Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Field Trip

On Monday, the EduFun volunteers took the grade 3 Diepsloot Combined School kids to the Johannesburg Zoo. These are the kids that we work with every Monday morning and help with their English. The zoo trip is an annual event and EduFun arranges and pays for the buses, the zoo entrance fees for the kids and their teachers, and also provides the kids with a wonderful lunch which they eat outside at the zoo in a lovely shaded area. 

I don't think many, if any, of the 3rd grade kids from Diepsloot have been to the zoo before. Even though it's less than an hour away from where they live, it might as well be on the other side of the planet. To say the kids were excited to see the animals is putting it mildly. When I arrived at the zoo, the kids were all lined up waiting to enter and were standing patiently in line. Girls were in one line and boys in the other. I saw a few of the kids that I know and talked with them about what animals they were hoping to see. Answers were snakes (ugh), baboons, monkeys, lions and tigers.

I invited my friend Debbie to join us for the field trip because I knew she would really enjoy meeting and spending time with the kids. Having Debbie with us was not only a lot of fun, but a huge help because it turns out she's been to the zoo many times so she knows her way around. Also, she is a mom so she has practice in not losing kids in large crowds.

Luckily, a lot of volunteers came out for the field trip and the group sizes were manageable. Debbie and I chaperoned six kids - four boys and two girls - all around the zoo for about two hours. We called ourselves "team red" because we had red wrist bands for our group that we made out of pipe cleaners. We did this to help identify ourselves as all of the kids were wearing their school uniforms so we needed to be able to tell our six apart from the rest. When we wanted to move on Debbie and I would just yell "come on team red" and the kids would follow us. I really can't get over how well behaved the kids were. There was no fighting, hitting, crying, whining, complaining or running off. If a kid was straggling they would come when called. The only part of their behavior that wasn't perfect was that they liked to shout at the animals and make really loud animal noises. I know standing near a tiger and screaming "tiger! tiger!" is frowned upon but there wasn't a lot Debbie and I could do about it as the kids were so excited they couldn't help it.

We met the rest of the volunteers and students back at the bandstand area for lunch at 11:30. Again, the kids patiently waited for their lunch. Girls were called up first and stood in a line to get their lunch items. Then boys were called up. I know a lot of them were tired, hungry and thirsty but they all waited patiently until they were called.

While there were so many smiles, cartwheels, playing, excitement and happiness throughout the day, it was also a little bit sad at times. It is sad that for some of the kids this might be the only time they will see wild animals up close. Even though they live in a country full of beautiful game reserves they might never get to visit one and some will likely never even get a chance to return to the zoo. Also, I noticed a lot of the kids slipping some of their lunch items into their pockets to save for later. I couldn't help thinking how many kids would never even think of saving a snack for later or would not need to think of bringing food home to share. Even apples, which a lot of kids would refuse or toss away, were being put into pockets for later. When it was announced that there was more yogurt, every single kid went up and got a second yogurt. 

The children wore their school uniforms but were told they could wear sneakers if they wanted for the zoo trip. They were also encouraged to wear caps because of the strong sun. If a child didn't have a cap, EduFun loaned them a cap for the day.  There was a boy named Bryan and one of his sneakers was broken. It was broken in the way that the top of the shoe was separated from the sole in the front so when he tried to walk it was like trying to walk with a flipper. I saw him trying to fix it by taking out the shoe lace and tying it around the shoe. An EduFun volunteer named Jenny noticed and gave him some pipe cleaners to help temporarily refasten as well. Then I heard sweet Jenny tell him she would bring him some new shoes next week and I know that she will. Things like that can break your heart a little bit.

On a completely different note, it might shock some of you to hear that I in fact did venture into the snake house for the first (and last) time in my life. If you scroll way down you can see the snake pictures because as you know I like to prove to you that I'm not exaggerating. For those readers like me who don't want to see snake pictures they are way down at the bottom so please scroll and see the photos of the kids until you see the "snake photos ahead warning."

EduFun is a great cause and is always in need of volunteers and donations. To learn more, please check out the website

Of the six kids that we had in our group, the boy on the right is the only one that I normally work with on Mondays at school. He is very cute and was doing lots of cartwheels throughout the day.

Reading the map and eyeballing the photographer
Looking at the cheetah
EduFun provided a wonderful lunch for the kids. This little boy said I could take a picture of his lunch as long as I included his Michael Jordan hat in the photo.
I love her "I am Rich" hat




I don't know what kinds of snakes any of these are as I didn't stick around long enough to read any placards!

This one is the scariest and creepiest. UGH! 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Justice and Kindness

Justice is a person. He is our cleaning lady Mary's brother and for the past few months he has been our gardener. By the way, her name isn't Mary, it's Christine. I don't know why I gave her a fake name the first time I wrote about her but from now I will call her by her rightful name, Christine. Anyway, Justice has been coming to work in our small yard every week since May and sadly today is his last day.

When we first moved in, Christine's son, David, was the gardener. Then one day, Christine said David had to go home, to Limpopo, because his wife was sick. She said that her brother, Justice, would be coming instead.

While I was fine with having Justice come, and while I totally trust Christine on these matters, I was curious and I kept inquiring about David's wife. Was she OK? Was she sick in like she had a sore throat or was it something more serious? Christine would only say that it looked like she would be o.k. and then one day, she sent me a What'sapp text saying that David's wife had been sick because she was pregnant and she'd had the baby and everyone was fine. So there you go.

This was a few months ago and since then I have asked her a few more times about David. Was he coming back? Mostly I asked just to be polite because I was starting to love Justice so much. Now David has returned to Diepsloot and he will be back at work next week.

I am really going to miss Justice and I think he is going to miss working here too. He told me that he was really sad about it being his last day today. I wish that I had a big enough garden and I could have both David and Justice come (yes there was a famous American baseball player named David Justice), but the yard is small and it wouldn't make any sense.

So what's so great about Justice? Well for one thing he puts so much thought and care into his work. At the end of the day on Fridays, Christine is always helping him finish up because he is so meticulous. He's also really creative. For example we have a lot of pine cones that fall on the ground and when he first came here he began using them to make patterns in the landscape. When I told him that I liked the pine cone art he started doing other things like putting tree bark into the cracks in our walkway (granted he pulled it off a tree which probably isn't the best idea for the tree) but really it's the thought that counts. 

I can also tell that Christine likes coming to work a little bit more on the days that Justice comes with her. She makes him coffee or tea in the morning and then she makes his lunch in the afternoon. They sit outside in the grass and eat together and talk. They also often sing together. I asked them once about their singing and they said they are in a church choir so I guess they are singing church music. They have really nice voices and I have tried and tried to record them using my phone so I could share with you. Unfortunately (and I do mean unfortunately) there are always screaming kids next door at the pool/clubhouse so the recordings never come out clearly.

A few weeks ago Christine told me that Justice was going to come with her on a Tuesday to help her clean the windows. It turns out it was all a scheme because they somehow found out it was my birthday that day and they cooked up the plan that he would come with her. He made me a bouquet of flowers from our garden which he has since refreshed every week with new flowers and he also washed my car. They made me a little birthday note too.

And finally as if all this kindness wasn't enough, they also made us a gift.  When I came home one day I saw a framed drawing sitting on the table by our front door. I asked Christine about it and she told me that she and Justice made it for us. I almost cried. Partially because I don't know how in the world they could get their hands on any art supplies let alone a frame, but also because I know how much being able to come here to work must mean to them and I am so touched that they would take the time to do this for us. 

Justice is a really special person. He is creative and hardworking and kind. I look forward to seeing David again but I hope every now and then he has to take a trip to Limpopo and that Justice will return.
Justice and Christine
UPDATE November, 2015 - about a month after I wrote this post Justice sent me an SMS to let me know that he got a job! He is now working as a security guard. Christine said the job is going well and he is working a lot of days. She said he sometimes has to work on Sundays and has had to miss church. I am sure he doesn't like to miss church but it is wonderful that he is working. His employer is lucky to have him.

Monday, September 21, 2015

You Win Some

As the saying goes you win some you lose some. 

Mr. Deep and I created the preparedness challenge that I explained in this post feeling so confident that we would win. Who would design a competition knowing that they would lose? 

We lost. We lost in spectacular fashion. To quote Bon Jovi, we went down in a blaze of glory. Only minus the glory.  

Our losing began from the moment we met our fellow campers at the Crocodile Bridge rest camp. As we pulled into the camp there were two 4x4 vehicles already parked there, both with huge trailers attached. Mr. Deep asked me, "do you think those could belong to the other campers?" Of course I said no because I didn't think they made trailers appropriate for off road. Well guess what? They do and it was. This gives you a peek into what might be wrong with Mr. Deep and me. It never occurred to us that someone would have a 4x4 trailer. It was then I began to realize that Mr. Deep and I were like a high school basketball team. We are a good team but we have never played outside of our division. We practiced hard and prepared well but we were outclassed. Similar to high school students we apparently think we know everything and that everything we do is right and perfect and great and maybe that's not always the case.
Our first clue
We didn't lose just by the mere fact of the trailers. In fact, the trailers could have allowed us win if they had gotten stuck or fallen off the trucks or something. The trailers were just the beginning of our losing. We lost on so many levels that I put together a chart showing all of the categories in which we were eclipsed and I have included photos to prove that I'm not exaggerating.

Fire starting methodNewspaper, kindling and a lighter.A giant can of propane with a special nozzle that is used to ignite a whole pile of logs at once.Not uswho knew this even existed?
MealsSmall pre-planned meals such as steak with couscous and chicken soft tacos.More meat then you can imagine. Enough to share with the entire group and have leftovers.Not usThis could be chalked up to different styles and they were a group of friends all sharing food.
Method of cookingcamp stoveSeparate the coals from the campfire and cook over the coals using a large metal grill like thing.Not us
FirewoodA few bags of split wood purchased at the local grocery store.Wood from the black wattle tree which is native to Australia. This wood gives the meat extra flavor when used for cookingNot usYou can't make this %&!^ up!
BarCans of beer and wine. Wine was consumed out of a coffee mug to reduce number of cups to pack.A full bar complete with special camping tumblers, real wine glasses and a bar to mix drinks.Not us
SleepingA tent on the groundThere were three couples. One couple did have a tent on the ground (bigger than ours) one slept in their camper and one had a tent on top of the camper.Not usIf lions do kill people while sleeping guess who was going to be the easiest target?

Firelighter gas can with hose and nozzle and metal grill
Splitting up some of the black wottle wood

Neil's bar
Bobby also has a bar on his trailer. Sadly this is not a great picture of it. Yes, they are all wearing headlamps.
Yummy stuffed sandwiches that our fellow campers shared with us at lunch one day. These were made over the fire the night before with a special camping panini maker. Our lunches were PB&J!
Our not so enviable setup
As the trip progressed Mr. Deep and I made lots of jokes to each other such as how we were Team Angola facing the Dream Team in the first round of the 1992 Olympics.  But it still wasn't a sure thing that we had lost the challenge. If the trip were a boxing match we might have gotten a few points in a decision from some of the judges for things like "most creative use of regular household items" or "camping on a budget" or "nice touch in adding sauerkraut to your poached hot dog dinner." 

But to keep going with the boxing reference unfortunately a knockout punch was eventually delivered. Our car battery died. It didn't just die. It started dying a slow and agonizing death. At first, we blamed our camping fridge. Oh by the way, they had a camping fridge and a freezer. I saw them eating ice cream pops on day three. Not even kidding. But anyway, even though our camping fridge is supposed to have a mechanism to ensure it does not drain the car battery, when the jeep battery started to die we figured the regulator on the fridge wasn't working. To address this we starting unplugging the fridge when the car wasn't running and we shifted our planned meals around to eat our most perishable food first. When despite these efforts the battery continued to die, we bought ice at a rest camp and turned the camping fridge into a cooler.

I do want to pause and point out that Mr. Deep does get kudos for purchasing a compact jump starter prior to the trip called ResQ. This small little battery about the size of a walkman from the 80s can jump start a car 15 times on a single charge and it really does work. So that was impressive. What's not that impressive is that at this point we were jump starting our battery every time we started the car. Then one morning it became clear that although the jeep started it didn't want to keep running and that our battery was going to die for good and soon.  This was definitely a low point not only because we knew at this point we clearly lost the competition but because we might be stranded and either starve to death or be eaten by wild animals.  When this happened we were about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from any kind of civilization or help.

Luckily Piet was not going to leave us stranded for wild dogs to find. We kept the jeep running and then made a scheduled stop at a rest camp 40 miles away (it took half a day to get there.) When we reached the rest camp Piet called a garage, which thanks to aligning stars was located at this rest camp to fix ranger vehicles. The garage miraculously had a battery that was the right size for our jeep and it was installed and we were on our way. Yes, we were very, very lucky! When the battery was removed it was so hot that we were told it could have exploded at any time. 
This is Ivan the mechanic who installed our new battery. He saved our trip and possibly our lives!

So lessons learned are:
1) you don't know what you don't know
2) there are many different styles of camping
3) always have an extra car battery with you
4) in addition preferably have two batteries one that runs your car and one that runs your fridge and other systems

The other people on the trip were so nice to us. They shared their delicious food with us. They didn't make fun of us at all (at least not to our faces.) They are now friends and have invited us to come and visit them in the Free State province where they live.
New friends. I'm not in this picture as I'm behind the camera.
The ResQ charger got one last use on the way home from Kruger
Park. After we left the park we stopped for gas and came across people in a car with a dead battery. Mr. Deep (sliver of orange shirt) gave them a quick jump.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

More Tales From the Lebombo Eco Trail

If you ask Mr. Deep to share his favorite part of the trip to Kruger Park, he might say that it was jumping in the fray helping Piet to clear a tree that was likely knocked down by elephants and was blocking the road. In addition to getting to use his saw, he also got to use his tie down straps to drag the tree out of the way. You might remember from this post that he contemplated for a while whether or not to even bring the tie down straps on the trip. Good thing he decided to bring them along!

With our new friends Jan and Bella
Or, he might say that his favorite part of the trip was sneaking under the fence across the border to Mozambique with his new BFF Jan (pronounced Yon) and yelling "first time in Moz!"

Or he might say it was staying up late with his new friends drinking "police coffee" which seems to be like Irish coffee only the spirits are from Africa and not Ireland. I have no idea why it's called police coffee.

If you ask me what my favorite part of the trip was I would say it was when Mr. Deep stayed up late drinking police coffee. No, just kidding. It was definitely seeing the animals, the scenery and meeting some fun new friends. 
First time in Moz! Sorry about the bad picture quality. I tried to get a photo from a video. The poor quality does make him look more criminal like though.
Here are some of our most interesting pictures. 
This is a tree stump that has been rubbed smooth by rhinos scratching themselves on it. Piet said it has probably taken almost 30 years to get this smooth.
Part of the remains of a rhino killed for his horn. You can see on the left the spot where the horn was sawed off by the poachers.

Our route
Piet with his shotgun
Bella sticking her head into a hippo skull. Kind of reminds me of when Mr. Deep climbed into a tortoise shell in the Galapagos...
Whether he is illegally crossing borders or wearing discarded animal parts he certainly tries to make the most of his vacations.

Southern yellow-billed hornbill. I looked it up.
Potentially spotting a poacher. There was definitely a guy up on the mountain but not sure what he was doing there.

Coming in my next post the long awaited results of the Lebombo Eco Trail preparedness challenge.

About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.