Saturday, October 30, 2010

Roses and Jacaranda's

"The girls" (aka Dawn and Courtney), their roommate Ashley and I decided to take advantage of my new ride and escape the thick smog of Joburg. We decided to take a trip to Pretoria (one of the main capital's of South Africa) to see why it is nicknamed Jacaranda City. A Jacaranda is an incredibly beautiful tree with purple flowers that only blooms here between October and November. While there are quite a few of these trees in the area where I live there is estimated to be about 100,000 of them in Pretoria alone. There wasn't exactly an address of where we would find the tree's once we got to this large city, so we set off without much of a plan. I did Google Pretoria, to find out a little bit about the city and places to see while we were there and I discovered that there is a large rose garden on the outskirts, called Ludwig's Roses. The girls, being just as easy to please as I, were up for anything and with a little help from Val the GPS we were able to locate this little spot of Heaven. Ludwig's Roses is no garden, it is acres and acres of millions of roses with hundreds of different types. It was quite a sight to see row after row of lovely roses with unique names such as Forever Friends, South Africa and Rainbow Nation. We walked around for an hour looking at the roses and the beautiful grounds, and then had a delicious lunch at their beautiful little cafe. We drank rose tea with a huge slice of homemade bread topped with Rose jam. Afterward we walked through a very humid butterfly garden, where unfortunately most of the butterflies were still trapped in their cocoons.  It was so great to be here with "the girls", as they were just as excited about this place as I was and I loved hearing them constantly commenting, "oh this is so great", "this is the best" every few minutes!
PhotobucketPhotobucketAfter we reluctantly left this oasis, we drove into the heart of Pretoria hoping we would come across the rows of Jacaranda's we read about. It was an incredible feeling to turn onto one of their main roads and to be instantly surrounded by purple. It was so shocking that I forgot that I was driving and received plenty of hoots (that's what they call honking here) before I remembered and sped up past 15 mph. We eventually just pulled over so that we could gawk at the trees and look like total tourists, as we took millions of pictures off the busy road. We drove around a bit longer and every street we turned down was lined with these incredible trees. On a less busy road, we pulled over again, and this time thought it would be a great idea to take pictures of ourselves in the middle of the street in order to get a really good view of the trees. I can't imagine what we looked like sitting in the middle of the street and then running away every time a car came. I felt like a teenager again, doing silly things, giggling and acting like we are the only people in the world.

After our immature photo shoot we decided it was time to head back to Joburg. On the way we passed a stunning, massive building, surrounded by lush grounds, statues, and fountains and just had to stop to find out what it was. As we walked up to the first entrance we could find, we found a tour guide and decided to ask her what this place was. It was quite embarrassing to find the answer to my ignorant question, "we just stumbled upon this place, what is it?" in which she responded "well, this is the Union Building, where the President and Cabinet work, it's our version of the White House". WOW can I just tell you how foolish I felt! We laughed about it all the way home. Courtney gave the perfect analogy. . . can you imagine someone walking up to our White House and asking, "what is this place?".

Can I just say, 1. I love love love having a car, 2. I love driving in it with silly, fun girls, and 3. I love being jobless in South Africa!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


After three months of being trapped in my apartment and at the mercy of manual-capable drivers, I finally have an AUTOMATIC vehicle and with that the freedom to roam! I have been really content here and enjoying most every moment, but with my new ride it’s like a whole new world has been opened to me! I am so giddy and excited I don’t even know where to go first! The kids, of course, are thrilled too! Now I can take Aiden to school, make play dates with kids not in the complex, and take them to do things on the weekends while Trent is working! While I have seen quite a lot here in Johannesburg, it has mostly been to “touristy” places or shopping malls. Now, I can experience the city, like a local, as I discover cool new places that only those who live here (or those that spend a lot of time Googling) know about.

I am so lucky to have a husband who loves me and knows that it isn’t healthy for a busy body like myself to not have wheels! I feel awful that I am one of the few people in the world that doesn’t have enough coordination to master the stick, clutch and gas and therefore drive the vehicle that the company provided. But the beauty of renting our own car is we don’t have to share and we now have air conditioning and power steering!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Worthwhile Way to Spend a Day

Finding volunteer opportunities here is more difficult than one would think. Although, there are clearly enormous needs everywhere, it seems that most opportunities come through organizations in which you travel here on a “volunteer mission”. Without a car to drive, I have also been unable to find anything I could do in the nearby area. But as fate would have it, I met two girls, Dawn and Courtney from the U.S., who are here on a volunteer mission with a Baptist organization. One of the locations they volunteer is a school in Bapsfontein (about 30 minutes from where I live) in a rural area near a township (i.e. squatter camp or shanty town). The children are bused in from the township on Monday and most of them sleep there during the week and then go home on the weekends. It is a Christian school that receives private funding and while the student’s families are expected to pay a small tuition, most of them are unable to and the school does not typically turn kids away. Dawn and Courtney, said the school is doing wonderful things but their needs are great. The kids have stubs for pencils and have to share an eraser. Some of the children sleep 3 to a bed! One teacher has both 2nd and 3rd grade in the same room totaling about 65 students! The girl’s (aka Dawn and Coutrney) volunteer role at the school is to work individually with the kids on reading or math and to play with them during their breaks! I begged the girls to take me with them and they said they would check with the school director to see if I could come. I was thrilled when they called to let me know that they would be happy to have me and that one of the other volunteers could pick me up! The best part was my mom was here visiting and she was able to go have this experience too!

Veronica, the woman who runs the school started it about 12 years ago. She is an incredibly faithful and devout Christian and must be quite saintly as it is an overwhelming task she has taken on. When we first arrived at the school we went into the 2nd and 3rd grade class in time to help the students with their multiplication! It was quite shocking to walk into such a large class of students all quietly working on their assignment! Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the room was buzzing with noise and excitement because of the new visitors that arrived! I felt horrible, as I am afraid we may have been more of a hindrance than help at first! We were asked to walk around and grade the student’s work. Immediately the kids were waving for each of us to come help them and saying “teacher, teacher come”. They loved the attention and the help and it was such a treat to work with them although it was difficult to give them adequate time simply because there were so many of them. The methods they were using to solve the problems were taxing and it was difficult to figure out how to help them without teaching them a whole new concept! However, it was an amazing feeling to be back in the classroom working one on one kids! I loved every minute of it!

After working with the students we had an amazing opportunity to go into the township with Veronica. I am fascinated by these living conditions, but since they are not typically safe places to visit I never expected to be able to get to tour one! Having lived in South Africa all her life and teaching children from these areas, Veronica was very familiar with the “rules” and way of life in a township and shared a great deal of information with us. These shanty towns have no electricity, running water or sewer. They also don’t have garbage men that come and collect the trash. It was surprising that while there are piles and piles of trash at the entrance of the township, the inner part of the township was quite tidy. It was clear that they take some pride in their small spaces as the dirt was swept and their things organized.

Photobucket Immediately upon entering the community, Veronica introduced us to Gogo (Zulu for grandma). She was a lovely little women, with a well kept property. She didn’t speak much English but communicated with Veronica in Afrikaans. She allowed us to go inside her home but almost seemed embarrassed about the appearance and entered first to fuss around to make sure it was clean for her visitors. The houses in the townships are made of aluminum, and not much larger than a shed. Gogo’s residence had three separate quarters, a kitchen area with a small iron fireplace and camping stove and two rooms with twin size beds and clothes. An African man I recently met had told me that all he needs is a house and a job and that even these living conditions suffice, although he admitted they are quite unsafe as they are built right next to each other and if one starts on fire several others will burn down also. There is community “block watch” type groups organized in these areas but I can’t imagine one would feel very safe living in a home that could be broken into quite easily. Veronica shared with us some of the disturbing things that happen in these communities. Things that I can’t repeat and that are so common throughout this culture that it is just the “norm”. Often times, Veronica, and the other teachers have to wait until the children have identified for themselves that what they are experiencing is not okay before they can begin to help them overcome it.

We saw many children running around this township and asked why they were not in school. Education does not seem to be important to some families or the children are just not being well cared for. Without an education I am not sure how you would ever escape this lifestyle. I can appreciate and even envy that some people are simpler than me and do not need a big house or the same necessities I may need but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that one would not seek ways to better themselves and receive an education. I asked Veronica how many of her children go on to college and she said there have been quite a few. Some have even gone on to study civil engineering and one girl she told us about is now an accountant at one of the largest companies in South Africa! This school is changing lives and I am so grateful that I can be there, however brief, to witness it!

PhotobucketWhen we arrived back at the school after our township tour, it was break time and we were able to spend our last hour playing with the kids on the playground! You would have thought we were celebrities by the way the kids surrounded us. That asked us millions of questions and completely picked us apart! They commented on my blue eyes and my long hair (everyone has to keep their hair short at this school, even the girls) they asked my mom about why her hair was two different colors and which color was hers and which was dyed! The best was when they asked why I had two wedding rings and I answered that one was a wedding ring and one was an engagement ring. One little girl said “oh that is what he gave you when he asked you to marry him, what did you say?” I told her that I said “YES” then she said “and then later you can say, I am through with you now, and give it back”! I asked her where she got that from and she said she saw it on a Soapie! A few of the kids tried to teach me some Zulu and they thought it was very funny to watch me try to make their sounds (this language involves a lot of clicking, popping and sounds in the throat)! When my mom and I began taking pictures, the kids really got excited. Everyone wanted their picture taken and then of course they wanted to see it. Several of them wanted pictures by themselves or with just a few of their friends! We would have had to take pictures all day, except we were saved by one of the teachers who wanted us to watch the older kids do a puppet show. It was an amazing day, and I am so grateful I have finally found a worthwhile way to spend my abundant amount of time!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Instant BFF's

Aiden has always been my little social butterfly, while Anna is a bit more shy (how I have a shy child at all is beyond me).  But lately, Anna has begun to emerge from her cocoon and literally searches for a friend wherever she goes! On the plane ride to Cape Town, Anna sat in front of two darling 12 year old girls from Mpumalanga, close to Kruger. They chatted the whole 2 hour flight and it was so amusing to listen to Anna answer their questions about America! At one point I heard her say to the girls “did you know that Hawaii is smaller than Africa”! When we landed the girls asked my permission to take pictures of Anna. It was a riot to watch Anna strike a pose every time the camera was aimed at her. The one little girl told me she was going to take the pictures of Anna to her school to show everyone the little American girl they met!
Just a few days later we went to a beach nearby and shortly after we arrived there Anna noticed a little girl in front of one of the beach houses. She immediately ran over and tried to get the girls attention and ask her if she wanted to play. The little girl came down a bit later and they were holding hands and giggling together within minutes. What an incredible sight to watch two little girls from opposite sides of the world become instant BFF’s!

At the lodge where we stayed for the game drive, Anna met Kaitlyn, who was also 6 and from Australia. Again, they were best friends immediately, and spent every waking minute together! Anna and her new friend were so very much alike, sassiness and all!  Aiden didn’t mind playing with Kaitlyn either and I am pretty sure she had a bit of a crush on him!

At the airport on the way back to Johannesburg, Anna announced that she would find another friend while we waited. Sure enough just 30 minutes before we boarded a little girl named Shannon sat down with her family right across from us. Without any trepidation Anna walked over to her offered her a sucker and asked if she could see her sticker book!  I also enjoy meeting people wherever I go, but I envy Anna for the ease in which she can engage in a conversation and create instant friendships! Oh to be young!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tracing our Roots on the Garden Route

After (reluctantly) leaving Cape Town we had the fortunate opportunity to drive up the Garden Route, a scenic and safe drive on the N2 highway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. While planning this trip I spent hours and hours researching where to stay and what to do on this side of the country. There are several darling towns along the coast and we wished we could have stopped for a night or two in each one of them. The first day we drove about 4 hours to the town of Albertinia, where I surprised my mom with an overnight stay at the Garden Route Garden Lodge. You can’t come to Africa without going on Safari and while there are larger, more famous reserves the setting of this reserve was stunning, the meals were delicious, and the accommodations were luxurious. It is an indescribable feeling to wake up and step outside your room and see rhino’s grazing in the distance or watch giraffe’s eating leaves while you eat breakfast. We went on a 3 hour game drive and were able to see the rhinos, giraffes, elephants, buffalos, lions, several types of antelopes, and wildebeests up close and personal. Our guide, Etienne, was darling and had a wealth of knowledge. We drove through the reserve in a 10 passenger open air Land Rover, with a gorgeous family from Australia, the 13 year old daughter of the property manager, and a couple who either did not speak English or who didn’t feel like making small talk. We had full intentions of getting back on the road after breakfast but just couldn’t bear to leave the majestic setting. After a late start we headed to our next destination, Knysna. When you mention this location to a South African they ooh and aw and I couldn’t wait to find out why. We stopped for a quick peek at Mossel Bay along the way, and arrived at our Hansel and Gretel type cottage just before nightfall.  The property we stayed on was called Peace of Eden and was located in a magical forest. I had read that we might actually see fairies here. Unfortunately, there were no fairy sighting but nearly as exciting were the hundreds of fireflies that surrounded us. Never in my life have I seen a real firefly! Aiden actually caught one and I am still so confused why God would create a bug whose bum can light up! In the morning a naughty little Velvet Monkey, who was desperately hoping the humans left out food, greeted us. Every time we went back in the house he would rifle through our things looking for even the smallest crumb. He grabbed a small bag of trash we had on the table and was none to be pleased with me when I got it back after he accidentally dropped it.

For breakfast we walked to the farm next door, through an orange gate and rows and rows of macadamia trees. The owners converted their large red barn into a restaurant and we ate the yummiest African breakfast (eggs, back bacon, sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes) in the cutest setting ever! Our waiter was this eccentric (flamboyant might be a better word) Spanish looking man, who became my best friend by the time we left! The kids were slightly confused by his demeanor and tone, which provided a nice opportunity to talk about how different we all are! After breakfast and a walk around the Peace of Eden we headed back out again to our last and final destination Grahamstown. There were so many places we wanted to stop along the way that we didn’t arrive in Grahamstown until night time. One of our stops included a visit to Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay, which is the first free-roaming monkey sanctuary in the world. There are over 300 monkeys and 8 different species running and swinging throughout the large park.  We were lucky enough to see some of the more rare species in the park, including a male Gibbons who is the only one of his kind there. The guide joked that he is searching for a mate and he seemed to have a thing for Anna, who has similar coloring to the monkey. He showed off a bit for her as well as followed her around, even walking under our hands. Anna thought he was going to grab her hand and start walking around with us. It was very exciting to see the different monkeys up close and personal. Aiden loved seeing King Julian, the Lemer monkey from Madagascar. We couldn’t help but sing “you’ve got to move it move it” as we watched this group of monkey’s play.

Our next stop was in Tsitsikama, which is said to be the garden of the Garden Route. This is the location of some daring adventures including the world’s highest bungy jump. Although, we had no intentions of jumping we had to stop and watch. I nearly had an anxiety attack as I witnessed the brave fools dive off the bridge and fall over 220 meters. I told my mom that I would pay for her entire trip if she jumped. She considered briefly, but declined. I think she was more afraid of throwing up then on having a heart attack. Even though we were not cool enough to bungy we still bought shirts as they were really cute, and I am hoping people will think I did it! As we left the bridge we met a cute British guy who works there. He couldn’t believe we were leaving Plett’s (as the locals call Plettenberg Bay) and heading to Grahamstown. This seemed to be the reaction of all the people we met along the way! We told them we were going there to trace our history, which appeased them, but we had the distinct impression that there wasn’t much happening in Grahamstown. One individual said, “you know it’s a college town right? There is nothing there except for bars and churches”!

We arrived at our final accommodation, Wolfe Farm, where I had reserved a house on a working farm. There are a few other bed and breakfasts in the area, but since we had the kids I figured it would be better to have our own space as well as a fun opportunity to experience farm life. When we first walked in to our house I was a bit nervous, not only because it was old and did not have quite the décor of our Cape Town cottage, but also because as my mom said, it was possible that some of the previous residence of long ago may still be residing here. However, I was completely relieved when I climbed into the most comfortable bed I have ever slept it! We had one of the best nights sleep on the trip to date and if there were ghosts they were polite enough to keep quiet.

Our family has done an incredible job of recording their history. We had enough detailed information about the Prince family’s settlements in South Africa, that we were able to locate the general areas in which they resided. According to the records my great-great grandpa William “Billy” Price was born in Oliphant Hoek, where the Great Fish and Kat River meet, some 20km from Grahamstown. While that seems like it would be easy enough to find, I have spent several hours trying to determine this location. There is an Oliphant Hoek in the Northern Cape near the Orange River but it is hundred’s of kilometer’s from Grahamstown and can’t possibly be the place they are referring to. We had planned to visit the genealogy museum in Grahamstown to see if we could possibly find more information but of course it was closed on a Saturday. During a chat with the owner of a darling store in town, we mentioned the area we were looking for. She called her dad, who asked a friend and they helped us to get a better idea of where this might be! They too only had a rough idea of the location as Oliphant Hoek was either a nickname for the area or was renamed and is unfamiliar to most people we have spoken with. I was curious as to what we would find when the shop owner said “there is nothing much there but if you are looking for your history it may be a worthwhile trip”! From what we have read it appears the Prince Family arrived in South Africa at the only port in Port Elizabeth in 1841. They traveled by wagon from Port Elizabeth and settled in the area of Grahamstown for 3-4 years. This is a tiny but quaint town. There are some lovely old buildings and churches but overall there is not much to do there. The college campus’s are gorgeous and it would be a fun place to study. Without an address we have no idea where in Grahamstown our family lived and what is was like in those days but after seeing where they moved to next I’m not sure why they left!

With a better idea of where they settled next, we took off on a 70km drive to find the elusive Oliphant Hoek. We passed over the Great Fish River and the Kat River in the direction of Fort Beaufort, which is where we were told we might find the convergence of these rivers. We could have easily been driving along any highway in Arizona as the terrain was nearly identical. At times I almost forgot we were in South Africa, and then I would see a woman with a baby tied to her back or another balancing a basket on her head, or baboons on the side of the road (one of them drinking out of a Red Bull can someone must have thrown out of the window) and I would think Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore. Since there were no big flashing signs pointing us to Oliphant Hoek along the way, we decided we would stop in Fort Beaufort to either find a map or a person with more information. Immediately upon entering the area of Fort Beaufort we realized there might not be a lot of safe places to stop. Since we needed to fill up anyway we stopped at a gas station. It was clear from the looks we received, white people are a rare sighting in this neck of the woods! Our attendant didn’t understand us very well, so he asked another attendant to come over to see if she could help us. There was no map to buy and the museum in town was closed. She had never heard of Oliphant Hoek and wasn’t sure where the two rivers met. My mom asked if there was a park nearby where we could eat our lunch and Claudia, our attendant, gave us the impression that there weren’t any parks we should be stopping at!  Feeling a little out of our comfort zone we decided that we better head back to more familiar territory. Although, we were disappointed to not find the exact spot of Grandpa Billy’s birth, we were content with being in the vicinity and headed for home! On the way back I had two thoughts, one, of all the places I have seen why would our ancestors end up here (if only they had turned left at Port Elizabeth instead of right, they may have settled in Plett’s instead) and two, I am so grateful for paved roads, automobiles and planes! It is quite unfathomable to move as frequently as our ancestors did by way of slow and difficult methods. I was violently sea sick after being on the Atlantic for just 4 hours, so I now have an even greater respect for these individuals that traveled by boat for hundreds of miles, and on foot or wagon across rough, mountainous terrain. Then to think that after all that, they would pack it all up and travel overseas again to the unknown America’s.  I am so grateful to have this opportunity to not only trace our ancestors’ roots but to learn so much about them. I read the incredible history that has been recorded about their life here and I have a better idea of the land they are referring to. It must have been very difficult to leave this beautiful and fruitful country with only the strength of their faith. I have thought it odd that I have felt at home so quickly in this foreign place.  I have read somewhere that this is the “Mother Country” as all roots trace back to this part of the world. I have definitely felt a connection to this place that has grown stronger through this genealogical journey.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Heart Cape Town

If I had found a shirt that read, “I heart Cape Town” I would have bought it and posed for a picture to post with this entry! I thought Johannesburg was such a wonderful and exciting place to live and then I came here and I realized that Cape Town is where it’s at! It’s actually funny to tell the locals that I live in Joberg and to watch the look of pity on their face! I can’t get over how lucky I am to have the opportunity to visit a place like this and I envy the people who actually get to live here! I have been seriously tempted to knock on some doors just to see who owns the house and interview them about their life! The house where we stayed was not too shabby itself! We had a three story “cottage” in the hip area of Waterkant (pronounced Vawtakawnt). We felt pretty important to stay in such a beautiful residence, when in fact it was cheaper to rent the house then to get two hotel rooms for all of us. Before moving to South Africa I had read that Cape Town is very dangerous and has a high crime rate.  We have spent 5 days here and although we had one minor incident that proved there is a problem with car break –ins (nothing was stolen, thank goodness) we have felt completely safe. Unlike Joberg, electric/barbed wire fences do not surround residences and buildings and you can actually walk around after dark!

There is so much to do here and we could have easily spent weeks in just the Cape Town area alone, exploring the incredible terrain and attractions as well as relaxing on the many beautiful beaches. One thing that we could not have missed was a visit to Boulders beach, which is home to the African Penguin! It was such a trip to see the little penguin’s wobbling around in the sand. I kept thinking of the movie Madagascar and the penguin’s that guided the boat to the sunny sands of Africa.  One fact that is sad but true is that these darling penguins are considered endangered. Over 50, 000 penguins died in a two year period, and it is thought that there are only 2,700 penguins still living in this part of the country. The part of the beach where they live is now protected and a breeding program in place. Hopefully, it will be successful or there may not be any penguins left to visit.

After leaving Boulders we drove out to the Cape of Good Hope. This is an incredibly beautiful 19,000 acre nature reserve with hiking trails and great views of the deserted beaches and Cape Point. On the way to this location we had a couple of quick traffic stops due to families of baboons that decided to cross the street or in some cases take a seat in the middle of the road. The baboons are also residents of the nature reserve and are notorious for stealing food and may actually attack you if you are holding any!
The shopping in the Western Cape has to be the best I have ever experienced. I feel so guilty for spending so much of Trent’s hard earned money but there are so many gorgeous shops here and one of a kind goods that it is nearly impossible to not purchase one of everything! The malls in Cape Town are fantastic and there are flea markets, craft markets, antique shops and boutiques everywhere. I am grateful to have brought so many suitcases when I moved to South Africa, so that I can bring all of my souvenirs home! Of course many of the things I purchased are for gifts, but the problem is I don’t know how I am going to give anything away. I have decided it would be very possible to come to South Africa on a shopping tour only!

One of the most amazing locations we visited was Table Mountain, a massive mountain with a flat top, hence the name.  It is possible to hike up to the top (it takes about 3.5 hours and you walk up narrow, steep, stone steps or trails) but with two small children we decided to take the Aerial Cableway! When I saw the cable cars I almost preferred to hike as they go straight up some 3500 feet and hang from just a cable. Surprisingly it was an easy, smooth and very cool ride that takes only 5 minutes.  At the top of Table Mountain you can get a complete 360 degree view of Cape Town. We were there just in time to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.  From this view we were also able to see Robben Island, where Mandela was jailed for 18 of his 27 year sentence. In the brochure for Table Mountain, Mandela is quoted as saying: “During the many years of incarceration on Robben Island, we often looked across Table Mountain at its magnificent silhouette … To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return.” We were disappointed that we ran out of time and were unable to take the ferry over to the island to see the small cell where this great man was incarcerated for so long. I can only hope that I will be able to come back to see Robben Island as well as several other sights we missed. I am also praying that we get transferred here as going back to Johannesburg after visiting this place is like going from San Diego to Phoenix!