We had such a fantastic time visiting Maria's community on Saturday. Maria, our housekeeper, and Victor, our gardener, both live in this community. Maria is essentially the leader of the community. She takes care of all the orphans, including those living with HIV, as well as the women who are living with HIV. Even though she doesn't have much, she gives them food and cares for them. She listens to their problems and provides advice. She is so selfless - I find her to be one of the most amazing people I know.
So back to why we went to Eesterust, which is located about 45+ minutes outside of Pretoria (for the record, it takes Maria and Victor about 2 hours to reach our house by taxi and bus. YIKES.). My coworkers, Heidi and Bryan, have had Maria working in their home for the past two years. Last year, Heidi and Bryan went to Eesterust and brought Christmas to the orphans in the community. There were about 20+ people there and they gathered in someone's house to celebrate the holiday. Maria asked Will and I if we would like to celebrate with them this year and we said absolutely. We consider Maria and Victor to be our South African family so we definitely wanted to celebrate the holidays with them.
A couple weeks ago, Heidi and I went to the South African version of Sam's and loaded up on staples such as flour, maize meal, rice, beans, cooking oil, tea, sugar, and salt and got a couple pull-aparts and soccer balls. We made 40 bags consisting of these items - 35 of them going to the children and 5 going to some women that are battling HIV and aren't doing very well on the medicine. Dyad, another coworker of mine, wanted to participate as well so he bought some art supplies for the kids. We divvied up the loot and brought it with us to Eesterust.
We were SHOCKED when we arrived! There were two huge carnival tents filled with what I think had to be at least 150 people, if not 200. We came in and everyone cheered! We sat down in the front and Maria called us all up to the microphone to say something to the crowd while she translated. We all got tears in our eyes as we thanked this wonderful community for allowing us to be a part of their family during the holidays since we were all so far away from ours. Maria mentioned that it was our first Christmas as a married couple, which resulted in an immediate "AY-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI!" victory cheer from the grandmas and next thing I know, Will and I were swept up into a wedding celebration song with all the grandmas dancing around us. FUN.
After speeches, we got all the gifts together, Will donned a santa hat and gave them out to the kids. Most of the grandmas accepted the presents on behalf of the children, which was so sweet. The kids loved their pull aparts, which came with paper hats that they put on (see picture below). We served food to the group - I thought the line would never end! I scooped up rice and pap (like sticky grits) and just sweated in the 100+ degree heat as I got a facial from the steaming rice. Then it was time for the jumping castle. I have never seen so many kids descend on a jumping castle before! It was so funny. We passed out coke and fanta - you would have thought we were passing out $100 bills or something the way the kids went crazy for this stuff! And then we just played with the kids. The little girls were so cute. I tried to teach them the electric slide, which, without music, is pretty funny, but we just laughed and giggled the whole time. They loved playing with my sunglasses and checking out my freckles (which they found out, don't wipe off).
All in all, we had an amazing time and can't wait to return to spend time with these wonderful people. The grandmas are hilarious and the kids are so much fun. Its amazing to see how little they have and how happy they are.
Maria is in the process of setting up a formal orphanage for all the children. Right now, she is in the process of buying the land. Once its purchased, Will, Heidi, Bryan, and I will go back to help build and paint the orphanage. I took so many pictures on Saturday that I am going to get some 8x10 copies to frame to hang in the orphange once its ready as a surprise to Maria. I can't wait to see this dream of Maria's realized and want to help as much as I can.
So, in sum, if this a cause you'd like to help with, please let me know. Look at the faces below and the area where they live. They could use so much, whether its stopping at the dollar store and getting little toys or school supplies to give to the kids, to go to Kroger and buy a box of ramen noodles to send over, to buy gloves/hats/socks that are bound to go on clearance soon to send during the winter time so they can keep warm during the night, to write letters to individual kids to let them know that there are people thinking of them and loving them from very far away, or to even make a small donation to give to Maria to help her purchase the space and the supplies she'll need to build the orpanage... there are so many ways you can help this beautiful community. Just let me know.
Its Christmas knickerknocker and we're going to make sausage balls. Hopefully they will turn out as yummy as my parents and Will's parents... wish us luck! We pick up Christy and Steph from Jo'burg tomorrow and plan to launch into cookie baking mode, complete with Christmas music and movies. We've been invited to a Christmas Eve party at the Australian high commission - its a party for all of us who are still in country and not with our families - should be fun! Christmas Day we plan to wake up, open gifts, eat breakfast, and then head to Jo'burg to spend time at Child Haven, where Christy and Steph have been during the month of December (see those cute kiddies by going to "neema.imani.penda" listed in our favorite links at the right of this post!).
Its surreal to not be with our families and to be in crazy hot weather at Christmas (so hot we've been in our pool every day!), but we feel really blessed this holiday to be with people we care about and to be serving others. We miss everyone so much and hope that you all have a wonderful holiday.
*NOTE: Hmmm. For some reason its not letting me upload photos! I will figure it out and post them in a new post as soon as I can!*