Saturday, March 14, 2015

Whirlwind end to SA

Alas, my time in South Africa is whirling to a close. The last few weeks at the school in Johannesburg were quite hectic. Then I sped off to a service learning institute in Capetown where I was able to catch up with folks from all over the region. It was so fun to sit and have drinks with people from 3 of my different "homes" abroad at the same table! The service learning team in the AISA region is full of inspirational individuals and it was rejuvenating to spend time with them. While I was in Capetown I crashed two different friends' rooms (beds # 24 & 25). The first few nights I stayed with Tara (see last post). The last few nights I stayed with another new-ish friend, Liz, who works at my former school in Uganda. Lots of great conversations with these two. I'm especially grateful for all the coffee smuggling and key sharing maneuvers required to house me.

I flew back to Joburg and pretty much immediately joined a camping tour to Kruger. Bed #26 was a cot in a tent in the national park. I spent two nights traveling around with a group of travelers from all over the world (New Zealand, Poland, Germany, Canada, Ghana....) and had some fun animal encounters to round out my time on the continent.

Tonight I am staying with my friends Juan and Ed and their two lovely daughters (bed #27). They have been one of my other consistent families here in Joburg and have included me in many a dinner and outing. I am so grateful for their friendships and hospitality.

From strangers to friends

Before I arrived in SA, I had only chatted to Tara once on Skype. While we had mutual friends in the service-learning world, we had never met in person. Not only did Tara help me get my research in South Africa rolling, she and her husband graciously offered their guest room to me. At first, I had no idea if I would be staying with Tara, JB, and their two boys for a few days or a few weeks. Yet two months later, I am just now packing up my bags to leave.

I have been blown away by the generosity of this family. They have welcomed me into their home, driven me places, fed me, taken me on adventures around the city, included me in social events, and helped me find anything I needed. While spending time here, I have learned new Aussie slang, gotten sucked back into the VW slug bug game, deepened my love for the color orange, lost miserably at Monopoly, learned about ninja meerkats, drunk bottles of champagne, walked dozens of kilometers while discussing service learning, and have lost all my limbs (many times over) to an imaginary Tom snake. I am so incredibly grateful for my South African (/Australian) home away from home!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Johannesburg Update

When I first arrive at a field site and tell people I’ll be there for about two months, it always sounds like such a long time. But somehow I blink-- and I’ve already been in South Africa nearly a month!

My time here thus far has been good. From a research perspective, people have been incredibly open and helpful. I’ve managed to “jump in” a lot here, not just as a researcher but as a consultant and student mentor. For example, two weekends ago I joined a group of student service leaders on a leadership retreat (bed #24 was at our retreat site, about a 5 hour drive from Johannesburg). It was so fun to be able to be so hands on after what feels like a long hiatus from teaching. At this site, I’ve been reminded how much I enjoy the hands on parts of education, and how I need to be mindful of that in any post-doctorate career paths I pursue (I get asked at least five times a week what my next steps are). I’ve really enjoyed learning from the team of educators here (such inspiring people!) and the students have made me feel very welcome as well.

Johannesburg itself has been an interesting place to stay. I came here with low expectations, as I didn’t love this city the last time I visited. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. International media accentuates the gritty under belly of the city: carjackings, violent crime, etc. While safety is still certainly an issue in certain parts of the city, the suburb I have been staying in is quite safe. I can run in the neighborhood without fear. The bulk of my time on this continent has been in developing cities. Johannesburg, however, has nearly everything you might find in a major North American city—everything from seemingly endless grocery variety, to western goods, to live music, to variety of cuisines, to organic farms, to cover bands performing American 80’s music.  Johnannesburg is quite an easy place to live (albeit a bit gated-suburbia and far too racially segregated for my taste).

All in all, I am looking forward to my last month or so in this part of the world. While I’ll be thrilled to have my own bed, pets, routines, car, etc. in just 6 weeks, the last 5 months have taught me so much! I continue to be incredibly grateful for all those that have enabled this journey to happen.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Where in the world is Sarah?

I've been hard to keep track of for the last 2.5 weeks. I've been on the go nearly every day since I left Uganda. Since mid-Dec, I have been in five different countries and have slept in 12 different cities. I've driven over 4,000 km. I've slept on the roof of my car, in guest bedrooms, and in traditional mud huts. It's been an eventful and fun few weeks and I've relished time to explore and to completely set aside my research. Budget travel has made for quite a few adventures and I've made many friends along the way.

(Bed #12) I started my holiday adventures in Windhoek, Namibia. There I met up with my friend Lauren who had flown in from Hungary (where she currently resides). Lauren and I have been friends since our graduate school days at Vanderbilt. We've traveled together before, including multiple US cross country trips (we like to take obvious detours on our trips, like travel from CA to TN via Montreal, Canada). We spent our first Namibian night in real beds at a simple bed and breakfast. While we didn't get to see much of Windhoek, I was still struck by how organized and comfortable the city was.  

(Bed #13) Our next day marked the start of our car camping era. Lauren and I picked up a camping equipped Hilux in Windhoek and headed out to Waterberg. Waterberg Plateau National Park was a gorgeous start to our trip with fascinating rock plateaus, families of warthogs galore, and spectacular star gazing at night. Our first tent assembly was far from smooth (luckily a Namibian tour guide at the site next door took pity on us and taught us some tricks). We also met some kind Germans at the end of their trip who generously shared superfluous camping items like spare firewood, dishwashing soap, and bacon flavored cheese. 

(Bed #14-- note: while technically the same mattress for much of Namibia, I count each location as a new sleeping spot) Our next destination was Etosha. Etosha is one of the main game parks in Namibia. It was a strange park with huge salt flats and giant expansive spaces. It seemed crazy that any animals lived in such desolate surroundings, but sure enough when we saw animals, we SAW animals: we had multiple up close rhino encounters, a morning with a pride of 10 playful lions, a leopard sighting, etc. Lauren and I also honed our car tent assembly/disassembly skills, as sunrise and sunset drives required rapid early morning camp break downs and confident nighttime assemblies. 

 Bed #15: Next we moved on to Damaraland-- to the most gorgeous camp site I’ve ever stayed in at the foot of a huge rock mountain. Damaraland is rugged and expansive; funky rock formations emerge from desert sands. While in Damaraland, we trekked dessert elephants, checked out Africa’s largest collection of rock engravings, and enjoyed the incredible views. We also befriended several of the nearby lodge’s employees and enjoyed learning about the local culture and life. I tried to learn a bit of Damara, the local language which integrates a range of tongue clicks, but I was a pretty pathetic pupil.

 Bed 16: After Damaraland we headed to the coast. To get there we drove through a stretch of the most desolate land I’ve ever seen. We detoured through Cape Cross where we witnessed the chaos of 80,000 seals on one beach (many of them just a few weeks old). In Swakopmud we took a short break from our tent and slept in real beds. It was a lovely, coastal respite from our desert camping life. We ate/drank at German alehouses that took us to to a different world.

Bed #17: We returned to our rooftop camping for Christmas in the Namib. On Christmas morning we hiked one of the largest sand dunes in the world, Sussevlei. Then we lounged under a tree until we went to the campsite’s restaurant for a buffet dinner (thanks, Lauren, for the great gift!). I was happy to be able to chat with family, who managed to call my Namibian cell on Skype.  An unusual and memorable Christmas.

Bed#18: Next we cut south to Fish River Canyon, the largest Canyon in Africa. We were impressed both by the canyon and by the nice warm showers at our camp facilities. On our way, we stopped and got (supposedly famous within Namibia) apple pie at a tiny town called Solitaire. Also a nice treat.

Bed#19:Our Namibian trip was rounded out by a stay at Orange River. After several days in the dessert, flowing water was a welcomed site. Add to that a nice pool, a real bed, and cooler temperatures… we were happy women.

Bed#20: We crossed over into South Africa and immediately things shifted: roads became busy (in Namibia we could drive an hour without seeing another car), the pace more hectic, and the landscape a bit more tame and familiar. We struck out to the coast to spend a night in Lamberts Bay. We ended up staying at an RV park that was mostly filled with fishermen or long-term South African summer vacationers. We were the only transient travelers, the only Americans, and we definitely stood out. A South African family basically adopted us and gave us a taste of coastal camping life. They fed us and chatted with us late into the evening. It was a strange shift in culture, but we felt so at ease with our new friends.

Bed #21: Lauren and I finished our travels together in Capetown where we returned the car and moved into an AirBnB rental. Lauren and I had both been to Capetown before, so I didn’t take many photos. Most of our time in Capetown was devoted to eating and drinking. Sadly, the ocean conditions were bad the day we were meant to be great white shark diving.  However, we did manage to tour a couple wineries on New Years. Again, we made new friends and had random adventures to round out our trip. So glad Lauren was willing to make the long trek to this region to meet me!

Bed#22: As Lauren left South Africa, I brought my things to Johannesburg. I'll be spending the next few months in Johannesburg, so will save the blog post about my hosts here for another day. The short version: people I had not met prior to this trip have opened their home to me. They are so welcoming already! 

Bed #23:After Lauren left, I still I had a couple days until school started. So I booked a quick trip to Victoria Falls. I stayed in the cheapest backpacker lodge I've ever been to and slept in a mud hut. I spent a lot of time with the guys who ran the place and their friends. While I based myself out of Livingstone, Zambia, I was able to take day trips to the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls and to Chobe National Park in Botswana. I am really grateful for the opportunity to make these trips, as I had been longing to get to this region for quite some time! Taking advantage of Jo-burg as my "home" airport of the moment.   

.... And that takes me back to bed #22 again. I just returned to Johannesburg. I'll be here for several months. My phone number should stay the same, and my brain can finally acclimate to a single currency for a bit. Looking forward to staying still for the next few weeks!