Branch Visit, Studies & Safari

Hi – it’s us again!

A lot has been going on since the last post – we had family visiting from TX so we went on safari with them to South Africa, then brought them back to Harare with us for about 9 days.  Lots of fun! Here are a few pics from the safari… it’s hard to explain what it’s like to be with these animals in their habitat and observing them going about their daily lives, nearly oblivious to us.  But imagine Paradise … just without the petting and snuggling.

While the Conner’s were in Harare with us, we had many a braai – which in TX would be known as a BBQ.  Same idea, different continent. Grilling of meat, drinking of adult beverages (if you’re so inclined), plenty of conversation, you get the idea. All in all, pretty nice! We also took a day to go out to a game reserve and got to see 3 white rhino, which we hadn’t seen while on safari in South Africa.  There was also a pretty nice view from the top of the rocks and some very cool bushman rock paintings from who knows how long ago!

 

Sunday, Jan 8th, we were invited to attend the Headquarters Representative Branch Visit Special Meeting at the Harare Assembly Hall. Here are a few pictures – not great ones but it was raining quite a bit so I didn’t get many photos. Sorry!

There were 2400+ in attendance at the Assembly Hall (3 open air buildings each holding about 800) but if you didn’t get invited there, they also streamed the program to the local Kingdom Halls so that pretty much everyone in Zim could be a part of it. So for us being from the US, we weren’t really familiar with a Headquarters Representative Branch Visit.  A Brother Dillinger from the US Bethel branch (not sure which location he’s currently at) came to Zimbabwe to deliver a very encouraging talk which was translated into Shona, the local majority language. But, the first two parts of the program – the abbreviated WT Study and the local report for Zimbabwe – were in Shona and not translated into English.  I could very vaguely follow along with the Watchtower study by listeing for names and scriptures in the paragraphs but when it came to the local report, we were pretty lost. We could tell a nice experience was being told and then the audience would laugh or applaud and the sweet sister with us – her name is Fortunate – would try to fill me in on the joke or experience before they moved on to the next point. Then came the talk by Br Dillinger from the HQ which was excellent.  I took lots of notes because since it was being translated (almost sentence by sentence) into Shona, I had plenty of time to write down what he said! The songs though were probably my favorite part. We started singing in English but since we were 2 of about 800 in our area, we quickly decided we wanted to sing with the group instead of battling through in English.  The video screens had all the lyrics in Shona which is a mostly phonetic language so we were able to read the words and sing along with everyone in Shona.  I have to admit, we only did 2 of 3 songs this way … the middle song was not an easy tune so it was tough to keep up and sing in Shona for that one. Oh well, we tried!  Here’s a video of the brothers and sisters singing in Shona – video credit goes to our friend Kate Vosloo … I was too busy trying to sing the song and not burst into tears to remember to take a video!


Being in service here is great – there’s not much in the way of bathroom breaks or stops at Starbucks but there is lots of walking and lots of talking to people.  I’d say we talk to just about as many people walking down the street or doing gardening as we do talking to people at their doors. I’ve been able to conduct 3 bible studies so far – and they’re all really great in their own way.  One is with a mother of 2 girls that had been sitting in on studies with her brother but it was in Ndebele (the second most common local language) and she wanted to have a study of her own in English which is what she understands the best since that what she was taught in school.  Her name is Lucinda and she’s already pretty knowledgeable but she wanted to start over in the Bible Teach book.  Fine by me!  The other one that is so nice is the one that Cameron found for me a few weeks ago – her name is More Blessings. He showed her the Why Study the Bible video and when it asks if you’d like to know more about the bible and study it with JW’s she said YES! We’re in chapter 3 of the Good News brochure and she’s loving it.  She loved learning that God has a name and she just loved  James 4:8.  This is the busy season for planting and farming but she came back in from the fields to be there for our study at 11 and then was going back out to work the rest of the day. But she thanked us over and over for coming and for our time.

Here are a few random pics of service:

 

That’s it for now – headed off to the meeting! We miss everyone but we are having lots of fun and good times here!

Harare Zimbabwe, December 2016

Hey guys!  Not sure who’s checking this out but I wanted to start writing some things down before I forget.

So, we’re back in Harare for the 3rd time and it’s really feeling like a home away from home. Cameron loves it here – as we’re driving up and down Borrowdale Rd (which seems like that’s the only road we know and the only one we need for now) he’ll just randomly say ‘have I said how much I like it here?’ to which I’ll reply ‘Yes’ but it’s good to know nonetheless.

It’s the rainy season now and it’s living up to the expectations this year after last years drought. As I write this at 10:48 pm, the rain is coming down like a monsoon outside.  Happy to know the crops will grow and the people will have maize to eat this year.

As for service so far, wow.  We haven’t been on a normal schedule yet with the jet lag, the moving from place to place, the rains, etc but despite all that, we’ve had some very cool service experiences already. Today, Cameron went on some RV’s with his group while I did PLD (cart witnessing for us americans) and he found a bible study for me.  He had gone to do two calls that were just a couple houses apart and when they didn’t find those calls at home and started to walk away, a woman from the house in between (that they didn’t go to) came out and asked why they didn’t come to her house.  She asked what they were doing so Cameron used the Teach the Truth presentation for this month about who caused Job’s suffering. She said right away that God didn’t cause it and was happy to see the verse that proved her right. Then he showed her the Why Study the Bible video and she was loving it.  At the end when the video asks if they’d like to learn more about the Bible she said Yes! and asked when they could come back.  She was busy tomorrow and we go out of town on Friday but as soon as I get back from South Africa next week, I’m going to go study with her.  Can’t wait!

Earlier this week, on Monday, we went to the rurals and found a family that I think could be a great study – for the Dad, Mom and teenage son!  We started talking to the son, the Mom came a few minutes later (she had been next door and watched part of the Why Study the Bible video I was showing her neighbor) and brought chairs outside for us to sit in so we’d be more comfortable.  As the video finished, the Dad came back and told us he had a book.  He went and got it from inside their home and it was the Bible Teach book.  He said he’d gotten it from a PLD (cart) somewhere in Zimbabwe and he loved it.  He’s read it all and always has it with him.  He works for the National Parks of Zimbabwe and so he’s often out in very remote rural areas as a National Park worker but he’s home for the holiday season now.  I asked him what he liked from from book or what he’s learned from it and he said he liked the parts about making family life happier and that he’s a better husband, she’s a better wife and they’re already happier because of what they’ve learned.  He’s going to be a tricky one since he works so far out in the middle of nowhere but we’ll definitely follow up with the wife and teenage son who live outside Harare.

I think we’ve barely scratched the surface but it’s been amazing even just so far. Totally worth the effort to be here!

The thunderstorm has knocked out the power so I’ll save this copy and post it later when I have power and wifi back.  🙂 I’ll also try to post some pictures so you can kind of see what we’re seeing.

Be well and hope to hear from you!

Harare, ZImbabwe – We made it!

For those of you checking on whether we made it or not – yes, we did.  We’re in Harare, Zimbabwe.  Woohoo!  We haven’t seen it in the daylight yet but we’ll soak it all in tomorrow after we try to shake off the jet lag. 

The reception at the Harare airport was amazing – lot of hugs and love from everyone.  We’ve made so many new friends already and we’ve barely arrived!

Kalahari and the Cape Cobra

As we left Aus and started the long drive (+\- 5 hrs) back north toward the center of the country, i couldn't help but feel a little glum knowing that our trip was in the 11th hour and we'd soon be headed back to the States and back to monotony. I hadn't done much research on the last location we were headed to…I just knew it was a game ranch 'on the way back to Windhoek'. Sounded to me like a stopover for the long journey and not really a destination in itself. And also we were back to camping for these two nights. I've thoroughly enjoyed camping in Africa but they've been having exceptionally warm weather and that's just not really fabulous camping. But we're excited to see the new area as we would now be in the Kalahari region. Yep, two deserts in Namibia, the Namib and the Kalahari. We were in the Kalahari in Botswana too … it's a pretty big desert. Anyway, we arrive at Bagatelle Kalahari game ranch and are greeted by one of the owners. She used her obvious sales skills and upsold us from a campsite to a chalet. We were pretty easy since I was already tempted to ask about any vacancies so we were thrilled to get a room … and it has AC! Also, there is a fairly tame oryx in the shade near the lodge, and just outside our chalet is a very tame springbok. She has what looks like lengths of garden hose on her horns so that she doesn't skewer anyone accidentally. As we unpacked she was sniffing around in the truck and following us around – though with a few feet of buffer zone… curiosity only goes so far! We hurried to catch the evening game drive and while on the drive we mainly saw antelope, it was just nice being on a game drive and taking in the scenic landscape. They recently had rain so there was a fine carpet of light green grass on all the plains, the trees looked lush and animals well fed and watered. Nice to see in the desert! After the drive, we came back to feed the cheetah – more on that later – and then drove to a picturesque overlook where we had sundowners – gin and tonic for me, thanks – and mingled before dinner. Dinner was another event, outside in the boma with a fire crackling nearby. The food and company were wonderful. We ate near a couple from London, a family from Zimbabwe and a couple from Germany. You'll find that not many Americans – at all – come to Namibia. We hadn't met any others until today when we found out that the astronomer they have on staff is from the US – Portland Oregon in fact. After dinner he explained where the Southern Hemisphere stars began in the sky that we obviously wouldn't see in the US. We clearly saw the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and two things that would appear like almost transparent clouds in me night sky…turns out – not clouds but huge and super far away galaxies. Unreal.

Bedtime for bonzo… so we start walking the 150 yards or so to our room which is a standalone chalet. As we approach, Cameron is leading and scanning with the flashlight when I see him freeze and call me over – with obvious alarm in his tone. And there it is… A snake. A big one. Greenish yellow and long. Have I mentioned that Cameron is reeeeeeeeally afraid of snakes? He nearly vomited in Botswana 2 years ago when we just DROVE BY a black mamba at about 40mph. So here he is, eyes locked with this 4-5 foot long snake. He tells me to go run to tell someone and he stays with it with a flashlight so we know where it is. I jogged (as best as possible in flip flops) back to the boma where the owners and staff were just sitting down to their dinner. Politely interrupting I tell them of our snake dilemma and the owner, the astronomer and the owners' 14 year old son accompany me back to the scene, quizzing me along the way as to color, size, etc. I hadn't gotten but a quick glimpse before being dispatched for help so I wasn't much use. Cameron had thought maybe green mamba because of the color but when we arrived Cameron said he'd seen it flare it's hood at some other passers by headed to bed. So there you have it – a cobra. Viper. Whatever you prefer. Technically I think a Cape Cobra but I'm going to make sure when I can get google to confirm. And yep, highly venomous. Not aggressive but not great to have in an area people live. Apparently they've rarely if ever seen a snake in the camp before… And only even rarely out in the bush on game drives. These cape cobras are known for entering the sociable weavers nest – a nest that can span an entire camel thorn tree – and eat the birds and their eggs. But this one was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So the heavy artillery showed up… Unfortunately for the snake, he had to be killed. And this was, of course, the only acceptable option for Cameron. Had that not been the eventuality, we'd have packed up at 10:00pm and headed on down the road. Not for any reason other than Cameron not being sure where the snake now was and of course when it would next jump out of the bushes and attack him. The owner made quick work of it and then we all gathered a little closer around to get a better look. Man was he big. Not fat but long…. And yellow. Cameron did his best to stay calm, even getting a closer look – once it was dead, duh – and just as he was leaning in to take an iPhone photo of the deadly beast, the owner used the tong thingys to fling the snake in Cameron's direction. I've never see him move so fast or scream so loudly. Once he composed himself, the laughing ensued. It was pretty fantastic. The owner apologized profusely the next day but even Cameron thought it was funny and all was well.

Next we go on a horseback safari…can't wait! That's been on my wish list since we first went to Africa 3 years ago.

 

 

 

 

Sossusvlei

After leaving the chilly temps of Walvis Bay, I was admittedly looking forward to heat and some sweating… And I definitely got it. We headed south to Sesriem which is the gateway to the famous red sand dunes of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. On the way we stopped for lunch at this neat little town called Solitaire. It feels like an old west town in the middle of nowhere at the crossroads of two gravel roads. You're greeted by several rusted but in tact 50s and 60s American Classic cars and trucks and lured in by the lore of a famous bakery. We were told several times of Moose's famous apple pie and my mouth was watering in anticipation. After some amazing schnitzel at the bar/restaurant I bee lined it for the bakery. Everything looked amazingly decadent but of course I chose the apple pie. It was made in a large bake pan instead of a round pie shape so it looked more like an apple crumble but who's arguing. Sadly though, as I approached the counter I saw a little memorial and book dedicated to Moose as he just passed away 3 days prior. It was obvious that he was well loved and sorely missed. And his famous apple pie was indeed incredible.

Back on the road we arrived at our campsite about an hour later. It was well laid out and thankfully, though in the he middle of a barren desert, had a little oasis with shade, loungers and a pool. That was such a welcome sight because it was 43 Celsius when we arrived. Check my math but I think that's about 110 Fahrenheit … Hot. Funny thing though, once you got in and then out, it felt freezing because of the strong wind blowing through. Without the water though it felt like – to coin a phrase from my friend Kelly – being chased around by a hair dryer. Camping was hot but not unbearable and we enjoyed being out in nature again. Though 'nature' woke me up all night … A jackal hung around us that night and I heard him crunching on some old charcoal nearby and then at about 4am the little rascal had pushed our trash can out from under the counter and yanked out the trash bag with lots of glass bottles (wine of course) and cans making a very jarring racket when you're trying to be asleep. And about and hour later the alarm went off so we could get up to make breakfast, pack up camp and be in the Sossusvlei park at dawn for the hour drive to the dunes. The park was just gorgeous in the early morning light… We were in a wide valley and the mountains turned to sand dunes the further in we drove. Turns out that though these dunes are some of the tallest in the world, they have limestone deep underneath them and aren't just sand. You'd never know it to look at them though! The last several km to the dunes is deep sand so most people opted for a shuttle from the parking area at the end of the tar road into the dunes. Of course we drove it… Cameron was like a kid in a candy store.

We decided to go to Deadvlei first and to get there it was a trek over a couple dunes and then down into a pan that once had water but now was a hard clay bed with nothing but dead trees breaking up the landscape. It was beautiful but somewhat eerie as well. The red sand dune called Big Daddy loomed over us but already by 8am there was no shade and nowhere to hide. I had aspirations of climbing to the top of Big Daddy but I think that will wait for another visit – hopefully in the winter months when it's slightly cooler maybe?

After a little more exploring we played around in the sand and started making a slow trek back out of the park. By 2ish we had to get in the pool back at camp and then waited for it to cool off a little to make dinner at sunset. We picked up some pork chops and had a nice braii (BBQ) and wine. We were really settling into this tent camping thing… We got setup and breakdown to a science and it took only a few minutes.

Next stop… Aus, Leuderitz area where we'll see the deserted diamond mining town and the wild desert horses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swakopmund and Walvis Bay

We left the rugged beauty and dramatic rocky cliffs and mountains and headed west, towards the Atlantic Ocean. The landscape slowly changed and flattened our out entirely as we entered the Namib Desert. As I mentioned before, the common theme in Namibia is vast openness. The number of hours you can drive without seeing much of any civilization is staggering. We arrived at the Skeleton Coast about 80km north of Swakopmund. As we turned to head south it was ocean to the right and flat white desert to the left. We saw one shipwreck on the beach and like true tourists we stopped to take pictures of course. It wasn't one of the huge tanker ships that was old and rusted through like I hoped to see – those are further north on the skeleton coast – but it was cool nonetheless. With the introduction of GPS, fewer ships sail into the coastline. The coast is known for being very foggy so mariners thought they were plenty far from land when in truth there were running aground. The ship we saw broke loose from its anchor in a nearby bay and ran aground that way.

Swakopmund was a neat old German town on the coast and we stayed in a quaint little B&B near the south of town. We tried to hit the he ground running in Swakop and booked our Living Desert tour for the next morning. What a cool thing that was! It was just us and the guide in a sweet old Land Rover in the golden sand dunes between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. He showed us so many plants and animals that live in the desert that I'd have never guessed were there. We saw chameleon, shovel nosed lizards, geckos, several kinds of beetles, birds, mice, skinks and a sidewinder snake. They were all amazing in their own ways and perfectly designed to live in such a harsh environment. And driving over and through the immense dunes was just awesome. We got stuck once but easily out in about 10 min 🙂 Also learned that the dunes are there because of the Benguela Current that runs up the coast of Namibia. It not only brings sand but also different minerals which is what gives the dunes differs colors sometimes …we saw black and a purplish magenta color. And the sparkles were from mica… Makes it looks like millions of tiny diamonds shining on the dunes in the sunlight. Truly beautiful – especially when standing on the top of the dunes and looking over the Atlantic Ocean and feeling the cold sea breeze from the Benguela current in the hot desert.

Keeping the day rolling we decided later that afternoon to go quad biking on the dunes. So much fun! I posted a quick clip to Facebook a few days ago and several people said it looked like a video game…. And it felt like one too!

The next day we headed to the nearby town of Walvis Bay, just about 25 min to the south of Swakopmund. It's got the major port for the area and though it's more industrialized because of that, I actually preferred it a little to Swakop. We were able to meet and make lots of new friends and the Kingdom Hall and have lots of stories and experiences to share. Such lovely, giving, hospitable and welcoming people!

In Walvis we decided to take a catamaran tour to see the local cape fur seals and the sights from the water. You'd never guess it but it was COLD the entire morning we were out there and it was pretty windy so I bundled up and shivered and sniffled most of the trip. BUT, it was so much fun! The boat captain was funny and introduced us to two cape fur seals that help themselves onto the catamaran. In fact, they have a mop handle that they clank against the railing to keep the seals off the boats at times because they can get a little excited. But Archie wake surfed behind us until he was allowed to come aboard. He let us let him, pose with him and I even got a lapful of cape fur seal. In turn, he got fish. Not a bad deal really. Seeing a seal up close and personal was awesome and unexpected… I had heard that sometimes they board the boats but didn't know I'd get a seal on my lap. Their fur is amazingly dense and when combed against the grain you can see that just the top layer is wet and he's nice and warm and dry underneath! And they have very thick coarse whiskers that flatten out – which incidentally is how circus seals balance that ball on their 'nose'! After that we were treated to a seafood tray that included local oysters that the area is known for. Yum.

We slowed our pace a little in Walvis bay… Watched the flamingos and pelicans, ate good food and drank good wine and rested up for the second half of the trip. Much needed and very nice.

Next stop, Sossusvlei and red sand dunes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damaraland – Twyfelfontein, Namibia

Wow, what a beautiful place. It feels quite literally like the middle of nowhere. It's difficult to describe the feeling and the isolation of the place. From Etosha we drove about 4 and a half hours – and mind you, Etosha is not what any American would call 'civilization' – and we came to a slice of Namibia that is incredibly rugged and beautiful. The main 'road' is graded gravel, winds though riverbeds, doesn't care to warn you of steep inclines or sharp turns and is all in all, wonderful. When we arrived at our campsite at Mowani Mountain Camp, we were a little befuddled since we had not camped in Africa before this. We checked in at the main lodge and they told us what campsite to go to and then we were on our own. Yikes. No electricity…but there was running water which included a toilet, shower and kitchen area with a sink. We barely made it to our campsite by sunset so we scurried to set up the first night. It worked and all but was a little hasty.

We woke up at sunrise the next morning, not having been eaten by lions, hyena or baboons so that was a good start to the day. Kidding of course … We hadn't see any animals in this area and figured it was just too inhospitable for them. Why else would they allow camping? So we got up at sunrise because the Nature Drive (aka Desert Elephant search party) left at 7. Spoiler Alert: yes, we found the desert elephants and that was Awesome! But long before that we got to see how much activity there really was in Damaraland… A lot! Turns out there are elephants, lions, hyena, cheetah, leopard, jackals, kudu, oryx, springbok, baboons, and lots of little birds, creepy crawlies, etc. We didn't see any of the predators except for a few jackal with their babies… Jackals are already pretty little guys – maybe the size of a Sheltie but skinnier…like a miniature coyote – and their pups?, kits? are tiny and so darn cute!

About 3 hours into the drive, we started seeing elephant poo and knew we were headed in the right direction. If you're tracking elephants, follow the poo. They eat plants ALL day, and A LOT of them, so you can imagine they're pretty regular shall we say. Before long we see two bulls at a waterhole and got to watch and follow them for quite a ways down the riverbed (dry as a bone!) until we found about 7-10 females. One of the ladies was heavily preggo and another had a baby with her – the guide said it about 4 months old and was apparently exhausted … it's napping antics were pretty great. Stand up, look around, sway, down on front knees, tumble sideways and then flop into napping position.

Later that day we toured the World Heritage Site of the Twfelfontein rock engravings. Twyfelfontein is an Afrikaans word meaning 'doubtful fountain' because the white settler that found these engravings came there because there was a natural spring nearby that sometimes produced enough water, sometimes not. These engravings into the granite were means of communication between the Damara tribespeople …they we're nomadic and traveled in small groups so this is essentially how they left 'notes' for each other.

That night we made our dinner at the campsite, set up the tent, drank wine and enjoyed the unbelievable tranquility of the 'middle of nowhere'. We only wished our friends were there to share it with us! We were treated to a passing thunderstorm that night at about 2am – just enough rain to get things wet but not enough to make much difference in the desert.

Oh and there's a few photos below … The odd looking plant is a Welwitschia – this one was only about 100 yrs old but there are some where we are going that are about 1500 years old. It grows very slowly and only produces two leaves that twist and fray and give it it's strange look. Ancient though!