January 17, 2007

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By Amanda Stek

January 17, 2007

Greetings again from Johannesburg, South Africa.  Today was yet another day of interesting and memorable experiences.  We started the morning off with a drive to Pretoria and the Voortrekker Monument.  The monument, besides being an architectural beauty, stands as a memorial to the Boer Afrikaners that once dominated the interior of South Africa. In the Battle of Blood River, on December 16, 1838 the Boers defeated the Zulus, killing 3,000 people.  The monument is a place of gathering every year on December 16 to celebrate this victory and the history of the Afrikaner people.

After eating lunch on the monument grounds (and after thoroughly enjoying some wonderful South African sun) we traveled back to Johannesburg to the Apartheid Museum.  We met our guide Lynn upon our arrival at the museum.  Our Calvin group was the first group to also have an ex-political prisoner along for the tour, named Thandi Chezi.  The museum focuses strongly on educating people about the development of the idea of segregation.  Apartheid did not just fall out of the air.  Near Johannesburg in 1886 gold was first discovered.  This changed the history of South Africa and increased the struggle between black and white.  Gold mine owners needed cheap labor and looked to black people to provide it.  The museum had an interesting flow and structure, each exhibit distinct and specialized to help educate about different aspects of the struggle against Apartheid.

There was a moment in the museum when our guide Lynn gave the floor to Thandi Chezi.  We had just walked through a room with 131 nooses hanging from the ceiling representing the 131 documented political executions that took place during Apartheid.  We then went into a room that had replicas of three isolation cells used in jails for political prisoners during Apartheid.  Thandi described, with emotion and fervor, her experience in jail.  She was a member of the MK and was captured in 1988.  She was taken from her family and held in prison for a year in solitary confinement. While standing in front of the replicas of isolation cells, Thandi described being brutally beaten for not giving information, being given electric shock and experiencing many other forms of torture that I will not go into here.  She described how God reached out to her and gave her the strength to survive.  She realized that all she had to do to keep herself strong was remove her soul from her body.  These men could hurt her body but she had the power to protect her soul from their wickedness. 

After Apartheid ended Thandi testified before of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  She does not know to this day if the men that hurt her during those years were ever granted amnesty or not, and it doesn’t really matter to her.  She realized that she needed to reconcile these things within herself.  That would be the only way she could move on, keep living and prevent herself from becoming a bitter old woman.  The amount of strength, faith and wisdom Thandi revealed within this short 15 minute talk was enough to overwhelm the strongest of us.  South Africa is about reconciliation.  South African blacks are about forgiveness and strength. These people have shown me the depth of human strength.  I have never known or seen such forgiveness, open hearts, smiling faces, strength, love and pure and utter respect for all of humanity, whether white or black.  These words do little justice to the emotions we all felt sitting in that room today with Thandi.  Apartheid came alive and reconciliation was personified.

We drove back to our accommodations after the museum visit, had a wonderful dinner, celebrated Grandma Heun’s birthday (which is actually on the 23rd, but we will be traveling that day so we thought we would celebrate tonight), and had a meeting in which Laura Vogelzang gave a wonderful presentation on poverty in South Africa.  Now we are all in our rooms relaxing and watching yet another South African lightning storm.  Please know that you all are in our prayers and we look forward to seeing you soon!  We covet your prayers for the next few days as we head into totally unknown territory in a rural village and also in Kruger National Park.  God bless!


January 16, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

By Jeremy Schut

Today was one of those early morning events for everyone.  Today’s events entailed a visit to a gold mine, which involved leaving the complex at 6:30 A.M., which in turn pushed breakfast up to 6:00 A.M.  After eating breakfast one of the guides for the day informed us that we were running ten minutes late so we hurried through the early morning traffic to the ERPM (East Rand Proprietary Mine) gold mine.  There we were brought into their boardroom for a presentation on the ERPM.  Waiting the boardroom for us was tea and sandwiches.  I must remind you that it is still only 7:30 in the morning and most of us just ate breakfast, but we were strongly encouraged to eat since we would be going down into the mines in just a short while.  The ERPM was started in 1893, which makes it one of the oldest gold mines in South Africa.  Also annually they average a production of 2349 kg. of gold, and for all you Americans out there that is roughly to 5168 pounds per year.  They also have 2100 employees, 100 of whom are specialists and the other 2000 are what they called “semi-skilled” laborers, which are called such because they are all taught to read and write as well as properly trained to work in the mine.  Most of these “semi-skilled” laborers are citizens of the townships that we have visited in previous days. 

We then traveled down the road to another one of their facilities where they make ice.  Many people are probably wondering what a mine has to do with ice, well, a lot.  Deep in the mines it gets really hot so they need a way to cool it down to make it into a workable environment.  Their solution is to pump ice and air down into the mines.  Their ice facility was just as fascinating as the mine visit I have yet to describe.  We saw all the different parts of the ice operation, how the ice is made, transported, and monitored.  Being an engineer I could easily use all my blog space to just ice production, but I’ll restrain myself a little.  I did want say that they are the largest ice manufacturer in the world and can make around 2,000 metric tons of ice a day!  Also, the ice comes out cleaner than normal tap water. 

On to the Mines.  After coming out of the ice factory we were given a bag of clothes, boots and a hard had.  After getting suited up the group split up.  The engineers and a few others went down one mineshaft and the others went down another.  The elevator ride down was an adventure in itself.  It dropped down at a rate of 11 meters per second ( 24.5 mph) and dropped us off at a depth of around 4200 feet below the surface, nearly a mile below ground.  When the elevator doors opened and light began to spill in what we saw before us looked like a scene from a movie.  The caves had rail-road tracks, lights, flat floors, and power sub stations.  It was like it’s own little city.  From there the engineer group was able to look around another winder that controlled another elevator that went further down from the point.  It was incredible to see such large machines under ground.  The other group went down to a similar depth and saw some of the plugs that they were installing to prevent water from filling the mineshafts.  Don’t worry, the plugs were made of metal and concrete and were meters thick.  For all the worrying parents out there you will be relieved to know that the cables are X-rayed every three months to test for internal problems as well as inspected every week.

After coming up from the mines and cleaning up we ate lunch and heard a presentation by Robin who is now actively involved in projects in the townships as well as a tour guide.  He used to support apartheid but has changed his views and has since poured most of his energy into reconciling the past through his participation in the townships.  He gave a very lively presentation on the history of South Africa concerning the Dutch, England, Xosa, Zulu, and Khoi-San.  It was very informative to see a bigger picture of South Africa’s history. 

Thanks for your continued prayers and thoughts through our journey and learning in South Africa.

Jeremy Schut




Mark’s Latest Update

Monday, January 15, 2007

By Mark Heun

Dear Friends,

I hope you are having a good time, and having a good school year. I swam in a large pool. It was fun. We played water volleyball with my friends.



P.S. Hi! Sylvee



January 15, 2007

By Justin Boldt

Six of us got up at 7 am this morning to go run. It is much harder to run in Johannesburg because of the higher altitude. It was cloudy and rainy for most of the morning. After breakfast we listened to a presentation by Mmathabo Mrubata and Marlett Balmer, two ladies from Palmer Development Consulting. This is a really small company that focuses on renewable energy, housing, and education. They told us about some very fascinating projects. One of them was solar cooker research. They have designed these big bowl-like drums that use the sun to cook food. One of them was nicknamed “Mandela’s Microwave,” which could cook food for hundreds of people. Another very interesting project was called the BnM fire lighting project. They have discovered that if they fill a 20 liter drum with (from bottom to top) coal, newspaper, wood, and more coal, then it burns much more efficiently with a 90% reduction in smoke. These projects are important because they allow poorer people to save money and resources.

After this we went on an all day tour, led by Mmathabo, of various townships. We first drove to a hostel. This is where the men who worked in the mines would live. The living conditions there are very poor. Sometimes five or more people would be in one little bedroom. We then proceeded to the White City Clinic. Places like these provide people with testing and medication. Something interesting that we heard there was that workers who treat the sick people need to be encouraged or rewarded from time to time or else they become “sick.” After this we visited a place called New Image Rover Crew. This was located in a lower middle class neighborhood. This place seeks out children who are orphaned, vulnerable, or the head of the family to provide them with care to grow up normally. They serve about 560 children a year. Some of the home based care programs that are offered are psychosocial care, emotional and spiritual support, counseling, and other development programs.

Our next visit was the highlight of the day. We drove to a house in the Tornado township. It was called this because one morning a long time ago, the residents woke up to find their neighborhood destroyed by a tornado. So anyways, the highlight was eating a traditional township meal. We all sat on crates in an unfinished house. Our meal consisted of chicken, chicken feet, a bean and maize paste, beef stew, a salad called chakalaka (just sound the word out, i’m sure it’s spelled differently), and kale. It was quite the experience, and a wonderful way to learn about the culture.

Our final stop of the day was at a rural shack community. We spoke with some of the community leaders and health care workers. We learned from them that the top three problems in their community are AIDS, crime, and underdevelopment (no running water, no bathrooms). Once again we heard that money is not necessarily the cure to these problems. They need professionals, jobs, and most importantly education. We could really notice the unemployment problem as we were driving around today. All kinds of people would just be sitting or walking around with nothing to do. Even if you did have a job, it was rough. Some people from the townships get up at 3 am to catch the train into the city, and then they have to work long days from 6 am to as late as 9 pm. Despite all of these problems, a majority of the people are optimistic and hopeful for the future. A quote from today at the hostel that sums everything up is “Many black people here are poor, but they survive with their positive attitude…and their music.”

We appreciate your continued comments, prayers, and thoughts.

-Justin Boldt

A typical hostel bedroom.


The group eating lunch at a township home.


The food at the township; minus the chicken foot.


The children at the rural shack community with Britton.

January 14, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

By Laura Vogelzang

I feel a little bit like a dishtowel. You know when you are drying dishes after dinner and the dishtowel you are using is so wet that it doesn’t even pick up water off the plate, it just moves it around? I feel a little bit like that wet towel. Saturated. We have seen so much and experienced so much that I feel like I am dripping with stories and facts and encounters and growth.

This morning after a good night’s sleep in this new place we wiped the sleepers from our eyes, ate a delicious breakfast, and piled into the van to go to a Dutch Reformed Church. The service was great: a warm welcome from the pulpit, friendly people, and Dutchy pastries afterwards. The only snag was that we couldn’t understand a word. Everything was in Afrikaans. But, Afrikaans is very similar to the Dutch language, and I could even belt out my English versions of the hymns they were singing. We sang “How Goote is U” which is “How Great Thou Art” in English.

After the service we met our host families for the afternoon who volunteered to open their homes to us. I met my cheery, middle class family with two children who were home from university. The son, in fact, has a dream of becoming a Hollywood actor so he proceeded to take out his guitar for the Americans and serenade us before dinner and talk in Irish, New York, and English accents throughout the meal. It was entertaining to say the least. We were served mutton, chicken, potato salad, pan, cucumber salad, carrot and pineapple salad, rolls, muffins, sausage, a tomato salsa type dish, tea, and milk tart for dessert. Needless to say, they were more than hospitable and we all waddled to the car to head home.

The interesting, and maybe a little heated, part of the afternoon came when conversation flowed to issues of politics. My family was astonishingly progressive, but many other students were hosted by families who were openly racist and/or sexist. It was the separatist mindset of the Dutch Reformed church in the early 20th century that helped fuel the apartheid movement, and apparently, old habits die hard for some people. Overall, this afternoon’s experiences were fascinating and beneficial.

On other news it was Matt’s 40th birthday today! Woot woot! Also, it is the rainy season. And by rainy I mean sporadic torrential downpour. I have started to gather gopher wood for a small ark I will begin construction on tomorrow. Africa is great, I miss and love you all and thanks for being interested in our travels.




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