come around the bend and see that we wouldn't be going over the bridge or through the woods, at least not that day.  We've had quite a bit of rain, and the river was waaayyy over it's banks and flowing swiftly over the bridge.  So Suzanne quickly gets on the phone with the water park, asking if there is an alternative route.  There is, but it is back about 40 miles, with about 25 miles being gravel roads.

Just before we are about to turn around and head that way, another carload with a family clearly prepared for a day of aquatic excitement rounds the bend.  On seeing the road unpassable they share a quick Afrikaans conversation with Ignus and Suzanne, in which our party learns that this new family knows a back way, shortcutting our trip and possibly allowing us to arrive in time to preserve this coveted picnic spot.  Although it's possible that this family could be part of the plot to delay us and prevent our attempts to claim this small tract of land as our own.  Being the intrepid adventurers that we are, we decided to follow this new family to wherever the road might lead.

We quickly learned not to be so loose with our usage of the term "road".  This shortcut, while "short", didn't exactly "cut".  It was simply a dirt path through fields, mine property, underbrush, and veldt.  Only this "dirt path" was also suffering the same affliction that plagued the river, and had nearly plagued me - it was more wet than it was supposed to be.  The dirt had become mud and the ruts had become small ponds.  But we quickly became thankful for all the ruts, because the water congregated there and left small patches of land high and dry. If we had been on our own we would have turned back.  As it was, there were three cars, and three strapping young men driving said cars.  I was confident that if we got stuck we could probably work our way out somehow.  That is, if we weren't stuck in one of the several puddles that also had downed power lines lying in them - in that case it would have been every man for himself.

As we navigated this treacherous pathway we had to be careful to watch the road ahead as well as the road directly in front of us.  Because we passed 3 vehicles coming the other way, but it was only a one lane dirt path.  For most of the way it was closed in tightly on both sides with various indigenous African underbrush.  So you had to look for a spot in the road where there was enough gap in the growth to allow one or the other to pull off, making way for the two to pass.

Finally, after much difficulty, we reached the water park.  It had 1 big tube slide, 2 small waterslides, a wave pool, three small pools of various sizes and depths, and a warm pool - why it was warm don't ask me, just know that it seemed to be popular with all the children.  In addition to the pools there were several exotic swings, merry-go-rounds, and other miscellaneous play equipment.  There were several chalets, a campground, and many trees with picnic tables and grills nearby.  In fact, in my opinion, there were several attractive locations.  But fortunately, our extremely early departure, combined with a washed out bridge and the accompanying brave venture through the mud overcame the slight delay I had caused to allow us to arrive before the crowds and claim the prized setting.And we spent the rest of the day swimming, playing games, watching the children and did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals and fruit bats and large chu... Amber pulls the plug on this narrative

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