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get out of your comfort zone

I returned from my first Hong Kong contract, and was already ready to get back on another long haul flight to head to see my sister in South Africa. 
My sister, Hilary, and my brother-in-law, Bridge, left for two years to work for a company called SIM. SIM led them to a children’s home in Durbin in South Africa called Lily of the Valley. There are currently about 100 kids between the ages of 5 months-21 years. I flew out from Orlando to Durban on a 25 hour flight with stops in NYC and Dubai. Unfortunately I didn't know to recheck my luggage in NYC and my luggage was about a day and a half late to arrive. 


the never ending desert....
Meeting up with Hilary and Bridge, we headed to Hillcrest, which looks nothing like you would expect Africa to look. It is a very westernized area with shops and malls, and in honor of that, I ate mac and cheese for my first South African meal.

We had dinner then headed to their home, which is more of a process than you would think. These westernized shops and malls out of nowhere suddenly become grasslands and run down homes, and a little more of what you might picture Africa to look like. By the time we arrived at Lily, it was dark outside, but it was also dark inside. There is something here in Africa called power shedding where the power is out at least once a day, but can be all the way up to 3 times a day for 2 hours at a time. This is to prevent the entire country from blacking out and helps save energy. Another glorious thing happening right now is a water shortage. Somewhere in a village nearby, a pipe burst (which happens frequently apparently) and the water has been out since the day before I came. Since I just flew in on the airplane all I wanted was a warm shower, but instead I got a pot of some boiling hot water that had been boiled in the tea kettle. So no power, no water, and the wifi is also struggling to work, which makes it difficult to do homework....all in all...South Africa is living up to my expectations and I can't wait to see what else is in store.

The second day was Hil and Bridge’s day off so we got to run into the Hillcrest area again to go grocery shopping. This means going to about 5 different grocery stores because you wouldn’t necessarily buy produce where you buy meat, and etc. We also drove through this beautiful area called the Valley of 1000 Hills, which almost looks like Ireland with green rolling hills.

When we finally got home from shopping the kids were all home from school and playing out in the yard, so I finally got to meet some of them. My heart has a big soft spot for kids already, but let me tell you how much I melted when some of the younger ones immediately saw me and ran over to hug my legs. Most of the kids thought Hilary and I were twins and they would laugh at how we acted or would say the same thing. The Lily kids were not the only kids I met this day. In the back yard of Lily, there is an animal reserve and this day when I looked outside there were all these goats wandering around. Some of them were super cute little baby goats too.

That evening, since the water is still out, a water truck came to Lily and everyone got out their buckets and bottles, and anything else they could find to collect water in and got to work filling them.

Day three Hilary and Bridge were off again and we took the time to head into the more urban part of Durban. We went to a market in the morning, which I was pretty stoked about since it kind of reminded me of Hong Kong. This market sells all kinds of beaded jewelry and many different kinds of spices. Power shedding was happening while we were here though so most vendors had candles or followed us around with flashlights to help us see. Another little store we headed into was located on Florida Street, which is a trendy little area with stores called things like “The Keys”. (I didn’t realize I came all this way just to go to Florida!)

Next on the list was lunch at the beach. We went to three different restaurants all having different problems with something or other, but I was excited for the one we ended up at since it was known for its French fries. Of course we order then realize they are power shedding and can only cook our burgers but not our French fries, womp, womp. We did however take a nice little stroll on the beach and I got to dip my toes in the Indian Ocean (One of my bucket list items is to step foot in all four oceans, and now the Arctic is all that's left!).

The World Cup took place here in Durban in 2010, which is probably the only time I ever watched it ironically. We visited the Moses Mabhida Stadium where it was held and take a small sky car, which is like a glass elevator, over the top of the stadium.

The sky car takes you to an upper deck on top of the stadium where you can see almost the whole city of Durban. Only thing about it was looking down into the stadium it was difficult to see the field because you were standing right over it, but you could see all the little tiny rows of chairs.

(tiny rows of chairs)

Day four was a Saturday so the kids were off school, which meant Bridge and Hilary were back to work. In the morning we hung out with the kiddos and jumped on some of the trampolines while explaining once again that Hilary and I were not twins. The kids also serenaded me to a song Hilary and Bridge had written for my 22nd birthday to the tune of “Thrift Shop” and of course knew all the words. After lunch, we were able to go next door to Tala Safari Park where we got to see some of the native animals up close and personal. On your South Africa trip, I cannot stress enough to make sure you check out as many safari parks as possible, they are incredible! 

The kids really enjoyed the safari treat, and we played some Disney songs in the car during the trek, Frozen being the most popular (even in Africa I can’t get away from it). When we got back, the biggest adventure of the day was a goat from next door that had run loose into the village. Some of the younger boys fearlessly wrangle the goat with a belt that they fashioned around his neck like a leash...it was hilarious.

Sunday began earlier than usual because we had to walk all the way across Lily’s campus to go to church. Church was held in a concrete building with plastic lawn chairs for the adults, and the kids were free to either sit on the cement ground or on the lap of any adult willing to endure the heat of their little body. It was about 85 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but thankfully there was a breeze flowing through the window. The teens at Lily were in charge of the worship music, which is very different than I am used to. The songs sung were gospel hymns, which mostly consisted of repeating a line or two and every once in a while raising the key a bit. The pastor spoke in English, and most of the sermon was similar to an American sermon might be led but with more passion and volume. It was a pretty cool experience I am glad I got to witness. That evening we went to a more westernized church service in Hillcrest. After church we filled up about 30 jugs of water, since we are still out here at Lily.

The kids have started getting desperate and have snuck into the pool area (which is broken and all the pool water is a slimy green color) to steal water to flush the toilet with. There has been no water for a week and no water truck for three days now, which makes for a big challenge, and reminds you how lucky we are to have running water at a moments notice in the states. 

On Monday, Hilary and I decorated a small room inside a trailer with some birthday décor complete with a birthday treasure box for the kids to hunt for a special treat on their birthday. It was really fun to watch each of the children get to come in and pick out their special treat for their birthday that they wouldn't have to share with any of the other children. 

In the evening,  I helped out with tutoring lessons, which finally put my education major (for a year…) to good use. I sat in on the 6thgrade class and helped them with some of their English homework, and then for dinner we had a tradition African meal.

The sausage is called boerwors and the thing that looks like mashed potatoes is actually phutu, which is like a corn meal. On top the phutu is chakalaka which is sort of like a spicy chili. It was all pretty delicious. 

Tuesday morning I went to preschool with some of the babies where they sang (most of the words) to Twinkle, Twinkle, and practiced saying my name along with some of the English names of animals.

After lunch, we went to the beach for the day to actually swim in the water, since it was one of the hottest days yet. Even the drive was really beautiful because of all the green!
taxi line up

The start of week two of my South Africa trek was more of a vacation within a vacation. We drove about two hours south toward Cape Town area to a place known as Port Shepstone. The inside of our hotel was gorgeous and the back was a beautiful view of the beach.

We ventured out of the hotel to go explore the beach almost immediately and found some sea life living in the rock pools. We saw lots of crabs, many sea snails, and some little fish that looked like small zebra fish. We were in paradise….until, power shedding decided to happen at the most inconvenient time, right as everyone had announced they were ready for dinner. We had two hours to waste in the dark. We walked along the beach some more, attempting to watch the sun go down on the wrong side of our hotel. Finally the power came back on and we were able to have dinner…at about ten o’clock at night.

my attempt at an Ariel pic....

Falling asleep to the crashing waves was extremely peaceful, however morning came a little too soon. Hilary and I had decided to get up and watch the sun rise on our back patio that morning at 5am. It was very cloudy and we were disappointed to not see any dolphins, but it was still beautiful.

This Thursday was full of adventure because we were heading to the Oribi Gorge, which was about a 45 minute drive from our hotel. There were all sorts of things to do out at the gorge, but the biggest adventure of them all was a 14-course zip line tour over and through the gorge (highly recommend!) . This was amazing and so much fun. I attempted to take video while zip lining so you could see what I was seeing, but it failed horribly as I filmed the sky or just crazy mass chaos that you would have had no idea what was going on, so I must apologize for that. Let me just say, the views were breathtaking.

After zip lining, we drove a little down the gorge to a suspension bridge attraction at Lake Eland Game Reserve. I felt like I was in an episode of The Wild Thornberries as we crossed this wobbly bridge made of chicken wire, cables, and planks of wood. 

look mom, no hands!

Once you crossed the suspension bridge (for the even more daring), there was another little walkway that was a steel beam with chicken wire wrapped around it. When you stood on this one at the very end it was very, very shaky (Hilary wasn’t so much a fan of this one).

view from straight down

The gorge is located inside of a game reserve that is the host to many wild life animals. We did a small safari in the afternoon where we saw wildebeest, zebra, many different forms of deer, including the Eland, which the park is named after (this park has it all!).

oh deer...


his poor horn ):

I have been on the hunt to see a giraffe this whole trip and with my poor luck, I have only managed to see them from a very, very distant view. The only time I saw them in this park was when we were finished zip lining and the truck came to drive us back up. This experience was also the source of most of my anxiety because it was a very, very steep hill with lots of sharp turns and a narrow path only as wide as our truck, which we rode in the back of. Our zip line tour guides spotted the tower of giraffe way off in the distance.

Heading back out of the gorge we stopped at a spot known as Leopard Rock. It was a small piece of rock that stuck way out into the gorge without much going on underneath to stop your fall. Naturally I had to balance on it….

Friday was the last day of vacation within a vacation. We headed to Uvongo Beach nearby to have some fun in the sun. There is a man made tide pool on the beach, giving you a real eternity pool view!

oh hello sea slug

I was able to check another thing off of my bucket list on this trip, seeing wild starfish. At the bottom of the pool, I saw these small barnacle looking creatures with a perfect star shape on them. When you held the "barnacle" out of the water, slowly, the round disappears and it forms just the star shape, and when you place them back in the water, the opposite occurs.

thanks to Sanuk for my epically comfortable beach shoes!

The three of us rented some boogie boards and headed out into the water. The water was absolutely freezing. My teeth were chattering as I attempted to stay a float. On the other side of the water was a small river that deposited into a mini lake. At the far end was a little waterfall. This water was much warmer. All of us agreed we wished we could stay here and not go back to Lily for another week.

The time unavoidably came to an end and we did have to head back to Lily. When we arrived, we had been given false information that the water came back on while we were away…but it had not. That night we had a crazy thunderstorm with really beautiful lightning that was striking everything on top of the hill Lily is located on, but it was incredible to watch!

Saturday was Valentines Day, and a sweet day it was indeed, because the water finally came back on! I say came back on, however, to this point, I had not experienced Lily with water at all, ha. That morning we had some high school students from a school nearby come to Lily with some activities for the kids to do. They had soccer and volleyball games, as well as biscuit (cookie) decorating, and sand art.

The children (and adults!) really enjoyed the day. They also had a braai (bbq) for everyone with boerewors (sausages) in a roll (African version of a hot dog) and juice. Later in the afternoon we set up the projector against the wall and the kids got to watch a movie, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Sunday was church day again and we headed to the service held at Lily early in the morning. It was a cold day, so most of the kids found an adult lap to snuggle up on during service. The rest of the day was playing as usual and I ended up in a pretty intense game of soccer (aka, kick the ball as high and far as you can and make Miss Cassidy run to get it when it lands in the bushes cause she is the only one with shoes on, haha). 

 All the little boys here love to show off their “tricks”. Most of these tricks they just discover they can do when someone asks. For example

Adult: hey do you know how to do a backflip with no hands?

Child: I don’t know, let me see

*Attempts to flip*

…. 85% of the time they actually can do it without breaking something, ha. Anyways, the boys were very eager to show off their tricks for everyone, and they are exceptionally talented!

Monday was my last full day in Africa so we fit in all the last minute activities. One of these activities involved getting up literally at the crack of dawn to see an African sunrise like in the Lion King (another bucket list goal). I woke up early and unfortunately could not see much since the sky was so cloudy. The sky was a lot of rainbow colors and pretty though. Another one of these activities involved going back over to Tala Game Reserve to hopefully spot a giraffe. Finally, we were more than lucky when we headed over there though and spotted not only 1 giraffe from afar, but over 7 giraffes right up close! It was awesome, and something I will never, ever forget.

We also had just mentioned how the other animal I would like to see is a Pumba, or a warthog. Suddenly we happened upon a small warthog family. The little babies were so funny as they knelt down on their front legs to eat.

Next we headed to Pietermaritzburg for lunch. We ended up at a little tea garden called Rosehurst where everything smelled like roses and all the women looked like they belonged in the red hat society. I had this delicious chocolate-cherry soda float.

Next we headed to the Old Prison where Nelson Mandela was held in prison for two days when he was initially captured. There was not a guide on site the day we went so most of it was locked.

The most mind blowing thing was that this prison was in operation up until 1989 and they would shove up to 15 prisoners into these little tiny pitch black rooms with one bucket for water and one bucket for a bathroom.

Nelson Mandela jail cell inside

For dinner that evening I had all the traditional African foods I had not previously tried. An Indian dish called bunny chow….

which is essentially a big loaf of bread with the center cut out and filled with (spicy) chicken curry, but so delicious!

Another must try was a vetkoek (pronounced fat cook). It is basically a ball of fried dough with a savory treat inside; this one had curry as well.

Another delicacy we had found at the market last week that I am not ever going to be brave enough to try is lamb head.

Finally Tuesday the 17th came and it was time to go home. I was not ready to say goodbye just yet.  I spent the morning and most of the afternoon playing with the kiddos. 

My flight back to the states was the longest I have ever been on a plane (thus far). 36 hours total with three stops. I had the same layovers as the way out, plus a stop in Milan. The view of the mountains while flying out of Italy was gorgeous.

Finally the last three hour flight had arrived from NYC to Orlando, and I was home at last... until the next adventure that is....

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