Revelations in Africa

First, a shout out to Isaiah Artis, who turns 13 on Wednesday! Dad is thinking about you and can't wait to come home and celebrate with you!

For all those dedicated followers, I'm sure you've noticed a lack of pictures. High speed internet doesn't exist here and we've been unable to post photos to the blog. We promise to post a slideshow of our photos after we return.

There is so much we want to share with everyone. Yesterday was overwhelming. We visited a village called Nchalo, about two hours from Blantyre. Like all the wonderful villages we've visited, the folks in Nchalo greeted us with song and dance, welcoming us like royalty.

Many of us were moved to tears when at lunchtime the women in the village brought us rice, beans, cabbage and chicken. The people at this village are starving. Rice is considered a delicacy. Yet here they give, even when they can't afford to. Children there were obviously sick and malnourished, some with distended bellies, some with open sores. It is here that Noah's Ark Orphan Care is looking to start a third branch in Malawi.

Again, their hardships made our inconveniences seem trivial in comparison. Our electricity is sporadic, but most villages have none. Our water is untreated and trickles or doesn't run at all, but at least it's piped to the care center.

We wash our clothes by hand, sleep under mosquito nets and shave our legs by candlelight (yes, some of us can't go au naturel). We cooked spaghetti over coals outdoors and the children press their own clothes with an old-fashioned iron they fill with coal. But they -- and we -- are lucky compared to most here.

Since they don't have everyday conveniences we're accustomed to, computers are something most have never seen. We brought computers with us on this trip and have let the children practice typing. The joy on their faces when they typed was something many of us will carry in our hearts for a long time.

Last night a few of us asked what we missed most about home. Aside from our families and friends, who many of us miss terribly, we realized there is a lot we can do without.

The real Malawi

July 8, 2009
Malawi has been such a humbling experience even in our first few days here.

The Malawians walk miles every day to meet the most basic of needs. Most families living in the villages outside of Blantyre where we are staying don’t have running water. Instead women carry water from the river or community wells up steep terrain to their mud-brick, thatch-roofed homes. Even then, the water sometimes is not safe to drink and must be boiled. Women cook their food outside on fires, using charcoal made locally or over bricks and brush. Clothes are laundered outside by hand, and hung to dry on lines.

Those who have electricity and water lines find that the service is sporadic. At Noah’s Ark, the water frequently is out for hours or days at a time. That means they must keep barrels full of water at all times for cooking, washing and drinking. Full buckets are kept in the bathroom to help flush the toilets. And unless it is boiled on the fire or a tiny electric stove, there is no hot water.

Candles _ placed in Coca Cola bottles _ and matches are kept at the ready in case of a blackout, which we’ve experienced twice since Monday. The intermittent service means that most food is not refrigerated. Tonight, they are preparing chicken for their American visitors _ so this morning they killed the chickens, which stayed overnight in the kitchen. No need to worry about food going bad that way. (Our chickens left a breakfast egg for us on the kitchen floor!)

But any type of meat is a treat. For the most part, Malawians have a simple diet. At the orphanage, the children eat vitamin-fortified porridge and roasted peanuts for breakfast, rice or a corn meal for lunch and often beans and rice for dinner, though they occasionally supplement their diet with fish and chicken. This week they had carrots for the first time. (We first had to show them how to scrape and then cook the vegetable.)

Our group is living this life alongside the Malawians. Sort of. We have hand sanitizer and baby wipes to clean ourselves even when we’re out in the village. Just days into our trip, during a short visit to the city of Blantyre, we bought bread, peanut butter and some shortbread cookies because we were hungry and craved variety and familiarity. For most Malawians, cooking does not involve spices or sauces. It’s about filling bellies.

A side trip to a rural village two hours north of Blantyre was an eye-opener. Unlike the children in the city who swarmed us as we walked the streets, these kids stood and stared at us. Their visitors were outsiders, an anomaly. To them we were not from another village, but maybe anther planet, especially when Maggie put in her protruding plastic play teeth. After she pulled them out, they saw it was a joke and smiled. The cameras also helped break the ice. Once kids saw their faces in a little hand-held box, we were no longer martians but the most popular people on Earth.

The village will never be the same now that all the children know how to do the Hokey Pokey. Yup, dozens of kids put their right hands in and shook them all about. The songs and movements broke down the language barriers. The finger play, “Three Little Monkeys” triggered smiles and meant more to kids here on the continent of Africa than to kids in North America because monkeys are seen here in places besides the zoo.

Before we left, we pulled out bottles of bubbles that soon filled the air. This was a first for the kids, who jumped high to pop them. When we started passing out single-wrapped candies, the kids were shy to received it – holding out their palms like we were passing out wafers on a Sunday morning. Soon, we noticed that the kids weren’t eating it. They had never had a piece of candy in a wrapper so they didn’t know what to do with it. But once they had their first taste, they were no longer shy. They were sugar maniacs, each looking for another piece.

These mostly were orphans, so they are fortunate to eat, let alone get candy. Noah’s Ark Orphan Care started its second care center in Mateketa two years ago. In a village of fewer than 500 people, orphans account for 20-25 percent of the population.

_ Robyn, Maggie and Tammy

The warm heart of Africa

We drove past mud-brick huts, down narrow streets alive with people pedaling bicycles or walking with bundles perched atop their heads. Makeshift shacks housed barber shops, tailors and convenience stores.

But nothing truly surprised me until I heard the children sing.

They were there to greet us when we finally drove through the gates of Noah’s Ark Orphan Care in Blantyre on Monday. After brief introductions on the veranda, we gathered inside, and before long the children were singing a song in Chichewa, their native language. I couldn’t understand a word, but the chorus of voices was truly astonishing. I looked across the room at Maggie, who has dreamed of and talked about this trip for years, and she was crying and clapping and laughing. And I thought, “This is what it’s all about.”

We’re here to help orphans, yes. But we’re also here to build relationships and friendships. And judging by the smiles and hugs, I think we’re off to a good start.

This morning, we walked some of the children to school. They are so excited that we’re here and thrilled to introduce us to their classmates. But perhaps none is more excited than Aggie, a little girl who for the first time met the American who pays for her schooling, fellow team member Brian Sutton of Flint, Mich. She follows him everywhere, holds his hand and this morning bragged, “This is my dad.”

By Tammy Webber

Chicago, Illinois

We're Here

July 5, 2009

By Anthony Artis
Flint, Michigan

As we boarded the 15-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, Brian and I sat in a row with a 9-year-old boy who was softly singing “Joy to the World.” What a great start to a long but very good flight. About four hours from the southern African coastline, I was moved to tears as I thought about the multitude of African slaves who died during the Middle Passage. It hit me that I was nearing a birthplace of all black people. I was headed to my ancestors’ home – to the Motherland. I did not know how I would react once my feet touched African soil, but it was most encouraging.

There is so much to learn about this amazing continent and its rich countries, such as Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

My faith has grown tremendously and I have many to thank. Some prayed for our team, some gave monetary donations, some shared their African mission experiences, some gave needed supplies. God has moved on the hearts of people to care about the people. My faith progressed from “I’m going to Africa” to “I’m in Africa!” Lord, I thank you for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and unique opportunity to be used by You!

The team is gelling very well and it’s great being part of an extended family of sorts. We have dined, flown, laughed, prayed and shared together. I trust our unity will only grow with each passing day. After our one night in Jo’burg, we are off to Malawi. I will be even a greater day as we see and know the children and orphans at Noah’s Ark Orphan Care. Wow! We are really here!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

We're off to Africa

Today this is just a photograph. A photograph of orphaned children in one of the worlds most impoverished countries.

But on Sunday this picture will have so much more relevance. These faces will have names. These smiles will make sounds of laughter. These hands will offer a tender touch. It will be real. More real than I can imagine even on the eve of my departure.
On Saturday I leave with a group from Flint, Michigan, on a two-week humanitarian trip to a small Malawian village in Chirimba Township, just outside Blantyre, Africa.

There we’ll meet some of the 94 school-aged children being cared for by Noah’s Ark Orphan Care center, which provides meals, education and medical help to these children, most orphaned after their parents died of AIDS.

There are 10 of us traveling together. Some – including myself – have never done humanitarian work. Many of us are meeting one another for the first time.

But for myself and good friends Tammy Webber and Maggie Jaruzel, this is just another journey is our long friendship. A journey we’ve daydreamed making together for several years. A journey that will change us in ways we cannot even realize.

Among our group is a robotics engineer, a teacher, accountant, school counselor, pastors and journalists. We’ll share our skills and knowledge with the children, hoping that it will help them someday become self sufficient. More importantly, we’ll share our love.

Over the next two weeks, our group will share our journey through photos, video and words. We’ll introduce you to the volunteers, the children and life there at Noah’s Ark. We’ll introduce you to Flint Township Pastor Nancy Sisco, who at 76 is running the orphanage and sharing her love in unprecedented and inspiring ways. We hope to have the children share their personal experiences as well, making our journey a little more real for those reading our blog.