South Africa – Matt’s arrival and Safari

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20150914_231328000_iOSSadly, week five brought an end to my time with the girls at St George and I was beginning to feel a little homesick.  Fortunately, Matt (my son) arrived from the states the next day and we started a new adventure: Safari! Matt barely managed to get a decent night’s sleep and we were up before dawn and off to the airport. We flew to Johannesburg, then on to the tiny Eastgate Airport near Kruger National Park. We opted for a private game reserve – Kapama River Lodge. http://www.kapama.co.za/kapama-river-lodge

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The lodge itself offers true African bush luxury and impeccable service.  Every meal is an adventure and many are staged in a different picturesque setting.  But the main events are the game drives.  Our guide, Sello, and tracker, Freddie, were top notch.  At most lodges the schedule is:

5:00 am                 wake-up call

5:30                        tea/coffee/pastries

6:00                        game drive vehicle departs

7:30                        stop for coffee in the bush

9:00                        return to the lodge for breakfast

From about 10:00 to 4:00 there is free time that can be used for a nap, a bush walk, a spa treatment, hot air balloon ride, endangered species center visit, among other things.

1:00                        lunch

4:00 pm                Drinks, snacks

4:30                        early evening game drive begins

6:30                        cocktails in the bush (in the dark)

8:00                        back to the lodge for dinner under the stars

I must have gained 5 pounds!

20150913_103923000_iOSNothing prepares you for the first sighting of an animal in the wild. My personal favorites were the first night sighting of lions, the first giraffe, the first elephants.  But they are all so majestic, so beautiful. And they all seem relatively unconcerned about the big tan blob full of smaller blobs. A word of explanation: Sello, our guide, explained that the animals are used to the game vehicles (big tan blob) and have come to know that the vehicles do not pose a threat (and are not edible!). As long as passengers (smaller blobs) stay in the vehicle, they are perceived as part of the vehicle. Of course when we spotted an animal you could hear a pin drop as we were speechless with awe.20150913_232739000_iOS No one moved or spoke. The only sound was that of the animals and the clicking of cameras.IMG_124220150914_220829000_iOS

 

 

 

 

 

In South Africa the big five are Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Rhino, and African buffalo.  The leopard alluded us. They are few in number and nocturnal by nature. But we saw the rest of the big five and they were incredible to see.  We watched as two brothers in a family of elephants rough housed near a watering hole. Nearby a baby elephant clung to his mama with his trunk. Cute factor: through the roof!  Scary moment: three adult males decided we had been there too long.  This was the only time we had to back away from any of the animals we observed. On one drive we came across a pride of lions feasting on a kill. Mother lion had killed an impala and after she had her fill, she left the remainder to her cubs.IMG_1211IMG_128120150914_081238000_iOS

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the big four, we saw: zebra, giraffe, hippo, hyena, wildebeest, kudu, warthog, baboon, mongoose, bushbuck, nyala, civet, monkey, and some others.  And the birds! All sizes and colors.  This was the only time I wished I had something more powerful than my Canon Powershot camera. Although, I was able to zoom in on some of the larger birds and get decent shots.20150914_074942000_iOSIMG_1063

During an afternoon bush walk we were accompanied by an armed guide for obvious reasons. But he indicated that in eleven years he had only fired it once.  The bush walk is a good opportunity to learn about insects, small animals, and poop….yes, poop.  The trackers often use these tell tale deposits to find animals in the bush.IMG_1078

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20150914_235946000_iOSDuring the evening stop for cocktails in the bush I admit I was nervous. The only light is the spotlight from the vehicle and all of the night sounds of the bush are amplified, eerie. But by the second night we learned to trust our guides. They know exactly where it is safe to stop and, let’s face it, loosing a tourist is not good for business.  The night sky in South Africa is beautiful to behold. It is everything you imagined from films and books.

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Nelson Mandela’s cell in the Robben Island prison

All good things come to end and we said good bye to Kapama and Kruger and boarded the plane back to Cape Town.  With just a few days left in South Africa, Matt and I explored Table Mountain, the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, and the Cape Peninsula.  We also took a boat to visit the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his incarceration.  The island is now a museum and National Heritage sight and the prison tour is conducted by former political prisons.  Those of us who watched the end of Apartheid from our living rooms, who read about the injustice, who read or watched Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, cannot know what it was like to live it.

Former political prisoner
Former political prisoner

IMG_1413IMG_1433Table Mountain is iconic from any perspective, but nothing can prepare you for the views from the top of the mountain….breathtaking.  You have the option of hiking up (about 2.5 to 3 hours) or taking a cable car.  At the top there are the usual tourist amenities – café, gift shop, restrooms.  There are also several marked hiking paths, native plants and flowers, and the aforementioned amazing views.

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The Cape Peninsula drive takes you from Cape Town south to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.  First stop for us was Hout Bay, a busy fishing village with beautiful nearby white sand beaches.  imageThen we were off to Boulders Beach, home to a large colony of African penguins.  This protected natural environment is one of the only places to observe this species up close.   Further south the coastline gets wilder with steep cliffs and huge crashing waves.  IMG_1207It was near the Cape of Good Hope that we spied large numbers of baboons.  Like many Americans, I think of baboons as lovable, human like primates. South Africans would disagree.  Baboons are not exactly beloved by residents in and around Cape Town. In fact, “gangsters” seems to be the frequent term used for these invaders of homes and automobiles. Watching them is fascinating. Just don’t feed them. It takes only one incident for a baboon to figure out that humans are linked with good food.image

Baboons are widespread, so it is not unusual to see them at the side of the road. In such cases, exercise caution. Keep your windows up and your doors locked as in places like Cape Point, baboons have been known to open doors and jump into cars. The dominant males especially have large teeth and a dangerous bite.  This video shows some baboons invading and helping themselves to lunch in a private home.    http://gu.com/p/3gx5b/sbl

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Matt and I carefully observed the baboons near Cape Point from the safety of our vehicle, but you cannot tell me this mother and child aren’t just adorable.

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My home in Cape Town

And so we leave South Africa.  We leave with a new appreciation for the people, the wildlife, and the majestic beauty of the land. I’ll have some final thoughts next time.

Our lodging for Matt's last days in South Africa
Our lodging for Matt’s last days in South Africa

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South Africa – a place called Khayelitsha

20150910_015438000_iOSWhen you arrive in Cape Town and drive from the airport to the city there is a vast area of shanties and shacks that stretches from the highway as far as you can see.  In South Africa these settlements are known as townships.  My host in SA, Ed Scott from Via Volunteers, suggested I take a tour (it is not safe to go unescorted) of Khayelitsha, the largest township in the Western Cape. Ed arranged for me to go with Loyiso Mfuku from Khayelitsha Travel (yes, even this shanty town has a travel agency).  Loyiso lives and works in Khayelitsha and was a fountain of information as well as a smiling and enthusiastic tour guide.

Now here is where I’ll ask you to indulge me. Before you scroll down to look at the pictures from my visit to Khayelitsha, please take a moment to read the next few paragraphs about the history of Khayelitsha. It will provide context and its an interesting part of South Africa. Thank you.

Khayelitsha, a township in South Africa
In South Africa the word ‘township’ has a different meaning than we know in the United States. Definition: a suburb or city of predominantly black occupation, formerly officially designated for black occupation by apartheid legislation.

Information about Khayelitsha (extracted from the archives of the Khayelitsha Festival)

Few will remember that the birth of Khayelitsha was at the center of a cauldron of popular resistance.  Because the government was receiving such bad international news coverage and growing local resistance over the continual harassment, raiding and tearing down of communities forced to squat in make-shift shanties, it was decided something had to be done at the highest level. The result was the formation of Khayelitsha – `a suitable site for emergency settlement of about 1000 legal families to whom some form of shelter must be given immediately.’ (Argus 14 May1983).

On 30th March 1983, the then Minister of Co-operation and Development, Dr Piet Koornhof, announced plans for a new settlement for Africans called Khayelitsha. Meaning ‘new home’, Khayelitsha was intended by the government to provide housing to all ‘legal’ residents of the Cape Peninsula, whether they were in squatter camps or in existing townships, in one, purpose- built and easily controlled `dormitory’ township. It was reported in the Cape Times 1 July 1983 that Dr. Koornhof said that it was `sound planning’ to have all the Peninsula’s black people ultimately housed in Khayelitsha .
A groundswell of popular resistance opposed the move of all Cape Town’s so-called `legal’ Africans to Khayelitsha. Main criticisms of the Khayelitsha plan related to the forced removal of all Cape Town’s African residents and their re-settlement so far from the city with nothing but the most rudimentary services, in extremely high density, dormitory accommodation.

By April 1985 30,000 people had moved to Site C, an early suburb of the emerging city. By February 1986, 35,000 people had moved to Site B on 900 serviced stands.

By 1990, with the unbanning of the ANC there was visible option to local authorities and a call for a rent and electricity payment boycott, to oppose housing conditions. The civics emerged as the most vocal opponents to apartheid’s brutal authoritarianism. The South African Defense Force became a regular presence in an effort to stem the growing community resistance. With 3000 Green Point families relocated to Macasser stands, the population of Khayelitsha was now conservatively estimated at 450,000 and unemployment stood at 80%. Only 14% lived in core housing, with 54% in serviced shacks and 32% in unserviced areas. A handful of residents had electricity and most families had to fetch water from public taps.

Khayelitsha grew rapidly during the 1990s as migrants from the Eastern Cape, previously discouraged by the apartheid regime’s influx control legislation, arrived to look for work. By 1995 there were well over half a million people living in Khayelitsha.

Fire was a constant hazard until electricity was provided, as residents used paraffin and candles for cooking and light. Winds blowing across the flats spread fires quickly, destroying many crowded homes. Crime rates increased dramatically during the 1990s on the Cape Flats. Police presence was minimal and in this climate, vigilante activities grew. Taxi wars were another feature of the early-mid 1990s as associations of drivers fought to control the lucrative routes between the Cape Flats and the center and suburbs.

1994 heralded a new epoch in South Africa with the first free, democratic elections and the election of Nelson Mandela as president. With the introduction of transitional local councils and local elections, shanty towns slowly began to transform into suburbs. Later a vast area beyond Harare was developed consisting of tiny homes in long rows. The railway line was only extended to these areas in 2008. By this time the population of Khayelitsha was said to be over one million, although accurate data was lacking. There was still no hospital in the entire area and other services, including policing, were hopelessly inadequate.

Apartheid is over in the statutory sense, but its stark legacy – a severe housing shortage and many thousands of shacks – remains in Khayelitsha. As per the 2005 Population Register, an average of 52% of dwellings constitute informal housing and 38% formal structures in Khayelitsha. Today Khayelitsha is home to over 1 million people. 2/3 of the population is under the age of 30.

Khayelitsha is today one of the largest township in South Africa. Since the democratic elections in the country in 1994 when the ANC came into power, living conditions in the township have improved. There have been developments such as new brick housing and new schools being built, a Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court, Primary Health Care facilities and the creation of a central business district in the Township. Crime rates remain very high and while a substantial proportion of residents are experiencing improvements as a result of infrastructure and welfare interventions there remain many challenges ahead.

The people of Khayelitsha, together with many others throughout the country, having fought the struggle for liberation now face a wide range of social and economic development challenges inherited from the apartheid past. Since 1994 a wide range of programs focusing on social and economic development have been implemented. Government has adopted a number of programs, among others, the Urban Renewal Strategy as well as the Integrated and Sustainable Rural Development Programme aimed at combining resources, working in an integrated way and ensuring maximum, visible, enduring and sustainable outcomes that benefit communities in the poorest areas of our country. Through these and a range of other programs, both provincial and local governments are confident that they will in time achieve the goal of a better life for all.

The history of Khayelitsha is characterized more than anything else by the triumph of the will over seemingly insurmountable odds.

Thanks for taking the time to read this information from the Khayelitsha Festival archives. Now onto the photos. While there is a sad history to Khayelitsha, there is hopefulness too. Unemployment is high, but entrepreneurship is growing and supported by several programs. There is a developing middle class.  We met many wonderful people at Khayelitsha that day and it was an informative part of my experience in South Africa.

Loyiso Mfuku from Khayelitsha took Maja and me on a tour of the township
Loyiso Mfuku from Khayelitsha took Maja and me on a tour of the township
A view of the "formal" part of Khayelitsha, where there are actual houses
A view of the “formal” part of Khayelitsha, where there are actual houses
Maja and I meeting the manager of the radio station - Radio Ibonele
Maja and I meeting the manager of the radio station – Radio Ibonele
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Business District
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One of many churches
A Kindergarten class at recess
A Kindergarten class at recess

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Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Khayelitsha
Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Khayelitsha

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South Africa – I am Aunty Kathy

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Fun after their math lesson

At St George’s Home for Girls (SGH) the noise level can be deafening. Imagine 30 girls coming through the doors in waves after school. They are hungry, full of energy, and chattering away.  They settle down to pray grace, eat (and they clean their plates….no whining!), and pray again after. Some of the girls want to do their homework right away. Others try to convince me they have no homework.  Some just want to sit on my lap and read. Every day there is something new.  Who knew I would be conducting a math class by my third week!

After school speed walking
After school speed walking

My relationship with the girls of SGH started with skepticism.  Who is this woman? Will she want something from me? Should I trust her?  Add to that the fact that they are used to college age volunteers. Instinct told me to take my time, observe, and let the girls’ actions dictate my approach. I started by taking a few children’s books to a table and reading by myself.  Within a short time a little one wondered over to look over my shoulder.  Then another, and so on.  I was over the moon.  It wasn’t long before some opened up and let me in a little bit.  By week two I could read their moods as they walked through the door and I tried to react accordingly.  Most of the girls don’t want to talk about why they are sad, but they will give you an earful when they are mad at someone!  Sometimes they just want to be held while they cry (without asking any questions).  The parents reading this will know how hard it is to not ask questions.  The girls of St George have been let down or harmed by the adults in their lives.  SGH provides a safe and loving environment for them, but as human beings we all want to feel connected to and accepted by our own families.

In my last blog about SGH I mentioned that the girls began to open up about their dreams.  I spent a day “interviewing” ten of the girls on our make-believe red carpet.  We started with easy questions like ‘what is your favorite color? Pink and purple reigned. Favorite food?  Mac & Cheese (some things are universal). My last question was ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’? This took some time. They hadn’t seemed to have thought about it.  They don’t have a lot of role models outside of their immediate world.  But in the end they were up to the challenge and here are their answers:

  • Teacher – 4
  • Waitress at Spur (similar to Applebees) – 3
  • Careworker – 1
  • Limo Driver – 1
  • Lawyer – 1

As the weather warmed up in week four, I decided a little organized outdoor soccer was in order.  Organized? Order? Not happening.  I bought a soccer goal and balls and set it up in the yard.  What I know about soccer would fit on a pencil eraser.  Everyone wanted to be the goalie, they would pass the ball to an opposing team member, they were running out of bounds. It was happy chaos.  But I was saved by one of the local high school kids who enthusiastically coached and played with us. Thank you, Robinson.  As you can see in the pictures, the girls play barefoot. Which bothered me more than them.

Soccer time
Soccer time

On my last day at St George, I felt like I was gritting my teeth all day. Part of me wanted to slip away unnoticed so I wouldn’t have to say goodbye.  How would I leave these girls who now owned my heart?  In the end I did say goodbye. And I got so much more than I gave.  Graeme Cairns, the director of SGH, hosted a little going away ceremony and three of the girls gave speeches.  There were hugs all around and I left with a very big lump in my throat.

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Aunty Kathy’s farewell ceremony
Aunty Kathy's farewell ceremony
Aunty Kathy’s farewell ceremony

 

 

 

 

 

As a child I remember playing with a wood burning tool.  You would plug it in and the metal tip would get very hot. You could then burn designs into a piece of wood. I thought about that on my last day at St George. I feel like all of these beautiful little faces are burned into my heart.  I hope they stay with me forever. I want to always be “Aunty Kathy”.

Someone got a hold of a cell phone
Someone got a hold of a cell phone

I want to end with a few words about the staff at St George, and my hosts in South Africa – Ed and Heather Scott from Via Volunteers.

Graime Cairns, Delia, Neelsie, Allrick, Vreda, Yvonne, Joy, and all of the other good people who care for the girls at SGH – thank you for letting me come into your home.  Your love for the girls is evident and they clearly feel the same about you.

St George receives only half of its funding from the government. The rest they must raise themselves. So in addition to the care, feeding, housing, and nurturing of the girls, they must do the work of raising awareness and funding.

Ed and Heather Scott
Ed and Heather Scott

Ed and Heather Scott from Via Volunteers were my lifeline in South Africa. They not only arranged my volunteer assignment, housing, transportation to/from St George, they served as problem solvers, arranged social opportunities, introduced volunteers to each other, organized tours and airport pick ups, and many other things that made me feel at home in such a faraway place.  One of the young volunteers told me that Ed and Heather were like parents to her.  Ed and Heather work with several organizations in South Africa – environmental, animal welfare, children. Ethical volunteering is a priority for them and they will not work with an organization whose ethics are questionable.

You can learn more about St George’s Home for Girls and Via Volunteers at the links below, or feel free to contact me.

viavolunteers.com

st-georges.org.za

Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha
Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha

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The baking lesson
The baking lesson

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Homework with Lelitha
Homework with Lelitha

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South Africa – Feeling at Home

Live music at Mama Africa's
Live music at Mama Africa’s
A swimming pool carved out of the Atlantic
A swimming pool carved out of the Atlantic
Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha
Hugs from Naledi and Lelitha

 

September 8, 2015

Feeling at home in a place so far away and so different from my home in Pennsylvania only comes with time and perspective. As I sat in a movie theater the other day I realized I am living like….well, like I live here. I’ve been to a couple of movies. I go to the grocery store. My gray roots were showing, so I colored my hair 😳.  Just some of the things we do in everyday life.  But of course, I am really just a visitor. Unless you have really lived here; had a child in the public schools; lived on South African wages; experienced 25% unemployment; had a beautiful mountain view opposite oceans and beaches…..you are still a visitor…..albeit a happy one.IMG_1011

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I have checked off most of the sights and activities on my list.  Tomorrow we will tour Kayalitsha, an informal township, in the morning.

http://www.sahistory.org.za/place/khayelitsha-township

The rest – Robben Island, hiking Table Mountain, safari in Kruger National Park – will wait until Matthew arrives this week.

On another note: Oh the people you meet!  Ed and Heather from VIA Volunteers invited me to go with them to Broadlands Farm to visit Pat Cavendish O’Neill.  What a life Pat has led! Winston Churchill, JFK, royalty from every country, stars from the Hollywood of the 20th century….Pat (and her mother before her) counted the rich and famous among their close friends.  But the most important things to Pat are her animals – everything from lions to racehorses to peacocks and dogs. Pat’s fortunes were mostly lost to unscrupulous advisors and she lives a more cautious lifestyle now. Less lavish – yes, but certainly not dull.  For more information about Pat, read her book – A Lion in the Bedroom. You will see what I mean about this incredible woman and her even more incredible mother.

Pat Cavendish O'Neill's Broadlands Farm
Pat Cavendish O’Neill’s Broadlands Farm

My last day as a volunteer at St George’s Home for Girls is fast approaching….sigh. There is nothing ordinary or everyday about this experience. A few weeks ago I wrote that I hoped the girls have dreams, but it was too soon for me to ask. They have shared! More to come.

 

Pat Cavendish O'Neill's drawing room
Pat Cavendish O’Neill’s drawing room
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The mist floating over Table Mountain
Restaurant at Muizenberg Beach
Restaurant at Muizenberg Beach