Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Up Up and Away

Since this entire experience has been one big "out of the box" adventure I decided to face one of my biggest fears (heights) and take a short ride in a hot air balloon over the Monte Casino in Sandton. Anna and Trent were really excited to go while Aiden was just as nervous as I was and required some convincing! I managed to stay cool and calm until we were about 50 feet off the ground and then my heart began to race and I felt my knees buckle underneath me! I held on to the side rails for dear life and not wanting to freak the kids out took quick short breaths through a fake smile! Once we got about 150 feet high the guy flying the balloon announced we could walk around! Ha! I was trying to remain composed and standing, I had no intention of letting go of the rail or attempting to move my very planted feet! Aiden, who was originally quite weary about the ride was walking around and shouting to the people down below how awesome it was to be up there! The view was absolutely breathtaking and I am grateful to have seen the city from that vantage point...but I was more grateful when the balloon landed and I was safely back on the earth!

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Great to be Eight

I am not sure how it happened but Aiden has turned 8 years old!  Being in South Africa has made this birthday both unique and challenging. Birthday's are supposed to be spent with family and friends and most importantly Aiden is now the age in which he could finally be baptized! We decided to let Aiden choose if he wanted to be baptized here or to wait until we move back to Arizona. He has decided to wait so that all of his family can be there! 

Fortunately, there are plenty of exciting things to do here and we were still able to make Aiden's birthday very special.  He wanted to go to the Rhino and Lion Park. So with just his little family, he spent the day with a bunch of wild animals! This is a large park that you can drive through and we were able to see white rhino's, zebra's, water buffalo, antelope, cheetahs, endangered wild dogs, and white lions. One of the coolest things we have seen to date was feeding time! We were able to watch the wild dogs, cheetah's and lions eat a dead cow! This wasn't as interesting as it would be if we had seen the animals actually hunt and kill the animal themselves but it was still eerily cool to watch these savage beasts chow down! We were able to watch one of the cheetah's eating a slab of meat just inches from our vehicle. At this park there is also a large cave that we were able to explore. We went underground approximately 60 meters and saw beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. Our tour guide pointed out interesting formations, including one that looked just like the Virgin Mary!  I had never been in a cave before and it was pretty amazing to see what happens underground!

Although, Aiden didn't bring any friends to the Rhino Park he was able to celebrate his birthday at school with some of his new friends.  I made  cupcakes for his class and they gave him a little party! I am glad we decided to send him to school so that he could meet some children his age. Unfortunately, I haven't met their families yet so it was still too awkward to invite them over for a party. We made sure that Aiden had plenty of things to open and he was very excited about his presents. When Aiden went to bed he said it was the best birthday ever (which is what he says every year but I'm still glad he liked it)!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Apartheid Museum: "A journey to understanding, freedom and equality".

Trent and I and some friends made a trip into Johannesburg to visit the Apartheid museum. I have been reading a little bit about the history of South Africa but have not been able to fully grasp what happened here until I visited the museum. The word apartheid means "apartness". It was a system introduced in 1948, that classified and seperated black, Coloured and Indian people from white people. When you walk into the museum there are two entrances one for White/Europeans and one for Non-whites. It was an uncomfortable feeling to walk through a separate entrance, especially when right behind us was a large group of black students. As much as I love to believe that color does not matter and we are all human beings, this was a direct reminder that this has not always been the case and in many ways we continue to be divided by the color of our skin. There is a lot to read and the entire tour can take upwards of 2-3 hours. Although, America has a similar history of oppression and segregation, in many ways Apartheid was more similar to what Hitler did to the Jews. The black people were forced into townships (shanty towns-or the shack communities that still exist today). They were required to carry a passport showing who they were and where they worked and lived. If they were caught without their passports they would be thrown into prison. The control that the minority whites had on the native black people was shocking. The fact that this went on until the 20th century is even more disheartening. Experts from a book entitled  House of Bondage, was displayed and the author Ernest Cole writes: "Three hundred years of white supremacy in South Africa, has placed us in bondage, stripped us of our dignity, robbed us of our self-esteem and surrounded us with hate." He also explains that the black people want to be segregated from the whites also... they don't want to be apart of another group of individuals who can treat people the way they did. Apartheid ended in 1994, when the black people were finally allowed to vote and elected Nelson Mandela. Although, Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison for fighting for black people's freedom he was able to forgive and move on and attempted to unite the country. Segregation is no longer the law but it has not dissolved completely. There are still areas that are mainly black or mainly white. While some individuals, such as Nelson Mandela, have attempted a reconciliation it seems there is still an underlying mistrust. Will that ever go away completely? Will we ever learn to respect and love one another regardless of differences? Doubtful, but we should try to do our very best.

Monday, August 16, 2010

African Toys to Heal My Bleeding Heart

While I am loving every minute of this adventure I can't help but feel guilty for being so blessed, and my heart bleeds for the millions of disadvantaged people I am surrounded by. Although, I am not ignorant enough to believe we don't have extreme poverty in the U.S. it is not nearly as visible or as overwhelmingly hopeless as it appears to be here. It is very difficult to figure out how to help and where to start. Since there are 10 beggars/street peddles on every corner it is impossible to give to each of them, so how do you choose who you are going to help? There are several organizations that I am interested in donating to but I can't decide which one is more worthy of my contribution. Do I just give a little to each, or a lot to one? I have spent more time trying to figure out how to help, than I I have actually spent helping!

Well, I was finally able to find a small band-aid for my bleeding heart and it was all by accident! In an attempt to find something interesting for the kids to do I came across this website for The African Toyshop. The goods sold there are from several different African countries and they are a part of the Fair Trade Organization. I have been dying to buy some authentic African souvenirs and when I saw the toys on this website I couldn’t wait to check it out. So I called the number to get the address and the woman who answered told me they had just recently had to close the shop but that she had the toys in storage and she would be happy to show them to us. I got the directions and then forgot to mention to Trent that we were going to a storage facility instead of a store until we were half way there! He thought this was insane but being the ever loving husband that he is he didn’t turn around!

When we got there we were greeted by this lovely older couple who owned the store and little did I know we would be in for such a treat! Their toys are unique and authentic and everything she showed me had a story! There were silly little dolls, called Shwe Shwe Poppies, that were made by a local organization that feeds over 20,000 children a day and were inspired by drawings from children in a day care in Soweto. There were hand carved little figurines by a man from Mozambique and hand carved replicas of old fashioned cars and tractors from a man in the Congo. Many of the toys are collector items and since they are all handmade they were kind of expensive. But as I learned the story of each toy and the individuals that made it I couldn’t help but buy one of everything (not literally but I did spend a big chunk of change). I was most excited to hear that in many cases the toys had become so popular that the person that made it had to hire more and more people to help them, thus providing more jobs! I fell in love with so many of the toys and of course had to buy toys for Aiden and Anna and gifts for my lovely nieces and nephews so it was easy to spend a small fortune! But more than anything I fell in love with being able to purchase something that helps so many people. We spent nearly two hours with the store owners and more than the history of the toys I learned so much about their family and South Africa. I love talking with people about their lives and this woman was so excited to have someone to share it with. She also gave me the contact for the woman responsible for the Shwe Shwe’s, as they are located close to my home. Hopefully, I will be able to continue to find meaningful opportunities to make a difference.

Woo-Men from Cape Town

Shwe Shwe Poppies from Soweto

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I May Have Just Ordered a Pizza....

We have an inside joke between all of us foreigners here in South Africa that no matter what we are asking for (even if it is not food related) we are probably going to get a pizza. Even though the majority of the people speak English here, they have such a strong accent and so many local words that we are having a bit of a communication breakdown. The other day Trent tried to order jalapeno's in his omelette but the waitress could not understand what it was he wanted. She said "parmesan cheese?" and Trent said "no, jalapeno's" and she said "oh, potatoes". It gets to the point when you just say never mind. We are so used to getting our order's wrong, that one time friends of ours received another tables food but ate it because they just assumed the waitress didn't take the order right!

I am very sick of eating out here. It does not matter what restaurant you eat at the menu's are almost the same everywhere. They all have steak, hamburgers, chicken, pizza, the same 4 salads, and weird sandwiches. You think you would be safe ordering a club sandwich but they have no idea what turkey is, so their club sandwich comes with chicken and this yucky mayo. The pizza here is amazing but I can't eat it 6 times a week. Everything seems to come with tomatoes (pronounced toe-mah-toes)and cheese including breakfast dishes that shouldn't include such ingredients (i.e. French toast).

Yesterday, Trent and I were so excited to find a Mexican food restaurant that promised authentic Mexican cuisine! It looked like a restaurant you would find in Puerto Vallarta. I ordered a burrito that was supposed to come with beef and refried beans. What I got was an open tortilla with strips of steak, some kind of bbq sauce and kidney beans. On the side was sautéed zucchini and carrots. Trent ordered a chimichanga that was actually 3 meat pies. Needless to say we will not be going back.

We are eating at home and cooking more than ever before. But that too is challenging. Many of the foods we typically eat are hard to find or have a different name. Trent went to 3 different stores to find pinto beans and finally realized the reason he couldn't find them is because here they are called red speckled sugar beans (that doesn't even make sense). When you ask a clerk for help finding something they just stare at you like you are slow in the head!

It is fun learning South African terminology. The following is a list of some of the words we have learned so far:

Traffic Light (Robot)
Truck (bakkie)
grocery cart (trolley)
stroller (pram)
Barbecue (Braai)
Lettuce (rocket)
# (hash)
jerky (biltong)
something done quickly (now now)
something done later or in awhile (just now)
greeting (howzit)
yes (yebo)
queue (line)
restroom/bathroom (toilet)
French fries (chips)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to School

After attempting to home school the past couple of weeks, we decided it would be best for all parties involved if the children attended school! Fortunately, for Miss Anna there is a pre-primary school in the complex where we live so we were able to get her registered for grade R (more like preschool than kindergarten) very easily. Finding a school for Aiden was a much more difficult task. Because they start school here in January and go year round, he is coming in at the end of the 3rd term. Public school is not really an option in this country and trying to find a vacancy in a nearby private school was like trying to find a vacancy at a descent hotel in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Last Friday we had driven past a small private school campus and decided to stop in and check it out. We immediately liked the teacher and principal and the classroom that Aiden would be going into only had 15 children! The tuition was reasonable, in American dollars, and since it is a private school Aiden would not need a study permit to attend. We filled out the application and his first day was yesterday! He was so nervous when we dropped him off and so were Trent and I. The teacher found him a boy in his class to show him around and we left him looking slightly sheepish which is abnormal for Aiden! When we pulled into the parking lot at 1:00 (the school day is 7:45 to 1:00p.m.) we weren't sure what we would find. But there he was with another boy on the playground throwing a spare tire (which Aiden tells us is a game)! Today when we picked him up he was sitting at his desk with 6 boys and girls around him looking at a book! The teacher tells us he is doing great and he is such a good reader! She said she told the kids to be kind and not to tease him because of his accent! Trent and I thought that was very funny since we don't have the accent they do! Aiden said that all the kids asked questions about what America was like and if he liked America or South Africa better. When I asked him how responded to this question, he said he told them he liked them both the same! Smart boy!

Aiden's adjustment to school was much smoother then our attempt to buy his school supplies! They gave us a list of "stationary" items to buy and although it was an English it might as well have been a different language! We had no idea what pritt was (glue stick) or koki's (markers). There were twenty other items all of which seemed foreign, even a ream of copy paper has a different name! About the only thing I recognized was pencils and scissors. Fortunately, the man at the stationary store (no Walmart here for back to school shopping) was able to gather all of our items so we didn't look too foolish!

They wear uniforms at school here (even public school), which of course I think is wonderful! They are pretty strict with appearance and they mandate how hair should be worn and even how your fingernails should be groomed! Obviously Aiden's new hair style would not fly at his new school! We had already shaved it all off anyway! We were joking about that being his new look! Of course, my mom had a heart attack when she saw that picture which was the point.

I'm not sure how much either child is going to get out of school while we are here but the opportunity they are having of being in another country and around children of different culture's is priceless! Just learning to adapt is an educational experience! They may have to make up 1st and 3rd grade when they get back but it will be well worth it!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Aiden's New Do

Aiden has the thickest hair and for a boy that is not necessarily a good thing. It is always fuzzy looking and he never wants me to style it, so I asked Trent to shave it off. I wasn't expecting this look but I think he can pull it off! Who knew Trent was such a good barber.Photobucket

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On Holiday

We just arrived back in Joburg after a nice 5 day holiday (that’s what the fancy people on this side of the world call a vacation) in Sun City, South Africa. After a bit of drama at work (involving a fire that Trent had absolutely nothing to do with, thank goodness), Trent’s company decided that now was as good a time as any to give the guys a couple of weeks off! So while most of the guys went back home to their families, we are taking this opportunity to explore the area. Sun City is about 2 hours north of here and is a great little vacation hot spot where people go to getaway for the weekend. We think it’s their attempt at Vegas but it really can’t compare as it only has about 4 resorts with very weak casinos. But it does have a world renowned resort called The Palace, which is pretty exclusive (you can’t even get in unless you are staying there, which we did not!).

PhotobucketWe stayed at a resort that was designed with children in mind. There is a small zoo on the property with all different types of birds and monkeys and other native wildlife. They also have bumper boats, a train, quad rides, goofy golf and a lake where you can go boating and ride jet ski’s. Although we considered going to Cape Town or even leaving the country during this break we decided on Sun City because there is so much for the kids to do. We planned a full itinerary and were able to accomplish nearly everything we wanted to with just one minor complication. The first night we were there I became very ill. The cause is undetermined but most likely the South African water carries a parasite unfamiliar to my digestive system! I spent the first two days of our holiday in bed :(. Fortunately, the kids they were able to go to Camp Kwena, a day camp at the resort that provides various activities and field trips. The first day the kids went to Predator Land and saw lions, cheetahs, snakes, etc. and the next day they went to a crocodile farm where they saw 3 of the world’s largest crocodiles: Terminator, Footloose and Undertaker. The best part of me being in quarantine was that the kids were able to spend lots of time with their dad; going out to eat, playing at the arcade and doing things around the resort.

When I was able to muster enough energy to venture out of the hotel room we went horseback riding. It was a short ride and we were lead by guides but the location was beautiful. It actually reminded me a lot of Arizona. Anna rode the cutest pony and looked adorable in her helmet! My guide was from Zimbabwe and was very talkative. I couldn't understand everything he said but he was still fun to talk with. Photobucket The next day we went to the Valley of the Waves, which is a water park near the Palace resort. It had a wave pool and lazy river and some great slides. The water was absolutely freezing and Trent thought it was very funny watching me get sprayed with ice cold water in the lazy river (he never even got in). But I got plenty of my own laughs watching him try to run around inside of a large ball like a hamster! I might have to post the video on YouTube. Photobucket

My favorite activity of the week and probably of my whole life, was a game drive in the Pilanesburg Reserve. It is quite a different experience to see animals in their natural habitat vs. at the zoo. We were driven around in a large open jeep with a very knowledgeable guide. The park is home to the Big 5: lions, elephants, buffalo, rhino, and leopards but there are no guarantees what you will actually see. There are also several other animal species residing in the reserve including hippos, which is the one animal I really wanted to see. It must have been my lucky day because immediately after entering the park we came across a family of 4 hippos. They were playing in the lake pretty close to the road and it was incredible to watch them as the guide gave us some information, including the fact that they kill more people in Africa then any other animal! On the drive we also saw impalas and other types of native antelope, wildebeests, wart hogs (aka Pumba), zebras and giraffes. We also had the opportunity to see 2 black rhinos (which the guide told us was a very rare sighting) and a few white rhinos. We knew the chances of seeing lion were slim to none as they spend most of their time lounging around in the shade and are camouflaged by the tall dead grass, so we were not that disappointed when we couldn’t find any. Anna was really hoping to see an elephant and we were surprised when the guide told us he would do his best as they can be difficult to find! Trent being the tracking expert that he is, spotted some elephant tracks on the side of the dirt road and we were hoping the elephant was still nearby. About 10 minutes later, Trent saw a large male just 30 ft. from the road. It was incredible to watch the elephant wrap its trunk around a small branch, break it off and chomp on it. After watching the elephant for awhile the guide started up the car and was getting ready to drive off when the elephant started walking closer to the road. The guide thought it would be great if we could get a closer look. Little did we know that it would walk right in front of our jeep!Photobucket
The elephant had definitely taken notice of us and we could see him watching us out of the corner of his eye. This massive animal can actually turn on a dime and charge us quicker then we could blink if he chose too! It was a thrilling and terrifying experience! Fortunately, for us he decided it would be more entertaining to park himself on the road in front of us and pretend to be interested in eating a very dead bush. I could have watched this for hours; however, the kids were over the excitement after about 10 minutes. They of course needed to go to the bathroom at that very moment and there was no getting around the massive elephant. We could do nothing but wait until he decided he was ready to move on. Anna started complaining about having to wait and how bored (pronounced bowed) she was and Aiden was doing the pee-pee dance quietly trying not to draw to much attention to our jeep. Anna eventually found the Ipod touch in my purse and played a game on it while Trent and I watched and listened to the beautiful beast in front of us. It was quite humorous (and embarrassing) to see our kids completely indifferent to this once in a life time opportunity. I was in awe at the magnitude of this event, we are in Africa for crying out loud, and the kids are playing games on an Ipod and trying to figure out how they can get the elephant to move out of the way! He eventually did move about 45 minutes later and we were able to get passed and find a bathroom. Although, the tour was supposed to be about 2 hours the guide drove us around for nearly 4 hours! He was able to find some crocodiles and another herd of elephants before we left. This herd included a newborn baby, which was so cute, and probably the highlight for me! All in all it was a great day and we look forward to several more game drives before we come back to the U.S.A.

One of the most interesting aspects of our resort is that there are monkeys and baboons everywhere. While we thought it was very exciting to see monkeys walking through the property the people working at the hotel are not amused. The monkeys according to the staff “are very naughty” and they do whatever they can to steal food. They will even come into your room if you leave a door open. At breakfast they are everywhere and they work as a team to try and sneak past the security guards (who wear vests that say Primate Control). The guards carry paint ball guns and will shoot the monkeys if they get close to the food. On one occasion a sneaky monkey made it all the way to the cereal and was eating hand full’s of before he was shooed off. Other monkeys managed to get sugar packets off the table and they actually open the packets and pour the sugar into their mouths!Photobucket

On the way home from Sun City we took a small detour, on accident thanks to the Garmin, and found our way on a small back road instead of the highway. Trent was pretty upset but I was elated. The scenery was much better and we drove through this darling town called Hartbeesport which is located on a massive dam. We didn’t stop but will definitely be heading back as it was very local and cool, with great shopping and restaurants. We are living in a very large, very typical looking city so it was a lovely surprise to find this quaint little town. I am anxious to find more places like this which remind me that I am not in Mesa anymore (not that I don't like Arizona, I just didn't fly for 18 hours to see cactus and concrete). But the novelty soon wore off when just a few miles later we came upon McDonald's! We stopped of course and I have to admit there is nothing better than their soft serve.

All in all we had a wonderful holiday. I am so grateful that Trent has this time off and we are able to have these experiences together. I am getting more comfortable here everyday and my anxiety about being in a different country so far from all of our friends and family has reduced significantly because at least we have Trent back! It also helps to have him around so he can chauffeur us everywhere, since I still can't drive!