Twenty minutes… a week… changes a lifetime

24 06 2012

The last post showed uncertainty, the unknown. This blog is not more positive but we have received some clarity about a few immediate life changes. 

I knew that my trip to South Africa would be challenging.  Looking after my mom’s every need, helping with things at their home and helping with examination marking would not leave much time for mischief.  The week turned out to be far more challenging than we could ever have dreamed.

Mom came home from hospital on the day I arrived in their area (Thursday).  The pain was expected and nasty, but because Mom had been through this 6 years ago the unknown factor was not so terrifying. 

A back fusion operation entails a lot of help from the family / supporters. The patient may not sit at all for 6 weeks:  lying flat and standing are the only positions allowed.  When getting up a brace must be worn.  This is not designed for comfort and aesthetics!  It generally requires help from a few people too.  Things we so easily take for granted: a shower, washed hair, walking downstairs to boil a kettle… all become almost impossible after this kind of operation. 

Seeing Mom in pain, her frustration at being dependent on others and the irritation at her own inability at this time was so difficult to witness, but we all know “This too shall pass” and the benefit of a successful operation several months from now make this all worth it.

We have enjoyed some special family time: WhatsApp chats, gathering around the bed to chat, seeing small improvements and crowding into the bedroom to eat a family lunch… these moments will hold special value in our memory.  What we have going for us is an amazing family where eat one has given help and care and supported each other.  What a huge blessing to have!

Simple tasks become group occasions.  I can’t remember when last Mom made shampoo horns!  But we all got a good laugh from some chores.

On Saturday morning I went to support my niece at her school’s go cart races.  It was just a short time out, where I was designated family photographer to give “Goggo” (as B calls her grandma) some feedback.

My runaround car had a dead battery, so I took our new “Golden Girl” to the school, nearby to the house and I knew I could not be away for long.

As I walked back down to the car I saw 2 strange people sitting in our car.  I looked twice, and then realised it WAS our car, there were 2 strange men inside and the engine was running.  Within seconds the synapses exploded into action.  I would not be able to stand by and wave as thieves rode off with my husband’s hard work, effort and his dream car.

I opened the back door, screamed loudly “GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!”.  The thief in the back seat grinned at me and they quickly ducked out the car, into the getaway bmw parked next to our car.  I saw the registration number, called for help from the security guard and stood in shock at what had just happened.

While I stood stunned on the sidewalk, Deon phoned from Tanzania.  He had just looked for our personal money stash in his bag and he realised that the few thousand dollars we had kept aside had been taken. (there were no safes in his hotels, and we cannot get a local bank account yet.)   My brother helped me to get to the police station to make a statement.  As we were making our way I received a message: my mother-in-law had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia. 

Twenty minutes which shook our day.

These few events would require several hours of effort: fixing a hot-wired car and sorting out panel beating (the thieves had dented the bonnet to break into the car), concerns over my MIL, working out how to get money in Tanzania for what we needed…

As the week went on the bad news continued to pour in:  Deon’s work situation is not working out as planned/ hoped and he has lost his job in Tanz.  He has been accused of racism, stolen from in other ways, has struggled to make our house there half-way livable and still keep his head about him.

The news of his mother seemed to get worse and worse as the week progressed:

Mom’s lung had collapsed in hospital.  Xrays revealed some unpleasant marks on the lungs. Further tests were required.  More spots were observed in another organ.  Biopsies have been done, we are awaiting results. 

After making my parents sick of my fussing and care over them, they almost chased me out to spend some time with Ma, my MIL.  We have had some amazing time to chat, laugh, share and to show love to each other.  Again, the immense privilege of being in a loving family has warmed my heart and gives us courage to go on.

There are many aspects we do not yet know: exactly what Ma’s diagnosis and prognosis will be, what our work situation in SA (or wherever) will be, how we will process the impact of SA’s crime situation in our lives, and what the next while holds.

There are, however, a few conclusions I have reached that affirm heart-knowledge:

*  God’s faithfulness and help will never ever cease.  He is a “bulwark never failing”, allows us to go through challenges knowing His care and walks through fires with us.

* We cannot trust in “uncertain riches but [only] in the living God” (1 Tim6:17)

* Family is precious, precious, precious.

* Trying to go through challenges with thousands of km between husband and wife is awful.

* We have to find things to laugh at when days are unpleasant.

* Life is completely unpredictable.

* We will be staying in South Africa for some time to be near family.

* Assurance of salvation makes the thought of death so manageable!  Ma’s thoughts are those of longing and anticipation, not dread and anxiety.


My computer is staying in SA while I am going to Tanzania to pack up and come back to SA and I am not sure if I will do another blog in that time.  I will catch up when we are back in SA.


Endless temporary limbo. Plus victories in the family!

13 06 2012

It has been such a jumble of emotions over the last while.  And I have not easily been able to make sense of all my thoughts.  At these times I tend to go quiet, so I do not blog as often as I would like to.  But I am here now!

This is being written from the incredibly optimistic and super-exciting waiting lounge of Nyerere Airport in dar es Salaam.  Yip, when teens are totally bored with parties, malls and all the fun stuff in the world, THIS would be the place to hang out.  (Yeah, right.  This is not one of my funnest airports.  Having to pass through 3 security checks, removing belts, shoes and separating laptop from other luggage each time is just not fun.  And that was just to pass directly from domestic arrivals to International departures, STRAIGHT from one plane to another… We are now beyond trying to find the ‘one thing that does not make sense’ that was our coping strategy when we arrived in Uganda.  There is just too much to count!)

Andrew n Sandra



The great celebrations in the last 2 weeks are for my brothers.  Littlest bro (who is now the tallest of all!) just completed his Masters degree in Tourism development.  He lived in the  freezing climes of Sweden away from family for two years (we are all African lizard-like-sun-lovers, so this was a rough call!) and it took a lot of hard work to achieve, although Middle-bro calls his achievement a degree in  holidays.

This is the first of us siblings to get his Masters degree, and just because he is my brother I am so proud of him. 

Now to get a job, pay off study loans, do all the really yuck stuff of a big person’s life… But he has a great attitude and I know he will succeed.



Within a few days of Littlest Bro’s award ceremony, 553543_10151016745323179_1969499435_nMiddle bro took on a life-long dream and committed himself to a massive challenge.  The Comrades Marathon is one of the premier sports events in South Africa: a run of 89km, which must be completed in 12 hours.  It takes months of dedicated commitment, eating right, correct running programmes and good headspace to achieve this.  Mid-Bro got it all right and DID IT!

I have been so grateful for Whatsapp.  I was glued to the progress he made through the day (we could not access any visuals on TV nor computer: bandwidth is just not good enough for it here!) and was willing Mid-bro and his team on throughout the day.  Two of the four team members did not get medals: it is THAT tough of a challenge. 

What made the success just that much better was that they were running  to raise money for Happy Happy Happy Feet, a ministry his family is maintaining. (Happy Feet)  I thought it was so fitting that the team was using feet to buy shoes for feet that have never worn shoes, that those feet may possibly run such a marathon one day…

248053_10151016574688179_510374650_aIt was strangely ironic that an essential part of the Comrades support team for Mid-Bro would be needing huge support and cheering within just days.

Mamma, with the small banner, had huge back surgery last week.  This is the second attempt to sort out issues in Mamma’s spine, and we are cheering her on, willing her through her own marathon of healing.  So far it is going slowly: low blood pressure makes it rough for her to try get up and the pain of this procedure is awful.  Another difficulty is that Mamma is allergic to a number of pain medicines, so she has to endure the pain a lot of the time. 

The reason I am in the airport right now is that I am on my way to SA to visit and help for a while, to see Mamma up on her feet and cheering for others again.

So, I have ben through several emotions with my family being far away in the last two weeks.  Our own immediate situation has been rather challenging.

Lake Victoria’s waters have been a bit stormy and the beach at the lodge was covered in lake debris.  Deon was away for a few days: listening to the stormy waters while lying in bed alone will not rank among my favourite memories.  I feel rather like some of the debris: surrounded by stony experiences, exposed to challenging elements  and encircled by shells of humanity who are worn away by life’s squalls. 

We are not yet certain how things will work out in our Mwanza situation.  We found a house that needed considerable work to fix it up: the workers were not done by the time we needed them to be, and we could not move in before I left for SA (I continue to live out of suitcases, going on 3 months now, as there is no place to unpack).The workmanship is very shoddy and trying to encourage a culture of quality seems dreadfully foreign.  Paint splatters were left all over the floor; woodwork was simply varnished against the wall, leaving varnish stains on the newly-painted walls… I could go on but even the thought of poor work depresses me.  We have struggled to get the necessary finances from the right channels to do this work, so buying furniture has not been possible. 

Deon is incredibly despondent and is struggling with how to continue.  I am not sure as to what place I will go to when I get back from SA. 

I also realised with a shock yesterday just how perilous the spiritual environment of Mwanza is.  It is a hotbed of animistic beliefs, with sacrifices of humans, much belief in the work witchdoctors and ancestor worship taking place. Islam is followed by at least 40% of the population.  There are large numbers of Hindus working in the city. Among the many Mzungus in town, many seek wholeness through self actualisation or following new age beliefs.  The sense of darkness became almost tangible.  I know that God has us there for a time and that He seeks to use us.  But we feel like small pieces of sticks in the large lake space on a stormy night.

Except for:


This precious creature has crept into our hearts in a short space of time.  She has been passed around from leaving expats before, and her usual “mum” was away from the lodge for some time.  We are not even sure of her name, but heard one of the Massaai askaris calling her ‘Nana’, so  that is her present title.

We ensured that Nana received food,we kept her protected from other willful dogs and in return she has adored us!  My heart swelled when another guest at the lodge described how Nana waited at the gate for me and reacted when she heard me arrive.  Ah!  It is amazing how a living thing builds affection so easily!

Deon hates to admit it but he has taken to protecting Nana, and even brought her into the room to sleep, because the dogs outside were hassling her!  Now she follows me everywhere, lies at our feet and stares lovingly up at us… my heart is lost! There is a strong possibility of us taking her as ours when I return to Mwanza. Such little treasures give us real joy.

views from a verandah while we muse on differences

5 06 2012

Oh darn.  Our lives are such that we are forced to spend large amounts of time on the verandah above.  How awful is that? 

Deon is doing mostly computer work at present, our house needs to be fixed up quite a lot and we are still figuring many things out, so we sit on the verandah. And work. And eat. And think. And chat. There are worse places to do these things, huh?

We get to see some special things from our perch.

Yellow-billed kites, up to 8 at a time, come for their morning bath.

People get to enjoy the beach.

And a happy pack of dogs do too.

We are staying at Tunza Lodge, run by friendly South Africans, and get to see such a range of people at the lodge.

We also get regular shows of immense grandeur as the sun sets.

Various watercraft go by

And we get to see it all, hear the sounds of Fish eagles and other vibrant signs of life… what a life! 

I cannot help but compare some things with Mbale in Uganda.  On the other end of the lake, just about 500km away… but some significant differences exist.

The Sukuma people, the largest tribe of Tanzania, are peace-loving and docile.  There were some hairy-scary incidents around Mbale with the Bugisu and other tribes: Decapitations near the mine and tribal battles that were downright brutal.  We have not had any bags or cars checked for bombs, no tear-gas incidents:  it seems more peaceful here.

Mwanza is a much larger city than Mbale (it is the second largest city in Tanzania) so there are more shops, banks, hotels and generally easier access to things we may need.  A big city does not appeal to us (we have chosen to stay about 10 km outside of the CBD) but the things are nearer than having to travel 5 or more hours to get to Kampala from Mbale.  A bigger city means more people.  There are many around. There is a larger expat community and it seems as if the missionaries here have been so helpful and welcoming to us.  It appears that it will not be difficult to build good friendships here.

Power is far more reliable than in Mbale!  The regular powercuts – out every day, or every second day if lucky is not usual here.  The power was off for several hours yesterday – but that was only once in a week!  Wow!

Mwanza is still so very unknown to me and I have to learn where everything is.  Mbale was comfortable and small… the unknown is always intimidating at first!

There is a lot to see and do around Mwanza.  The lake is just about on our doorstep, Serengeti is not very far away, the airport is about 10 minutes from our new house.  Getting around should be easier.  Deon’s working situation is also far more relaxed, so we plan to use opportunities to get away and discover this very interesting land.

It seems very positive at the moment, but there are a few difficulties too.  English is not as widely spoken as in Uganda: to get by comfortably I will have to learn Swahili.  People can be as obstinate, perhaps more so, than in Mbale. People are also not as friendly, overall, as in Uganda.   Things seem to be  generally more expensive than in Uganda. Corruption is a bit more evident:  in Mbale we were often approached: “Mzungu!  Give me money!”  Here we have to be so careful what we hand over in shops, or what we sign for in restaurants: people seem most opportunistic to gain where they can.

But we are prepared to give it our best shot.  It IS beautiful, reasonably safe and there is much to keep us living healthily and happily.

Vibrant natural life is highly entertaining.

We look forward to our new house being ready (it needs good maintenance this week!)

And with this as our base, with amazing views from our verandah…




All picture property and copyright of Karen Scheepers.  Please consult me before further use.