Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Debrief - Postponed

Here is something that I should have seen coming -- but didn't.

As myopic as I was about going to South Africa, I now realize that I am consistantly short-sighted about the return to the US. I thought that it would just be "coming home." But, things are a little different. Views are different, Opinoins are different, and People and Materialism is different

(By the way, anything that I say about people and any habits include my own -- I am just as much people as anything that I might comment on.)

So, as I am processing this, odds are good that I won't make another post until this weekend (unless of course, I post a picture of the four tie-died kids).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Last Africa-Side Update

Currently waiting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn - Pretoria. Getting ready to go to the Apartheid Museum, then a flight to Atlanta and finally CVG.

Here is a synopsis of our team - Construction 9:

Sean: a great block layer and a good guy. Quiet, but deep. He gets it. Glad that I met him.

Nancy: a go-getter. Doing the block-brigade was not her favorite thing -- but each and every time, she stepped up to the plate. I like the way she prays and I like how she is.

Deborah: a rubber-meets-the-road-person. We met in the lobby one morning and had a great conversation. She interruppted my journal writing at just the right time as it was focusing on the negative. A walking blessing.

Daryl: Good guy. Huge heart. He was there to serve and was a good reminder to me when stuff hit the fan. I like him and look forward to running into him at church.

Dana: a better friend and great conversationalist. I was glad that I was able to share the trip with her and for her listening skills and tactful pointedness. Every time I hear that one song that we all danced and looked at each other, I'll remember her funny face.

Raymond: our taxi driver. He was our South African sounding board. He answered our silly questions, gave us a little black South African perspective (both vocally and non-vocally) and served us well. I'll miss him.

Nancy M: wanted a house. Asked for my hat (and got it). For me she represents the people of the formal settlements. Needs some help, is willing to accept the help, is willing to wait, and holds no ill will.

I look forward to returning to Cincinnati, seeing my wife and kids, visiting friends and co-workers. Sharing the stories. Helping people get it. Retaining the views and emotions and lessons that I've had here. And basically becoming a better person and Useful Instrument.

Thanks to all those that have supported this effort - as I've thought about it, I've realized that it runs the gammet from financial, to spiritual, to logistical, to heartfelt and to friendly. I've been lucky to have traveled here.

I was wrong, it wasn't just another construction job. It is a renewed life and a fresh view.

Godspeed Travelers.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sweet, Sweat, and Bittersweet

Pictures: Nancy breaking block; the Future Owner, two local kids in front of her existing home; Signing a soccer ball gift; Nancy and Dave (ref: Tuesday's entry); Dave and house; mural in church schools kid area; Daryl and a (tired) young man.

Today was the last day of construction. Now our team is getting into its groove - at the end of the day, we are tired, but not too sore. So, it wasn't too tough of a physical day, but it was a little of a roller coaster ride emotionally.

Last Fall, when we started the trip, the goal was to build 40 houses. After we got here, we were told that it took 1 1/2 days to build a house. After we arrived on site, we realized that it was going to be tougher than we thought (the concrete blocks had not arrived on the first day). So on that first day, we were used to assist other teams, but unfortunately, we didn't get our assigned house until the second day.

So the toughest part of the day was the slow-dawn realization that we were not going to get our house completed.

During the day, there was a ribbon cutting, PR-type event at a house across the street (for one of the houses that another Crossroads team built). A couple of us stayed in our house laying block -- we figured that the US would be well represented and we really, really wanted to get the house done. (as an aside, a guy named Mark from another construction team was walking around the site, saw that we were still building, and then began mixing mud for us -- that was impressive).

But, house-completion wasn't to be.

The construction superintendent assurred us that the house actually was livable now -- so that was good (and I don't think that he was just being polite) -- but to have literally handed the keys over would have been great.

The improvement of relationships was of paramount importance and that was started on Day 1 and continues. However, the American civil engineer would have also liked a tangible conclusion.

Bittersweet conclusion.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006




Pictures: The first four pictures are of businesses along the streets of Mamelodi. Two hair-style places, a tire store, and a muffler store (I am not being funny, they are stores that provide real services.) The final two pictures are views of the informal settlements. (Raymond, our taxi driver that gets our team to the construction site) told us that people can buy prefabricated walls (not unlike the ones above) for about Rand750 (or about US$135). When asked "Where did all of these people come from?" The common answer is "I don't know, they just came.")

"What you have done in four days would have taken us years."

Last evening, the pastor of the local church (our sister church) said the above words. Initially, I was trying to figure out that if it was accurate that it would have taken years to build one of the houses that we are building. "Getting funds together, getting building material, getting assistance -- ok, maybe it would take a long time" was my traing of thought.

Then it dawned on me that he didn't really mean years to build the houses, but years to build the relationships. Relationships with the people of the formal and informal settlements, with the people of the local church, and with the local media, and with the local politicians.

It is still a long row to hoe, but perhaps our visit has shortened some steps in the journey of improvement.

For me, it is interesting to see what I've learned. Before we left, I think that my wife was getting a little -- well, frustrated is not the right word, but a diet version of frustrated is -- that I was not getting excited about going and that I was thinking that it was just another construction job.

Well, I was wrong. Its not just another construction job.

Right now, I can't think of appropriate words that describe how I'm feeling each day/moment or even what I'm learning -- or maybe I just don't really want to post them. But, I am receiving my own education of who I am, perhaps a little more of my purpose, and perhaps even a little closer to the ultimate goal.

From our side, the hardest part about leaving here will be to remember-to-remember what we've learned, what we've felt, and whom we've met. Not unlike a morphine drip button, it'd be great to have a Mamelodi-drip button to put us back in our learning place. That'd be good.

The pictures above will provide a little input of what things here look like and how society operates. But they won't do justice to the interactions with the residents. They won't provide the choked-up feeling when we talk to people. And they won't provide the flow of joy in simple things of life.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Today, our group began construction on our own construction site. During the day, I sat down to drink some water and refill my water-backpack. A nice, grandmotherly-type resident from Mamelodi sat down next to me. We had a conversation, she said:

"I want a home.

"If you come back, I want you to build me a home."

- Nency Moekelers
30019 Ward 10
Mamelodi Township

Monday, April 17, 2006

Real Construction and Blessings

Pictures: Loosened up Americans with Mamelodi toddler, South African boy with yoghurt cup, baby sleeping in wrap on mom, Construction (2 photos).

Personal Note from Deborah to her husband (a fellow constructioner): "Greg, I am doing really well."

Today, we started construction for real -- it was great.

It was great to see the numerous people getting to do real work. The first task that we accomplished was just plain moving the concrete blocks to the construction site - bucket birgade style. To move a trailerful of blocks in about 10 minutes was refreshing -- kind of like a warm up session.

People in the Township - it is referred to as "17" were out and about and were watching us. I've been told the leaders that the construction that we are doing is appreciated, but apparently, the greater reward is that "17" is seeing that people (a majority of them white) are doing what they said they would do, when they said they'd do it. This is the real story that is now cascading out of the Mamelodi Township, south to Pretoria and Johannasburg. There was a story on the news about the efforts and the partnership. Perhaps, this will create enough buzz for the beginning of a tipping point -- tipped toward people are people.

During church yesterday, one of the pastors said somthing that stuck to me: "From the lowest Christian to the highest, where the lowest will be blessed and to the highest who will be a blessing."

There have been numerious Divine Interventions for me on this trip - one could call them coincidences -- but there is something greater going on. I can't describe it or adequately write about it, but one can sense it - much like a sound at such a low frequency that you can't hear it with your ears, but you can sense it with your body. Even today at the Church, there was a service for the beginning of work - the Americans were looser, were dancing more and singing more.

I sat next to a Sohto woman that spoke a little English (since her English was better than my Sohto, we chose English). She explained some of the Sohto songs being sung and that was good. But in retrospect, this woman that I didn't know, that was (I got the feeling) normally a shy person (at least around white people) initiated the conversation and translation -- that is not really normal. It was either Divine Intervention that she should speak to me or just her everyday faith that overcame any timidness and knew that she should reach out.

Amazing. Inspiring. A Blessing. Just-plain-good-stuff. All are good descriptions.

Back to the construction for a moment. Our South African construction contact was happy with us. He told the project superintendents (about the American workers), "You just show them once how to do something . . . and they do it!" Good for the Constructors. Today, it wasn't hard to know how to be a blessing.

Now here is a personal story that I've shared with a bunch of people around here already. Yesterday, I was sure to pack some "known-clean" food for during the day (I was an early victim of an unwashed apple). Anyway, I packed some granola bars and a chocolate bar. I put all of them in my pocket. It gets hot in South Africa -- hot enough to cause a Hershey's bar to liquify. Fortunately, I took it out of my pocket before it exploded out of its foil. During an evening wrap up at Charity and Faith Church, I set it on top of my gym bag so (a) I wouldn't step on it and (b) so I could remember to throw it away.

Well, during the meeting, it solidified a little bit, so I decided to take it back to the hotel. After it solidified, I offered it to several people, but they didn't want it.

So today after all of our construction activities, but before dinner, I saw it and decided that I'd take it downstairs to eat while waiting for all of us to gather. I began eating it and thought to myself, "Re-solidifying chocolate tastes a little different than original-chocolate." But, I didn't care too much and I kept eating.

As I went to break off a third piece or so, I glanced down at the bar and saw that there was some type of writing on the inside - I was thinking a contest or something -- then I realized that it was my wife's writing and one of our son's name -- Garrett. I laughed out loud and a few of the people around me turned and looked at me.

I (now) carefully opened the rest of the wrapper and removed the bar. And there in my wife's handing writing it said "We hope that you are having a great day! Love, Kim, Kira, Morgan, Garrett, and Darby." It choked me up.

For me to have kept that seemingly mushy, almost non-edible candy bar and then take it back to the hotel and then actually have enought light to see the writing (instead of opening it on the bus), and to actually look back at the foil (did I mention that my wife put her writing inside the foil part of the wrapper and then re-wrapped it?) was once again just amazing. At the least, there had to be some vibes that I was receiving from Kim. I'd like to think that perhaps there was some God-like vibe-intensifier in there with the assist.

Thanks Kim -- what a great support network I have -- lucky, lucky.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter and Construction Prep

Pictures: Mother and child after church; interior of an example-home that we are to use a guide; the grandmotherly greeting (see below); post-church interactions; Daughter and Father.

I wasn't going to write too much today, but then as I sorted through the pictures, I saw one picture (which aesthetically isn't too great) but it reminded me of its occurance.

After Easter Service - which was pretty good -- or actually perhaps I am not giving it enough credit as I sang in Church today and I never (and I really mean never) do that -- we delivered some construction material to the sites. The sites that we visited today were not the squatter-cities, but were lower-income areas. People were out doors at many of the sites and looked at us with a little bit of wonder - 10 white guys getting out of a bus and dropping construction material off isn't (I think) too normal a site in Mamelodi. [sidenote: they weren't looking at us in a negative manner, just a "this-is-interesting-I-think-I'll-watch" manner -- much like we are looking at the residents as our bus passes by.]

Anyway, at one of this sites a grandmotherly type woman met us. Usually, this person that meets us suggests where we should store the material for safe keeping. She may have done that, but then she came further out and hugged each one of us that was bringing the material.

She didn't speak English -- she was quite grateful, happy, and excited about the promise of a new home.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Moon and Game Park

Photos from today: An elephant that got a little upset at a driver that passed us and tried to speed by (no confrontation by contact, just some pounding hearts). The other pics, three of the Big 5.
Today, we went shopping at a not-so-local, but not-out-of-the-way place. It was good and there were a lot of things one could buy. All of the shop workers were (once again) quite nice and polite. They wanted to sell their things and get a good price for them, but they weren't overly pushy like a New Yorker might be.

After shopping, we went to a Game Park for a look at the Big 5 animial (elephant, giraffe, leopard or cheeta (I can't remember which), hippo, and rhino). It felt a little like cheating seeing the animals (and just enjoying ourselves) before we have really done any work, but the leader of the local church has stated that he would like us to see Africa and some of its beauty before we begin working - he'd like us to experience all of it.

So, all of that was great. I was riding along with a friend and she said, "all I really want to see is a giraffe." So (trying to help or solve a problem (I am a guy you know)) I began scouring the brush to try to find that elusive giraffe. I was quite hoping that she'd be able to see what she really wanted. About 10 minutes later, the jeep-like thing stopped and just off our right - about 30 feet was a giraffe eating behind a tree. We stayed there about 20 minutes and the giraffe proceeded to come closer, cross the road and was probably about 10 feet from us. It was great.

Second part of this email. After dinner as we were driving back to the hotel, I saw the moon. [I think that the moon, and sun, are in the northern horizon as they cross the sky instead of the southern - no point here, just interesting]. While looking at the moon, I thought of my wife and kids. Even though we are so far away here, they can look at the same moon -- and if it is dark in Cincinnati, we could even look at it at the same time. Kind of unifying.

There is a point there, but I think that you'll have to draw your own conclusions.

Why not Cincinnati?

Photos: Left - Day 1 group photo again. Day 1 photo of one of the classrooms storing some stuff.

Over the past few days people have asked me? "OK, going to South Africa to help - that is a good thing. Congratulations on doing that. But, why not help out in New Orleans, or local homeless, or Over-the-Rhine (a Cincinnati neighborhood).

Well, after a conversation this morning, I think that I have a good answer for that. "Because, if we were in Cincinnati, we'd still be taking cell calls, we'd leave what we were doing to see our friends and family -- or in short We wouldn't be totally immersed."

Everything in South Africa has been stripped away. We don't really have anything to worry about here except ourselves, what we're doing, and what we're seeing. Sounds kind of selfish -- but I think that if we were in Cincinnati, we'd return to our own homes and our own issues and then not be totally immersed.

Now, moving on, I think that going through this immersion will ultimately help New Orleans, Cincinnati, or even our local neighborhood as we'll remember what we've seen here, how we've gone about helping and how we've connected.

Here, we've stripped everything away so that now it is people to people - no agendas (hidden or open). Just a mindset of "This is what improves things."

On a personal note, Today, Darby is 1,000,000 minutes old (at 3:47 a.m. eastern)- so if you see her, wish her a happy millenia.

Disclaimer: I have not proofread this (or any of the blogs) as time and internet connections here make it not really worthwhile.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Touchdown at 10:04am local (4:04 am Eastern US)

The people on the right are my Go Team", the lady on the left as well as the picture above are mentioned below.

The flight went well -- although 18 hours on a flight is 18 hours.

We landed, got on busses and then headed to our sister church - Charity Church (and briefly saw) Mamelodi. It is interesting, there are "stores" along the street that fix mufflers, wash cars, do hair, sell chickens (I think) and other things I can't think of right now.

Anyway, when we visited the new Hospice and School, we were also able to me A LOT of kids. They loved having their pictures taken and then seeing themselves in the digital preview window. First one would have their picture taken, then another would join, then a whole bunch of them - analogous to seagulls, popcorn, and the beach.

And they were all smiles. One kid about Garrett's age came up to me (the introvert) extended her hand and said "My name is Ichikununo. What is your name?" Did I say that she was maybe 3 1/2 years old! She was something. Actually all of the kids were.

We were visiting the church and they were between some type of service/conference and many people were eating lunch. Lots of Moms and Grand moms. Thinking retrospectively, I don't recall seeing too many Dads or older males. But anyway, the women were also quite nice and welcoming.

Well, that is all for now, we're here. Skies are sunny and the breeze is at our backs.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Last US-Side Update

So it is about 2 a.m. Cincinnati time (or about 8 a.m. Mamelodi time).

Sometimes, I am quite slow on the uptake. Just this evening, I realized that there is a whole, whole lot of support-group stuff occurring on this trip. Initially, I thought that things were happening behinds the scenses and all was well. Now that I've been exposed to a little more of the logistics, I realize that there is a TON of behind the scene stuff.

Although that is impressive, that is not what this entry is about.

This entry is about the support and impact that we are receiving from home. I realized this just today. I mean that I kind of knew that Kim was doing a lot of things to allow me to go on the trek, but the more I think about it, the more grateful I am -- one night of bath duty with just one parent can be a little much. Tie that in with post-bath tooth-brushing negotiations, and carrying to bed negotiations and -- well -- it can cause some frustration.

So, hat's off to Kim and the kids for allowing me to go. What a gift.

And fortunatley, I realized this before calling Kim at 12:10 a.m. (about 25 minutes after she dropped me off) and asking her to please come back and please bring to me my money (both US and South African) that I'd forgotten.

I guess that I didn't add "Bring Money" to my checklist. -- Thanks much Kim (and Charlotte - her mom for watching our kids for another hour -- see there is another support person!)

Anyway, we are going to get on the buses to go to the airport soon. DAY-ATL around 6 a.m., then the rest of the way.

Godspeed Travelers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

T minus 1 Day or So

Right now I am in St. Louis, I'll be Chicago in a few hours, then back to Cincinnati. In less than 24 hours, I'll be on my way to Dayton and Atlanta and then just a little more than that, I'll be on my way to Johannesburg! Wow, writing that brings up a couple of nerves.

The rubber is getting nearer and nearer to the road.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Practice Flight

Thinking of this post reminds me of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant. "Kid, if you want to do good. . ."

It'll be a long flight to and from South Africa -- 18 hours is the advertised duration. I think that there is a scheduled refueling after about 9 hours on that little part of Africa that juts out to the west and used to match up with Central and South America.

Word on the street is that the flight will become a little less crowded as some people de-plane.

I hear that there are on-demand movies on board, so that'll make the time pass a little quicker. Of course, if one is watching a movie, then one is not sleeping and that might make customs and the bus ride's time pass a little slower. If only I could have some type of constant reminder that waiting around, slowly moving, and being (in my American mind) not too efficient was ok, it would be (well) ok.

Ironically, I was at Chicago O'Hare today and witnessed people being stressed out, not relating, and just (basically) surviving -- lots of people -- and it seems if there was some type of required down time for each person, each day, then all things would be better. Kind of like a forced nap. [sidenote, I just realized that none of our kids are or have been in schools where they have to take a nap -- I remember taking "forced" naps in cots.]

So, I wonder if when I am in Africa and when I am (hopefully) completing good and meaningful work (on houses, co-workers, and myself), I'll be able to step back, take stock, and truly sieze the moment, releash the moment -- even the bad ones. Perhaps even think, "OK, what do I need to learn here? What is the lesson that Life has tried to teach me several times, but I haven't gotten yet? Wouldn't being un-frustrated be better?"

If and when I do really get it -- all of it -- will I look back and just shake my head at how naive or short-sighted I was? Will others that already really get it, say "You know, we wanted to and even tried to tell you, but ultimately, we knew that you would have to learn it on your own. We're glad that you have learned it."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Taxes, Packing, and Schedule

We are leaving for South Africa on Wednesday evening - April 12 - Actually, we're leaving our homes on April 12 to have a huge rendezvous and then get on busses for the different airports around 3 AM on Thursday morning April 13. We are scheduled to arrive in Johannesburg on Friday morning around 10am local time.

Friday is going to be a "last-leg-of-the-trek" day.

Saturday is to be spent on a safari - I know that this sounds like a vacation day because, well, I guess that it is. Titus (the leader of the sister-church) has insisted that we spend a day on a safari as they are quite proud of their animals and they'd like to share the experience - so we are.

Sunday will be Easter Services (I've heard that they give some of our masses a run for their money as their service is scheduled to last about 3 hours long).

Monday - Thursday will be construction days. Our goal for each group of eight is to build 1 house per day. (Remember, the houses are about 30 ft x 20 ft; the roof is already installed, and we are installing concrete block walls - I think it is do-able).

Friday - Travel back to Jo-Burg in the morning. Visit the Apartheid museum. And Prepare for 18 hours against the jet stream.

Saturday - Land in Atlanta, learn if Delta has struck and figure out the next steps. With any luck, return to CVG between 11am and 6pm.

Sunday - Sleep in. Hit Church. Sleep out. Say hello to Kim and the kids.

Oh yea, the point of the cardinal and the moon - none, I just saw it this evening and took it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


On April 2, we all attended a meeting to finalize many of the traveling considerations.

I'll be arriving back at CVG around 11:30 - which is a bonus as other flights land as late at 6pm. In other words, there is only so much one can do while waiting for a flight in Atlanta. I'll accomplish that in about 55 minutes and others will have 6 hours and 55 minutes to accomplish the same.

Of course, if Delta strikes, then I'll either be driving back from Atlanta with a few other (probably a little grumpy) people or finding some comfy carpet at ATL.

Anyway, during the April 2 meeting, members of the Prayer group (both formal and informal) came to the meeting and walked in holding candles and offering their prayers for us - kind of humbling. There are about 300 of us going on the trip. And there is at least one prayer partner for each person going - how is that for cool - we've just increased the team's size by at least double.

More than than, even people from our iD Series group showed up and provided their support! Can you believe it? They took time out of their late evening, drove over to church, waited (pretty) silently for quite some time (while their candles were burning (literally)) and then walked into the darkened auditorim carrying the candles.

It was like an endless wave of people. The first 50 or so were impressive as they came in -- then, it just wouldn't end. It was enough to make even the baldest of attendee have hair stand up.

So, that was good. Then after that, there were some African dancers as another surprise. I've added a picture (as a test while in the states and just because).

All is good Houston. T-Minus 6 days.

3 for show

Here is a test picture (#3 actually) of bubbles and Paper moon.