Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Introducing my new roommate, Patrick.

We’ve all heard the saying “don’t let the cat out of the bag,” which is a useful bit of advice if you’re walking around with a canvas shopping bag full of un-sedated cat. But the advice I really needed on Saturday morning, when I was trying to stuff my new kitty into a box in anticipation of a 45 minute bus ride, was “don’t try to stuff a fully conscious cat into a box.” Particularly if you value NOT bleeding.

This whole adventure started Friday afternoon, after a particularly productive meeting with MSF (seriously, I’m not being sarcastic), when my fellow Shis girls and I made the trek out to Pasture Valley Children’s Home. (Actually, they made the trek on public transport and I hitched a ride with Peter, who was transporting 90 plastic chairs in a pick-up the size of a Ford Ranger, which was basically a miracle.) We spent the afternoon/evening gathering fresh vegetables from the farm and then making mass quantities of cole slaw, lettuce/tomato/carrot/green pepper salad, spicy boiled cabbage, spinach, cheesy broccoli and cauliflower bake, Swazi porridge, egg sandwiches, brisket stew and stir fry, all in anticipation of Saturday’s Open Day on the farm.

The Open Day was the official grand opening of the second children’s home at Michelle and Peter’s farm, Pasture Valley. All sorts of important people—Peter and Michelle’s family and friends, people from various NGOs, the nuns from Our Lady of Sorrows, members of the McCubbins’ congregation in South Africa, representatives of government, officers from SOS Children’s Village, etc.—came to celebrate 6 years of replacing bleak futures and neglect with safe homes and loving family. Something worth celebrating, no doubt. After a brief tea/homemade lemonade time, everyone shuffled into the “tunnel” (greenhouse) for the scheduled program. Each of the kids recited a bible verse from memory, then they sung songs in English and Siswati about Jesus, etc. Peter also told the story of how it all started 6 years ago, basically because they recognized a need for such a children’s home and the fact that they could, possibly, find the resources to make it work. And they have.

After a wonderful lunch and about 3 servings of Michelle’s incredible gooseberry custard, the three of us gathered our things and headed back to town to catch public transport home before dark. And thus began the great quest to transport the solution to my rat problem back to my house—a 45 minute drive and 20 minute walk with a fully-conscious and fully-clawed cat. Kirk, a volunteer from the US, was nice enough to drive the four of us (I’m counting Patrick the Cat) to Nhlangano in the Pasture Valley kombi, a 10 minute drive. By the time we got to town, I had a huge rip in my brand new dress, shredded skin on my fingers and a pretty steady stream of blood running from my knee to my ankle. And that was just the beginning.

We decided that, like Swazis do, I should find a box to transport my critter in, so we drove around Nhlangano searching for a Patrick-sized box. We settled on a Simba Chips (like Lays) box from the Caltex station, and borrowed a big roll of packing tape from the curious Indian shopkeeper. Then, for the next 10 minutes, me, Jenn and Kirk wrestled with Patrick to get him safely and securely into the box while all the passer-by stopped to watch the spectacle from outside the kombi. Suffice it to say that Patrick won. Then, I remembered that I had a reusable shopping bag in my backpack. And, magically, Patrick was fine with it. This must be why the saying is about cats in bags, not cats in boxes.

After returning a shredded box to the Caltex station and neglecting the entirety of the shopping list I’d brought to town (I wasn’t about to brave a grocery store with a bag full of scared cat), I boarded the kombi for the trip home. After the kombi door was closed, I let Patrick out of the bag to look around and, hopefully, calm down a bit. Which he did. Then, as we were pulling out of the bus rank, my lap started to get very, very warm. And wet. Excellent! But, the way I figured, it was so hot that day that, if I didn’t mention that he had peed on me, it would probably be dry before anybody else noticed, and you couldn’t smell it over the constant stench of diesel exhaust seeping up through holes in the floorboards. So I just ignored it for the 45 drive to my bus stop. And, sure enough, we didn’t leave behind a wet spot, nobody mentioned the incident, and I didn’t have to pay the driver extra for the mess. By the time we got off the kombi, Patrick was so resigned to his fate that he slept most of the 20 minute walk back to my house, even when Eliza (my dog) greeted us at the driveway by barking and jumping up on me.

Patrick and I spent the rest of the weekend hiding in my house, me reading “Water for Elephants” (an excellent book) and him prowling around and meowing at the various rat hangouts in my house. Finally on Monday morning, after winning a battle with Eliza, he began exploring the rest of the homestead—a veritable goldmine of tasty rodents. Everyone on the homestead (except Eliza) is excited to have him around, especially me. He’s super cuddly and I haven’t seen a rat since Thursday night!

I think that’s all I have time for now. I’m simultaneously writing this and trying to entertain a sick baby, which is pretty much impossible. I don’t know how people get anything done when they have babies. Maybe that’s why nothing ever gets done in Swaziland—everyone is too busy taking care of their flocks. But I’ll save my commentary on family planning and child care for another time.

Love from the Swaz!

The "braai" at the Pasture Valley Open Day. "Braai" is Swazi (Afrikaans?) for "cook-out," or any other variety of cooking meat with fire. Most braais, like this one, are made out of old oil drums and a section of heavy-duty metal fence, which serves as the grill. And then stuff is cooked over straight wood, no coals. Usually.

The Pasture Valley kids all dancing and singing about Jesus.

Patrick likes to crawl under my blankets on my bed, which means that every time I come into my house and throw my stuff on my bed he's in danger of being squished. I don't know why he does that.

Patrick the Rat-Killing Cat. He's more ferocious than he looks, I promise.

Lunch at the Open Day.

Jaclyn, Bonkhosi (a boy from the children's home) and Jenn enjoying lunch. Bonkhosi thought we were crazy because we basically followed him around all day and took pictures of him, but he's just so darned cute!

Image on the jumping castle. In Swaziland, you know it's a real party when there's a jumping castle.

Michelle's fantastic gooseberry custard. I don't know if gooseberries exist in the US, but if not I'm going to smuggle some seeds home and make them exist in the US.

Eliza being Eliza. That dog is crazy. But since Patrick is around she's been behaving more. I think she feels replaced.

Gogo Constance and Make Nellie (Gogo=grandmother, Make=mother), the house mothers at Pasture Valley Children's Home. They do SO MUCH to take care of those kids, and they love them just like they're their own kids.

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