Reaching Out 2 The World


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Picking Things Up Right Where We Left Off

Life back in Kayamandi is right where we left off. You head into Stellenbosch when IMG_6757you need to run a few errands and the afternoons are spent hanging out with the kids. On both Tuesday and Wednesday Dan and I went into town so we could gather the supplies necessary for the Halloween party we’d be throwing on Thursday. This is much easier said than done when you’re in a country that doesn’t really celebrate Halloween. I say not really because there were a couple stores that sold some costumes and a few decorations but nothing like we have back home. As a matter of fact they already had all their Christmas decorations out on display!

I like to throw good parties but Dan only knows how to throw great parties! This is probably why we spent two days looking in every store that may have something we could use for our party. We bought loads of candy, snacks, and drinks, as well as spider webs, wall coverings, banners, and even a blacklight. The blacklight was one of the more difficult items to come by but we lucked out just before giving up and going home. We also made sure to buy loads of props for costumes and face paint so we could transform the kids. Once we were satisfied we made our way back to Kayamandi.

IMG_6723On Tuesday a few kids came over and we discussed their options for costumes. We made sure every child knew that they were definitely invited… but they weren’t getting into the party without a costume. IMG_6721We weren’t going to provide the costume but we’d certainly help with ideas, creativity, and of course facepaint. By the sounds of it, it seemed like we were going to have a couple ninjas, a superhero, and possibly a cat. All that matters is that they were excited and that’s what Halloween is all about!

While we were discussing our costumes I found out that one of the boys is a gymnast. I found this out while watching a dance off in my bedroom and seeing this little guy drop right down into a split! We immediately went outside where he could show off the rest of his skills. All the other boys tried their best but not just anybody can do a split! IMG_6719Even Butsha gave his shot at a couple handstands when he saw us all having a contest. This really made me miss my diving team back home! I’m really looking forward to seeing all my divers!

On Wednesday afternoon I went with Eric to Judo. I hadn’t been there in nearly a month because of the ReachingOut trip and the 3 weeks we spent traveling up north. I felt bad for not seeing them in so long but really wanted to spend at least one more practice with them before I’d have to head back home. The first practice is for the younger group and a few IMG_6752of the kids I was looking for weren’t actually there. It’s alright though because Eric and I went outside with a few other kids for an ‘advanced’ workout. Eric’s my German buddy who lives across the hall from me back at Mama Zulus, and he is one of the coolest guys I know. He’s been going twice a week to Judo for nearly 2 months and has a lot to show for it! But today was different because Eric and a couple of his students were IMG_6756outside working to the extreme! After a mid-distance run these guys did pull ups and then flipped giant tires across the entire field. I’m sure after you see the picture I attach you’ll be able to make sense of their craziness. I filmed the whole thing though and rooted them on! Before leaving Judo the rest of the students I was hoping to see showed up for the later class. As hard as goodbyes are I still find them very important and I’m glad I was able to see them off. I’m hoping to keep in touch with everyone I can this time around!

After getting back to Mama Zulu’s and having a greatIMG_6759 dinner Hanneke, Mieke, Miriam, Eric, and I went back into town for a few drinks at the Cubana. This was pretty fitting since it was the first place we all went together back when we first met in September. We shared a couple hookahs and played many rounds of cards. The night was so great but there was something even better waiting for us back in Mama Zulu’s kitchen! I still had a mug full of that delicious chocolate mousse and it had my name written all over it! Literally, I carved my name in the top of it with my spoon before putting it back in the refrigeratorIMG_6763 the day before. And with Eric at my side I couldn’t think of a better person to share it with! Cheers to another amazing couple days back in South Africa! Tomorrow would be Halloween and I promise the party lived up to all it’s anticipation! IMG_6762

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A Smooth Return to Kayamandi

After a full day’s worth of traveling we finally arrived back in South Africa. As soon as we touched IMG_6703down I could tell things were going to be great. We made it through customs in a breeze and were some of the firsts to recover our baggage. It was great to finally move through an airport at a less than frustrating pace.

Once we had everything we began heading towards the exit and saw in the distance two familiar faces. Mieke and Hanneke had come to fetch us at the airport and were holding two welcoming signs. Well, actually they were “Wanted” signs that attracted a lot of humorous attention, but we received them as big welcomes in the highest form of flattery! For mine they chose a picture from when I was dressed up in Morocco and set my reward for a whopping 8 Rand. They were pretty spot on with how I could be recognized and really did an outstanding job on the sign making. It was so nice of them to be there for us at our arrival and this was just the start of the day’s surprises!

IMG_6701With our pickup, they had also organized a ride back to Kayamandi, which is an awesome convenience that shouldn’t go unnoted. When we made it back they told us that they wanted to be there as we walked into our room. You can imagine our apprehension and anxiety at this point. We had been gone for nearly 3 weeks and our room had been periodically occupied?!? I had no idea what to expect but when we opened the door we were staring at what seemed like hundreds of sticky notes covering our walls. In the room we noticed that all the sticky notes had writing on them and there were personal messages written to both Dan and I. I think we spent the next half hour unpacking our bags and reading all of our notes. The girls had spent a couple weeks working with the kids from Kayamandi on the notes and the pictures that collaged our walls. Most of the notes weren’t signed by anyone but some were easy to identify. Ski’s drawings were easy to spot, Riri’s sayings and lingo were all pretty clear to me, and I could pick out a few I thought may have been written by Mawande. We found out that many of them had stuck with a consistent color for their notes so that also made it easier to identify. This was a total surprise to us and I absolutely loved it!

Before we could even finish reading all our notes the girls came back in to inform us that lunch was ready. What? They even had prepared a meal for us? We walked over to Mama Zulus and into the dining room and I saw on the table a few of my favorite things; coke, nutella, and crepes. Not only that, but there was an abundance of each and we totally pigged out. I think I ate almost half of the nutella jar that afternoon. When we were stuffed to capacity they went back into the kitchen and brought out the game changer. My absolute favorite desert ever…. chocolate mousse! It’s a game changer because no matter how full I previously was, I can always make room for chocolate mousse.

IMG_6700Not long after our delicious feast of a lunch did the kids start coming over. Our room quickly filled up with most of all the guys making their way over. A nice reunion to see them all again but we had a ton of people in a very small room. The girls and I decided to take all the boys to the park town the street and play some Frisbee and soccer with them. We played for a while, until we figured it would be time to head back for dinner. I love playing sports with these guys and it was the IMG_6699perfect addition to our big return. While we were playing I saw Mawande hanging out on the slide. When I went over he was admiring a small ladybug that had come to join us. Just another sign of how fantastic it was to be back in South Africa.

Another special treat about being back home in South Africa is Mama Zulus cooking. Chicken, french-fries, beans, and a salad were all waiting for us when we got back to her house. The Kayamandi kids waited back in our room while we indulged in our supreme meal. Before I head back home I plan on preparing a large meal that will have enough food to feed everyone that’s over. The kids never ask for food nor expect it, and Mama Zulu is already making enough, but it’ll be a nice treat to enjoy a meal with everyone.

IMG_6705More kids had come over by the time we had finished eating and were all hanging out in our room. They showed us which notes and pictures they had drawn and we told them a bit about our trip. Normally they’d all begin heading home around 8pm but they made it clear that they had no intentions of going home early on our first night back. Even once the other volunteers all got together around 9pm for a few card games the boys stuck around. I think it was closer to 9:30 when they finally had to go. It was nice seeing them after being away for 3 weeks and I’m dreading having to say my final goodbyes. When I came back to my room I saw that Ski had a new pair of shoes on. He was telling me that he wanted to trade with me for the day but I could risk loosing my vibrams haha.

After a few card games, Mieke, Hanneke, and I played a round of Catan. We changed up the rules a little bit to add some fun, and extended the game an extra 3 points. It was probably the perfect end to a perfect day back in Kayamandi and it’s all thanks to our friends from Holland. Mieke, and Hanneke, you guys rock and I hope you understand how much I appreciate all the kind things you do. Letting you beat me in Catan was just my way of saying thank you.


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Living It Up In Marrakech

IMG_6051After a nice night’s sleep we woke up got our belongings together and went down stairs for our included breakfast. The breakfast consisted of a hard-boiled egg, some bread, orange juice, and mint tea. The mint tea in Morocco is very good, and an excellent starter to any day.

Once we were all set we grabbed a cab to the train station so we could ride to Marrakech. Everyone we’ve talked to has told us that Marrakech is the most popular city to visit in Morocco because it has the most to do. We also knew that most Sahara tours left from Marrakech so it was a pretty easy decision to head that way.

The first time you ride a train in a new country you never really know what to expect. You want to arrive early so you don’t miss your departure but as far as choosing seats goes, it’s a hit or miss game. When we got to the station we were told the next train wouldn’t be leaving for another couple hours, and that the train that had just left was overbooked. From what we’ve been told, you are only guaranteed a seat if you buy first class and with a 3 hour ride ahead of us we didn’t want to risk having to stand.

Our wait wasn’t so bad and before IMG_6078we knew it, it was time to board. With everything in French and Arabic we kept double checking to make sure we were boarding the correct train and headed towards the right compartment. Our seats were pretty nice when we arrived at them and our room was shared with four other riders. Right off the bat I heard one of the girls talking to her friend and targeted her as an American. When traveling in new places it’s sometimes refreshing to hear a familiar accent. Turns out I was only partially right though as she turned out to be from Canada. Her friend she was riding with was her husband and he was born and raised in Morocco. Together they married and lived in Dubai but had traveled back to Morocco for the holiday. With Dan and I just flying in from Dubai we had much to talk about with them and spent the first half of the ride sharing stories and getting tips about how to tour Morocco. During this time we were joined by another couple who quietly took their seats next to me. I think they were exhausted from their travels because it took about an hour before we learned that they were also English speaking and lived in Washington D.C. The two of them were celebrating their one year anniversary and were also planning on venturing off into the Sahara for a couple days. It was a completely coincidence that all the English speakers were placed in the same train car but it worked out very nicely!

One thing I found very interesting was that the Moroccan’s wife (sorry I don’t remember their names, but she’s also the Canadian) was vegetarian and they were in Morocco for the holiday, Eid Al-Adha. This Muslim holiday honors the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his young first-born son Ishmael as an act of submission to Allah’s command and his son’s acceptance to being sacrificed, but before that could happen Allah intervened to provide Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice instead. So once a year friends and families gather together for this religious holiday and sacrifice a sheep, cow, or a goat. As he was telling us this he went on to say that when they arrive in Marrakech he needs to go out and buy two sheep to bring back to his family. I guess being the oldest son requires him to bring home the sheep. Another thing is that the sheep will live for 3 days outside their home before their time is up. The whole time he was explaining this you could tell his wife had some major concerns. From what I understand vegetarians aren’t huge fans of sacrificing animals. We made sure to wish them both the best of luck before we departed!

As soon as we got to Marrakech it was obvious that everyone was right about it IMG_6074being more popular than Casablanca. The streets were much more crowded and the place seemed pretty happening. Dan had booked a couple nights at the Riad Hannah, which was located not far from the market square, so our first task was trying to find our way there. We considered walking but the streets were poorly labeled and we weren’t sure which way to start. Right around this time a truck pulled up to us and offered us a ride. IMG_6072There was only room for one of us to sit in the front with him so I volunteered to sit in the bed. I guess he uses the truck for transporting animals or something because the back end of the truck had a metal gate he enclosed behind me. I gotta say, I felt a bit like a sheep being transported as we drove through the streets of Marrakech, but it was kind of fun as well.

Our driver dropped us off at the start of an alley way and told us that we’d find our riad if we just continued to walk on down. On both sides of this narrow street were small stores and vendors selling everything from meat, to swords. The street went as far as the eye could see and we weren’t finding any signs for our riad. As we walked down every vendor that caught our eye would try to lure us into their shop and try their best to get us to purchase something from them. It’s amazing how persistent these guys can be. Carrying our bags around with us also made us an easy target as vulnerable tourists, so we were anxious to move on. A kid around our age approached us and asked if we needed help finding out accommodation. We told him the name and he said to follow him. He lead us down back alleys and took us right to the front door of the Riad Hannah, I couldn’t imagine we would have found the place without his help. Dan went to tip him for his service and rather than accepting the generous amount the boy asked for a figured 10 times what Dan had offered him! He was asking twice the amount our driver had even asked for! I understand they see tourists as just having an abundance of money, but you have to have some nerve to request a larger tip from someone. After all it’s a tip… not a required payment.

Anyways, our riad was really nice. A riad is the name for a IMG_6070Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard or garden. The word riad actually comes from Arabic and means garden. The walls are often thick stone exterior walls covered in tile or plaster. There are often beautiful designs and patterns found on these walls and our riad was no exception.

Once we were settled in we decided to go back out into the streets and browse through the markets. The closer we got to the market square the more congested the streets became. It was difficult to pass up all the vendors along the walk because they were all offering such interesting items and I knew I could get great prices. I just kept telling myself that I was going to be there for three days and I’d have plenty of time for buying souvenirs later on.

IMG_6093The walk to the square took about 15 minutes but it was an enjoyable walk filled with things I’ve never seen before. When we reached the square the alleyway opened up into massive gathering. I don’t think we walked more than 50 feet before coming across a few Moroccan snake charmers doing their thing. We took pictures but quickly found out that they harass you for money if they see you using your camera. You just have to be stern with them or let them know up front that you have no intention of buying anything or giving them any money.

Just after seeing the snakes we were DSC_5204walking through the square and a man came up to me and placed his monkey on my shoulder. Okay, so maybe I looked interested in holding the monkey but I promise I didn’t ask for it. Their game plan is to first put the monkey in your hands and to then ask for money. You just have to make sure to tell them right away that you either have no money, or that you aren’t interested… even if you kind of are. Because this was our first encounter with the aggressive monkey owner we opted to take a few pictures and afterwards tipped him. Of course the amount we gave him was far less than he wanted, but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers.

IMG_6099Our main goal at this point wasIMG_6103 finding a nice place to sit and eat dinner. It was nearing sun down and we hadn’t eaten anything besides a light snack on the train. We set our sights on a restaurant that had a rooftop balcony overlooking the market square and ordered a traditional Moroccan meal of couscous with chicken and vegetables. I liked the dish, but can’t say that I loved it.

When we were finished eating we took a different route to get back to our riad and were beginning to understand the network of alleys that lead in every which way.

We arrived in Marrakech on Saturday and would be departing for our Sahara Desert Tour on Tuesday morning. The following days consisted of wandering throughout Marrakech, learning the proper way to haggle with the vendors, dressing up in traditional Arabic gandooras, charming snakes, hanging with a few locals, and trying a few different Moroccan meals. It was nice being able to stay in the same area for a few days and not have to worry about moving around to much.

DSC_5268How to haggle 101: When entering a store it’s important to not let the vendor know which item you are interested in. If you see something you like it’s best to pay no attention to it. You’ll be presented with a number of items that you may or may not want but you always need to act uninterested with whatever it is they are offering. When the item you are actually interested in is finally presented or you’ve given it away that you’d like to hear more about it, you need to stand your ground. At this point it’s okay to ask the vendor what his starting price is (unless you already know what you should be paying or already know how low you can get it). Let’s say they tell you the price is 1,200 Dh… You’re going to then want to counter their offer with a number closer to 100 Dh. At this point, it’s their turn to look at you like you’re crazy but you need to stand your ground! Immediately they’ll drop their price to say, 800 Dh, but that’s still not what you’re looking for. You again tell them 100 Dh and remind them that you don’t even want the item they are offering. Their next offer will be maybe between 500-600 Dh and at that point you tell them no thanks and begin leaving their store. I promise they will stop you and I promise they will drop their price by at least another 100. Even though it appears they have cut their original price in half you still have no interest in paying 450 Dh and tell them that you’re going to try a different store but perhaps you’ll be back later. They’ll ask what your max price is at this point looking for anything they can get and see if they can meet you somewhere in the middle but that’s all unnecessary. In your head you may be willing to pay up to 200 Dh for the item (about 20 USD) but you tell them the most you’re willing to go is 150 Dh. This will go back and forth for a little longer, and you may need to fake an early exit a few times, or tell them you’re no longer interested but eventually you’ll get the price you want. It’s a game with these guys and if you want to get a fair deal you gotta be tough.

The above story is an accurate account of one of the purchases I made and I still left wondering if I could have gotten the item for less haha. Another strong strategy is letting them know that you just purchased the same item at a different store for a small made up amount, and that if they aren’t interested in selling you their item for the same offer that you’ll just head back to that previously stated store. I know I’m not the best or most experienced at haggling, but I sure enjoy it!

On our last night before departing on our Sahara tour we stayed at a different riad.DSC_5323 The location and Wi-Fi were much better than the riad Hannah but there was a strong smell of cat urine in the air. Because of this, we spent a good part of our evening hanging out on our riad’s rooftop. The views from up top were enjoyable and offered a nice angle to the sun setting. While we were sitting up there listening to music and playing cards we were joined by a guy about our age. Jafar lives in Marrakech and works at the riad DSC_5348we were staying at. As it turns out, he had joined us on the rooftop so he could pay his respects to Allah. He told me that five times throughout the day the loud speaker that blasts over all of Marrakech (and every other Muslim city) is a reminder or calling for those that believe to come and pray. I think the most significant times are when the sun rises and when the sun sets. I’m glad I got the opportunity to meet Jafar because I had been wondering what was being said over those loud speakers ever since we arrived in Dubai.

The night was still young at this point, seeing as the sun had just set, and Dan and I DSC_5244wanted to explore the city square one last time. Only this time we wanted to sport our traditional Arabic clothes. After saying farewell to Jafar we went back to our room and dressed to impress. Interestingly enough we got less stairs walking throughout the square while wearing these clothes than we did in the clothes we had brought. Maybe that makes sense or maybe it was just wishful thinking but either way we had a fun time doing our best to fit in.

Before the night was over I was able to do something pretty special! Back in our riad we had Wi-Fi available in our room and I was able to video chat with my best friend Nick Sgrignoli and his beautiful wife Beth! I haven’t seen or talked to them since August so it was a real pleasure catching up. Thanks again for the call friends, can’t wait to see you once I’m home.

DSC_5254The tour would be leaving the following morning at 7:00am so we were sure to have our things packed and ready to go before going to sleep. Marrakech was a lot of fun, and I look forward to a future visit. DSC_5252DSC_5374DSC_5375DSC_5289DSC_5296


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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.

Tuesday

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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Round One of the Kayamandi Goodbyes

Today would be my last day in Kayamandi before leaving with Dan for a few weeks to travel about Dubai and Morocco. We didn’t plan anything for today because we still needed to get everything ready for our trip and say our goodbyes.

Much earlier than either of us had anticipated we heard a knock at our door. IMG_4013I got up to see who it was and saw Avela standing at our door. I knew he’d be heading back to the Eastern Cape today and that this was him coming by to say farewell.

Avela is one of the nicest guys in Kayamandi, and is constantly doing things for others. Initially I didn’t think I’d even be able to see him again due to the fact that he has since moved out of Kayamandi. It was such an awesome surprise to find out that he’d be able to come along on our trip and join the rest of his best friends while we explored their beautiful country. Since this would be the last time I’d be seeing Avela, for probably a very long time, we decided to present him with a few parting gifts. We gave Avela 3 things before saying goodbye.IMG_5200The first thing was his professional picture of him holding a snake at the Wildlife Ranch. The second was the name card drawling I made for him, and the third was a photo album consisting of 35 photos from out trip featuring him. As he paged through the album I noticed tears streaming down his face. I was truly touched that he loved the album so much. It’s moments like these that will stick with me forever and drive me to make IMG_5217a return trip in the future. I never thought I’d care so much for a group of kids, now young adults, so dearly. We’ve become a family in the time we’ve spent together and nobody likes having to say goodbye to the ones they love. After a few hugs, and many thanks, Dan and I walked Avela to our front gate and said our final goodbye. One day, Avela, we’ll meet again.

The next significant event for Sunday was a farewell lunch with Hanneke, Mieke, Theresa, and Dan. We all had a few minor things to take care of in Stellenbosch and afterwards strolled over to a restaurant by the name of Simply Asia. I chose this place because of how great I remember it being on my last visit. The girls and I split a sushi platter to start our meal and it was absolutely delicious! Following our appetizer Hanneke and I split a chicken and steak noodle dish. She ordered the dish with chicken, I ordered the same meal with steak, and we split the whole thing 50/50. This worked out so nicely because I was having an internal debate as to which I should order. Our meal was really phenomenal and it was the perfect way to spend our last lunch before departing. We were also celebrating having known each other for 1 month!!

Back in Kayamandi a few of the kids had come over and helped me put the finishing IMG_5502touches on the last of our postcards. At this point I think everyone’s postcard has been mailed out. In the next few weeks be sure to keep an eye out for them, and if you receive yours please upload a picture and hashtag it, ReachingOut2TheWorld.

Around midday Riri, Mawande, and Aphiwe came by to work on a few special letters we’ll be giving to our top contributors!! I couldn’t be more impressed with how well these three set to work on these letters. I know you guys will absolutely love them!!

IMG_5504During this same time our room quickly filled up with about 12 other people. We played a big card with everyone which eventually turned into a challenge to see if Hanneke and I could stack an entire deck of cards on a bottle of Axe spray. One by one we placed a card on top with the only rule being that two corners had to be hanging off at all times. As we got closer and closer to finishing up the deck of cards we began gaining everyone’s attention. Soon enough we were adding additional items onto our stack until we thought IMG_5499we would push our limit. From there we included the rest of the group in a makeshift game of jenga that had us each taking turns pulling the cards off until one of us collapsed the whole structure.

After dinner some of the guys were still back in the room playing a 4 person game on Dan’s ipad. Sometimes they are good at sharing but if you don’t keep an eye on them the older guys in the group sometimes hog the device. While I was working with Riri on his letter I heard a very loud slapping noise and looked up to see a fight breaking out in the room. I don’t know exactly what happened but I do know that Wande slapped Luthando across the face harder than I’ve ever seen anyone get slapped. Immediately I told Wande to leave the room and the other guys made sure Luthando was alright. I’m pretty sure this was all because of whose turn it was in the game. It’s pretty common to see such aggression with kids around here but that doesn’t mean it’s alright in my room! I later went out to talk to Wande to let him know that it’s never okay to hit someone in the face like that.

Just after 8 the group dispersed and headed home. The plan was to hang out with the rest of the volunteers for our last night but I wanted to first grab a shower. While I was in the bathroom just about to step into the shower I heard someone crying outside the door. I stopped what I was doing so I could hear better what was being said. It sounded like Lupho and he was really upset about something. I figured my shower could wait a minute and I went out to see what the problem was. Back in my room Lupho was sitting on my bed with Mieke by his side. Apparently after we said our farewell a couple of the older kids beat him up just down the road. Besides being noticeably upset, he looked alright, and I think he was mostly just shook up. Dan had gone outside to see if any of the kids were still around but I don’t think any of them stayed back. I’m not sure there was an actual reason as to why he was beat up, but the easy explanation is that boys around here are just a bit more aggressive. I don’t think violent is the right term because they don’t ever seem to really want to hurt each other… they just like to hit each other. At home, children are disciplined by being hit. Often, when there is a problem, hitting each other is just their first response. When I saw Dan and Mieke had things under control and Lupho was being spoiled with gummy worms I figured I could get back to my shower. The sad truth was that Dan and I would be leaving early Monday morning and wouldn’t be able to talk to any of the kids that beat up Lupho till the end of October. By the time we get back I don’t think they’d even know what we’re talking about.

Post shower we all met up in the house shared with the girls from Holland and Germany. There were 7 of us in total and we played a game called Things. To play this game someone must first read a statement like, “Name something you’d find in the trash.” All participants then write down a suitable answer and fold it up before giving it back to the reader. The reader then reads aloud all the responses and gets one guess as to who wrote what. If they are right they get another guess, if they are wrong the person to the left of them gets a guess. This continues until everyone’s response has been guessed. This is a fun game with a large group and is much harder than it may sound. Dan beat everyone fairly easy but he later told me that he was able to tell who wrote what based off of their reactions when the responses were first being read. Twas very clever Mr. Sellers.

Even though the games were fun the real highlight of the night was the chocolate mousse cake which we all split. I thought the cake was delicious and the perfect way to cap off our farewell night.

After a close game of hearts, which Hanneke beat me by 2 points, it was time to head back to our room and begin backing for our trip through Dubai and Morocco. The next few posts may be spread out a bit because I can’t say for sure how well I’ll have internet connection along the way. This trip may also leave little time for updating but I’ll see what I can do 🙂 Hope you Enjoy!!


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A Perfect Day in Muizenburg

Earlier in the week Dan and I made plans to take our group of kids from Kayamandi to Muizenburg so they could check out Dave’s Surf Program. All week I’ve been excited for this! After a few minor setbacks in the morning it was finally time for us to meet up at the surf shack. Ten children and four volunteers came along for the adventure today. The children were, Mawande, Chester, Lupho, Khanyisa, Rethabile, Athabile, Ski, Apwhiwe, Luthando, and Wande. The volunteers coming along to help were Theresa, Mieke, Hanneke, and I. Out of our whole group Mieke, Hanneke, and I were the only ones who had tried surfing before… and that was about two weeks ago. I knew one thing was for sure though; these guys absolutely love the water, even the ones that can’t swim love to hang out in the water!

IMG_5435The drive to Muizenburg took about an hour and our van was pretty crowded. The girls in the back had everyone singing everything from, “If you’re happy and you know it”, to The South African National Anthem. I felt sort of bad for our driver because of how loud we were being but he didn’t seem to mind. During our drive we drove past Khayelitsha, the biggest township in the Western Cape. This township is the home to over a million residents and is quite the sight to see. As we drove past, all the boys in the van stopped singing to check it out. None of them have ever been there before but they all know about it. The place is pretty famous for all sorts of reasons. I know about it for its size and population, while the boys know about it because several of their favorite rappers were born and raised there. At first I thought they were gawking at the township when we drove past but I think they were just awestruck by its size.

The closer and closer we got to Muizenburg the darker the clouds got. I couldn’t help but wonder if the weather would hold out for us. I just kept telling myself that no matter what, we’ll make the most of our day! I also knew that the boys would be able to sport some sweet wetsuits that would hopefully provide them with the warm they needed.

When we finally pulled up to Dave’s Surf Shack we were welcomed and greetedIMG_5433 by the children involved in the surf program, as well as a few volunteers, and Bronwyn, Dave’s daughter. They were also concerned about the harsh weather conditions but had set up a few back up plans in the case we couldn’t get in the water. I convinced them that we brought some pretty tough kids with us and that once they were suited up in their wetsuits they’d be good to go. Of course IMG_5434none of our guys had ever worn a wetsuit before so it was pretty hilarious watching them struggle to put them on. Poor Lupho tried his absolute hardest to squeeze his body into a suit that was at least 5 sizes too small before I noticed and grabbed a larger one for him. Once the boys were ready we walked across the street to where the Surf Shop was located so the volunteers could also get ready. This was where everyone received their surf boards and the excitement started to set in. While we waited for everyone to get ready Hanneke and Mieke gathered the crew for an epic game of ninja. Playing any game in a wetsuit will improve the fun quality immensely!

Down at the beach we were joined with Dave’s crew. All in all there were 23IMG_5430 of us ready to tear it up in the ocean, but first we had to get our lesson. We started with a run around the beach to warm up, followed by a giant group stretch. When everyone was feeling loose we began practicing laying on the boards, paddling, and the proper way to hop up onto your feet.IMG_5428 I really didn’t expect many, if any, of our guys to grasp surfing on their first try, I was just happy that they’d get the chance to swim and play the ocean!IMG_5423IMG_5422IMG_5419IMG_5416

surfing, khanyisa 2Soon enough it was time for all of us to wade out in the water. Each kid from Kayamandi was paired with someone from Dave’s program. It was really cool to see the kids working together so well. Most of the guys Dave works with speak Afrikaans, while all of ours speak Xhosa. This didn’t seem to matter in the least bit though as they worked together to ride the waves. Because the air was so chilly the water actually felt great. I don’t think anyone was cold once we were in, but I’m sure the wetsuits played a major role in that! With such a huge group it seemed that no matter where I looked kids were readying themselves for the next wave. I can’t say for sure, but I think Khanyisa was the first to stand. Watching this was like watching your child take their first steps. I was so proud of him even though he only stood up for about a second. Riri, and Athabile were close seconds to standing on their boards. Riri was the one in our group I was most confident about that would be able to pick up surfing. I don’t think everyone in our group was able to stand up but I know they were each able to at least ride wave in boogie board style. surfing ririMawande is probably the weakest swimmer in our group and I was worried he wouldn’t be able to do much. Last week at Myoli’s beach I caught him boogie boarding in about an inch of still water. When I looked out to see him lying on his board in water that was past his waist, I was both proud and a little worried. I knew if he fell that he’d be able to stand, but the ocean has a way of tossing you around and sometimes it’s hard to find good footing. A moment later I glanced back in his direction and he was gone! I looked around in the direction I saw him last but he was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until I turned to face the beach that I saw he had ridden a wave all the way in, and I mean ALLL the way in until he was beached! I’m pretty sure surfing aphiwethat was his most successful ride of the day but it was a darn good one! Everywhere I looked our group was getting better and better and for the hour we tore that ocean up!

IMG_5411Getting back out of the ocean meant a cold and windy walk back to the surf shack, but our efforts were rewarded with perfectly timed hot chocolate! The Surf Shack knows how to cater!

Once everyone was out of their wetsuits and into their dry clothes we had about 30 minutes before lunch. This time was spent playing with every toy the surf center had to offer. There were kids skateboarding, IMG_5407kicking the soccer ball around, playing ping pong, boxing, lifting weights, throwing exercise balls, and more. After some time a few of these activities morphed together into some sort of gauntlet ride for the guys brave enough to ride. Each guy took turns riding down the small hill on a skateboard while the other boys heaved the exercise balls in their direction. This reminded me of a combination between Wipeout and Gladiator. This was all fun and games but we stopped it before someone or something got hurt. Our timing worked out well because it also happened to be time for lunch!

IMG_5406Dave’s mother prepared a warm lunch for all the boys which consisted of rice, minced meat and beans. They all seemed to love it because the food was IMG_5397gone before I could get a second glance at their plates. Mnandi nento was the phrase of choice and it means in Xhosa; that was very nice.

After the meal the boys went back to playing soccer and riding the skateboards. I joined in with a group that was playing once bounce. It’s basically just juggling the soccer ball within the group but the ball is only allowed to bounce once IMG_5401in between hits. These guys can all run circles around me when it comes to soccer but it was still a good time. I think a few of Dave’s crew was impressed with the soccer skills our boys displayed. Maybe we can get them together in the future for a combined practice or scrimmage?!

Actually, the next thing on our IMG_5394agenda was just that, a soccer game. We all headed up to the park just up the street from the surf center. By the time I got there the field and goals had already been laid out and the game was in progress. Over 20 of us split up into two teams and we played for nearly two hours. It doesn’t matter what I fill a day with, because if we include a game of soccer than there’s no doubt these boys have had an amazing day. The volunteers took turns playing and IMG_5393hanging out on the sidelines, I’m pretty sure the kids were better off without us, haha. Through the first game it became pretty evident that the teams were a little unfair. I mentioned it to Riri and suggested that maybe he should switch teams. Riri is also one of the best soccer players and absolutely has the best attitude when it comes to working with others. He had no problems switching over to the less skilled team and immediately went around high-fiving his new teammates. I wish more people could be as awesome as Riri, he genuinely cares more about the greater good of everyone else before himself. His name, Rethabile, actually means happy… it’s pretty spot on if you ask me!

Just before 3:00 we regrouped back at the surf center for one last group picture. We all had such an amazing time, and can’t wait till the next time we can get back together. Hanneke, and Mieke will both be here for the next year. I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to take our group back to Muizenburg in the future. Thanks so much to all the volunteers and helpers at the Surf Shack for having the patience to work with us, despite the cold weather! Can’t wait to hear all about the amazing things your program does in the future!!IMG_5387

Our ride home was much quieter than our ride there due to our successful ability to drain these hooligans of their energy. Riri was one of the three that fell asleep on the way home and unfortunately he left his cell phone in the van. It wasn’t until the van was long gone that he informed that he was missing his phone. It stinks to lose a phone, but I can’t imagine how he must have been feeling. The boy who I just described as always being happy and the life of the party was suddenly hunched over with his head in his hands, crying. I tried getting in touch with our driver but he didn’t pick up. It wasn’t until I was able to reach Dave that we were able to work something out. Dave got a hold of the drive who said he recovered the phone and would bring it by the center tomorrow. I’ll be leaving on Monday morning so I won’t be able to see to it that Riri gets his phone back, but I think Hanneke will stay in contact with Dave and make sure things work out. Good luck to all those involved!

Between the kids all being tired, and the weather being a bit chilly we thought it’d be IMG_5439a perfect afternoon to let the guys watch a movie. Mieke and Hanneke went about setting up a make shift viewing area in their living quarters while I worked with Aphiwe on a very special letter.


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ReachingOut2 a Couple Great Programs

Thursday and Friday were both catch up days.

Back home when I need to run a few errands I just get in my car and drive to the store. I can usually take care of everything I need pretty quickly. I hardly ever need to worry about what times stores are closing, and I don’t have to worry about being home before it gets dark. Over here in South Africa you have to constantly be mindful of those things. I don’t mind walking places and taking the mini buses but a simple trip into town to mail a few postcards could take over an hour. With this in mind we typically try to accomplish as much as we can each time we have to make the trip and that’s basically what Thursday and Friday were all about.

DSC_4932After utilizing the Wi-Fi at the trust center within the township we made our way the primary school. We wanted to catch up with a couple teachers and see a few students. We didn’t stick around too long because Dan and I both had other things we had to take care of. Pam is doing well and is looking for any ideas for helping fund raise money to buy furniture for her church.

Our next stop was the BMX track, run DSC_4911by Songo Fipaza. If you can remember, Songo is the guy who started the organization in Kayamandi called Epic. His program takes children off the streets, gives them a safe place to study, learn, and hang out, all while keeping them active with BMX riding. He’s created a custom BMX track, right next to his office, which is next door to the primary school and he trains kids on how to ride and race. DSC_4913Our plan was to meet up with him and discuss a bit more about his organization but we arrived just after he had left. While there I was able to borrow one of the kid’s bikes and take it around the course. It was a lot of fun but I took it pretty slow. I was worried I’d crash and ruin the poor guy’s bike. The very last bit of track had a low spot where there was mud. I wasn’t able to avoid it which made for two very muddy tires. At least I didn’t break his bike…

From there I split up with Dan and DSC_4918went into town. I got really lucky and caught a ride in with Papa Zulu, while making the walk. In town I visited the bank, a couple ATMs (because the max you can withdraw is just not enough sometimes), and the post office to mail out another 7 post cards! I actually made good time on everything and was home in just over an hour.

My afternoon was spent updating blogs, finalizing the pictures for the photo books, and many more post cards. It’s certainly helping to have the kids participate in writing the post cards, and they seem to still enjoy writing to you all! Please don’t be too critical with their writing, I think it’s a lot harder for them to write in English than to speak it.

In the evening all the volunteers got together for another game of true colors. We’ve now played that game all the way through so if we are interested in playing again we’ll need to first come up with some new questions. After our game the group divided and went off to bed but Hanneke, Mieke, and Gesa all stayed up to learn one of my favorite 4 person games. Spades is an excellent strategy card game played with partners but you need just 4 people to play. Our first game was mostly based around teaching the other three how to play but I’m sure we’ll play again in the future!

Friday wasn’t too different from Thursday with Dan and I having to take care of a few more errands.

DSC_4928When we visited Songo today, he was there and we were able to sit down with him and talk all about his program and our thoughts on working with him. Like Dave’s Surf Program, we were both very impressed with the work Songo’s been doing and felt confident that our contributions would be received in the highest regard. Both Dave and Songo have both successfully started programs that take less privileged children off the streets and provide them with a safe environment to learn and grow. Both programs also aim to keep the DSC_4930participants busy and healthy by teaching them how to balance work and play. While Dave trains his guys how to surf, Songo trains his group to ride BMX. As an added bonus, both of these awesome gentlemen work directly with the schools Dan and I volunteered at. This means we’ll be able to keep tabs on how things are going and what our students have been up to. Once Dan and I return from our trip to DubaiDSC_4931 and Morocco, we’ve set up a date where we can get all the kids together for an afternoon filled with sports (November 1st). I’m already pumped for this and will be contacting the Stellebosch Frisbee gang to see if they’d be interested in joining us. If you’re interested in visiting Songo’s website it’s www.songo.info.

After our visit with Songo we went into town so we could deliver the 350 photos that we’d need printed so we could begin putting them into the photo albums. We  grabbed lunch at Asta La Pasta in the meantime and ate a delicious chicken and pasta dish. When we finished eating we still had enough time to send out a few more postcards, visit an ATM, and stop by the Western Union where I’d be able to pick up a very generous donation from my friend Eartha. Thanks again Eartha! Our timing worked out pretty great because the photos had finished printing just before we walked back into the shop. Before heading back home we picked up Dan’s laundry, and ate an ice cream cone from Steers. We’ve gotten pretty good at coordinating our visits into town so that we could accomplish everything we need to in the most efficient time possible. And yes, we always make time for ice cream.

Back at home we met up with the rest of the students that will be joining us on our DSC_4073beach trip tomorrow and wrote out another dozen post cards. We’re trying our best to get these cards done before we leave on our trip. We still have a handful more to go but I think we can do it!

I’m really looking forward to taking everyone to Muizenburg for our surf outing. I’m not exactly sure what to expect because a few of the kids struggle to swim, but I’m sure Dave has something up his sleeve. speaking of sleeves, I’m curious if all our crew will be geared up in wet suits tomorrow?! Time will tell!