Sunday, October 20, 2013

Long Time No See, Internet

So, I'm not going to make excuses - this blog has been dead for a while now. I've been working on a book about my travels, and that has started to take precedence over the blog.

It's not that I'm not writing anymore, as I am, but the inspiration to do the whole blog thing has left me, at least for the time being.

If I do feel the urge to post again, I will, but right now, I'm at the point where I've been in Swaziland long enough that it doesn't feel like living abroad anymore, and so my normal activities, the ones I used to consider blog-worthy because they were abroad, just seem normal. That's a wonderful thing for me, but not so great for the blog.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining this correctly, but that's about it.

Anyways, I'll post if anything becomes of this book! Other than that, I'll be back in the States for a few weeks in December, and I shall see all of you lovely people then!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Safe and Sound

Well, I'm back in Swaziland! I successfully made it through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, back to South Africa, and then back to Swaziland!

I have millions of stories, and I'm working on sorting out my pictures and stuff to post about my adventures, but for now, check out a post about my trip (I feel so special!) from the blog of a Peace Corps volunteer I stayed with along the way.

Anyways, I'm safe and sound, back in Swaziland - getting ready for the last term of school this year. It feels strange to be back at school, not to mention staying in the same place for multiple days in a row. You get kind of used to continuously travelling, and now staying but just seems... strange. It's nice, though, after a month of living out of a backpack!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Where in the World is Diana? MOZAMBIQUE

This post was written in July, and has been automatically set to post in advance. I'm currently on a term break, and am travelling through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.
Well, I've estimated that I'm somewhere in Mozambique right now, which is one of the bigger countries in the area, as you can see:
I'll be heading out of the bottom left it of Malawi, and then pretty much just straight south, towards Beira, Inhambane, and then to Maputo.
After that, you can see that I'll be heading back to Swaziland! Sadly, that means that this month's adventures are almost done - happily, that means I'm almost back to internet access to tell about it!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Where in the World is Diana? MALAWI

This post was written in July, and has been automatically set to post in advance. I'm currently on a term break, and am travelling through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.
Okay, so again, while I didn't plan my travel dates exactly beforehand, I should be in Malawi sometime around... now. For those of you who aren't quite sure where Malawi is, here is Wikipedia's ever-lovely map:
Yup - that tiny little speck there? That's it. Here, have a larger picture:
I'm planning on entering the country somewhere around where it says Nyika National Park, and then just heading all the way south. I'll be stopping at a friend's house in Lilongwe, and afterwards heading out to Mozambique around Blantyre. And there will definitely be a stop along the lake somewhere in there!
After Malawi, it's off to Mozambique!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Where in the World is Diana? ZAMBIA

This post was written in July, and has been automatically set to post in advance. I'm currently on a term break, and am travelling through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.
Okay, so here are the options: right now, I'm either almost in Zambia, in Zambia, or just left Zambia. Regardless, here's an idea of where Zambia is in the world, thanks to Wikipedia:
I'm not sure exactly where I'll be going in Zambia, but I'm thinking that I'm going to headed from Victoria Falls and Livingstone to somewhere around Kasama.
Next up? Malawi!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Where in the World is Diana? ZIMBABWE

This post was written in July, and has been automatically set to post in advance. I'm currently on a term break, and am travelling through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.
Right about now, I should be in Zimbabwe, which is stuck in there right above South Africa. Here, have Wikipedia's map:

The two major cities are Bulawayo and Harare. I'm staying with a friend for a few days in Bulawayo, and avoiding Harare like the plague, just because it's a big city after a bad election. After that, I'm thinking I might head off to Victoria Falls, which is at that weird point in the northwest, just at the end of the lake.

After this, off to Zambia!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Term Break, Whoot-Whoot!

In less than a week, I'll be heading off for another month of adventures away from school! In May, I was in South Africa, working on a farm there, but this break, I'm going to be travelling through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. I have a vague idea of where I'm going, but I'm trying to not plan too much in advance. That's hard, just because I'm excited, and can't help but want to think about my trip.

But, no. No planning. Well, some. Not a lot.

But, for reference, since it's a month long break, and I'll be travelling through four countries (well, six, technically, but I'm not counting Swaziland, and I'll be in South Africa for less than twenty-four hours), it's about a week per country. So, I've got this magical internet thing all set up to post a little bit about the country I'm travelling through around the time that I'll be there, so you can have a little bit of an idea where I am. Then, when I get back, I'll post about my adventures along the roads.

For everyone back in the States, enjoy going back to school - I'm going to enjoy running around Africa for a month :)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sibebe and Dry Season

My link grandma (equivalent of host family if I need somewhere to stay or want to spend a weekend away from hostel at school) lives at the base of Sibebe. Simply put, Sibebe is a really big rock. It's actually the second largest continuous piece of granite in the world. Here's a picture from the ridge across the valley where we went hiking earlier this year... notice how everything is only green in this picture.

A few weeks, ago, I was at my links, and I climbed up. Well, not up the front, but I climbed up to the top of it from the side. Here's what it looked like heading up. Notice how dry it is - bush fires are actually a really big threat around here in winter (now, July, is winter).

It's really interesting to see the pictures side-by-side of the rainy season and the dry season. Water seems to be everywhere during rainy season (October to March... ish), and when it's raining every day, it seems impossible that the water would ever run out.

Waterford gets water from a dam (a little pond) at school, which is filled by run-off from the mountain above us. The dam supplies the water for Waterford, but also for everything in Sidwashini, which we call "S'dwash," the community at the foot of the mountain just below us. And let me tell you - it's not that big of a dam.

Right now, it's the dry season. There is essentially zero rain, and as you can see in the pictures of the mountain, it's dry. This morning, I woke up in hostel, and the water had run out. That's right - none. Taps were empty, toilets wouldn't flush, no showers, no laundry, and so on.

We have five or six emergency tanks, and so the tanks were opened to refill the dam a bit, and now the water is back on. But, they're emergency tanks, and once we use that water, there will be no more. This is where it becomes really important to conserve water, and from the sounds of half hour showers I'm hearing right now, the people who woke up after this whole water off-on situation happened are still living in oblivion.

I have a feeling we're going to run out of water very soon. Dry season in Swaziland is not a joke.

Monday, July 15, 2013

School in Swaziland

Remember this? Still going on. Thanks!

Today, I was running between classes, studying, getting ready for a physics test, just doing the normal school thing, when I realized... I'm doing the normal school thing in Swaziland. Seeing as how school here has finally become "everyday," I figured it's as good a time as any to write about how school here is different from school in America. I think I did this on the first day of school, but I figure I must have a little bit of a different perspective six months later (hopefully).


First of all, there's the seasonal thing. Schools here run year-round, so we have school from January through April, May off, June and July in school, August off, September through November in school, December off. Keep in mind though, summer is December and January, because it's in the southern hemisphere, so I suppose we do get a bit of summer off. Although, that doesn't help the fact that my Facebook was flooded with "SUMMER" statuses in June, just as I was starting a new term... anyways.

The other thing that goes along with schedules is the lack of bells. Culturally, time is less "of the essence" than it is in America, and so showing up for classes a few minutes (not a lot) late is totally acceptable, whereas in America it's really not acceptable whatsoever. You can see it almost ingrained into the timetable by the fact that there are no passing periods at school here. That doesn't seem so strange at first, but when you have siSwati class that ends at 15h20 (3:20 pm in American time), and French class that then starts exactly at 15h20, being late isn't really an option. Add into that the fact that teachers, unconcerned with time, rarely start on time, and you've got a school that consistently runs about five minutes late.

Except for the end of the day. The teachers always make sure we get out on time.


The next thing is the classroom block, which was designed by a man from Mozambique. That being said, the building is not well equipped to handle winter (namely, now) on the top of a Swazi mountain. The windows don't really fill the frames - literally, there is a centimeter gap between where the glass ends, and where it should end, if they wanted the glass to fill the window. If a room should be lucky to have a source of heat, it comes in the form of a pipe that runs along one side of the room. The pipe is filled with water, which is heated, which provides heat to anyone who goes over and wraps themselves around the pipe - but nobody else. And to be fair, the pipes are very rarely working. That being said, compared to America, where people wear their coats, boots, and scarves outside, but not during the school day, at school here, you see people bundled up all day long - and rightfully so. Contrary to popular belief in America, Swaziland does indeed get cold. It's not as cold here as it is in the States, but it's inescapable (there is no real heat anywhere), and so it almost feels colder.

As far as the classrooms themselves, they're just much simpler. Classrooms in America have computers, projectors, document cameras, overheads, SmartBoards, and so on. Classrooms here are lucky to have more than one electrical socket. Chalkboards, and in some (fancy) rooms, whiteboards, are still in style here. To be quite honest, I can't decide whether I prefer classrooms with or without technology. I think that on both sides, the teachers have just kind of adapted to use what they have, and it works out.


To put it bluntly, teachers here take the authoritarian viewpoint of a classroom. "Sir" will get you a very long way. I guess ma'am would too, but my only female teacher is my siSwati teacher, and so we call her "make" (mah-gay). Asking questions in class, an encouraged practice in America, is only "acceptable" here. I can think of one teacher off the top of my head who will stare you down for a solid five seconds, before starting to answer your question.

Oh, and it's not acceptable to call teachers by nicknames of their last names, which is pretty much how we call all of our teachers in America. If I tried to call my geography teacher "Wekky," I think I'd get slapped.


The strange thing is that despite all the pomp and circumstance in the classroom, teachers are much more chilled out with assignments. In America, they rarely accept late work, but here, late work is almost the norm - probably has something to do with the "late" culture.

Other than that, the only difference I can think of is the marked lack of quirky teachers in America. I know that some of my American teachers who like to think of themselves as quirky will be disappointed by this, but they have nothing on the pure weirdness of my teachers here. My physics teacher has the habit of leaving the classroom mid-sentence, going to get something to drink, sometimes changing his clothes, and returning five minutes later. He then picks up exactly where he left off in the sentence, and doesn't even mention the fact that he left. My English teacher regularly makes jokes about things he probably shouldn't make jokes about. My French teacher once walked into class, said simply "J'ai déchiré mes pantalons. Je dois retourner chez moi." (I've ripped my pants. I must go home). He then walked out, and didn't return.

You know, totally normal.


That's all I can think of. School really isn't that different. I mean, we use textbooks in America, and don't really have proper textbooks for most classes here. We have a bell system in America, and class just kind of "starts" here. Teachers in America are chilled about classroom ceremony, and strict about schoolwork, while teachers here are strict about ceremony, but chilled about schoolwork.

The funny thing is, I go to school in Swaziland. And that's normal. And right now, like any teenager in America waiting for summer, I'm in school, waiting for August, which is the term break. Except that instead of working as a camp counselor in my term breaks, I'm going backpacking through six countries in my term break, but more on that in a few weeks...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

International Weekend Field Trip

So, I spent this past weekend in Durban, South Africa, for a geography field trip. That's right - international weekend field trip. This is the kind of thing that they should put in a UWC brochure or something. The point of the trip was to study coastal processes, and so while we were technically in Durban, most of our time was spent on this little beach called Treasure Beach, doing geography research. As you can see in the pictures, the weather wasn't beautiful... it was dramatic, though.

Obviously the best thing to do when there are two meter high waves bashing against these massive rocks all along the coast is to get in and try to measure them with meter sticks. All in the name of the fieldwork!

Thankfully, the weather got better and the next day was slightly more tolerable. And so, here are some pictures of how I spent my fourth of July in South Africa, listening to geomorphology lectures and looking at ocean creatures... not very American, I know, but to make up for it, I'm pretty sure I hummed The Star Spangled Banner all day. It was stuck in my head.

Overall, it was a pretty good trip, although now we have so much work to do with our completed research! Anyways, I'm back in Swaziland now, and will be here for another month until the term ends, and then it's off for another month of adventures during the term break! I hope everyone in the States is enjoying the summer. Just know that I'm enjoying the winter here... silly southern hemisphere.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hitchhiking and Kumbis in Swaziland

(Unless you're too tired to move the mouse across the screen to do so, please comment/like/watch this video? Thanks! And if you happen to be too tired to move your mouse - go to sleep. The internet will be here when you wake up).

This weekend was midterm, meaning that I stayed at my link grandma’s house instead of at school. Something that always comes up for midterm is transport, so I figured I could describe how I get around Swaziland, as shown through the course of my weekend.

So, I left school Thursday around lunchtime. Waterford is on the top of the mountain, so I just start walking down, with two options in mind: either I walk all the way to the highway entrance ramp and get a kumbi from there, or I get a lift from whatever car passes me on the mountain.

 The first car to pass me pulled over. They were indeed going into town, as everyone is, because there’s nowhere else to go, and so I hopped in. Ten minutes later, she dropped me a few blocks from the bus rank, and I was set. America was never a good hitchhiking place, but hitching rides in Swaziland is pretty beautiful. It’s just so easy – you don’t even have to put your arm up, you just stare down passing cars and they stop.

Anyways, I get to the bus rank, and find a kumbi to Mbuluzi. My link grandma doesn’t live in Mbuluzi, but she lives on the way to Mbuluzi. Kumbis just go between two places, so you just have to know which two places your destination is between. My link grandma’s house happens to be en route from Mbabane to Mbuluzi, and so that’s the kumbi I take. These two “endpoints” are written on the front of the kumbi, so if you’re deaf, that works, but the drivers are also yelling their destinations at the top of your lungs, so it’s hard to miss.

“KAMANZINI! MANZINI MANZINI MANZINI! UYA YINI KAMANZINI?” is probably what you hear the most in the Mbabane bus rank, as Mbabane to Manzini is one of the biggest routes. In other places around Mbabane, such as Lobamba, Pigg’s Peak, or Ezulwini, you oftentimes see kumbis in bus ranks and parking lots, their drivers yelling “MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE-MBABANE!” It’s a very distinctly sound, and kind of blends into itself – “BA-BA-NAY-BA-BA-NAY-BA-BA-NAY!”

Anyways, I quickly find my kumbi to Mbuluzi, because, despite contrary belief, the bus rank is also very well organized, and kumbis to the same places always wait in the same area of the bus rank, and the Mbuluzi one is always on this certain side, and, well, it’s easy enough to find. Plus, you hear, “MBULUZI! MBULUZI!”

Now, the kumbi to Mbuluzi goes through Pine Valley, down Pine Valley Road, which is a two lane little road, nice and everything, but windier than anything. It goes up and down, zigzags, and all the rest of it the entire way. The drivers often have a hard time getting the kumbi up one hill or another, so they go hurtling down the down hills, hoping their momentum will bring up the up hills. It’s always an adventure.

Anyways, there’s no action station at my link grandma’s house, but if you want to make it a station (i.e. get off), you just declare “STATION,” or more commonly, “STAYSH,” the kumbi screeches to a halt, you pay your five emalangeni (currently divide by ten to get USD), and get off. Magic – I’m at my link grandma’s house. I doubt that anywhere in America you could get from door-to-door for only fifty cents, unless you lived adjacent to each other.

So, I’m chilling at my link grandma’s house, and that’s all fine and jolly, but I needed to go to Mpaka Refugee Camp on Saturday. Not sure how familiar you are with Swazi geography, but that’s kind of a haul, and I was supposed to be there at nine o’clock in the morning. Let’s just say that I had very little confidence in my ability to be punctual, but I was going to try.

At six-thirty, I was standing on the side of the road in Pine Valley, thumbing for rides. There’s such a thick fog in the mornings that standing on the side of this windy little road that people go zipping down is essentially asking for death, but a kumbi came along soon enough, and I hopped in without any problems. It was definitely an interesting kumbi though – it is indeed wintertime right now, and so there was ice covering all the windows, including the windshield, and they hadn’t bothered to scrape any of it off. The side door kept flying open at inopportune times, and the exhaust pipe could be heard banging on the road as we bumped along. This ride was also a reminder of the fact that kumbis are never full. There were six of us sitting in two seats during this particular ride, and nobody even gave it a second glance.

Anyways, we bump along into town, give the driver our five emalangeni as we get off, and everyone goes off to whatever they’re doing in town, or off to seek their second kumbi. My second kumbi on this grand trek to Mpaka was the famous Mbabane-Manzini route, and so I had no problems finding one. We waited about five minutes for it to fill up, as kumbis won’t leave the bus ranks until they’re full, and then we were off.

The drive to Manzini was pretty chilled. It was a nicer kumbi, and there were only as many people as there were seats, and soon enough, I was in the Manzini bus rank. Now, the Manzini bus rank is much bigger than the Mbabane bus rank, and has a reputation for muggings and the like. On the other hand, I much prefer the Manzini bus rank, as there are lots more people, entertaining things to look at, and louder drivers.

“SITEKI! SITEKI! SITEKI!” And I found my kumbi. Mpaka is in between Manzini (pronounced Man-zee-nee, clearly) and Siteki (pronounced steh, as in electric, and then gee, with a hard g – steh-gee, not so clearly, if you don’t speak siSwati).

Now, the challenge at this point was that I had never before taken a kumbi to Mpaka (pronounced mm-pah-gah – if there’s a k without an h after it, you pronounce it as a g), and as towns are never explicitly labeled, I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to tell that the cluster of building we went through was Mpaka. Fortunately, we pulled to a stop at one moment, and I say a sign for Mpaka High School, and so I hopped off. Getting off the kumbi, I started to ask another man who had gotten off if he knew which way I should walk from here to get to the refugee camp, but then one of the Peace Corps volunteers who lives at the camp and knows me came up, and asked what in the world I was doing all the way out at the camp. Anyways, I thanked the first man, talked to the Peace Corps guy for a few moments, but he was hopping onto the kumbi I had just left, so he had to go. He pointed me down a long dirt road, with no end in sight, and I started walking.

Let me make this clear – no matter how great kumbis and hitchhiking is, that only works when there are kumbis and cars where you’re going. The biggest mode of transportation in Swaziland is by far your own two feet. So, I made us of them, and walked down this long road, until it ended, and then I turned onto another long, dirt road, until that ended, but by then I knew where I was, as I’ve been to the camp before, and recognized the gate.
As this is getting to be much too long of a post, I’ll skip the bit about what I did at the camp, and save that for later.

My way getting back from Mpaka to Mbabane was much easier. I hitchhiked from the camp to the main road with some random Swazi guy who refused to believe that I wasn’t Peace Corps. He wasn’t headed towards Manzini, so I hopped out and promptly got another ride in another carful of Swazis headed for Manzini. There were two loud, obnoxious guys in the front, and a silent girl in the back next to me who just kept doing her nails. They were all really keen on the fact that I could speak siSwati though, which they alternatively laughed at, and were amazed at.

Anyways, they dropped me in Manzini, and I found my way to the bus rank, which is easy enough – follow the crowds. I jumped on a kumbi from Manzini to Mbabane, and then one in Mbabane back to Mbuluzi. A few minutes down the road, I call out “staysh” and the kumbi pulls to a stop, right in front of my door. I’m never going to get over how convenient this is.

Well, that’s it! Hitchhiking and kumbis is pretty much how everyone gets around in Swaziland, with a lot of walking thrown in there. America complains about greenhouse gas emissions – and then you see hundreds of people driving along, with hitchhiking as a lost art. Sometimes I think that America is more backwards than Swaziland.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Physics: Swazi Style

In Physics class today, we were talking about gravitational fields. For those of you who aren't into physics, the main idea is that every object has a gravitational field, and objects within that field are attracted to it, at least a little bit.

Let me paraphrase the lesson. Now, you have to hear this in the strong Ugandan accent of our wonderful physics teacher:

"Now, if there is a very massive particle, he is like the very powerful chief. A very powerful chief has much influence for the people in his chiefdom. But! If you are what? Far away! Then, you may choose to roam further away from the chief, and then you may choose to do what? Insult him! You may even dare to insult him, without fear of getting forced to go back to the chief to be punished! If you are outside your chief's gravitational field, then you may hurl insult after insult without fear of being hit! Remember though, the king will have a very big gravitational field, so if you want to hurl your insults at the king without being hit, you will have to go where? Far away!"

I mean, I guess the complicated graphics and computer simulations worked for physics classes in America, but here, we operate solely with paper, pencils, a board, and some metaphors about the local chiefs and king. I guess these are the benefits of learning physics in the last absolutely monarchy in the world...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Day In The Life

I did this a while ago, but it's been a while, so I figured I'd just write a "life-in-Swaziland-at-UWC" post. An overly detailed post, but hey, maybe you're interested.

06:45 - Multiple alarms go off. It's a little bit chaotic in my room at exactly six o'clock, and while I'm a light sleeper who doesn't need four alarms, I'm just paranoid that three of them won't go off or something. That never happens, and so I always have four alarms going off at exactly the same time.

Anyways, I wake up my friend from India, and five minutes later we're walking out of hostel in our sweatshirts and hats. Mind you, it's winter in June in the southern hemisphere, and while I refuse to call the daytime weather "cold," at six in the morning, before the sun comes up, there's frost on the ground and it is quite cold.

We're not up at six because we're crazy - six o'clock is running time. I normally run up the mountain and down, and then run a mile or two around the field, but I donated blood yesterday, and was told not to do physical activity today, so I figured running was pushing it enough, and that I didn't need to involve any mountains today.

Side note, to anyone who doubts the idea of donating blood in what is technically considered a third world country with an AIDS rate of one in three, the lady got the needle into my vein on the first try. That's a lot more than can be said about blood drives in America.

06:45 - Done with running! We head back to hostel to shower and get ready for the day.

07:00 - I get ready really fast, and so right at seven, I head down for breakfast. The Emhlabeni, my hostel, is across campus from the dining hall, so it's a little bit of a walk, but campus isn't that big, and I get there pretty fast. Breakfast this morning was corn flakes with hot milk (they serve cold milk, but hot milk is much more popular here - it's an acquired taste), papaya, or "po-po," as it's referred to, toast, and a biscuit (biscuits in the American "biscuits and gravy" sense, not in the British "cookie" sense - I think I've been at an international school too long when I start clarifying things like that). Anyways, it was pretty good, and the hot tea was welcome, as it is every day in winter.

I  still can't get over how it's winter in June.

08:00 - My first class of the day - geography. My teacher is from Tanzania, and his accent adds an extra layer of difficulty into the lessons. As he puts it, "You cannot talk in my class! I don't speak good English, and half the class doesn't speak good English! We barely understand each other, much less with you talking in the background!" We're preparing for a field trip to Durban in a few weeks, so we were preparing stuff for our fieldwork there. And yes, Durban, South Africa. International field trips, yo.

08:40 - Maths! I've started calling it "maths" instead of "math," which makes me feel like a traitor to America, but hey, it's hard to resist. Anyways, we're working on trigonometry proofs in calculus. Yes, maths is the same everywhere around the world. It's not any more exciting in Swaziland than it is in America. Well, other than the fact that everyone here uses Casio calculators instead of Texas Instruments (I cling to my TI-84+ like it's a mathematical life vest. Casio confuses me).

09:20 - siSwati class. We go through some translations, and then just talk in siSwati for a while. I have nothing more to say about siSwati class, other than that uma ngikhuluma siSwati nebangani name, ngijabulile. Lesinye sikhatsi, ngiyasokola, kodvwa manje, ngati emagama kakhulu.

10:00 - Break time! This is kind of a weird concept that hasn't entered into American schools. In America, we have five minutes passing between classes. Here, classes start exactly as the last one ends, and you are just one or two minutes late all the time, but then there's a forty minute break right at ten o'clock every day. It's nice, and we get a snack, which is always welcome. Well, most of the time. Today is was a roll and hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is strange here too - it's not sweetened in itself, you have to add sugar. That might just be the school cafeteria though.

10:30 - Time for community service. A few of us headed over to the Mbabane government hospital, picked up a disabled guy who stays in the ward, and took him to the park. He's not properly cared for in the hospital, and so we take him out so that he doesn't have to sit in the same room the whole time. He doesn't speak, and doesn't really respond, but we try to entertain him, as you can definitely tell when something makes him happy. Today, we spun around on the carousel thing with him.

Let's just say that didn't make him happy.

Then, he went to take a nap, and so we chilled on the swings for a while. Some creepy guy yelled across the parking lot whether me and my friend fro South Africa wanted a push, to which we replied a very strong, "Cha!" Cha means no, and is pronounced more like "ta" that "sha," because "c" in siSwati is a click, not a sound that exists in English.

12:40 - We returned to school for a lovely cafeteria lunch. Today, I had pap, which is corn with the yellow shells taken off the kernels, then boiled and mashed up like potatoes. It's more rubbery than mashed potatoes, and not really my favorite food, but I'm sick of rice, which is the only alternative.

13:20 - French class! We practiced introductions for speeches in French, and then headed out a bit early. Compared to America, where teachers NEVER let you out before the bell, classes let out early quite often here.

14:40 - English. We talked for a bit about an assignment, and then surprise - we got out early!

16:00 - I headed over to the IT center to set up the computers for a computer class that I teach to some kids from SOS Village, an orphanage in Sidwashini, right by the school. They're super beginners are computers, which is really cool, so today we were working with the freeware version of Excel - LibreOffice Calc. We were just doing simple functions and graphing, but it's interesting to see what questions they had - what does the shift key do? How do I type a plus sign? How do I highlight the box?

17:30 - We wrapped up the computer class and headed over to the dining hall for dinner. In line at the dining hall, I got stopped by my second year from Mozambique, who asked if I wanted to come to supper club. Supper club is this thing where four or five students go to this one English teacher's house for supper, just to get away from eating in the cafeteria, at least for one meal. I enjoy it, and always go when invited, as it means several things: soda, nice glasses, a normal table, and conversation that doesn't revolve around school. Today, he also made us soup, which was a lovely bonus. To be honest, any food other than the cafeteria good brightens my day considerably. Conversation revolved around America's position in the world compared to China, and sex as a means to find religion. Definitely better conversation than "school," and it always amuses me that it's totally normal to have dinner a teacher's house here.

19:00 - Supper club wrapped up, and I headed over to the IT center, which I supervise on Thursday nights.

And that's where I find myself right now, about to start my homework. I hate to burst any bubbles about whatever Utopian life you imagine I have, chilling in Swaziland right now, but there's something you should know. While it is summer in the States, with warm weather and without school, it's currently winter here in Swaziland, and school is in session. I have siSwati to study, a math test tomorrow, a geography test next week, an English essay to write, and Physics formulas to study. Not saying that school isn't great and all, but I assure you, the next four hours of my night hold nothing entertaining enough to write about. And so, I'll summarize.

19:30 - Work on homework in the IT center.
21:30 - IT center duty ends, lock up the IT center, head back to hostel.
22:00 - Dance to some Indian music in the corridors, complain about life, hug and laugh about how complain-y we are, make some tea, complain about homework, procrastinate, and then finally go work.
24:00 (or 00:00, depending on how you look at it) - Give up on work and go to sleep. It's another long day ahead of me tomorrow!

Actually, tomorrow is a special day, and an really abnormally long day, but that's for another post.

And so you have it - a day in the life of a Waterford student!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Climbing Bulembu

Yesterday, as what we call one of our "Swazi Outings," a group of us from Waterford went to climb Bulembu, the highest mountain in Swaziland. To be fair, it's not that high (about 1800 meters), and the entire ascent took less than two hours. The way down was even faster.
Anyways, the hike was beautiful, but the best part was getting to the top and doing the illegal border hopping between South Africa and Swaziland. The border kind of runs along the peaks of these mountains, and so the border is oftentimes at the top of the hill, which is a nice reward for all the climbing you've just done.

As you can see in the picture, the border fence was particularly strong, secure, and well maintained.
The only logical thing to do when faced with such an unsecure border is to stand with one foot in Swaziland and one food in South Africa, obviously. The left side of the picture is Swaziland, by the way.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

UWC Day at Waterford Kamhlaba

(Open up this video in a new tab, let it play while you read this post, and I will love you. I might even marry you if you "like," the video, comment on it, and send it to some friends! The more audience support it gets, the more likely I'll be to go to India!)

Being at a UWC is a constant culture mish-mash. I oftentimes look around the dinner table and see my friends from Malawi, India, Lesotho, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Zambia, Uganda, and more, all around one table. I'm currently in a musical with people from Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Denmark, and so on. My physics teacher is from Uganda, my siSwati teacher is from South Africa (ironically), my geography teacher is from Tanzania, my French teacher is from Cameroon, and so the list goes. That's kind of just how UWC works.

But, once a year, we have what we call "UWC Day," where we have this big festival and performances and parade to share our cultures (and food). (This was before all the South Africa stuff, by the way, I'm just posting it now).

First, there's a bunch of performances outside. There wasn't an America performance, (Next year, I tell you. Next year.) but I did an Indian/Bollywood dance. After a bunch of dances and performances, each country has a stall where they sell food from their country, and we just kind of run around eating food and taking pictures in our national costumes. I just chilled in my Indian dancing outfit, as I didn't really have anything "America" that I was dying to change into.

This is the Ethiopia stall, selling their food.
Yup! It was a pretty chilled day.

South Africa Travel Diary 5 - Johannesburg: The Conclusion

(So, I have this idea that healthcare isn't screwed up because we lack qualified doctors, it's because the infrastructure is messed up, and needs to be revamped. Although to be fair, I'm just a teenager, and while I've worked in the government hospital in Mbabane, I would love the chance to see how it works around the world. Watch this video to help me go to India to work on this? Thanks!)

By this point, I was quite familiar with buses. I boarded my third overnight bus in a row, from Durban to Johannesburg. It left at what normal humans consider an acceptable hour, but was to arrive at Johannesburg's Park Station at three in the morning. I was to catch another bus at noon, and wasn't exactly looking forward to spending nine hours in a place that is known for its muggings.

She got on the bus at the third stop, and promptly asked me, “What is a white person like yourself doing on this bus?” I hadn't noticed, but I guess I was the only one. I'd stopped thinking about things like that a long time ago, but I was well aware that most of the people around me hadn't.

“Why are you not taking the fancy coach bus?” she demanded.

“Well ma'am, I'm just going to Johannesburg. Both of the buses leave from the same place and go to the same place. Why would I pay more for the in between?”

Well, that sent her into a fit of uproarious laughter, which got both of us a Sesotho scolding from a very tired, crabby man. There's nothing to make you bond with a stranger faster than somebody yelling at you both in a language neither of you understand. She sat down next to me and we started talking. I listened to her stories of being a Zulu during Apartheid, of how she had grown up in Bantu education, but was thrown into an English university after Apartheid ended. While it was too dark to see her face, I could her the pride in her voice as she described how she was the first black student to graduate from her university after Apartheid.

Now, I'm a teenage girl, and I probably should be more careful. I should probably be more wary of strangers, and decline their invitations, but I can't help but see them as just people. So, when the bus pulled into Park Station at three in the morning, instead of settling onto a bench to wait out my day, I accepted this woman's invitation to come to her house for a warm breakfast, a clean bathroom, and a safe place to spend the morning. She had two daughters about my age, and we could hang out, and then her husband would drive me back to catch my second bus. My alternative was nine hours in a bus station, so I said yes.

It was a simple house, with just three rooms. She described it as “third or fourth class down, nothing fancy, but not too bad.” A warm breakfast meant Wheet-Bix with hot water instead of the usual milk,
but it was warm, and you can serve worms to a weary traveller and it'll still taste good. Her daughters were amazingly welcoming, considering that their mother had brought a complete stranger into the house at four in the morning. They just kind of rolled over on the couch and gave me a spot, as if it was an everyday occurrence. I was shown how to flush the broken toilet by hand and told where the cups were in the kitchen. Within five minutes, I felt like I was already a part of some this family, who had so suddenly welcomed me into their home.

At nine in the morning, the house went into a flurry, as it was time to go to the Kingdom Authority Bible Church, and so I went. Not a religious person, I was a little bit wary, but you could hear the singing from a block away, and it was such a joyful noise that I couldn't help but smile.

We ducked inside during a song, but the moment the song was over, they asked all the new people to stand. I would have liked to hide, but being the only white person there, and having gotten the feeling that I was the only person who had been there in a long time, that was hard to do. With all eyes on me, I stood, and then promptly sat. Then, they asked us to come to the front and introduce ourselves, and after much nudging from my new friends, I walked up.

"I'm Diana, I'm from Chicago. Thanks for having me." My greeting was met with a round of emphatic "HALLELUJAHS" from the old ladies in the back. About a million people came up to shake my hand, and then I went to sit back down, a bit shaken myself.

Now, I'm not a religious person, and when the whole church went into prayer, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. Compared to every single church I'd ever been to in America, where you pray in your head, here, the preacher starts screaming, and people are praying out loud. Not together or anything, they're all just yelling to God, however they're feeling it. Some people are on the ground, some are kneeling, and this one woman is standing on her seat, reaching for the heavens.

Now, this had no signs of stopping, and I'm just kind of awkwardly standing there when I glance at my watch and realize it's 11:45. I have a bus that leaves from the airport to Swaziland, leaving at noon. The family had told me that their house was about half an hour away from the airport.

Oh my.

I elbow the sister of the family, and tell her I need to go. She says that I'll make the bus, but I insist on going, seeing as how the school bus is kind of a "you-need-to-catch-this" kind of bus. Eventually, she understands my urgency, and goes to get her father, who is at the front.

So, we slip out of the church amidst the prayers, and their dad goes to get the car, while the sister and I run through the neighborhood to get my bag from the house. I grab the bag, hug the mother, the woman from the bus, goodbye, trying to thank her for everything they'd given me, while not taking too much time, and then we dashed out the door for the car.

I've never seen somebody drive so fast. Correction: I've never held onto the edge of the seat so hard while someone drove me so fast. Not even in a taxi in Amman, or a kombi in Swaziland - this was much faster.

We pulled into the airport, and I jumped out of the car. Another woefully inadequate, rushed thank you, and I was running through the airport. I get to the bus rank, jump onto the school bus, and not thirty seconds later, the bus pulls away.

That's a narrow escape if I ever had one.

And, I suppose that ended my adventures in South Africa. The school bus back to Swaziland was normal, and I got back to school safe and sound. Waking up the next morning was bizarre though, thinking, "Twenty-four hours ago, I was at some random family's house in Johannesburg, going to some random church, and now I'm back at school. Darn."


Monday, June 3, 2013

South Africa Travel Diary 4 - Jeffrey's Bay Part Two and Durban

(I know spam-like internet contests are annoying, but dying from preventable diseases is more annoying. If you would watch this video to help me go to India to work with people there to get better healthcare, that would be wonderful. Thanks so much!)

May 22nd: Leaving the farm was tough, sure. But, in a rare occurrence when travelling, I was also returning. While I don't like to visit the same place twice, a scheduling screw-up sent me back to Jeffrey's Bay for a few days, and to be honest, I couldn't complain.

I assure you, there's nothing like a few familiar faces when travelling. Not all the time, but it was nice to know, when I was leaving the farm, that I knew some people where I was headed.

Sure enough, walking into the backpacker's was like walking home. Well, if my home were filled with hippies and surfers, but hey, close enough. I didn't have R40 to spend on that night's dinner, but I had some pasta and feta, and so I just cooked for myself, and sat down at a full table. It's nice to eat with people, even if they're just random people.

My only problem now is that I've marked these few days back in Jeffrey's Bay as "work days," so I'm hitting the siSwati books, and trying to stay away from the beach (spoiler alert, I failed at that).

May 24th: Today was (oops) a beach day. I checked out of the backpacker's around eleven, and then just went to the beach. I'm not a huge beach-y person, but I've really enjoyed it this month.

My bus didn't leave until 5:30, but I was kind of itching to get on the road again, and it's a couple of miles walk to the gas station where the bus was going to get me, and I have a tendency to get lost, so I figured I'd start walking at 3:30 and leave myself some time.

Typical me, I did indeed get a bit turned around. I'm really, really bad at directions. I wasn't really lost though, as I was on the right street, but realized I was going the wrong way. So, I turned around, hoping that nobody saw my about face, as that makes it really obvious that you were lost.

About two seconds later, I get stopped by two cops. Darn, I think. Apparently I've got the "tourist-so-badly-confused-they-need-police-help" look. Ugh.

Instead, they asked me if I had noticed where some other guy had turned off the main road. I apologized and said that I hadn't really been paying attention, but I was looking for St. Francis Road, and wanted to check that I was (finally) going in the right direction. So, while they didn't stop because I was confused, the one cop gave me this really long, weird list of directions. The other cop just pauses and goes, "Get in."

Apparently the guy they were chasing wasn't very urgent.

We then had a very bizarre conversation - it went like this:
Me: Thanks for the ride.
Cop: So, where are you from?
Me: I live in Swaziland, but I'm from the States.
Cop: Oh! I've always wanted to go to England! Where are you from?
Me: Um, Chicago.
Cop: Now, does it actually rain all the time in London?
Me: Sure. Every day. Twice a day, actually.
Cop: Really? Wow.

May 25th: The last twenty-four hours since the cop's ride have been pretty crazy. When I got onto the bus, I sat next to this adorable old Chinese lady. Women are so much nicer to sit next to on long bus rides, as at least we're aware of how much space we're taking up, while guys just kind of sprawl out.

But, to my complete aggravation, at our first stop, Port Elizabeth, the nice lady got off, and was replaced by this big, loud, annoying guy, who kept on making politically incorrect comments on purpose and then laughing at his awful jokes. I normally enjoy meeting people on buses, but this guy? No. I mean, when you introduce yourself with, "You study in Swaziland? We send all our retards to Swaziland. Oh, and weed. We get our weed there. Swaziland is the Mexico of South Africa. Ha. Ha. Ha." Well, I'm not exactly inclined to like you.

And that sort of commentary went on for the next ten hours. At one point I fell asleep, and when I woke up, he was still talking. When the bus pulled into the station, I can't deny that I was happy to get off.

But, instead of relief, I was pretty frustrated rather quickly. The advantages of bus ranks is that they're usually in the city center, and it's easy to walk to things, but for some reason, I just couldn't figure Durban out. It was empty, weird, no signs, no nothing.

I originally didn't want to go the beach, as I was sick of looking at sand and rocks and waves, but when you're vaguely lost in a new city, the beach is usually a good starting point, so you can at least figure out which way is up.

It was easy enough to find, and when I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were things going on, so it wasn't just sand a water. It turned out to be a really nice place to spend the day, with jetski competitions, surfing relays, skateboarding contests, sand soccer, BMX riders, and sand castle artists.

And I found a place that sells ice cream for one rand. I haven't eaten anything else all day. My justification is that the lady will refill my water bottle, so it's one rand water and ice cream, so yeah. Good life!
In Durban, there's this sidewalk thing along the beach, and it's actually the best people watching ever. There are these guys in big headdresses pulling carts for rides. There are the wanna-be thugs, which are in two groups - the kids and the thirty-year-old men. There are skateboarders and surfers and old women in saris and young women in burqas, balding men holding babies, trophy wives with husbands carrying their shopping bags, homeless guys carrying their own shopping bags, vendors ringing bells, kids chasing pigeons, and everything in between.
After all this time on the beach this month, I'm really going to miss it. There's the breeze, the smell, and the openness of it. It makes the rest of the world just seem claustrophobic. I'll be back in Durban in July for a school trip though, so no worries.
(A few hours later, at the bus rank): A man just walked up with a coconut, pulled out a massive knife, declared it too small to be useful, and started asking everyone if they had an axe. I quote, "What kind of Zulu are you if you don't have an axe?"
At this point, let me quote exactly what I wrote in my journal. "I was about to wrap up this whole adventure diary, but then I realized that the adventures won't end until I'm back at school. And even then."
I had about twenty-four hours left travelling. I think I expected it to be boring. I couldn't have been more wrong.
And, off on another bus to Johannesburg!

South Africa Travel Diary 3 - WWOOF (The Farm Stuff)

(While you're reading this post, click on my video and let it play on mute in the background while you read. Thanks for helping me get the chance to go to India!)

May 7th: I got picked up at Ubuntu by the guy who owns the farm I was going to work at early in the afternoon. He was surprised at how I had just one backpack for the month, but the back of his truck was so full already that I’m not sure I could have fit anything more. After a brief stop in the nearby town of Humansdorp, we headed out for the farm.

It was an absolutely gorgeous drive, through all of these different landscapes, and then finally back into the mountains. I feel so spoiled, just because everywhere I go is so beautiful.

We drove for about an hour on paved roads, and then turned onto the dirt roads. For a while, the dirt road was nice and all, as smooth as a dirt road could be. Then, we turned again, and the road became more just two ruts, winding along the side of the mountain, almost clinging to the edge of the rocks. Other than the fact that he was easing the truck along it, I might not have recognized it as a road.

Have I described this truck yet? It’s an old, whitish-beige Land Rover pick-up thing. You can hardly have a conversation in the cab because the vents are just open, and it’s so loud. The windshield is all cracked, and the doors take some strength to open. But, apparently it made the journey to and from Ethiopia from South Africa on quite the adventure ten or fifteen years ago.

As the road got worse, we had to slow down, meaning it became a bit quieter, and we could finally have a proper conversation. As we passed places, the farm owner described them to me. We passed a little farm cottage that he said used to be inhabited by an old couple, until the husband died trying to cross a flooded river in his car. Further down the road, there was a paddock full of what looked to be pretty wild horses, and he said that there were some brothers who came to see the horses a few times a year, but other than that, they were indeed wild.

Anyways, we finally got to their farm. I don’t know how to emphasize this enough: THE FARM IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, AND IT IS WONDERFUL. The farm itself is about three thousand acres of mountains, but there’s kind of a central portion that’s a normal farm, surrounded by all the rest of the property which is essentially open land, sometimes used for the cattle to wander and graze. It’s strangely isolated, but not lonely. There are four horses, about twenty-five cows, a slew of chickens, and some pygmy fowl who seem to have domesticated themselves. As far as people, there’s the farm owner, his wife, their three kids, and then two workers from Malawi who also live on the farm.

After about an hour of settling in, the farm owner showed me around the property, explaining a bit of how things work. Some of it just made me happy. First, there’s an electric wire around the vegetable patch to keep out the baboons. I mean, duh.

Also, make sure to close to gate, to keep out the bush pigs. For years, I’ve been climbing over fences in the States constructed to keep pigs in, and suddenly I’m closing gates to keep wild pigs out. It’s strange how these things turn around.

Next, it was on to how to “feed” the animals. I put “feed” in quotation marks, because the ritual was more of a ritual than a necessity. They got about a handful of feed, as most of their diet was scrubs and grass. In a climate like this, where they can scavenge and find food year-round, especially on such a big property, it makes so much sense to not feed them. Sustainability!

Okay, let me describe the house I would be staying in for the next two weeks a little bit. It’s a house, but a very basic one. Everything runs off of solar power, and minimal solar power at that, and very few lightbulbs. There’s a light in the bathroom, and in the kitchen-dining-room-living-room, but not one in my bedroom (we put one there a few days later). I tended to use candles a lot of the time, because at night, when there’s no sun to refill the battery, the power runs out really fast.


So, water comes down from the mountain into the dam, from where it is piped into the house, and all over the farm. It’s all gravity-powered, which is pretty cool to think about – no pumps for anything! Behind the homestead (my house and the family’s house), there is something called a donkey boiler, which is where we heat the water. It’s a small, black metal tank, and a place for a fire below it. I mean, it’s really easy – you light a fire below the tank, keep it going for an hour and a half, and voila – hot water! Definitely makes you appreciate a hot bath, as I would learn over the course of the next two weeks.

May 11th: Today was my first day off. Days off are so much better when you’ve earned them – seriously. I’ve spend the past couple of days planting oats, building fences, and various other tasks. It’s been great, but hey, nobody ever complained about a day off. I have to admit though, it’s been nice to be working. I’ve missed having a job ever since I came to Swaziland.

Anyways, in the morning, I went for a drive to another nearby valley with the farm owner and some of their family friends who were staying for the weekend. The woman is quite into nature, and can give you the Latin names for pretty much any species of plant in the Cape region. The man is more interested in the social history of the region, and has written a book about the area around where the farm is.

In fact checking for the book, we went to go visit this old farmer in this other valley. When we arrived, it was like plunging into some other world, where suddenly everything was old-time Afrikaans. This continued until the farmer realized that I spoke English, at which point everyone tries to switch into English, but it was so broken, and I wished that they would have continued in Afrikaans. But, eventually I was glad to hear English, so that I could understand the farmer’s stories. I wish I could remember them, but they were these little stories about so-and-so doing this-and-that, and I think it would be terribly boring to read about, but it was amazing to sit in this random farmhouse in South Africa, and listen to some Afrikaaner tell stories about his farm and “how it used to be.”

Getting back to the farm, I decided to go for a walk, as the farm is so big, and the only way to see most of it is just to go for a walk.

So, I’m walking along this stream, and suddenly it feels like America. There was this grove of poplar trees, and just some normal, overgrown grass on the trail, and a bunch of undergrowth that was bizarrely like buckthorn at home. Mostly though, it was the smell. Places have smells, and for about a ten foot bit of the path, it smelled exactly like the forest preserves at home.

The only other place I’ve found like that is the closet under the stairway to the lightbox in the assembly hall at school, which smells distinctly like my grandparents’ basement.

Anyways, that night for dinner, we had a braai, essentially a barbeque, which I’ve found is quite a bit social event in South Africa. I felt like I was a camp counselor again though, which was hilarious. The kids were really funny. Dinner was really fabulous – sweet potatoes and potatoes and salad. It was really simple, but it was warm, and somebody else cooked it.

May 12th: Back to work! This morning was quite fun. The owner’s wife runs a little vegetable selling business, and there were a bunch of orders to organize before she brought them into town tomorrow. We spent all morning going through the vegetable garden, getting whatever we needed, and organizing everything into nice little bundles.

The highlight of was my day was when, that afternoon, we took the truck to the other side of the farm to pick some flowers, which she apparently also sells. The view from the certain peak we went to at this certain time was astounding. I can barely describe it. There are all these mountains, kind of rolling and green, but with these dramatic ravines cutting into them. You just  just see this really long valley surrounded by mountains and ravines, but you can’t even see the bottom of the valley. You just see for forever in front of you. For forever.

The most amazing thing is that it’s so out there that I know there are no other humans out there. No other roads than the one we took. No telephone poles, no supermarkets, no little shacks, nothing. You’d be hard pressed to find a place like that. Even parks and nature reserves are contaminated with the fact that they’re built for people to come to, and so there are usually roads, campsites, whatever. Here? Not so much. It’s a farm, not a tourism place.

May 13th: Today is just about halfway through my time in South Africa, meaning I’ve been gone for two weeks, and have two weeks left before returning to Swaziland, but it feels like much longer though. I can barely imagine being back at school.

Having not used technology in a while, it’s a very strange thought that there are computers waiting for me at school. I’m not sure what I would do with them. Right now, I use one lightbulb, heat water over a fire, cook with a camp stove, and eat vegetables from the garden. Computer? What? Why?

May 16th: Yesterday was like an episode of “Dirtiest Jobs” and now my back hurts like nothing else, but that’s chilled. No worries.

I started the day with what they call “liquid compost,” which I have renamed “s*** water.” Ready for the recipe? Take an old bag of horse feed, one of those big sacks, fill it with manure. Tie it up, and stick it in a barrel of water. Let it sit for four months. Then, when a perfectly innocent WWOOFer comes, tell them to water the garden with it.

It was absolutely rancid. I must have spent twenty minutes scrubbing my arms afterwards, and you could still smell it.

After lunch, we continued having a poo-filled day, as one of the Malawian workers and myself moved the compost along the cycle, from one area to the next. The compost piles are in order of how decomposed they are, and they get moved along once in a while to mix them up and everything, and to make sure they don’t get too packed down. Essentially, the bin on one end is poo, food waste, leaves, and grass, and the bin on the other end of the row is compost, and the bins in between are in varying states of decay.

So, we dig our shovels into one of the middle bins, and find that the pile has gotten so hot that it’s literally staring to self ignite, so there are pockets of ash everywhere in the pile of leaves and poo. It was just overwhelmingly hot.

Are you jealous? Shoveling piles of steaming hot poo… best vacation ever!

May 18th: Today was technically my second day off, but it was so full of stuff that I’d hardly call it “off.” I woke up, and after my breakfast of Wheet-Bix, I decided that I wanted to go on a hike, like, a proper hike to the top of one of the mountains.

I ask the farm owner what’s a good mountain with a view, and he points me off in a decent direction, but then his two daughters, aged eight and ten, wanted to come with me. As having an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old tagging along on hikes isn’t always conducive to “proper hiking,” their mother was reluctant, but I said it was fine if they came, and so off we went.

The eight-year-old started promptly with the complaints, after maybe ten minutes of uphill. From that point on, the motto became “stop at the top,” with which she shut up and walked. We got there soon enough, and so she felt accomplished.

The mountains here are of a different sort: from the bottom, it seems as if they’re different, separated, normal mountains. But, when you hike to the top, you see that the peaks are all almost flat, as if they exist on one plane, and the separations have just been carved out of them. Well, I mean, they have. Rivers flow through each valley. Looking across them is almost the same sensation you get looking out a plane window over the clouds below you.

On the way down, we went what the girls called “bunderbashing” – namely, we abandoned the trail. That’s the nice thing about living in a valley – if you just go down, you can’t get lost. The whole way down, I got them singing “I LOVE THE MOUNTAINS, I LOVE THE ROLLING HILLS, I LOVE THE FLOWERS, I LOVE THE DAFFODILS, A BOOM-DEE-YA-DA, BOOM-DEE-YA-DA…” That was very classy. I heard them singing it later when they thought I was working, which made me smile.

Upon reaching the farmhouse, they recounted their grand bushwhacking tales to their mother, and then almost immediately, the ten-year-old decided it was time for a proper horse riding lesson. It was a bit bizarre to be told what to do by a ten-year-old, but hey, whatever. We just took the horses for a ride around the farm, which is always stunning. I almost got eaten by a bush in a too-low trail, which the young girls didn’t consider an obstacle, but it was worth it to be able to run around on a horse. Dude ranches in the States don’t let people trot and run and everything on horses, but I’ve learned that that’s the best part!

Then, we took the saddles off, and just rode around without them for a while. You just hold onto their necks and hope they don’t decide to take their revenge on you, which I thought was terribly funny.

So, I go to eat my lunch and read a book, and just chill, as this day hasn’t been very much chilling so far, but then the eight-year-old comes running into my house, and asks if I can help her make this lemonade stuff. I had picked all of the lemons the day before, a whole bag of them, and so she had to juice them all. I refused to do anything buy supervise. I mean, it was her project, not mine.

But, suddenly there was some emergency with the cattle, and so everyone else went to go deal with that, and I was left to babysit this eight-year-old, who had by this point, gotten bored with the lemons after one glass of lemonade, and started baking chocolate brownies from scratch. As for me, a kid raised on powdered lemonade and brownies from a mix? I was quite impressed. And who am I to complain? I got lemonade and brownies out of the deal, which, after a few weeks of bread and veggies, was beautiful.

It was just one of those funny moments, standing in a farmhouse kitchen in South Africa, licking the brownie batter from the bowl with this kid whose parents are dealing with something with the cattle? As in, life is strange, but I love it.

May 20th: I sometimes think that if I’m an expert in anything, it’s leaving. I leave a lot – headed somewhere new, but still leaving.

Leaving here is different, and while I’ve only been here for a few weeks, it feels like much longer. My only explanation is that I’ve contributed something here, and so it feels like it’s somehow mine, in a way. There are things here that only I know, and that’s because I put them there, as they are. It’s very different than leaving, say, a backpacker’s, where you’re just another wanderer, passing through.

Maybe it’s the fact that I know where I’m going, and I know how different it is from here. I’m going from mountain house with solar power and river water to full on “society” and “civilization.” I haven’t seen a road that consists of more than two ruts for weeks. I haven’t used anything electrical other than a light bulb and an electric fence.
In other ways, maybe I’ve just become too lazy to go back to society. I’ve been wearing the same clothes for two weeks now (don’t judge). No matter how often I try to wash up, my fingernails seem to have dirt permanently underneath them. I have a well-established farmer’s tan, and my hair is growing rather shaggy again. I’m not sure what I look like though, because I haven’t seen a mirror since getting here. No need.

When I was a kid, we used to have this story about running away to “the simple life.” I’m not sure how it ends, and while for years, I thought it was silly. I think now that I have to leave, I understand.
You go through phases with this kind of thing. First, you think it’s nice, maybe pleasant. The birds sing and there are flowers, and it seems like a nice holiday spot. Then, you get annoyed. You smell from sweaty work, there’s dirt everywhere, and it’s overly isolated. You can’t believe that anyone would ever volunteer to spend their vacation here, much less live here (there always seem to be a lot of annoying flies around your head during this phase). After that, you look closer at the people who have indeed chosen to live here, and figure that you must be missing something. There must be a reason they love it, and so you throw everything you’ve got into figuring it out.
The final phase always comes too late, just as you’re leaving. You realize what people fall in love with in a place like this, and you realize that you’ve also fallen for it, at least a little bit. And then you leave. Or not, of course, you could stay, but most people are pulled back into the world by something. I am not an exception.
I find, as I leave, that I’ve taken woefully few pictures, but cameras don’t really work here. A camera can’t capture the feeling of being small, surrounded by very big mountains. When the mountains rise around you, and there’s nobody else for miles around, and no signs of humans, for as far as the eye can see, you realize that the world really doesn’t need people. It’s beautiful without us, if we only bother to look. And that takes time to see – not a few moments, but days, weeks, months, years. You can’t take a picture of that.
And so, I filled up the cattle water one last time, got into the bumpy old truck, watched the sun set over the mountains, and went for one last drive down the bumpy old road before returning to the pavement, and everything that comes with it.

South Africa Travel Diary 2 - Jeffrey's Bay and Addo Elephant Park

(India's a really cool place - I would love to volunteer there! Every view I get on this video is one view closer to getting there! Open it in a new tab, and let it play on mute when you read this, and I will love you forever. Thanks so much!)

May 3rd: The bus left Cape Town promptly at six, which was quite a surprise. Compared to the last bus I was on, this one was absolutely luxurious. I found a seat on the second level, in between an Afrikaans techie guy and an Australian missionary, which made for some interesting conversation for the next five or six hours before we fell asleep.

Around 5:30 in the morning, the bus dropped me off at a gas station along the highway outside of Jeffrey's Bay. A woman in the gas station told me to get a taxi into town, but I'd rather have walked. So, I settled down at a picnic table outside, and waited for it to get a little bit more light before I would start to walk. I didn't expect to spend the morning outside a gas station, but the gas station attendant guys were chilled, so it worked! Oh, at gas stations here, there are guys who fill the tank and do stuff for you, instead of you getting out and doing it. That's kind of just how it is here, I guess. I don't think I've seen anybody do it themselves.

After a little while, all these big Afrikaans guys started pulling up, just as it was getting light outside. They said that they used to go to Mlilwane for vacations, a game reserve in Swaziland. I'm not exactly sure why you would leave South Africa to go to a game reserve in Swaziland, but whatever.

Anyways, they gave me directions to the beach, so essentially into town, and I found it easily enough, and just in time for the sunrise, which was spectacular. The beach was still empty enough that it was strangely peaceful, despite the massive waves that came crashing onto the rocks. Jeffrey's Bay has some really massive waves - the town is kind of built around being a surfing town, as I later found out.

As I'm sitting on the beach, watching the sunrise and the waves, asking myself whether this is actually real life, this old lady comes along with a bucket and a bag, picking up seashells like a five-year-old on vacation in Florida. She comes over, and so I asked what she's going to do with all these shells. She says that she makes arts and crafts with them, which is typical enough, I suppose, but then she starts describing the beauty of shells with such an animation and passion that I couldn't help but smile. She had these big glasses and big eyes that darted around, searching for more shells in the sand. She kept going on about "the details, the details! I've been here twenty years, and I never noticed the details of the shells until a few years ago!"
She then starts talking about some group of dolphins that is coming through the bay, and how they mate here, and how you can see them surfing with the surfers in the waves (true story, I spent many hours later watching the dolphins - they're pretty magical looking). She proceeded to give me directions to a backpacker's hostel, but then immediately told me not to think about directions and to enjoy the moment.
Old people are smart.

She then dug this awesome shell out of her pocket, big, but not too big, and says, "Here, have this one. Appreciate it." And then she was off.

A few hours later, I left the beach and made my way to the backpacker's hostel. Compared to my hostel in Cape Town, this one was a million times better. It's called Ubuntu Backpacker's, and is essentially a house. I've never felt so immediately at home as I did here. Everyone seems to know everyone, and they know you, and people sit down for meals together, and it's just so wonderful. And it's funny how stereotypically "surfer" the place is, but I love it. The dorms definitely have more character than the dorms in Cape Town as well, which just makes me smile when I see it.

May 4th: This morning, I woke up, stumbled out of the dorm and into the kitchen to make some tea, and this guy goes, "WANT TO SEE THE ELEPHANTS?"

Long story short, shortly thereafter, I found myself in a car with a South African, a Canadian, and this guy from Réunion, headed to Addo Elephant Park, which is about a two hours drive from Jeffrey's Bay, more towards Port Elizabeth. There are 450 elephants in the park, so that's the big attraction, although they have everything else as well.

Getting into the park, we all pretended to be South African, because the admission rate more than doubles for internationals. Thank goodness my last name works as a South Africa name, because I'm terrible at making up names on the fly. Anyways, we got into the park, and within two seconds, there's this massive elephant just chilling in the bushes. It was so cool - but we hadn't seen anything yet.

First, there are zebra, which are as common as squirrels in the States, apparently, but I still think they're super cool. They're pretty stocky animals, a bit tubbier than horses, but they're so cool.

Then, there are warthogs, which are also everywhere. They're very bizarre things, with these big tusks, and the hairs of the side of their heads that look suspiciously like bad sideburns.
So, the South African guy turns out to be the son of some famous ornithologist, so there was much more of a bird focus to the day than I expected. The park actually had some really cool birds. They're the kind of thing that you won't notice for forever, but once someone points them out to you, you can't help but notice them.
Okay - back to the elephants. So, we're just driving along this road, surrounded by this intense thicket on either side. The thicket is literally so thick that you can't even see through it, but suddenly we come over the top of the hill, and can see all these elephants in the valley.
And so? We drove down there, obviously! Elephants are absolutely stunning. They were close enough to the car that you could see all the wrinkles in their skin, especially around their eyes. I have to say, for being a massive, four-legged creature with tusks and a trunk, elephants are surprisingly humanlike. Their eyes just make them look so old and wise, like owls, except that elephants actually look old and wise, whereas owls just look confused.

The elephant herd also included several baby elephants, which were a mere fraction of the size of the adults, and still rather wobbly on their legs. The rest of the herd was amazingly consistent in keeping the babies near the middle, always either under a larger elephant, or surrounded by the bigger ones.
It was absolutely breathtaking. The elephants were so close, it was amazing. Especially in a park like this, which is less focused on stocking the park for tourists, like Kreuger, and more focused on conservation, it was nice to see elephants as much in the wild as they could be.
After five or six hours of cruising around the park, we stopped for lunch. Almost immediately after pulling into the lunch area, all these monkeys come flying out of the bushes at us, obviously expecting food. Someone whips out a banana, and while I laughed at first, suddenly we had ourselves a bit of a monkey extravaganza. To be fair, feeding them was a really, really bad idea. They kind of attacked the car.
Seriously, don't feed the animals. They did seem to enjoy it when the guy from Reunion started juggling though. Not sure where the juggling came from, but I was the only person surprised at it, so I just went with it.
After lunch we drove around on these little dirt roads for a few more hours, trying to find some of the super-rare rhinoceros in the park. Apparently the rangers had found the rhinos that morning, but refused to tell us where they were. Poaching is still a massive problem, so while it's all right if you happen to find a rhino, it's not exactly highly publicized information. There are only six or eight in the whole park, which is massive, so it was a long shot anyways. I totally understand the poaching thing though - Apparently these poachers just take helicopters overhead, shoot down the rhinos, cut off their horns, and leave the bodies to rot. Over 375 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2012, and so far in the few months that have passed on 2013, the toll has already passed the entirety of the last year.
So, while we didn't see any rhinos, we saw plenty of other stuff (especially elephants!) and it was a really fantastic day. When I woke up in the morning, and this surfer guy asks if I wanted to see the elephants, I'm not sure what I thought he meant. Now, thinking about it, I can't think of a better thing I could have done that day. Definitely a stunning day - there are some moments I won't be forgetting.
May 6th: The last few days have been absolutely glorious, as far as vacations go. Jeffrey's Bay is a great, laid back "beach town," and my backpacker's is wonderful. I've been splitting my time between watching dolphins and surfers on the beach, exploring the tide pools, and chilling with a book in the hammocks at the house.
The only big issue I have with it is really an issue I have with all of South Africa. I keep getting addressed as "baas," referring to the fact that I'm white. I understand that South Africa has its issues with race, but today, I hate that my race is the first thing people think when they see me. I don't think "black person," when I see a black person, and it's frustrating to see how much race is still at the front of people's minds. I have really nothing to say about this, except that I wish people would see past each other's skin color, whether black, white, colored, or whatever else.
I leave for a farm away from the coast tomorrow - I'll be working there for the next two weeks as a "WWOOFer." I can't wait! I have really no idea what I'm getting into, but I'm so excited!