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!