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

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