Tuesday, March 22, 2011

South African Adventures

PhotobucketMarch 21st was Human Rights Day here in South Africa, which I think is a beautiful reason to have a day off! Had I been in town I would have gladly participated in the festivities including marching in the parade, but we took advantage of the holiday and traveled Northwest to Hazyview, located near Kruger National Park instead. We had an incredible, adventure filled weekend and created enough memories to last a lifetime! There is not a moment that goes by that I don't question why we get to have these experiences and than I thank our Heavenly Father that we do!

We rented a darling little cottage at the Jackalberry Lodge and Farm. This is a huge property where they farm mangoes, macadamias and leches, and the Sabie River runs right through it. Staying there was one of the most exciting parts of our trip. We were able to watch hippos playing in the river, spot a baby croc and even get stuck waiting for an 8ft python to cross the road without ever having to leave the place! This part of the country is very lush and green and it reminded me of parts of Hawaii. We loved it so much that Trent was tempted to ask the owner of the Jackalberry if we could trade labor for rent and stay there forever!

I may be more willing to be "outdoorsy" if the fashion improved!
PhotobucketSeeing as I have never been an outdoorsy person, this was a weekend full of out of the box moments (including wearing hideous hiking sandals)! Our first afternoon there, we went white river rafting. This is the only thing Trent really really wanted to do, so even though I was terrified how could I say no? Anna was even more terrified than I, especially since just an hour before we saw a hippo in the same river just farther down! She had to be convinced by several people there that it was perfectly safe and then only consented when they showed her a picture of other children in a raft smiling as they were going down the rapids! My courage faltered even more as our guide gave the instructions. There were a lot of them and he kept warning us about getting stuck and tipping over. Trent and I were in one raft and the kids were in another raft with an experienced and very fun guide! I lightened up a bit after the first rapid which was pretty mild and I survived without any serious injury or humiliation. The entire experience was incredible and we all loved every minute. I am glad my first river rafting expeirence was fairly easy and uneventful as I will gladly do it again!


Photobucket The next morning we went on a game drive through Kruger. Although, I had already had an opportunity to visit the park, Trent and the kids had not and I can't imagine being in South Africa without a visit to their largest reserve. Strangely enough my expeirence this trip was entirely different. This park is HUGE! We were probably 50 miles from where I entered Kruger last time and the terrain and sightings were very different in this part of the park. We entered through the Paul Kruger gate, which is one of the most popular entrances. Even before we entered the park, we saw a run away hyena and we knew it was going to be a great day! I was slightly disappointed at first to find that many of the roads are paved in this part of the park, as it seemed to take away from being in the wild, but it wasn't long before I realized the advantage of being on paved roads. It had rained the night before, so many of the animals were right on the road, as it was warm and dry there! Immediately upon entering we saw a pack of wild dogs. This animal is endangered and there are only about 350 in the entire park. I never understood what made them so special until I learned from our guide that they are carnivore's and actually eat small animals, including impalas. Also, they have very large ears compared to domestic dogs which help them to be more alert for hunting. Just past the wild dogs was a group of hyenas. This is another animal I had yet to see in person, so they were really cool to watch even though they are kind of creepy.  Not to far into our drive we saw elephants, giraffes and impala but the highlight was our leopard sighting! It pays to be with a guide as other guides will radio him when they have a worthwhile sighting. The leopard was up in a tree just relaxing and it was an incredibly awesome and lucky sighting. We missed the lions that were spotted in the same area but we didn't really care as not many people can say they have seen leopard! After a quick breakfast we were back out again. We still needed to see lion, buffalo and rhino in order to see all of the big 5 (elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo, rhino-nicknamed the big 5 as they are the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt in Africa) and it wasn't long before we spotted a herd of buffalo. Just past the buffalo there was a group of vultures circling the air. Our guide informed us this is a good indicator that there could be lion nearby. The vultures often stalk the lion and wait for a kill so they can feast too! It is very hard to see the lion as they spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping in the tall bush, so we were thrilled when the other passenger spotted a male lion, who got up only long enough to find a more shady spot to lie back down. He was out of view before we could snap a picture but we were grateful to say we saw him! Just a few minutes later, the same passenger spotted a couple of lioness near some impala. They were off in the distance but with my telephoto lens and her binoculars we were able to watch the lioness's attempt to catch one of the impalas. Fortunately for the impalas, they missed! We never did find a rhino, which is odd as they are one of the easier animals to spot but we were thrilled with everything we did see. There is honestly nothing cooler than going on a safari. We are headed to Botswana and Zimbabwe in April where we will have a few more opportunities to go on game drives and I can't wait. This will be one of the things I will miss the most about Africa!PhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucket


One of the ultimate highlights of the trip was our encounter with Kitso and Casper at the Elephant Sanctuary. We were able to get up close and personal with these massive beasts and learn so much about them. The expeirence included being able to feel their skin, behind their ears, their trunk and even their tongue. I think we were more impressed that the elephants allowed us to do this. I kept thinking they must be very annoyed having to lift their leg, open their mouth, swing their truck all on command for our enjoyment! They were very obedient and gentle and awesome to see so closely! At one point we were able to hold them by the trunk and take them on a walk. I laughed hysterically when Trent strolled by all cool and casual and announced that he was just taking his elephant on a walk. The whole thing really was preposterous! If that elephant wanted to he could trample us without a moments notice! Aiden was even able to ride Kitso and he thought that was the best part of the day! My favorite part was being close enough to get amazing pictures!PhotobucketPhotobucket

PhotobucketPhotobucketOn our last day there we went on a quad ride. We started through some farmland and I thought okay this is pretty cool but I wasn't sure why we paid so much to do it! Then we kept driving through lush green landscape, past the Sabie and up to a waterfall and I than I thought it was definitely worth it! Anna started on my quad and she is much braver than I am! She kept telling me to go faster and she loved when we hit the rocks and bounced around! I am kind of a wuss and a little overly cautious but I still loved riding and may have prematurely promised Aiden we would buy a set of quads when we were back in Arizona!

During lunch on the drive home we recapped the trip and talked about our favorite parts. None of us could pick one single thing. We loved the entire weekend and enjoyed everything we did. If I had to pick the very best part of our trip I would have to say how much fun we had together. The kids were so good and we really enjoyed each other. I told Trent on the way home how lucky we are to only have the two children as I can't imagine how we could have afforded to do everything we did. He of course was relieved to hear that and all two quick to remind me how perfect it was having only two since there are only two of us, therefore just enough seats on the quads! Seeing as I want to take home several South African children I am not convinced our family is complete but it is sure perfect for now! The only thing that worries me about having more kids is they aren't going to have all the cool memories Aiden and Anna have had!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Quilting Away the Calories

It has been a little over 6 weeks and I am not only 14 lbs. lighter but stronger and smarter! For the first time in my life I don't feel like I am on a diet but that I have finally learned to eat correctly. I still love food, I have just found that I can love healthy food! There is nothing more exciting to me than finding a new recipe that is full of goodness and tastes like heaven! There is a cafe here that has the best salads ever and it has become a treat for me to go there and order one! This is very very strange for me as normally, I would consider a splurge to be a dozen chocolate chip cookies! It is such a relief to be able to go out to eat without that panic of what should I order, as I have finally learned how to choose appropriate foods even while dining out! The other night, we went to a burger joint (which could have been a disaster) and I ordered the ostrich burger (which is delicious and extremely lean) and then took off the top bun. I enjoyed it just as much as I would have if it was a double with cheese!

I am still working out with Terrance the trainer. In fact I have actually increased my time with him and see him 3 days a week now. While I still dread it and hate all 60 minutes, I love seeing and feeling the results. I will never been one of those people who is addicted to working out and LOVES it, but I know it's important and it is becoming less of a struggle to get my rear end to the gym.

Because I spend most of my time at home (near a kitchen) I have discovered ways to fill my time and keep my hands busy so they can't shove food into my face. One of the other women here, Carol, is a quilting expert (literally, she teaches classes on this stuff). She has taught me so much and with her help I finished my first quilt top (I made it with a darling Halloween jelly roll I bought at Scrapbook etc.) and a table runner that actually had an intricate pattern. I am in the process of starting another quilt and I am totally hooked. It is such an amazing expeirence to watch the little pieces come together into something bigger and to know I did that! It is the perfect hobby for me in this time in my life, especially considering having food anywhere near fabric is a bad idea. I have been blog stalking and I am blown away by the talented quilters out there that have made quilting cool and trendy. You have to check out http://www.ohfransson.com/oh_fransson/ and http://www.pleasant-home.com/. These are just two of the many websites featuring some incredibly talented quilters.

Yesterday at a crafting expo I actually purchased some yard and knitting needles. Not only can Carol quilt the woman can knit a sweater, in just days, that should be sold in a store! I have always wanted to learn and figured now is the time. I do have to laugh when I think about what I am doing to fill my days...quilting and knitting, who knew?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Welcome Home

PhotobucketTrent finally had a day off and we decided we better make the most of it and go somewhere new. We are so fortunate to be able to live here and take every chance we get to tour this incredible country. It is nearly impossible to see everything you want to see while on a typical vacation but after a year long holiday we have no excuses not to see it all!

One of the tourist hot spots we had yet to visit was the Cradle of Humankind. It is a "World Heritage Site" which I learned is a list of 910 cultural and natural properties throughout the world that are considered to have universal value. While there are caves to visit also, we only made it to Maropeng (meaning "place of origin") which is a museum exhibiting the development of humans and our ancestors over the past few million years. The kids loved looking at the fossils which include "Mrs. Ples" who was discovered in the area and lived more than 2 million years ago. 
PhotobucketShe is said to be one of our earliest related ancestors. Her skull is very small (the shape of a chimpanzee) but scientists confirm that "she" stood upright. "The discovery of the historical skull at Sterkfontein provided irrefutable proof of the existence of ape-men and the origins of human existence in Africa"(southafrica.net, Mrs. Ples). I wanted Aiden to stand next to the models of our early relatives but he was too disturbed by the fact that they were nude (it didn't bother him that they looked like monkeys, however).

One of the messages I found interesting:
  • The universe was formed about 14-billion years ago. The Earth is about 4.6-billion years old.
  • Life first emerged about 3.8-billion years ago. Our journey begins in South Africa, where fossils of some of the earliest known life forms on Earth have been found.
  • All of humanity shares an African heritage. We are one, diverse species across the globe, with our roots in Africa.
Maybe this explains while I feel at home here!

My favorite part of the museum was the area that showed the characteristics that make humans unique (i.e. development of jaw and diet, development and growth of the brain, living with others, etc.). My favorite section, of course, was the "development of language".  This is something we all take for granted but we are the only creatures with the proper anatomy and ability to speak. There is some debate as when this ability occurred; whether is was with the homo habilis 2 million years ago or only with modern homo sapiens 200, 000 years ago. Either way, we are extra-ordinary creatures, aren't we? Other advanced animal groups are known to have some methods of basic communication but nothing can compare to our complex system of sounds and symbols, which allows us to express ideas, thoughts and feelings!

In this same area was the characteristic of sustainability. This was one of the most thought provoking sections for me as it discussed our impact on the earth and the fact that we as humans are "developing unequally". I found this quote on the Maropeng Visitor website:

"At first, we humans barely made an impact on the environment. But this has changed, as our        technological abilities have progressed. Now our activities are causing serious implications for our planet, including the unusually fast extinction of species and global warming.

And we humans have developed very unequally. While the northern hemisphere is generally rich, the southern hemisphere is generally poor. Wealth is unevenly spread. A person who has HIV/AIDS in Africa is more likely to die quickly from the disease because they do not have access to drugs than a person in the USA, for example, where it has become a manageable disease. As our population grows, there is ever-more competition for precious resources for our sustainability as a species such as water and land.

While we can propel ourselves into space, millions of people starve to death each year, are illiterate and have no access to basic healthcare or clean water, for example. Now that we can do anything, what will we do?"

Ouch, huh?  On the wall of the museum was a world wide statistics about the percentage of individuals that can read by age 15.  For example, The USA was 97%, Japan 99%, South Africa 86%, Uganda 70%, Mozambique 44%, and Niger 28%. (This statistic was in 2005 so I believe the statistics may presently be higher?). I stood there speechless and depressed, as I thought about how unfair it is that education is based on economy, therefore completely unequal. I see that so clearly here in South Africa. I know that there are far worse off countries, but seeing as this is the only "3rd world country" I have lived in, I am shocked by the inequality of education based on income. There is not a day that goes by that I don't look into the eyes of some of the most beautiful people I have ever met and wonder if they had had a chance at a better education or a higher education what could they have become? I think that is why I have such a difficult time here with the "hawkers", beggars, and guys handing out fliers on the street corner for $2.00 a day. I am less bothered by the discomfort I feel by their need and persistence every time I pull up to a street light, as I am about the fact that this is all they can do to survive. These are not individuals who have the ability to get a better job, as they lack the qualifications. This is not a job they are doing to earn money while they continue their education towards a career, this is their career. Every time I see one of these individuals I think of the children I have the privilege to work with at Aurora. I pray everyday that these beautiful little people will have the opportunity to complete their schooling and go to college. I hope that money is not the deciding factor that prohibits them from gaining all the knowledge and skill they need to be whatever they want to be.

The last statement in the quote above "Now that we can do anything, what will we do?" is the same thing that I struggle with each and every day. Where do we possibly begin. How can we as single individuals make the greatest impact. I think so many of us feel that we need to contribute most to those closest to home but as I have been reminded, by my trip to the museum, we are all one species just spread out across the globe. At times (okay almost all the time) I am still overwhelmed by who I should be helping. But I have found that through the power of prayer and listening to the promptings of the spirit that we can truly know what our role is here on earth. I feel an overwhelming sense of obligation to give all I can to these beautiful children in this country right now. I know that my time here is coming to a close so I worry everyday that I won't be ready to go and I am not sure I can leave the children I care so much about. This is not the first time I have become overly attached to children I was working with. As a speech therapist in the schools I worried about the difference I was making every single day. A friend then said to me, "you are a chapter in these children's life not the whole book". I know that applies to the children I am working with at Aurora...I just hope I am a dang good chapter!