Thursday, June 30, 2016

More Chitabe

A few more interesting pieces of information about Chitabe Camp and then I'll get into the details of the incredible wildlife sightings we enjoyed there.

First, when we arrived at the camp a group of the staff were waiting to greet us and they were singing. I don't know what the song meant because it was in Tswana but I am guessing it was some kind of a welcome song. The staff also sang to us before dinner and the songs included what I later found out is called a chortle which is a sound that is a cross between a yodel and a yee haw that a cowboy might yell. It is meant as a sound of joy. Very cool!

For our first morning game drive we were woken up before dawn. The method of wake up used was the guide walking up to the tent and yelling, "knock knock." He also delivered hot water for us to make tea and coffee and then came back and collected us to walk together to breakfast at the lodge. You will remember that we were not allowed to walk on our own in the dark. There was a full breakfast. The game drives at Chitabe are longer than what I am used to. At other lodges we have visited a morning drive takes place from about 6:00 or 6:30 until 9:00 or 9:30 and then you eat a full breakfast when you return. At Chitabe the drives started at 6:30 when the sun was just rising and and continued until 11:00. Brunch was served at 11:30, high tea at 3:30 and then dinner at 7:00. Each game drive also included a stop for coffee in the morning a sundowner (meaning adult beverage) in the afternoon with a snack. So there is little chance of starving. 

For the morning drive we were again teamed up with the other two American couples and the six of us headed out with BB. Within five minutes of leaving camp we saw two male lions walking on the road. We were so close to them! BB followed them and as guys will do they led us right to a pack of females. Female lions are the ones who do the hunting and it soon became clear that at least one of the lionesses had spotted a lone buffalo. We watched her stalk him for a while and it was quite intense. The couple from New York sitting behind us were so excited. This was the last day of their trip and they were ready to see a kill. The wife was whispering things like, "oh my God the lion is going to kill that buffalo" and the husband was whispering things back to her such as "please be quiet" and "stop talking."

The females
You will notice this one has two different color eyes. I didn't see it until we returned home and I examined the photos. I was excited as I thought I captured a rare trait. But then someone suggested that maybe something was wrong with her blue eye. I am not not sure, but it does look cool. 

Female stalking and a photo below of the hunted.

The chase

Lots of buffalo nearby and some yawning.

Going after a warthog
The lioness made a half assed attempt to run at the buffalo but for some reason her heart wasn't in it. Although lions are the kings and queens of the jungle it turns out they are not always the greatest hunters. Sometimes they lose patience too quickly and their kill success rate is actually not as high as you would think. When the buffalo ran off we followed and were led right to a giant herd of buffalo. It's a good thing the lioness didn't try to see her efforts through or within seconds the predator would have been surrounded and would have become the hunted. Later, we saw another lioness make a run at a warthog but she was also not successful. 

We dropped the New York couple off on the side of the road where they were picked up by another vehicle and taken to their plane and then we remaining Americans continued on. We thought we were going back to the lodge but instead we stopped in the bush and were treated to a gorgeous lunch right there in the wild. The staff had come out and set up a full bar and buffet complete with table cloths. It was really beautiful and a wonderful surprise. These kind of special moments continued throughout the trip. Wilderness Safaris really outdid themselves with these touches of creativity.
Note the first documented appearance of the green flannel

Who doesn't want to stumble upon this when out in the bush? 
Our afternoon game drive was kind of quiet. Or maybe it just felt quiet after leopard sightings the night before and lion sightings and failed kills in the morning.  More Chitabe fun and our travels to our second camp coming in my next post.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I never in my life thought I'd visit Botswana. Nothing against Botswana but before I found out that we'd be living in Africa I never gave Botswana (or any African country) much thought. If you had asked me back then to list what I knew about Africa I probably would have said Boko Haram, starving kids with swollen bellies and good wine from Cape Town. 

Now that we live here we are trying to visit as much of the continent as possible. It's not easy to travel as much as we would like because unfortunately one of us has to go to work. Just as Africa is so much more the things I mentioned above, it's also so much more than  Johannesburg and it's important for us to see as much as we can.

Mr. Deep is the one who said that we must visit Botswana and specifically the Okavango Delta. He knew about it from watching nature shows which he has been watching since the days of Wild Kingdom.

What makes the Okavango Delta special is that each year heavy rains in Angola cause the Okavango River to flood and a massive amount of of water pours into the Kalahari Desert. The water attracts all kinds of wildlife. Eventually the water evaporates and recedes until the flooding begins again.

Leading up to the trip there were some tough decisions to make. First, do we or do we not take malaria pills? We filled the script but then decided against taking them. Then, I ran into a friend who had just returned from the same area and said it was very wet and full of mosquitoes. Deciding to take the pills is a big deal because you take a pill once a day starting the day before the trip begins and continue for seven days after the trip ends. Meaning you start taking the pills before you have the chance to assess the mosquito situation and once you start taking them there is no going back unless you want to create the malaria andromeda strain which I don't. Second, what to bring? Due to flying on very (very) small charter planes the luggage allowance per person was only 20kgs/44 pounds. You may think that sounds like a lot but when you have a camera with lots of lenses and a few pairs of shoes, the weight adds up quickly. 

I'm purposely telling you we had to pack light because as you view the photos from our trip you might wonder why we are wearing the same clothes in all the photos. This especially applies to one of us who can be seen repeatedly wearing a green flannel that he has owned since the late 90's. 

We downed our pills, minimally packed our bags and flew, on a regular size plane, from Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana. This was a short flight of only an hour plus. In Maun, we were led out to the airstrip by Anthony who was to be our pilot for the next leg to Chitabe. We boarded a small ten seater plane for the 20 minute flight. We flew low and could see giraffe and elephants from the plane. Even though there were other people on our plane we were the only two passengers heading to Chitabe camp.The plane landed on an airstrip in the middle of nowhere. No airport, no building, no tower, no nothing. Just a long strip of sand. We were picked up in an open air safari vehicle and driven about 35 minutes to the Chitabe Camp operated by Wilderness Safaris. Thompson, one of the managers at the camp met us, showed us the camp and took us to our luxury tent. 

The camp is small and only has about five luxury tents accommodating about 10-15 guests at a time. There are no fences or walls around the camp so we were instructed not to walk alone to and from dinner or in the morning while it was still dark. This meant that our guide had to come and collect us for dinner and breakfast. I guess this rule is meant to protect guests who are innocently making their way to dinner from running into a leopard, lion or angry elephant. We were told that during daylight hours we were free to walk around alone because apparently in the daytime you can easily spot a leopard in your path and simply turn around and calmly walk the other way.  Just to prove they were not joking about safety, each room was equipped with an air horn that we were instructed to blast four times in case of emergency. There were no phones and also no cell phone service so I guess the air horn is preferable to just screaming at the top of your lungs as you are being mauled.  After turn down service, I noticed that the staff moved the air horn right next to our bed. 

In the tent, the walls were canvas like a tent but the floors, windows, bed, bathroom were all real as they would be in real lodge room. There was electricity and solar heated hot water. During the day the batteries that run everything at the camp were charged by the sun and then at night the camp runs solely on battery power. Because of this we could only use the outlets for charging things and for lights. No hair dryers and (gasp) no hair straighteners. So not only will I be wearing the same clothes over and over in the photos but my hair will be looking larger as the posts go on. Laundry service was included and was done by the staff by hand.

Shortly after arriving it was time to go out on our first game drive. We got into the vehicle and met our guide, BB, as well as two other couples one from LA and one from NYC. Americans...we are everywhere. 

We began our game drive and wouldn't you know it one of the first things we saw was a snake. Not just any snake but something called a puff adder which apparently can kill you just by looking at you. I actually wasn't that scared because a) I am brave now and b) I was way up high in the vehicle and quite safe. But, when writing this post and looking at the photos, I was quite creeped when I had to crop the photo of the snake and it was huge on my computer screen. Yuck! 
Small plane to Chitabe
View from the plane
The air strip
Our pilot Anthony

Driving to Chitabe Camp
Mr. Deep practicing a mock emergency with the air horn
The lodge at Chitabe
Because I want you to feel like were there with me
BB our guide at Chitabe. The man knows everything about plants and animals!
Eagle owl. You can tell the type of owl by the pink eyelids.
Leopard sightings on the first day
More to come about Chitabe in my next post. Here is a preview.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Til You Drop

I recently created an online fundraising appeal to buy solar lamps for students living in Diepsloot who attend the Diepsloot Combined School. Most people in Diepsloot live in shacks made of corrugated metal. Many of these shacks don't have electricity and some have no windows. Some shacks do have electricity but often it's not proper meaning it could be a light bulb hanging from the ceiling and that is it. People in Diepsloot who are fortunate enough to have electricity or fortunate enough to live in actual homes instead of shacks, often don't have electricity because it is unreliable and there are constant outages. Solar lamps will make it possible for students to read and study at night regardless of their electricity situation. Currently many are studying by candlelight. That may have been OK for Abe Lincoln but it's not OK in 2016. 
Shacks in Diepsloot
The fundraising effort has been extremely successful. Many people who read this blog donated and I am so appreciative! The lamps are going to make a huge difference in the lives of the students who receive them. Students who can read, study and complete homework are going to be better off in life. There is no question in my mind.

I like this lamp because it is solar but also has a hand crank so it can always be charged somehow.
Yesterday was the day to begin purchasing lamps. I visited a place called the China Mart located South of Joburg. From what I can tell there are various Chinatowns and Chinese markets (meaning Chinese people selling products produced in China) located throughout the city. I went to the China Mart with my friend and fellow Edu Fun volunteer, Belinda. She is the expert in all things China Mart. 

Belinda is American but she has been living in Joburg for years and she knows her way around the China Mart. She is a get stuff done kind of person and she is also volunteer extraordinaire as she supports and helps out many causes. Belinda is also a good price negotiator (I'm not) and thanks to her we got a great price on the lamps. Buying all of the lamps that we need is going to be a multi-step process but the trip to China Mart was a good start and I'll be delivering the first batch of lamps to the Diepsloot Combined School librarian on Monday.

China Mart is giant warehouse type building located off the M3 highway. There seem to be numerous buildings in the area selling goods from China. We visited three separate ones but there were others that we didn't visit this time. A few things to note if you are going to China Mart. First, it is cash only. Second, they close at 3:00 p.m. Because it is cash only there are security guys with guns manning the perimeter. I tried to get a photo but it's not like you can ask a guy with a gun to pose for you. Or maybe you can? I didn't try it. As for closing at 3:00, according to Belinda you need to depart by 2:00 or 2:30 latest or you will be stuck in horrible traffic trying to escape with everyone else. I also discovered from Belinda what stock means. If you want to buy six or more of an item you can get a lower stock price. 

When we arrived, the electricity was out. How ironic! This made the shopping a little challenging because each stall/store was in total darkness. The hallway we walked down was bright due to windows in the ceiling but it was hard to see the inventory inside the stores. Some stores had specific items like clothing or jewelry, others were multipurpose and so went into those asking if they had the lamps. Quite a few did not but then we found one that did. It was dark inside the store but the gentleman working there directed us by shining his laser pointer in the general direction of the lamps. We were able to get 29 lamps for R90 each which was a great deal (thanks to Belinda!) The man is also going to check to see if he has more and he is going to call me today with an update.

We then found a few more lamps at another store for R100 so we grabbed those also. 
After making certain that we had fully investigated the lamp situation, we looked around at some of the other stores. 

There was a jewelry store which for some reason had full electricity so we spent some time in there. 

Do you like this bracelet? I didn't buy it. 
Many people who shop at the China Mart are re-sellers. While we were looking at jewelry a guy came into the store and announced loudly, "I need stuff I can sell to white people." The guy working in the store and I both laughed but the gentleman, who later I found out was named Brian, was completely serious. I offered to help him, being white and all as a focus group of one. We got to talking and I found out Brian is from Zimbabwe and he really wants to visit America. Specifically he wants to visit Philadelphia. I asked him why Philadelphia (not that there's anything wrong with it but as a first choice you must agree it's a little surprising) and he said it's because he had a pen pal from Philadelphia when he was younger. I suggested he try to watch the movie Rocky as the second best thing to actually going to Philly.

Holy oil. The photo is blurry but I couldn't not include it. 
Lots of interesting products for sale!
Our last stop of the day was to visit a giant "Sweet Mart" as Belinda needed some things.  I have been away from the U.S. for a while now so it's been some time since I was in a Costco or a Target. Sweet Mart was like a Costco only all they sell are items containing sugar.

You've tasted Kool-Aid but have you tried Kool U Up?

Yum! I almost bought a jar.
You can almost see the gun. It is the black shadow to the left of and mostly hidden by the pole.
Later in the day I did get photo of a guy with a gun. This was at a petrol station on the way home. When armored cars are collecting cash from establishments there are always guys guarding with guns so this is a common sight but it's the first time I have been able to get a photo. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Year of Yes

When I became an expat last year, I read a lot of advice about how to handle the transition and settle into my new home country. Much of the advice was "get out there and meet people" and "don't worry if your new house isn't completely organized just start making friends."

Since I am physically unable to leave my house to do anything if my house isn't completely organized, I didn't follow the advice. In hindsight I eased into my life here slowly. 

In our first year we found a house, moved in and hosted my parents when they came to visit. I sought out an opportunity and began volunteering with EduFun. We made friends both naturally and through groups like Internations. We trained for and completed a half marathon and I resumed going to personal training. Last year I started and maintained the blog. And, we traveled to multiple places in South Africa. 

But, there is something markedly different about my second year here as compared to my first.

Even though I just listed all that was accomplished during year one, I also spent a significant amount of time last year doing absolutely nothing. And, I spent a lot of time doing mundane things like grocery shopping and organizing closets. After working for 20 years at a job that included a lot of nights and weekends, a really long commute and a significant amount of business travel, I couldn't get over the fact that suddenly I had free time. All the tasks that I used to cram into my time away from work, I now had endless time to accomplish. If I needed to write an email to someone, I could put thought into the text instead of just firing it off as fast as possible. If I needed to grocery shop I could take my time in doing so. If I needed to visit more than one store, or go grocery shopping again the next day because I was looking for something specific or because I forgot a bunch of stuff it didn't matter. I had the time. Looking back I spent a lot of time just being amazed about how much time I had. And, I was never bored. Not for one second. 

When year one turned into year two I became aware that my time here in South Africa wasn't going to last forever. Even though intellectually I knew that all along, I started to feel the pressure to make the most of this situation and thus began The Year of Yes.

I did not conceive of the concept of The Year of Yes on New Year's Eve because of some kind of champagne fueled epiphany. I actually didn't conceive of the concept of The Year of Yes at all. In year two I just naturally started saying yes to any and every opportunity that came my way. And now, half way through 2016 I realize that this is The Year of Yes.

When I was asked if I would teach a class at school on Mondays (last year I would visit the school and work with a small group of kids and now I stand up in the front of the classroom and lead the lesson) I said yes. When asked if I would be the co-administrator for the women's social group that I am part of I said yes. When invited by an Indian friend to learn how to drape a saree, I said yes. When invited by the same friend to participate in several Indian cooking classes that she was teaching, I said yes. When I noticed that there was a group of expats going to the Joburg CBD to take a graffiti tour I went along. When the opportunity arose to join a committee to plan an event to raise money for scholarships for girls from Diepsloot going to university, I got involved. When I learned that solar lamps were needed so kids living shacks in Dieplsoot without electricity could study at night, I began a fundraising campaign. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

What's funny is that I thought I didn't want to fundraise anymore, I never considered what it would be like to wear a saree, I'm not particularly interested in graffiti, I never liked school when I was a student and I never particularly liked being around kids.

But it turns out some kids are fun to be around (and some are not), wearing a saree is a cool experience to try once in your life, Indian food is interesting and different than the food I am used to cooking, graffiti can be beautiful and takes lot of talent to create, and working on fundraising projects again has been a rewarding experience.

Teaching grade 3 students as part of the EduFun program at the
Diepsloot Combined School
When I came here I had a list of things I wanted to do during my jobless period. Except for writing this blog, finding a great volunteer opportunity and taking a photography class (and I only did that because Mr. Deep insisted) I haven't done any of the things on my list. I thought I would blow the dust off of the Rosetta Stone we bought years ago and teach myself Spanish. But, it turns out that while I would love to speak Spanish fluently, I have no interest in taking the time to learn it. I also thought I would take a digital marketing class but I never did so I must not be that interested. In addition I planned to watch every James Bond movie ever made in order. That one I might still do. Marathon movie watching seems like a good activity to take on during The Year of Yes. 

Cooking at Indian cooking school.
saree selfie
Wearing the saree 
Street art in the Joburg CBD.
The graffiti tour was great, I may write a separate blog post about it.

About Me

My photo
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.