Saturday, December 3, 2016

Creating a few good excuses

I wrote this post at least 4 years ago, but never posted it for some reason. I stumbled on it today and thought it deserved sharing.

My brother was teaching the priesthood lesson this week from the Pres. George Albert Smith manual. It was the third or so in a row in being member missionaries. I forget the exact words Steve used, but he and the lesson talk about the fact that you cannot "scold" anyone into Heaven, "but I want to tell you that we can love them into the direction of our Father in heaven..."
When Steve quoted the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, it got me thinking. The command is NOT to convert a bunch of people, and therefore love them because it's a useful tactic. The command is to love them, and as a happy result of that you will occasionally get the chance to be of service to them.

We had a few too many visits from a friendly, agreeable, thoughtful plumber this summer. When his work was done, I asked if he had ever been given the opportunity to have a Book of Mormon. He confirmed that he had several LDS friends and he knew it was required in many churches to try to win converts. I wasn't sure how to respond. He didn't sound offended, but I could tell the gesture was not received the way I felt.

He was a nice guy. He had made our lives better working harder than was strictly required. I wanted to thank him with more than money. I wanted to form a friendship in the little time we have in the States, and quite frankly the Church is the primary way I socialize.

He was one of many people whose lives I would like to bless with the thing that has given me the greatest joy. The thing is, most of those people I'm going to see again, so I can comfortably keep putting off that invitation - mostly in the fear that it and I will be rejected and taken in one of many wrong ways. But I cared for someone and wanted to share.


Before we moved to Nigeria, I was an assistant clerk keeping track of membership records and then executive secretary. Among the things I did was track attendance. I didn't feel that was enough. I wanted to know if someone was missing. I not only counted heads, but learned to recognize everyone by the back of their head so I could tell if someone was missing for a few weeks and make sure the proper people had noticed and were taking care of them.

When new people moved in - a frequent occurrence in student areas - I ran over to greet them. This was a very new phenomenon for me. I'd always been content (as music chair or choir director) to find out if someone had musical talents and rush over once someone told me they sang. Now it was my job to get the information of new members so I could request their records into the area. But more than that, I wanted them to feel welcomed and appreciated. I wanted them to stay.

Being membership clerk gave me a script to follow, and that was the support/crutch I needed to be able to get over my awkwardness and try saying hello. Home and visiting teaching is not just a duty to visit once a month, but an opportunity both to come to love and serve someone and to open our homes and hearts to someone we might not otherwise have socialized with. I'm not comfortable in a lot of social interactions, but being a home teacher, a clerk, a choir director, whoever, gives me a role to fill and helps me start reaching out.

Callings and assignments - and even missionary duties - are opportunities to get to know people, to befriend them, to learn even to love them.

They were all excuses. An excuse to love someone.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Vortrekker needlework

Far more impressive to me than the view were the arts and crafts stored in the basement of the Vortrekker Monument. A fellow named Coetzer was commissioned to create a series of needlepoint tapestries in commemoration of the trek. They are beautiful! They are impressive! As a fellow needle-worker, I was really impressed.

Here are three of my favorites, with more below the fold.

I LOVED this.

This sculpture is made out of icing. It was made out of icing in 1984 and it is still here.

Toys for vortrekker children to play with.

Things I want to know:
Did Vortrekker children sing as they walked and walked?
Did little Vortrekker children gather berries for food and chips for wood?
Do I have to walk a thousand miles or more to be a Vortrekker?

Part painting, part stichery.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Voortrekker Monument - the pioneers

On a hill overlooking Pretoria stands the Vortrekker Monument - a tower to remember the Boer pioneers. As I studied their history, I was shocked at the parallels with my own, Utah Mormon pioneer history.

At about the same time my ancestors were being chased by mobs from Ohio to Missouri to Illinois to Utah (1830s-1860s) the Boer settlers from Cape Town fled what they saw as British oppression to the northeast (such as Pretoria). They saw themselves as religious refugees, God's chosen people. They traveled in covered wagons across the veld to seek Zion where they could worship in peace. Many of the same themes are shared in each group's diaries and speeches. It was deeply moving for me and helped a little Mormon boy from California feel right at home.

Not that there aren't some very important differences. Mormon pioneers got along remarkably well with the natives in the region, particularly in historical context. Vortrekkers left their homes in part (point #3 in their manifesto) because they were angry their African slaves had been freed and they wanted the liberty to "maintain proper relations between master and servant" (point #5). One of the great moments in their history was the Battle of Blood River in Dec 1838. 470 Vortrekkers (led by Pretorius - gee, where did Pretoria get its name?) with muskets defeated 21,000 Zulu warriors armed with spears.

A Vortrekker mother (left) prepares to flee with her children. She is protected on the four corners by leaders like Pretorias and Piet Retief (right) from the dangers of the trails (the famished cattle around here, below).

We took the elevator up (small children), but there are plenty of stairs if you would prefer. The view from the top is impressive.

There are also a few more steps to climb up a dome and then you can look ALL the WAY DOWWW..., um, how about if I don't look down there, k? I'll just stick my camera over the edge - I'm getting dizzy remembering it - and take a shot of the entry hall and the basement below...

Let's go back down, shall we, Superstar? Thanks!

The sub-basement has a collection of memorabilia, including a covered wagon and this view of a night on the veld. Another post will show some of the arts we found. I got really excited about it.

The entry hall has a giant stone mural all around the walls depicting the Vortrekkers' trek. This is one of the videos I took of it. It depicts them leaving Cape Colony in 1835, a Zulu attack in 1836 and another in 1837, Retief is sworn in as their leader, and his negotiations with some Zulu leaders.

Apartheid and Union

The South African capitol building is called the Union building. It has two wings, one representing the English settlers and one representing the Dutch/Boer settlers. There was a lot of conflict between them in the early days (1800s), so the union between them was important.

My kids paused when I told them that. "You mean, it isn't about the union between black and white South Africans?" Nope. That came much later. To do a bad job glossing over a lot of South African history, the English-speaking white South Africans were in power initially, and there was a lot of conflict between them and the Dutch-speaking white South Africans (Boers). When the Boers came to power in the 1940s, they put in place a lot of laws to keep black South Africans apart from white South Africans. This system was called apartheid. For about 50 years, their ability to own property was severely curtailed, they weren't allowed into white parts of town unless they had a special pass, and they couldn't vote.

After much internal and external pressure, they finally ended apartheid in 1994. With the ability to vote, they elected Nelson Mandela, aka Madiba. While many people wanted to use violence to restore black South Africans to a more equal footing, Mandela urged peace through a Truth and Reconciliation commission. Today his statue stands at the prominent stair entrance to the Union building. Here are the kids walking in his footsteps while we hold hands with him.

They also built an Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, where you aren't allowed to take pictures inside so we have rather fewer pictures to share from our trip. From the outside you can see the seven principles of their "new" constitution: democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.

When you enter the museum, you receive a ticket that says you are either white or non-white. Joy was white and the rest of us weren't. Turns out it makes a lot less of a difference than you would think, but you enter through two entrances with a longer line for the non-whites. After one room, you are reunited. We watched a short video about 1800-1940s history, explored a history of Madiba's life, and then toured the main part of the museum that shows artifacts, videos, and lots of written material about the experience of apartheid.

There's one room you walk into and see a large collection of nooses, representing political murders that were committed during that period. You visit a jail cell and see the kind of monster military vehicle they used to suppress dissent. They have video of the student riots that erupted in the 1990s. You leave with a reminder that, while some people find reviewing this history painful and others find it liberating, we should all take time to ponder on what it means for us, "Then walk away free." It was an emotionally powerful visit.

Here are Joy and the kids standing at the World War I memorial at the Union Building. "Their ideal is our legacy. Their sacrifice is our inspiration."

The kids loved the Union building and all wanted to come back again. Superstar wanted to see the Apartheid museum again. There was far more information there than any one visit could absorb.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Oh! The Gift Shops You'll Visit!

There's a lot of cool stuff we didn't buy. I'm pleased with how little of it we bought. We didn't buy the plush African dog. We didn't buy the recycled plastic beads. We didn't buy the bowls, the animal figurines, or the nature books in Afrikaans.

But we could not avoid all the stuff.

JT got a traditional rattle ($1, fell apart in the car on the way home). He later got a candy tank ($2, fell apart in the car before we left the safari). Everyone else's stuff was more expensive than his, but he got a little cheap something everywhere we went and was very happy.

Princess fell in love with a stuffed cheetah named Pretty. Superstar wanted a lion named Fuzzy.

Together, they combine their ecoplush powers to become ... pretty fuzzy.

Joy got a spoon whose handle comes from a springbok horn, a couple serving trays with elephants on them, and a napkin holder made of cast iron shaped into an owl. The napkin holder broke so it's now wall decorations.

I got clothes for birthday presents from myself (a hat, a purple bow tie, and new shoes when mine broke). I got some stuff at the Voortrekker monument you'll meet in a later post. But since we have now done the posts for Pretty and Fuzzy, it seemed a good time to mention them.

In South African restaurant, meals eat you

After the safari, petting the tiger, and wandering through the more zoo-ish part of the zoo (skipping completely their reptile house and children's playground), we thought it was high time we got some lunch. Very nice sandwiches - some of the best grilled cheese any of us ever had and my Dagwood sandwich lived up to its namesake. But the thing to remember isn't the food, it's sitting next to taxidermy that's ready to eat you:

And then there's the life-size elephant sculptures outside with a ladder so you can climb up and take pictures.

No bears in South Africa. Sorry.

But there are LOTS of other animals to see that didn't make it to the other posts, like:
Cape buffalo, various antelope varieties, and warthogs (aka Pumba)

Adults can pet the baby leopard, but kids can't

Squirrels and varieties of cranes

Baby rhino and a Klipspringer (who gets nearly all its water from food)

Baby hippo.... and that's not even counting all the varieties of big cats: jaguars, leopards, cheetahs...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

... and Tigers ...

After the grand tour of the Rhino and Lion reserve, we paid for a special opportunity: TO PET A BABY TIGER!

Here are Joy and Princess, quietly walking around the kitty. Joy pet first to show it was safe, then Superstar and Princess, then I finally got a turn. JT - perched safely on my shoulders - didn't ever quite trust himself with the critter, but was happy to be as close as that.

I was surprised at first that his fur was not as soft as most of the cats' we've owned. It was coarser ... kinda like Superstar's hair. So if you want to know what a tiger feels like, ask my son if you can brush his hair, I guess.

It makes sense on further reflection. I mean, they weren't exactly being bred for silky smoothness and they don't use conditioner.

The great bit was that at one point the tiger leaned over and took a playful nip at me! He grabbed my pants. I stepped back slowly but firmly and got dislodged. No problem.

Then he tried to play with Princess. That caused a bit more panic. She was NOT happy to have a kitty reaching out to eat her, so she cowered back. The tiger ripped a tiny hole in her dress.

We decided after that we were probably done petting the animals, though they also had a lion, a cheetah, and a leopard that could be pet - some by kids and some only by adults.

Today at Primary, Superstar told everyone that petting the tiger was his favorite thing in South Africa. He says, "He was really soft. And he was washing and I got to feel his wet, soft fur."

Princess has fewer happy memories: "He ruined my dress. But somebody fixed it. I don't know who. That's all."

Lions ...

The Rhino and Lion Reserve has three predators: wild dogs, lions, and cheetahs. Unfortunately for us, the cheetahs were well hidden when we came out and the wild dogs liked the shade also, so there's not much to see there. It made us very thankful we went to the cheetah center to see them both.

BUT! We got a GREAT view of the lions! They sleep right next to the bus path!

These are white lions, not albinos but definitely lighter in shading than the more golden colored lions we normally think of.

At one point we had a couple lions walk right next to the bus (videos below!). We were instructed to be especially quiet then, lest they jump us. With no net or fence or anything between us and them, I thought that rather good advice.

Rhino and Lion: Right up to the car!

We drove into the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in South Africa and wound our way across the bumpy roads. It's part of the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO world heritage site.

R&L is halfway between a zoo and a nature preserve. There are still enclosures that keep the predators separate from the prey, but otherwise it's just one big open expanse. Our guide mentioned that if they didn't separate the predators, all the prey would hide along the edges of the reserve.

The great thing about the reserve is that they set up watering holes and feeding spots right next to the road. Large groups of animals congregate where it is easy to film them.

So before our tour even began, we saw zebras, sprinbok, rhinos, ostriches, boars, and more right next to the road. ... and sometimes on it!

The kids in the tour truck

On our way out, we saw a giraffe too.