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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Life & Times - The Many Faces of Rosina

If you thought those last pictures were good, check these out.  This is from the night we took Rosina out for her birthday.  She loves me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Life & Times - DMV

It's high time we obtained our South African driver's licenses.  And there's nothing like the DMV, no matter which continent you reside on.  And there is nothing flattering about DMV photos, either.  All we need is a little sign with a number and a profile shot and we'd be all set for prison.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Meet Siyabulela Makhamba

Siyabulela (a Xhosa expression loosely translated as Thank You) joined Restoring Hope Village on August 24, 2011.  The day he arrived can be described as "one of those days".  Just the day before we had received our first older boy, which officially opened the second house at Restoring Hope Village.  Whenever a new child arrives things are a bit busier, as they typically come with only the clothes on their backs, and often that isn't suitable for anything other than a dumpster.  So typically Amber and Lois will fit them for play clothes, church clothes, school uniforms, shoes, and all the necessary school and living supplies.  Lois arranges all the necessary paperwork and court dates with the social worker.  I arrange with the school to get the child pre-tested and enrolled.  And Brian pretty much does everything that needs doing.

In addition to the normal things that need to be done with every new child there were extra things that needed to be done, since now the new house was opening.  There was extra shopping, a few odds and ends that needed to be bought for the house, and the job of settling a new housemother with the new children.  Oh, and the Niehoffs had left for their long-scheduled vacation early that morning.  That's why it was "one of those days".

Unaware that Siyabulela would be coming, Amber and I decided to use the day to revamp our weekly shopping procedure.  Up to this point we'd been asking Mama Lizzar to make a list of anything she needed, then we would purchase whatever was reasonable and within the budget.  In order to keep things relatively equal, as well as teach the housemothers and children to manage a budget, we decided that we'll give them a certain weekly amount to spend and a list of prices for common items.  They then must make their grocery list making sure to stay under the budgeted amount.  This will also help them manage "luxury" items better so the children learn to save in one area and be able to have money for others.

We were in the middle of this when Lois calls to tell us the head of Social Development will be contacting us about another child.  This prompted a trip to The Village so Mama Melita could help speak with the social worker and make sure there were fewer lapses in communication.  And here is where we learned that we would be springing Siyabulela from kidding.

Siyabulela's mother passed away in February this year.  Since that time he's been living in Klerksdorp (2 hours away) with his grandmother.  About a week ago she was admitted to the hospital with some kind of serious illness.  We're not sure what exactly, but the social worker made it seem unlikely that she would be taking care of Siyabulela again.  Three days before he came to live at The Village he was transferred from his grandmother's care back to living with his father, or at least the man most recently living with his mother.  The same day he arrived back in Welkom with his father, the man was arrested for an alleged rape.  So Siyabulela spent 2 days in jail, one of those days being his second birthday.

Due to the circumstances, Mama Melita went directly to the courthouse where they retrieved Siyabulela and took him directly to the magistrate.  Normally it will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to have that initial court hearing.  But since this was a unique case and since all interested parties were already at the courthouse they processed the paperwork immediately to place Siyabulela with The Village in Place of Safety care.  Place of Safety is temporary, by law lasting no more than 6 months.  Within that time a decision must be made whether the original circumstances have improved to the point that the child can be returned, or whether the child must be permanently removed and placed into Foster Care.

So it seems that we will have Siyabulela for the near future, and according to the social worker, due to the health of the grandmother and charges against the father, highly possible that he will need to be placed with us in Foster Care.

He took to life at The Village immediately.  Within the first hour he was pulling Drake into his little games and sharing toys with him.  He's quite a talker and is already picking up some English words.  We have learned that if you don't keep a good enough eye on him he will go outside and pull the drain pipes out of the wall.  Whether he stays with us or goes back to live with some other extended family, we're happy to have him and pray that whatever time he has with us will have an eternal impact.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Meet Kamohelo Mokhabela

Kamohelo (meaning to receive) joined Restoring Hope Village on August 23, 2011.  The day he arrived was one of the worst weather days we've had in the 3.5 years we've been living in South Africa.  The dust was blowing so badly it looked like a typical Iowa blizzard.  In places near the mine waste dumps visibility was down to a couple car lengths.  And on days like this Thabong is a miserable place to be.  It's hard to believe a car in the township would have any paint left on it at all.  So it was in these conditions that Brian went out with a social worker to retrieve Kamohelo.

Kamohelo's mother had passed away in 2009 when he was just 5 years old.  From that point until his arrival at The Village he had lived with his older brother, who was 11 at the time they were orphaned. Of course, their father(s) is unknown. Their primary caregiver was an uncle who was only 18 when Kamohelo came to The Village, making him a mere 16 years old when the boys' mother died.  Obviously he was not equipped to raise two young boys.

Making matters worse, this uncle is not a model citizen by any means.  Here in South Africa he is considered a Tsotsi, or gang member.  These gangs are responsible for most of the crime in the townships that place South Africa at or near the top of world rankings for various serious crimes like rape, murder, violent theft, etc...  These gangs operate very much like street gangs in the US, enticing young boys to join with promises of protection, money, drugs, and a sense of belonging.  Because of the poverty, broken families and lack of economic opportunity these gangs thrive.

Kamohelo's brother, at the age of 13, is well on his way to becoming a Tsotsi as well.  The headmaster at their school reported that he has been involved in acts of theft and violence already at school, that he often smokes pot, and has been caught many times in local gambling halls.  In fact, he had just recently stolen money from one of the teachers and taken it to use in a dice game.  This brother has also been removed from the home and the social worker reported that he is going to a home for troubled young boys.

Kamohelo seems to be a very bright youngster.  His first day here he asked his housemother to make sure he was put back into first grade at school rather than being dropped back to Grade R (Kindergarten).  He was very concerned that she knew he was smart enough to be in Grade 1.  Unfortunately for him, his lack of English forces him to finish this year in Grade R.

After only having girls and infants at The Village for several months, it's exciting to have an older boy.  His energy is immense, and he is already practicing his kung fu moves on the trampoline.  Mama Melita reports that he is very helpful around the house and with the two smaller boys now living there as well.

We thank God for bringing us this youngster and beg for your prayers that a godly influence at The Village will overcome his early exposure to the darker side of life.  Most of all, pray that Kamohelo and all the children who come to Restoring Hope will meet Christ as their personal Savior and choose to live godly and productive lives for Him.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Life & Times - A New Twist on Fast Food

As seen at the Johannesburg Airport - a pizza vending machine.  And call me crazy, but it seems like it could be intriguingly delicious.  One day when I'm feeling especially brave or stupid, I'm going to give it a shot.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Despicable Tim II: Society's Revenge & Collateral Damage

Reading the last several posts might lead one to wonder two things:  First, do these people ever do any work?  Second, does everyone hate Tim?
Let me take a moment to answer:  In reference to the first question, yes we do.  It's just that not that many interesting things happen when you're digging holes, hanging trim, building shelves, etc...  You can see other updates of the work at RHI's Facebook page.  In reference to the second, I'll just say that "everyone" is probably an exaggeration...probably.

This particular post may or may not shed light on any of those two questions.  Let me clarify: Tim and Rosina departed South Africa on August 8th.  Before they left we wanted to take a break from work and take them on a trip to the ocean.  "Which ocean?" you ask.  The One World Ocean, as so aptly defined by my best friend Jono and also by Wikipedia.  Specifically, we took them to the section of ocean commonly referred to as the Indian Ocean.  During the two weeks prior to our vacation we spent the time moving roughly 48 tons of bricks and 72 tons of dirt in preparation for our next building project.  So the answer is yes, we got a little bit of work out of Tim and Rosina recently.  The rest of this post will deal with the second question.

Our vacation officially started on Sunday right after church.  So you can't exactly say every day was rotten.  Sunday afternoon our whole family went with Brian and Liam on a four-wheeler ride on some trails around the area.  That was fun.  That was also probably the highlight of our vacation.

Monday morning we got up bright and early and left town.  The drive to our destination, Uvongo, was estimated to be about 8 hours.  Two hours out of Welkom we had reached the Drakensberg Mountains and it started to rain.  It continued to rain off and on - mostly on - for the next six hours.  We reached the coast just before sunset and saw the breakers rolling in, breakers that were cresting as high as twenty feet!

We checked into our lodging and went to get something to eat.  Being a Midwestern family we're more meat and potatoes than all the fancy seafoods, but since we were at the coast we opted for fish'n'chips.  Also, they were very, very cheap.  We all voted that this was the best fish we had ever tasted (outside of a Kim Heiderscheit fish fry).  But even at that Amber could only choke down about two bites.  Which is all the better for Uncle Lou, as I was able to eat two full portions.  However, the sudden dietary change brought about sudden intestinal change for yours truly for several hours.  So, all in all, it was a wonderful start to our vacation.

As a side note the people at the fish'n'chips place could talk about nothing but the abnormally miserable weather that had just arrived.  Apparently they hadn't had a winter storm like that in decades.  So we've got that going for us...which is nice.

Tuesday dawned, barely.  The breakers were still crashing in on the rocks about 50 yards from our little cabana, the rain was still off and on, and the wind was blowing in that refreshing saltwater mist.  Gone were our plans to spend the day exploring the tidal pools and playing in the surf.  Instead, we decided to go for a little drive around the area to look at what we could see.  However, before doing that we wanted to get a close-up look at the waves so Tim and Rosina could see exactly how high they were.  And this is when society began to exact its revenge upon the notorious villain, Despicable Tim.  And this is when the Louis and Rosina divisions of the O'Tool family began to suffer from society's collateral damage.

Episode 1: We - and by we I mean Louis, Rosina and Tim - braved the elements whilst the remainder of the family waited in the car on the bluff above.  The three of us scurried down onto the rocks.  Actually, Tim scurried, I bounded, and Rosina kind of did this slide/shuffle thing because she was wearing only flip-flops.  Tim and I wisely chose to wear tennis shoes.  Tim reached the rocks well ahead of me and that's when one of those small decisions was made that determines the fate of mice and men.  The rocks he had chosen weren't terribly close to the breakers, so I decided to take a different path to some rocks out nearer where the waves were coming in.  Tim followed me and Rosina, as per usual, brought up the rear.  I chose this particular jumble of rocks because it seemed to be well above the crashing waves, but yet as near as you could get without actually getting wet.  And I was terribly wrong.  If you've ever been to any portion of the One World Ocean you'll know that waves tend to be cyclical.  Unfortunately, the brief time I took to examine our perch was at the low end of the cycle.  So as we stood and admired the crabs, sea urchins and other creatures of the tidal pools we were caught unawares by a mini-tsunami that crashed onto our previously high'n'dry turf...nearly washing away Rosina's footwear while immediately soaking Tim's and mine.

Since we were already drenched it seemed a minor matter to get a few pictures of us and the waves.  While it may appear a little dangerous, I can assure you that we were well within the boundaries of the rocky shore so the waves washing in had already spent their power.  But you will notice that Despicable Tim was still frightened by them.  Check out the play-by-play, as Tim attempts to save his own life at the expense of his sister's.
Spotting the danger

Fleeing from the danger (using Rosina to boost himself)

Despicable Tim - 6, Society - 1, Collateral Damage against Rosina and Uncle Lou.

Episode 2:  On Wednesday we took a trip up the coast to Durban, the busiest port city in Africa.  Durban is also home to uShaka Marine World, a first class aquarium and water park.  Due to the inclement weather we chose only to enjoy the aquarium portion.  This is our third time and it's great every time.  They have sea lions that perform a drama for the audience, and they have a world renowned dolphin show.  This time just before the dolphin show they asked for volunteers to go down and feed, touch, and kiss a dolphin.  Tim was one of six contestants selected.  The hostess told all the contestants to do a dance and then the crowd would cheer for whomever they thought was the best.  The first round saw Despicable Tim show off his Sharks rugby jersey.  The Sharks being the local rugby team he received lots of cheers.  His opponent in the finals was an older gentleman who was there as a chaperone for an entire he had a whole section cheering for him.  Despicable Tim, knowing he was the underdog, could see that he needed to pull off a special dance to succeed against The Principal.  So when the hostess said "Dance" it was on.  While the older man pulled out some moves clearly from his younger days in the disco era, Tim made his move.  While feigning a dance move he took a planned tumble down the stairs of the arena.  Unfortunately it was too convincing.  The audience was more concerned than impressed.  When the time came for the cheers, The Principal was the overwhelming majority.  Despicable Tim was actually the recipient of more than a few boos.  And I think even if he had received the most cheers the hostess wouldn't have allowed him near the dolphin pool for fear he might injure himself or one of the animals.  And in addition, during the fall Tim received a significant bruise on his left bum.
Despicable Tim - 6, Society - 2,  Collateral Damage against the whole family, as everyone saw him sitting with us.  How embarrassing!

Episode 3:  Wednesday afternoon Amber took the kids to the uShaka playground while Tim, Rosina and I went body surfing in the sea.  This was about the same time that Tim was struck with severe diarrhea.  Several trips to the facilities later, we were on the road back to Uvongo, one of the longest hours of Tim's life.
Despicable Tim - 6, Society - 3,  Collateral Damage against the whole family as we had to spend time waiting for Tim during his visits to the loo.

Episode 4:  Wednesday evening and night didn't see our villain fare any better.  After the diarrhea abated he was afflicted with nausea and vomiting.  This lasted throughout the night, until about 4:00am when he was struck with severe pain in his lower abdomen.  We'll call Wednesday night in Society's favor.
Despicable Tim - 6, Society - 4,  No Collateral Damage.

Episode 5:  Thursday morning was an extension of Wednesday night for Despicable Tim.  While the diarrhea and vomiting abated, the pain in the side grew worse.  He was able to catch a bit of sleep here and there, but mostly he just lounged on the couch.  We considered a visit to the hospital and put it off for the following reasons:  First, Frank and Maggie never-ever-ever took anyone to the hospital (including the time one of my uncles hit me in the head with a shovel...twice).  Second, yours truly had a little episode of vomiting and intestinal ailment on Monday night, so we thought Tim's illness might just be a more intense manifestation of the same.  Third, Despicable Tim had already been admitted to the hospital once earlier this year for potential heart trouble that turned out to be merely dehydration and nerves.  So while Thursday was the one nice day of the week, we spent the bulk of it indoors.

Around mid-afternoon the pain hadn't lessened, so Tim and I made the decision to take him to a local hospital.  The next two hours found Tim being poked, prodded, stuck, giving various samples of various liquids and internally photographed.  Meanwhile, I ran from one office at the hospital to the next, handing over our "emergency use only" credit card.  The private hospitals in this country demand payment before services are rendered.  In addition, each doctor, x-ray facility, blood testing, etc... is independent of the hospital itself, so every service that was administered had to be paid for at a different location.  So Uncle Lou had lots of fun Thursday afternoon.

Finally, they determined that the most probably source of the pain was coming from an infected appendix.  The doctor ordered immediate surgery to remove the offending organ.  Probably the appendix was just as anxious to get away from the villain as we were:-)

Meanwhile, Amber, Rosina and the kids spent the afternoon exploring more tidal pools and walking along the beach.
Despicable Tim - 6, Society - 5,  Collateral Damage against Uncle Lou

More Collateral Damage:  Although Thursday was relatively nice and partially sunny, Friday regressed back to the mean.  But since it was our last scheduled full day on vacation we insisted on making the most of it.  That morning we decided to visit Tim during the visiting hours we were given by hospital reception.  Unfortunately when we arrived we learned that hospital reception was apparently listing visiting hours for a different time zone and we were politely escorted out of the hospital by security.  Since the hospital was about 10 minutes down the road from our lodging we decided to visit a beach nearer to the hospital.  It was actually a very nice location and although the temperature was chilly the Indian section of the One World Ocean is quite nice.  We thought we would take the opportunity to finally spend some time in the water.  Alas, this was not to be.  The east coast of South Africa is home to one of the greatest wonders of the natural world - The Annual Sardine Migration.  There have been Imax videos made of this great spectacle.  This year's reports listed Margate, South Africa as one of the prime locations...and Tim's hospital was located in...yep, Margate.  Let me clarify:  During this great Sardine Run, the shark nets are removed and waters are monitored for shark activity.  This year in early July an American biologist was attacked by a shark while researching the migration.  And the monitors declared the beaches of our area off limits due to increased shark activity.  Which is totally awesome.

Instead of swimming at that beach, we went down the shore a couple km's and found an isolated stretch of sand that was protected by a rocky reef.  While we couldn't get into the water we were able to hike around on the rocks.  Of course, while doing so I slipped off one rock and mashed up my knee pretty good.  I don't want to say that this is the worst vacation ever.  In fact, its not even my worst vacation ever (read: a spring break trip to Texas gone sour).  But I would definitely rank this right up there as awfully disappointing.

We were able to extend our vacation an extra day because Tim wasn't discharged from the hospital until Saturday afternoon.  And Saturday was actually pretty nice, although kind of a bummer because Tim wasn't able to be with us.  But that meant that Brian and Lois had to take charge of the church service back here in Welkom, and this on very short notice.  Yet another bit of collateral damage inflicted by supervillain Despicable Tim.

If you'd like to see more photos from this vacation, you can find them on facebook.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Life & Times - Mousers

We've had something of a mouse problem recently.  Not completely surprising, but annoying nonetheless.  The traps here are useless, giving me a better understanding of the whole "Build a better mousetrap" adage.  And since our walls are brick, mortar and concrete, the little buggers don't get to run around inside the walls.  Instead they dart from hiding place to hiding place often giving the ladies of our house quite a scare.

This picture is a bit old, but it is from one of our mouse hunting expeditions.  Taylor and Matthew were here one night when a mouse was cornered in between the dining room and kitchen.  Armed with brooms and shoes Tim, Taylor and Matthew stalked the mouse, finally delivering a fatal lunging blow with Tim's shoe.  It was quite a celebration as you can see from our proud poses.  It's like they caught a marlin or something.  Oh, and that is my sister Rosina, whom the mouse had cornered on top of the freezer.