Friday, December 19, 2008

All of us to Bulembu

Mum, Graeme and Rachel were incredibly excited about visiting Bulembu and we made our way there on Tuesday.
The weather was simply terrible. It was raining and the mountains were shrouded in mist. Visiblity was perhaps four metres at best. This only compounded the treacherous conditions as we made our way up the mountain which is a dirt (mud) road with many twists and turns. Rachel was designated driver and she took the corners like a natural rally car driver. The car was coated in a thick crust of mud when we eventually made it to our destination.
Our first stop was the Sullivan's where we caught up with my "famous five". The kids just loved making new friends and we spent hours playing with them. I think Rachel and I now have additional pressure to produce grandchildren as Mum and Graeme were in their element with this group of 3-4 year olds.
The next morning, we went over to the other orphanage which houses the babies. Again, my family were just overwhelmed playing, cuddling and making silly baby sounds which may as well have been SiSwati! My Mum got particularly attached to Simon. He arrived at the orphanage only a couple of weeks ago and his story, like everyone else's, is incredibly sad. He's two and a half and both of his parents died of HIV. Unfortunately, he too has AIDS. For the past year or so, he has been living with only his 9 year old sister. She has AIDS as well. Somehow, she has been feeding him and providing him with water. Someone in a nearby village noticed that it was just the two of them living alone and they notified the authorities. Now both of them are at Bulembu. Simon has just started ARVs and has a respiratory tract infection so he was feeling quite poorly. He's also an incredibly sad child and has obviously been quite disturbed in his short life. Mum spent a lot of time just holding him and trying to comfort him. When we left, she started crying and it was quite distressing for me to watch as I knew exactly what she was feeling.
I also felt a tremendous sadness as I left Bulembu. I have so many special memories from that place and I will treasure every second I spent with those children. I can't believe that I may never see them again. Heather and Andy (who care for the 3-4 year olds) have promised that they will send me regular updates and photos of the kids and I hope that this is enough for me to feel like I am still part of their lives.
We donated a suitcase full of children's clothes that my friend Karin had kindly organised and we also donated over $5000 (AUS) that many of you kindly contributed. Thank you so much- you have certainly improved the lives of many Swazi babies.
We then made our way to Kruger National Park in South Africa. Only a week ago when I was transferring that kid with the scaphoid fracture, I noticed a chimpanzee sanctuary that was established by Jane Goodall. Upon arrival to Swaziland, I immediately informed my family that we needed to adjust our itinerary slightly so that we could include a visit to this place. Whilst I love people, I also have a passion for primates. I have been fortunate enough to travel to Rwanda to see the gorillas and Borneo to see the orangutans. Chimpanzees, although not exactly in the wild, was an absolute "must see" for me.
The sanctuary is home to chimps that have been rescued from places such as Sudan, Angola and Mozambique. It's incredibly tragic to hear of some of their stories. Some have been held in nightclubs throughout Africa as "attractions" where people have been able to give them alcohol, cigarettes and even illicit drugs at times. Often they have been held in tiny cages with little access to food and water. Some were kept by people and used as "surrogate children" and dressed up in human clothes and fed a diet of pizza, soda and chips. All incredible forms of cruelty. Others were kept by people who regularly beat the animals and one of the chimps has even sustained brain damage and has the intellect of a chimp much younger. All of these chimps have been brought to the sanctuary where they are enclosed in hectares of protected forest. They are rehabilitated so that they can live as they would in their natural environment. They will never actually be able to return to their natural environment as they will be an immediate target for poachers. Chimpanzees are on the verge of extinction and as humanity, we should be disgusted with ourselves. The experience I had there was enlightening and uplifting and certainly one of the highlights of my trip so far.
We are now at Kruger National Park and staying at an incredible place called Motswari Private Game Reserve. It's an amazing place and deserves a individual blog entry which will follow in the next few days.