• Maggie & John

Daily African Experiences

Much of our work here since mid-January has been serious as we try to bring a positive impact to lives of innocent children. But along with tough stuff, we never fail to get a chuckle or two as we go through our ordinary daily African routine.


Hardly a day goes by that we don’t spray our house – bed included – with Doom Crawling Bug Spray. The kitchen sink, window sills, cabinets, floor and table all get “Doomed” in hopes of reducing the ant population. It works well for us – not so much for the ants.


If Doom doesn’t get the job done, usually Blue Death Powder will. It is sprinkled around the perimeter of most rooms everywhere including the sacred chapel of the convent where we pray with the Sisters. We keep watching to see a crawly, creepy critter attempt to make it through the Blue Death barrier. However, we don’t think the scorpion that we saw skittering across the room and behind the book case will be affected by either. Maybe he will just stay put behind the bookcase until we are gone.

A couple of evenings a week, we attend a 6:00 pm mass at the convent. Last week, the Sisters asked if we would like to share some soup and take part in a recreation evening after mass. The vegetable barley soup was a wonderful treat that we thoroughly enjoyed. After eating, they declared that it was time for recreation and a Snakes and Ladders game was produced. Six of us gathered around a table and had a riotous time hooting, hollering and high-fiving each other as we played the simple board game. It was much-needed comedic relief and a refreshing way to end a day’s work.

Last night, we sat up in bed, awoken and startled at the sound of a vuvuzela – the long horn that you hear during World Cup Soccer matches. It was very loud and went on for some time with other horns joining in. We are living truly in the bush in the middle of nowhere and all boarders, teachers and Sisters were down for night. We listened a little longer and realized that there was a small herd of donkeys right outside our window putting on quite a concert. “Hee Haw Hee Haw.”

The house where we stay is on the property of St. Brendan’s Catholic High School – a boarding school. There are 450 boarding students, 50 staff and one kitchen crew that feeds them three meals per day. Often it is sweating hot in the relatively small kitchen as the ladies stir porridge and peel vegetables and Silas, the head cook, cuts up and fries 60 chickens per day. He has been doing this job for so many years, he claims to be growing feathers!


We always stop in to see the kitchen crew and give them some encouragement for the tough job that they are doing. They are stretching food as far as possible and making a little go a long way – think of the loaves and fishes. Several times a month there is no water, for one reason or another, and to do the wash up, water is fetched from the roof runoff rain barrels, carried in buckets to the kitchen. The roofs are the homes for many, many pigeons – try not to think of it – yikes!


When we made our first visit to the kitchen this year, one of the ladies said, “Ntate (Mr.) John, aren’t you having new aprons for us?” So, on one of our shopping trips, we purchased colorful new aprons for the entire kitchen crew. It was such a minor expense – about $2 apiece – but they thought it was the best gift ever given. There was singing and dancing and ululating galore. How easy it is to help people be happy with just a little bit of money, a little time and acknowledgement of how hard their job is and what a great job they do. What could be more fun!

We’ve known Maizey since 2000 when we first arrived at St. Brendan’s as greenhorn volunteers believing we could change the world. She worked around the area cleaning houses – ours included. We planned to tell her that we didn’t want her cleaning our house – like a servant. And we had agreed with Jesuit Volunteers to live simply and with no frivolous expenses. A wise man advised that it would be a big mistake to let her go – as she was supporting many people with her house cleaning jobs.


It turns out that Maizey became a great friend and helped us countless times understand cultural ways that were not our ways, all through an interesting language barrier as her English is as poor as our Sepedi. We’ve stayed in touch with her all these years and we’ve seen her kids grow up and grandchildren come into her life. We always visit her when we’re here and this year was no exception. It was truly a fun afternoon.


She has so many grandchildren living with and around her, we couldn’t keep straight who was who. Since we remember one of Maizey’s daughters, Dorothy, we asked, “Which of these kids are Dorothy’s?” Maizey looked around with a furrowed brow and asked one of the older children, “Who belongs to Dorothy?” When we asked, “How many grandchildren do you have?” her reply was, “Maybe 13 . . . or 11.” So, we weren’t the only ones overwhelmed by this joyful, passel of children.

You know . . . you can’t make this stuff up.


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