Monday, April 9, 2012

The Karoo!

A few weekends ago, a group of twelve of us decided to go to the Karoo, which is the vast desert land that makes up about 60% of the country. We were picked up on Friday morning by our 70-year-old tour guide named Peter, who has lived in SA his whole life. He brought us to a Cheetah reserve, where we pet a female cheetah and played with baby lions (so cute!)

We continued our journey and stopped at Graaff Reinet, a quaint town full of architectural wonders and beautiful landscape. One of the people who grew up in the town is now a successful businessman and he paid for all of the houses in Graaff Reinet to be restored and declared official historical spots, so the houses are in the great condition and had quite unique designs. We then checked into our campground-type accommodation, which was located at the believed place of the Gondwana explosion (the explosion that separated one mass of land to the continents today). After we were settled in, we went on a game drive and saw some more giraffe, kudu, springbok, and other various African animals. The Valley of Desolation was our next stop, which was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. We hiked up to the top of a peak and spent the evening there enjoying the sunset over a glass of wine.

We were famished when we got back to the place we were staying at so we made a feast! We had a braai with three whole chickens, which we stuffed with cans of beer to keep moist, potatoes, sausage, and bacon-wrapped armadillo. By the time we ate (about 9:30pm), many of us had fallen asleep already from our full day’s worth of activities. Nevertheless we woke up just for enough time to eat and then crashed for the night.

The second day was St. Patrick's Day! It consisted of travelling to New Bethesda, another small town where we visited "The Owl House," the house that Helen Martins lived in. She was a lady who decided to decorate her house with an immense amount of color and statues. Her yard was covered with sculptures and her walls were decked out with broken glass crystals that she imbedded into pretty much everything. It was interesting to see, but completely creepy as there were weird dolls, manikins, and sculptures lying around her home.

When we were leaving, there was a game of bowls going on in a nearby field. It is a combination of golf, croquet, bocce ball, and bowling. It was mostly older people standing around, talking, drinking, and playing bowls.

We stopped at a brewery for lunch to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. We spent the afternoon drinking homemade beer, eating cheese, kudu sausage, and homemade bread. We made our way to Ganora, where we were scheduled to sleep in a sheep shearing shed, but since we didn't bring sleeping bags, we were upgraded to their swanky suites. While they braaied a freshly slaughtered kudu from the farm just for us, we hung out in the sheep shearing shed since it was raining and chatted and played ping pong. They also had a room full of fossils that the man who owns the farm found on the land along with his son. He loved telling us about all of his fossils and we were even welcome to touch them.  We went for a short hike to some cave drawings as well. Dinner was fabulous – kudu stew on rice, some sort of pumpkin and cinnamon concoction, potatoes, and salad.  And of course, malva pudding for dessert.

The next morning we made our way back to PE, stopping in Craddock for lunch at Wimpy, a popular fast-food restaurant.  We also stopped at the place where the Pebco Three were tortured and killed at a small farm just outside of Craddock.  We were reading about it in one of our books for class at the same time so it was cool to be able to see the location in real life.  Our last stop before getting back to PE was a “drug rehab center where we could visit with recovering alcoholics and druggies,” as it read on our itinerary.  When we stopped in a small town, we asked Peter where we go to visit with the drug rehab people and he said, “Go to the tavern – the lady working there is one.”  Behind the tavern there was what looked like a homemade zipline so a few of us climbed a janky-looking tree house and swung along the river.  It was great to come back to PE and share our stories with everyone!

Friday, March 9, 2012

When in Africa...

Sorry for the lack of updates!   I am trying to keep up with a few different hand-written journals for my classes as well and it gets to be a lot of reflection.  To keep things from getting too long, I will simply share some highlights from the last three weeks. 

I officially received my diving certification after completing the last two boat dives.  I walked along with three others from my trip down Beach Road to the dive center.  We slipped our wetsuits on, assembled our gear, and walked down to the beach where we climbed aboard a boat that resembled the dinghy back home (inflatable sides with a hard hull).  We pushed off of shore and rode about ten minutes out.  This was one of my favorite parts, as I’ve been waiting to get out on a boat in the sea for quite a while!  We could stick our feet underneath these sorts of foot-handles on the ground, which allowed us to lean way back over the water without falling out.  When we got to the site, the skipper counted down from 3 and we rolled backwards into the sea.  Deflating our gear, we made our way to the bottom to find a beautiful reef.  After completing some underwater skills, we swam around for a bit with huge reefs on either side of us.  I felt like I was in one of the “Planet Earth” episodes.  Within the first few minutes, a shark swam just below us – it was exhilarating!  We ended up seeing ragged-tooth sharks and pajama sharks along with plenty of other colorful fish and plants.  Our instructors were having a blast, joking around with us and telling crazy diving stories.  We climbed back into the boat, drove around for a while, and followed it up with a second dive.  During this dive, we completed the final skills and the instructor shook our hands as we knelt on the bottom of the ocean 12 meters down.

Another highlight thus far has been exploring Addo Elephant National Park and Schotia, another game reserve.  The group of thirty of us from CSB/SJU covered both of these places in one day.  It was so much fun.  Much of the time I felt as though I were dreaming.  First we went to Addo.  It is never guaranteed that one will see lots of elephants while driving through Addo but our tour guide, Bradly, explained that we would have good luck because it had been hot for many days before we went, and it was another hot day that we were going.  On hot and dry days, the elephants tend to congregate around the watering holes so they can easily douse themselves with mud to cool themselves and protect their skin from the sun.  We ended up seeing hundreds of elephant up close.  After we observed countless elephant, we drove to Schotia.  We were greeted with coffee, tea, and biscuits.  Feeling a little sleepy, Britt (one of my roommates) and I chugged coffee before we left.  We split up in groups of about ten and climbed into open-air vehicles.  The next few hours were full of game viewing.  We saw crocodiles, rhinos, hippos, giraffe, kudu, deer, buffalo, wildebeest, bush pigs, zebra, lions, etc.  As the sun set, we drove through the park to arrive at a candle-lit dinner in an outdoor area.  It was one of the most beautiful settings ever.  The meal was authentic South African food as well.  It was ostrich meat, sweet potatoes, rice, vegetables, and chicken.  We ate some malva pudding to top it off, a South African dessert.  We were lucky enough to have Bradley, the tour guide, join our table and he had some wonderful advice to offer.  He told us many things he wished he realized when he was our age.  He is a man of great wisdom and the evening was full of relaxing, laughs, and good company.  When we were finished with our meal some of us sat around a fire and some wandered outside to check out the stars.  They were incredibly bright – it instantly reminded me of the Boundary Waters.  We did a night drive back to our bus, which was equally amazing.  We got to see hippos on land up close (they only come out of the water at night), which I guess is a pretty rare thing to see, as our tour guide got pretty excited.  When we got back to Langerry, Britt and I frantically scribbled notes into our journals about the comments Bradley made so that we will remember them.  It was one of my favorite days here in SA thus far.

At this point in the safari, our tour guide got out of the vehicle and got within ten feet of the crocodiles while throwing dirt at them to make them snap their jaws... and it worked!

Me, Melissa, and Chris taking up the back of the vehicle.

Brit and I got to ride on the front of the vehicle for a while - definitely a highlight!

Another notable experience I’ve had is going downtown to Green Acres, a mall.  It is two taxi rides away (you need to transfer at a taxi station).  Langerry is sort of the end of the touristy stretch of Beach Road.  It is relatively safe if you take a right out of Langerry and walk down that road, which is conveniently the way to school, but if you turn left out of Langerry you will end up downtown and you will be the only white around.  Apparently it is not quite as safe there.  Sarah and I hopped on a taxi which took us to the downtown taxi station, where we switched taxis.  The second one took us all the way to Green Acres.  The mall was completely crowded.  We both agreed that it was a sensory overload from the moment we walked in.  There are police on duty who stand outside the stores holding huge guns.  We learned in our political science yesterday that 40% of the South African police force are not licensed to carry a firearm and do not know how to use it… an interesting thought.  We ate lunch at Dulce Café as we people-watched.  With a few struggles, we met up with some other CSB/SJU people at Norwich (the taxi station downtown) and made our way back to Langerry.

Last weekend, a group of twelve of us went to Jeffrey’s Bay for a couple of days.  It was our first car rental experience, but it went well!  Matt, Isaak, and I were the drivers because we knew how to drive sticks.  It’s so different to be on the right side of the car and drive on the left side of the road, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be.  Sarah sat in the passenger seat and navigated; we made a good team!  Jeffrey’s is only an hour or so away and we made it to our hostel without too much trouble. The backpackers we stayed at was actually really nice.  We had two 6-person rooms, each with their own living room, bathrooms, and kitchen.  The lady at the front desk was extremely organized.  Within the first 15 minutes of our arrival there was a surf instructor there to take the guys and the ladies were set up with a private beach horseback ride, which was amazing.  We rode through bush trails, then through sand dunes, then right along the coast. . 

In the evening we bought some food from the local grocery store and enjoyed a braii and some Hunters at the backpackers.  The next day the women of the trip learned to surf (except myself due to the hole in my leg), but I enjoyed myself on the beach and, not to be boastful, was an exceptional photographer (or tried to be) while they plunged into surf lessons.

I went to my first volleyball practice that I could actually participate in on Monday.  It was fun to get back into it!  I asked one of the players if we were scrimmaging and she replied with, "EXCUSE ME? WHAT did you just say?!"  I guess they don't use that term here.  At one point during practice Sarah was being goofy and Shaabs, the same one who was confused about the scrimmaging comment, asked her if she ate clowns for breakfast.  It has become a favorite phrase of ours. 
Music class ran late on Monday because we learned the SA national anthem along with another song that everyone here knows and performed it for the choir.  Here is a link to a recording of our group singing "Shosholoza," a South African song about a train.

Pendla went way better this week than it has in the past.  Mrs. Duna ended up leaving the classroom for about an hour on Monday while she was giving a test, so Sarah and I jumped in and finished administering the test to the 4th grade class while she was gone.  Mrs. Duna came back for about ten minutes and then declared she was going to the store.  The students weren’t given any tasks so Sarah and I mingled with them for a while before recess and asked about their schoolwork.  We also learned that Mrs. Duna is retiring on March 23rd, so we are not sure where we’ll go after that.  We hope to do some sort of teacher appreciation before that time.  As of right now, we are planning on creating a nice reading area outside of the library where the kids can come during breaks and read.  It seems as though the library is not utilized at all at the moment and we are hoping this addition will make it easier to use the books without having the kids take them home (the teachers are worried about theft).
With some Pendla kids at recess!

This is the first time since I first got here that Langerry is so quiet.  Much of group is traveling this weekend.  It is nice to have some downtime, but I am excited to see pictures and hear stories upon their return!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bloody Valentine's Day

We have been quite busy so I haven’t been able to update my blog much lately – my apologies!  In the past two weeks I have: gone through many orientation activities, visited our service sites, gone on tours, and obtained my scuba diving certification.  Our first diving experience in the ocean was just next to the pier, where we saw an octopus and a few other fish.  Bradley was our tour guide who showed us downtown Port Elizabeth as well as some townships and our service sights.  He is a mixture of black and white and many other ethnicities and he grew up in a colored township.  His had countless stories to share with us.  He also brought us to The Red Location, a museum located in the township of Missionvale.  Missionvale is one of the largest townships in South Africa and three out of every five people have AIDS.  The conditions are desperate.  It was incredibly moving and I had tears in my eyes much of the time.

The Red Location museum.

My group traveled through Missionvale on this "hakuna ma tata" bus.
Yesterday we had our second day of service learning. The fifteen or so of us arrived at Pendla to find out that all of the students had gone on a fieldtrip for the day. So, we surveyed the conditions around Pendla and brainstormed projects and activities that we can do this semester. One of the biggest projects we are looking at is getting some sort of check-out system going in the library. My aunt and uncle’s group built the library at Pendla about thirteen years ago, but it is currently not used at all by the students because the principal is afraid that if they open it up to the kids, books will be damaged or stolen. We spent much of the day yesterday organizing the teachers’ lesson books on the right side of the library. We also walked with an administrative woman named Sweetness to the public library just six blocks away from Pendla to have a look. We were pleasantly surprised to find an organized building with a separate childrens’ section, teenage section, newspaper room, and study room. It is our goal to take a few field trips to the library during our stay here.

I think that one of our biggest challenges will be making sure that we properly understand what is going on and why things are run in certain manners.  We have already misconstrued why a huge pile of broken alcoholic bottles are located right next to the kids’ playing field.  Our immediate reaction was that it should not be there so we started cleaning it up.  However, when we asked the principal, Mrs. Peters, about it she informed us that they ask people to bring their bottles to the school so that they can get money for them when a glass recycling company comes to pick them up.  This is just one example of how communication will be key in finding a mutual understanding of impending projects.  Another significant challenge we will need to keep in mind is the fact that whatever we accomplish while we are here needs to be able to easily be sustained by the employees of the school after our departure.  Because we come from such a “get it done” type of culture, it is vital that we recognize that enduring whatever projects and activities we get done here will be a huge strain on an already stressful job of the educators, who also need to have multiple other roles.

Today was our second day of class.  It was a nice day so I decided to walk to NMMU with Joe, Isaac, Sarah, and Kelsey since I hadn’t yet walked.  I was walking in the grass just next to the sidewalk so that I could chat with Joe and Kelsey when I suddenly dropped into a hole.  It was covered in grass so I did not see it.  I pulled my leg out and noticed it was bleeding quite badly.  Luckily, Isaac is an EMT so I laid down next to the sidewalk and he took good care of me.  Sarah and Joe ran a short distance to the mall to buy bandaging supplies.  Meanwhile, a couple of guys from a nearby hotel came out with an emergency medical kit.  While Isaac wrapped up my leg, I turned away due to my queasy nature.  When I looked up, I was surrounded by a rugby team making awful faces as they stared at my leg.  “Happy Valentine’s Day!” I exclaimed as they slowly continued on the path.  The two men from the hotel were nice enough to give me and Sarah a ride to the NMMU health center, where they poured iodine in the wound and were fully prepared to stitch me up right away.  As they were treating it, Sarah asked, “So… do you recommend stitches?”  The man replied with, “We don’t recommend them – we’re just going to put them in.”  Both of us were nervous about this statement.  Luckily, they couldn’t find the right materials so we told them we would seek care at a private clinic down the road.  Connie brought me to the clinic where they gave me about 20 stitches.  She was a wonderful advocate and support system – it was much like having my mom there.  A plus is that the wound is similarly shaped to the continent of Africa!

I have not had much luck on Valentine’s Day in the past either.  I wonder if it is a coincidence that two years ago on Valentine’s Day I totaled a car on my way back to CSB from a weekend at home.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Goodbye PMB, Hello Durban and PE!

This week is my last week in PMB.  We had Youth Justice on Thursday in which we implemented our first lesson plan.  It was more of just a talk, but the street kids were craving for someone to listen to their story.  We started off talking about role models, but the conversation swerved more toward the hardships that they face.  There has only been one female to show up to Youth Justice during my time in PMB – all the rest are boys.  I took special interest in her because she looked the most weathered out of all of the pavement community I’ve seen, and for the simple fact that she is a woman about my age.  After talking to her using one of the Zulu interns as a translator, I found out more about her story.  Her mother died when she was young and she has never met her father and has no idea who he is.  She hasn’t got identification documents, which the YMCA will help with this week.  She was extensively coughing and she revealed she has tuberculosis.  She has medicine to treat it, but the medicine must be taken with food to work and often times she does not have food.  I told her to come to the YMCA whenever she is hungry because they have extra so she can simply go to the security guard and ask for food.  Her physical condition is terrible.  She is dirty and wears tattered clothing.  Her face is full of scars and her breasts and one of her arms look as though they were once burned quite badly.  She had a fresh wound on the top of her head where her head was shaved.  I asked her about it and she told me that the police had yelled at her while beating her with their sticks simply because she was on the streets.  This is obviously illegal, but the laws are apparently not enforced and there is nothing to stop them.  On top of all of this, she has a four-year-old son that she cannot feed on a regular basis and she can’t be with due to her sicknesses.  She kept saying that she still needs to get a birth certificate for him.  Her story deeply touched me and it is difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that there are millions of others who have gone through similar lives.

I’ve made it this whole trip without locking myself out of my room.  But two days before I left, I managed to do so.  There is a wasp nest on the underside of my windowsill that I had not been aware of, but now I am as I was stung by several bees while I tried climbing in the window.  Charles, the new security guard, ended up saving the day by climbing through the window and grabbing my key.  Besides the bees, I’ve also made another friend.  I just found out there is a rat hole right outside my window that huge rats go in and out of all the time.  So between the bees, the rats, and the geckos, I’ve had some interesting roommates here.

Friday was our “Y-Zone Open Day,” which was a free event for everyone where they could come and enjoy crumping and also buy their monthly or yearly membership.  However, only one kid showed up so there was not much of an event.  The bible study was in full session with about 20 members, which was good.  There were also supposed to be between 60-80 students moving in this weekend, but none had shown up yet when I left on Monday.  Hopefully they will move in soon!  While I was waiting with registration forms for the kids to show up on Friday, Siya came and kept us company.  Since Swazi had gone to Johannesburg to visit her daughter, he had not eaten that day so I went and made him a meal.  Later in the evening when Lindie got off work, we walked to an Indian take-out restaurant just down the street and I tried an Indian delicacy called “briani” (not sure if that’s how you spell it).  They only make it on Fridays because it is such an extensive process to make it.  It is basically rice, curry, and meat mixed together but it takes about five hours because they cook it in layers to get the full flavor.
Siya, the boy who lives outside the sports center at the Y.

Saturday I hired a nice man named Rod as my tour guide for a safari!  We first went to the lion park in Pietermaritzburg where we saw deer, elephants, and lions.  We accidentally got between a mother and child elephant so the mother elephant charged our car and got within about 15 feet of us.  Rod slammed his foot on the gas and we got out of their quick – it was quite the adrenalin rush!  We then went to a private game reserve called Tala Game Reserve, where we saw zebras, buffalo, wildebeest, rhinos, hippos, ostrich, giraffe, and more!

Then we went to a rehabilitation farm called, “The Crafty Duck,” where Rod revealed that he is also a snake guru.  He has worked with snakes and reptiles for years so he took out a huge boa constrictor, which joined us on top of our table at the restaurant while we waited for our food.  The Crafty Duck had all sorts of animals from crocodiles to guinea pigs to snakes to goats.  I got to feed some ostrich!  Their brains are the size of a pea, but Rod told me that they are actually pretty dangerous because they are strong enough to rip right through you.

Rod, my tour guide, was a very interesting man.  He is in his mid-60s and is retired, but has a lot of hobbies.  He is involved at the Crafty Duck, leads tours and safaris with his wife, and is extensively involved in five different Christian mission organizations.  He grew up in South Africa and speaks Zulu, Afrikaans, and English.  In the early 70s he was drafted into the army to try to keep apartheid.  He said the only choice for white males at that time was to join the army or go to jail.  He still has nightmares about it today.  When he was young, he turned to drugs but he claims the Lord changed him and he has led a Christian lifestyle since then.  When talking about safety, he explained some crazy laws that apply to PMB including that if you are a woman alone driving at night, you are allowed to run red lights – you aren’t required to stop for anything.  Rod knows Pietermaritzburg like the back of his hand and was incredibly kind.  In fact he was so kind that he picked me up the next day free of charge for another 4 hours of touring the area.  We saw two different huge waterfalls, went to a street market, and went to the African Emirates (a place where American missionaries stay).

Sunday night I was busy packing up my suitcase when I heard tires screeching for about 5 seconds followed by a huge crashing noise.  I ran outside and sure enough, right in front of the YMCA a baki was on its side.  Luckily the driver was alone and he was fine – he only walked with a limp.  An ambulance was parked nearby so it got there within a minute.
Monday morning Reinhardt took me to the YMCA National Office in Durban.  Mpume met me there when she was done with registering for classes at school.  Thandeka, one of the employees at the national office, was explaining to me the process of extensively waiting in lines all day to register for classes.  It often takes all day.  Thandeka took me on a tour of the national office before Mpume got there a few hours later.  We drank coffee and hung out in the office for a while before we were picked up by Sizwe, Sipho’s nephew, to go to Sipho’s parents’ house where we stayed for the next two nights.  They live in a very nice community that Sipho explained was a white neighborhood before the abolishment of apartheid.  Everyone has been extremely hospitable here.  Mpume and Zama made a delicious dinner, prayed (which involved some beautiful singing followed by kneeling on the ground in praise), and then we spent the evening watching, “Jumping the Broom” and “Wrong Turn 4.”
On Tuesday, Mpume and Thandeka got the day off so that they could show me around Durban!  We took a public taxi, which was pretty much the same as the public taxis in Pietermaritzburg except it was extremely loud.  There was African House music blasting the whole time.  I got many, many more cow offerings in exchange for my marriage, but don’t worry mom - I declined all of them.  We stopped to see the world cup stadium, walk along the north and south beaches, went out for lunch near Ushaka Marine, and went swimming in the ocean!  When we laid down on towels on the beach to bask in the sun, we got all comfortable and within about two minutes a wave came up and soaked all of us along with our stuff.  We laughed and moved back about 10 feet.  In the evening, we stopped by a couple of townships to visit some of their friends and took a public taxi back and had dinner at Sipho’s house.  I met his wife, Kitty and daughter.  Sipho’s cooking was to-die-for.  I told him he could start a restaurant, as he and his wife are interested in converting their house to a family restaurant someday.  We went back to Sipho’s parents’ house for the night.  It was a lovely last day in Durban.
Mpume and I on the beach.

World Cup Stadium

Wednesday morning I had an early flight so Mpume drove me to the airport.  We got stuck in traffic along the way because there was a public taxi accident.  The emergency vehicles travelled on the shoulder of the road, but there were many cars and taxis that had swerved into the shoulder despite the fact that it’s illegal.  So the emergency vehicles were backed up and had to wait for the cars to clear out before they continued.  When we finally drove by the accident, there were people being loaded onto stretchers and several black people still lying in the road.  We continued to the airport, I said goodbye to Mpume, and I had a short flight to PE.  Jim picked me up from the airport and we made our way to Langerry!  The room is wonderful – a beautiful ocean view, kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom, a spacious living room, and our own balcony facing the beach.  I dropped my stuff in flat 6 and went up to Connie and Jim’s place which is right above me to say hello to Connie.  None of my roommates were here yet but there were five or six others that were here.  Though it was a little rainy, we spent the day exploring the area, checking out the beach, watching movies, taking naps, and trying to get the internet to work.  For lunch we stopped at Friends Café, a couple miles down Beach Road.  We discovered they have free wi-fi there and the food and coffee is great so I suspect we will be making many trips there.  At 6:30 we went out to eat at the Fish and Chips place just down the road with Jim and Connie.  Even though I don’t like fish, I ordered fish and chips and to my surprise… I liked it! 
Our new living room!

Me, Sarah, and Britt's bedroom.

We found a jellyfish on King's Beach across the road from our flat.

View of the sunrise from our balcony.

The rest of the group arrived at about 9:30pm.  Jim rented a bus and trailer to pick them up and they came in full force at about 10pm.  It was so exciting to see everyone!  We walked around a little bit and got some cash before the unpacking began.
This morning we woke to hundreds of dolphins swimming in the crashing waves outside our flat.  We all agree that we are the luckiest people alive!  It is another rainy day, but the five of us (flat 6) put on our rain jackets and went to Friends Café for brunch.  We ran into all of the other groups at that mall throughout the morning.  After we ate and used some internet at Friends Café, we went to the grocery store, picked up a few things, bought our first round of South African wine, and headed back to our flat.  Tonight is our first gathering as a whole group.  I am so excited for the adventures to come!