Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Like All Great Travelers..."

...I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen."
                                                                          - Benjamin Disraeli

I’m writing this post from the USA!  I got back on Thursday, 14 June and moved right up to Saint Mike’s on Sunday, 17 June!  It feels weird to be back, but I love summer in Burlington!  It’s so beautiful, and being in slow, friendly Vermont has been making my transition back from abroad easier than if I were in New York. 
I wanted to put up a post about my end of semester travels before I left South Africa, but our internet was shut off the day after I got back, and then I had some computer issues, so here’s my super long post now!  It's long enough without pictures, but if you'd like to check them out feel free to look at my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/samantha.giglio.10!
From the first of June until the 11th, I traveled with my roommates Hallie, Shana, and Brooke, and our friend Emily!  The plan was to go from Cape Town to Bulungula Lodge on the Wild Coast, then up to Lesotho via Tele Bridge, then out of Lesotho through Quacha’s Nek and over to Durban, from where we would fly back home to the Western Cape.  We were going to spend three nights in each place – Bulungula, Mount Moorosi in Lesotho, and Durban.  Like all great adventures, this didn’t go quite as planned (this is especially a guarantee when taking all public transport like we did).  And as one of my favorite sayings goes, the journey is the destination!

On Friday afternoon we got a ride from our friend Peter to the Stellenbosch train station, where we took the train to Cape Town.  After filling up on some killer Indian food at the Middle Eastern Bazaar, we got on a bus and rode 15 hours through the night to Umtata.  Umtata was INSANE.  There were so many people everywhere, and it isn’t somewhere tourists normally go, so we stuck out like sore thumbs with our huge backpacks and confused looks.  The woman Brooke was sitting next to on the bus helped us out, and soon we were on a minibus taxi headed towards Elliotdale.  I really wish that we had taken pictures of every person that helped us on this trip – there were so many and each one seemed like an angel.  When we got to Elliotdale about three hours later, we argued with some drivers for a bit before we found someone willing to take us to Bulungula for relatively cheap.  Soon we were in the back of Trevor’s bakkie, sitting on some 2x4s nailed to the sides of the bed.  After a couple hours of driving, we got out at a beautiful beach and Trevor told us he’d go get the boat, which turned out to be a tiny rowboat.
First all of our stuff had to go across, then Brooke and Emily, then Hallie and me, then finally Shana.  The seat Trevor was sitting on broke as we were rowing across; he hit the floor of the boat then laughed and said, “Too much fat!” while I gripped the sides and silently prayed that the whole boat wouldn’t fall apart and leave me soaking in this unknown bay with my precious camera.  Trevor also took off his pants for this whole endeavor, so we were happy to see him packing them up on the last trip across the bay.  We still couldn’t see the lodge, or really any buildings or people, so we’d been hoping he’d walk us where we had to go.  He walked us the whole hour and a half that it took to get to Bulungula Lodge, and even carried a few things.  At this point we had been traveling for over 24 hours, and so the sight of the lodge would have had us jumping for joy had we any energy left, which we didn’t.  The traveling was completely worth it though, since Bulungula was INCREDIBLE.  It is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing places during my time in South Africa.  It’s in what used to be one of the most remote villages in South Africa, and there is now a community engagement project going on.  This was fascinating to see after my semester in LSCE (Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement), and if you’re interested you can read more about it here: http://bulungulaincubator.wordpress.com/.  They’re doing a great job using sustainable practices and the community’s strengths to make change.  We did a village tour and also “Women Power” where we spent the day with women doing what they normally do – collecting water and carrying it on our heads, collecting sticks and carrying those bundles on our heads, grinding corn, peeling pumpkin, and having lunch together.  We walked with a bunch of kids who were on their way to an afterschool program – they were wearing TOMS!  It was so cool to see my favorite footwear actually benefitting children.  I’ll be sure to support that company for a long time.  When I pointed to one little girl’s shoes, she said “TOMS!!” and pointed at me with her head cocked to the side.  I was happy to nod yes, that I did in fact have them too.  It’s always a surreal experience to find similarities like this when you’re far from home.  My favorite part of Bulungula was one night while we were sitting around the fire with some locals.  They offered to teach us how to drum, so we all picked up drums and we really weren’t too bad.  Then someone started singing Shosholoza – a sort of unofficial South African anthem.  Shana ended up leading the song, with all of us around the fire joining in, singing and drumming.  This went on a long time, until we closed the song, everyone happy and laughing.  To me, it was symbolic of an unspoken connection between the locals and us foreigners that love their country with our whole hearts.  Here’s a beautiful version of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saJmOw0GGyI.  A bit later, one of the girls that work at the lodge came out with crayfish for everyone.  So lekker, enjoying crayfish around a fire by the beach with friends, attempting to speak in a language that has clicks, and discovering an unknown talent for drumming.  What could be better?  We ended up staying four nights at Bulungula, which honestly wasn’t even enough.  I could stay there for a month and still find new things to do!
Next we went to Lesotho, the mountainous kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa.  We had a 12 hour day of traveling similar to the one to get to Bulungula (no boats this time), and we walked across the border of SA into Lesotho that night, much to the surprise of the border control.  We had a ride waiting for us on the other side of the border, although we had to get out of the car and walk at certain points when we were too heavy for the car to climb up the mountains.  We finally got to Mount Moorosi Chalets a couple hours later, and there was a traditional meal waiting for us.  I don’t think any of us will forget it, it was so delicious and necessary.  There was mealie pap, chicken and potatoes, pumpkin, homemade steamed bread, and two kinds of leafy veggies, with sour porridge for dessert.  So simple, but so great.  Our days in Lesotho were mostly spent roaming around, not doing much since we were in such a remote place.  We went to bed at like 8:30 every night because there was no electricity, and we didn’t shower much because there was no indoor plumbing and it was so cold.  Lesotho is known for its pony trekking, since the most reliable mode of transportation around the steep mountain passes are ponies.  We took part in this, and rode ponies through the mountains of Lesotho in a snow storm. SO COOL.  We were not able to leave Lesotho out of the border crossing we intended because of the snow, so we had to make a new plan.  After staring at our trusty map barely illuminated by the dim light of our gas lamp, we decided on a new route.  When we got to the border bright and early the next morning, a police officer took pity on us and drove us in his personal car to the town to catch a minibus to our next stop on our way to Durban.  He organized our transport with a guy that didn’t speak English and decided it would be best for us to go to Bloemfontein first.  We hopped into the car, much more comfortable than what we were used to on this trip, and got to the Bloemfontein bus station.  Since the guy didn’t speak English, we couldn’t tell him that that’s not where we wanted to go.  So we headed in there and found a man that knew another man with a car that could fit all of us to drive us to the taxi rank.  He didn’t even charge us, and soon we were on a minibus to a place called Qwaqwa.  We realized on this drive that we weren’t going to get to Durban that night, and that we needed to find a place to stay.  We asked a girl about our age on the minibus if there was a hostel in Qwaqwa, but she told us to stay with her and get on another bus to Harrismith, as there was an inn there.  Her name meant Lucky in English, and she truly brought us luck.  I don’t know what we have done without her, as we waited in the dark by a series of shacks for the bus to come.  We were warned by another waiting person to stay away from the farther shacks, as that’s “where the criminals go.”  He also asked us if we wanted to go off with a nearby Rasta, to which Brooke politely replied “Oh, no thank you.” 
Finally, the bus came, and we got on. It continued to fill up as more and more people got on, and no one really got off.  It was insanely rowdy.  There were very few women on the bus, even fewer young women, and almost all the men were drunk and still drinking more.  They were very interested in us, clearly not being locals, and Emily was dodging questions from about 6 men at once.  We heard a weird sound and saw a flash of blue, and I got chills.  I was sitting next to Brooke, and she whispered, “Was that a taser?”  A few minutes later we got our answer, as the man in the seat ahead of me was laughing and pointing the taser directly at me.  I tried to keep my cool, but I reallyyy didn’t want to get tased, especially not from less than a foot away!  It was the scariest 25 minutes of my life until he finally got off the bus.  At one point there was another drunk man with a pot belly raving to me about the controversial Julius Malema, but I didn’t even mind because his large body was serving as a useful shield.
We finally got to Harrismith, and Lucky walked us over to the Harrismith Inn, which was probably the status of a Holiday Inn but seemed to us like the finest Four Seasons.  After our time in Lesotho, with no electricity, indoor plumbing, or heat, it felt so good to lie in our fluffy white beds with our fluffy white comforters after taking hot showers.  We even went to Spur (a chain comparable to TGI Fridays, with an American Indian theme?) for dinner, which was a relief after our failed attempts at making our own mealie pap in Lesotho.  The next day we were up bright and early to catch a mini bus to Durban, and we FINALLY got there on the 10th, one day before we had to leave and two days later than planned. 
 Durban was a blast.  We spent the day browsing beachside markets and indulging in Indian food, as Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India.  That night we were just hanging out in the lounge at Banana Backpackers where we were staying, and before we knew it we were having a full blown dance party with the workers and other guests, including one guy who claimed to be a wizard.  If you ever find yourself in Durban, stay at Banana’s.  We were bummed that we were only there for one night because it was such an amazing time!
I’ve been back in the USA for about a month, and while I’ve been having a great summer living in Vermont and doing psychology research at Saint Mike’s, I miss South Africa a lot.  I’ll always remember the time I spent there, and I hope to return in the near future.  I learned so much about myself, my passions, and the beautiful country of South Africa, and I feel completely blessed to have had this experience.
Totsiens vir nou, Suid-Afrika!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Final Countdown

I just realized that this is my last weekend in Stellenbosch.  Next Friday, I’ll be on a bus with my three wonderful roommates and our friend Emily, heading towards Bulungula, Lesotho, and Durban.  I’m so excited to travel, but I can’t believe that it’s almost the end.  I’ve been in denial about it, so now it’s hitting me really hard.  I’ve been trying to cheer up by reminding myself that I’ll be back here some day, and I’ll see my AIFS friends in the states, and my South African friends will come visit too, but I know that it will be different.  Even when I come back to Stellenbosch, it won’t be the same.  I won’t have the same Americans with me, I probably won’t be living here for five months, some of my South African friends likely will have moved on to another part of the country.  Even the city itself will have changed.  I know the only constant is change, but all the “every end is a beginning” clich├ęs won’t push back the date of my flight into JFK!

Since I’m feeling all sentimental, I’m going to share some of my favorite memories from my time in South Africa!

·         Looking up at the night sky in the Cederbergs

·         The day Ginny, Corie, and I found the little plaza we’re obsessed with.

·         Every night at Brazen Head, our favorite bar in Stellies.

·         Helen Watermelons at Trumpet Tree

·         Vensters and rugby games, being a Stellenbosch student!

·         Shark Cage Diving

·         Celebrating my birthday at Celebrate

·         Old Biscuit Mill

·         The time the train stopped and we had to walk home…is that weird?

·         Going out on Long Street in Cape Town

·         Mzoli’s and then Fat Cactus on Cinco de Mayo

·         Ommiberg Wine Festival in Paarl – where I swam in a red wine pool!

·         Going to Mama Africa!

·         Kloofing, and white water rafting

·         Swimming in the Indian Ocean

·         Every animal I’ve seen, even the dassie that bit me.

·         Hiking Table Mountain, even though the fog was too thick to see anything.

·         Knysna with Liz and Corie

·         Langebaan with Ad-Lib, great weekend.

·         Liz attempting to teach Corie and me to make South African food

·         Laid back nights on our excursions, relaxing with the group and a hubbly.

·         LSCE Braais

·         Everything about LSCE and Lynedoch, especially Grade 3.

·         Hanging out in my flat with my lovely roommates

·         Ostrich burgers at Jan Cat’s with my roommates

·         Doing everything on Africa time.

·         When I understand little bits of Afrikaans

·         Celebration of Work for LSCE

·         Game drive in the Kalahari!

·         Sun rise over Augrabies Falls

·         Annie’s midday birthday striptease by the Argentinean rugby team

·         Riding on the back of a tractor filled with grapes

·         Today’s wine tour, specifically Bilton with their amazing wine and chocolate pairings.

·         Every friend I’ve made and every conversation I’ve had. 

I realize a lot of these probably don’t make sense to other people, but it’s nice to see such a solid list of favorite memories (although I bet no one but my parents actually read the whole list)!  I’m sure there are others that I just can’t think of right now.  Some things are so simple, but for one reason or another really stick out.  I’m so sad to leave this beautiful life that I have here, but I’m glad I have the most amazing five months of my life to look back on forever.

Safari in the Kalahari

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to go on a safari.  I LOVE animals, and what could be better than seeing exotic African animals in their natural habitat?  A few weeks ago, I got the chance to do just that!  Our last AIFS excursion was to the Kalahari desert, and I think it was my favorite one yet!!  Thursday night a hugeee overland truck came to pick us up, and we spent the night driving through South Africa, to get to the part that borders Botswana and Namibia.  When we finally arrived, it was Friday morning.  Keith, our awesome trip leader, had our tents set up when we got there, so we just had to move into those.  A couple hours later we went on a walk through the area with two San people (the PC term for “Bushmen”).  They led us through their bush home, showing us which plants were used for what purposes, and telling stories about their lives and people.  The anthropology major in me loved learning that they were still so in tune to their culture.  They still send teenagers into the wild for a short time to learn how to fend for themselves and live in the ways of their ancestors. 
Spent a lotttt of time in this truck.

Healing Tree, with bags of medicine reserved for elders over 60 years.

Wild melon, tasted like honeydew! 

The next morning we woke up early early early to go on our GAME DRIVE!  It was so cool seeing the sun rise as we drove to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is in both South Africa and Botswana.  Our safari was AWESOME.  We saw SO MUCH.  Tons of springbok, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, red hartebeest, steenbok, ostriches, etc.  We saw giraffes which were absolutely beautiful.  We also saw a jackal eating a gemsbok, which I thought was really cool.  On the topic of the circle of life, we saw CHEETAHS KILL AND EAT A SPRINGBOK.  We missed the actual kill, but we did see them finish the job and drag it over to their picnic spot by some trees.  SO COOL.  Finally, we saw a LEOPARD.  Our guide Keith has been in the park over 20 times, usually going on multiple days of game drives each time, and this was only the second time he saw a leopard!  We were so luckyyy.  We tried to find a lion, but we didn’t see any.  It was alright though, because otherwise it would have felt a bit too staged.  After the safari we headed back to camp, and in true South African fashion had a fabulous braai!

Cheetah finishing off a springbok.

Cheetahs eating springbok.


So sweet!

Jackal eating a gemsbok

Gemsbok and springbok

South Africa's national animal looking fly.

Real life Lion King - this is Zazu!

On the third day we had a boat cruise down the Orange River, which is the longest river in South Africa!  We headed to our campsite in yet another national park, and after pitching our tents in record time took a walk over to Augrabies Falls for sundowners.  The falls were beautiful, and African sunsets always make me even more thankful to be in this beautiful place.  However, the highlight was probably Corie dropping one of her crutches down the falls.  Hilarious.
Boat cruise down the Orange River!

Beautiful falls, the Namibian border is in the background!

Africa <3

The next morning the guys woke me up early and we watched the sun rise over the falls.  It was so peaceful and absolutely beautiful.  There's something so incredible about starting the day with the rising sun.  After, we headed back to camp which was overun with monkeys.  Yup.  Then, we went WHITE WATER RAFTING down the Orange River!  So sick!  I’ve been white water kayaking with the SMC Wilderness Program, but never rafting. We were all picturing the typical rafts with a bunch of people and a guide, but it turned out to be two person rafts, which was really cool (and also terrifying because we were completely in control of ourselves).  I was with Corie and we had a blast navigating down the rapids.  We capsized at one point, which was so much fun!  This was one of the best things I’ve done here so far!!

Good Morning, Africa!

Finally we packed up camp for the last time and headed back home to Stellies.  It was an awesome weekend spent with amazing friends, and I’ll always remember it!

Pleased to meet you, Desmond Tutu!

A few weeks ago my friends in a theology class here said they were going to see Desmond Tutu speak in Cape Town.  I found out that others not in the class were tagging along, so I emailed the professor and signed myself up too!  We were expecting a lecture hall, full of people, so we were surprised when we pulled up to a tiny church.  We sat so close to the archbishop, and his lecture was amazing.  Not only is he obviously very intelligent, pious, and deep, but he’s also incredibly funny.  His jokes made him so accessible, and it was great to listen to him speak.  Best of all?  After his lecture, we MET HIM.  It was an honor to take a picture with such a great man, and I feel blessed to have done so.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lovin' Life in South Africa.

(Alternative title: "Sorry America, never coming home")

It seems that South Africa is becoming a part of me, or I suppose I’m becoming a part of it.  Sixty degrees now feels like the arctic, and I recently discovered that my whole life has been spent running on “Africa time.”  While I’d love to believe that I’ll be back here again (absolutely applying for post-grad!) the reality is that I don’t know where my life will take me.  With two months left in this wonderful place, I wish I could slow time down, but I can’t, so I’m going to try to see as much of South Africa as I can before that!

Last week I went on the Garden Route, which is a MUST if you’re ever in SA.  Our wonderful AIFS resident director, Hestea (more commonly known as Mama H), set everything up for us, so all we had to do was show up and enjoy the trip!  Our first day we visited the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn, where we squeezed through some pretty tight spaces with names like Devil’s Post Box, and the Coffin.  After the caves we went to see some ostriches!  Sadly, we weren’t able to ride them as the recent rain would have made it unsafe for both animals and humans.  It was still neat hanging out with the funny-looking birds.  Their eyeballs are bigger than their brains!  One bit me on the shoulder just as we were about to go to…
FAIRY KNOWE!  Our backpacker’s lodge in Wilderness (yes, the town is called Wilderness).  We stayed there for two wonderful nights!  I spent most of my downtime drinking tea and playing Scrabble with my roommates, next to the awesome outdoor bar (yeah I know, who drinks tea when there’s a bar?  I was sleepy from all of our activities!) 
Where we stayed - the oldest building in the area.
 Like KLOOFING!  In Afrikaans, kloof means canyon, and kloofing is when you put on a wetsuit and lifejacket, and basically go whitewater rafting down rapids and such – without the raft!  It was such a blast.  We’d also climb up cliffs, and jump back into the cool water below.  It was a six kilometer trek that we made swimming, sliding down rapids, and sometimes hiking along the bank of the river.  It was honestly one of the best things I’ve EVER done.  (Hey Dad, another reason you should come to SA, you’d LOVE kloofing!)
Jumping off a 5 meter cliff!
Just floatin' around with Halie.  Photo Cred: Shana Glen!

As soon as we got back to Fairy Knowe from kloofing, Ginny, Brooke and I had to quickly change and meet David to go horseback riding!  The horses were all beautiful, although my horse, Nicky, was kind of a jerk (maybe he didn’t like when I called him Nicki Minaj?).  I almost fell off while trotting, which had the potential to be traumatizing, but Ginny and I took it slow after that. 
"Horse People" as Mama H called us. Sounds like a weird mutant.

The next day we went to Knysna and shopped at the waterfront and in town for a few hours. It was absolutely beautiful.  Then we went to KNYSNA ELEPHANT PARK.  I’m in love with elephants.  They’re amazing.  We fed them and hung out with them, and our guides told us their stories.  After the elephants we headed to our home for the next three nights.
I love the way they eat!
Proof of an Elephant Kiss!

ANTLER’S LODGE.  This place was AMAZING.  Our program treats us so well!  That night we had dinner in the beautiful barn/theater on the property.  When we woke up the next morning, we headed to Bloukran’s Bridge, to the highest bungee jump in the WORLD (and second highest due to the recoil!).  I enjoyed a cup of coffee and watched many of my friends throw themselves off the perfectly good bridge.  I think those of us watching and taking pictures were more nervous than the jumpers!  I was nauseous the entire time.  Luckily they all survived, and loved it, but I’m perfectly okay with my decision to stay on the ground.  That night the whole group went to an Italian restaurant named Enrico’s, right on the beach, as the sun was setting.  Have I mentioned lately that I love my life?
View from my room...I'll take it.
Our room, with some extra beds squeezed in.
Eeeee the bridge!

The next day we went to the beach and swam in the Indian Ocean!! Yay!  Later that day we went to a big cat sanctuary.  I got super close to a cheetah (Hey Addie, I heard you thought I was too close - don’t worry she’s been around people her whole life…I had more to worry about from those ostriches!).  We learned so much about the cats, like that when cheetahs are born they resemble honey badgers, which keeps other animals away from them.  I’ve never realized how beautiful leopards are – or how incredibly dangerous they are.  Next we went to Monkeyland, which was AWESOME.  My camera battery died so I don’t have any pictures, but I seriously considered breaking away from the group and getting lost so I could spend a few nights with the monkeys. 
Friends and the Indian Ocean, great day.
She's alive, just snoozin'.
Leopards are so pretty.
Caracal - love his ears!
Hope you like animal pictures - meerkattttttt!

That night we had a talent show, and the birthday boy James was the guest of honor.  There are so many people on this trip that will NEVER forget their 21st birthdays!  Who knew our group had so much…talent?  My personal favorite was probably watching my roommate Hallie teach Mama H how to drink like a man. 

The next day, AIFS was heading home to Stellies, but Corie and I stayed for an extra couple of days with our friend Liz, at her grandmother’s house in Wilderness.  It was incredible, so relaxing and the place was gorgeous.  Her gran is the sweetest person ever!  The first day was eat, sleep, repeat.  The next we went to Knysna, because Liz didn’t think we saw enough of it.  She was RIGHT!  We went to the waterfront again, then to an island, then had a little picnic in the forest, then went to pick up one of Liz’s friends in a “slow town” called Sedgefield and walked along the beautiful, overcast beach with him.  That night Liz taught us how to cook chicken pie and malva pudding – two South African favorites!!

The Heads in Knysna. In love.

Can you think of anything more peaceful?

Ready for dinner cooked by the Americans!

The drive home was beautiful, and part of it was where the video for Coldplay’s Paradise was filmed!  Great song and video, give it a watch/listen HERE! :)
As we started to drive past familiar vineyards, under an incredible double rainbow, Liz asked us how it felt to be back in wine country.  Corie and I looked at each other and together responded,
“It's good to be home.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

TIA. (This is Africa)

WHAT A DAY.  It began, as all Fridays (and Mondays) do, at Lynedoch Primary School, for my LSCE (Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement) course.  Fridays are our theory days, so we sit together with our instructor, Grant, and grow together in our understanding of community development work.  I truly feel like I’m learning lessons that I can apply to the rest of my life, which is a great feeling to have.  Today Grant had us do something a little different for awhile – wash windows!  We did it the “South African way” according to Grant, and used newspapers dipped in water, which it worked surprisingly well!  We had a blast, blaring music and dancing while we cleaned.  Our group shares so much with each other, so many deep insights into South Africa and our respective home countries, and into other topics, that it’s really great to just get to goof off together.  I’m glad we have such an interesting and FUN group! It also felt good to give back to the school in a way that is more tangible than teaching.

We left Lynedoch at about 4:20 to catch our train home.  We boarded the train and sat on it for about a half hour, just waiting at the station, and no one was sure what was going on.  Finally, after what felt like forever, the train started moving, and we soon pulled into Vlottenberg, the station between Lynedoch and Stellenbosch.  We again sat in the station, not moving, for a very long time.  Corie and I decided to break into the leftovers from our lunch – chicken pot pie and rice.  We were using our fingers, and I offered some to the man sitting next to me.  In America he would have been repulsed, but TIA ('This is Africa' if you didn't notice the title), so he shared our impromptu meal with us!  He definitely showed us up with the finger eating.  I didn’t quite catch his name, but he was from Zimbabwe, and very nice.  I love making train friends!

Suddenly everyone was in a tizzy, and we asked someone what was going on.  “This train’s heading to Cape Town now, get off!” they yelled.  Since Cape Town is in the complete opposite direction of Stellenbosch, we hustled off the train.  We found out that it was another hour until the next train came, so about 20 LSCE kids, as well as far more South Africans, decided to walk.  As we were walking, we realized that it was a six mile walk back to Stellies, so we called some local friends to see if they could come pick us up.  No one answered, of course.  But honestly, it was incredible.  We were walking along the road, mountains rising on each side, passing ostriches, wildebeests, and other exotic animals.  It really felt like we were in Africa, the Africa of movies!  TIA!! A minibus taxi pulled up and we tried to pile in it, but it was already too full (which means there were probably already about 10 too many people in the minibus.)  Luckily, two friends called back and said they would come get us.  Liz and Jaco to the rescue!! We kept walking until they pulled up, during which time many bakkies (pickup trucks) and other vehicles offered us rides.  Finally, seven of us piled into the back of Liz’s bakkie (luckily she had a cover on the bed!) and drove the few miles we had left.  We got home almost 2 hours later than we normally do on Fridays, but I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Birthday Blog

I celebrated my 21st birthday a couple weeks ago, and it was the best birthday I’ve had yet!  To start off, I had my service learning class, which I always look forward to.  Friday was the first day we took the train to the township of Lynedoch where we teach and are taught, which we’ll be doing the rest of the semester.  It felt good to arrive at the township by train instead of university vans.  It definitely made me feel like a part of the community instead of just an American swooping in to rescue the township, which is not our intention.  We were doing our usual “check-in” activity with our professor, Grant, when the whole seventh grade class filed into our classroom.  Grant spoke quickly to them in Afrikaans, and then they sang me Happy Birthday!  They finished with the lyrics “God bless you today, God bless you today, God bless you to-dayy, happy birthday to you!”  So sweet, and of course I almost cried.  Turns out my friend Corie, who is placed in seventh grade, had arranged it for me – such a sweetheart!  The rest of the day was also great, filled with stories of the township told by Grant.  They were definitely stories of hardship and sometimes were difficult to listen to, but I tried to take away a message of hope instead of sadness. 

After seven hours at Lynedoch, our driver, Georgio, came to pick up the AIFS students.  He seemed a little apprehensive about us at first, but after four hours in the van and listening to Family Business by Kanye about 150 times, we were all the best of friends!  Everyone was already at the Cederbergs when we got there, having left long before us.  We were greeted with hugs, ‘drinkies,’ and an amazing braai!  We were told we’d be camping, but it turned out to be more like GLAMPING (No, Aunt Kathy, there weren’t makeovers like at Mona’s birthday party).  Later, when I was looking up at the stars with some friends, I realized that the whole group was surrounding me, and there was Mama H, our AIFS director, with cakes and candles for me!  So cute, love her, and everyone in my program!  That night I saw four shooting stars!  It was the best night sky I’ve ever seen, absolutely incredible.

view from the van- awesome!

baboon crossing!

The next morning we woke up bright and early and went for a hike (Wolfberg Cracks, google it – beautiful!!)  It was so cool, we had to climb through the mountain itself.  There were beautiful views too of course.  When we got back to the campsite we went for a swim in a beautiful African river.  It was absolutely incredible.  We went back and got changed, then had a wine tasting!  The wine was amazing, like all of the wine in this beautiful country. 

Mama H and I share a moment on the mountain

I already miss it!

With fellow SMCer Meg in the river!

Corie and wine tasting!

The next day, Sunday, we went to check out some San Bushmen cave paintings – so sick!  They were about 6000 years old.  It’s wild that they’re so well preserved after all this time.  There was also a cave with names written all over it, and it’s rumored that it was a secret meeting place.  The names included at least two former prime ministers of South Africa, D.F. Malan and P.W. Botha, as well as poet C. Louis Leipoldt.  Some don’t believe that the names were written by the men they belong to, but I think I’d like to believe it!

photo cred goes to Corie since I forgot to charge my camera..

Overall, I had the best birthday EVER.  The Cederbergs were so beautiful, probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  There is such a serenity surrounding the area, it’s so easy to feel at peace there, just gazing at the mountains or stars or vineyards.  For most Americans, the 21st birthday is a bit hazy, but mine was one that I will definitely never forget!