Category Archives: South Africa

Bloom Where You’re Planted- Cape of Good Hope Baboons

“WARNING! Don’t feed the baboons.” As per usual for this trip, our journey to the end of the world turned out to be something completely different than I expected. I was excited about and proud to say I’ve walked to the end of the world. I can also say that I climbed to the top of the highest point of rock at the end of the Cape.
What I didn’t expect was being captivated by baboons. Along the path to the Cape there were dense bushes and thick grass, which I figured would well conceal them. I was intently peering into the bushes on both sides, hoping to catch a glimpse of the supposedly “reclusive” creatures.
My friend Michael and I went a bit below the main path to get a picture together in front of the Cape. I wondered if our chances of spotting a baboon might be a little better off the beaten path. No such luck.

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We went back up to the main path and I asked him to take a picture of me in front of the Cape, seated on a rock wall. Below are pictures of what happened next.

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Me sitting on the wall.

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A baboon climbing up on the wall where I had been seated. She didn’t ask for permission. No. Instead, while Michael was taking pictures, she came straight up to me, nearly climbing into my lap. I was slightly frightened by the overt friendliness of this particular baboon.

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The baboon sitting where I had been seated. She apparently wanted her picture taken where I had my picture taken. Maybe it was because she liked my spot. Maybe because she wanted to show me how silly me getting my picture in front of the Cape appeared to the baboons.

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The baboon becoming friends with Bill, Clarinda, myself and many of the people in my group. We didn’t feed her anything. We just watched her enjoying my perch for a while. Or maybe I had been enjoying her perch for a while.
We counted ourselves blessed by seeing one of these purportedly reclusive creatures in the wild. We regouped and began the ascent to the light house. That was when the rest of her clan showed up.

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Mom baboon carrying a juvenile under her belly.

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Baboons wrestling.

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Baboons where I’d mistakenly assumed baboons would be, out in the bush.
There were so many baboons that we actually kinda wanted to get away from them. Michael was particularly of this opinion when one of the baboons lunged at him, bearing its teeth. I’d love to say it made a roar or barked or something. It didn’t. But it did make Michael jump, which amused the rest of us for a while.
We climbed up to the light house and snapped our pictures. Heading back down, we almost wanted to try to avoid the baboons. We couldn’t.  They were everywhere.
We learned that baboons go wherever baboons want to go. They have no notion of personal space. Rather, I think they like popping personal space bubbles.
But the baboons did have a nice surprise for us on our way down. About half way down the hill, a mother baboon plopped down and started grooming her baby right in front of me.

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This was certainly one of the neatest moments on my trip thus far. To see a baboon mother caring so gently for her infant was precious! I haven’t used that word on my blog for a while now, but it fits.
Reflecting on the unexpected blessing these baboons were to me, I offer you some questions to reflect upon. What has God done for you that deserves your praise? How can your praise become more than something you say or do for him? What would a life of praise look like, were you to praise God with all that you are?
“Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Psalm 51:15

Bloom Where You’re Planted-Penguins! Real. Wild. Free.

I came to touch a penguin. The penguins touched me instead. One of the final announcements that I made at church before leaving for South Africa was that I wanted to touch a penguin. That was tops on my list of things to do while here.

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But when I got to Simonstown and ventured down to Boulder Beach, I couldn’t bring myself to touch a penguin. They got to me first. The more I learned about the penguins, watched them, and enjoyed my time with them, the more special they became. I couldn’t bring myself to even try touching a penguin (even though I was most certainly close enough to do so) because every reason I had to try was a better reason not to touch them.
First, penguins are vulnerable. While out to sea, penguins can be attacked by killer whales, sharks and seals. On shore, there are many enemies including domestic dogs, cats and the occassional tourists (who mean no harm, I promise), who hurt penguins by interfering with them. Besides natural predators, they also contend with commercial fisherman for food. When one considers that of the millions of penguins once living, the penguins of Boulder Beach only number a couple of thousand, they’re even more vulnerable.

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Second, penguins are resilient. Despite their challenges, they have proven to be a species that responds well to human cooperation. The colony I visited is the offspring of only two penguin pairs, who were used to plant the colony back in the 1980’s. Changes in fishing techniques and protective laws have allowed the penguins to flourish in Simonstown. They are survivors, telling a wonderful story of hope for other species that are endangered or threatened.

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Third, penguins are faithful. A pair of penguins mate for life. For this, they have much more sense than many humans. It is refreshing to see that even in the animal kingdom, some are faithful to the end. When a penguin pair says, “til death do us part,” they mean it!

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Fourth, penguins are loving. They take care of each other. Mom and dad penguins take turns caring for their young for the four months their babies need to stay on land after being hatched. When they are molting (as they were when I visited them), they prune each other’s feathers, gently caressing each other.

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You see, there’s lots to love about penguins! Penguins-small, cute and innocent as are, exemplify many aspects of our life in Christ. They are living examples of many values we cherish as Christians.
We are vulnerable, but God loves us enough to meet our every need in His Son Jesus Christ. Just as the mom and dad penguins take good care of their babies, God loves and cares deeply for us. Their faithfulness to each other is a reminder that Jesus was faithful, even to dying on a cross so that we can forever know HIs love and forgiveness. Following His lead, we seek to be faithful to our friends, family and neighbors. God gave us penguins because He loves us and loves filling our hearts with joy in many ways, even by simply spending time with penguins on a South African beach.

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“And this shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all of the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.” Jeremiah 33:9, ESV
Yesterday, much joy came into my heart from penguins. Where does your joy come from? Is it a truly lasting joy? If a penguin can give me such joy, what joy can God give you, both now and forever? 

Bloom Where You’re Planted -Eddie Daniels Story, Part Four

Eddie and his fellow prisoners on Robben Island found great strength in each other. They also had an uncanny nack for making a “boon” of very difficult situations. They made the best of their time by using it wisely. This helped them to thrive when many others would likely wither away and die.
After nearly two years without seeing the outside world, the political prisoners were allowed to go to the quarry and work. Freed from the cramped spaces of their cell and prison yard, they finally got outdoors. Initially, they were allowed to walk to the quarry. Eddie loved the walks because he could see Cape Town and Table Mountain. He could listen to the squawk of seagulls. He smelled the salty breeze blowing in from the ocean. The gentle humidity from the cool bay blew across his face.

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It didn’t take long for the guards to become concerned that the political prisoners may incite a riot if the other prisoners were allowed to see them. Remember, revolutionary leaders such as Mandela and the leaders of other political and quasi-military groups were among their number. When the guards became concerned, Eddie and company were no longer allowed to walk to the quarry. They were forced to ride in a covered “laurie,” or truck, so that they couldn’t be seen.
This was another hardship, but soon the men realized this truck also carried other groups of prisoners around the island. They began writing notes on small scraps of paper and hiding them in the infrastructure of the covered laurie. Because the guards prevented anyone from seeing them, the men were also hidden from the guards. Soon, other groups of prisoners discovered the notes and began sending secret messages back.
With this hidden communication, when conditions were bad, they were able to organize hunger and work strikes throughout the entire island. The guards were perplexed by such well organized activities and sensed they were being orchestrated by the political prisoners. Eddie beamed with a sly smile while recounting these events. He and his comrades found a way to turn an attempt to conceal them from the other prisoners into a way to communicate with their friends and even people on the mainland.
The quarry where they worked was no place for the faint of heart. Here, Eddie and his friends were exposed to direct sun for hours and inhaled toxic lime dust. Many developed lung diseases. Some can no longer shed tears because the lime set-up like concrete in their tear ducts. In this cruel environment, they made strides towards bettering themselves and each other.

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Eddie described how being in the quarry allowed the prisoners to communicate more easily. He said that if he was working on one section of rock, and someone he wanted to talk to was working on the other end of the quarry, he could chip a little here and a little there, until he chipped all the way over to the person he wanted to talk to.
In the quarry, with freedom to move and converse, the men established a system of educating themselves. Many of those who were imprisoned were doctors, lawyers and academics. They had a motto. “Each one teach one,” Eddie said.
There were many men who had degrees and held teaching positions in universities before they were arrested. Eddie was paired with some of these instructors to take classes while working in the quarry. He earned two college degrees while in prison.
While receiving his own education, he was partnered with men who couldn’t read and taught them how. In this way, the group learned and grew together. The bonds they formed forged a comraderie few of us may ever know. The bonds were so strong, relationships so tight, that they never lost touch with each other.
Eddie said he didn’t regret a day he spent on Robben Island. When offered a chance to be discharged by signing an agreement to not attack the government, he refused. He said he refused on principle. I wonder if he refused, at least in part, because to leave meant leaving his friends.
Who would you be willing to be imprisoned for? Why would you go through that for them? Do they know you feel that strongly about your relationship?

Bloom Where You’re Planted-Eddie Daniels Story, Part Three

Eddie calls his time on Robben Island a “boon time,” whereas most would consider imprisonment and forced labor a “bust.” Eddie uses a different measure of life than most of us to justify that he was indeed lucky for his time spent on Robben Island. For him, he was lucky because of who he was with, what he did with his time and what he learned from his experience.
Eddie was imprisoned with other political prisoners, in isolation from all others because they were considered the biggest threat to the South African state. They were by no means the first political prisoners on that island. According to information at the dock, the first known political prisoners held on Robben Island were Autshumato, a native who spoke Dutch, and two khoikhoi men who were sent there in 1658. So, by the time Eddie arrived, Robben Island had a history of holding political prisoners spanning more than 300 years.
For the first couple of years, prisoners weren’t allowed to leave their cells and prison yard. This meant they spent all of their time completely cut-off from the outside world. They were surrounded by high walls, allowing no one to see in or out.

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To give you an idea of how small their cells were, I measured the cell in paces. Putting heal to toe together, I paced cell dimensions as 6 by 7 paces.  When German Shepherd dogs were brought in to monitor the inmates and to track attempted escapees, their kennels were significantly larger than the cells of the prisoners.

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This picture, taken near Eddie's cell, shows how far away he was from many of the other prisoners.

Eddie’s cell was at the far end of the hallway. This added to his feeling of isolation. Mandela’s cell, on the other hand, was closer to the entrance of the prison yard.
Mandela was only one of the great men Eddie spent his time with. Because all were political prisoners, they had much in common. They came from different religious, education and economic backgrounds, but all were there for the same reason-fighting against apartheid.

One of the men Eddie said was, “truly inspiring,” is Johnson Mlambo. On one occasion, Mlambo was accused by a guard for throwing his soup on him, staining the guard’s uniform. For this alleged offense, he was sentenced to six lashes.
When Mlambo was taken out of the company of the other prisoners, they knew he was being punished. All of them sat in the prison yard, smashing their stones with hammers, as they did every day. Each time the door to the yard opened, or someone walked past, they looked to see if it was Mlambo.
After some time he returned, bloodied from the six lashings he had received. Considering that one lash is enough to open skin and make one bleed, six lashes would be too much for most to bear. As he walked in, the prisoners watched his every move. The guards also watched, hoping to see some sign of weakness. Any indication of pain would give the guards some sense of accomplishment in knowing they had beaten him down.
Mlambo was an educated man and a gentlemen. He always carried himself with dignity. Without a wince or grimmace, he walked the same exact path he did every day. He sat in the same place and silently began chipping away at the stones.
Together they sat. Together they continued in silence. Together they faithfully worked at their demeaning task. Together.
Eddie said that all of the men were heartened by Mlambo’s courage and strength. They found new purpose in what they were doing. By going about his business, as though it were every other day, Mlambo displayed a spirit that refused to be crushed by an oppressor. Based upon this and similar experiences, one could argue they experienced more freedom in prison than they had known in public.
Eddie was blessed because of who he was with on Robben Island. He was surround by men, such as Mandela and Mlambo, whose spirit could not be crushed. He found a purpose in demeaning labor because he was working with men he admired and loved. There was a great sense of community and meaning in what they were doing.
What about you? Who have you surrounded yourself with? Are the people in your life lifting you up or dragging you down? Why?

Bloom Where You’re Planted-The Eddie Daniels Story, Part Two

Eddie Daniels knew what consequences awaited those who resisted the apartheid government of South Africa.  In the 1960’s, a “colored person” (as he was referred to under the racial classification system) could sit in jail for six months simply for being found in the wrong part of town at the wrong time of day. Regardless, he attended hundreds of rallies and gatherings in opposition to the government. No matter the time or place or if he was allowed to be there.
For his defiant insistence to meet with co-conspiritors, he was banned from communicating with others for five years. He kept meeting with them despite the ban. Because of the hopelessness of the situation, he grew tired of working through political process to change the political system. Tired of waiting on the system to be changed, he came to the conclusion that more direct methods, much more dangerous, were necessary.
Eddie and others became convinced that the only way they could hope to up-end apartheid was by disrupting the everyday life of fellow South Africans by sabatoge. They began planting bombs on infrastructure. Focusing on pylons, railroad communication towers and a radio tower, they set about to inconvenience the public to the point that those who had political sway would see to a change in government. Even though they took great care not to harm people, this change in tactics brought their campaign from defiance to outright attack.
Eddie’s career as a sabateur was short.  In his few years as a sabateur, he managed to destroy some of his targets. Many of his bombs never detonated. He nearly managed to accidentally nearly blow himself up (admitting in his book that if he had set his charges properly, he would have died). On one occassion, he carelessly discharged an explosive in his developing studio. In 1964, he was arrested, interrogated and convicted of sabatoge-a sentence that carried the death penalty.
When asked why he didn’t get the death penalty, whilest many others did for the same crime, he said, “I guess I was lucky.” Lucky? Really?!? Spending fourteen and a half years of your life on Robben Island is “lucky”?
How is months spent with 23 hours of solitary confinement a day, allowed only one hour of exercise in the courtyard lucky? What is lucky about being forced to work in a quarry, doing meaningless work of crushing large pieces of slate or limestone into gravel?

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Mr. Daniels explains a picture of the prisoners, such as himself and Nelson Mandela, crushing stone into gravel.

How does one come to the conclusion that spending the bulk of their adult life-a time when most others are raising a family and building a career is “lucky.”
Eddie used a different measure of life spent on Robben Island than most of us to justify his assertion that he was indeed lucky for his time spent there. For him, he was lucky because of who he was with, what he did with his time and what he learned from his experience. How do you measure your life?
This blog is the second of a series on post-apartheid South Africa. If you would like to be notified of future blogs, please subscribe. Thank-you.