Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008

Dear Friends and Family,

This is a difficult letter to write. Probably because we crammed so much into 2008 and came away at the end of the year needing a rest cure, which we are now getting at Becky and Kurt’s on Christmas and Boxing Day. In total we have spent over four months this year in South Africa and as we get more involved with the homeless here, the time we spend is getting too short. There is such need. But I digress.

Last Christmas season we came to Cape Town in early December and stayed until March 1st. Because we now have a tiny flat at the edge of Green Market Square in the heart of the city, we have a new appreciation for the hardships of those living in this first world, third world country. It is first world when you are a tourist; third world for those trying to get things repaired or those living in poverty who can’t find jobs and are without support services. We had an eye-opening experience when we started going to the Central Methodist Mission church right on the Square. Literally, they feed the homeless on the street each Sunday. In the summer they get a sandwich (peanut butter or perhaps one slice of bologna and butter on bread) and tea; in the winter a cup of soup, a sandwich and tea. This is their meal for the entire day. We began adding fruit to their diet. Now we have come to know some of the men and women who live on the street and each week we try to do our small bit to support the greater effort.

Last winter we also attended Summer School at the University of Cape Town, including hearing lectures on the Sounds of the Night Sky (did you know that stars make sound?), on South African economics, and on the Karoo, a desert area northeast of here. It was fun and I hope we get to do it again. We also travelled with Becky and Kurt to the Drakensburg Mountain area of SA and to Lesotho (pronounced Lay-su-tu), a beautiful, rugged, mountainous, remote country embedded inside South Africa. It was a wonderful trip. We walked rugged hillsides, ate pap and spinach, visited a sangoma, and one fine day I slept under a tree and pretended I was in the
movie, “Out of Africa.” Do you know it?

From March to June we were back in Glen Ellyn for a beautiful spring. Floyd was on the committee to hire our new Pastor, taught computer classes for North Central College and the College of DuPage, gave several presentations to the Southmen (a group he has breakfast with each Wednesday and would you believe leaves at 6:00 am to do so) and supported our home church as a Deacon and as a member of the Communication Committee. He also is Editor for the Northern Illinois Hosta Society and the Mid-West Hosta Society newsletters. Betsy has focused on her roles as a church Elder, the Property Chairperson, and a member of the Finance and Mission committees. In March, she was Show Chairman for the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois’ Rock and Mineral Show. She also volunteers weekly at SCARCE (a recycling
center for books which are given back to those in need and which provides books for our Ghana effort); and for Walk-In Ministry. Together each week we sing in the church choir and give out food through the People’s Resource Center’s local food pantry. It feeds over 1700 people each month, a very important community asset. It is no wonder we needed a rest cure.

We did get to visit friends and family too. We were happy to have Becky come for a visit in April, then Lauren Schroeder, a graduate student of Becky’s from South Africa stayed with us for a few days, and in June we went to a Rogers’ family reunion in Oklahoma at Red Rock State Park. We were especially glad to see relatives Floyd hadn’t seen since childhood. It was also our first tenting experience in years and we were delighted to find out we could still enjoy it.

In mid-July after the Midwest Regional Hosta Society convention we returned to Cape Town to try out South Africa’s winter. We cooked the homeless a huge pot of soup each week, and I got tired of making the same thing over and over again, to match what others were making. Dried lentils, peas, beans, water, fresh carrots, and celery all simmered in beef broth. When done, we added cooked spaghetti and salt. One
Saturday night I decided to add just a little bit of blue cheese for flavor. Becky had done something similar a few days before and the result was delicious. By morning there on the stove was this frothy, rancid smelling, witches’ cauldron soupy mess that we were supposed to provide at 9 am. It was definitely uneatable. A cookbook stated baking soda would solve the problem. I headed for the street. The food stores were closed. Finally, I asked myself, “Where might I find baking soda?” and remembered it was used for putting out kitchen fires. Sure enough, in the local coffee shop under the counter in the bottom of a rusted tin was baking soda. It saved the day. The people on the street got their soup. I tasted it. If you knew what you were looking for you might have tasted the baking soda. It was okay. The street people loved it and to this day call it “American Soup.” Becky suggested I had changed their internal flora forever.

Giving children the opportunity to read is my passion so we also carried a suitcase full of books for Stepping Stones; a preschool for children of the working poor. Each week every child takes home a book. Although many of these children speak Afrikaans, English, and their native language, often their parents and sometimes their teachers can’t read. By getting books into children’s hands, we are hoping that will be read to by siblings and others that can. The desire to learn is certainly there.

While in South Africa, we also traveled to Calizdorp in the Klein Karoo (small desert) with Becky and Kurt, staying at the Old School House for a few days. This is port (wine), lamb and ostrich country. We enjoyed the solitude of the area, just dark starry nights, big fires, great food and family time.

Late August is early spring in South Africa, and Floyd and I got into the car and drove north to an area near the Namibia border called Namaqualand. Because of heavy winter rains the flowers were in bloom. For a few weeks, orange, red, yellow, purple, blue, and white flowers carpet the land everywhere you look. Getting to see it was a once in a lifetime experience that we really enjoyed.

September, October, and November we were back in Glen Ellyn, volunteering and working. We were able to support our on-going Ghana project, packing books for a shipping container that went to two Kasei and Ejura area schools plus schools supported by a United Nations project in Ghana. And in November, I took a class in grant writing at the College of DuPage. December 1st we again returned to South Africa, last week helping the Central Methodist Mission provide 120 homeless men, women and children with Christmas dinner. Thanks to our friends at Southminster for help in funding this effort. I will write another letter about it soon.

As we end the year, it gets harder and harder each time to leave the other place. We miss our friends and family when we are here, and miss Becky and Kurt and friends when we are there. There is so much to do, so little time. For all our relatives who would like to have a picture of Floyd and I, Becky and Kurt, here is one taken at Moyo, an outdoor African restaurant last week.

As we end what for all of us has been a difficult year, our thoughts are on the year ahead. Wishing you all health, happiness and peace, we are thinking of you.

Betsy and Floyd

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stone Age Tool Find

Acheulean is the name given to an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture associated with prehistoric hominins during the Lower Paleolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia and Europe. Acheulean tools are typically found with Homo erectus remains.

I picked this particular handaxe up on a public beach in Cape Town. One of the local experts said that the find had no particular scientific value because the origin of the artifact could never be determined. So, it will make a nice paperweight. The length is approximately 18cm and the handaxe is water-worn and smooth.

It was the dominant technology for the vast majority of human history and more than one million years ago it was Acheulean tool users who left Africa to first successfully colonize Eurasia. Their distinctive oval and pear-shaped handaxes have been found over a wide area and some examples attained a very high level of sophistication suggesting that the roots of human art, economy and social organization arose as a result of their development. Although it developed in Africa, the industry is named after the type site of Saint Acheul, now a suburb of Amiens in northern France, where some of the first examples were identified in the nineteenth century.

The Lower Paleolithic is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 2.5 million years ago when the first evidence of craft and use of stone tools by hominids appears in the current archaeological record, until around 100,000 years ago when important evolutionary and technological changes (behavioral modernity) ushered in the Middle Paleolithic.

Early species

The earliest hominids, known as australopithecines (personified by the famous find of Lucy by Don Johansen in Ethiopia) were not advanced stone tool users and were likely to have been common prey for larger animals. Sometime before 3 million years ago the first fossils that may be called Homo appear in the archaeological record. They may have evolved from the australopithecines or come from another phylogenetic branch of the primates.

Homo habilis remains, such as those from Olduvai Gorge, are much more recognizable as humans. Stone-tool use was developed by these people around 2.5 million years ago before they were replaced by Homo erectus about 1.5 million years ago. Members of Homo habilis used Olduwan tools and had learned to control fire to support the hunter-gatherer method of subsistence.


Use-wear analysis on Acheulean tools suggests there was generally no specialization in the different types created and that they were multi-use implements. Functions included hacking wood from a tree, cutting animal carcasses as well as scraping and cutting hides when necessary. Some tools may have been better suited to digging roots or butchering animals than others however.

Alternative theories include a use for ovate hand-axes as a kind of hunting discus to be hurled at prey. Puzzlingly, there are also examples of sites where hundreds of hand-axes, many impractically large and also apparently unused, have been found in close association together. Sites such as Melka Kunturé in Ethiopia, Olorgesailie in Kenya, Isimila in Tanzania and Kalambo Falls in Zambia have produced evidence that suggests Acheulean hand-axes may not always have had a functional purpose.

Recently, it has been suggested that the Acheulean tool users adopted the handaxe as a social artifact, meaning that it embodied something beyond its function of a butchery or wood cutting tool. Knowing how to create and use these tools would have been a valuable skill and the more elaborate ones suggest that they played a role in their owners' identity and their interactions with others. This would help explain the apparent over-sophistication of some examples which may represent a "historically accrued social significance".

One theory goes further and suggests that some special hand-axes were made and displayed by males in search of mate, using a large, well-made hand-axe to demonstrate that they possessed sufficient strength and skill to pass on to their offspring. Once they had attracted a female at a group gathering, it is suggested that they would discard their axes, perhaps explaining why so many are found together.

** Most of this text was extracted from where more information may be found.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Historic Day

December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in history. But I would be willing to wager that very few of you know of the significant event that occurred just a few hours before.

December 6, 1941 was a momentous day. Evanston, Illinois was the town; Evanston Hospital was the place; Elizabeth Hamilton Wood was the baby born to Millicent and James Wood.

No, this is not a picture of the baby, but her dad is in there somewhere. But I digress. The baby eventually grew up, married, raised two beautiful daughters, and matured into the lady you know as Dr. Betsy Rogers.

Which brings me to the real reason that I am subjecting you to this trip into the past.

Becky had told us there would be a party on December 6th and that we were expected to attend wearing tattoos, in addition to normal party attire. Where to get tattoos? With the help of some younger friends, we went online and immediately found a source for the type we wanted to take to Africa.

The night of the party arrived. We applied our tattoos, packed up our offerings and headed out. I had made a platter of sushi which disappeared almost as rapidly as the champagne.

The setting was beautiful, both inside and outside. This home is in the foothills of Table Mountain, on a large property with extensive, well-tended, beautiful gardens.

Birds of Paradise, Astrolomaria, Golden Cypress, Bears’ Breeches, Mandeville Bush (not a vine), six foot tall Geraniums, and many, many more outstanding varieties of perennials and annuals. Spectacular!

We sat down to enjoy our dinners and some more wines. It is customary for everyone to bring wine and pass the bottle around so that all can have a wee taste. So we “wee tasted” for some time that evening. We also toasted Betsy and sang Happy Birthday to her.

The evening ended with dessert wines, one of which was purchased quite some time ago, brought to us by Mike and his wife who own a wine shop. It currently retails (if you can buy it) for R25,000 ($2,500) a bottle. It was nice, but get real! Actually, it was really nice.

We had a great time. Happy birthday, Betsy.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Trailer Park Flash

Once upon a time, in a land far away, a little boy and girl were adopted by a woman and her husband. Now this mom and dad had been adventurers all of their lives but had never had time for a family, until it was almost too late. (All characters in this story are completely fictional and do not represent anyone living or otherwise.)

Mom and dad had really enjoyed their lives, traveling to wonderful places, meeting all kinds of strange and exotic people, so they wished their children to experience the same kinds of things. When little Rob and Sasha got to be a bit older and begin attending school, mom and dad bought a camper and began to take them around the country.

They visited with the Eskimos, danced with them, ate seals and rubbed noses. Rob really liked the nose thing and Sasha really liked the fur coats – they were warm. When the weather got too cold they packed up their mukluks and drove the camper to a warmer place, a place in Wyoming where wolves and coyotes gathered around a geyser to sing to the moon and stay warm in the thermal baths. Some of the wolves even drank their bath water!

It was a wonderful life for Sasha and Rob. They camped out all over the world and really grew to love that lifestyle. Fast forward about twenty years. Sasha and Rob had gone their separate ways but the childhood memories remained. They were fond memories, but reality told them the memories were all in the past.

And then one day Sasha’s real estate agent called her and said, “Sasha, I have this really terrific opportunity for you. I have this historic hotel in the middle of the world’s favorite city, and the price is right.” Sasha had been toying with the idea of opening a Bed & Breakfast, or of buying a campground so this offer was interesting. The price was right, for two people, so she naturally thought of her brother, Rob.

Rob happened to be between jobs and flew in to check it out. “This is a good place, could be great with some changes. Let’s do it!”

That was the easy part. Then came the rehab challenges. It was a historic building so there were limits on what they could do to it. Painting was permitted so they did that. Sign changes were ok, so the place became “The Grand Daddy” and another idea grew.

“Do you think it would be possible to do something on our roof?” Sasha asked Rob. “You mean up there in the sun where the air-conditioning units sit?” Rob asked incredulously. “Yes,” Sasha replied, “up there in all that wasted space. We could hide the unsightly with clever fences and create our own campground.”

“Campground!?” said Rob. “In the middle of the city? What would the neighbors think? Who would want to camp out on a roof in the middle of the most beautiful city in the world?”

I would,” said Sasha, “and there others like us who would find it quirky and cool. We can hire a crane to lift Airstreams to the roof, do some roofscaping and some lounge furniture. We’ll call it “The Venue” and advertise it on the internet. It will be a trailer-trash magnet.”

“Don’t forget the grills and the bar,” said Rob. “This just might work.”

And so it was born.

The Airstream Penthouse Park (opens Dec 2008) is the only trailer park penthouse suite in the world; this experience is more trailer park flash than trailer park trash. The Penthouse Park comprises seven original Airstream trailers (ranging in size, model and origin) imported from the USA.

Each Airstream has been handed over to an artist or designer, in order to reinvent them as a collection of creative and conceptual moving rooms. Not that these rooms are going anywhere…firmly entrenched in the garden of The Grand Daddy’s rooftop, they are an offbeat alternative to conventional hotel accommodation and an excellent location for a private celebration with a small group of friends or family.

All the Airstream trailers are air-conditioned and have modern plumbing and electricity so their not just for Girl Guides and Wilderness Willies. In fact, the iconic Airstream is cleverly kitted out, luxurious and comfortable.

The Airstream Park is where the journey continues.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Safe Arrival - Cape Town, South Africa - Dec 1, 2008

And the good news is … THERE IS NO BAD NEWS! We arrived EARLY, all of our luggage arrived WITH us, we SLEPT on the flight over.

Becky greeted us with the news that their fish store had SMS’d (text messaged) her with a tuna special. To put this in perspective, sashimi–grade tuna goes for ~$20 a pound in our area when you can get it. With the current exchange rate over 10 Rand to the Dollar and 2.2 pounds to the kilogram, that works out to less than $3 a pound.

We dropped our luggage off at the flat and headed over for some great wine and wonderful sushi. As we pulled up to their home, we were greeted by a group of carolers. We enjoyed their songs, thanked them and headed in.

We are a bit tired, but not so much that we can’t enjoy the scenery here in Cape Town. Did I mention that it is around 75 degrees? More later as things get rolling. For now, we need to restock the refrigerator and get other essentials tended to. Best to all.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

In Search of Wild Gazanias - Success

Dear Friends and Family

In search of wild gazanias Floyd and I just spent five days in an area of South Africa called Namaqualand. Namaqualand can be found in the far northwest corner of South Africa bordering Namibia. It is the largest high mountainous desert in the world and each year in the spring 1400 varieties of flowers bloom. Because of the heavy rains here this year, the flowers started blooming in August and we were privileged to enjoy this wonderful spectacle.

We traveled the N7, north from Cape Town towards Namibia, and the farther north we went the more flowers we saw; purples, whites, yellows blended together. Then the colors changed. Our first day in the region we went into Namaqua National Park to an area called Skilpad, pronounced “skeel-pod”. Billions of orange flowers greeted us and tucked among them were termite mounds and other flowers of every hue.

This picture illustrates how the sheer mass of color changes across the landscape.

In the Namaqualand area there are three flowers zones. The flowers by the coast are different from those in the interior. Unfortunately the only way to see the ones by the coast is by 4X4 which we did not have, so next time.

The ones in the second zone include vygies and succulents. We were able to pay 20 rand to a local farmer and walk his field on what he called a succulent trail. There was an even more splendid array by the side of the road and in the local succulent nursery.

The third zone includes Skilpad and our favorite flower finding area, Goegap, which when pronounced starts with an H and then sounds like you are going to spit; the sound hop comes at the end. You have to think in German to get this one.

In the Goegap nature reserve, the flowers are magnificent. Purples, pinks, yellows, reds and oranges predominate. It is mountainous and craggy, with huge rocks perched on the hillsides and enormous valleys. The road into the mountain was sand based and much easier to drive than many of the other rocky dirt roads in the area.

We spent a great deal of time trying to get a “good” picture of a quiver tree, and this is a favorite.

When I look at these pictures now, it is interesting to note the light and dark differences. Part of that is due to the differences between Floyd’s and my cameras; the other because we went to Goegap on two days. One was brightly sunny without a cloud in the sky; the other rainy and cloudy. Nevertheless, the land was really beautiful both times.

But everything must end, including this note, so, as the sun sets on Geogap, bye for now.

Oh, I should tell you, we did find wild gazanias and they were beautiful.

We will be back in the States soon. Until we see you, love to all.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Degrees of Separation

I’m sure that you have all read books where the author writes chapters that appear to have no relation to each other. You have no idea where the book is headed and it is only in the final pages that the book comes together. This story is like that and I will tell you in advance that the final pages have yet to occur so you will be left wondering.

Our daughter, Dr. Rebecca Ackermann, brought along a book when she visited in April. “Dinner with Mugabe” by Heidi Holland was published in 2008 and explores Mugabe’s transmogrification from a kind, gentle person into his current role of an unbalanced dictator in Zimbabwe.

Heidi is a friend of Becky’s and an acquaintance of ours. She owns and operates a B&B in Johannesburg and we have stayed there on multiple occasions. She is a respected author and is quite well connected. A few items from her book: economy sinks – massive inflation – high HIV rates (20%) – life expectancy of women dropped from 61 in 1991 to 34 in 2006 - more power abuse - over 25% of Zimbabwean citizens have fled the country, most into South Africa.

Next chapter. Apartheid, was a system of legalized racial segregation enforced by the National Party (NP) South African government between 1948 and 1994. The races were designated as whites, coloured and blacks. Note the labels on the benches outside of the Supreme Court building. They say respectively, “Whites Only” and “Non-Whites Only”.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and voted for the first time on April 27, 1994. We have a photo of that event in our flat.

In 1966 a large, generally coloured area just to the east of the central business district was declared by the government as a “whites only” area. Eventually 60,000 residents were removed and the buildings were razed.

This, of course, generated massive protests and all kinds of activism. Some of our current Cape Town friends were involved in the removal, the activism, were arrested, and have memories of those times.

This plaque is mounted on the wall of the District 6 Museum. In 1966 the building was the Buitenkant Street Methodist Church.

Next chapter. Peter Storey was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1963 and began his Cape Town ministry in 1967 at the Buitenkant Street church. At one point he was Mandela’s chaplain during the imprisonment on Robben Island. In 1984 he became president of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Peter Storey has four sons, currently lives in Simon’s Town, and holds honorary degrees from Ohio Wesleyan, Albion College, and Duke University.

Next chapter. Built in 1879, The Metropolitan Church continued to attract large congregations until the late 1960’s. By the late 1980’s only a few dozen people attended services. 1988 it merged with the Buitenkant Street church, which was turned into a museum (the District 6 museum) and child care center, Stepping Stones. The Buitenkant Street building is still owned by the Methodist Church and Stepping Stones recently functioned as a shelter for some of the displaced refugees.

Now called the Central Methodist Mission, the current minister will be leaving in December, returning to family and a call in a church near Johannesburg. We will all miss him.

Next chapter. Alan Storey was born in Cape Town and baptized in the Buitenkant Street church. He moved, with his family, at an early age to the Johannesburg area. Alan was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1996. His church has become the most multiracial Methodist congregation in the denomination and is on the cutting edge of reconciliation and justice ministries in the middle of the xenographic and criminal issues in Joburg.

Next chapter. Dr. Rebecca Ackermann, the scientist, was raised in Glen Ellyn and attended Southminster church. Becky was in the States in April, attending a convention. She boarded the plane for her flight back to Africa and took her assigned seat beside a young man about her age, as she relates it. Conversations with fellow travelers are not her thing, but they eventually got to the “what do you do for a living” chat.

When she heard that her seatmate was a minister in Johannesburg, she related how we had found a Methodist Church and a minister in Cape Town and were very fond of them. The seatmate related that he knew of this church, this minister, and that he would be leaving his post in December. When Becky asked how he knew all of this, the seatmate shared that he was to be the replacement.

His name – Alan Storey

Next chapter. We left our flat Wednesday morning, intending to buy a couple of Christmas gifts from the vendors in the square. But Green Market Square was curiously empty, save for a dozen cars. Then we remembered that one of the vendors, the previous day, had told us they would not be there because of the funeral of an important person in the church. We walked over to find out whose funeral and were greeted by Ron Abrahams, who told us it was his brother, Stan. We were not dressed for a funeral but Ron insisted so we went in and took seats in the very last row.

The church was standing-room only by the 11:00 service. We had met Stan only a few times and did not know how much he had contributed to the District 6 efforts, the founding of the District 6 museum, and the formation of Stepping Stones among only a few of his activities.

Stanley John Abrahams, may he rest in peace.

Seated in the pew in front of us was Peter Storey.

Next chapter. We were at Stepping Stones on Thursday morning, helping to get their library under control. On the way out, while waiting for Betsy to say her farewells, I was casually glancing at the posters on the walls. I noticed a large one thanking present and past donors and scanned the names. One name just shouted at me – Rebecca Hostetler. Now I know of a John Hostetler (planning to meet him in a couple of weeks) and I know his daughter Rebecca Hecker, nee Hostetler, quite well having served with her for over a year on our Pastor Nominating Committee. Thinking that this just might be a strange coincidence, I emailed them. Turns out Rebecca made a contribution to Stepping Stones in 1992 and she has been posterized along with the Mobil Foundation and others.

Degrees of separation? Coincidences? Convergence? Something deeper? You be the judge.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

In Search of Wild Gazanias

Dear Friends and Family

“In search of the Wild Gazania” has been the conceptual title we used for this entire trip, though as yet we have done little searching for wildflowers and are running out
of time.

Last week we went to Cape Point National Park, because we were told that the wildflowers start in the South and then move up the coast north until the entire Namaqualand region is blanketed in wildflowers. Of course, seeing them depends on luck, the amount of rainfall the different areas have had during the winter, warmth,
and being in the right place at the right time. By the way, at Marshal’s shop in Lisle during the summer, there are South African gazanias. They are a great, short, bright daisy like flower that opens and shuts with the sun, often yellow or orange but they come in other colors. In the States they are an annual; here a perennial.

On Cape Point we saw Protea, and some other flowers we were not familiar with that reminded me of large mounds of flowering white moss; no gazanias. What we did find at the Cape of Good Hope were tourists (a rarity right now), ostrich, baboons, and other flowers in purple, pink, and white.

Then this last weekend we got to spend some quality time with Becky and Kurt. We took the dogs with us into the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo), a desert region, mountainous with valleys along rivers dry in the summer and wet in the winter, headed for Calitzdorp. The area is famous for its ostrich farms, lamb, port (like in wine) and succulents. We stayed several nights back in the Matijies Valley, 17 km down a steep, mountainous, dirt road. But what a special place it was. Cold, crisp, silent nights; beautiful stars, great wood fires for braiing (grilling), ostrich watching our every move, cows, sheep bleating on the mountain sides and a canyon that echoed every time a dog barked. And the dogs had such fun barking and listening for the echo; I don’t think they ever figured out that they were barking at themselves.

We stayed in a converted one room school house appropriately entitled the “Old School House” that was in use around 1910-1920. There was no fireplace, but somehow that old place with creaky floorboards and high, high ceilings retained the heat. Of course we packed in food. We had found a truly special place.

Traveling into and out of that valley was difficult but the scenery was spectacular. Large aloes bloomed on the sides of the mountains. There were birds everywhere eating the blooms. Spring was coming to the Klein Karoo.

In the valley the air was crisp and clear. Early mornings were especially beautiful and the dogs loved their morning walk.

One morning there at our feet was something unexpected. A wild gazania had opened in the crisp early morning sunshine. It wasn’t a hillside full, but it was the first blooming one we had seen and it was a welcome sight.

And our neighbors were really curious about what we (and the dogs) were up to. We thought about ostrich steaks and ostrich omelets, but decided to remain good neighbors.

Love to all,
Betsy (and Floyd)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Agnes & The Books

Dear Friends and Family

Wow! What a great day! Today we were truly blessed.

We worked at Stepping Stones, a preprimary facility in Cape Town, for people who live in the townships and work in the city; a very special place. To get to school, some of the children arrive by taxi (think Dodge van with nine people riding in it); some are brought by their parents. A child’s day often starts by 5 am. They arrive at school at 7:15 am and leave the school at 5:15 pm, a long day for any 3, 4, or 5 year old. It probably takes them at least another hour to get home. But I digress.

This preschool is special in that it has a library; five shelves of books, a very unusual thing in a country where books are a luxury and many government funded schools do not have any. Each Thursday, each child picks out a book and takes it home until the following Wednesday, when they are returned. Almost all the books are in English. In many cases the parents read to the children. If they don’t read English, many make the effort to look through the books with their children. In the Cape Town area, when children reach primary school age they are, most often, taught in English, and the parents want them to learn English so they can get jobs. In rural areas, the children are taught in their native language in the early grades (by law) and then switch to English around fourth grade. This would be a lot easier for teachers if there were actually texts and reading materials in the tribal languages, but there are few. The debate over this practice rages on just like our debate over whether or not children should be taught in Spanish when that is their primary language.

The amazing thing about these children at Stepping Stones is they speak to each other in Xhosa, and are taught in English with some Afrikaans thrown in. So they can speak to you in three languages by the age of five. It is very intimidating the first time you are in a class.

Anyway, what made this day special was that our friend and fellow choir member Agnes Royster (seen here with the book “What Comes in a Shell?”) and her firm, Scholastic Press, donated over 180 small, pre-school books to Stepping Stones. We carried them in a suitcase on to the airplane to get them here. Some of the books went into the reading corners in each of the three classrooms. Others are going into the library. A very few are going to children in the informal settlements (more on that later when I know more.)

On Thursday each week, one of the young men from Langa township, Sopelo, donates his time to ensure the library is ready for the children’s use, the returned books are checked in and put away, and the children get books to take home and read.

Today Floyd, I and Bryl Hewiston, a retired teacher from the school, helped Supelo organize the books and put cards in them so they can be checked out. We had to make every card pocket and every card out of regular paper and cut and paste until we could use them in the books. Sopelo is presently in the process of typing the names and authors into an acquisition spreadsheet. Then the cataloging process will be finished. Next week the books should be ready for circulation. Things move slowly in Africa.

Thanks Agnes. Your donation increased the number of books available for reading by 25%. It was really appreciated. I will send pictures of the children reading them next week. In the meantime, I thought you would enjoy this one of nap time. These are the four year olds. There are over twenty children in a very small space. That is their entire classroom in the picture. How they go to sleep with people talking over and around them I will never know, but they do.

Blessings to all,