Reaching Out 2 The World


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A Mysterious Guy Fawkes Day

Like so many other days I woke up Tuesday to a knock at my door. I wasn’t expecting anyone since it was a school day but I heard Papa Zulu calling my name. The next thing I knew Isaac was walking in through the door. I was hoping he’d be coming by today but had no idea that he’d be over first thing in the morning.

We chatted for a while and caught up. Neither Dan nor I had seen Isaac since theIMG_7022 end of September so we spent the morning filling him in on our big trip. The three of us went into Stellenbosch around 10:30 for an early lunch before taking a scenic drive to Gordon’s Bay. Gordan’s Bay is located next to Strand along the coast of False Bay. I think I’ve driven by there before because I remembered the nice hotels along the coast line but I’ve never spent any real amount of time there. Most of the buildings went up just before the IMG_7021world cup in 2010 to help make more for the overflow of people staying in Cape Town. Our trip today was just about hanging out. Isaac treated us to some ice cream and we talked and relaxed by the beach.

Since I’m leaving on Thursday I was anxious to get back to Kayamandi and spend time with the kids. Mawande was one of the first guys to come over and he reminded me of two things. The first of which was that all the students have major exams that will be beginning on Friday and last for nearly two weeks. He brought some of his work books along with him so we could study some and told me that he’d be heading over to the library for some time just after 3. The second thing he reminded me was that today was Guy Fawkes Day. This is an annual commemoration started by the Brits to celebrate the fact thatguy fawkes King James I (not Lebron) had survived the attempt on his life. IMG_7024Guy Fawkes was a member of the Gunpowder Plot and was arrested why guarding explosives that were placed beneath the House of Lords (This info is brought to you by Wikipedia). Anyway, it’s a day where people light fireworks, wear masks, and mischief occurs. South African Townships have adapted this holiday as a day similar to our mischief night… only more intense. The next boy to come over was Luthando who was breathing very heavy. IMG_7026He had just been chased all the way to our house. The front of his shirt had a few dark stains on it and I came to find out that it was oil. Basically in the township the older boys use this day to torment the younger boys… more so than usual. Kids are nervous about leaving their homes and know that if they do they risk getting beat up or having things thrown at them. From what I heard the oil was the least troubling thing they were throwing at each other. The boys did make it over, but very sporadically (I think they had to wade through war to make it over). Once at our place they showed no interest in leaving and we could hardly blame them.

Riri showed up sometime in the middle of this completely unscathed. He strolled inIMG_7025 cool as a cucumber. I’m really not too surprised because anyone that knows Riri likes Riri and anyone that doesn’t know him wants to get to know him. He’s only 13 which doesn’t make him the oldest or the youngest of the group but he is probably the most respected amongst the bunch. I was thrilled to see him because I needed him to put the final touches on a personal letter him and I have been working on. He’s worked so hard on this letter and I’m thrilled to pass it on to the recipient once I get home.

I reminded all the guys that I’d be making dinner for everyone the following night and asked Riri to come by early. I found out a while ago that Riri is pretty good at cooking and requested his help on the preparations. I also promised Ski and Mawande that they could help shave my beard off and figured Wednesday would be the perfect day.

Our evening was pretty quiet because the Dutch girls had gone into Cape Town to watch a soccer match. They contacted us later on in the night to let us know that their team won and that they’d be home earlier than expected. Dan and I seized the opportunity and asked if they’d be so kind to pick us up a snack on the way home. That night we all dined to a delicious meal of McDonalds before calling it a night and heading to bed. Wednesday was going to be a busy day.

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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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Destination: Casablanca, Morocco

It kind of stinks having to wake yourself up at 4:30 in the morning and get out of bed when you’re staying at a 5 star luxury hotel. It’s even harder when you know that you’ll be headed to the airport to board a cramped plane for the next 5 hours and you won’t be staying anywhere near as nice as the hotel you’re leaving. It’s all part of the adventure though, and after hitting the snooze once, we were up and ready to go.

Because we were leaving so early we didn’t get the chance to enjoy the buffet breakfast44 but rather waited till we got to the airport before grabbing a bite. It’s interesting how lively airports can be at such odd times in the day. It wasn’t even 6am yet and we saw people everywhere. Some friends were even grabbing a beer at an airport bar (probably Australians haha). Whatever floats your boat. Dan and I went with a tropical smoothie and it was a pretty excellent want to start the morning.

As we all began boarding the plane I started wondering who would be sitting next to me. Of course I was hopeful that the seat would stay open the way it had for Dan on the flight to Dubai, but unfortunately luck wasn’t on my side this morning. The plane started filling up and the seat next to me still remained open. It wasn’t until just before departure that a husband and wife walked down the aisle carrying their small baby. Dan and I both looked at each other as the couple took their seats and the husband joined us in our row. I figured the baby would be with his mother for most of the flight but knew that we’d have to expect at least a little disturbance.

Off the bat, Ryan (the baby), was a bit fussy, but after his mother gave him some sort of medicine he seemed to really quiet down. He actually slept for at least the first half of the flight which we were all very happy about. That’s not to say that later in the flight he had a bit more energy and may have been the reason as to why a drink got spilled on my seat. No worries though…

During this time I watched; The Internship, The Way Way Back, and Wall E. I think I liked these three movies better than the last group I watched on the flight to Dubai. I think it’s easier to enjoy a comedy on a flight rather than a drama or action movie… but maybe that’s just me.

I don’t generally sleep well on flights but when you add in the fact that I had the middle seat it basically cancels out any sleep potential. I wasn’t too concerned with sleeping though because I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s just not going to happen when I’m in flight.

By the time we arrived in Morocco neither Dan nor I had really any idea as to what time it was. There was definitely a time difference from Dubai but we weren’t positive what it was. I changed my iphone to the time zone of Morocco but the next morning we found out that it was still an hour off.

Anyway, our plane landed in Casablanca and our first task was to head through customs before making our way to the baggage claim. The lines at the custom desks were all fairly long and we chose the line that had the slowest employee working. This wasn’t really determined until we were already committed to our line but it was pretty clear as every other line seemed to be moving more than twice as fast as us. When I finally reached the desk the man working looked as if he just plain hated his job. Sorry dude… but you don’t need to slow down everyone’s day.

At this point I was feeling a bit ill and was just trying to make it out of there without getting sick. I’m not positive why I wasn’t feeling well but it was probably a combination of the long day of travel, and the food I ate.

After what felt like forever we finally made it through customs and moved on to baggage claim. We were both thinking that this should be a fairly quick process as they have had more than enough time to get the bags off the plane, but as it turns out we were wrong. We waited and waited before we finally retrieved our one checked bag. Who knows why it took them so long to get them but at least we had ours and could finally leave the airport. I’m pretty sure we spent over 2 hours between landing in Morocco and leaving the airport.

Everything we’ve heard and read about told us to be careful with the taxi drivers outside the airport. They really will try and rip you off and you should never go with the younger guys directly outside of the arrivals area. You don’t fully understand how much you’ll be bombarded by these guys until you experience it for yourself. Every single one of them tried to stop us and ask us if we needed a ride, and every single one of them had a “great” price just for us. We set our price low and continued walking. We weren’t really sure where we were walking to but we knew it was going to be away from them. The moment you start walking away the prices will begin to drop, but these guys still were asking for too much. Finally after passing up everyone that came up to us we found ourselves alone way out in front of the airport. We hadn’t planned on it being so difficult to get a reasonable priced ride to our accommodation. As we were thinking of what to do next a cab pulled up to us to offer us a ride. Surprisingly he was only asking for a fraction of what everyone else was asking and we were quick to hop in.

IMG_6007Once in the cab and I was confident we were on the right path I closed my eyes and fell asleep. I knew Dan had things under control and I was still not feeling well from the long day of travel. It was probably about a half hour or so later that we were dropped off outside the front of Hotel Central. We were only here for one night before heading to Marrakech and had heard there wasn’t much to do in Casablanca.

Upon arrival we both relaxed and laid down for a bit. A bed is so welcoming after spending the day in taxis and airplanes.

After another quick nap (with the time differenceIMG_6032 it was only about 3:30 local time) we strolled out into town to find a place to eat. McDonalds was an easy choice because they offered free Wi-Fi and familiar food. On the way back to our hotel we stopped at a few shops to check out the local market. That’s where I bought my head wrap for when we venture out into the Sahara and Dan bought a traditional shirt that had been custom made.

IMG_6028Back at our hotel we visited our rooftop, because they often offer the best views, and were greeted with a phenomenal scene. It almost looked as if we were looking into a video game or something. The buildings were so close together that it seemed you could just leap from one to the other. I immediately thought back to my parkour friends in England and how much they would love to run this town. Any free runners reading this really ought to consider a visit to Morocco!

Before I called it a night I went back out to a corner café where a group of locals were gathered watching a soccer game. I ordered a drink looked around for a place to sit. I guess a few of them noticed I was by myself because they gestured for me to come over and join them. Their names were Awtife and Arpi and they spoke French and Arabic. One thing for sure was that a lot less people spoke English in Morocco than anywhere else I’ve ever been. We sat and talked for a while but our conversations were slow due to the language barrier. I told them how I had just arrived and would be headed to Marrakech the following morning. They gave me different tips on where to go and how to do things. When I told them about the Sahara trip I was doing they began telling me of a great place we should go and that when we get there to have them phone them. I guess they were saying they could help us get cheaper prices but to be honest I was having a pretty difficult time following the directions they were supplying. On the back of a piece of paper they actually drew me out a map of where I should go when I get to Marrakech!  I thought these guys were really nice and I appreciated even if I wasn’t positive exactly what they were telling me. After the game ended I went back up to our room and easily fell asleep. IMG_6029IMG_6034IMG_6049


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It’s Going to Be Hard to Top a Vacation in Dubai… Day 3

Our final day in Dubai started with another buffet style breakfast. IMG_5962After learning what everything tasted like we had a good idea of what we liked and what we didn’t like. Needless to say, I think we both ate a bit more of what was on our plates today.

Back up in our room we began tossing around ideas of what we should do for our last day. We had a pretty good plan for the evening but nothing booked yet for the beginning half of the day. I got on Groupon to see if there was anything that caught my eye. After pulling up about 12 tabs full of very awesome looking activities we decided to go with jet skiing. The only problem was that we were having issues purchasing the deal. I called up the ski company and asked if there was anything available for today and if we’d still be able to use the deal even without the Groupon. He didn’t seem to mind in the least bit and told us to head on over. We jotted down the address and the number of the company and went out front to grab a cab.

Cab rides in Dubai are a bit expensive but they get you where you need to go and are always readily available. As it turns out, the place we were driving to was actually located in the city next to Dubai and was about 35 kilometers away. Our driver’s name was Hamza, and he was from Pakistan. Most of our drivers up to this point have been from other countries and it seems like a lot are from Pakistan. Along the way he taught us how to say hello, and thank you in both Arabic and Pakistani. Hello in Arabic is Kif Hallek, and thank you is Shrukran. In Pakistani, hello is Kasa Haa, and thank you is Shukrea. Both languages are relatively similar.

IMG_5935Driving around Dubai is pretty spectacular in itself. Since the city is so new and modern everything has its place and you can tell that everything was well thought out before being constructed. The major highways are as big as 14 lanes going across, 6-7 going each way. Directly next to the major highway is a very modern looking metro system. I guess it helps creating a city on such a flat surface while having little to no budget. Everywhere you look you’ll see buildings constructed in a way you’ve never even imagined.  The only buildings that aren’t fixed to the grid are the mosque and that’s because they all point east. Like the rest of the buildings though, the mosques are also very beautiful.

Not long after entering the 7 lane highway headed towards our destination were we passed by a Lamborghini. By the time I got my camera out to take a picture it was just about out of sight. Hamza tried to catch up to it but it was no use. Lamborghinis are not meant to be caught… at least not by taxis. It’s difficult to find a cheap car driving about the highways in Dubai. It seems as if everyone is driving luxury or sports cars. Throughout this last day I came across three more Lamborghinis.

Finally arriving at our destination it became pretty evident that it really wasn’t IMG_5922going to matter about needing the Groupon. Along the entire coastline were Jet Ski Company’s trying everything they could to get our driver to pull into their lot. Dan and I both figured that if we couldn’t get the deal we wanted we could probably just shop around until we did. Luckily this wasn’t a problem and before you knew it we were both cruising through the water!

IMG_5926Anyone that knows me well can tell you how much I love jet skiing. I could spend all day out on one of those things just cruising around. We didn’t have all day though, we had an hour, but I think we made the most of it. The allotted area for cruising was much larger than past companies I’ve rented from and we were virtually the only ones out there. There were a couple other small groups out and about but we never really got in each others way. Dan started out with the Go-pro strapped to his chest and flew up and down the coast. The backdrop of our water ski session was really great with theIMG_5916 city skyline painting the horizon. In the not so far distance you could see the Burj Khalifa sticking up much taller than the rest of the buildings. I brought my ipone out with me sealed tight in one of those waterproof bags. When I felt it was safe I pulled it out to snap a few photos. Perhaps that was a bit risky, but I’m glad I did. Throughout the hour Dan and I took turns with the go-pro following each other around, jumping each others wakes and seeing who could splash the other more with a swift last second turn as we passed by.

Just before our hour was up we decided to try and get an action shot picture with the go-pro. There’s an option on the go-pro that takes 30 pictures in one second. The plan was for me to drive past Dan andIMG_5985 leap off the ski just as he hit the button. I knew that when I left the ski that the key would be coming with me and the ski would shut off, but I didn’t anticipate almost landing back on the ski! Had that been the original plan… I would have almost nailed it! Since it wasn’t in fact the plan I ended up having to dodge the jet ski. The worst part about all this was that when I hit the water the key, that had been attached to my wrist, had flew off and sunk to the bottom. Side note: why don’t they make those keys float? Once Dan saw that I was fine he went back to the company to retrieve a new key to bring back for me. I had to pay for the lost key, which I wasn’t happy about… but it was my fault. Looking back on the pictures though and I think it was pretty worth it. To be fair, the key they provided me with was missing the part that’s supposed to secure it to your wrist. You win some you lose some…

Our driver on the way to the jet skis also told us about this place not so far from IMG_5959where we were staying called the Miracle Gardens. He showed me a video on his phone which looked pretty cool so we decided this would be our next destination. Our original plan was to use a Groupon we had found for a 6D cinema. I can’t even imagine what the additional D’s stood for, but when I called up the place they told me that it was closed for the day. As it turns out, the cinema wasn’t the only thing closed for the day because when we arrived at the gardens the place looked deserted. Granted, it was supposed to be a fabulous garden in the center of the desert… but the gates were locked and there wasn’t a person in sight. I thought this may be due to the season, but I’m not really sure because I think the seasons in Dubai are just hot and hotter.

IMG_5956We opted to just head back to our plaza but first we wanted to stop at the Mall of Emirates for a late lunch. Feeling bold we decided to try the East Food Court rather than the west. This meant venturing over to a brand new side of the mall that we hadn’t been to yet. I think the food court alone could fit most standard shopping centers, and this one offered just about every genre of food imaginable. We were torn with our options, but ended up going with a Mexican restaurant. Dan bought 2 tacos, and I went with a fajita. Not quite as big as the portions you’d find at a Chipotle or a Moes, but still very tasty! I’m pretty sure I could eat Mexican food everyday.

Our final evening was meant to be a relaxing one. We swam in the rooftop pool, lounged in the sauna, and tested our limits on how long we could last in the steam room. All these things lead up very nicely to the massage I received in the hotel spa also located on the top floor. I’m a sucker for massages and know the good from the bad fairly well. IMG_5622This one was different, to say the least. We had a bit of a time restraint due to the fact that we wanted to head out for dinner before it got too late, so the therapist squeezed me in to an available time slot. There was a bit of a language barrier as I tried to tell her no hot stones, just a normal back massage. A few minutes into the massage she again asked me if I’d like the hot stones, telling me that she thinks I’d really like them. I told her that I wasn’t paying for hot stones and would prefer not to have them. I thought we were on the same page until I felt a hot stone in the center of my back, and then another. After my back was loaded up with stones she told me she’d be right back and left the room. I was pinned down with these stones. Not because they were heavy, but because if I moved they’d all go sliding off my back. I think it was only 5 minutes but it felt like an eternity before she returned. The stones had gone cold shortly after she left and I found myself wondering if I was being pranked, or if my wallet was still where I left it. Not the greatest things to think about, but at this point I had no idea what was going on haha. Just as I was about to get up she reentered the room, and returned to my back as if nothing had happened. Now that it’s all over I’m still curious as to what she was doing when she left so abruptly from the room. Maybe she had someone next door that she was also giving a massage to and was trying to kill 2 birds with 1 stone..?

IMG_5992Feeling confused, but mostly relaxed I went back to the room and told Dan about my experience. He was going to originally get a massage but the time restraint was making it too difficult and he opted to just skip it. We still wanted to head back to the mall for a proper dinner so we could finish our final evening the right way.

After getting dressed in the only nice clothes I packed for my entire trip (I had been waiting and waiting for the right opportunity to wear them) it was time for us to head to dinner. With the mall so close and having over 90 restaurants there was hardly a reason to go anywhere else. We even had an idea of where we wanted to go. IMG_5994We weren’t positive on which restaurant but we knew we wanted to try a Lebanese place. Right near the entrance of the mall were two Lebanese restaurants that were both catching our eye so we went with the one that seemed more popular. Neither of us had much of a clue what we were ordering but certain words caught our eye. For our appetizer we went with a hummus spread with freshly baked pita for dipping. I’ve never had such fresh pita and we ended up having to order more because of how good it tasted. For my main course I had thinly cut pan seared steaks. When IMG_5990I ordered them I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting but it they tasted fantastic. The best part was this very spicy green sauce that was meant to go with the steak. I’ve been craving some spice in my food for a while now and this was the perfect sauce. It was tasty but you needed to follow it up with a drink. Dan also had a steak dish that was marinated in some sauce and had roasted pine nuts to go along with it.IMG_5989 Before leaving the restaurant we also ordered a couple desserts. Dan had a banana split and I had a German chocolate cake. Both our meals tasted really great and were the perfect way to finish off our stay in Dubai.

We finished off our evening hanging back at our hotel, relaxing on the rooftop. We’d be catching a cab at 5am the next morning so we kept our evening as relaxed as possible. Before going to bed we packed up our belongings, and made sure we’d be ready for our early morning exit.

Dubai was really incredible and I can’t wait to go back sometime in the future. The only reason this trip was possible was because of Dan. He planned and coordinated just about everything we did and even funded our entire way. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I’m extremely appreciative of his selflessness. Thanks for everything Dan!


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The City of Wonders… Dubai… Day 2

With the help of a couple alarms we woke up Wednesday morning around 9:30. On the first floor there was an all you could eat continental breakfast which was included with our stay. Food is often the driving force that gets me out of bed in the mornings and the idea of a buffet had me quick to my feet.

IMG_5961Down stairs we were welcomed into a very fine dining area that was filled with food from all over the world. Some of the things being served I’ve never heard of before but I tried not to be biased. I filled my plate with a variety of goodies and headed back to our table. This first round of breakfast was my learning curve because I found I what I liked and what I didn’t like. Without a doubt my favorite food was crepes filled with nutella. Just writing this makes me wish I had a plate full of them in front of me. My plate was also filled with fruit, waffles, sausage, yogurt, hash browns, and several pieces of food that I was never able to determine what they were. Feeling full we went back up to the room to figure out where we’d begin our day.IMG_5845

From our hotel we could see the Burj al Arab, a building noted for its curved architecture. It’s actually located just off the coast on a manmade island. If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is, but it’s nothing compared to where we’d go later in the day.

We took a taxi to the Burj al Arab and realized that in order to get inside you’d need a reservation. This wasn’t too much of a setback though because just next door to the hotel was the beautiful Jumairah Beach. We set our sights on spending the morning at the beach and walked the rest of the way.

This was my first time swimming in the Persian Gulf and it was the warmest water I’ve ever swam in, not counting pools or hot tubs that had been heated.  I was also really impressed with the waves that were coming in. Just down the shoreline from us were a few guys surfing and it really made me wish I had a board with me. I think it the water may have been the saltiest I’ve ever swam in as well. We played around for a an hour or so before we decided to move on.

IMG_5834We were really sure where our next destination was to be but we knew we wanted to head in the direction of the Dubai Marina. When we got there we saw a sign that caught our eye. The Aquaventure Waterpark is located at Atlantis on Palm Island. It’s recognized as one of the greatest water parks in the world and has to be in one of the most spectacular settings imaginable.

Palm Island is exactly what it sounds like, an island in the shape of a palm tree. Just take that imagine and amplify it by the largest number that comes to mind! This manmade island was filled with hundreds of residences, hotels, restaurants, apartments, shopping malls, marinas, and even theme parks. Most notable is the Hotel Atlantis, a stunning hotel at the very top of the Palm Island which offers some of the greatest rooms available. They have a room located underground that has windows into the ocean! Imagine if your entire bedroom wall was like looking into a fish tank! Directly next door to Atlantis is Aquaventure where we’d spend the rest of the afternoon!IMG_5836

With over 42 acres of fun-filled attractions there’s truly something for everyone at this waterpark. There are private beaches, never-ending river rapids, the best of the best waterslides, and several aquariums located through the park. A slide named Shark Attack had you sliding through the dark tubes on your inner tube before spitting you out into a glass tube that ran right through the center of a shark tank.

IMG_5842My favorite rides were the Leap of Faith and Poseidon! Both of these slides could be found at the highest points in the park making them the fastest and most intimidating rides available. The Leap of Faith was an open faced slide that had you drop straight down into a tube that hurled your through a shark tank. You were going far too fast to even notice that you were headed through a tank but the ride was so much fun! Poseidon was a bit more intense. You had to step into a tube and stand on a plexiglass trapdoor. Once inside they closed the tube behind you and told you to cross your arms, cross your legs, and put your chin to your chest. The next thing you hear is an automated count down. 3……2….1.. the trapdoor opens and you plunge straight down. fhjhjkEverything happens so fast but you almost complete a full loop in the waterslide before being hurled towards the finish line. Earlier in the day before entering the waterpark Dan and I decided we were just going to bring one item in with us. That one thing was his Go-Pro. Each ride we went on was filmed from either a first person perspective or with an outstretched arm facing back towards our face. I’ll be sure to share these videos with you all once I’m home! I’m hoping to take a few snapshots of the footage for this blog.

For the next few hours we rode every slide available at the park! Because there were so many options there was hardly ever a line. I think the longest line we waited in had 10 people ahead of us. I give Aquaventure two very enthusiastic thumbs up!!

Feeling a bit hungry we left Palm Island for The Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world! If you thought the Mall of Emirates was big wait till you hear about this one! This mall has 22 cinema screens, 120 restaurants, and over 14,000 parking spaces. Inside you’ll find an aquarium with the world’s largest viewing panel at 33 meters wide by 8 meters high. IMG_5840You’ll also find an indoor theme park, and an Olympic sized ice skating rink.

The aquarium offered scuba diving and special viewing areas but we were hungry and ready to eat. As walked through the mall we passed by the viewing panel into the aquarium and it was certainly a site to see. There are over 33,000 animals living inside that tank!

IMG_5830Just next to the aquarium I spotted something oddly familiar. Inside a candy shop was a human sized Hershey Kiss! What the heck was a Hershey Kiss doing in the Dubai Mall? Everywhere I’ve traveled I’ve always been told by locals and fellow travelers how terrible our chocolate is compared to the rest of the world. I personally love chocolate no matter where it comes from but I never expected to see a little piece of home represented so far away. I know Hershey is well known but this was the first I’ve seen of them on my travels, and I had to get a picture with the kiss. This just goes to show that Dubai really does have EVERYTHING!

Before getting something to eat we decided to head to the IMG_5828back of the mall for one of it’s main attractions. The dancing fountains outside of The Burj Khalifa rank as one of the number one attractions in all of Dubai. These fountains are similar to the ones you’d find outside of the Bellagio in Vegas.. only bigger and better, and the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. Put those feats together and you have yourself a pretty spectacular show! In order to get a picture of the entire building I had to use the panoramic setting on my camera and take the photo from the ground up! I’ve never had to do that before haha. To make it even better the sun happened to be setting in the background to make for another stunning backdrop.

IMG_5827After our fountain show we went back inside the mall to find some food. This mall is so large that they have signs directing you where to go comparable to the signs you’d see in an airport directing you to your gates, or baggage claim. We followed the arrows to the foodcourt but must have been distracted by some of the amazing things we were passing by because we almost completed a full loop before realizing that the foodcourt IMG_5824had been in the center of our loop the whole time. Along our walk we saw an indoor waterfall, the indoor theme park, and the iceskating rink! When we came to a Cinnabon Dan immediately set his sights and made a B-line towards the deliciousness. He got one for me too but I waited till after I finished my dinner. I had a pepperoni pizza while Dan ate a pasta dish. Everyone knows that cinnabons taste their best when you eat them when they are warm so I decided to bring mine back over to their store to ask if they could reheat mine. I figured this would be a minor inconvenience for them. I was pretty shocked when they told me they only served them fresh and didn’t even have a microwave. Next thing I knew they were handing me a new one and asking me if I’d like extra cream. Oh how I love Dubai!

IMG_5856Now that we were both completely stuffed we made our way back through the mall and out to the taxi line. Our next stop was back to our plaza where we had set up a Skype date with our Dutch friends back in South Africa. We had a little bit of trouble with our connection but we eventually figured it out. It was great hearing from them and being able to tell them about our trip and to make things even better they were joined by Mawande, Riri, and Buscha. While online we gave them all a tour of our hotel and even showed them the pool on our roof. The whole time throughout our video chat I couldn’t help but hope that I’ll be able to keep in contact with them via video chats for the rest of their time in South Africa. IMG_5747That would be amazing to be able to check in and see how everyone is doing. It’s hard to say goodbye to the great friends you meet when your traveling but I’m usually confident that I’ll stay in touch with the ones I’m closest with. To say goodbye to the kids is a totally different level of difficulty. I truly don’t know if I’ll see them again and it’s much more difficult to keep in touch. Having the ability to stay connected for the next year sounds pretty awesome though! (Also, I forgot to mention before, but thanks so much for the card you slipped into my luggage. It was great hearing from you two and we took the liberty of filling out the card. We just tried to put ourselves in your position and complete the card based on how we think you view us. I’m so flattered. Haha)

After our video chat it was getting late and we wanted to make the most of our last day. We formulated a basic plan for the next day and went to bed… but not before using some awesome Wi-Fi.

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Our Day Off Spontaneous Hike

After our trip with the guys, Friday was supposed to be our day off. We didn’t have any big plans besides going into Stellenbosch. Even though sleeping in was available I still ended up getting up pretty early. My body had already gotten use to our tour schedule of early mornings and long days.

We grabbed a quick breakfast at Mama Zulus and headed to the trust center to first use some free Wi-Fi. My main goal was to email the video about Lupho’s day to my friend and coworker back home, Jennie. After two hours my progress bar had only moved to 5 percent and I had to give up on sending. It’s pretty difficult to send videos when internet isn’t so easy to come by. This video is also 1.7 gb so it’s going to be tough to send from anywhere.

In town we both got well overdue haircuts. The lady that cut our hair was nice but a bit IMG_4941odd. I got the feeling she’s had a very sheltered life when she asked me what townships are like in the US. I understand that we do in fact have townships in the US but not anything remotely close to the type of townships she was referring to. Oh well, she was nice enough and did a decent job cutting our hair. Hanneke and Mieke came along for the trip and seemed to really enjoy taking part in observing our haircuts. They were trying to get me to get something crazy done all while trying to convince the stylist to let them shave our beards off. They did so with no such luck. Afterwards we grabbed a bite to eat, ran a few errands, and hopped on the next mini bus to Kayamandi.

When we got home there were already a few boys at our house playing soccer. It was an alright day with sunshine fighting through the cloud filled sky. We had no plans, so we opted to climb to the top of the hill our township rested on. At first, when we asked Mawande if he could lead us he made it seem like we wouldn’t be allowed because it was the property of the neighboring wine vineyard. His biggest concern was being attacked by the guard dogs on the property. We followed him to the entrance of the farm and when we got there the first thing we saw were a few dogs. I guess he wasn’t joking when he said guard dogs! Dan and I walked ahead to make sure it was okay if we viewed the property. The man we talked to told us it’d be alright, but they’d have to remove the dogs first.

IMG_4945Hanneke, Mieke, Dan, Mawande, Khaniysa, Lupho, Onge, and I all then proceeded through the vineyard and up the hill. It’s a pretty beautiful walk through a vineyard and the views of Kayamandi and Stellenbosch were really great! We were lucky that the weather cooperated with us and only had to deal with some wind. The walk to the top took just over a half hour but the views were nice and we had a great time taking pictures with the kids.IMG_4930

On the way home we took the chance with a short cut we saw and found ourselves wading through a very large patch of tall flowers. It was actually kind of nice minus the rough weeds brushing up against my legs. The younger boys helped make a path for our Dutch friends while I hoisted Onge, the smallest of the group, high above the plants.

IMG_4921Our spontaneous adventure proved to be a fun one and had us home just in time for dinner. I could smell Mama’s mashed potatoes as we strolled into her house and knew we’d be having a great dinner! In the evening we shared pictures from our trip with the kids and a few of the other volunteers. It was a nice and relaxing day.

We had one more surprised planned for the boys on Saturday which would have us meeting up and leaving by 8:30 in the morning, so after our writings were finished we got an early night’s sleep.

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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!