Bulembu: photo portraits

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I got off to a rocky start on the 2nd day. In what turned into my start-of-the-workday pattern, it seemed to always take 45 minutes before I was able to make clean prints. After powering up my computer and Lee Anne’s printer, I started on the 60 small head shots that would be cut out and put into wooden frames that are cutout to look like a body. The kids decorated them yesterday. My first attempt came out with a couple of horrible-looking green prints that would be perfect for a Halloween party, but maybe not so good for a Christian children’s craft. I ran the diagnostic and it indicated that one cartridge was empty, and the other nearly so. Did it drain out overnight? I replaced both cartridges, and after a reboot and a paper jam, was back to printing out a stack of photos.

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By the end of the first day, I’d managed to get a stack of 5×7″ pages printed with a total of 43 head shots that were later cut out in circles to insert in the stick people frames. On the second day, I started to print off what would eventually amount to almost 100 4×6″ prints. I wouldn’t have been able to mass produce so many prints in such a short time if I hadn’t brought along a laptop and a copy of Adobe’s Lightroom software.

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The printer turned out to be a high-maintenance item. Besides my daily problems with feeding it cartridges (I eventually used up 6 of the 11 cartridges that I’d brought with me), the printer also needed a lot of feeding. Several times I walked away from the printer for 30 minutes to photograph and video some of the other projects, and came back to find that it had run out of paper or had jammed.

Pictures to fit the decorated frames were printed by the end of the day, so I started a second run of the pictures used for the head shots. This time, instead of printing off just their heads, I printed off the entire picture. Some of the kids had put a lot of heart into the posing process, and I figured they’d be disappointed without seeing the entire photo (also, I figured some of the older kids might not be as excited to see their head on top of a popsicle stick).

By the end of our stay, I’d made over 175 prints.

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We decided that it’d be fun to stick all the pictures onto a couple of the dividers in the centre so that everybody could see everybody else’s portrait. The younger kids seemed to get a real kick out of seeing their older brothers and sisters hanging up on the wall.

Bulembu: Service Day 2 outdoors

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

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The crews working on the physical plant made a lot of progress on the first day, but started running into roadblocks. None of the battery packs for the rechargeable power tools were keeping a charge, slowing work on the toilet doors. They finally managed to finish hanging new doors on the stalls by the end of the day after borrowing a power cord from one of the other crews.

They also put new sinks in both the boys and girls sides, and added some new drainage to relieve some trouble spots.

They also replaced several of the window panes along the back of the toilets.

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The building used for the centre is actually a former bar–one of the many repurposed buildings in Bulembu. Like many of the buildings in town, it and the building next door have metal multipane windows that apparently date to the 1930s. Lots of glass needed replacement. Our glaziers got off to a bit of a slow start learning how to trim glass panes without breaking them, but they figured out the tricks and used up all the panes that were purchased before we arrived.

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They painfully scraped and chiseled out the old putty, replaced the panes, and then used huge bags of old-fashioned window putty to hold and seal the panes into the metal windows. Trimming window glass to size was relatively easy–stretching undersized glass to fit into larger panes turned out to be the biggest challenge of the week.

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Trash is stored outdoors behind the building next door. It was unsafe to leave bins of trash in an area full of children, so our crew built a sturdy lockable wooden enclosure around the garbage storage area.

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The ICC volunteers completely repainted both the building used for the centre, and the building with the toilets.

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Bulembu: Service Day 2 indoors

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Our 2nd day in Bulembu was noticeably warmer than the first, but it was still a beautiful spring day in Swaziland.

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When I arrived in the center, the women were busy cutting up tissue paper, and the girls were splitting cotton balls in half, preparing for a rush of pre-schoolers for some morning crafts that resulted in sheeps’ ears, paper crowns and bunches of artificial flowers.

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The kids really got into the crafts, and most of them wore their ears and crowns home.

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Bulembu: Malanda Village

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

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One afternoon, a group of us on the ICC service project in Bulembu headed down a poorly-maintained dirt road to a Swazi village called Malanda to visit several of the families associated with the Enduduzweni Centre. Within walking distance of Bulembu, most of the homes, all of which were made from mud, lacked electricity, and none of them had running water.

We first visited the family of Zandy Dlamini, who is on staff at Enduduzweni.

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Her mother, Thembi Mavimbela, entertained us in the main room while we explored the house. The kitchen was dominated by a wood stove, sitting on several rocks, with a large cooking pot on top.

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Outside, they had a small vegetable garden, and have recently started growing some fruit trees. Zandy (2nd from left below), is hoping to start raising chickens, soon.

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Then we stopped to visit the Mahlalela family. Mr. Mahlalela is from Mozambique, and his wife grew up locally. They speak Portguese, 2 African languages, and both Mr. and Mrs. Mahlala have been taking English lessons from LeeAnn. Their children are learning English at the Enduduzweni Centre.

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Their primary source of income comes from beating scrap metal into cooking pots, but they are also increasing the productivity of their small holding. A small barn contains 30 caged rabbits that they raise for meat, along with a young pair of steers.

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When we arrived, Mrs. Mahlalela was doing the laundry in a bucket full of soapy water in the yard between the house and the outbuilding. It looks like a hard way to make a living, but with two healthy parents, these 5 children are doing much better than many of the kids in rural Swaziland.

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Malanda is not the most prosperous place that I’ve visited, but it also has some significant advantages. Its a very beautiful and fertile place, with lovely views of the mountains, and productive gardens. It is a community of people with family and friendship connections to their village and to an increasingly prosperous Bulembu.Malanda-042.jpg A GoogleEarth satellite picture showing our drive from Bulembu into Malanda, and walk around Malanda, appears below (Zoom into the part at the top to see Malanda. The Care Centre is the loop in the bottom right, and the Lodge where we stayed and ate is at the end of the track in the lower left. ). 

Bulembu: Service Day 1

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

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Our first day started with a morning devotional at 0730, followed by a large and hearty breakfast. Served at a buffet, the kids immediately sucked up all the pancakes. Elizabeth brought me a large bowl of granola, dried fruit, and yogurt–more than I wanted to eat–but I didn’t want to be rude and send back uneaten food. Then some more pancakes appeared, and so I had a couple of them on top of the bowl of straw. Most of our ICC folks had already left the room when the Lodge staff began bringing out large dishes with a pair of poached eggs, a large sausage, and a small slice of cooked tomato. It seemed rude not to at least attempt to eat the surprise main course, so Elizabeth and I were pretty well fed before starting work.

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We walked down a steep road, past some of the larger houses in Bulembu (left over from the mining company), and past the terminus of a non-functioning cable car. Built by the Germans in 1939, it is the longest cable car system in existence, stretching all the way to Piggs Peak. It was used to haul bulk material to the mine. Bulembu is filled with the remnants of its mining heritage, some of which have been repurposed, but much of which is mouldering away.

The Enduduzweni Community Care Centre is located in a valley in the center of Bulembu. It provides a safe and nurturing environment for dozens of pre-schoolers whose parents (most only have one) work in Bulembu. The children vary widely in their circumstances. Without this service, many of the 2-4 year olds would end up staying at home by themselves, usually with very little to eat.  In the afternoon, a number of elementary school kids come to the centre, and some teenagers are learning to use computers and are gaining typing skills.

Remembering what a treat it was for the Gypsy children in Romania to get their pictures taken, I’d volunteered to take photos of the kids at Bulembu, and Michelle Loubser had worked out a couple of picture frame decorating projects that the children could do. I wanted to make sure that everything was working fine, so as soon as I arrived at the EnduduZweni Care Centre, I fired up Lee Anne’s multi-function printer (after some struggle with extension cords and electrical adaptors), plugged my laptop into a South African power adaptor, turned it on, and plugged the printer into a USB port. The drivers I’d loaded before I left home worked perfectly, and I was soon able to print onto an A4 sheet of paper. 35 minutes and a reboot later, I was finally able to print onto 13x18cm photo paper, and I announced that I was ready to print, and ready to take portraits of the kids.

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I scouted around for a location, and found a bright but shady spot on the back wall of the center, which was a long veranda looking out onto a soccer pitch and a huge mountain of mine tailings. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out the right settings for my DSLR and the on-camera flash with a Demb Diffuser. then the staff brought the kids out one at a time to stand in front of my dark red wall.. Over the next half hour, I took 90 pictures in my improvised studio. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon trying to print them back out, eventually ending up with 77 9x13cm prints to fit into the frames that the kids had decorated.

I also created a second studio for a group of older kids who come to the centre in the afternoons to spend time working on the PCs and learning to type. Elizabeth suggested that green might make for a better color, so we carried out a green board to another long porch. The older kids had a little more attitude than the younger ones, and I spent a wild 25 minutes taking 65 more portraits.

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The rest of the ICC crew was even busier than I was, replacing a sink and a set of doors in the toilets, replacing and puttying dozens of windows, and painting the outside of the children’s center. Our folks also worked on the crafts with the Bulembu kids, and played games with them. More on that to follow.

The GoogleEarth map below shows the Lodge at the west and the steep walk down the town’s main street to The Enduduzweni Community Care Centre.  Use the mouse to scroll down to the huge pile of mine tailings  (try using the buttons in upper left to zoom in).

Bulembu arrival

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

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23 hours after getting into the taxi in Sunninghill, Elizabeth was able to start her shower in our room at the lodge in Bulembu. It took us about 6 hours to get here from Johannesburg.

47 members of the International Community Church hopped onto a flight at Heathrow last night, arriving in South Africa this morning. After collecting our bags, and having some fantastic coffee at the Woolworth, we sorted ourselves out into 5 large Toyota vans (with small engines). 4 of the vans pulled small trailers (small, covered trailers are ubiquitous here), and by putting a few of the suitcases in the back of the vans, we were just able to squeeze all our luggage in. After some consultation with the staff, 5 white vans pulled out onto the motorway, following the bright red pickup truck belonging to LeeAnn McPharland, the woman our church supports here in Bulembu.

Heading directly east towards Maputo, Mozambique, the first half of the trip was a very modern and large motorway through relatively uninteresting scenery. We stopped once for lunch, and a second time to tank up and empty out. On the other side of Middelburg, the road narrowed from a highway into a 4-lane with no median. As the terrain became hillier, and the mountains were visible, the road narrowed to 2-3 lanes. We left the Maputo road at Nelspruit, turning directly south, and heading into the mountains on a twisty 2-lane. We were climbing into the clouds, and had to put the wipers on intermittent, and our little vans started to struggle with the grade. They not only couldn’t make it up any of the hill in 4th, but a couple times, I had to downshift into 3rd. I’ve driven stick all my life, but never with the shifter coming out of the dash. There must have been a long and tortuous linkage between the shift knob and the gear fingers, because it was not always easy to find 4th on my way back down.

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We passed through miles and miles of tree plantation, apparently servicing the local paper mill. Reaching Barberton at about 3pm, and were concerned that we wouldn’t make the Swaziland border before it closed at 4. This last 46km was a steep and twisty road that switchbacked up and down a mountain range, most of which was pasture. At least the road was in excellent shape, being relatively wide and recently paved. We spent a lot of this part of the trip with the vans struggling to make it through the steeper parts of Saddleback Pass in 2nd gear. We finally reached a sort of quaint and African-looking border crossing at 3:50PM. It seemed to take forever for South Africa to process us back out of the country that we’d only arrived in earlier that day, but Elizabeth is convinced it was less than 15 mins. Having left the headlights on, it was enough time to run down the battery. I couldn’t start the van, so we pushed it backwards to the road, and I bump started it in 2nd.

I kept the engine running when we briefly stopped at the Swazi border crossing, which consists of a woman and a long red & white pole that she lifted to allow the vans to enter the country. The road was much narrower on this side, mostly only a single lane. Where the South African side had been cleared and grazed, this side is forest. After about 10 minutes, we pulled into the outskirts of Bulembu. Carefully threading our way through the steep, narrow and potholed streets, we reached The Lodge. I backed the van into a parking spot so that if necessary, it would be easy to push it to a steep hill.

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Bulembu was a company town built for the Havelock Asbestos Mine. One of the 5 biggest asbestos mines in the world, it closed in 1991 after a 10 year decomissioning process, turning Bulembu into something of a ghost town. A group of Christians (mostly from the US and Canada) essentially bought the town in 2006, forming Bulembu Ministries Swaziland. The plan is to make the town self-sustaining by 2020, at which point it should be supporting 2,000 orphans. With the highest AIDS rate in Africa, such support is desperately needed. The Lodge contains tourist accomodations, the former golf course now supports dairy cattle, and former company warehouses are now used in the production of honey. The Christian school in town is considered one of the best in Swaziland.

A GoogleEarth map showing the final part of our drive into Bulembu appears below. You can zoom in, and also see the satellite view.