Reaching Out 2 The World

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Expect the Unexpected in Dubai… Day 1

The day has finally come that Dan and I would be departing for our Dubai/Moroccan adventure! We woke up to the sound of knocking at our door. This has become an all too familiar habit of waking up… but I suppose it’s kind of nice. At the door Lupho was waiting to greet us and say one last goodbye before we left. Not long after Lupho came by another boy named Luthando poked his head in to say farewell. These boys came by before school and since the Zulu’s residence is not at all on anyone’s way it meant they had to leave their homes an extra 20-30 minutes before they normally would have. It meant a lot to both Dan and I to see them off before we departed, but I think we both went back to sleep for a little longer once they left!

Our drive to the airport was nicer than I expected. Our driver, Kevin, turned out to be a very well-traveled man. He told us he’s been to Dubai at least 20 times and was able to tell us all sorts of great tips. At this point, Dan had withheld all information from me regarding our trip to Dubai. He had sorted out accommodation and possibly more, but I had no inclination as to what to expect. For the past few weeks Dan has been impressively good at dodging all questions thrown at him regarding our trip. Dude knows how to pack a surprise…

When we arrived at the airport we still had some time to kill so we ate a nice IMG_5494breakfast at wimpys. I think the endless refills are what caught our attention. It’s rare to get free refills on drinks outside of the USA. In fact I think most foreigners are very shocked when they eat at a restaurant in the US because both the size of drinks and the portions they are served are so much larger than anywhere else.

A few cokes later it was time to board are flight. This would be the first time I’d be flying Emirates and hopefully not the last! Not only was this plane enormous, but it was an absolute pleasure to travel on. I’m going to skip telling you about first class because frankly it’s just not fair. The level of luxury that they fly is just at a totally different level. With that being said, our seats were nothing to complain about. Quite the opposite actually! The TV’s on each seat were much larger than any other flight I’ve been on and there were places to charge all your electronics. When you pushed the little button to lean your seat back, your butt cushion also moved forward allowing you to recline much further than expected.

To start the trip the stewardesses passed out warm damp towels so that everyone could clean their hands and faces. I couldn’t help but think there was some sort of chemical on these clothes that would force everyone to relax, but that didn’t stop me from using my warm, awesome, towel in the slightest!

IMG_5493The next thing we received from the attendants were menus. Each passenger actually got a menu so they could choose what they wanted for lunch and dinner! I can’t recall what all the options were but I went with a chicken dish for lunch and Dan went with a pasta dish. Both meals also came with salads, bread, cheese and crackers, coffee or tea, a piece of chocolate, dessert, and a beverage of your choice. Not only was the food delicious but it filled us right up. While eating I watch the movie, The Fast and The Furious part 6. It was alright, I liked the other ones a little better but it was still fun. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous stunts taking place throughout the full movie.

Our flight was between 9-10 hours which gave me plenty of time to watch a few additional movies. I also watched Oblivion, Guilt trip, Monsters University, and some show on brain power! At some point we were also served a dinner where IMG_5492I again went with the chicken option. I gotta say, I’m a pretty big fan of plane food and Emirates knows what’s cookin! Both my meals were just right!

Between my fancy meals I was also able to create a South African bracelet. I think this was the first time I’ve ever started and finished a bracelet in one sitting. In the beginning it would take me 4-5 hours to make just one of these bracelets, but I think I’ve cut that time more than in half. In addition to my bracelet making I also played a few games on Hearts, Spades, and Catan on my ipad. Thank you Apple, for always supporting my ADHD.

It wasn’t until about 12:30 that we landed in Dubai. Stepping off the plane was like stepping into the sauna. Even though it was the middle of the night, it was still very warm out. We took a bus from the plane to the baggage claim and I was shocked when it took us nearly 20 minutes to get there. How big was this place? When we pulled up to the airport and went inside we were all funneled towards either the elevators or the escalators. From there we went down about 4-5 stories underground into an absolutely enormous atrium where you’d find the customs and baggage claim. Welcome to Dubai, where things are going to be bigger and better than you’ve ever seen before!

IMG_5857At this point I was still in the blue as to what our plan was but Dan informed me that we weren’t supposed to be anywhere till morning and that we were just going to hang around the airport for a few hours. A couple hours later when we determined that trying to sleep in the booth at the airport Burger King wasn’t going to cut it and we decided to just head to our accommodation early. When I say early, I mean early, because at this point it was about 3:30 in the morning.

As it turns out, Dan had booked us at the Auris Hotel, located just a block away from the Mall of Emirates, a five star hotel in an incredible location. We got there around 4:30 am and had to wait a bit for our room to be prepared but we were so thankful that they were taking us early that it didn’t even matter. The fact that I was going to get to sleep in a comfy bed after traveling ALL day was just music to my ears!

When we finally got to our room on the 13th floor we were welcomed in to the chilled room with the sounds of traditional Arabic music playing from our TV. I could tell we were going to be staying in luxury for the next few days and I couldn’t have been more ready for it! After scoping our room and climbing into bed, my head hit the pillow and I was out like a light.


Like yesterday we were once again woken up by someone at our door. Only this time it wasn’t a young African child, it was room service seeing if we’d like our room cleaned. Not being anywhere near ready to get up we sent them away and learned that there was a button we were supposed to press when we were ready for them to come back. With the curtain closed tight we slept till about 11:00 am without even being able to tell the sun was up. To me, that’s exactly how I like it be when I sleep!

Once we were up and ready to go we decided we better walk over to the IMG_5601Mall of Emirates and see what it’s all about. Dan told me that this was second largest to the Mall of Dubai… the largest mall in the world. I’ve grew in the suburbs of Philadelphia, just a short drive from the King of Prussia Mall. I thought I knew big malls but I was very wrong. The Mall of Emirates features more than 560 brands, has a Magic Planet (Sort of like a Dave and Busters), a 14-screen Cinema, a community theater, 90 restaurants, and one more thing… I can’t seem to remember what it was. Oh right, and indoor ski resort and snow park! The mall has 3 levels, 2 enormous food courts, and outside you’ll find a parking garage that has 7,000 parking spaces. If you like to shop, you need to find a way to experience a mall in Dubai!

IMG_5587We walked throughout the mall for a bit but we both knew what we were there for. Outside it was close to 100 degrees and we were about to hit the slopes for a snowboarding session. Inside the massive facility we rented our snow suits, boards, and gloves. The gloves were actually bought after a quick journey down the bunny slope, and the recognition that it was in fact snow, and it was in fact very cold! Add on the fact that neither of us had boarded in many years and falling down was unavoidable… suddenly, gloves were sounding like the best investment ever!

Ski Dubai had a bunny slope, snow tubing, a 4 person chair lift, an expert slope, an intermediate slope, and a beginner slope. At the very top you had the option of going left for the expert slope or right for the intermediate one. The right side is also where you’d be able to find the jumps and rails, but I knew that wasn’t for me. After a few trips down each of the easier slopes I started feeling a lot more comfortable on the board. Soon enough I felt confident enough to go down any of the paths but still wasn’t interested in trying any jumps.

On the far side of the expert track was a IMG_5596drag-lift that looked enticing. I saw a few skiers and boarders taking that route to get back to the top and decided I wanted to try it. I made my way over and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t even figure out how to dislodge the pull bar that would drag me to the top. After struggling for a few minutes one of the employees came over to give me a hand. The pull bar had a small bend in the bottom of it with a very tiny metal knot at its end. The idea was to put the bar between your legs, sit on the knot, and let the system drag you to the top (still standing in the upright position with your board on the ground facing up). At first this seemed pretty easy actually and I was cruising up theIMG_5595 slope, but soon enough it was time to turn the corner. It’s difficult to explain what happened but basically in order to round the corner the cable I was riding up on had to switch tracks and during that time of transition you come to a stop. What I wasn’t ready for was the huge pull I felt when my bar latched onto the new track. If I hadn’t been holding on tightly I would have been left behind. The pull also came while rounding a corner so my board was struggling to face the correct direction and things were becoming frantic. I didn’t want to let go, but I was being dragged up this slope in a very unconventional way. Finally, my efforts prevailed and I was able to face my board up and ride up the next bit of the slop with the knot at the end of the bar clasped in my hands. I’m pretty sure everyone in the snow park and chair lift watched my battle but I made it! Just over the halfway mark I was able to pull myself back into the correct position with the bar between my legs. My hands were pretty cold at this point but at least I made it. At the top I waited for a few minutes for Dan because despite my struggles the drag lift was much faster than the chair lift. We continued boarding the rest of our allotted session and I successfully went up the drag-lift at least one more time. Ski Dubai was so much fun, and I forgot how much I enjoyed snowboarding. When I get home, I’ll definitely be looking to go!!

After changing out of our snow suits and back into our summer clothes we exited Ski Dubai and back into the mall. We were near the East Food Court and ready for some lunch! It was almost 4 in the afternoon and we hadn’t eaten anything since the flight!! One of the things I was most surprised about walking throughout the mall were all the American stores and restaurants. There was a P.F. Chang’s, a TGI Fridays, a Chili’s, a California Pizza Kitchen, and literally every type of dessert stand I’ve ever come across. You name it, and Dubai had it! Cold Stones, Baskin-Robbins, Haagen dais, Krispy Cream, Cinnabon, Dunkin’ Donuts, and soooo much more.

IMG_5585For lunch we ate at Japengos, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by our driver back in SA. This place specialized in dishes from all around the world. Both Dan and I were torn over what to get so I went with a huge burger, and he went with a Chicken sandwich and we split them 50/50. After eating the best burger I’ve had in months, we decided we IMG_5584better stop and get some ice cream before venturing back out into the desert sun. I actually can’t recall the name of the place we got our ice cream but it wasn’t a company I had heard of before. I want to say it was called Marble Slab Creamery but don’t quote me on that. Regardless of its name, they provided me with the most perfect ice cream cone I could have asked for. Similar to Cold Stones they add the ingredients you’d like right in front of you. I went with green mint ice cream with brownies, cookie dough, and hot fudge all added in. This was then all put into a chocolate coated waffle cone covered in rainbow sprinkles. For me, this was perfection in a cone. I ate my ice cream as we retraced our steps back through the mall, and back out into the heat. Once outside it was more of a minty milk shake since the ice cream had zero chance against the warm temperature.

IMG_5625Back at our hotel we traveled to the rooftop where we knew a pool was waiting for us. The views from up there were really incredible and we were just in time for the sunset. Dubai can become pretty dusty sometimes but this just made for a few sweet pictures.IMG_5622

After getting cleaned up back in our room we ventured back up to the rooftop and shared a hookah. In the Middle East and Arab world, people smoke hookah as part of their culture and traditions. Smoking shisha, or flavored tobacco, is like grabbing a drink with a few friends at a bar. Drinking is prohibited in most places in the Middle East, but you’ll almost always be able to find a hookah lounge. It was pretty nice being able to relax on our rooftop with the views of the city on the horizon. With the sun now down the temperatures were much more comfortable.

IMG_5749Before calling it a night we went back over to the IMG_5619mall for a very lite dinner. We both really love Mexican food and the fact that there was a Chili’s so near was just too hard to pass up. We split the biggest bowl of chips and salsa they had and ordered a side of mozzarella sticks. Feeling bold, Dan ordered a chocolate flavored coke. I think they just added chocolate syrup to his coke but he said it wasn’t half bad.

That pretty much wraps up our first full day in Dubai. We were both still exhausted from the traveling and the day’s activities that we went to bed fairly early. Having high speed internet in my room was also a luxury I’ve missed and embraced with open arms!


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Organized Chaos

Our plan for Thursday was to meet up with Lupho in the morning, talk to his mother about the trip we’d be going on, and then document his trip to school. We wanted to put together a video that would share a day in the life of one of our students (I’ve since completed the video and would be more than willing to share it with additional teacher friends back home!).

Once we got to school we sat down with Lupho to ask him a few questions. Because the end of the term was this week classes were no longer still in session. For most of the day students just ran around like banshees. Even the classrooms were no longer set up to teach. The desks and chairs were piled high and stacked up against the walls.  This was probably for cleaning purposes in between the terms. Because of all the chaos it made it a bit difficult to hear everything Lupho was saying but I think the video turned out alright.IMG_4027

We brought a rugby ball with us as well and got the students outside to start running around with it. They knew the game better than I do but for the most part it looked like a huge game of keep away. There were no boundaries, no teams, loads of students, and just one ball. There was an equal amount of chaos as before but at least now it was organized. I had a break up a few fights, and there were a few dog piles which involved 20 plus students but all in all it was a fun time. I didn’t realized how many students were surrounding me till viewing these pictures.

DSC_3889After our game, and before things got too out of hand we went back into one of the classrooms and had a few students join us. We were looking to do more of a group interview for our video. We still ran into the noise problem but we worked through it. Before long we had a pretty full classroom of students both in front of the camera and behind it. Most of the interview questions were just off the top of our heads. We had discussed different questions we wanted to ask but once things got rolling we just improvised. As we were doing this I got an idea that I was sure would work. I knew for a fact that if I asked them to sing their national anthem that they would not only do it, but that we would have no problems hearing them. These guys have so much pride in their anthem and it was a pleasure capturing it on camera. The song is rather long, and builds up to a powerful ending. I guess students outside the classroom could hear what was going on and joined in on the fun. We started the first interview with 6 students in the classroom and finished with closer to 24!

After our interviews Dan and I went back to Mama Zulus for some lunch. Both Mama and Papa Zulu left early Thursday morning for a long trip out East to Port Elizabeth. They were attending a funeral for Papa Zulu’s Uncle. The trip to Port Elizabeth is about 10-12 hours depending on your method of travel, so their plan was to spend the weekend out there and come back late Sunday night. Because they would be gone for the weekend we were in charge of the dinners. Mieke and Hanneke were in charge of Thursday’s dinner. Dan and I would take care of Friday, and Gesa, Clara, and Eric would be making dinner for Saturday. In case you’re not following that means the Dutch girls are making dinner Thursday, the Americans had Friday, and the Germans would be taking care of Saturday.

I was under the impression that we’d each be making a meal from our countries but when we sat down to dinner that night it was right were Mama Zulu had left off; Chicken, potatoes, and veggies. It was great, and tasted just like Mama Zulu’s, but I was hoping for something a bit more Dutch, whatever that means.

That night Dan, Mieke, Hanneke, and I played a game of Catan. Because the girls had ate my leftovers from Ginos the day before they treated me to a frozen pizza before our match. It was actually good and I appreciated the gesture. Our game of Catan was good as usual with Dan capturing his first victory. I think I’ll remember the game as that time a 10 only got rolled once! Brick was difficult to come by.

On Friday, Dan and I went into town for the last day Cinnabon would be opened. For some reason the store wasn’t getting enough business and they were closing permanently. This was detrimental news when we found out and we had to go in on their last day. While in town we also picked up ingredients for our dinner for the evening. Our plan was to make fajitas. Ever since watching, Turbo, I was craving Mexican food and I came to find out that most of the other volunteers had never even eaten a taco. I figured they were easy enough to prepare for a group of people and I was confident we would all love them.

By the time we got home the other volunteers had left on a preplanned wine tour. Dan and I considered going… actually we were supposed to go but kind of bailed last second. I thought the price was too high and talked myself out of going. Sorry friends, there is always a next time.

Another reason I didn’t go was because I was expecting a special visitor today andIMG_4013 wanted to be home when they arrived. Avela Lisa was a student of mine 2 years ago and has since moved to the Easter Cape. Dan and I were both disappointed when we arrived and found out that Avela wouldn’t be able to join us on the trip. A few days ago I found a number on my phone that used to be Avelas so I texted him to let him know I was back in SA. I got no response from that text which wasn’t too surprising since most of the numbers I knew had since changed. I think more than half the contacts in my phone are no longer numbers that are in use. Later, I decided to text another number that I thought could be his and this time I got a response! The number turned out to be Avela’s mother and she called me immediately after. We briefly talked about the trip we had planned and she told me that Avela would be there, and that he’d be arriving in Kayamandi on Friday. So after getting back from Stellenbosch with our groceries I was greeted with a very familiar face. Avela was one of the brightest students I worked with at Ikaya and I was glad to hear that he’s studying at a better school. His trip back to Kayamandi took roughly 14 hours via mini bus!

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up Avela on the trip we’d be going on and hearing all about what he’s been up to. The other guys from Kayamandi have also not seen Avela in a while and were super excited to see their old friend.

IMG_4014Just after 5 I started preparation of the fajitas and with the help of Eric we put together a delicious array of fillings for our soft shells. I think everyone really loved it, but I in the future I’ll have to cook more because we ate everything!

That evening I sat down with Ski and together we did a South African bracelet. He worked on the right side while I took the left. He actually did a pretty great job considering it was his first attempt at making one. I rewarded him with a chocolate muffin I had been saving for a special occasion. Hey, if you can sit patiently enough to create one of these SA bracelets you absolutely deserve a treat!IMG_4010

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Two Days, Three New Volunteers

On Friday I had one plan, to pick up my good friend Dan Sellers from the airport! Finally, after a three month tour of East Asia Dan had safely found his way to South Africa. Dan and I are working together to help Reaching Out 2 The World reach its full potential. We’ve been in contact while he’s been traveling but I hadn’t seen him since May and we still have a lot to discuss!

At half past 10 myself, Papa Zulu, and the girls from the Netherlands took the trip to fetch him at the airport. The night before we had prepared signs to welcome him back to Africa but we still had the challenge of finding him. Airports are huge, and when you arrive in a new continent with no cell service and no internet it can be tricky finding someone. I was thinking back two weeks ago when I arrived and was supposed to meet someone named Albert. I ended up having to wait a couple hours before the Zulus came to pick me up.

On a previous day I had talked to Dan about a meeting spot. A place I was familiar with in the airport because it had been where I had waiting for some time. So when we arrived that’s what we did. We didn’t wait too long before I spotted him heading up the escalator that would bring him right to us. With our signs ready, he looked right past us! Haha, he completely missed seeing us at first as we were standing right in front of him. I called his name and we were finally all together.

After getting back to Kayamandi Dan and I both were hungry and needed to head into Stellenbosch for some essentials. Mieke and Hanneke both joined us and we took the mini bus into town. It had been a year since Dan had last been in Kayamandi and as we traveled I could sense him taking it all in. He kept saying how surreal it felt to be back. Since he had also just come off of a 5 flight 2 day journey I think he was just happy to be on solid ground.IMG_3731

Like myself, Dan is a big fan of McDonalds. I’ve had snacks there but never a proper meal while I’ve been in SA. After hitting up the ATM our first stop was straight to the Mickey Ds. It may be terrible for you, but it is sooo good.

Our other errands included buying ice cream at the grocery store, adding airtime to our phones, and eating dessert at the Cinnabon, also located in the mall. Hanneke had never ate at a Cinnabon and that was more than enough reason to stop and indulge. Feeling very satisfied after our delicious meals, we went back to Kayamandi.IMG_3730

The kids knew that Dan would be arriving today but when we got back to Mama Zulu’s no one was there. I was a bit shocked but knew it was only a matter of time. Next, we decided to take a walk around the township.

What started as a walk with just Dan and myself slowly grew to an entourage of followers. At the first corner in our walk we were joined with the students I had worked with in the past week. We walked a loop almost around the entire township slowing adding to our entourage. Still, we were missing the students that Dan had known best. Again, I was surprised to not see them but knew it was coming.

Before walking back to Mama Zulu’s I showed Dan the BMX track and introduced him to Songo. His riders were busy creating paintings that would be auctioned off as a fundraiser. Some of the paintings would also but used to decorate the new building that had just been erected for Songo’s program. I’m really glad I got to meet Songo and look forward to working with him over the next few weeks. IMG_3760

When we got back to our flat Dan told me he had bought something for me while traveling through East Asia. I had no idea what to expect but quickly began unwrapping my gift. He asked me to be careful not to shake it too much while I was opening it, but it was really wrapped pretty well! Finally, after using a pair of scissors I broke through IMG_3758the multilayer wrap job to see a glass bottle with something inside. Inside was a poisonous snake, with a head like a cobra, and it was holding a black scorpion in its mouth. How cool is that?! The liquid surrounded the snack and scorpion, and holding it in place is a white wine, meaning you can drink this bottle of death! Obviously, this bottle will be staying sealed for some time but day, when the time is right, I may just pour myself a drink.

I also had a gift for Dan, although it was a little less outrageous. My gift to him was one of the South African bracelets I had been working on. These bracelets are no quick task to make so I you are a recipient of one you better cherish it, haha.

While this exchange was happening our entourage of followers had begun playing games on our ipads. That’s right, two ipads. Now that Dan was here the kids would have double the video game stimulation.

Mawande was the first to show up that Dan had been waiting for and not far behind him was Ski and Riri. Before long Chester and Aphiwe arrived last but not least was Atha. I knew it was just a matter of time. At this point we had the 6 kids that had followed us throughout the township and the 6 kids I just named, making our room very much at capacity. When Lelethu called us in for dinner I asked the first group of kids to make a move on. I’m alright with a few kids playing games while I’m at dinner but 12 was far too many, especially because I didn’t know some of them.IMG_3763

Among the list of donated items was a book. “The One and Only Ivan,” had been donated to our cause with the strict instructions to share it with as many people as I could. That night after dinner I decided would be the perfect opportunity to begin reading this book with our friends. With Dan back in SA and all our students together we joined back in our room and I explained about the book and the importance of the book. I told them we would be reading a few pages each night but I really wasn’t sure how well it would go over. A few of the students really struggle with English. As I began reading I made sure to practice everything I’ve learned over the years. We talked about each page, and I asked lots of questions along the way. After reading a few pages Riri asked if he could read. I thought it was a great idea and was thrilled in the interested levels that were peaking. Next Mawande wanted to read! At this point I decided that everyone should just read at least one page. After first some of the boys were shy but I was happily surprised to hear them read. Both Ski and Atha, who struggle the most with speaking English could read it quite nicely. It seemed as if some of them just didn’t like to speak English around their peers. I was extremely proud of them as we read through the first 20 pages of the book.

Next, I gave them homework. These guys all love to draw so I decided to give them a task in which they could put their drawings to work. Our book needs a bookmark and that’s exactly what their homework was.

IMG_0152After story time the boys went home and Dan and I got settled in. He still hadn’t unpacked and I had a lot of writing to do. While I was writing I looked over Dan had passed out. I think all his traveling had finally caught up to him.

The plan for Saturday was to participate in an ultimate Frisbee tournament hosted by the Stellenbosch team. Chris came to pick us up at 10 and Mawande, Ski and Dan joined me for a day full of ultimate.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect but had no idea that I’d end up playing 6 games! The tournament really took almost all day! I gave Mawande and Ski a couple Frisbee uniforms so they could practice with my team and Mawande even played a few points. After our third game I could tell they were starting to get bored and hungry. The tournament supplied snacks but not enough for a full lunch. IMG_3765

At one point I told the two boys that they could go off and explore the surrounding area. There were a lot of cool trails, and heavy flowing river. 15 minutes later I look across the fields and see Mawande and Ski half way up the side of a small mountain. I was a bit concerned because I know how challenging it can sometimes be to come down after hiking up an unmarked path, but Dan insisted they would be alright. Every time I looked over they were higher and higher. When I waved to them they waved back… at least I hoped they were waving back. I thought for a moment that they may also be waving for help, but again Dan insisted they were okay. Together they worked their way across the ridge towards the field I was playing on. From high up above they watched my game before beginning the decent back down to ground level. I was definitely glad when they made it down safely. IMG_0168

My team ended up getting second place overall for the tournament. I think we were the better team but we didn’t play a strong final game. All day my hamstrings limited me and I was never able to run at full speed. I tried my best to help but could only do so much.

Before the tournament was over Dan and the boys caught a ride back into town. They were both hungry and ready for something new. IMG_3767

I got home just 30 minutes after them and entered my room to a group of new faces. While I was off played two new volunteers from Germany arrived. Gisa and Clara would be joining Eric, Mieke, and Hanneke for a year in Kayamandi. That means there will be 5 volunteers living with the Zulu’s and working here in Kayamandi. Now I just need to get them all connected with the students!!

We hung out for some time before Lelethu called us in for dinner. This was by far the most people I’ve shared dinner with while here in Kayamandi. It was pretty great to go from having dinner’s by myself to being joined by 6 other people. IMG_3813

Mieke had prepared a dessert, and it was specifically for me because of a bet we had made. She didn’t think I would be able to beat her in Catan… Anyway, there were still a number of guys back in my room and I wanted to go check on them between dinner and dessert.

When I got back to my room they all wanted to read more of the book we had started the night before. There was no way I could miss out on this opportunity. These children were asking to read a story with me and I wasn’t about to deny them. Unfortunately, I missed out on my dessert but I think it was worth it being able to read with the guys. The reason I didn’t get dessert was because it was freshly baked cookie dough covered in ice cream. They informed me that the only way to eat it was when it first came out of the oven. Looks like I’ll have to wait another night before I can try it.

Reading tonight went even better than the night before. They each wanted to read 2 pages tonight rather than 1 and when I asked them questions about our readings they were all able to answer them accordingly. I’m so proud of them and so thrilled that they are enjoying the book.

Later in the evening Eric, Hanneke, Dan, and Clara played a game of Catan. Mieka, Giza, and I watched and took bets on who we thought would win. After a quick start Dan got out to an early lead but in the end Clara was victorious. Eric is still searching for his first victory but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before it comes. IMG_3810

Before going to bed we played a few new card games. I taught them the game President. In this game if you are president 3 times in a row then you get to make a rule. There aren’t really any limitations to the rule, but the rule is only good for the rest of that night. After winning more than enough times in a row I made a couple rules. My first was that every time someone played an 8 they had to follow it up with saying something nice about me. Eights are typically good numbers to play in this game so it was funny hearing what they had to say. IMG_3808My second rule game right before I left for the night. I’m not sure how it came to me but I’m glad it did. My rule was that before I left the girls had to brush each other’s teeth. I figured they are about to spend a year together so what better way to spend their first night. Hahah this of course proved to be hilarious!

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An Epic Kind of Day

I got up and joined everyone for breakfast around 8. The plan today was to go with the girls, they volunteer through Prochorus. Both Hanneke and Mieke are in SA serving their 3rd term of school. They are studying to be social workers and are required a one year internship. They told me that 99% of their class stayed back in Holland to complete this requirement. IMG_3651They decided to be a bit more adventurous and organized a year’s stay in the township of Kayamandi. That’s a pretty great move if you ask me! So far their first week with Prochorus isn’t exactly what they thought it would be, but it still had its highlights. They were both looking to be more involved with social working and so far all they have done is volunteer at the local crèches. I’m confident that they will be able to steer themselves towards some proper social working but until then they are just taking it one day at it time. Going with them today would also be my first time working at a crech. A crech is a nursery school.

Kayamandi has many crèches but I’ve never volunteered at one. The one we’d be heading to today was located right along my walk to the primary school. Typically when I pass by a crech it’s to the sounds of shouting children. They yell, “A Teacher, A Teacher, A Teacher!” I really didn’t know what to expect spending all day at a crech but I was excited to see what the day had in store.

IMG_3655Our morning started off with the children showing up sporadically for the first hour. It was such a nice day out and we played on the jungle gym and kicked a soccer ball around. It was pretty amazing playing with these kids because of how skilled they were on the jungle gym. The other volunteers and myself have all talked about how carefree these children are with their playing. I think at least 50 times a day I say to myself, ”Well this would never fly in the US”. Children 2-4 years old climbingIMG_3658 to the top of a jungle gym, jumping from places that are far too high, running across the streets and so much more. These little kids are also tough! When they fall down they get right back up. There’s a little girl I met today that had a huge scar across her chin, and she was easily the smallest of the bunch, but even she climbed to the top of the jungle gym. After everyone had arrived and we had played for a while we all headed inside.

The crech didn’t have too much but I was pleased to see it painted with colorful pictures on the walls, pictures the children created, and an adequate amount of tables and chairs for the youngsters. When we all got inside the children all took turns using the bathroom and washing their hands. Afterwards they gathered back in their seats and shared in a morning prayer. Next came the snack! Each child got half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and half a cup of milk. When they finished eatingIMG_3661 they brought their dishes back to the sink. Once everyone was done they joined their teacher in the front of the classroom for their daily procedures. The children recited the alphabet, the days of the week, and the months of the year all in English. There was a brief lesson on shapes, and another on colors. The kids really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The next part of the class was probably the best! The teacher led them in loads of songs. Almost all the songs were in Xhosa but I was able to understand some of them. One song was about family members, and another was about counting. When I didn’t understand what they were saying I focused on enjoying the show. They were so incredibly cute singing and dancing and I recorded loads of videos to share. I tried getting involved as much as I good, singing when I knew what words came next and dancing when I could follow the motions. Without a doubt these children are much better singers and dancers then I’ll ever be! IMG_3665

Following the music portion of the class was an art project. The little learners were in the middle of finishing a book filled with pictures of family members, their home, and a self-portrait. The teacher would explain in a mix between Xhosa and English what it was they had to draw. I definitely learned today that they start learning English a lot earlier than I originally thought.

After a few more songs and dances the day was over for them and the children all left. I’m not exactly sure where they went and I’m still wondering if they just walked themselves home.

The girls and I walked back to Mama Zulus for lunch before heading over to the trust center. At the center I emailed Songo, the man who started Epic. Epic is the organization which gets the kids involved with bike riding and provides them with a safe place to study and hang out. I was wondering when I could come by to check out a practice and he told me any time after 3:30.

At about 4 the three of us made our way across the township to where his organization was located. It’s just beneath the school, but still up on a hill. At the bottom of the hill is the road that takes you to Stellenbosch. With the mountains in the backdrop and nothing to block the view, this is easily the best view I’ve seen in Kayamandi, and that’s saying a lot! IMG_3714IMG_3717

For the next hour I watch kids from the ages of 6-14 practice BMX biking in one of the most spectacular places around. I was very impressed with the course, and even more impressed with how flawlessly they could navigate the course. They were unbelievable as they flew over jumps and took turns at high speeds. The biker in the blue hoodie was one of my students earlier in the week. IMG_3719He’s been biking with Epic for a year, and he’s great! There was also section of the course that was designated for the newest riders. There was a lot of wiping out and a lot of crashing but nothing stopped them from trying again.

Once the practice was over we walked back through the township, but this time we had Songo as our guide. Besides being born and raised in Kayamandi, Songo also has loads of experience providing walking tours of the township.


He works with Hotspots and is one their most valued employees. He took me a way I had never been, and taught me about places I never knew existed. He even took us inside a few shacks to share with us what a few looked like. Still blows my mind that one room, that could hardly fit two beds, is home to multiple families. He told us that usually it’s one family per bed. Try imagining that for a couple days! Before popping out the opposite side of the township, where I typically take the mini buses into town, we passed behind a shack where they were preparing sheep. It might have been goat but all I know was that I was staring at a bucket of heads. They call them smilies around here because when you cook them and the flesh burns it pulls the skin back on their jaws and appears as if they are smiling. I’ll attach a picture at the end of my post, fair warning. IMG_3723

Of course right when we got home it was time for dinner and I had visions of the heads in a bucket. Luckily, tonight would prove to be one of the most enjoyable dinners yet! We had Mama’s Mashed Potatoes, rice, beef and gravy, cooked carrots, and steamed broccoli! I know I rant about how great the fried chicken and mashed potatoes are but the Zulu’s also know how to make perfectly steamed broccoli. Back home I like to dress my broccoli in cheese but here it’s so good that I just eat it as is.

After a very satisfying meal we went back to our rooms. A few students had been waiting for us. I worked with Lupo and Atha on their first bracelets and was surprised how quickly Atha was able to grasp the process. Lupo abandoned his after an early mess up and joined the girls back in their room where they were creating signs to welcome our friend Dan back to South Africa. While Lupo was gone I helped him along on his bracelet.

Around 8 the kids went home and myself, Eric, Hanneke, and Mieke prepared for another game of Catan. Only one game tonight because we were all pretty tired. I won… but who’s counting…

Before going to bed I had planned to video chat with my dad. We were to try for 11 but after an hour’s worth of complications on his end, it was more like midnight. It was great talking to him but I hope in the future it can be under less stressful circumstances. I pay for internet by the amount of data I use and sitting around online waiting isn’t how I wanted to spend my data. No worries though, it was worth the wait. But seriously Dad, you owe me like 6 dollars.


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My First Judo Class

I woke up this morning with the sudden realization that I’ve been giving everyone I meet my SA phone number from 2 year ago! I confirmed this when I went to check how much air time I had left and noticed that the 50 rand I added just two days ago was nowhere to be found. This is completely my fault and a pretty idiotic mistake but it’s one I made and now had to fix. I entered my name and number into my own contacts, two years ago, so I could have quick access to it when I needed to add more air time or when I needed to provide someone with my number. When I got a new Sim card and new number one week ago I guess it slipped my mind to change out my own contact. So into Stellenbosch I went, a bit gingerly because my hamstring was still bothering me.

While in the mall I also realized there are a lot of stores I’ve never been into and decided I’d check a few out. I found a much nicer grocery store, a store comparable to a Target, a nice book store, and a food and wellness store. I think this part of the mall might have been under construction when I was here in 2011. I didn’t buy anything but I definitely discovered the stores where I’d be buying things in the future.IMG_3554

When I got home I decided I would spend my time getting as much work done as I could. This consisted of returning emails, writing post cards, sorting through videos, and updating my blog.

Around 4pm Hanneke and Mieke came by to greet me. They had just finished their first day with Prochorus, and were interested in walking to the trust center to see how Eric’s second day went. I decided to go with them and when we got there we saw Eric waiting outside. We thought his day would be finished but he had just been informed that he’d be accompanying a group of students into Stellenbosch where they would practice Judo. Many of the younger kids were running around practicing their judo moves. IMG_3557Since the three of us didn’t have anything else going on we decided to jump at the opportunity to join. A few minutes later a truck pulled up. It was the type of truck that had a covering over the bed. Myself, Eric, and 11 other students piled into the bed of this truck while the girls took the front seat. This proved to be one of the craziest rides I’ve been on yet. On the way there Eric and I couldn’t get over the craziness that the kids have just accepted as normal. Never would you see something like this in the states or throughout Europe.IMG_3559

When we arrived at the facility where they’d be practicing Judo the kids all hopped out and ran into the building. Actually most of them ran in every which way because I guess they had a few minutes to kill. The class was mixed between white children from Stellenbosch and black children from Kayamandi. It was actually really nice to see everyone coming together to exercise in this way… even if it meant organized fighting. The instructors we met were very nice and accommodating. Had my hamstring not been bothering me I would have absolutely participated! I think I may give it a try on Wednesday. Out of the 11 children from Kayamandi that made the trip to the center, only a handful of them actually participated. It reminded me a bit of high school gym class when a few students would “forget” their uniforms. After everyone was warmed up and stretched they paired off by height and began practice holds and grips. We happened to have the two smallest, and probably newest, youngsters right in front of us. The highlight of my day was watching these two attempt to keep up and practice their moves with the rest of the class. There were plenty of times where I couldn’t contain myself from laughing, it was too good. Even though there is a bit of a language barrier between the young Kayamandi kids and the young kids from Stellenbosch, and definitely a difference in where they live, and how they look, they all got along really well. It was great seeing everyone come together and just act like kids.IMG_3556

At 6pm our driver came back to pick us up. The ride home was even more exciting than the ride there as the kids were all showing off their vocal skills. They sang so many songs and were so good! The kid sitting next to me could easily be the next teen pop idol. Towards the end of the ride I decided this was well worth getting a video of. If you’re reading this and you’re interested in checking it out you’ll have to remind me once I get home.

Back in Kayamandi we headed to Mama Zulus because it was approaching dinner time. Tonights meal consisted of rice, fried chicken, and for the first time… salad!! It’s been too long since I ate a salad! Of course with that being said it’s Monday and back in the USA that means Monday Night Football! I was really craving some buffalo chicken wings! I did get a text very early the next morning from my dad telling me that the Eagles won!

Riri with his bling

Riri with his bling

After dinner Riri, and Mawande were back in my room waiting for me. Mawande showed me the bracelet he’s been working on. He’s definitely starting to get the hang of it! Riri challenged me to checkers. Last time we played he beat me pretty bad, this time wasn’t much different. On the third and fourth games we had a draw though.

Around 9 I walked the them up the street before saying goodbye. I know my time here is going to be over before I know it and I’m really valuing every minute of it!

IMG_3563When I got back Eric informed me that they were all ready for another game of Catan. Mieke and I shared a bit more strategy with Eric and Hanneke and the game proved to be much closer. In the end I was still victorious. It’ll feel better for them to earn their first win, not have it given to them.

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Frisbee and Board Games

The boys asked the day before what time they could come over on Saturday. I told them maybe between 9-10 but quickly thought mentioned that closer to 10 would be better. I got a knock at my door at 8:58. Half asleep I thought that if I just ignored it they would come back an hour later.IMG_3496 That’s when my phone started to ring. I got and headed to my door and could see that there was a shadow over the normally see through key hole (later in the day I too looked through the key hole and was amazed at how much you could see in side. There is another door before getting into my room but you could completely see the entire entrance way.). Outside were Ski, Mawande, and Chester. I ushered them inside, told them I could use another 30 minutes of sleep, and set them up quietly with my ipad. They actually did a decent job keeping quiet but not to the point that I was able to fall back asleep.

Shortly after being let in Eric came over to see what all the noise was about. I think he was also a IMG_3494bit shocked to see them all over so early. The plan was to head into Stellenbosch to play some Frisbee in the park. I was going to tell the boys that they could pick an ultimate jersey out of the bag but when I came back from brushing my teeth they were already geared up. Nice to see them making themselves at home haha.

It was probably 10am when we started our walk down to the mini buses. When we got there Eric realized he had forgotten his cell phone and wanted to go back and get it. He said he would just IMG_3489meet us at the park, and Chester decided he would go with Eric. I had no problems with this because it meant I had one less kid to pay for! Rather than a mini bus, today we piled into a jeep. 12 people in total piled into to the front seat, back seat, and trunk of this jeep. I think there were 5 people in the trunk alone!

The weather was just perfect for playing the park and we threw the Frisbee around for hours. We came up with a game similar to one we’ve all played before. One person throws the Frisbee the others try and catch and the person who comes down with it gets the points. I also added bonus points to anyone that could throw the Frisbee back to me. The boys are all getting pretty good at throwing and catching a Frisbee. I taught them how to read a disc today. To a bystander it might have looked like I was playing fetch but I promise it was all in good nature. Everyone loves the feeling of successfully running down a flying object no matter the sport you’re playing.IMG_3490

After playing in the park for a few hours Eric and I decided we would by some lunch for the boys and made our way to the McDonalds. I know it’s not healthy but we were just aiming for something to hold them over.IMG_3488

After some lunch we took the mini bus back to Kayamandi and were greeted by two new volunteers. Mieke and Hanneke are two very nice girls from the Netherlands. They had actually arrived late the night before but we had already been fast asleep. We introduced ourselves and they got to meet Ski, Mawande, and Chester. While we were letting them get settled the rest of us went back to my flat where we worked on some bracelets and made some music on the ipad. The girls came over to join us and I told them a bit about the township. I feel like a pretty well groomed guide at this point. Since they had just arrived they weren’t sure yet how to head into Stellenbosch and they had a few things they needed to pick up. Even though we had just gotten back from town I thought it’d be nice if we took them back in to teach them how it’s done. I’m really quite fond of sharing what I know about Kayamandi because I love the township so much!IMG_3495

I told the guys (Ski informed me that they are no longer kids) that we’d be back later but for now I was going to take the girls into town. I love being there to witness everyone’s first time riding a mini bus, or being there when a child runs up to them for the first time and lays a big hug on them. It’s so welcoming to receive so many hugs, from the kids of the township, just on the way to the bus station. Of course our walk to the buses is also filled with such beautiful views that it’s hard to say which is more welcoming. Our bus wasn’t packed on our way into town like I told them it’d be, but I think that was because it was midafternoon. I really truly do my best to show and tell the other volunteers as much as I can because when I leave I’m going to want to know they are still taking care of my students, and I’ll want lots of updates! I made sure to tell them all about which restaurants the kids can eat free, and which book stores to shop at, and which fields to play soccer at. I want to know that when I leave I’ll still be there for these kids… sorry, young adults.

After running a few errands, picking up some food, and buying the necessary adapters we took a mini bus back to the township. This ride held 21 passengers with me in the back with 4 others, and the 2 girls sandwiched up front with the driver. I love these rides! I was a little concerned that the girls may not know when to get off but they informed me afterwards that they kept an eye on me for each stop. I considered getting off early so we could walk a bit through the township but we had food with us and I figured it was more important for them to know the proper place to get off. Once at our stop I had to teach them how to say the name of our street, Cedile street. Both Mieke and Hanneke speak perfect English as well as their home language of Dutch. I’m glad that I can at least help them with Xhosa. All day every day I meet people that are bilingual, some people here can speak many more that two languages but I feel pathetic only able to speak English, EVERYONE seems to be able to speak English. Often the players on the Frisbee team just go back and forth between Afrikaans and English without even skipping a beat. Because Dutch and Afrikaans are closely related the girls from the Netherlands can also understand when the locals speak Afrikaans. Even Eric, from Germany, is able to pick some of it up. Afrikaans is derived from Dutch and German after all. I need to get my act together!

It was just about time for dinner by the time we got home and the 4 of us all sat down to yet another delicious meal prepared by Lelethu and Mama Zulu. I asked them afterwards if it’s easier to cook for a lot of people or just a few. They told me the stove does the cooking and they just have to stand there. They are very humble and modest though because their food is great, and I know it can’t be easy to cook for a group of strangers.

At dinner I asked the girls if they had played the game of Catan. They had, and Mieke told me she plays it almost weekly! This was awesome news and without a doubt we had a plan for the evening.

IMG_3515Eric needed to make a phone call so in the meantime I taught the girls the basics of bracelet making. They got it relatively quickly, but not without a few major knots along the way. I also had time to show the girls were they would be doing their volunteer work. The clouds looks really beautiful against the mountains.


Mieke and I intensely strategizing

Catan is a German board game, yet Eric was the only one of us who hadn’t played it before. I taught him the rules and we let the games begin. We played two games with Mieke winning the first and myself winning the second. Both were great games, and just the first of many. During our match I got to try some snacks from the Netherlands and from Germany. Eric had his delicious chocolate and gummy bears, and the girls brought this waffle like cookie that was soft and tasted like it was filled with syrup. It was pretty incredible.

I convinced them all to join me on Sunday for an Ultimate Frisbee practice followed by a cookout but we’d be getting picked up at 9:30 in the morning. After our second game we all went our separate ways and headed off to bed. It’s always fun to meet new people, especially when they know how to play Catan!!

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Life Is All About Perspectives

Isaac and I had talked about traveling somewhere today but he messaged me in the morning that he would no longer be able to go. After having breakfast I headed over to the trust center where I’d be able to respond to Thursday’s emails. While at the trust center I ran into Eric who was going through his first day orientation. It seems like things are going pretty well for him so far and I’m happy that I’ll be able to help make his transition to Kayamandi even easier.

After sometime I walked back to the Zulu’s because I was ready for some lunch. Mama Zulu made me some grilled cheese and I joined Papa Zulu at the table. We often talk while at the table, or rather he talks and I listen, but it’s usually about pretty generic stuff. He’s a big fan of tennis and cricket and I think the US open for tennis is going on right now. Today’s conversation took a turn though. There are some pictures on a nearby table and Papa Zulu asked me if I recognized the people in them. There was a picture of Lelethu as a young girl, Bucha from last year, a few family photos, and a much older photo that a presumed to be Mama and Papa Zulu. He confirmed that it was him and that the picture above it was of his father. This started to get us talking about how long Papa Zulu has lived here. This turned out to be one of the most enlightening conversations I’ve ever had. Papa Zulu was born in 1940 and was one of the first people to settle in Kayamandi. He spoke of a very different place when he was much younger. The information he was sharing with me was incredibly interesting but the way he delivered it was what had me on the edge of my seat. This man has some serious passion and has lived through a lot. Life in South Africa was much different before the apartheid and before Nelson Mandela came into action. This is the life he shared with me. Back when Kayamandi was very new he told me his first home was a white tent. And he continued to add things to his tent to make it homier. Candles and blankets were a start. He told me that most black children didn’t continue education after the age of 12 because there were no jobs for them. Papa Zulu got his first job in 1958 working just around the corner of Kayamandi at, what sounded like, a factory. His job was to tape something to the barrels that were being transported. For his work he would get paid a wage of 1 pound 1 penny a week, or 4 pounds 4 pennies a month. He told me that he would give his money directly to his grandmother who cared for him. Later in his life he worked at a mechanics shop but since blacks were not allowed to work on the cars he was only able to fetch the tools and bring them to the white mechanic. Over time though, many of the helpers learned the trade from watching. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that he was finally able to buy a home and he has since put in a lot of time and effort into renovating what it is today. He truly does have a beautiful home here in Kayamandi. He said it’s very important to him that he knows his kids will have a home they can live comfortably in. The Zulu’s hospitality is certainly what has helped make my experiences so great. They are wonderful hard working people that I can now call family. Our conversation went on past an hour before we both got called in for something. This was also one of those times where I was on the right side of African Time. It’s more important to spend that quality time with someone than it is to be where ever you have to be.

In my case I had some students that had come over and since I knew I was going to be IMG_3450headed to Frisbee practice around 4:45 I figured I should give them some time beforehand. This time was spent working on more bracelets, and of course playing on my ipad. Bucha is my youngest bracelet maker! And he is wearing his new bracelet with pride!

Eric decided he would join for Frisbee practice in the evening and together we walked to the entrance of the township where Hendri would be picking us up. It’s be really great having Hendri able to give us rides or else we’d have some very long walks. Tonight’s practice was all about drills and conditioning which meant a lot of running and both myself and Eric feeling very exhausted once all was said and done.IMG_3451 I took the picture on the left to show the mountain I climbed from a different angle. And following that picture is one I’m quite fond of. Same mountain, same big rock, totally different perspectives. s7Isn’t that what life is all about?

As soon as we got home Mama Zulu had dinner ready for us and we dove right in. We ate everything she put in front of us and we absolutely cleaned our plates. Our dinner was fried chicken, mama’s mashed potatoes, baked beans, white rice, and some sort of warm coleslaw that tasted very good. No picture to go with tonight’s dinner because the food didn’t last long enough. I’m gonna need these frisbee practices to keep myself from getting fat!

Our evening was pretty tame as we were both really wiped. I told the kids we could go play frisbee in the morning and new they would come early. After updating everything I could I fell asleep very quickly.