Life. Pure and Simple.

My pen ran out the other day. I can remember when I bought that pen, and can honestly say I used it from start to finish. How often does that happen? Usually my half-used pens are in a drawer, in my car, in the pocket of an un-used briefcase or left behind somewhere. And so often, I have no idea where I picked up the pen I’m using.

Here's how you fix a hole in the watering hose!
Here’s how you fix a hole in the watering hose!

But that’s how life works here in Swaziland. You have something, and you use it until it doesn’t work anymore. And then, where possible, you use it for something else. You don’t go buy a newer, shinier one just because you’re bored or there’s one that says ‘New and Improved’ on the package.

One day I decided to wash my shoes. I took out a brush, some ‘green bar’ soap (a true miracle product, really!) and put some warm water in a bucket. I sat on the ground, in the sun, and scrubbed out the grime. It was surprisingly gratifying. As I watched my dull Nike’s return to a bright white, I thought of all the shoes I had given away to charity over the years. I’m no shop-a-holic , but looking back I’m embarrassed to say that the only problem with some of them is that they were dirty.

car arrow
Looking back to where we started — this is the view from the garden. The arrow points to my car.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I loaded up a few of the Life Skills School students and we set off into the community. Our mission was to plant a garden for a lady living close to the farm (and by close I mean a 10-minute drive on hilly, rough roads and a 20-minute walk across the valley to her homestead).  When I had met the lady a few weeks before, she was telling Pastor Sipho (SEE-poe) about needing seedlings for her garden. At the time I had the impulse to drive to town and buy them, but I’m resisting the urge to just ‘throw money’ at any problem I hear about – I’ve heard too many stories of westerners, with all good intention, spending a fortune on projects without thinking of the long-term results. (Plus, I don’t have any money haha) As the days passed my mind kept returning to this lady and her bare garden. Pastor Sipho encouraged me to follow my heart and reassured me that planting a garden for her wouldn’t cause problems in the community or perpetuate any ‘dependency’ mindset.

She was so happy! This is one hard-working woman and the new garden can help her start a business.

So, armed with the students and 600 vegetable plants (cost of about 600 Emalegeni, or $60), off we went; excited to simply bless someone. I had no idea what she had in mind for her garden; but had  just picked up whatever I could find that might grow at the higher altitude in winter. Cabbage, beetroot, green pepper, onions, spinach, carrots.

As we planted, Lusito translated for me and we got to know a bit more about this lady and her family. She had been praying for the chance to start a business making Achar (picture kimchee or chutney – spicy and chunky and usually served with meat). Turns out the ‘random’ plants I’d purchased  were the exact ingredients for Achar. Trippy, right? For me, that’s the sign of living a life simple enough that the ‘still, small voice’ of God can speak to me when I’m buying plants. Sometimes he even lets me believe it’s my idea. I get goosebumps every time I think of it – it’s a ‘wheeeeeeeee!’ feeling knowing that God has used me for a small part of His plan, and I somehow paid attention long enough to be obedient .

My Nike’s and I are partners now. We’re in this for the long haul. Not only would replacement shoes be difficult to find here, I couldn’t afford them if I did. They have to last until they just can’t walk another step, and I have to keep cleaning them. As for my pen, I’m back to the plain ol’ Bic, and I have just one.

With the home owners (far left and far right) and Life Skills School student Sandile (second from left)
With the home owners (far left and far right) and Life Skills School student Sandile (second from left)

And I’m content – with my hand-washed shoes and my  single pen. With where I am – where the fruit still tastes like sunshine, and with what I have – all of the necessities and a few of the comforts. I’m not trying to get anywhere or prove anything – I’m just here. Fully present and drinking deeply from each day and its offerings. And listening; waiting for the next time God speaks.



Thud. I live in Africa.

The  revelation hit me as I was white-knuckle driving on the M3 highway outside of Mbabane, Swaziland. It was my first day of driving on the left hand side of the road – and I had already gotten lost twice. Part of the M3, called the ‘Malagwane’, was once in the Guinness Book of World Records for the ‘Deadliest Highway’. It’s been twinned since then, but imagine the Autobahn, but with fewer rules.

What. Have. I. Done.

Then Meryl Streep’s voice came into my head: “I had a farm in Africa….”

HOOOOOOONK!!! The blare of a horn cut my daydream short – apparently I spent too long in the passing lane. Where I come from we actually wait until the entire vehicle is behind us before cutting back into the driving lane. I don’t speak Siswati, but I’m fairly sure the guy was wishing me a safe journey.

I can't get much further from my Edmonton without starting to get closer!
I can’t get much further from my Edmonton home without starting to get closer!

The circumference of the earth is 40,075 km. The distance between Edmonton, Canada and Mbabane, Swaziland is 15,805 km. I’m no math expert, but it seems to me that I can’t get much further from home without getting closer to home. Oh, and here they call it ‘maths’.

How can it be possible to go half-way around the earth and still feel at home? Nothing is the same! Traffic lights are called ‘robots’, garbage cans are ‘dustbins’, chips are ‘crisps’ and fries are ‘chips’. Product packaging, instead of English and French, is translated to Afrikaans and sometimes a Sanskrit language I’ve never seen before.

Everywhere I look, something is different. Even in the mirror.  Those two stress-lines between my eyes were going away, and sometimes I catch myself smiling – just because. I live in Africa.

Pull up to a roadside stand, and beautiful, fresh fruit is yours to choose!

I’m soaking in the variety like a sponge in water.  Most of all, I’m loving the simplicity of this life. I have four pairs of socks, four t-shirts and three pairs of jeans. I do two loads of laundry every week, and I hang it all out to dry in the sun. Sometimes I sit outside my back door and watch the light change on the mountains across the valley. I fall asleep to the sound of doves and crickets, and I wake to the voices of the Challenge Ministries Life Skills Bible School students who live in the building beside me. I don’t have a television and the only radio station I can pick up is in Siswati – I’m getting pretty good at some of the songs but I have no idea what I’m saying!

Sure, there are inconveniences. Wifi is rare, ice cream is expensive, and the only fast food joint is KFC. But fresh roasted corn-on-the-cob  (okay, here it’s maize) is only E6 (about 60 cents CAD) and when you pull up to the open fire by the roadside, the guy will bring it right to your car. (It’s delicious – although I wonder why the kernels don’t pop!) They’ll do the same with grilled chicken! Picking up a few things on the way home means stopping at a fruit stand to buy avocados, mangoes, bananas – all fresh and at a cost of about E1 each (yep – that’s about 10 cents CAD).

“I live on a farm in Africa”…..and I have no idea what’s in store for me this year. I do know that I already love some of the people I’ve met, and I’ve been welcomed to a church that is committed to teaching and to living out a passionate faith like I’ve never seen before.  And I know that when someone says “You’re already just like a Swazi”, I just about burst with happiness.