Painting Under African Skies, Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce





Posted by Maili Halme Brocke


The thing to do on a vacation is to eat everything in site.  And that is exactly what I did the minute I got on the airplane.  There were some who complained about enduring the long 15 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, but for me I had unlimited movies on the little screen in front of my seat, a good book, my journal, food, beverages and bathrooms.  I had no one to take care of but myself so I settled in to a trip of complete contentment.  The JOY of the trip actually began at 4:00 a.m on the Thursday morning that I left California.  My sister so kindly offered to drive me to LAX where I would take the flight to Atlanta to join up with the rest of our group.


While my sister and I live only a few miles apart and our children are in the same schools, our lives are very full and very busy and it is rare that the two of us are alone, uninterrupted for two hours.  The additional blessing about a 5:00 am drive is that we weren’t even interrupted by texts or phone calls or the needs of anyone else.  We talked about so many things but kept focusing on gratitude.  We talked about the challenges that pop up sometimes daily and or weekly.  My sister and I both have what some would call an insane dose of optimism.  It seems like whatever comes up we’re definitely going to find the bright side.  And I think we both sincerely believe that this optimism combined with gratitude somehow creates all these unexpected JOYS that show up when we least expect it.  We arrived so early because there wasn’t any traffic that we had time to stop for breakfast.  Extra time to eat equals more gratitude and joy for me.  As we were eating our breakfast we glanced across the restaurant and there was was an elderly Japanese couple bowing their heads at the table saying Grace.  Their gratitude for their simple breakfast was a gift that overflowed to us.  A gift that was exactly in line with all we had discussed in the car.  The great importance for saying thank you for the daily little things in life like breakfast.


So it was with this heart of gratitude that I began my trip.


On the little movie screen in front of my seat there is a flight tracker that maps your trip as you fly.  Most of the time whenever I checked on it, I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.  I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I was when I saw the plane was nearing the border of Africa.  I think up until that point I may not have really believed it was actually going to happen, that I was going to Africa.  Just the word Africa seems so grand and majestic.  It roles off your tongue like beautiful music.  We landed together at the Johannesburg airport, were welcomed through customs, exchanged our dollars for rand and went to the hotel.


South African cuisine is a melting pot of colonialists and indigenous people.  So the traditional maize (similar to polenta or grits–a favorite of mine) is often served with some kind of meat and gravy.  The main outside food influences are Dutch, German, British, French and Indonesian.  The Afrikaners (of British decent) broth their servants who were often so-called Cape Malay people who have an Indonesian style of cooking.  To the north was Portuguese Mozambique so there was also a trickle down of Portuguese inspired cuisine (such a Piri-Piri Chicken that Greg Kehler said was fabulous and I was sad I hadn’t noticed on the menu.)  For me it meant that I had a tea kettle in my hotel room instead of a coffee pot and for those of you how know how much I love tea, I was already happy from this tiny fact.  Then because of the the German influence there were sausages everywhere with many meals.  The famous one of called Boerwors.  The first morning I had breakfast they had three kinds of sausages:  lamb, beef and pork.  I tried all three.  Then lots of fruit that I throughly enjoyed and the creamiest avocados.  The most exotic thing I ate was Impala and Wild Boar.  In the gas station they had version of Cornish Pasties, often six to 12 different kinds.  Shockingly the pastry crust was quite good for a gas station.  And then they had all the British wine gums and jellies that I also adore.  They also had great cheese courses including the cheese I loved from Belgium (that I’m assuming must actually be Dutch.)


(I should note here that this wasn’t a food trip for me.  I just happen to turn everything into a food trip.  If you are going for the food my friend, Stephen Janes, imports wine from South Africa and he told me about two amazing chefs: Peter Tempelhoff and Luke Dale Roberts For all of my foodie friends on this blog and email list you will enjoy clicking on their web sites, reading their impressive resumes and seeing their gorgeous food. And I certainly hope I will be going back to South Africa sooner than later to try it.)


So if I wasn’t there for the food then why was I there.  It is hard to put into words.  I was there because one of my oldest and dearest friends had invited me there.  I was there to help, but in truth they were helping me.  They were helping me step into this new chapter of my life.  But I was taking that step with long-time friends and new dear people.


Anyone who is involved with the Foundation for Hospital Art is basically a happy person.  Because it is a foundation that basically spreads happiness.  There are only 3 paid employees in the FFHA and the rest of is made up of 500,000 volunteers around the world.  They have painted in Sibera and Argentina, in Paris and Korea.  One of the board members is from the town that was hit by the Tsumani in Japan and she led the group to a Paintfest in Japan.  This year high school students are raising money for their trip to Uruguay to paint in a hospital there.  Cuba, Poland, Austria and Hungary are also on the list for the coming year.  The Foundation has donated over 36,000 paintings in hospitals and nursing homes in 194 countries and all 50 states.  The found, John Feight, had a dream that is now 29 years old and has comforted patients all over the world.


Hospitals in general are sterile places with blank white walls.  Most certainly poorer hospitals and nursing homes have no budget for art and no real thought about a need for it.  Surprisingly both the wealthier hospitals and the poorer hospitals lack art.


Why does art matter.  Certainly food, clothing, and shelter seem more important that art.  But here is the secret:  while those basic necessities do matter, Art is healing.  Art gives people hope and comfort.  It gives JOY.  People need things that fill their soul and give them a purpose.   The foundation is more than just donating paintings.  People, both patients and volunteers, actually get to paint.


There are some things that are hard to get until you actually do them.  It is hard to describe the feeling of being part of a Paintfest but once you do it you understand.  For me, I’m a chef.  I may be very artistic with food but I’m insecure and terrible with a paintbrush.  It just isn’t my comfort zone.  But the paintings are designed in a unique way so that everyone can paint.  And I can have the soothing feeling that comes from dipping the paintbrush in paint and painting back and forth on the canvas.  Suddenly, EVERYONE can paint.  Everyone from the most severely wounded soldier who can only paint with his mouth to the child undergoing chemotherapy to the elderly patient that must move around with an oxygen tank.  The foundation created canvases that everyone can help paint.  Then the giant tiles combine together to make bright and colorful paintings that are either ceiling tiles for patients who are confined to beds or placed on walls for patients in waiting rooms waiting to undergo tests or treatments.  The paintings are a way to let their mind focus on something happy instead of staring at blank wall.


Roc Baker, one of the foundation’s Board members is from Ohio.  He said his favorite part of a Paintfest is the conversations that happen while everyone works and paints together.  Conversations that wouldn’t happen any other way.


There are a hundred ways I could have written about this trip to South Africa.  The trip was so massive and had so many components.  I could write about the cows that were all over the place roaming free on the sides of the roads.  Visiting Nelson Mandela’s family home in Soweto and being surprised that he lived on the same street as Desmond Tuto.  I could write about the Platinium mines and diamond mines and coal mines.  I could write about all the beautiful farms and the Mango Plantation.  I could write about the fact that I have a deep appreciation for clean running water, indoor plumbing and electricity.  I could write about the people I met and the great discussions I had no matter who I was sitting by during our group meals.  The books that were recommended the topics discussed.  The fact that many on the board are also active in food banks both locally and worldwide.  I could write about the youth pastor who raises money for wells.  I could write about the diplomats wife and daughter that I sat next to on the airplane.  For those who see my daily facebook posts of pictures and quotes on JOY you can imagine my surprise when the pastor were we painted and provided the meal for the congregation had a daughter named Lethabo.  And that Lethabo means JOY.


The safari camp I stayed in was called Chisomo.  I found out that Chisomo means Blessing.  And this trip was a Blessing.  I’m grateful my parents could watch my girls so I could experience it.  I’m grateful for the wonderful new people I met and for the old friends I could spend time with.  I’m grateful I get to be a part of something that makes others happy.


Blessings to all.  Maili