Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bulungula V

Greetings from Cape Town

New friends, new foods, new places, new experiences new opportunities – that’s what living well is about. We left the lodge at Bulungula one morning in the company of two families – a total of ten. Four were young children (under 6) and six were adults.

Our objectives were twofold: lunch in a village restaurant and a tour of the village. Our directions were clear: follow the pink stakes. Right on – those are the kind of directions we could follow. Over hill and dale – up the mountain (small mountain), through the bush, into the jungle, trek (slide) through the very sticky, gooey mud down to the river mouth, back up another hill past the herd of sheep, then over a rock slide, hunting for stakes that had decayed and fallen. It was very hot and we didn’t carry enough water. At times we thought we had gotten off track, but no, we pushed on.

We made discoveries as we pursued our objectives. The children found a large cluster of beautiful grasshoppers – I use the word “beautiful” advisedly. I found the remains of the last group who had attempted this trek. We pushed on anyway.

Scheduled as a 45 minute stroll, we arrived 2 ½ hours later, tired, ready for lunch and a good nap. Lunch consisted of one very tasty crepe, served outside.

The restaurant was a smoky, very hot, rondeval; inside, no tables, no chairs, only a short bench and an open, one burner “stove” that looked like a small beer keg with a fire in it. It was about 90 degrees outside and way hotter than that as the women cooked inside.

We rested/ate lunch stretching out on a blanket on the grass, watching the whales, watching the cows, and watching the children.

The children discovered a litter of puppies, to the puppies’ dismay. The rest of our stay saw the children completely entranced and occupied while the puppies tried to escape. The adults were wiped out from the trek and we tried to beg off from the village visit. Not. The village was on the return path and we needed to keep our commitment. So off we went, but not before some tears caused by the children being parted from the puppies.

Remember that this is a rural village where the homes are not side by side. We stopped in a couple of the village homes, a village store, and two village shabeens (watering hole, bar) on our way back. Usually the locals make a kind of beer that ferments for days – no luck. They hadn’t been brewing lately.

One of the homes was that of the Headman and his family. His wife, pictured here, was a very cool person but the headman was asleep on the grass with a case of empty beer bottles alongside. Draw your own conclusion. We were later told that the women do all the work and the men drink beer. But when it comes time to make a decision, the men must be convened for the decision process.

The return route was not nearly as difficult as the first half of our stroll so we arrived back at the lodge in pretty good spirits.

We started on this trip hoping to make a contribution, a difference. We contributed our ideas, thoughts and opinions to the discussions about the school project. We know that we will make a huge difference to at least one young lady’s life. We’ll never know what other differences we may have made, but we know that these people, this experience has made a difference to us. I want to close this saga with pictures of some of our new friends.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day 2007

Dear Friends and Family:

Floyd and I wish you a blessed holiday season. We are so enjoying our time with Becky and Kurt. And on Sunday, we had our very first, spontaneous opportunity to really participate in the Cape Town community. But I should begin with Cape Town and its holiday season.

Cape Town itself is a truly international city. Large Muslim and Christian populations live here, side by side, peacefully. You wake up to the Muslim call to prayer from the mosques each morning and listen to the church bells ring at noon. And, both groups have holidays that occur during this season.

During the latter part of December, most of the festive holiday activity centers around Adderley Street and the open air, night market. The Christmas and holiday lights sparkle overhead. All walk the streets, eating calamari, boerwors, chips or some other purely delicious street food, the Cape Town equivalent of our version of fast food, served from stalls. There is music at the band shell and it flows out into the night. You can even hear it at our flat.

There are few Christmas trees, but many lights and beautiful flowers. The outdoor flower market is on the street which intersects under the flower lights in the middle of this picture. The city is very festive. It is a happy time. Floyd took this picture from the outside balcony of the local KFC. (Yes, there is a McDonald’s too.)

We live two blocks away from Adderley Street, two doors from the edge of Green Market Square, a cobblestone area filled each day with an African market. It is a very famous spot in Cape Town and filled with tourists who come to purchase gifts to carry home. It is also the place where vendors from all over Africa exhibit and sell their wares. There you can meet people from Ethopia, the Congo, and KwaZulu Natal. It is a melting pot of African cultures.

Each day the vendors start setting up around 6am, and each night their goods are put away, and the square once again is nothing but a cobblestone street. These people bring with them all the problems involved in making a living in a large city when you yourself are living on the fringes and you have minimal income, and sometimes no place to call home.

Across the square there is a church, the Central Methodist Mission Church. And since it is so close to the flat and the life we need to build in this city, we started to attend there two weeks ago. (Rebecca Hecker told us about this church. Her father attended many years ago when he lived in Cape Town for a year.) This church is very involved in the community.

And last Sunday we were in church when the minister said, “Anyone that can, please help with our efforts to feed the homeless a Christmas dinner today.” And so, Floyd and I found ourselves helping church members do so; moving tables, distributing food, helping with cleanup and talking with guests.

The room was way smaller than Southminster’s church parlor. 76 people lined two long tables, two shorter tables and sat in chairs along the wall: the middle aged, young, old and small children. The space between the two long tables was only 2½ feet wide, so you had to be very skinny to sit there, but there was no more room in the inn. The rest of the hundred people invited by tickets to dinner ate outside on the sidewalk with the Minister. The ladies of the church cooked in their homes and brought in the food. Christmas dinner, the same food that would be fed to the families of church members on Christmas Day according to the meal organizer, consisted of a chicken wing, two slices of corn beef (the thin size we might put on a sandwich), two small potatoes, some saffron rice, and a small helping of beetroot; a feast. Dessert was a small, 1” piece of malva pudding and ice cream. They drank “cool drinks”; several very sugary versions of soda pop.

One of the homeless ladies said the prayer. Just like in Glen Ellyn,home one of the men said, “Oh, no! Hope this prayer doesn’t take too long.” It brought back memories of other times. Another woman sang and she had a fabulous voice. The children wiggled in the small spaces. I was especially moved when the minister said, “I have been asked about presents. This year there aren’t any presents because we do not have enough to go around. Therefore, we are giving the few we have to others who are needy and not here.” Everyone clapped. Anyway, sometimes the special things in life only leave pictures to revisit in your mind, and this was one of those times.

To all of you, songs of great joy from the carolers below, and blessings at Christmas.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bulungula IV

Greetings from Cape Town,

Let me start with a dove update. We returned to our flat on 12/22 from an overnight with the kids, checked on our dove, and we have babies, or baby, I don’t know yet. All we can see is a lot of yellow fluff and one small head. Mom is keeping the details a secret.

“lots of things to do before breakfast is ready at 8:30” was the phrase that kicked off the last segment of our Bulungula adventure. Those include beachwalking, reading, staring idly into space, talking with the other guests, and drinking coffee. Did I mention this was a pretty laid back place?

We started out by taking this walkway over the dunes to the beach. Needless to say, we were tempted by the swing. Those are rocks in the distance; hence “Wild Coast.” We soon learned about a shorter, more direct path to the beach.

Once you get to the beach (in low tide) you get to cross the mouth of the small river. In high tide the current can be difficult and the water is a bit high. At low tide the river mouth is safe for small children as you can see below.

Shelling was a fun and time-consuming activity and I picked up a lot with the intent of incorporating them into some kind of beadwork.

Another beach activity is horseback riding. We did not participate but our new friends did and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

One activity that we did pursue was fishing. I took the camera and Betsy took the pole. The lodge organized a guide whose first job was to locate some bait. He waded out into some tidal pools to spear this octopus for us to use as bait. I have some graphic pictures of him disentangling and disemboweling the calamari if you need them.

Then he led us on a treacherous (to us) walk out to the furthest, slipperiest, most difficult rocks, surrounded by ocean with the tide coming in, that he could find to begin fishing. Betsy enjoyed the adventure, lost baits a couple of times, and we called it a day.

All was not in vain. One of our group eventually came up with fish which he donated to one of the village boys. We had been hoping for a 30 kilo tuna to feed the entire lodge, but no, it was a rather ugly relative of a flounder.

Carlo celebrated his success with another 750ml beer.

That night I had an absolutely amazing experience. After dinner and sunset we gathered around the fire and brought out the drums. The sounds and the rhythms (and the beers) get into your blood and I mentioned that I had been a drummer in my youth. The next thing knew Carlo was placing a drum in my lap and daring me to join the drum circle. It took a few minutes but I caught the fever and played for quite some time. One of the guys was a professional musician and that helped a lot.

The music the previous night was better, but I’ll always remember my night in the circle, sharing with my new friends, black, white, and brown.

Cheers, Floyd

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bulungula III

Greetings from Cape Town

This journal issue is dealing with the Bulungula Lodge’s efforts to operate as an environmentally friendly and carbon-neutral organization. Solar and wind power, water conservation and waste management are important pieces of this process. Please skip the parts of this journal which are distasteful to you.

One of the unusual things about South Africa is that we operate over a single time zone – Kruger to Cape Town, a span almost as wide as the United States. I had become accustomed to waking with the sun at 5:30 but the sun in Bulungula rises earlier. No problem – lots of things to do before breakfast is ready at 8:30. Things – such as a rocket shower.

I don’t know why the name, but it’s probably related to the sound made heating the water and the fact water comes up like a rocket out of the tube and out the shower head. You start with a small cup of paraffin (kerosene) which you pour into the base of the vertical column. Light the wick, turn on the hot water, wait until the water heats (seconds), adjust with cold water and enjoy. You have approximately 7 minutes before the fuel is consumed and the water cools.

The soap is pretty basic, mostly phosphates with no perfumes or fancy stuff, suitable for use as a fertilizer. The water drains into a small pond, combining with the urine (nitrogen) from the toilets to provide a liquid fertilizer soup that the bananas and papayas thrive on. Sounds awful to our western ears, but it works and works well.

Which brings us to the toilets. They were represented to us as being self-composting. I must disagree with that description because there is human intervention required on a periodic basis. If this makes you squeamish, sorry, just jump to the next section.

You’ll notice the individual stalls in the picture. Also notice the urinal which is not in a stall because the men, apparently, have no need of privacy. Whatever!

The thrones themselves are interesting devices. They are constructed with a diverting partition so that liquids are kept separate from solids. The bucket in the picture contains river sand which is liberally sprinkled on the solid product of your visit. This, in combination with the liquid diversion, minimizes the odor normally associated with pit toilets, “long drops”, and other primitive defecatoriums.

The human intervention occurs periodically, very early in the morning so as not to inconvenience the guests of the lodge. The solid wastes collect in a container which must be emptied and buried. I recall visiting a facility outside of Cape Town where they processed these wastes, producing methane which was captured and used for cooking. Perhaps these technologies could be combined if the required infrastructure is not too pricey.

We were told that some well-meaning persons constructed toilet facilities at selected homes within the village. That was, and is, an example of people attempting to impose their own value systems on others. It doesn’t work. The toilets are unused, as the locals have always used the bush for those needs and treat the toilets as status symbols at best. Enough about the toilets!

Safe and adequate drinking water is a problem around the world. There is a spring nearby which is used for everything except drinking. Spring water is pumped to a large reservoir on a nearby hill where it is gravity-fed for those purposes.

Water for drinking is collected in these large containers. Metal roofs and gutters funnel the water through a screen into light-proof plastic reservoirs where it can be stored for up to a year. If they run out, they shut down. We did notice smaller scale setups at a number of homes in the area. The containers are light proof. The light-proof characteristic is very important as it prevents the growth of algae in the storage containers.

Pumps. They need power, electricity, and that’s an exciting part of the energy story at Bulungula. The site is blessed with a lot of sun and wind. All that’s needed is the technology to collect and utilize this free energy.

If you look carefully and use your imagination, you will see a small wind turbine at the left center of the picture. That simple device provides all the power needed during the average day. This includes telephones, laptops and lighting. Excess energy is stored in batteries.

Easier to see is the array of solar panels on the rooftop. We’re all familiar with the concept but may not be all that knowledgeable with the implementation. David, the guy who runs the place (it is 30% owned by the locals), has cobbled together a workable system. There are transformers, regulators, inverters, switches, and lots of wires. And, I’ve already gone beyond my technical abilities.

The (golf cart) batteries store four days worth of energy and with good care will last 20 years before needing replacement. The entire lodge uses in 24 hours the same energy that a microwave would use in one hour.

Here is a solar oven, used by the locals for baking bread, and an excellent bread it was!

As a wrap-up, the lodge consumes a lot of diesel fuel ferrying people back and forth. They offset these carbon dioxide emissions by planting trees which consume CO2. This is still a bit controversial, but they are trying.

Societal obligations are now completed. Next we can turn to the beautiful environment and the beautiful people of Bulungula.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bulungula II

Greetings from Cape Town

The last installment on our Bulungula Adventure ( ended as we turned off the main road from East London. Allow me to explain “main road” in South Africa. Our limited access highways and toll roads find their equivalents as the “main roads” close to the major urban areas such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The further from a big city that you drive on a main road, the more likely that it will become a two-lane road – always paved but not always in the best condition nor protected from wandering domestic animals. Such was the case with the N2 within 10km after leaving East London. When you leave the main road your secondary roads can be tarred roads (blacktop), gravel roads or dirt roads, all in various states of drivability.

Our map told us to proceed 37km down the tarred road before turning – so we did. Betsy took all the pictures and I focused entirely on driving – avoiding livestock, potholes and other vehicles. The picture shows a somewhat typical home in the area. Somewhat because most are not hexagonal in shape as you will see.

The roof is of typical construction; poles supporting a thatch. Notice the use of an automobile tire keeping the top together. The tire is apparently filled with soil as we often saw plants growing in the mini-garden. We also observed these rooftop tires with seashells as decorations.

The more typical shapes are either round (a Rondavel) or rectangular. Dimensions tend to be dictated by the lengths of available poles. This will also be true of the shape of the school being planned for Bulungula. Acquiring and transporting 2x12’s would be incredibly expensive.

We reached the first turnoff point, 37km from the main road. Our directions told us to turn right, onto an unpaved road and drive for 20km. The picture shows the turn, obviously a local trading area. We took the turn and within 1km wished that we were driving a 4wd vehicle instead of a small Hyundai. The pictures taken during this phase of the trip are scarce because we were both holding on for dear life.

This 20km section took us about an hour to navigate. We were not looking forward to the return trip. All the locals were friendly, waving, smiling, and, in the case of young children, holding out cupped hands. They’ve learned to beg although the land seemed rich and none looked poorly fed or dressed. Seems to be a tourist-related thing. What a shame.

The next phase of our trek came with unclear instructions: something about crossing a creek, going on approximately 3.4km, not going as far as the building with a blue roof, etc. It was actually much simpler than that. We turned at the sign which said “Bulungula Parking”, turned into the first building which turned out to be the local shabeen (tavern), and were redirected to a building a few hundred meters down the road.

This was where we were to abandon our rental car for the balance of our stay. A vehicle from the lodge would be arriving to pick us up and ferry us the rest of the way, over the rough road. We have no pictures from that ride either, for the same reason as before. It is now clear to us why they call this the Wild Coast.

This picture shows the Bulungula Lodge from a distance. It’s an idyllic setting, at the mouth of a river, lots of beach, sand dunes, in the middle of a village. The village, by the way, is not a concentration of homes, but more like a farming community. The homes are spread out across a 5km square area and most transportation is by foot.

The lodge operates as a carbon-neutral system. That may not be the exact terminology, but that is the effect on the environment. They use solar and wind power for electricity, have composting toilets, use gray water from showers and sinks, collect rainwater for drinking, and plant trees to offset the petrol consumed by their shuttles. Of course the local population has none of the above; no electricity, no toilets, and only a few use the rainwater for drinking and washing their clothes. Most use the rivers or estuaries for water.

I will cover more of the details in a later journal issue. We picked up quite a bit of useful information and plan to share appropriate tidbits with our partners in Ghana.

Anyway, we had arrived, safely, if a bit jostled, about 7:00pm and were warmly welcomed by all. After a filling dinner and a 750ml cold beer, we headed for bed, ready for new experiences and new friends the next day.

(to be continued)


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bulungula I

Greetings from Cape Town

I want to spend a few lines on the time we spent here prior to departing on our Bululunga Adventure. As you will remember, we are in the heart of the city, about ½ block from Green Market Square, a very active native craft market. It is great fun to sit at one of the coffee shops surrounding the square and watch the interactions among the vendors and the tourists.

The church spire in the picture is attached to a local Methodist church. They support a young women’s shelter and a day care facility.

Breakfast on Green Market Square

Nighttime finds us on our balcony watching the activity on Long Street and sipping a glass of wine.

Monday morning at 0400 we got up to leave for the airport. Our plane was scheduled to depart for East London at 0600, arriving around 0730. This was the first leg of our journey to the lodge in Bulungula. East London is a good-sized town on the “Wild Coast” of South Africa. The Wild Coast is so called because of the inhospitable shoreline and the very rugged terrain which tend to make travel to the beaches quite difficult. As a direct result, the locals are somewhat isolated.

After landing we went shopping for some staples to carry with us into the lodge. Mosquito repellents, wine, nuts, fruit, etc. Then we stopped in the not-to-be-missed Coelacanth Museum.

This fish, thought to be long extinct, was discovered in 1939 and the museum contains multiple casts as well as a lot of photos and research information.

We spent an hour in the museum, and then decided we had better hit the road. We had several hours of driving ahead of us and were unfamiliar with the roads and their conditions.

As we left East London the houses began to appear further apart, in a more rural pattern - plenty of room for a garden and some chickens. Cows and goats appeared, many unconstrained by fences, so care need to be taken while driving so as to not wipe out some family’s food source.

We left the main road after a few hours. Our target was a parking area at a local store “6.1 km down the road from a stream and before you get to the building with a blue roof.” More on this part of the adventure in the next installment.

Cheers for now,