Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Last Weeks

Hello again!

I know it’s been a while, but I was unable to use Internet for quite some time, and then I simply lacked interest in blogging again. There are just so many emotions for me right now, and the thought of writing them all down in a way that would make sense just didn’t seem possible. But due to many requests, I’ve decided I would try to collect my thought from the past 4 weeks and put them together for you all.

Life in Islington continued on the same routine of going to class at the Wildlife College. Since the college is inside the Kruger National Park, we’ve been seeing zebra, impala, wildebeest, giraffe, rhino, and even a cheetah one day on the bus ride to school! We have an amazing bus driver, Emanuel, who picks each of us up at our home stay and then drops us all of at the end of the day as well.

We continued having class during the week, and on the weekends we had optional activities planned for us. First, we went to Moholoholo, an animal rehabilitation center. They take in and rescue animals that have either been injure and can’t hunt for themselves or that have been abandoned when they were young. We got the chance to see a baby giraffe, a leopard, cheetah, wild dogs, honey badgers, lions and lion cubs, rhino, vultures, and about 9 other large bird species, all extremely up close. We even got to pet the cheetah!

Another weekend we went on a safari in Kruger National Park. To add to our list of exciting animals, we saw a baby hyena, ostrich, water buffalo, hippos, and baboons everywhere. We finished the safari with a delicious braai (grill out) where we had impala and ostrich kebabs. On the bus ride out of Kruger Park, which was about an hours drive, we saw one of the most beautiful sights: An entire herd of elephant (there were probably around 40 of them) was bathing in the lake at sunset. They were splashing around and blowing water from their trunks and holding each other’s tails. It was such an amazing view, and something that I will never forget.

Back at my homestay, I was continuing to fall more and more in love with this family. They were they sweetest people, and they all worked so hard every day to make sure that everyone around them was happy. We learned new Shangaan words each day, and would use it as much as we could to communicate. My host grandma wakes up around 4am to start preparing meals for everyone, and also to start making mafenti, which are the fried dough balls she sells. Twice, Niki and I woke up before sunrise to help her make them. We struggled a bit with forming the dough into perfect little balls like our host grandma did so effortlessly, but it was great bonding time, and our grandma loved it when we would speak our broken Shangaan with her. We even got to help sell them to all of the school children who ran by the house to school in the morning.

One of my favorite parts of the day was when we got dropped off at our corner after school and Khanyisa (our 8 year old host sister) would be waiting for us there and run into our arms and give us hugs everyday. Then we would carry her inside and everyone at home would greet us and we’d all sit down for dinner and pray. After dinner we would sit and watch Generations, the popular soap opera, and then we often ended up having a mini dance party in the dining room. Khanyisa loved the Macarena, so we would play that on repeat, and even our host grandma would join in! Then they would play us one of their songs and teach us a dance, and so it went.

These people were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met, even though they had so little. There is no running water, and though they have a right to at least 25L of water per person per day, the government has not followed though with that. A water truck is supposed to come every week to fill up the big water container that to where more than 20 families go and fill up containers with water. However, sometimes the water truck won’t come and they’ll be without water for weeks. When it rains, everyone will set out every bucket they own to gather water, and some families will sell that water to make some money.

There is also no waste management, so trash is all in the rivers or in piles in people’s yards for them to burn. Land is another issue because during the Land Act of 1913 and up through Apartheid, so many blacks were kicked off their land and forced to live in “Homelands,” which are not so homey. Since Apartheid, the government has done very little to return these people to the land that they lost, or even to fix up the land that they were put on. Some families have gravestones of relatives on the land that they lived on pre-Apartheid, but often they’re still not allowed to go back on that land even to pray to their ancestors. Unemployment in Islington is about 70%, HIV/AIDS rates in this town are also extremely high, and going to school beyond high school is nearly impossible.

It’s so unfortunate because there’s not necessarily a lack of water or a lack of land, but there is a lack of action and lack of human resources to connect the people to the resources they need. But everyone in Islington cares about each other so much, and everyone is always willing to lend a hand wherever they may need it. It’s such a strong sense of community and one that I will never forget.

After some tearful goodbyes to the host families, we headed to Swadini Resort where we were spending our last week of the program together. The entire week was about reflecting on what we had seen and learned over the semester and what we were going to do with this information now that it was coming to an end. This program has been one of the most eye-opening experiences, but I feel like I ended up with way more questions that answers. It’s going to be so difficult going back to the US and adjusting to life back there. I won’t have 29 of my peers to talk with... and it wasn’t even just talking, because we would all get into the deepest discussion about what we were seeing and how we were feeling and what we wanted to do in life. And since we’ve all gone through this journey together, it’s always so easy to talk with each other about it. I’m secretly dreading coming home and trying to explain what I’ve done this semester. I don’t want to answer, “What was your favorite country?” or “What did you learn?” “What was your favorite part?” “How have you grown?” “How was your semester abroad?”

These typical questions will be some of the most difficult ones. Sorry Mom, but I can’t answer those right now. All I know is that everything that happened has been extremely influential and I clearly enjoyed it because I’ll be studying abroad next semester as well! I’ve been accepted into the SIT Chile: Traditional Medicine program for the fall, and I can’t wait to start another adventure.

All for now!


Oh yeah! P.S. I'm in Cape Town right now with 5 other girls from my program. We all decided to stay in South Africa an extra week after the program ended to explore. We've hiked Table Mountain, seen penguins at Boulders Beach, taken the ferry to Robben Island, gone paragliding, and had an amazing time in the beautiful city. I can picture myself living here. Cameron, you would love this place. I leave on Tuesday and will be back in Northfield on Wednesday!