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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Mom's in the hospital - Guest blogger Chloe Maxwell

I know that after the live feed yesterday, that most of you are looking forward to reading my mom’s Saturday blog with an update. With the craziness of yesterday, and the turn of events today, my mom has allowed me, her daughter, to write a guest blog for today.

Spencer and I get to come home to visit our parents and Project Canaan at least once a year, but this year we were both lucky enough to come a second time. We arrived to Eswatini on Monday with Spencer’s girlfriend Jane, and his friend Andrew, along with a team of 100+ volunteers. 
We were so excited to be home to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Project Canaan with our parents and 239 little brothers and sisters! 

As Thursday rolled around, we were ready. Mom had been planning this event for a year, and we had received lots of updates along the way. From the children rehearsing, and the invitations being sent out, to the construction of the Imphilo Theatre (which was completed in 35 working days… that’s crazy), every detail was nailed down for our 10AM start.

The event when off without a hitch, and what a celebration it was (you can check out the videos and images on Janine Maxwell’s FB page and the HFA FB page). We noticed at the beginning of the event some smoke at the top of one of the mountains on our property, near where our house is located, so Denis’ team went to check it out. Andrew slipped out as well to check on our house, to confirm all was okay. The event ended at 1PM, and we all went home for a well-deserved nap and shower, mom and dad ready for a relaxing afternoon after a hectic year of planning.

Around 4PM, mom and dad were sitting on the deck, overlooking the property, when they noticed that the smoke that we had seen earlier in the day was much closer to our house than before. The winds had picked up, and that is when the big fires began. We watched from our electric fencing, as the fires came closer and closer, down the mountain and back up the valley, towards our house. Dennis and his team had been fighting the fire for an hour already, and because it was getting so close, we began back burning from the electric fence at the lodge all the way down to the electric fencing at our house. 

I’d like to add that we’ve burned 17 Miles (27 KM) of fire breaks around the property to avoid these problems, but these fires had been either intentionally set inside of the fire break, or jumped the fire break when set on the outside. The fires were huge, we cut branches or “switches” to beat out the fire where we were told to beat, and the night seemed to come to an end around 10PM. Another call came in at 2AM, that the fires had reignited from the wind and were now burning towards the Harp’s house. After fighting fires all night, everyone went to bed around 5:30AM.

At 11:45AM, we got the next call, all hands-on deck. The fires had reignited and were bigger than before, heading straight towards the baby home. We called the Eswatini fire department (who have never responded to one of our calls in the 10 years we’ve been here), and they assured us that help was on the way. We loaded up the car, got the bush knives to cut branches, 2-3 face masks, sunglasses and the 2 pairs of ATV googles we had (what do you bring to fight a big African bush fire?).   

The fire was massive. We split up, sort of, some going towards the baby home and some going towards the fields where they and the bales of hay were on fire. The flames were insane, the smoke was consuming. Jane, Andrew (and others who are a blur now), and I ran through and I looked back for Spencer and my dad. The smoke was so thick I couldn’t see them. Were they okay? The fire had picked up on the Kibbutz side now, so the flames were on both sides of the road. We looked at the burning field, and the flames were growing higher and turning to a dark red, one I hadn’t seen before in fire. Andrew ran into the smoke to find Spencer, they came running back out, and dad came a bit after with the car. I went to his window side, and saw that his face had been singed. His eyebrows and all the hair around his face were a brown fuzz... I cried. He had jumped out of the way and fell hard on a rock when a burst of flames came in front of him by the baby home. What was happening. I just wanted to wake up from this nightmare.

We headed towards the soccer field, as they were back burning the fire to Kibbutz so that it would not continue down the hill. The fire got so big and the smoke so strong, we were sharing the googles and masks we had brought, and had to find refuge under the stage that Jerry Scott had built on the soccer field to shelter us from the smoke. Dad came in his car to the rescue, and we were off through the smoke and down the hill.

The fires burned all day long. Every time we thought we had put one out, another started or reignited. I’m trying to remember the order, and I really can’t. All I know is, the fire was everywhere, coming from every direction. From the Kibbutz, down the side of the Norman Borlaug Park, flooding down behind Khutsala and the medical clinic, then back up behind the lodge and flooding towards Emseni, and back on the farm. The flames were towering over the Khutsala building, and the embers flew on top of the grass/thatch roof of our beautiful chapel. Within 30 second, the roof ignited and the whole building collapsed within 2 minutes. Mom sat in the car sobbing, while allowing the world to watch with her through her LIVE FB feed. It was hard to breath, our eyes were burning, I felt like I was going to throw up. It just wouldn’t stop. It was never going to end.
The chapel built in memory of my biological father.
2 minutes of fire
Everyone was everywhere. Up and down the property, Spencer and mom both had vehicles to shuttle people from place to place and deliver water. We evacuated each building, we evacuated the Emseni children to the dairy farm, we evacuated the babies to the toddler home, twice. There was no time to process what was happening.

Once things had settled and most of our land had burned, the fires seemed to be “controlled,” so we made our way up to the house. It was 6PM.

Last night and today, we are pretty numbed out. There are no emotions, there is nowhere to put this experience. I woke up and went online to see some of the images from yesterday to reflect, and got a text from mom saying, “I see you’re awake. Want to have some lemon meringue pie..? And maybe a cup of coffee? Meet in the kitchen in 5?” Coming from the mom who never eats dessert. “Absolutely,” I replied. The best wake up message.

We started to discuss some of the moments from yesterday as we looked off our porch at the property. Suddenly mom wasn’t feeling so well, and had some heaviness in her chest. We decided to take her to the hospital to make sure things were okay. Mom has been admitted at the Mkhiwa hospital, and I am sitting beside her as I write this blog. We think she might have over done it the past few days, but believe she will be okay. God isn’t finished with her just yet. 

No one said this would be easy. I have no more words, but I ask that you pray for my mom. Pray for our family. Pray for Project Canaan. As that is all that we can do. God’s plans are perfect, right? He makes beautiful things out of the dust. He makes beautiful things out of us.

Live from Eswatini ... Chloe Maxwell

P.S. As usual, the Eswatini Fire trucks never arrived, but we were later told that the reason they didn’t come was either A. all available fire trucks went to the reed fields to protect the king’s reeds for the upcoming reed dance in August, or B. they were broken down.

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