Sunday, May 16, 2021

And Then There Were None... Week 66

One thing we are learning on this mission is flexibility.  Every six weeks there is a Transfer.  The arrivals used to be on Wednesday:  Pick up at Airport, orientation, dinner and sleep at the Mission Home bunkhouse.  Transfers were on Thursday when everyone who was moving did their move.  Thursday night those going home had dinner and were in the bunkhouse overnight at the Mission Home.  Then they would fly out on Friday.

No More!

Departures are still on Friday--usually.  "Left-over" companions move in with others for the weekend.  But now because of COVID-test flight rules and less-frequent good connections, arrivals are now on Saturday.  Orientation and dinner in the Mission Home are on Saturday night.  Elders hang around Durban with other Elders all day Sunday for Church so as not to have to travel on Sunday.  Monday is thus Transfer Day.  It stretches a two-day process out to four days and complicates a lot of things.

We have lists of who is coming and when, way ahead.  Elders generally get their Call Letter (telling them where and when they are going) four to six months ahead.  Lots of time for planning, right?  We wish!

Sue keeps a spreadsheet of all this.  She needs to know who has received their Welcome Letter, with information about what to bring.  She also needs to know who has sent back needed information about driving record, etc.

Just for fun, here is the spreadsheet for the last few months.  (Thanks to G-Sheets version history.)  We were originally supposed to have ten new Elders arrive on 15 May.  But no one actually came!  Hence the title to this week's blog.  (Sue is a big Agatha Christie fan, and that is also the title of one of her most famous books.)

March 1:  a good big group coming in May!  A few unknowns, and just one in June.

April 1:  We had lost those who are not from USA.  Visa issues...  But we picked up one more for a June Transfer.





May 1:  Oh dear!  Most of the May group did not have visas yet, so they got put into the unknown/postponed group.  But we are now up to five for the end of June.











May 7:  We are down to just one Elder coming on May 15.  But several of the others now have visas and will come on 26 June.  There is a three-week lead time between getting visa and being able to come.  And we have a whole new group coming on June 1.  Two are South African, so will come to our office to do their three-week Missionary Training on-line before really starting with the official group on 26 June.  Two others are from Kenya and Uganda, where they have been serving in their home country until their South African visas come through.  Most of those coming to us from the USA are also serving in other USA missions while waiting for visas.










May 11:   Our one last hope for an Elder arriving this Transfer did not happen.  He got his one-dose COVID vaccine on 10 May, but he is not allowed to travel for seven days after that.  He is now coming with the big group in June.  Since we had no one going home this Transfer Period, there was no Transfer at all.  Everyone is staying where they live now with their current companions.  


This all turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise.  One Elder from the Durban area came home from his mission on Wednesday morning.  His mother and sister picked him up from the Durban airport about 8 AM and brought him to the Mission Office about 9 AM for his exit interview and official release from President Lines.  The family was glad to be back together after two years.  The Elder spent about 30 minutes with President Lines while the mom and sister waited in the office.  She said the cousins were all excited and texting her about when he would be home.  It is so wonderful to see these young people when they come home from their missions.  They have grown in so many ways.  They have learned a pattern of Christ-like love and service that will serve them well  their whole lives.

Later that evening while we were home, President Lines called.  He told us to be sitting down.  It turns out that the returning Elder had spent the previous day, dinner, and overnight in Johannesburg with three other Elders also going home.  One of them was flying to another country on Wednesday, so he had to have a COVID test--which came back positive!  Another got home and had a COVID test, which was also positive!  We have been on lockdown at home since Wednesday night.  It is a really good thing that we did not need to pick up 10 new Elders at the airport on Saturday!


So here are our photos from this week:

We are perfectly healthy to this point but will stay home from the office one more day.  Sue can still work from home. We did it for eight months last year.








Ken has another problem.  The graphics card on his beloved tricked out Mac-Mini decided to go flakey on him.  He did sneak out of the house to deliver it to a repair shop just up the road.  So he is limited to what he can do on his phone.  Which is not much!  He is reading and listening to a lot of scriptures.







Sue didn't spend all her time working hard.  She finished another audio book and two knit caps.












The office was fumigated on Thursday, and after that we sent the Elders who live upstairs back to the office to bring us a few necessities we had left there.  Ken put his stash of licorice ropes 
on the list.









Like so many other stuck at home on COVID quarantine, Sue cooked.  That meant Ken had more dishes to do.  He's great at keeping the kitchen clean after Sue makes a mess.








Actually the beginning of the week was fairly productive.  Tuesday we drove up to Stanger to open a new boarding (apartment).  It is about one hour north of Durban.  The Van Heerdens pulled a trailer full of furniture the three-hour drive from Ladysmith.  They have two large one-car garages, so get to store furniture every time a boarding is closed.  


There we met them and the two Elders who live about 30 minutes from Stanger who came to do the heavy lifting.  Here's the apartment from the outside.







It's nothing fancy, without a stove or refrigerator or washer, but it's in a safe area just a few blocks from the Church building.  The Elders will probably not need a car, which is a good thing as we get more missionaries coming.  (If they ever really show up!)






Wednesday afternoon (after greeting the returning Elder, but before we knew about the COVID problem), Sister Lines and Sue spent a couple of hours at Makro.  That's the local equivalent of Costco.  We had to buy more items to finish furnishing the Stanger apartment.  Ken and Sue will drive back up to Stanger one day this coming week to finish all the set-up.  We thought we needed it by 15 May.  Now the Elders who live 30 minutes south may move in next week, and their current apartment will be empty until the end of June.  That's not bad.  We have a few empty apartments for which we have been paying rent ever since everyone left the end of March 2020.  We closed a lot, too.  But we keep thinking that "next month" we will need more!  We hope.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Happy Birthday Sue! -- week 65

We got a lot done in the office this week -- but nothing much interesting.  It was getting vehicles serviced, paying bills, and back and forth with who was really going to arrive as new missionaries on 15 May.  Most who were supposed to come do not have visas yet!  Others who have visas do not have COVID vaccines.  On 23 April the Church announced that all missionaries leaving the USA after 1 August for foreign countries had to have the vaccine.  On 30 April the Church changed that to immediately.  It now looks like we are getting just one new Elder next Saturday instead of the ten originally scheduled.  We hope the others will all arrive on our next Transfer date, which is 26 June.


Our animal story this week concerns critters considerably smaller than monkeys.  On Thursday night we were watching a mission-wide Zoom.  The speaker asked everyone to turn to a certain scripture.  (We have our scriptures on our phones.) Ken was sitting at his computer and reached behind him to get his phone from the dining table.  It was covered in ants!  We get ant invasions at home in California, but there is always a trail where they come in, and they are near an outside wall.


Sue took this photo standing just inside the front door -- so against one outside wall.  You can see the other outside wall where the window is.  The wall on the left is with the apartment next door.  The wall on the right has our bedroom on the other side. The table is in the absolute middle of the apartment, and there was no trail of ants anywhere.  No trail along the baseboard or up the table leg -- just a swarm on top of the table.  And it happened within about 20 minutes.  A puzzlement!


A couple of weeks ago, the Mission received a new Renault Triber, a brand new kind of vehicle.  It's an underpowered (70 bhp 1.0L) seven passenger mini SUV.  It has an electric clutch and quirky auto-shift control that has a delay when you press the gas pedal.  And it shudders terribly at low speed.  It has keyless entry and so the electric windows are disabled when the engine is turned off. 


It's pretty but can hardly make it up our driveway.  
Ken calls it a "starter car" like a starter home.  Cheap and not something you want to keep.  Ken thinks it should be recalled before it gets in a wreck.  Unfortunately we may the only ones allowed to drive it.  As we get more Elders, we will run out of cars to give them and may have to give up our Duster for the cause.


Thursday Ken drove the Triber to get a haircut and afterwards drove it to our apartment because he couldn't get to the office due to commute traffic and construction.


At the same time, it took Sue twenty minutes to drive the Duster from the Office to our apartment, a half mile away.  


There was this big crane lifting the yellow container-sized construction offices off the hillside on the left and loading them onto trucks across the street.



And the cars were all backed up at the crazy intersection down below.  Yesterday, Saturday, they finally put in a DO NOT ENTER sign where people coming off the freeway were all turning down the wrong side of the street, so people across the intersection had to wait until someone figured that out and switched to the real left lane.  It's hard to explain, but quite the mess.  Recall: STOP signs are ignored, so going across the four-tier intersection is a game of chicken.


Friday morning we drove the Triber to the office, left it and in the evening walked home.  Walking the half mile was faster than driving because of all the traffic at the construction site.  


Friday night we didn't even go out to dinner, because we knew Saturday would be a big day:  Sue's birthday!  Thanks to all who sent email greetings, and to kids who called to sing.


Saturday morning we went to the Durban Temple.  It's nice to be so close.  It was a lovely time, and there is such a good spirit there.  







Afterwards we met up with President and Sister Lines for lunch at the Salt Rock Hotel in Ballito.  There is a beautiful terrace restaurant, right on the beach.  The day was perfect and we enjoyed our lunch together.  


The Lines needed to head home, but we changed our clothes and headed down to the beach.  It was a gorgeous day, but the waves were really big, and crashing right on the shore, so not a good day for boogie boarding for us old people.  There were a bunch of teen-aged boys who were diving under the waves, but the waves were way over their heads -- 8-10 feet.


A group of about ten teen/tween girls came running down to the beach.  One of them had on a pink ribbon with "Happy Birthday" across the front.  Her name was Liladi, and she is now 14 years old.  Sue told her they shared a birthday, so Ken took their picture together.  One of her friends took the picture too.  She will wonder someday who is that strange American woman.


We were at Salt Rock Beach.  Like Thompson's Beach, where we went before, there is a rock wall along the shore to form a swimming pool.  The waves crash over the wall to fill the pool, and then the water runs out the other side.  Sue went in there to swim in calmer waters.


Here you can see the pool on the right, and up on the hill to the left is the Salt Rock Hotel where we had lunch.






There were kids making sand castles -- which kept getting knocked down by the waves.  We wish our grandchildren were here to help.  And this is a somewhat unusual photo.  You don't often see situations where black and white children are playing together.  In spite of apartheid being dismantled in 1992, there is still a lot of de facto racial segregation in South Africa.  It has one of the widest spreads between rich and poor of any country.


Ken is not the beach person that Sue is.  He found his best use for the boogie board -- avoid sitting on the sand.




We left the beach and drove home along the beach-side highway instead of the freeway.



  We saw these signs and had to stop and go back and take photos for Sister Lines.  She makes the most amazing cakes!  (Sue told her NOT to make one for her birthday -- too much sugar, and no Elders around over the weekend to help eat it.)  









But these reminded us of her, so we had to send them along to her.



 



As we drove home it was just starting to cloud over.  Within a couple of hours a big thunder/lightning storm hit, but we awoke this morning again to bright blue skies and sunshine.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Another Senior Couple arrives -- Week 64

Who can believe that it is May already!  Autumn is in the air.  A few trees are starting to lose leaves, although most here are evergreen.


Ken felt better this week so we started walking again, but it's getting dark earlier.  We saw the big full moon rising.








Our big news this week is the arrival of Elder and Sister Young.  They are fellow Californians, but from down south -- Murietta, which is inland and about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.  








We picked the Youngs up at the airport because President and Sister Lines were at the semi-annual Mission Leadership Conference.  

Usually that is an in-person event, and it was supposed to be in Durban this time.  The Presidents and wives from the ten Missions in the Africa Southeast Area all get together for three days of training.  But, this time -- as with the last three -- it was all held via Zoom.  


Elder and Sister Young both worked in education, so they have that in common with Sue.  He was Superintendent of Schools for Riverside County for many years, and she was attendance clerk at a high school.  Now they are retired and coming to South Africa.  They will be serving with Seminary and Institute (S&I or Church Education System) out in Bloemfontein, which is about eight hours by freeway northwest of Durban and up on the plain.



They had spent three days in Johannesburg for some orientation from the Area Office S&I Group, and then they flew to us on Tuesday.  They stayed in the empty apartment downstairs from us for another three days.  One of the first stops was to taking them grocery shopping to put some food in their empty fridge. 


We have a monkey story this week -- but not on us.  When we got back from the grocery store with Youngs, we left them to get settled, and we went back to the office for awhile.  When we returned the Youngs were moving luggage, and they asked us who lived in the top-floor middle apartment.  The tenants had left the bathroom window open, and monkeys were going in and out and bringing out food.  Youngs didn't want to shut the window for fear of trapping a monkey or two inside.  We told the Youngs that the apartment belonged to two young Elders, the Assistants to the President!  We called them and they came home.  The monkeys had eaten cold cereal, pasta, and a loaf of bread.  But these monkeys are like three-year-olds.  They eat the middle out of the pieces of bread and leave the crusts behind.


Wednesday morning we put four broken vacuum cleaners out on the curb.  It's trash pick-up day, and there are always people around finding the "good stuff" in the trash cans.  Sure enough, they were there, and the vacuums disappeared.  We do hope someone else can make them work and get some good out of them.




Wednesday we gave the Youngs mission orientation in the office during the morning, and we then took them sightseeing around Durban.  Of course, the most important stop was the beach!  Sister Young spent her high school years in San Clemente, and her father (age 100!) still lives there.






Sue isn't the only one who always has to put her feet in the water.




We took a walk along the beach promenade.  There was this amazing sand sculpture!



And some informational signs about South African culture.







We found a bench in the beach park and sat to have a serious discussion about Institute.  That is the Church program for 18-30 year-olds, particularly university students.  Bloemfontein has a large university, and so one of the Young's responsibilities will be to help with the Institute program there.  When we served our first mission to Germany in 2005-06 we were at the Institute in Hamburg.  This was our opportunity to share some of the things we did there.  We all decided this was a much better place for a meeting than in the office!

Speaking of Bloemfontein, did you know that South Africa has three capital cities?  Bloemfontein is the judicial capital -- home to the supreme court, etc.  Pretoria is the executive capital, where the President has his home and office and where there are the other executive offices.  Cape Town is the legislative capital -- home to the legislature, etc.  It's an interesting separation of powers!


Thursday President and Sister Lines were done with their conference, so they took over the orientation with the Youngs.  However, we were invited to have dinner with all of them at the Mission Home that evening.  


Usually when missionaries are picked up at the airport we get a photo with the welcome banner.  We realized too late on Tuesday that President had it, and we didn't want to disturb him during his meetings to fetch it.  So we took the welcome photo at dinner on Thursday.





Friday morning all six of us went to the Durban Temple.  When the Youngs are in Bloemfontein they will only be 3.5 hours from Johannesburg Temple, so they will probably get to go there.  This was their opportunity to see the Durban Temple.  It was cold, rainy day, but the rain stopped when we came out.  





There was a couple there getting ready to be married and sealed that evening.  Sue offered to take photos for them, and then Ken took one of her with the couple.  It reminded us of the day over 50(!) years ago when we were married and sealed in the Los Angeles Temple.







After attending a temple session, we all drove down to the beach to have dinner at the best Mexican restaurant in Durban, in the Sun Coast hotel complex.



In the lobby was this classic old Jaguar.



We are all car buffs.


Saturday we had one of our laziest days ever.  Sue was working on a new knit cap pattern.  Ken was reading, uploading, and posting the recorded memorial service for our ninety-six-year-old Palo Alto friend Betty Mantooth, who was blind yet accomplished amazing things (https://youtu.be/zwdl6UqgYE4).  May she rest in peace.


In the afternoon we decided that we needed to get out of the house.  But we were too lazy to get more dressed than sweats and t-shirts.  We decided to explore the hill behind our apartment!  We've lived here six months, stared out at the hill daily, and never walked over there. 


Here is the view from the other side.  We are second from the top floor, far left side.  Left window is bedroom, right window (under the satellite dish--not ours) is our living room.  We climbed up the hill on the other side of the gully to get this photo.  We couldn't climb any higher because the homes across the way have fences around their back yards, and the hill was very steep.  

Here's the bird's eye view.


We took the photo from the red dot on the left.  The blue line is the creek at the bottom of the gully.  We live under the blue dot on the building on the right.  The white roofs on the right are our carport.




All over are these plants with HUGE leaves.  This one is down by our creek.  








Sunday we drove to Hillcrest to attend church with Molweni Branch.  They can now meet every week!  They were renting some rooms at a school for Sunday meetings, but COVID stopped that.  Then they were alternating every third week with Hillcrest Ward, which had to split into A week and B week because too many for the chapel all at once.  Now Hillcrest can all meet together in the morning, and Molweni can use the building in the afternoon. Hooray!  


Everyone in Molweni Branch loves visiting after church, too.








The drive to Hillcrest is interesting.  It's 20 km and almost all uphill.  We live at 300 feet elevation.  Hillcrest is at 2200 feet.  The road is a nice four-lane divided highway, some through forest.  But it is winding.  It goes up and around various mountains, especially in the red circle.  It has been a wonderful week in Durban.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Good News! Week 63

We have lots of good news this week.  But not much activity.



First, Ken is feeling better after hurting his back climbing out of bed.  He went to the doctor on Monday afternoon, was given strong Tylenol and Celebrex for the pain and inflammation in his back, and told to lie down flat for 48 to 72 hours.  So he spent all day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in bed. Thank goodness for the phone and Internet to entertain him.  He listened to scriptures, watched BYU basketball, and in other ways entertained himself between naps.


Thursday Sue was at the office almost all day by herself.  She got so much done!  As much as she loves Ken and the young Elders, they are a distraction to computer work.


Second,  South Africa is starting to vaccinate everyone over age 60, regardless of nationality, starting 1 May.  



We are registered and should get our vaccines soon.  South Africa is handling this wisely -- as we think they have for the whole  pandemic.  The Astra-Zeneca vaccine requires deep freeze and two doses, so it will be used in the cities where those things can be better controlled.  The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require the deep freeze, and only one dose is needed, so it will be used in the more rural areas that do not have the freezer capacity, and where it is harder for people to travel to get to vaccination centers.  That means we are stuck, literally, getting two shots, but we will manage.


This week Ken finally received a replacement hearing aid from the US via FedEx.  It took several days to get it through Customs, but it was ultimately delivered.





Work continues on the roads between our apartment and the office.  Friday morning Sue drove to the office, when she went home at noon to mix bread, the whole configuration had changed again.  Ken says it looks like an autocross obstacle course.  It will eventually be a four-lane divided road.  But sometimes it's one lane each way on one side.  Then they change to one lane each way on the other side.  Now it's one lane each way, but on each side for about a block, then back to all on one side.  There are STOP signs in random places, but no one pays any attention to them anyway.  You can see they are set in barrels for easy movement around the area.  Sue took this photo when there wasn't much traffic.  Often there are pedestrians walking along the road, too. [Turn left at the third Stop sign to get to our apartment.]


We had hoped to go to a Molweni Branch party on Saturday afternoon at 1 pm.  But at noon it was pouring buckets.  We are not supposed to be indoors with groups of people, and it wasn't the weather to be outdoors, so we didn't go.  Ken was feeling very behind at the office.  On Friday and again on Saturday he went to work for several hours while Sue did shopping, ironing and other domestic chores.  



Sue decided to sort out the vacuum cleaners. We've been collecting broken ones -- and are up to five.  Some have motors that don't work.  Others are missing hoses or pipes or end brushes.  The parts are not interchangeable.  Sue took this photo to send to the Church physical facilities people to ask if they know where we can get vacuum parts.  We will probably have to toss them all. 


When Sue went back to pick up Ken at the office on Saturday afternoon the rain was light, and there was a wonderful rainbow over our apartment parking lot.   


Sunday we went to church in Berea near downtown Durban.  After Church we went downstairs to meet the family of  Elder & Sister Van Heerden.  They are the only other Senior Couple in the Mission right now, and they live west in Ladysmith -- about a three-hour highway drive.  (We have an empty apartment downstairs until our new Welfare Services couple come in June.)  They came to Durban this weekend for Elder Van Heerden to marry some friends in the Durban Temple.  Their two daughters with husbands and children came up from East London for the occasion. 


Till next week.

And Then There Were None... Week 66

One thing we are learning on this mission is flexibility.  Every six weeks there is a Transfer.  The arrivals used to be on Wednesday:  Pick...