Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Week at the Veld School

This past week I was the teacher chaperone of 30 Grade 6 learners at the Veld School in Aus, which is a tiny little town about an hour from Luderitz. This school is like a mini-outward bound for the kids. And again I was back in the world of hiking. Aus is nestled in a very hilly part of the south, and hiking is a huge component of this school. Oh also, pretty sure this little camp would definitely not be allowed in the US. Every time the kids misbehaved they either had to run up a mountain, get dropped off in the veld and have to find their way back to the hostel, or they didn’t get food at the next meal time. We had sessions on life skills topics – pollution of the body, the mind, communication skills, problem solving, and map skills. Tuesday morning we had the map skills session, and this was probably the first time these kids learned how to use a map with coordinates. Immediately following the session it was time to put these skills to use! Oh but right before leaving the kids learned about the wild animals in the veld they could encounter – cobras, puff adders, hyenas, and leopards – and they were instructed on what to do if they faced them. Although those animals really are in the area I thought this was more of a joke than anything, meant to scare the kids – that is until later when we were walking along in the veld and realized we were following massive paw prints, then it got a bit more real. Anyway, the kids were dropped off in teams, and given their current coordinates, and coordinates to Point B, where they would need to find their flag, food tickets for dinner, and the coordinates for Point C, which they needed to reach in order to meet up with everyone and get dinner before we climbed a mountain. The teachers were also dropped off in the veld with coordinates of Point A and B. This team was myself, an institutional worker from my school, and two teachers from the other primary school in Luderitz that came with us. Now I don’t consider myself very gifted in map skills, but I quickly learned that I was a bit better than my teammates in deciphering where we needed to go. Unfortunately, no one seemed to want to let me look at the map or listen to what I had to say. This resulted in some wandering, and a couple disagreements [ayyy teambuilding!!!!]. Finally I convinced the other guy from my school we needed to try heading in a different direction, and he soon found one of the flags for the learner-teams, which from our map told us we were going the right way. We then got the other two teachers to join us, and about 45 minutes later, we found our flag!
Southern Nam
Sadly the kids did not fare as well, and in fact 6 of the 7 teams basically gave up without really trying. The leader of the camp found 3 groups on the tar road waiting for him… he was not pleased. The next few hours were spent in the bakkie ushering around kids, helping them find their Point B flags and then Point C [because by this point it was dark]. I may have taken a tiny bit of pleasure at the sight of the distraught faces of the boys in Grade 6 who normally torment me daily. As we pulled away in the bakkie leaving them in the pitch dark a couple screamed “MISS N! MISS N! PLEASE MISS N!!!!” They had been dropped off around 1 in the veld, and we were supposed to get to Point C at around 5:30/6. Instead we arrived at Point C at around 9:30/10. Only one of the teams successfully found their food tickets, and only 2 others found any, so about half the group went hungry that night. And what followed has now become the scariest hour of my life thus far. We were told it was time to climb the mountain in front of us. Ok, acceptable enough. Then the leader told us to leave our torches [flashlights] behind, we would be climbing without them because it was safer. Ummm, wait what?!!?!?!? I guess sometimes this would be ok, but this particular night there was no moonlight to assist us, and I have truly terrible night vision. I literally couldn’t see ANYTHING. And I was supposed to be in front of the kids?? A few girls tried to grab onto my arm, and I quickly told them to let go unless they wanted to tumble down the mountain with me. For about a quarter of the mountain we were on all fours climbing up because it was so steep [on the way down I slid down on my butt, which entertained the girls alongside me to no end].  When we reached the top the leaders spoke about how it was a lesson in not giving up, believing in yourself etc. The PC Volunteer who works at this camp said no one has ever fallen while night climbing, which I honestly find hard to believe! I made it all the way down the mountain before falling once on the solid ground, didn’t see the hole I stepped into. At the bottom the man in charge was hiding in the bushes making scary animal noises [they were pretty convincing]. I said a quiet prayer of thanks that I made it down alive.
Last task of the obstacle course: face fear of heights

The next day those 6 of the 7 teams were dropped back out in the veld and had to do it over since they had given up the previous day. Then on the last day the kids completed an obstacle course where they had to work together to get through each task. That afternoon we had closing ceremonies, where all the teams came forward and sang a song they made up, and each learner gave a speech about what they learned throughout the week. As usual, the boys hadn’t prepared anything, and it meant trouble. The man in charge told the kids that they had all failed, and they would have to stay another 14 days, and live in the veld too far from Aus to be able to see the lights at night, with no tents or nice food, working on their map skills. These kids were so gullable! I had to cover my face because I was laughing, but I kid you not ¾ of the girls and ¼ of the boys even started crying! Some of the girls were just openly weeping, and seeing tears stream down the boys faces was something else! Good times. About 10 minutes into this spiel the leader finished the joke, saying that the place they were getting dropped too far to see Aus lights was in fact… Luderitz. Surprise! Some of the kids actually still didn’t understand and were asking me if we were going home still or staying later on.

That night we had a braai. The other female teacher and I got the roosterbrood ready, and then we went outside to start! The second biggest accomplishment of the week followed. We asked the male teacher from the other primary school if he would be in charge of braaing the meat, since obviously the kids couldn’t do it themselves [it was dark, there were 60 kids, chaos would have ensued]. Well, he replied ‘no I don’t want to braai for them, they should do it themselves.’ … to which I could only sigh in frustration. So all of a sudden I became in charge of the braai for these 60 kids, despite never having managed any kind of braai before, let alone one for a huge group of people – whenever there is a barbeque involved the guys I’m with always seem to take charge. No longer apparently! Four girls from my school volunteered to help me, and with help from my flashlight, we successfully braaied mutton, boerwors, and roosterbrood for everyone! Luckily the other guy from my school helped us too once he came outside. The girls helping me thought it was hilarious that I kept burning my fingers while turning the roosterbrood, and burst into laughter everytime I made a face or jumped in pain, but after two hours it was all done, and oh was it lekker! We were some proud people that night. After enjoying our meal we watched The Emperor’s New Groove, which I discovered went over everyones’ heads [joke-wise and also the characters just speak really fast in that movie] as soon as I realized I was the only one hysterically laughing at the jokes… anyway, the next morning we left and I can safely say the kids and I were all extremely happy to be home sweet home.


From Botswana we flew to Sosussvlei in the Namib Desert for the last leg of our adventure.

Our days started extremely early here, as in 4:30 am. The first morning we were off to go hot air ballooning at sunrise! We arrived a little early, and watched the balloon get set up. The couple that runs this experience is Belgian, and about half of the other people on the balloon with us were French, so it was a morning filled with lots of French and English conversations.  Anyway, we went up just as the sun was rising over the dunes; suffice it to say the view was incredible. We floated by the Namib-Naukluft Park to the left of us [lots of mountains/rocks] and towards the red dunes of the Namib. While we were in the air we flew over lots of springbok and then a huge group of oryx – the oryx were terrified of the sound of the hot air being released into the balloon, and they bolted in different directions when they heard it! After an hour up in the air, we landed. This landing was a bit bumpy, and we were told to squat down in the basket, which we did. As soon as we got close to the ground the other men working for this company jumped up from the ground to grab onto the basket, trying to steady it and bring it down to the earth. This was semi-successful, but then the wind picked up and we were carried into the air again. Our second landing attempt ended in the basket toppling over. It was entertaining for my family, but I’m pretty sure the group of elderly French people was just confused. After we got off we found a beautiful brunch display, quite literally waiting for us in the middle of the desert! Best brunch of my life. Our French host used this massive knife to cut open the bottles of champagne, and we feasted on crepes, croissants, cheese, and other assorted delicious treats. It was pure heaven. I also tried zebra, and it was great!
the balloon!
our landing was a little bumpy.
That afternoon we checked out Sesriem Canyon. It’s pretty small compared to Fish River [in the south of Nam closer to my site], but still imposing.

Our second and last morning in the desert was another early rising to get to the dunes for sunrise. Our guide Jonas was taking us hiking! Unfortunately for him, Jonas assumed my sisters and I were like the majority of people who he leads around the Namib, and thought we would only make it up the baby dune (Dune 45) before deciding not to climb the biggest one. When we got to that dune, my sisters shut him down – why waste our energy climbing that one when we want to tackle the big one? So onward we went. BIG DADDY: challenge accepted. Big Daddy is a massive dune, 380 meters high, which sits along the Dead Vlei. We climbed up the first part of the dune, and my mom decided that was where she would stay, but I of course got pressured into tackling all of Big Daddy, and Jonas felt it his duty to take us as far as we would go [again, he thought we were going to give up before reaching the top]. Sadly for me, once I realized the magnitude of what we were doing and wanted to turn around, it was too late, there was no turning back. Flashbacks of climbing up the sand in Swakopmund came back as we slowly made the journey uphill. Thankfully Jonas wanted to lead us, and he was slow-going. After about an hour and a half we were at the top. At the time I thought the hike was not worth it, but looking at the pictures now I take it back, the view was awesome. We made it down into the Dead Vlei Pan, which is one of the coolest things I have ever seen – it literally looks like a painting the colors are so vibrant. We sat near the on the salt pan as we emptied our shoes of the pounds of sand that had gotten into them, and made it back to the van before collapsing in the shade. Jonas was not in a great mood from exhaustion, and told us begrudgingly that we were just the second group he’s taken in a year all the way to the top, and that almost everyone gives up after trying the first small dune or getting halfway up Big Daddy. Clearly he didn’t have a good sense of the determination within my sisters. Done. Oh I also vowed never to be pressured into hiking again after this experience [this has already been broken, ay tog!]
Petrified Acacia trees. Unbelievable looking.

And so ended the big part of the trip. We headed back to Windhoek, where we lost Mimi, and then Grace and my mom made the long journey to Luderitz to see my site! I took them around the town, showed them my school, and they got to meet my host family, my awesome neighbor/adopted host dad [who notably got them to eat goat meat without realizing it – everything tastes good on a braai!], and the other volunteers here. The day before they left we went on a boat tour and saw the massive colony of penguins on Halifax Island. After a final stint at the new coffee shop in town [which is so nice it reminds me of America], they were gone. And so ended the best holiday of my life. On to Term 2!

So at the end of Maycation, the tallies rest at:

Group 34 PCVs ran into unexpectedly: 2  - one at Vic Falls, one in Luderitz with his fam!
Cultural gain: learned how to greet people in Zambia and Botswana!
Items lost v. items gained: travel towel lost, lots of weather appropriate clothes gained!
New list of things I miss: quality toilet paper, hair dryers, private cars!!!, radios playing American music, the sound of city life aka cars driving by outside, heating [winter has just now arrived!], chocolate chips, tortilla chips, and good customer service
Things renewed: the many reasons I love Africa. Thank you month-long holiday!

PS Just saw this article on CNN about Sosussvlei - it's really well written and a great read if you want to learn more about this area 

Friday, June 22, 2012


*these posts were written forever ago! too bad I don't have internet at my house anymore, and the coffee shops have been closed for no real reason lately (I think the last time there was a biker rally...?) anyway,

Getting to Botswana was just a hop, skip, and jump away! We drove to this bizarre water crossing, where there were dozens of large trucks and cars waiting to be transported across the border by ferry. This border crossing was the meeting point of four countries: Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe! We took a little boat over to the Botswana side, spent a moment in the spot where all the countries meet, and were on the boat for just enough time to finish putting on the lifejackets the guide told us we had to wear, before having to undo them. A short car ride, and an hour-long plane ride later, we were at a lodge on the Linyanti Reserve, sitting right along the Kwando River! This place was known for having wild dogs, a fact that I didn’t learn until later that evening. 

Wild dogs eat a baby springbok

We started our game drive checking out some water buffalo, which are pretty imposing creatures. Once the sun started to go down, our guide, Spencer, tracked down the pack of 18 wild dogs, just as they were beginning their evening hunt. We then went on the hunt with them! This experience was crazy! The vehicle we were in was built like a tank, and we literally drove over trees and bushes to keep track of the dogs. Our guides definitely took us on the more adventurous/exciting route, compared to the other group from the lodge, which somehow didn’t seem to move at scary speeds or doze over trees. Regardless, even though we may have been clinging to the rails so we wouldn’t fall out, it was all worth it because we saw the dogs gobble up two kills – a springbok and a kudu. The springbok was gone in minutes, seriously two minutes. If they had seemed like normal dogs before, after watching them rip another animal to pieces, they were no longer resembling any kind of dogs we were accustomed to.

Giraffe family!
We watched a massive pack of vultures fill the trees surrounding a water buffalo carcass that had died when giving birth. Creepy.
Mokoro ride!
The rest of our time in Botswana was spent going on game drives, where we saw an array of impressive African animals. We were also introduced to the practice of the ‘sundowner,’ wherein we choose a scenic spot to stop the vehicle and have a drink and some snacks while we watch the sun go down. This ritual is so classy, and I was sad to end the habit when holiday ended! The last thing we did before returning to Nam was an early morning ride on the traditional mokoro canoe. Our guide told us about the canoe as we rode along the Kavango River in the Okavango Delta. In order to move the canoe he stood and used a long pole to push us through the shallow water. The ride was so peaceful and scenic! And then it was time to go back to the Land of the Brave!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Victoria Falls: Mosi-oa-Tunya

From Capetown we flew up to Livingstone to check out Victoria Falls! We had an evening boat tour on the Zambezi River, during which we saw crocodiles, lots of birds, and hippos. And here my fear of hippos began. One of them actually jumped out of the water menacingly about 10 feet from our boat, prompting our guide to speed up the boat and get us out of its path! Even though hippos are not meat-eaters, they are responsible for A LOT of attacks on humans because they are so territorial. Yikes.
Group shot with our elephant friends!
The next morning was an adventure packed day, the day I was probably looking forward to the most! We started off our morning with Elephant Back Safaris, a company that cares for orphaned elephants from Zimbabwe. We learned about the elephants, and then took a one hour tour around the reserve, each of us on an elephant! Most elephants had one guide and two people on them, but Grace and I both volunteered to go solo with the guides. My elephant’s name was Shikombi, and Grace rode her daughter [conceived when Shikombi left the reserve for 10 months with a bunch of wild bulls] Sheverruka. It was a great morning! After getting off the elephants we all got to feed them treats. My elephant was super hungry, and I had to show her how the bag was completely empty after pouring the remaining crumbs into her mouth!

A safe distance away from our afternoon shower at the falls!

Now visiting Victoria Falls is extremely different if you go during the dry season, in fact if you go at that time there is barely any water at all, just a bit over on the Zimbabwe side [the pictures are crazy!]. Luckily we visited right at the end of the rainy season, so the falls were full force. We had massive ponchos on, and still managed to get very wet. It was like taking a shower. Small children were preventing their parents from heading into the thick of it because they were so scared of how loud it was. The original name of the falls is “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning “the smoke that thunders,” and whoah was it loud!
scariest 30 seconds of my life thus far... but pretty incredible
Luckily it was quite warm outside so we dried off pretty fast, and headed to the bridge for our long-awaited adventure: BUNGEE JUMPING. Naturally, being the oldest and the one whose idea it was, I had to go first. We arrived in time to watch a girl, all set to jump, have a freak out and change her mind. The next guy to go was extremely confident. When he stepped up to the jumping point he gave everyone a little salute and soared off the platform [we later found out it was somewhere around his 15th bungee jump]. And this was the person I had to follow. Next time I get good enough internet to load the video, you’ll see that I wasn’t really given much time to think about jumping/to change my mind, in fact it actually kind of felt like I got a bit of a push. Anyway, bungee jumping was INSANE! It was WAY scarier than skydiving! Freefalling through the air, then bouncing way back to a standing position in the middle of the air was terrifying! Oh and in addition to jumping over the falls, there was also a rainbow beneath us. Grace, Mimi, and I survived the jump [though one of us almost had a panic attack on the platform, not naming names] and would recommend this adventure to anyone seeking a serious adrenaline rush! 

hoping that the bush would conceal us from the notoriously bad vision of the rhinos
We took a short-lived break from the madness to have a quiet lunch over the Zambezi, but an hour later it was off to see the rhinos! There were 8 white rhinos in the park, and because of the threat of poaching, they are under a 24-hour surveillance by armed guards who are ready to shoot anyone threatening the animals. These guards took us to see the rhinos up close [luckily not too close, those animals are huge!]. Turns out the white rhino is so named not because it is white, but because people meant ‘wide-mouthed’ and something got lost in translation. Regardless, it was pretty sweet that we got to go out on foot and walk with the guards to see them! After a sundowner on the banks of the Zambezi, our short time in Zambia came to a close, and we were off to Botswana!

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Well I have officially returned from Maycation, and it was beyond incredible! The holiday began by taking an overnight bus down to Capetown with three other volunteers from my group. We had a great first day walking around the city, then the second day we went to the Cape of Good Hope – unfortunately the weather was not so good – it was rainy and pretty chilly, so it may not have been the best idea to be outside for the length of time we spent there, oh well! We also saw the penguins and had a nice dinner in Simonstown. What we didn’t know… was that said dinner was contaminated. Of the 4 of us, 3 got food poisoning [the one guy who didn’t ate a burger and fries, so that’s what we get for eating healthy and having fruit & vegetables!], soooo it was a rough night for everyone at the hostel. While two were well enough to go to our scheduled shark diving adventure the next morning, I had been the sickest and was forced to miss out on that adventure. The next day the others left Capetown, and I got some kind of Strep throat deal, which meant I spent a lot of time the remaining few days at the hostel, getting to know the people there and fighting for control of the TV remote [and not winning, so watching a few too many Bollywood movies]. Cross-cultural moment happened when I made this woman from Lesotho watch “Say Yes to the Dress” with me [the American shows that get played here are so random]; she did not like it. The upside of being sick: it was SO cool to see how kind and caring complete strangers are. I really appreciated the two Americans [also from DC] who gave me something to help with the food poisoning situation, the company of the British guy who went museum hopping with me despite my really slow sick pace, the Norwegian girls and the Japanese couple who checked up on me, and the Congolese hostel attendant who got me cooldrinks and spoke to me exclusively in French. What an international crowd! Other upside – I had an excuse to spend a lot of time at the movie theater since I felt too bad to do anything else!!!!! I saw the Hunger Games twice, AND the movie theater had fountain drinks, which were just about the best thing ever! So it may have been a rough start to the holiday, but thank goodness Penicillin fixes everything and I was feeling great by the time my family arrived! Then the fun began.

View of Capetown from Table Mountain
First off, I should mention that I would have been perfectly content with not leaving the hotel in Capetown that I checked into about 8 hours prior to my family arriving. It was literally heaven. But moving on, the first day of Nowlins in Africa we took a ferry out to Robben Island in the morning, where we toured the prison that Nelson Mandela was held in for 27 years. We followed this with a trip to Table Mountain in the afternoon. It was a great relaxing first day of the trip.

View of Table Mountain from Robben Island

Day two took us on the Cape of Good Hope tour, which I had already done with my friends some days earlier. The difference this time was that we had AMAZING weather. On that note, we actually had amazing weather for the entire trip, a pretty remarkable feat, especially considering the gross rainy cold weather I had experienced in Capetown just days before they came, which is common this time of year. Our day of driving along the coast ended with a visit to Kirstenbosch, the botanical gardens, right at sunset.

Penguins at Boulder's Beach!
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Day 3 we went off to the vineyards! We drove through Stellenbosch, then went to Lanzerac for a chocolate and wine tasting – definitely our favorite [obviously]. It was really cool how they paired the chocolate to the wine! We had a delicious lunch somewhere around Franschhoek, then did two more wine tastings, the last of which paired cheeses with the wine and was called Goats du Roam. Outside of the building there was a tower with billy goats… which my sisters and I were obsessed with. Being around the beautiful and colorful countryside was such a nice change from the desertscape I'm normally used to! The days were over before we knew it, and it was time to move on!
Our view at lunchtime in Franschhoek, in the winelands
Billy Goat in his tower.