Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happiness, Heartbreak, and How you can Help.

Its taken me awhile to sit down and write this entry. I've been feeling a range of emotions and just haven't known exactly what to say. But I'm going to try.

On August 16, Will, Heidi, Bryan, Asara, and I loaded up the car and headed out to Eesterust. We were there to cheer on the Buffalo Boys, the soccer team that we support in Maria's township. After their game, we were doing a braii (read: cookout) for them.

We headed to the soccer field, a patch of dirt with two posts on either end to mark the goals. The field was full of boys in AYSO jerseys (donated from someone back home). I was so happy to see these boys smiling, laughing, and playing soccer. At the same time, my heart broke that they were shoeless and without protective gear (shin guards, socks, padding for the goalie). They played in dirt rather than on grass. When their ball went out of bounds, it went into the street.

We cheered the Buffalo Boys to victory that day. Yay! They returned to Maria's house where we grilled up a feast and popped popcorn. The little girls from Christmas were happy to see me again and we played and played. The Buffalo Boys loved taking "jumping pictures" where I would say "1, 2, 3" and then they'd jump and I'd snap the shot. Then they insisted on taking individual photos. Did I mention that they also wore their jerseys backward the entire time?

It was so fun - I really had the best day hanging out with these wonderful children.

Asara is getting held by the cute girls and boys!

Towards the end of the afternoon, Maria introducted me to two boys. One boy, Thabang, had appendicitis and got his appendix removed. I asked to see his scar, which essentially looked like a Frankenstein wound - all jagged, swollen, and awful looking. Thabang said he still felt pain from his wound and I could see why. I asked him how I could help him and he said, "Madame, I am happy. I do not need anything." I look at Maria, look back at him and gently say, "No really... how can I help you?" The same answer. I look back to Maria and say, "How can I help?"

It turns out he has no food to eat. Maria feeds him what she can but he is an orphan and has no one to depend on. Every day I bring something to work for Heidi to give to Maria so Thabang can have something to eat. I bought a big thing of peanut butter and a big thing of jelly and so I buy loaves of bread (have I ever mentioned that a loaf of brown bread costs less than $1 here???) and bring them to her throughout the week so he can have sandwiches.

And here's where I say: if you were literally starving and someone asked you how they could help you, would you be able to smile at them and say you are fine?

And my heart broke.

Maria then introduced me to Nico. Nico was the soccer team star - he has amazing skills on the field. He's a shy boy and wouldn't look me in the eye. I asked him about the soccer team and then asked him if I could help him in any way. The same answer, "Madame, I am fine. Thank you for asking." I look at Maria and back at this boy, who I can tell has pain in his heart. I ask him again - "Madame, I am fine." I look back at Maria, she speaks to him in Sesotho, and then he looks at me and back down again.


I look at Maria and she explains that he has no uniform to go to school. He needs the uniform and he needs shoes. I tell Maria - no problem. Will and I can buy him what he needs - just tell me how. Nico lights up at the news and thanks me profusely, as much as a shy boy can do.
And here's where I say: if you were literally growing out of your clothes and had no shoes for your feet and someone asked to help you, would you be able to smile at them and say you are fine?

And so my heart broke into a thousand pieces.

I have mentioned this before, but Maria is an AMAZING woman who cares so much for her town. She has saved and saved and saved and has finally saved enough purchase land to build an orphanage for all the children in her town. That afternoon, we went to see the lot of land to take measurements and see what work is cut out for us.

On the way back, we stopped by Nico's house.

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

Nico's "home" is a crumbling cement building that was never finished. Weeds grow inside the walls. Its incredibly unsafe. There is one area in which they dragged some scrap metal and they have made a roof, but his home is weeds, dirt, trash, and crumbling cement bricks. On the ground laid his gugu (grandma), who had swollen legs and was coughing up something awful. On the ground beside her were two little girls coated in flies as they played in the dirt. Nico's mother happened to be home - apparently she leaves him for months at a time so Nico is primarily cared for by his gugu, who is obviously very ill. Maria tells Nico's mother how we will help him and she weeps. In my life, I've never seen someone cry like that over someone else's offer to help. I asked her not to cry and hugged her, but I think that made it worse. She just wept and wept.

And my heart broke into a billion pieces.
I left Eesterust that day with a pain in my heart that I have never felt before. It was a day that changed my life forever. I left that day knowing that I must do everything I can to help leave this beautiful community a better place than I found it. When I had met these children before, I had no idea that these were the conditions that they lived in. I noticed the children had holes in their clothes and no shoes on their feet and that the ate like they had never eaten before, but it didn't sink in until I saw their homes how badly these children hurt.

I have to do everything I can to help this beautiful community that is so rich in love for one another but so poor in every other respect. I have to keep the soccer team going so that these boys have a bright spot in their otherwise dark lives. I have to build an orphanage to provide shelter and care for these children who have no one. I have to feed the hungry who would otherwise dig through the trash for scraps. I have to clothe the naked who can't go to school without the proper uniform. I have to use the gifts that God has given me to help in every way I can. I have to tell their story to anyone who will listen.

Immediate plans to assist Eesterust include hosting several fundraiser dinners to raise money to purchase shoes and shin guards for the Buffalo Boys. I think we can raise the $500 needed to take care of this need among our friends here in SA.

The orphanage? We're starting at ground zero with just the 5 of us (Maria, Heidi, Bryan, Will and I). We have to level the lot, build the space, and buy supplies. Wow. Maria wants the orphanage to have 5 rooms where the children can come for school tutoring, food, clothes, and a safe place to play and sleep. It will primarily be a day center, but for those children that have no where to sleep at night, they can stay there too. It will be 100% staffed by volunteers from the community.

This is a picture of part of the lot of the future orphanage.
Our work is cut out for us!

And so here it is: we are looking for ways to help Maria raise the money she needs to build the center. I am asking friends and family to seek donations for the construction of the building and initial start up items like beds, tables, and chairs. We estimate this to cost about $3,000. I know that purse strings are tight due to the recession so please know that any amount would be incredibly appreciated. Remember how I said $1 would buy a loaf of bread? $1 can buy at least 3 bricks for the building. $10 can buy 30 bricks. $25 can buy 75 bricks. As you can see, a little goes a long way. Even if you donate the change you have in your pocket or purse right now, you will make a change with change. Maybe you have a jar full of change you've been collecting - here's your chance to make change with change!

Heidi's mother has donated a quilt she made and we have decided to raffle it off. Any person donating $10 or more will be given a chance to win the quilt. We will inform the lucky winner at the end of September. We have set up a paypal account so people can pay either from their bank account or with a credit card. (click on send money). The email address is We are working on getting a website made to show how much money we raise for this incredible cause! Stay tuned...

The quilt that will be raffled off! Beautiful!

I hope you will consider making a donation today. Even $1 will get us one step closer to getting this orphanage constructed.

We are also accepting donations of supplies and goods if you feel more comfortable donating supplies than money. Please leave your email address in the comments field of this entry and I will get in touch with you. Maybe you want to help the soccer team and have used soccer equipment, practice jerseys, cones, etc. that you could send to South Africa. Or perhaps you know a furniture store that would agree to send mattresses and beds overseas for the orphanage. Maybe you know someone willing to come here and provide medical services, such as dental care or basic health care services. Maybe you know a clothing store that needs a charity to cast off clothes to. Maybe you have old children's books that you don't know what to do with - truly, anything can and will help.

From Eesterust, we thank you for your support!
Picture above: Bryan, Maria, Will, and Valerie at the site of the future orphange
(the scrap metal building behind us will be knocked down)

See more on life with Maria by clicking on the "Maria" label at the bottom of this post.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

long weekends = my fave.

This weekend we celebrated Women's Day, which gave us Monday off from work. The long weekend was just fantastic.

On Friday, Will and I avoided mass chaos at the Embassy and didn't stick around for 5+ hours to see Sec. Clinton. Instead, after a busy week at work, we went home and made fantastic burgers and fries and got the complete scoop from our friends that did brave the chaos and saw Sec. Clinton and the new Ambassador to SA. An easy peasy low key night in = good times.

Saturday we hosted a party for the entire CDC-SA office and had the best time! We cooked warthog sausages, hamburgers, and fantastic grilled chicken legs (Will marinated them for hours and then basted with a butter/Texas Pete glaze = SPICY HEAVEN!). Folks enjoyed a lovely spring day in the sunshine - kids ran around our yard, Sanford was petted more than he has been in several years, and we just enjoyed a lazy day. I'm happy to have hosted my first grown-up party where kids of all ages and adults had a fantastic time and nothing got broken! Yay! After that, we headed to Tim and Rilla's for homemade chorizo and fun times with friends. It was a perfect Saturday.

Sunday we slept in. Bliss. I got online and realized that I somehow had ordered a $600 Gucci watch that I had been looking at on (it wasn't even one that I wanted!) and am thankful that the good folks at Amazon were able to recall the package before it got all the way to SA. Yay! I sat outside with the dogs for a good part of the afternoon, reading my book and looking through cookbooks to decide on the week's menu for me and Will (for the record, I'm trying beer enchiladas made with this meat sauce, lasagna roll-ups with meat sauce, and salad with crispy yogurt chicken). We went grocery shopping. We watched three movies (Gran Torino, Yes Man, and the International). A perfect low-key lazy Sunday. And most importantly, I made this for dinner.

I think this meal changed my life. I love patty melts. I do. Something about crunchy buttery bread, gooey cheese, and cooked onions makes me ridiculously happy. Its not something I eat often for health reasons, but oh man, I love them. Obviously, patty melts are not common in South Africa (nor do I imagine they'd be good anyway if I bought one at a restaurant). Cube steak is super cheap here (i.e. about $1/pound) and I happened to have some in the freezer. I found some small deli-type buns, which I thought would be good for portion control and not make a huge portion as seen on the website link above. Most importantly, I decided to buy some provolone cheese to melt on these bad boys. At the end, I put the bottom piece of bread on the cast iron skillet I had buttered the bread in and then put the meat on top and then layered thinly sliced provolone on top of that. I cooked it in the oven to get all melty and voila! Excellent sandwiches.

Yum. Absolute heavenly yum. Definitely try this recipe as its cheap and heavenly and will make the man in your life smile (and ignore the fact that this sandwich requires you to work out). Next time I may add mushrooms and bell peppers to the onions to make it similar to a philly cheesesteak (yet another menu item not found in SA).

Yesterday was another day just spent in the warm sunshine with friends. Hooray for what looks like the end of winter!!! We played tailgate golf, which is quite an interesting game that I'm terrible at. Will and I played Trivial Pursuit yet again and I am happy to report that we won. We love TP. Its true.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

excellent weekend!

What a fantastic weekend! What did we do? Nothing too crazy exciting, but it was just good times spent with fabulous friends.

Friday night we headed to Beth & Adam's for take out pizza and Trivial Pursuit on the Wii. The ladies beat the gents (hooray!) but I can't say it was a victory to be too proud of. Its difficult to play on the Wii and is super easy to select the wrong answer by accident. Regardless, it was super fun and a perfect way to spend a Friday evening after a busy week.

Saturday Will and I woke up to rain! I can't remember the last time we've had a rainy day in South Africa, but it was dark, humid, and stormy. We met Beth for lunch at a cute place called Isabella's - yummy. Its a cafe with homemade food, namely salads, casseroles, and quiche. Afterwards, I picked up take out from Geet, where they were so happy to see me, they gave me a free bottle of wine. I love South Africa!

Saturday night we celebrated our friend Atalie's birthday with a girls night in at our friend Rilla's. We had spanish tapas and made terrific Thai basil spring rolls with peanut sauce. I must say - they were pretty freakin' fantastic. We also made homemade naan to go with our takeout indian food. We watched E! and had loads of girl talk. The best part? Will was a fantastic hubby who drove all the girls around so no one had to drive and to ensure everyone made it home safe since their husbands were out of the country.

Today has been fantastic. I slept in, which is always a plus. Will and I went grocery shopping for the week and found cherry coke and Dr. Pepper! YAY! We got McDonald's (I love a quarter pounder with cheese). I sat outside in the sunshine and threw the ball for Muddy in the pool while reading The Six Wives of Henry VIII (so good!). I matched up mismatched socks. I made homemade manicotti and beef stroganoff and my lunch for the week since I have to work late every day this week. I watched tons of episodes of The Wire Season 2. Its just been a deliciously lazy day, which is what I need before a hectic week!