This is a view from one of the villages in Chinsta. It is beautiful despite the sadness.
IT’S WEEKEND!! So do I have stories for you! This weekend was our first “holiday/away weekend” where we spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at homestays. Basically homestays are when you’re out in the country of South Africa staying in the mud brick huts in villages with no electricity, no running water, and lots and lots of farm animals. We were out in the middle of nowhere where backpackers and hikers stay. It was an experience. Our main purpose for this weekend was to visit the Transkei area where Nelson Mandela was raised as a child. On Sunday we got to visit the Nelson Mandela museum in Qunu. Our tour guide was a Mandela too! His father was Nelson’s nephew. So cool! He looked like him too. Those Mandela genes are strong. That was Sunday on our way back to Chinsta. On Friday, we arrived at our first homestay and we already were off to a rocky start. Before we left on Friday, it was rainy and cold (number one). Our guide, Denver, almost forgot his driver’s license (number 2). We got into a slight fender-bender (number 3). And when we stopped at a gas station (called “petrol station” here) to use the restrooms (just called “toilets”), the water was turned off so we couldn’t pee (number 4). Let’s just say we weren’t all that keen about what the weekend had in store for us.
When we arrived at our first homestay, it had been raining all day. Mind you, winter in South Africa is known as the “dry season” so they were in desperate need of rainfall, but we wished that it held off for the weekend. We were a bit surprised when we got to where we would be staying. We were all tired from driving 5 HOURS plus cold and wet on top of that. We took a ride UP A MUD SLIDE road to get to the actual homestay. That was an experience. When we got out of the car, I will admit, it was very pretty amidst all the rain and goat/sheep poop everywhere. There are rolling hills everywhere you look in the countryside (mom you’d probably wet yourself from all the mountains and hills!). There were a few of the circular mud brick homes that we would be staying in. The roofs were made of straw too so they were legit mud homes. When we walked in it was just one big room with 6 beds, a paraffin gas tank to boil water (for our hot water bottles!) and a little cupboard for plates and stuff. It was very cute, I will say – just not quite what we were expecting. Especially because THERE WAS NO ELECTRICITY OR RUNNING WATER!! We were shown where the toilets were… aka a good old-fashioned outhouse. Mom, you wouldn’t believe that me, little city girl Anna, used an outhouse toilet. Yes, me! Not only were there outhouses, but we basically stayed on a farm – a farm with lots and lots of sheep, goats, chickens, and… roosters. Yeah, waking up to those guys at 5 am was NOT FUN. I felt so bad for the animals because they had no shelter to go under during the rain, wellllll bless their hearts. I even got to bed a baby goat! He was about 3 days old J he just stood by his mommy and hopped around. So special! Because there was no electricity or anything to do in the rain for that matter, we played lots of cards as a group with Denver. It was soo fun! That got us in a better mood. Also because of the no electricity thing, when it gets dark at 7 pm, you’re basically ready for bed (and you want to get your sleep because the farm animals wake up early!). We all fell asleep around 8:30 and woke up bright and early at 5 am on Saturday ready for the day.
Saturday morning we woke up to get ready for a 4-hour hike – yeah, a 4-hour hike to our next homestay. On the hike, 5 of us walked through the mud and sand and up mountains along the coast while Denver and the rest of the group drove the van to the homestay with the rest of our stuff. Surprisingly it takes about 2+ hours by van to get to the same place that took us 4 hours to hike. I was very glad to have walked. It was probably one of the most beautiful sceneries I’ve ever seen: ocean on one side and mountains on the other. We saw so many animals too: whales, dolphins, goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, and also a dead horse… that was horrible. We were hiking when al of a sudden we smelt something horrible. Phineas, our hiking guide, stopped and said, “something around here just died” and he turned around, pointed, and said “there it is” and we saw a horse lying dead on the hill not too far from us. IT WAS DISGUSTINGLY SAD. Other than that, the hike was very fun and totally worth it. For the rest of Saturday, we got acquainted with our new digs. Same “no electricity, no plumbing” deal as the place before, but the layout was much more colorful and touristy. We met more backpackers/travelers at this place too, including four young, South African doctors in training! They seemed a little “anti-American” but it was interesting to talk with them. Besides that, I managed to take a much-needed shower in a ROCKET SHOWER! You literally light paraffin-soaked toilet paper with a match to heat the water up as you stand in the shower with a flame at your feet. The entire time the fire makes this sound like an airplane is about to take off. Also, apparently you aren’t supposed to turn the water off when your finished showering… but I didn’t do that. I turned the water off and all of the sudden the flame just blows up! It was terrifying. But the good thing was, I was clean!
Even though the weekend started off kind of rocky, I was glad we were able to experience life for so many South Africans. The drive home was extra meaningful because we pass so many of the mud huts in the countryside where poor families live with nothing else. Experiences like these truly make me thankful for all that I have. I am so glad that I am on this trip and in this country. I wouldn’t want to be any place else!
We made it to East London!!! Well, technically it’s East Chinsta (pronounced “sin-sa”) and we arrived a week ago. BUT WE’RE HERE! And we have just about six more weeks left in Africa. Time is flying. Chinsta is unlike anything we’ve experienced in South Africa. It is more like a secluded beach resort than the South Africa we’ve been used to. It is gorgeous. When you drive in to Chinsta from East London (the closest city to Chinsta) you drive down a steep hill and all you see ahead of you is ocean. The rolling hills and crazy mountains are what I’m really going to miss when I head back to the flat land that is Illinois. ANY WHO! So our first week here was interesting… our group has been separated into two groups: one group spent the first week working at African Angel’s School in Chinsta, while the other group (my group) worked at a “crèche” (pre-school) in one of the Chinsta villages working construction and such… yeah, me! My group members and I worked extremely hard digging holes (in rock, not top soil by the way), using pick axes, shoveling rock, building benches, and painting varnish all in the hot strong Africa sun. It was an exhausting week. This week, the groups have taken turns, so I’ve started working in a Grade R (kindergarten) class at the African Angel’s school while the other group is doing the construction. So much has happened that I don’t have words! Our Internet connection is very limiting. The connection is not very strong at all, so that’s why the blog post is coming so late! One more thing before I go. Our location of the house is BEAUTIFUL! We have a balcony view of the ocean that my dad would wet his pants over J We had surf lessons yesterday, saw a pack of wild monkeys go through our trash cans right outside our house, and have seen whales from the balcony. It’s been very eventful. 40 more days in counting! TTFN!
Molo! As a result of our primary schools being on holiday break this past week, we spend our fourth week in PE on holiday as well! On Tuesday the 24th, which is Heritage Day in South Africa (national holiday) we spent the day at Jerusalem, which is an informal orphanage run by a woman called “Mama Vinqi”. At Jerusalem there were about 35 children under the age of 13 and I believe about half of them actually live at Jerusalem. Jerusalem is Mama Vinqi’s home in one of the townships. It is an incredibly small house that houses the children. There is the main room where the activities take place, a small backroom where the beds are, and the smallest kitchen I’ve ever seen. All of the walls are made of concrete cinderblock. Up until a few years ago, the roof was made of thin sheets of metal. When the roof started to leak in, Calabash (the volunteer organization placing us in the schools, Emmanuel, and Jerusalem) paid for the roof to be replaced, so at least they have a stable roof over their heads now. On Tuesday we brought along new craft supplies for the children to use as well as homemade playdough. Part of the cost of going on this trip is to supply the volunteer organizations with some supplies. At Jerusalem the program paid for food for us all to eat on Tuesday as well as extra food to last Mama Vinqi and the children a while. Because it was Heritage Day, Mama Vinqi made us a hugely bountiful lunch that was distributed amongst all of the children and us. We also brought in birthday cake because one of EIU student was celebrating her 21st birthday! I think everyone enjoyed the day while we were able to serve others. Mama Vinqi and her staff were extremely appreciative and kind to us while we were there. It was too bad that that was our one and only day at Jerusalem.
For the rest of the week (Monday, Wednesday-Friday), we were placed at the Emmanuel Advice Care Center (EAC), which is a social services organization that helps OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children), in their community. Again, we planned lessons and different activities for the children during the four weeks while we were at Emmanuel. The ages at EAC were anywhere from 4 years old – 20/21 years old. There were about 30ish children there everyday, but it varied. All of the children that go to Emmanuel are either orphans (being cared for by grandparents, siblings, etc.) or they are vulnerable children (they are HIV positive, have TB, etc.). We weren’t made aware of the status of individual people, because they don’t have to inform us, but we just knew that a large majority of the children and staff of Emmanuel were HIV positive, but you would never have known. On Monday, we were greeted with probably the biggest warm welcome I’ve ever experience! Hugging as a way of hello and goodbye is very common in SA culture. The staff made us feel incredibly welcomed. On Monday we had the chance to go on “home visits” with several of the staff members. Not only does the Emmanuel staff care for the OVCs that come to their center, but they also do home visits in the township to check in with children/adults that have AIDS or another disability. The staff members have such an incredible relationship with everyone they work with and you can really see that they love what they do (even though they’re volunteers and don’t get paid). We were able to visit five different homes and meet five different families. It was probably one of the biggest wake-up calls for me that I have experienced yet on this trip. Everyday we drive through the townships on our way to the schools. We see the shacks, the poverty, and the overpopulation, but we have never stepped inside someone else’s home to hear their story. We met a young woman who I believe was HIV positive who has lost so many people in her family. She told us that just a couple weeks ago she had to bury her husband. She has had children and other family members die from HIV/AIDS and she continues to remain so positive. I can’t even begin to imagine the strength that takes. We met another family headed by an elderly grandmother who cares for her 28-year-old grandchild who I believe has cerebral palsy (just by observation). They live in such a small house and don’t have the resources to adequately care for the grandson. All day, every day, he lies on the floor because that is how he was born. The grandmother says that most nights she can’t sleep in her bed because she is too busy sleeping on the floor by her grandson’s side to make sure he doesn’t roll out the door during the night. I know how hard it is for parents and families of children with disabilities, but I never stopped to think about how the hardships are barely beginning for similar families in places like South Africa. Those home visits were physically (because we walked up and down the streets in the heat) and emotionally exhausting. I have a totally new appreciation for my family, my health, my education, my country, and my blessings. I swear, everyone should come to South Africa and visit the townships – your life will be changed! Paul, the guy who started Calabash Trust says that we are experiencing more of what South Africa is really like than many white South Africans who live here. Isn’t that sad? Even though apartheid has ended, most white South Africans haven’t even entered a township let alone done what we have done in five weeks. That is mind-blowing. For the rest of the week we spent at Emmanuel we really got a chance to get to know some of the OVCs – especially the older kids. They all have dreams of going to college, becoming a social worker, getting a car, and having a family. I have those same dreams, but it’s sad that mine are much more realistic and likely to happen. These kids come from families where nobody has gone to college or even held a real job. Yet these children continue to be so optimistic and positive about their future. On Friday, our last day, the staff made us an amazing lunch/farewell dinner. We also had birthday cake that Dr. Murphy brought in to celebrate Nisha’s belated birthday (since we weren’t there on Tuesday). The children sang for her and for us, which was unbelievably moving. Saying goodbye was pretty hard. I’ve never had to say goodbye to someone that I know I will never see again, and someone who I know will have a harder life than I can ever imagine. So far, this has been the week that has truly opened my eyes to all the things I am thankful for.
On a positive note, we are officially in the second half of our trip! Less than two months! 55 days!