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 CafĂ© 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!