Happy New Year, Family & Friends!
Sorry for the missing blog last week, but I was on holiday with my family - Steve actually left the mission office for 4 days! Logan and Sara arrived on the 20th of December, and we showed them as much of the mission as we could. (OK, so with jet lag they slept through a lot of it, but we tried!)
Our last few days of 2009 were very productive: we welcomed seven very prepared young elders into the mission, and they had a chance to interact with the five powerful elders who were on the way home. This was unusual, but due to holiday ticketing glitches, we combined our departing and arriving elders dinner. I really liked it, but it would only work when the transfer is small. Ten leaving and fourteen arriving would definitely stress our dining room!
We also had Elder Andile, from Swaziland, who was on his way to his own mission in Kenya. So here is where it gets really good. Elder Hurlbut, who left last week, was one of those who baptized Elder Andile. Sweet! (Oops - I hang around young men too much.) Another great story out of this group: Elder Kaseke, just arrived from Zimbabwe, baptized his mother and brother four days before he entered the MTC; his brother baptized his father at the same time. If they can get to Johannesburg during the next two years, he will be allowed to meet them at the temple and be sealed. Elder Kwendo, from Kenya, will be meeting his family this month to be sealed. There is a lot of good stuff going on!
Logan and Sara headed back home on the 2nd, but we packed a lot into their visit. Morgan and I entertained them the first few days, with a game drive "appetizer" (small local game park), snorkeling, shopping and eating out. Steve and Hunter joined us in St. Lucia, and we drove through Hluhluwe-Imfalozi Game Park on the way to Tembe Elephant Park. Two things I hadn't expected, not having holidayed during the high season: People everywhere, and baby animals in the parks. And hot, hot, hot!
We did Christmas Eve at Tembe, with a gift exchange in our tent, and Logan reading the Christmas story from the Gideon Bible: "Let's go to Bethlehem!" Then we did our last game drive, where we saw eleven lions - which I had never seen in nine previous game drives. That gave Logan and Sara four of the big five: leopards are really hard to find. After brunch (with surprise gifts from the Lodge, and the staff in Santa hats with twinkling lights) we drove to Swaziland and the Timbali Lodge - and the swaziWilsons' washer and dryer! I told the kids to pack light so they could bring "stuff" for us from home, so we had to do laundry occasionally.
Saturday morning we hit the Ezulwini craft market, then all four kids rode four-wheelers on a wilderness track behind the Royal Swazi Spa Hotel - and made it successfully to Level 3, the most difficult trail. We then made our way to the Swazi Cultural Village, where Sara made a hit as an impromptu dancer, and Morgan doffed his shirt to become a Swazi warrior.
While all of these activities were going on, and during brief lulls, we were catching up on all kinds of news with Sara and Logan. Since we are on a mission, and Sara got home from hers Toronto Canada) just last January, and Logan from Jamaica a few years earlier, we swapped lots of missionary stories. My favorite from Sara was about the woman she taught who was from Jamaica(!). This sister was progressing very well, but had to return to Jamaica. She thanked her "angels" for all they had taught her, and asked them to send her name to the missionaries in Kingston. They did (not really expecting much, but hoping) and she left.
Meanwhile, in Kingston, the elders received the referral. Not really expecting much, but hoping, they looked her up. When she opened the door, she identified them as Mormon missionaries and said "My angels must have sent you!" She was later baptized. But here's the good part: the elders got permission to email Sara and her companion to tell them the news, and that they had been praying that "angels" would prepare an investigator for them. And they did!
Sunday we went to Church with the Ezulwini Branch, in a school. It was a wonderful meeting, and Sara wanted to know how get people to speak using the scriptures. I told her we can't stop them - not that we'd want to - and that every talk is like that. The choir sang, too - a cappella, and very enthusiastic. I met Sister Shongwe, who has 2 sons out on missions right now. A lot of the members live in the Shongwe "compound".
We had planned to do some hiking in the Drakensbergs on Monday, but the distances were just too far, so we drove down towards Durban and met the Assistants, who took Steve and the boys back with them, while I took Sara and Logan to Karkloof to ride the zipline in Karkloof. They are now part of an exclusive club: missionaries and their relatives who have slid down a cable through the trees of KZN. It was a hit, by the way, as always.
Tuesday I showed off the uShaka Aquarium, including the dolphin, seal and penguin shows. I was trying to remember how many aquariums I have toured over the years with Logan and the other kids: it's a lot! Once again, I was amazed at the crowds. Everything was packed, whereas on my other (off-season) visits there were sometimes only 25 or 30 people in the stands for the shows. Sara and Logan liked the look of the waterpark at uShaka, so on Wednesday while we were welcoming new missionaries, they went back, along with the boys, and had a great day. They even got Hunter to walk through the aquarium, which I haven't been able to do in 2-1/2 years!
Thursday after transfer meeting I started worrying about what might or might not be closed on New Year's Day, so we went downtown to Victoria Street Market for more curio shopping. The underground parking lot was full (a first for me) so we parked in a multi-level lot a few blocks away. Walking through the crowds (residents, not tourists) to the Market was an interesting experience. Many of the shoppers were carrying long skinny "sticks" which we learned were fireworks for New Year's Eve. We cut through the meat and fish market (big mistake!) where I saw my first goat head displayed for sale. I won't go into detail on some of the other items we saw on sale - but I will admit I'm sticking to PicknPay from now on.
Steve held Zone Leaders' Council on Thursday after the transfer meeting, so he was able to come with us Friday to hike above Kloof Gorge. It was gorgeous, and muddy: we all had to clean up before we could drive up to Umdloti to see Ike and Edwina Schwartzberg, who were visiting. Once again, the crowds were unbelievable - we took the exit, which goes to the beach, and were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for awhile before we could finally get to their place. After the usual delicious treats, Logan and Sara went down to the beach while we visited. They were wetter than anticipated when they came back. The tide was coming in, and while sitting on some rocks, they were drenched by an unexpectedly large wave. Then, as they were standing in the water enjoying the waves, Sara got knocked down, bumping into Logan, who kind of rolled over her and out to sea - at least 10 or 15 feet out to sea - as the receding tide tried to take him along.
In case you are wondering where Hunter and Morgan were during all these adventures, they were chilling with their friends, playing video games, calling girls, and hanging out at the mall. This is not much different than their normal weekend activities, but they loved doing it day after day... They have had to work some on their correspondence course - Sara and Logan edited/critiqued the boys' English research papers while they were here, which was a big help on moving them forward.
Saturday was "D(eparture)-Day", so in order to cram in everything possible, we went to Essendown Market and shopped in a slight drizzle of rain. Because of the rain, not everything was out, but we still managed to find a few things to buy! Our final lunch was at Woodcutter's, and in keeping with KZN tradition, the meal took so long to prepare that we had to do take-away and eat on the way to the airport. Logan is looking forward to quick American service - and having the bill presented practically before you're done eating, so the next customers can sit down. Here you have to beg and plead for the bill, and then it takes another 10 or 15 minutes - even if you're the only customers in the restaurant! We then left them at the airport, loaded with souvenirs and looking forward (not!) to their 29-hour trip home. Going back to the car, we missed them already.
So now we're beginning a week of zone conferences, while Hunter and Morgan enjoy their last week of holiday. Did I mention several of their friends have been holidaying off and on here at the mission home? When we picked up Sthe last week, his mother came out to ask "what day he'd be home?" - which proved very true. He stayed from Tuesday to Sunday. He borrows clothes from Morgan, which I love because the boys are doing their own laundry just now...
ps "I took the test, but I fluffed it." "Is it? Shame!"
pps I had a close encounter with an "investigator" today. I was working on my zone conference talk just now, heard a rustling noise, and looked up to see a large vervet monkey going into my kitchen. I admit that when he turned to face me, I backed off. Then I shut him in the kitchen and went to open the front door so I could shut the hall door and hope he went out. He met me in the hallway, but fortunately he turned around and went back into the testimony room and I got the front door opened and the hall door shut. I grabbed a broom for courage, and went on in, but he was gone already. Thank goodness.