This is a quote from "Hillel the Elder" from the first century. (I thought I was so original!)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I couldn't take a photo.

I love to take photos.  I try to paint sometimes and sometimes I look at the lighting and composition and wish I could capture what I see and what I am feeling.  Yesterday I got to go with Elder Hontyo from South Africa to meet with some families he was teaching because his companion was ill.  I was happy to go.  It is a pleasure to meet with such nice people and share gospel truths with each other so openly.

Let me describe what I saw.  Elder Hontyo doesn't drive so I drove to a member's home where we inched down an alley and just before it narrowed to three feet, a gate was opened and I drove into a nice  paved compound home and parked the truck.  The area was small but neat, and a nice ten foot by ten foot patch of grass set everything off nicely.  There were lots of potted plants around.  Two women were seated on the ground washing a pile of clothes that reached almost as high as their shoulders.  They each had a large plastic tub and were chatting and scrubbing away.  I thought they were the women of the house, perhaps a mother and grandmother.  I introduced myself but apparently they were not related and happy to keep washing.  Next we went inside and Elder Hontyo asked the children ages eight to fifteen, who would like to go teaching with us to the neighbor.  The Elders have guidelines that they shouldn't teach single women without a local member with them.  I never saw the parents.  First one and then another volunteered and we all walked out the gate and continued the rest of the way down the alley to Memory's home.  Memory had been expecting us and we had a good discussion about what she had been reading.  Elder Hontyo was very direct and patient with all of us.  I picked up on his cues to me and contributed what I could.  Her home was small with a high ceiling of perhaps ten feet.  The walls were grey, raw plaster and the ceiling was the underside of the corrugated tin roof.  Nothing on the walls and she had furniture that was mostly just fabric on boards.

What would I have taken a photo of?  Two things here really stood out to me, I hope I can remember them for some time.  First was the grandmotherly women washing.  They sat on the ground and were so colorful with the piles of clothes, their own clothes and head coverings, the tubs of low suds, and their happy, chatting friendship.  There was greenery and sunshine.  I just wanted to capture that and then learn more about them and their daily lives and past experiences.

The second photo would have been one of Memory and Elder Hontyo.  The room was dim as are most smaller homes.  The colors were non existent.  Greys and browns and muted reds all blended so perfectly and then if I could capture them, I would have Memory's eyes sparkle as brightly as I saw them in that dim room.

Now this is my blog so I get to tell you of one more photo I would have loved to take yesterday.  Elder Hontyo took me to meet Laurence and his family yesterday too.  Laurence is married with two children.  He lives inside a very nice compound where there are seven flats or houses that are leased out.  He is one of the gardeners and handymen for them.  These houses are small compared to the large home at the rear of the compound.  This was once a grand estate.  The grounds were like a park. The driveway is lined with white pillars among the greenery that meandered back to the main house.  Paths and sculptures, grass and huge trees made the place very inviting,  a secret garden.  Laurence met us at the main gate and walked us down one of the pleasant paths to a door in a freshly whitewashed wall.  Inside was dirt.  Not a blade of grass.  Fresh dog poop, which I haven't seen much of, and a single water tap over a two foot square brick pad, and then mud.

There were four doors to homes facing us but we went around to the back where there were three more front doors.  Laurence's home is the middle door.  His young wife was seated on a couple of rocks while washing clothes in two basins on the ground.  Young son Laurence Jr. was just playing with sticks in the dirt.  Inside I met Sarah his daughter, probably seven years old, and Laurence's brother who was watching an action DVD.  Laurence's younger brother had just come to the big city from a village about 100 km to the east for a four day visit.  He'll be here over Independence Day.  He was able to get a ride in the back of a truck.  Sarah was dressed in a clean but very old, worn, and a little tattered school uniform.

The TV went off and the family gathered to hear what Elder Hontyo had to say.  Laurence had been reading and praying and seemed eager to learn more.  (Today I walked off in our home how big these rooms really are).  Laurence's room was approximately six but no more than seven feet wide and nine or ten feet long including the doorways.  Worn and tattered furniture lined the long walls.  At one end was shelves made of wooden boxes.  These contained all the kitchen items and TV and a couple of books and other boxes.  (These rooms always remind me of a twelve year old boys club house in America, made up of items scrounged from around the neighborhood in my youth).  On the floor of the opposite wall sat a small two burner hot plate about six inches off the ground.  A low coffee table appeared to be their only table and left just enough room for legs between couch and table.

What really fascinated me was little Sarah squeezing by, back and forth, quietly listening while she prepared her lunch as her school was to start in 45 minutes at noon.  (Public schools are another issue, with three sessions a day and anywhere from 60 to 100 students in a class.  Yes a class, not a grade.)

Sarah measured out the maize and put it in the little bit of boiling water and stirred.  She also measured out some sort of drink and poured hot water from the tea kettle in her cup.  I didn't see any relish but there must have been something as plain nshima is tasteless and without much nourishment at all.

What did I want to take a photo of?  That hot plate sitting on the concrete.  It sat against the plain grey wall with a cooking pot steaming and scrubbed as clean as I had scrubbed pots in scouts with sand used for a brillo pad.  Next to the pot was a silver aluminum teapot scrubbed with a resulting patina much like silver, topped with a dull red knob.  How could I capture that multitude of warm greys with some black and touches of highlight on film or with paint?  The greys were all made warm by the sunlight streaming through the doorway.  Some "still life's" take on more meaning to the painter or photographer than others.  I would include the two wires protruding from the wall about two feet from the ground.  The wires were bent out and up.  There was a matching set from the hot plate with the bends reversed so they could be hooked together by gravity.  I had seen construction workers cook lunch this way but I was amazed that such a dangerous situation was allowed around such young people.  Sarah's dad reminded her to "switch off" the "stove" after removing the pot.  She simply lifted the wires from the protruding ones.

Why did I want to remember this scene?  I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ can take people out of poverty quicker than anything else and the results are more lasting.  Yesterday I heard Elder Edward Dube speak from Salt Lake City to the whole world about "not looking back but looking forward.  Elder Dube, not too long ago was also a "garden boy" but in Zimbabwe, just to the south.  He, like many others put eternal truths to work and relied on the atonement of Jesus Christ as he marked out his life.  Along with providing for his family he eventually served as the Stake President and then mission president over Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Life can be easier and more comfortable for Laurence and his wife and they in turn will be able to bless the lives of many people by sharing these same eternal truths.

OK - You've read this far I will throw in two bonus photos:

This is a very red tree.  They have been popping out in color all over town, now the purple jacaranda trees are almost gone to leaf and the heat is turning up.  We have been calling them flame trees but we think now they are called "flamboyant trees."

These are the four elders that live in Libala.  We were meeting them at the church and we could see the four white shirts coming towards us from blocks away.  The truck windshield distorted them a little.