some lists and a final thank you

The little things I missed about America:
somewhere to call home, having my own room, baking, eating cookie dough, Grandma’s fudge cake, cold nonfat milk, hanging out with my brother, working on projects/organizing things with my mom, conversations with my dad, having a laptop, my church, church friends, church potluck every week, driving around and running errands, having a cell phone, organizing parties with Gelli, catch-up sessions with Holli, God conversations with Deanna and/or Brigina, late night Skype typing conversations with Ayumi, Shayna and I knowing pretty much everything about each others’ lives, the Russian princess, one-on-ones, having a group to lead and mentor (like Alpha), worship leading with Abel, eating for free at the Caf, choosing my own food and portions, Souplantation on special occasions, being with my family, less people around all the time, no clique drama, toasters and microwaves, Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries, not spending so much money, David being like my younger brother, free (or cheaper) laundry, more clothes options, fresh-baked cookies, brownies, consistently warm showers, being awake at the same time as the rest of California, grilled cheese sandwiches, wind not being freezing, being included and loved, not worrying about fitting in, more consistent God time and personal time, family puzzle time, living with or near my friends, telling Kohei way more than I probably should, the whole entire H8/E79 family, staying up late, watching TV movies with my mom, speaking Japanese or Tagalog or Russian or whatever combination of them that I want to in everyday conversation, listening to my own music, church get-togethers, a regular diet, being able to understand cashiers that talk at an audible volume, Costco samples and choices, having time to organize all my pictures and videos, having my own books to read instead of borrowing them from other people and not being able to finish them before I have to give them back, soft carpet

Specific things I’m looking forward to (besides the above):
seeing people at SEP staff training, getting substitute teaching jobs, getting a summer job (?), starting a church youth group sort of thing, hanging out with Renna and Morgan and the other local people in the summer, writing, making video montages with Gelli, SEP band practice (?), my 21st birthday, SEP in the new location with the new tracks idea, my dorm of senior camp girls, leading the Bahamas mission trip, having a Harry Potter party, being a Team Transfer leader, my new roommates, starting my credential program

The little things I’ll miss about South(ern) Africa:
Steers ice cream for less than 50 cents, chasing monkeys out of rooms (“be the bigger monkey”), accents, waving to strangers, the beautiful AE campus, the game reserve, seeing zebras and monkeys almost every day, the beautiful hills of Lesotho, the Drakensberg Mountains,  field trips, the Safari 1 group (“I love us!”), eating ice cream almost every day, seeing beauty everywhere, Reagen and Leizel, visiting different churches, long trips in 22-seater buses, waking up early, going to bed early, getting 8 hours of sleep, being with people I may not normally hang out with, easier classes, straight As, enjoying learning history, my homestay family, my homestay little siblings singing Justin Beiber and High School Musical and making music videos, watching Hannah Montana with them, walking around Kalk Bay, non-crispy bacon, rooming with Allie in Cape Town, staying at the B&B with wonderful friends, exploring new places, the V&A Waterfront, long walks by myself, learning to rely on God alone, taking the initiative to talk with those I care about, being okay with spending money, rooming with Renna during the last week, finding out how much I have in common with Morgan and Renna, getting loads of passport stamps, ostrich steak, tea time, blogging and having stories to tell, worship team, crazy lightening storms, watching movies every other night, Lord of the Rings marathon, random hoe-downs, learning more about myself, my two D-Groups, tea time chocolate cookies and muffins, worship nights, being vulnerable, getting tan, interviewing Muslim women in the mall, knowing everyone in my classes, monkey attacks, cracking up during Zulu class, mastering the 7 times tables to do Rand conversions easier, using South African lingo, McFlurry runs, wearing clothes multiple times before washing them (or Febreezing them), Reagen buying us ice cream after church, Zulu games (“Po-leesh your shoes, I love my teddy bear”), using Afrikaans (“Ek praat nie Afrikaans nie”), AE’s yummy chicken and potato meal, Zulu dancing, marriage proposals with cow offers, driving on the left, granola, warm milk, the cool breeze in Cape Town, my first toga party, photo opps on Battlefields Tour, different flavors of Cadbury slabs, Candida and family, rooibus tea with milk and 2 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, “Shame” and “Is it?”, the slip ‘n slide days, traveling, “Simon say do like this!”, secretly filming monkey families interacting, throwing mud on walls to build a house, glass Coke bottles, old Zimbabwe money, giving the cashier one currency and getting another back in change, always trying and seeing new things, rainbows, pushy street vendors, ol’ Peter and the Zambezi Express, terrible experiences that make great stories, bargaining prices way down, genuinely nice strangers, walking to Coffeeberry, running to the mall, learning what I’m good and not good at, bakeries, kurio shops, markets, the nauseating smell of Green Bar, no choices at grocery stores, late nights in the AE lounge doing homework, green plants everywhere, being in AFRICA

The adventures that I hope to never forget:
Riding the slowest horse in existence through rain and hail for 4 hours in the highlands of Lesotho, doing the highest bungee jump in the world, getting soaked by the largest waterfall in the world (and “tasting the waters of Africa”), riding an elephant, swinging 233 feet down and over a river gorge, being stuck in a stationary train for six hours until 1:45am, jumping over the line that splits Zimbabwe and Zambia, feeding a friendly wallaby, crawling through tiny passages in a cave, milking a cow in a Zulu homestead, going to a rugby game with painted faces and more spirit than the locals, hiking for miles and climbing up waterfalls barefoot and getting more than 60 cuts on my body to try and find the 4th waterfall, feeling the wind in my face in a safari car and seeing giraffes and elephants in the middle of the road, running in the game reserve past zebras during the 5:30am sunrise

full group picture on our last day at African Enterprise

Wow.  It’s been one big adventure.  I missed a lot about home and am glad to be back, but I’ll also miss many things about Africa and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go.

As this will be my last blog (at least until my next big adventure), I think it’s appropriate to give a big THANK YOU to all of you – for reading these incredibly long posts, for commenting on them to encourage me, and for praying for me while I was gone.  I appreciate each of you SO much!

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Part 3: coming home

Tuesday, May 10 – Zach and I got up early in the morning to go and buy tickets for our train journey back home that night.  1st class was full (which is the only place where you can get only four beds in the cabin, with sheets included as well), but the train manager came over and decided to help us out.  He looked at the seating plan and decided that a few people could move around.  “Come back at 6pm and get tickets then.  We’ll have this cabin just for you.”  So that was a nice start to the morning!

Another early morning adventure: Zach had been wanting to buy a Zimbabwe flag, but one of the street vendors told him that it was actually illegal to sell full-size flags there!  Zach wanted one, however, so a couple guys told him they would try to find one and then meet him outside the hotel at 8 in the morning.  So sure enough, they did.  As Zach negotiated prices with them, I watched from the sidelines, amused simply watching what looked like people drug dealing.

flag-dealing

Once again, Renna and I snuck off to get ice cream and have a really good conversation.  I knew I was going to miss her a lot after this trip!

Renna and I with our floats

When we got back, we made plans to go see the Zimbabwe side of the Falls.  Tyler decided not to go, so he stayed with the group of six other Americans that were camping out at our hotel for the day.  Zach, Renna, and I really enjoyed the Falls once again.

entrance to the Zim side of the Falls

Zach was in LOVE with this side of the waterfall, but I personally liked the Zambia side better.  I came to the conclusion that the Zim side was more majestic because you could see the whole length of it, but the Zambia side was more fun because of that little bridge where you get soaked.  My favorite thing, though, was simply watching Zach have a BLAST.  He was literally running around shirtless like a little kid, getting soaked, yelling at us to come over and see whenever the mist would blow past and we could catch a good glimpse of the Falls.  It made my day.

the clearest view of the waterfall

Zach just beginning to get excited...

it was like being in the middle of a rainstorm, while waiting for the mist to blow away so we could see glimpses of the waterfall every so often

Renna and I also loved seeing rainbows everywhere we looked.

taste the rainbow

Also, earlier on in the week I had read out some random facts to the others about Victoria Falls and David Livingstone (the Scottish missionary who first discovered the Falls).  Renna decided that I had an obsession with Livingstone, so because of that, just for fun, I actually started to be “obsessed” and would always say random facts I learned about him.  Best thing ever when we found a huge statue of him for me to climb on and hug!

David Livingstone!

We stopped at Chicken Inn for a late lunch, and then Renna and I did a last walk around town so she could give away some clothes.  We picked up a packed dinner at Pizza Inn (Oh, and the ice cream place we always went to was Dairy Inn.  Something, I don’t know what, tells me that they’re owned by the same company) and then took all our stuff to the train.

in town, just a minute from our hotel camp

We saw the pushy street vendors for the last time (Zach and Tyler were always really friendly to everyone we met, always asking people’s names, so we knew several people personally by this time), and said goodbye to the warthogs that wandered around the station.

warthog passing through town

Then it was time to board the train, which was much nicer than our first train!  It was all the same size, but the walls were shinier and cockroach-free, the windows had screens, the door opened smoother, the bathroom door closed all the way, and everything was just 100% nicer.  And guess what?  We actually left on time!

the nicer train's shiny walls

Hilariously, we met ol’ Peter again, who sat down in our cabin with a beer bottle in hand and proceeded to tell us once again about the beauty of the Zambezi Express for 15 minutes.  It’s times like those that I hope I never forget.  We ended the night by playing a game we made up in order to learn childhood stories about each other: someone would give a subject like “superheroes,” “dessert,” “trees,” or “foods you don’t like,” and everyone had to tell a childhood story about that subject, seeing who had the best one.

Wednesday, May 11 – The night had been a lot better than our journey there (although I suppose that’s not saying too much).  The morning was slow – we had been stuck at one station for two hours before moving.  We passed around our Cheerios and donuts for breakfast, and realized that in our hurry to leave the camp the evening before, we had somehow left all our PB&J stuff, apples, and granola bars!  Sad day.  Around lunch time we arrived in Bulawayo, where Ben was once again there to pick us up (and had even taken the rest of the day off work to do so!).  We ate lunch, took showers, and watched Hancock at his house before picking up an early Chicken Inn for dinner, taking a group picture, and then saying goodbyes at the bus stop.

picture with Ben before leaving

At 4 pm, the Greyhound left.  The trip was mostly uneventful.  We watched a few movies – most were terrible like the earlier bus trip, but one was actually okay – until they turned it off before the climax!  I also discovered that, surprise surprise, I was useless at making bracelets (Renna: “Honestly, I’ve taught a lot of people and you’re the first one that hasn’t gotten it.” – That sounds harsh but honestly it was just funny).  If this whole semester has reinforced one thing in my mind, it’s that everything artsy is “not my calling.”  After going through the whole border-crossing-back-into-South-Africa ordeal, I actually managed to sleep a few hours through the night (I’m never able to sleep in moving vehicles) thanks to some sleeping pills that decided to work on me for once.

Thursday, May 12 – The bus actually arrived half an hour early, at 5am.  Candida and the kids came to pick us up, and we had a relaxing, unwinding day at their house.  We were able to shower, use the internet, unpack and repack (we had left most of our stuff at her house during the week), share photos, and nap.  During all that free time, I came up with some conclusions about the Vic Falls trip:

1. It felt like a completely separate thing from the rest of the semester.  It felt like months ago that I had been with the 55 taking classes in South Africa.  Whenever someone had mentioned someone’s name from our group, it always took me a while to even picture their face!
2.  That week was the longest week of my life.  It felt like at least two weeks.  Maybe because we were traveling so much, or maybe because we packed so much in each day.
3.  We did such cool things.  We went to Zimbabwe and Zambia.  We saw the largest waterfall in the world and got soaked by it.  We swung 233 feet down over the Zambezi River.  We rode elephants on a safari.  We rode a night train – twice – and had the worst night of our lives on it.  We planned the whole thing, from accommodations to transportation to activities.  We had an amazing time with unforgettable memories.  And most of the stories I tell people back home about Africa are just from this one week.
4.  I didn’t expect to have so much fun with the activities, but I also didn’t expect that there would be so many disagreements with only four people.  But for some reason, it didn’t take any fun from the trip at all.  It showed me that I really was putting to use what I learned during the semester – that it’s impossible to always be friends with everyone, so I need to put my effort into simply getting closer with those that I already get along well with.  It sort of sounds like a sad lesson, but I know that it’s what God has been trying to teach me for a long time and I’m only just getting it now.
5.   I wasn’t homesick anymore!  That was weird, because only 8 or 9 days before, I had been exploding with homesickness.  I think it was because I had what I was missing the whole semester – a small group of people who cared about me and actually wanted to include me.  The homesickness had just melted away right at the beginning of our extra week.

Before going to the airport, Candida dropped Renna and I off at a shopping center so we could stock up on Cadbury chocolate as souvenirs (and we did buy a lot of chocolate!).  Then we packed up all our stuff, said some sad goodbyes (we felt like we had known them for so long!), and were off for our 10:00pm flight.  In the car on the way to the airport, it finally hit us – we were leaving the place we had called home for the past four months.  It was a weird feeling.  It was finally over.

with the family before we drove off to the airport (minus Grant)

8 hour flight to our short stopover (where we couldn’t leave the plane) in Dakar, Senegal.  Renna and I once again had a good conversation, trying to figure out exactly what we each had learned on this semester-long trip…how they were hard lessons, but they each had a positive aspect to them (ie. “people will always let me down, but I can rely on God,” or “I can’t get everyone to like me, so I should appreciate those who do even more”).  It was good for both of us to be able to talk about it all out loud, because we knew that once we landed in LA, everyone would be asking us the same questions.  Then 8 1/2 more hours to our stopover in Washington D.C., and then 4 1/2 hours to LA.

Coming home was slightly disorienting, but not as much as they had prepped us for.  But yes, things were different.  There were a few words that I had learned to naturally say differently.  For example, in the D.C. airport someone had been eating French fries and I had called them “chips” out loud without even thinking about it.  I said “just now” about ten times in that first day back with my parents.  I had gotten so used to counting Rand cents that it was weird to see American cents.  I was scared of driving again because it was on the right side of the road, but when I did actually get to drive, there were only a couple of times where I was a little weirded out.  Although, I’ve noticed that I do walk on the left side of the sidewalk when other people are passing…

The whole drive back home from the airport, my family asked me lots of questions about my extra week, and I talked so much that I got a sour throat.  “I haven’t talked this much in a long time,” I told them.  I felt like a lot of my semester had been about listening (mostly because I didn’t know who to talk to), and it was strange to talk this much.  Things were just disorienting all over, but that may have also been because I only had seven hours of sleep in three days.  But overall, it definitely wasn’t nearly as weird as the reorientation class had prepped us for.  The weirdest thing of all was visiting APU and finding out that my group of friends had made some new friends, and I had to figure out my relationship with these “new” people!  But when I saw my other friends, like people from church, it was comforting to realize that it felt like no time at all had passed.  After all, what is four months in the scheme of life? : )

Well, that’s about it for reflecting…  In the plane, I made a list of things that I missed about America and things that I would miss about Africa.  It’s kinda fun, so I’ll post it later as my FINAL blog.

Part 2: adventures in Vic Falls

Two things I forgot in Part 1:

1. To help you better visualize where we were, here’s a map!  We didn’t go on this exact red line route – I just got this picture from Google…  But it’s close!  We started out in Johannesburg, took the bus to Bulawayo, and then took the train to Victoria Falls.  In this next blog, you’ll read about how we went to Livingstone also.

map of southern Africa

2. When we were at the Trade Fair in Bulawayo, apparently the president, Mugabe, was also there on the same day!  But I heard that everyone hates him…and that he’s always surrounded by a million body guards…  Anyway, one of the girls from the other group that’s traveling with us saw him.

from Google

from Google: a kid with the money he would need just to buy a few groceries

The story of our week, continued….

At 1:00, the train finally arrived in Victoria Falls, and as soon as we all got out, baboons and monkeys invaded the train.  Simply walking to our hotel camp was definitely a cultural experience!  We asked a man where Rest Camp was, and he ended up walking us all the way there (10 minutes), but not only out of the kindness of his heart… He was one of the artists at the nearby market, and he wanted us to drop off our stuff at the camp and then come back with him to the market.  “You don’t have to buy stuff – just look!”  We told him that we just wanted to rest for a bit and that we would come later, but it took a lot of convincing for him to finally leave.  On the whole walk there, so many vendors bombarded us, trying to sell us old Zimbabwe money (trillion dollar bills) or offering us deals on the activities to do in the area, and there were even a few children asking us for money or clothes.  People literally walked up the whole street with us, not stopping no matter how many times we said no!

the biggest bill they printed before the currency was scrapped - now sold as souvenirs

I really liked the place we were staying.  It was set up like a campsite, and we were staying in a double chalet (a building with two little bedrooms in it) with a big community bathroom a 30-second walk away.  The campus was beautiful, and we were able to relax and take nice warm showers after we felt disgusting from the train.  At about 3:00, we left to explore Victoria Falls Town.  The feel of it was SO different than the rest of Africa that we had experienced.  The second we left the hotel grounds, three guys were waiting there to make us buy Zimbabwe money (I ended up buying the $50 trillion bill for $2 American, just for a cool souvenir).  Zach and Tyler went to different places that ran activities in the area (like elephant back safaris and gorge swings) to negotiate the lowest prices, while Renna and I explored the little tourist shops.  We then went to the bank to withdraw American money, but for some reason, we couldn’t get it to work.  A black Zimbabwean guy was waiting in line behind us and heard about our problems, so when he was able to successfully get money out, he made a joke about how he got money and we didn’t.  Tyler jokingly said, “Can we have some, then?”  The guy looked at his money, paused for a second, then handed Tyler a $20 and walked away.  That made Tyler’s day.

Next we went to the market – huge cultural experience.  Everyone was SO pushy!  Americans think car salesmen are pushy, but you have NO idea until you see Victoria Falls market people.  They would find ways to get you to stay, saying things like “Oh, I like your hair tie.  I want to give it to my sister.  I’ll give you something for it.”  Then they would take my hair tie off my wrist (this happened about four times) and then ask me what I wanted.  When I suggested a trade, they would say yes, but ask for money as well.  They asked to trade other things as well, telling us to come on our last day with our old clothes.  They found ways, like that, to trick us into buying things (or in my case, almost buying things – I walked out of there at the end of the day spending no money!).  I thought we had become good at bartering from all our practice in South Africa, but this was like advanced level bartering!  I can’t explain it – it was ridiculous.  I kept telling Renna, “It’s like drugs – just say no!” and I’d help pull her away from people trying to convince her that she needed a wooden bowl or that she needed to support them.

After Renna started practically hyperventilating from claustrophobia, and after I was tired of saying “no, sorry” about fifty times in a row, I pulled Renna out into the open area in the middle of the square market.  Vendors kept trying to talk to us, so I said loudly and determined “Let’s just get some fresh air!  We need fresh air!”  We stopped in the center, held hands, and breathed deeply in and out – while almost every vendor stared at us (probably because I was talking so loud).  Again, I was doing that thing where I see situations as funny when in reality they’re terrible.  I was finding the humor in the ridiculousness of it all, and was rather enjoying the whole experience because of that.  After a minute, we decided to walk back in on the other side.  The first vendor who spoke to us said, “They’re very pushy over there, over here is better.” …and then proceeded to do the exact same things that the other guys had done.  We found the booth of the guy who had walked us to our hotel earlier, Gorden.  Renna curiously asked him how much a little wooden giraffe spoon was in Rand, and he said 180 ($25).  Renna: “What?!  I got a spoon just like this in Pietermaritzburg for 12 Rand ($1.75)!”  The guy: “Oh, but this is special wood.  It’s made from the roots of the trees.”  -_-  Really…  She eventually got the price down to 15 Rand ($2).  Ridiculous.  Tree roots became a reoccurring joke between us during the rest of the trip.

the market

We ate dinner at the Rest Camp’s place (where I tried warthog meat – the “Pumba Burger”), and had a meeting about what we wanted to do the next few days.  One big question was about whether to go to Botswana or not, and after a frustrating meeting (it’s amazing how there can be such differing opinions with only four people), we decided not to go because of the extra cost and because we didn’t have a solid idea of what to do there.

Sunday, May 8 – I woke up after only 6 hours, but couldn’t go back to sleep so I decided to make myself useful.  I took a little walk to the local grocery store.  Well, the main grocery store hadn’t opened yet, so I just got bread and cereal from a convenience store (called Seven to Eleven) and walked back.  By then, Renna was up, so half an hour later we both walked to the actual grocery store to finish the shopping, now that it was open.  It was actually a fun experience getting to see the store and how different it was from what we were used to.  There were barely any choices, and all of them were different than what we were used to.  The main grocery store didn’t have any jelly/jam, so we went to the convenience store to get some.  Renna stood in line with a jar labeled “jelly” before I realized that it was jelly for meat!  We then found what I think was the single jar of actual jam in the whole country.  Milk was either “long life milk,” which was in cartons that were not in the fridge, or else it was in bags.  I saw some cartons in the fridge, but they were labeled “full cream” so I didn’t want to risk what could be inside and just decided to go for the long life stuff.

milk in bags

It was also a cultural experience when we saw shelves FULL of Green Bar soap – unwrapped bars that are each more than a foot long.  Stacks upon stacks.  And they smell, well, not so good.  Sadly, we soon realized that almost everyone in Victoria Falls Town smelled of Green Bar.  This also became the subject for a running joke between us.  A few days later, I remember some guy crashing into Renna on a crowded street – “That’s the closest contact I’ve ever made with Green Bar.”  Side note: We thought it was body soap the whole time, but when I got home and looked it up online, I realized it was laundry soap.  But regardless…same thoughts still apply.

the Green Bar shelf

Our big adventure that day was….Zambia!  Yes, we actually went to another country for the day.  It was about a 15-minute walk to the border post.

before leaving Zimbabwe for the day

After getting our passports stamped out of Zimbabwe, we entered the “no man’s land” bridge that goes over the Zambezi River.  We could feel a slight mist from Victoria Falls, which was cool because it was so far away.  The road had puddles all over it, but it was crazy to think about how that wasn’t from rain!

walking into "no man's land" - puddles made from the mist of the Falls! (you can see a tiny bit of the mist on the top left)

In the middle of the bridge (which people could bungee jump from) there was a line where Zimbabwe and Zambia met, so it was fun to take pictures being in two countries at once.  When we got past the Zambia border post and bought a day pass visa, I was suddenly the most unsure I’d been the whole trip.  I had done so much research and asked for so much help for all the details of the trip, but in Zambia I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do!  Luckily, though, Tyler and Zach were excited to figure things out.  The place seemed deserted, and there were just a few taxi vans and some people sitting in a dusty open area.  Two Zambian guys seemed to claim us all as their next customers, so they helped us find a taxi (“combie”) that wouldn’t rip us off, and then rode with us to the town of Livingstone.  I knew that the guys were going to want a tip after this, but at the same time, I knew that we would be lost without them.  The combie ride was also a unique experience – the seats seemed barely attached to the bottom of the van, and there were of course no seatbelts, but it got us there!  The Zambian guys came out with us, took us around the markets, bought us water bottles, gave us lots of interesting facts about Zambian history and culture, and helped us not get ripped off (that had been Ben’s only warning for us before we got on the train – “Whatever you do, don’t get ripped off.  Cut the price in half and then start bargaining.”).  They were interesting people, and it always surprised me what they had to say – one could even recite the names of the US presidents backwards!

Livingstone, Zambia

I asked if there were any foods that we needed to try, so the guys took us to a place where we had a filling lunch of nshima, the country’s staple of cornmeal that you eat by rolling around in your palm and then dipping in a sauce or with vegetables.

digging in to our traditional lunch

We told the guys that we wanted to go on a gorge swing sometime, so they took us to a place.  We weren’t too excited about the location, though (it was over random bush instead of over the river), so we decided it would be worth the extra money to go in a more fun location.  Next, our tour guides brought us to the entrance of Victoria Falls, where we said goodbye to them.

the baboon that they called Michael - I loved how casually he was just sitting on the curb like a human would do!

Michael turned a bit to look at the camera

I had been excited to see Victoria Falls, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did.  I’ve never really been the kind of person to marvel at beautiful nature scenes, which was what I thought the Falls would be, but I never imagined it being so much fun!  First of all, the Falls were beautiful, huge (obviously  – largest in the world), and it was crazy how the mist coming from it would sometimes block our view of it.

our first beautiful view of the side of Vic Falls

However, the fun started as soon as we got into the “rain forest.”  While Tyler and Zach went shirtless, Renna and I got out the ponchos we had rented from the stand outside the park.  It was absolutely CRAZY!  Water was pouring down on us, even though the sky was blue!  We found out from several people that the river was the most full it had ever been, meaning that the Falls were HUGE!  And because it was so huge, the water would come from every direction and just pour on us, even though we were pretty far away from it.

the "rain" pouring down on us!

Renna and I with a barely visible view of the Falls

There was a little bridge that was part of the trail, and it was my favorite part.  The water POURED down on this bridge, probably harder than any actual rain I’ve ever felt in my life!  It was like being in a giant rain storm…even though the sky was blue.  I opened my mouth and was literally able to “taste the waters of Africa” (our program director’s catch phrase that was written on our semester shirts: “Once you have tasted the waters of Africa, you will always be thirsty until you drink them again.”).

rain/mist POURING over the little bridge, with a rainbow and blue sky up above

Then we hiked down a long trail to the “boiling point,” where we ate our packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars, and apples while looking at the beautiful view of the water swirling in whirlpools in the river below the Falls.  We then hiked back up the trail and headed back to Zimbabwe, and happened to see the group of six other Americans while on the bridge in no man’s land!

the reunion in no man's land

in two countries at once!

Back at the chalet, the power was out, but we managed to get out the cards and play Rummy (our nightly activity) again with our headlamps.  The power outage put some people in a bad mood, and along with problems from earlier in the day, tensions were high.  Plus, as Zach pointed out, the middle day on week-long trips is always the worst.  But through it all, some good conversations managed to happen.  Tyler and Renna took a walk outside and talked while Zach and I had a really good conversation (I love those), and then later we all helped a really-excited Zach come up with awesome ideas of things to do with his freshmen hall next year (he’s going to be an RA).

Monday, May 9 – Undeniably the best day of the trip.  And guess what?  It was also Renna’s 18th birthday!  We had booked our elephant back safari the day before, and sure enough, a van was at our hotel at 7am to pick us up.  After a short ride, we arrived at the place where we each got our own elephant to sit on (well, we each shared one with one of the workers).  The ride was 45-60 minutes, and it was pretty relaxing – more comfortable than a horse.  It was a cool experience because it was on my list of things to do before I die, and just because we were riding on elephants, but it was also weird because it honestly got a little boring up there after a while…haha.  But it was great. : )  We saw warthhogs, other elephants, and crocodiles (which we walked right next to through a little pond) on our safari, which was more than I was expecting to see (they had told us that the focus wasn’t really on seeing other animals, but on the whole elephant experience).  After the ride, we got to take pictures with and feed the elephants.  It was so funny to feed them by putting things in their trunk, and them bringing that to their mouths – I loved that.  But I didn’t really get to feel what their skin was like – it was caked with so much dirt that I couldn’t tell what was actually skin!  Oh, and something really neat – they usually have a guy who follows the customers around and videotapes everything, but we told him we were not planning on buying anything.  Instead, he asked if he could just use my video camera so that we could get a video for free.  Umm…yes!  He was great, running ahead of us and then crouching down to get cool videos of us riding around on the elephants.  After getting a free breakfast and giving them a tip for everything they did, they dropped us off back in town.

my elephant!

feeling the trunk

going through the pond with crocodiles

There we booked our next activity – a gorge swing for later that afternoon.  We then walked down the road to see the beautiful Victorian-style Victoria Falls Hotel (where Renna and I once again had a good conversation while looking at the beautiful view) and also the Kingdom casino next to it (where we were planning to take Renna later that night as a typical 18th birthday thing to do).

view behind the Victoria Falls Hotel - you can see the no man's land bridge and the mist from the Falls!

Zach and Tyler then went to the hotel camp to swim in the pool while Renna and I decided to look in all the shops that we hadn’t had a chance to check out.  It was only 9am, which was so weird because we had already ridden elephants and been on a safari and we still had the whole day ahead of us!  One of my very favorite times of the day was when Renna and I stopped to get ice cream after our window-shopping.  It was just so nice to simply sit down, eat ice cream, and talk.  Renna and I had been friends before the extra week, but we hadn’t really been that close.  This extra week, however, brought us SUPER close, and we found out that we had so much in common, including a lot of the things we had been feeling and learning during the semester.  “Why weren’t we friends before?!”  Seriously…she definitely became the person I got closest to out of all the 55, but it’s sad that that really only started during the extra last week.  We finished our talk as we went to the little grocery store again to stock up on our rations (definitely excluding Green Bar).  Renna and I then joined the guys back at camp for a little while before we were all picked up for our 2:00 gorge swing.

Right when we saw the location of the swing, right over the river, I got super excited…but more freaked out.  It was so high!  We all did it tandem because it was cheaper, but it also ended up being a lot more fun that way.  Tyler and Zach went first, free falling the 71 meters (233 feet) down and swinging across the river.  It looked crazy!  Just like at the elephant safari, the guy offered to use my video camera instead of making us pay for their’s!  While he video taped, Renna had Tyler’s nice camera to take pictures of the guys, but as soon as they jumped, she freaked out and completely froze.  I actually had to take the camera from her to make sure that the guys got pictures of them swinging!  Then it was our turn, and we were both freaking out.

freaking out on the edge of the jumping platform

Right when the guy started counting down for us to jump, I remember hearing Renna say “I can’t do this” at the same time as I said “Wait, how exactly do you jump off?” and then somehow we were both off the platform, falling 233 feet towards the river and screaming our heads off.

right after jumping off

angle from the video camera man

The free fall was only 3 seconds, but the swinging after it was fun.  Renna continued to scream the whole time, while for some reason I was just cracking up in laughter.  To get up, we were pulled from the top and we used our legs to sort of walk up the cliff.  At the top, we awkwardly got smashed against the rocks and both ended up with bruised knees, but it didn’t take anything from the experience.  Renna said it was the most fun thing she’d ever done in her life.  People have asked me how that compared with bungee jumping, but I honestly don’t know how to compare them.  They were just very different things, with bungee jumping being way higher (more than 3x) and the gorge swinging having much more of a flying sensation, rather than falling and bouncing.  Although, I have to say that I loved not hanging upside down by my ankles screaming to be pulled up…

Back at the hotel, the guys taught Renna and I how to play Blackjack (preparing us for the casino later), and then we finished off with our traditional game of Rummy.

stop looking at my cards!

At 5:00, Tyler said we would leave for the casino.  Zach and I knew the real plans – there was an amazing birthday dinner ready for Renna – but she had no idea.  She was like, “Okay…sure…” and as soon as the guys were out of the room, she looked at me and said “Why are we going to the casino at 5 o’clock?!”  When we walked outside and there was a taxi waiting for us, Renna finally realized that something was going on.  Tyler made her close her eyes as we drove to Safari Lodge, a beautiful hotel and restaurant up the hill that we had seen a glimpse of from our elephant back safari (and Zach and Tyler had booked it while I had been talking to Renna at Victoria Falls Hotel).  Renna was finally able to open her eyes when we were looking out on the balcony of the Lodge with the sun about to set.  The place was gorgeous – the multi-level huge thatch roof building overlooked a view of African bush, a waterhole, and animals like quail, warthog, and elephants.  As the sun set, we watched an elephant drink from the waterhole.

see the elephant?

By request of Renna’s mom (whose credit card I had been told to steal straight from Renna’s wallet), we had a wonderfully fancy dinner (the kind where you can’t pronounce most of the things on the menu), including an appetizer of crocodile meat and a meal of ostrich steak.  When the waiters delivered a chocolate cake with her name on it, she told us this had not only been the most amazing birthday of her life, but probably the best day of her life, period.

The last thing on the list of epic things to do on Renna’s birthday (so far: elephant back safari, ice cream and shopping, gorge swing, and fancy dinner) was the casino.  Definitely a weird experience.  The only reason we went was because it was one of those 18th birthday things to do, and I’m proud to say that I personally did not spend a penny…although I did press a button on a slot machine for someone else haha.  But after the whole experience, Renna and I decided that gambling was one of the most pointless things ever (Renna: “I can’t even describe how stupid I felt just pressing buttons on the slot machine.”), and I even thought about how we could have fed a poor child in a 3rd world country for more than three months with the amount of money that had just gone down the drain.  At one point while we were there, I decided I couldn’t take the stupidity of it all (along with the smell of alcohol and cigarettes) and I just took a refreshing walk outside, getting some nice God time and touring the fancy hotel next door.  When we got back to the hotel, Renna and I had our last adventure of the day – trying to rescue a giant beetle from drowning in the toilet.

To be continued…

the unforgettable last week in Africa, part 1

I’ve been back for almost a week now, but so much stuff has been going on (SEP training, church, applying for jobs, meeting up with friends) that I’ve only now found the time to blog about this.  It was an amazing week, and I hope I’m able to describe it CLOSE to how amazing it was.  Sadly, though, I think I’m going to post it in three or four parts, otherwise it will be ridiculously long.  And we don’t want that.  So here you go – The Unforgettable Last Week in Africa, Part 1!

Wednesday, May 4 – The whole group of 55 got on an airplane and flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg (2 hours).  The Joburg airport had a weird feeling for all of us – we all had to say goodbye to our new South African friends, some people were excited to be flying home, and some of us (me included) had weird feelings of being excited for our week of touring, saying sad goodbyes to the rest of our friends, and having mixed feelings about the fact that we weren’t going home for another week.  But soon the time came, and 40-something people headed over to their terminal while a small handful of us proceeded to the baggage claim.  It really was a weird feeling.  Suddenly we weren’t on the APU South Africa Semester anymore – the group of 55 was gone.  Our week of traveling through Africa was beginning.

We (Renna, Zach, Tyler, and I) were picked up at the airport by Candida, someone I had found out about through Katherine (a church/SEP friend) and gotten in contact with over email.  All we had needed was some place to stay the night while in Joburg, but we could have not imagined a better homestay situation!  Candida was amazing – nice, hospitable, conversational, and she hugged us right when she met us.  She took us to her house where we met her husband and three cute little kids.  The whole night was a lot of fun and we felt like we had known the Millars for years.  She made us a South African meal of corn pasta spaghetti with ostrich meat (“I wanted to give you something South African, but the corn pasta is pretty gross so just load it up with cheese”), and then after putting the crazy kids to bed, we stayed up to talk with Grant and Candida about all our lives and travels while eating delicious Cadbury chocolate.  A great start to our trip.

Thursday, May 5 –

Tyler, Renna, me, and Zach with the kids, bright and early in the morning

After breakfast the next morning, Grant took us to the Greyhound bus stop.  Of course, the bus was on “African time” and came more than an hour late (at 9 or 10am).  When we got on, we saw six of the other Americans from our group (Colton, Riley, Matt, Kim, Carmen, and Destiny).  They had also decided to stay back another week, but although we would be taking the same transportation, they would be doing different things than us and staying in a different place while in Victoria Falls.  The bus trip was long, but wasn’t that bad.  Renna and I sat next to each other and told lifestories and tried not to listen to the terrible movies that the bus driver was playing.  We arrived at the South Africa/Zimbabwe border around 5pm, and it took about an hour to get through the whole exiting-the-country/entering-another-country/buying-a-visa/figuring-out-which-were-the-right-lines-to-stand-in process.

the first line we stood in to exit the country...before they moved us inside to another line...and then moved us again

When we finally got our stamps and were in the country, it was already dark, so we didn’t have a chance to see Zimbabwe in the light that day.  Still, it was exciting just to be in another country. : ) We arrived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe around 10:30pm.  Once again, we had a great living situation!  Nicky, a friend from New Zealand, had connected me with her friend Ben.  We hadn’t been able to get in contact about specifics, so I was pretty scared that we’d show up in Bulawayo and he wouldn’t be there, but sure enough, he was!  Once again, we all had a great time.  Although we didn’t know Ben, he was so nice – beds for the night in his parents’ beautiful house that he has all to himself, dinner on his hilarious college graduate budget (it was fun to see what combinations you could make with tuna, bread, and spaghetti), showers that felt amazing after the long bus ride, plans for what to do the next day, etc.  Another great night.

Friday, May 6 – Ben had to go to work, so his friend Christian was able to drive us around for the morning.  It was interesting just getting to talk with him in the car, hearing about life in Zimbabwe from a white perspective, including what happened with the money a few years ago.  I may not have all these facts exactly right, but this is a rough summary: What had happened was the government started kicking white people off farms and out of businesses (or taking 51% of their profits and pretty much kicking them off that way), giving those responsibilities more to black people.  That sounds good on one hand, but it was actually really bad for everyone because the people that were given farms and businesses had no idea how to run them.  The economy got really bad, and inflation was terrible.  When it got to the point where $3 trillion Zimbabwe was equal to $1 US, the government stopped using their money (in 2009) and changed to American money.  Ben and Christian said that families would go to the grocery store with plastic bags full of money just to do their normal food shopping.  So now, prices in stores are actually in American dollars, but it’s weird because they don’t use American cents – they use Rand (South African) cents!  When Christian took us to a cheap place to get lunch, we bought sandwich wraps for $1.60, which means that I was supposed to give them $1 US and about 4 Rand.  So weird!  Who knows why they don’t just write it like that on the price tags…  The whole week I was fascinated by the way they used their money.  Every check-out counter had a calculator so cashiers could figure out how much money something was in whatever currency the customer wanted to pay with (American, South African, Botswana, or British money), or how much change to give in Rand.  I didn’t know all this at the time I bought the wrap, so I just gave the cashier $2 American, and to my surprise, received 2 Rand back in cents!  One last thing about the money: The US dollars that they use look different than ones you find in America – they’re really old!  I’ve never seen such beat-up money.  It was dirty, so crumpled that it was soft, and could never be used in a vending machine, but that just gave it character.  I loved that I could look at the US money in my wallet and know which I had brought with me and which I had gotten there.

American vs. Zimbabwean U.S. dollar bills

After Christian took us to buy lunch and exchange money (we couldn’t find a bank that would do it, so he found a friend that would), he dropped us off at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair – something that just happened to be going on that week.  I didn’t have very high hopes for it because it wasn’t a fun tourist thing (it was mainly for businesses to put their name out there), but I actually really enjoyed it.  It was something really educational for us to do on our first day because we went to informative booths about different things in the country; we learned about the mining business, irrigation, cows, the capitol city of Harare, the army, etc.  So it wasn’t the most fun thing we could have done, but I honestly really enjoyed it.

the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair

We stayed there for 3 1/2 hours, and then Ben picked us up on his lunch break.  I loved just talking to him and learning more about life in Zim.  Bulawayo is the second biggest city, but compared to what I’m used to, it wasn’t big at all.  We talked about how everyone walked across the street anywhere they wanted “as if they owned the road,” and because of that, people got hit often (which caused racism problems if the driver was white).  We talked about how half the street lights didn’t work at night because people threw rocks at them and no one fixed them.  But we also talked about how amazingly friendly everyone in the country was.  Even though we hadn’t done anything super crazy that day, I felt like I had learned more about Zimbabwe in one day than I had about South Africa in a week or two.  Ben had to go back to work, so the four of us just spent the afternoon relaxing at his house, playing with his cute puppy, watching a movie, and exploring the huge yard.

Ben's beautiful house and yard

When Ben came back at 4, we took a walk with the dogs to a little pond.

I told Ben, "This is what Americans usually picture Africa to be like." Him: "What, bush?!"

Then we went to a grocery store to pick up our PB&J rations for the week, as well as a KFC-type place (Chicken Inn) to pick up dinner.  We then said goodbye as Ben dropped us off at the train station, where we once again saw our six other American friends and waited for the train to leave at 7.  I had been really excited about the train because it would give us beds for the night and take us all the way to Victoria Falls, all for only $12.

The train started out fun.  It was supposed to leave at 7:30 but was delayed, so we took self-timer pictures on the railroad tracks (it was the end of the railway so we didn’t have to worry about other trains coming), ate dinner, and met an old tipsy white man named Peter who told us all about the “Zambezi Express” and how it was the best train on earth and the Bulawayo station was the longest train station in the world.

Renna, Zach, me, and Tyler

the "Zambezi Express" : )

Ahhhh!

The four of us settled into our cabin, a little room with four beds and barely enough room to move (but I loved it anyway).

our 1st class cabin

However, things soon weren’t so “positive” (as Renna would say).  There were mini cockroaches all over the walls of our room.  Our fingernails somehow kept getting dirt in them even if we didn’t touch anything.  The toilets didn’t have seats or paper or door locks, and whatever went into the toilet went straight out onto the tracks, which was awkward when the train was at a stop (and also really gross thinking about how we had been laying on the tracks to take pictures!).  But want to know the worst part?  Hours later, the train still hadn’t moved an INCH!  At 1:00 in the morning, we were still laying in our beds in the SAME STATION.  I couldn’t sleep because the train station was blasting music (which I had originally thought was fun African-sounding happy music, but I later began to detest it) and light was pouring in the windows from the station.

Saturday, May 7 – 1:00 am and the train STILL HADN’T MOVED.  All of us were pretty much hating life at that time.  Renna later said that it was the second worst night of her life, and I’d have to say it tied as the worst experience of my life along with it’s close rival of riding the slowest horse on the planet for four hours through pouring rain and hail in Lesotho.  But through it all, I realized that in every terrible experience (like Lesotho), I always see the humor in it all, realizing how it’ll tell a great story when it’s all in the past (again, like Lesotho, which is actually one of my favorite memories from the whole semester).  So although I had never been so angry (and I actually was – weird for me because I honestly don’t experience “anger” very much) at a mode of transportation, and I had never prayed so hard for something to simply just move, I enjoyed the whole experience in the back (way, way back) of my mind, realizing that one day I would look back on the worst night of our lives with fond memories.  And I suppose I do now.  So at 1:45 am, after sleeplessly laying in bed for hours and trying not to get near the cockroach-infested walls, our train finally moved.  6 hours late.  And I had never, ever experienced what the word relief meant until that moment.  I sat up and yelled “Praise Jesus!” (hearing Zach in the bed below me yell something similar) before laying back down and finally being able to unwind.  We all had a little freak-out when the train stopped about 20 minutes later, but when we realized it was just a regular train stop, we were finally able to relax and get rocked to sleep by the train.

I woke up from the light (and heat) streaming in the windows, and the four of us spent a slow morning staring out the window of the train and passing around a box of cereal, still in a miserable mood from the night before.

how we spent several long hours of the morning

We eventually got in a slightly better mood, and while the others played cards (Rummy became the game of the week), I stuck my head out the window, feeling the wind on my face and seeing monkeys, baboons, dairy farms, and miles and miles of African bush and wilderness.  I enjoyed the stops we made along the way, waving to kids at the little stops in the middle of nowhere.

waving to a group waiting for the train to stop

this guy brought two goats onto the train, hanging them upside down with their legs tied together!

At 1:00, the train finally arrived in Victoria Falls…
(to be continued)

reflections

ONE MORE STORY:

I’ve pretty much become known on this trip for being left behind.  It’s actually only happened twice – once at the mall in Pietermaritzburg and once at the Bible Institute when everyone else got dropped off at the Bed & Breakfast – but it feels like more (to both me and to other people).  On one of our lasts days at Bible Institute, some of us were unsure about when we were getting picked up.  I thought it might be at 5:30pm, so I went outside to wait for the bus.  Two other girls came out of a different building, looking scared like they were left behind.  One said, “Oh, it’s okay.  Melinda’s still here too!”  The other replied, “Well, that’s not exactly a good sign.  It probably means the bus has already left.”  At the same time as that’s sad, I had to admit it was still funny.

MORE RECENTLY:

Today was our last full day in South Africa and nothing was on the schedule!  I spent the day in the city central with Miranda and Kelly, buying last-minute souvenirs.  In honor of the final night, I went out to see a movie – Water for Elephants – with Kelly, Yolanda, Shayna, and Katie.  As movies are less than US $5 here, and we all liked the movie, it was a night well spent.

REFLECTIONS AND LESSONS:

Yesterday we spent the morning in a “reorientation” class, talking about reverse culture shock and the importance of reflection.  We were given an hour to just think back on our semester and answer some questions like “What has God shown you on this trip?” and “How have you changed?”  We were encouraged to flip through our journals as we thought about it, and doing that made me need more than just the hour, so I continued my “reflection process” the next morning (today).  It’s crazy to think of how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve changed, but none of it’s what I would have expected.  A lot of the other students learned a lot about poverty and being grateful, becoming more joyful and thankful.  I had already experienced those things on past mission trips, so I didn’t really expect to learn much from this trip.  However, I ended up learning a lot.  None of the things I learned had to do with service sites.  Nothing had to do with poverty. Or AIDS.  Or even Africa in general.  I could have learned what I did anywhere.  The difference, though, was the people I was with.  Some were lessons that were good for me to learn to help me be a better person, but honestly, I feel like most of the things I learned were negative – things about myself or other people that aren’t exactly the best.

From reading this blog each week or each day or however often I wrote it, you may get the idea that this was an amazing semester.  Which it was.  But honestly, it was also hard.  Really hard.  Although I had amazing adventures and crazy stories to tell and was surrounded by 54 people, a lot of the time I felt very alone.  I became a much more quiet, introverted person, and I felt like I didn’t make very many good friends.  Sure, I met a lot of people, but I discovered a lot of things that I didn’t like about people at the same time.  All the lessons I learned were because I was around so many different types of people – most of whom I wouldn’t normally hang out with, which isn’t a bad thing.  I learned a lot about other people, and who I want to be friends with.  I also learned a lot about who I want to be.  It was tough trying for so long, working to make friends and trying to get people to like me – because that’s what we all have to do when we’re plopped into a group of people we don’t know but we’re going to be stuck with for four months.  I was talking to Morgan yesterday about our feelings going home.  I loved the way she worded it: “I’m excited to go home and not have to worry about trying to fit in.  I don’t have to worry about being excluded or not belonging, because I’m going back to people that I know I’m friends with and will always include me.”  That’s exactly why I’m SO ready to leave and SO excited to get home.  I’ve never, ever been so excited to go home than I am right now.  It’s been rough.  Yes, I have made some good friends, but probably only about 10 of the 55, and even less that I’ll stay connected with.

After pages and pages of reflection in my journal, I was able to make a list of all the ways I’ve changed and all the things I’ve learned.  Most are deep and personal, but a few are as lighthearted as “Warm milk in cereal is really good,” “Taking a bath is complicated,” “You can wear shirts multiple times before washing (or Febreezing) them,” and “Tea actually tastes good when you load it up with sugar.”  With the more personal lessons, however, I was able to sum up everything into three points:

1. I have had amazing experiences here.  I’ve been on the highest bungee jump in the world, crawled through tiny passages in a cave, been on a real safari, slept in a Zulu hut, lived with a South African family for a week, climbed a waterfall, pet and fed a wallaby, learned bits of two different languages, run 45 minutes without stopping, had a marriage offer of 30 cows, rode a horse through the pouring rain in the hills of Lesotho, milked a cow, gone zip lining, and been face to face with a monkey ready to attack.  So much has happened, and I’m so glad I got the chance to experience it all.  I’ve also met some great people that I know I’ll stay friends with. And I’ve learned that I have a love of writing about my adventures, and that I love experiences that give me crazy stories to tell.

2. I learned a lot about other kinds of people – those that I wouldn’t normally be friends with.  I’ve learned about how other people do things and how they think.  I’ve learned more about what kind of person I am by observing other people that are different than me.  And I’ve discovered how very different I am – in the things I talk about, do, believe, enjoy, say, avoid, and more.  But at the same time, I’ve learned not to judge other people for their choices.  I’ve learned that I like small groups of people, and like being one-on-one even more.  I don’t relate well to very many people, so when I find someone that I can relate to, I need to stick with them.  I’ve learned that I have this weird tendency to pull away from people that I get close to, because I don’t like cliques and just want to be equal friends with everyone.  But I’ve learned that I need to get over that if I want to have any friends at all.  I learned that I have the strength of being an includer, but it doesn’t work if I’m not even included myself.  Morgan and I talked about that also: “You can’t try to include others when you’re barely included yourself.”  I recently learned to use that strength to try to include others with me, rather than with a group.  I’ve learned this whole semester what it feels like to be excluded, and I don’t want to forget that lesson – I want it to stick with me so I can always recognize when other people feel excluded – and then be an includer for them.

3. Because of those feelings of being excluded, I’ve realized how much I love and appreciate my family, my home, and my church.  I’ve missed them SO much, which was something I didn’t expect because I’ve never been homesick before.  Learning about some people here made me realize how seriously amazing the people I already know are.  I also learned that I am not called to live overseas – I love traveling, but not for more than a month.  After just one month in South Africa, I was already “ready to go home” (as I read in my journal).  I’m SO ready to be with a group of people and in a place where I know I am already included, without having to work for it.

It’s been a crazy experience, with lots of ups and lots of downs.  From having my laptop stolen to going on amazing adventures, from meeting great people to meeting not-so-great people, the semester has definitely been unforgettable.  And I’m glad I came.  But I still can’t emphasize enough how tough it’s been.  I learned a lot about reliance on God, because although some people will always exclude, forget about, or be rude to me, God never will.  He never fails.  He was always there for me throughout the good times and the bad times in Africa, and if I only remember one thing from this trip, I hope it’s that.

I’m so grateful that I had the chance to come here, and I’m so thankful for all of you guys back home – for reading all these, for commenting on them and encouraging me through that, for praying for me, for writing me letters before I left, and more.  I’ve missed every little thing about home, and I’m so excited to see you all when I get back.  Just make sure you ask me specific questions if you want to hear about it all, because there’s no way I can answer “How was it?” : )

This will probably be the last blog before I get back to America.  But the trip isn’t over for me!  Everyone leaves for home tomorrow morning, but for me, Renna, Tyler, and Zach, our new crazy adventure is beginning: we’re leaving for our trip to Zimbabwe!  To summarize the trip plans, we’re traveling through Zimbabwe by bus and train, staying the nights with friends of friends.  We’re staying in a hotel for three nights in the Victoria Falls area, where we’ll see the beautiful waterfall (on both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides), do an elephant back safari (I’m SO excited for that!), and possibly do other things like a gorge swing or a day trip to Botswana.  Then we’re coming back the same way, so in total, that’s 8 nights.  I’d LOVE your prayers for this trip!  It’ll just be us four, and the area can be dangerous.  Pray for our health, SAFETY, and that things would go according to plan (or better).  It’s taken a LOT of organizing (more than I’ve done for anything else in my life), but I’m praying it will be worth it.  I’ll blog about it when I’m back home!

I’ll be back in California the night of May 13.  And I’ve never been so excited about it. : )

forgotten stories

Thanks for the comments on the last blog! I really appreciate them…A LOT…and they make me happy. : )

Here’s a few short stories/thoughts I’ve forgotten to include in past blogs:

Back in Pietermaritzburg, I got into a conversation with a guy who worked at the register at one of the stores in the mall. He was probably in his mid-20s, and looked Middle Eastern or Indian – I couldn’t really tell. He was asking me about America, and when I told him he should visit for himself, he replied, “Oh no, they don’t like people of my religion there.” It took me a second to realize what he had said, and then the more I thought about it, the more it broke my heart – first, that he believed that, and second, that to an extent it was probably true.

Something that has really surprised me here (especially back in Pietermaritzburg) is that people don’t recognize American accents. I thought they would because of TV and movies, but it’s been so strange to have people asking where we’re from. They hear our accents, but don’t know whether we’re from England or America or wherever.

As of right now, I think there’s three South African phrases that I’ll naturally take home with me and keep using without thought. One is “shap shap,” which I already mentioned before. You say it with a thumbs-up and it means anything from “good” to “sure, okay” to “I understand” (although they don’t say it here in Cape Town). Another phrase I’ll definitely use is “just now.” South Africans say it ALL the time, meaning “a while ago.” For example, a professor might say “I’ll talk about that just now,” but then he doesn’t bring it up again for an hour. It can meet everything from 5 minutes to 2 hours, which is bad when someone says they’ll come pick you up “just now.” “Now now” is what you’re supposed to say to mean what we Americans think of as “now.” Anyway, I say “just now” ALL the time, but I don’t exactly use it the way South Africans do. I say it to mean “a while ago” (past tense), but I haven’t used it as future tense much (which is the way that locals use it) – it’s just still too funny to use that way. The third thing that I know I’ll keep using is the Afrikaans word for “thank you” – “baie dankie,” or just “dankie.”
Other people in our group have been trying to pick up phrases like “I’m keen on that” or “I’ll chat to you.” Lots of the students also use certain Zulu words all the time, like “yebo” (yes) or “ngiyabonga” (thank you), but I never really caught on to that.

The first full day we were in Cape Town, I wrote about how we split into groups and did a walking tour. I just got the pictures from that day from a friend’s camera, so here are some:

"band picture" - my walking tour group near the Company Gardens

nativity scene in St. George's Cathedral

statues of famous South Africans at the entrance to the Waterfront

One day during History & Culture of South Africa class, our teacher announced that the Bible Institute would no longer have internet access for us because we had been using too much. He also said that they would no longer be giving us money for meals. The students were absolutely shocked and couldn’t believe that would happen!  Honestly, I was thinking “good riddance” to the internet (it would give me a lot more less stress), but everyone else was in an uproar. People asked our teacher questions like “How are we supposed to send in our homework?” and “Do they really expect us to pay for all the meals on our own?” etc. To every question, our teacher answered “I don’t care” or “Figure it out on your own.” I didn’t care about the new rules, but what honestly bugged me was his apathetic attitude! After a few minutes, however, we started realizing that this was all a demonstration. Our teacher was showing us what life was like for people during the apartheid – rights that they should have were taken away with no reasoning and nothing to help them. Internet and lunch money were things that we, as students, considered “rights,” and them being taken away was a comparison to what life was like for black, colored, and Indian people in South Africa for years. It was a good illustration, but I thought it was sad what it showed about our values. We value internet so much that both our campuses (African Enterprise in Pietermaritzburg and Bible Institute in Cape Town) had to buy more for us to use, and yet we complain about the slow speed. We think we’ll “die” without it, yet most of the world continues to function perfectly fine (probably even better) without it. That wasn’t our teacher’s point in the illustration, but hopefully it was something that the other students started realizing.
But to clarify, it was just an illustration. We still had internet and we still got lunch money. hah

In Cape Town, we’ve been learning a little bit about the political parties because there’s going to be a local election soon after we leave. During apartheid, there was only one political party, and only whites could vote. After apartheid, there are now quite a few parties, but they are mostly divided by race. Starting with Nelson Mandela right after the ending of apartheid, the African National Congress has been in power, and never lost it. Why? Because the ANC is the way that most black people vote, and the country is mostly black. Cape Town has more white and colored people, so the DA (most members are white or colored) is in power in that city, but it will be a long, long time before the DA could ever get someone in the country’s presidential office. It’s sad that even after apartheid, the country is still so divided politically by race, but I suppose it has only been 16 years

I found out that 18% of adults in South Africa have AIDS. That the highest percentage out of any country.

On Saturday the 25th, three students from our group participated in the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town.  That’s a 56K marathon, where you medal if you finish in less than 7 hours (which 2 of our 3 did)!  Crazy!

Okay, now for the more recent updates:

Friday, April 29 – After our last class, I spent time with about 20 others watching the royal wedding on TV, and then we all watched a few episodes of Gilmore Girls. Someone had brought it on DVD, and I’d never seen it before…but after watching a few episodes, I remembered why I didn’t let myself watch TV back at home – because I always get addicted to shows.  Oops.

Saturday – We had the whole day off, so I spent a very relaxing day with Morgan, Shayna, Yolanda, Renna, and Debs. We walked to Bible Institute, where we took the train to Muizenberg, a city two stops over. We took a lot of fun pictures, walked along the beach, and explored the little beach town area. We stopped at an ice cream shop where we bought ice cream with flavors like “Yummy” and “Very Yummy” – and they were exactly that. The whole day was just really nice. We didn’t have a time limit, didn’t have any place we were supposed to be, etc. It was also really nice to just be with some of my very favorite people from this semester. It’s honestly been so nice not to be with all 55 people. Half were at homestays, some were staying at Bible Institute, and I was with a small group of thirteen others that were staying at the Bed & Breakfast. The CLCs knew who was friends with who and had stragetically placed us together, so that was really nice to just be spending our last few weeks with the people we’d come to love. That Saturday I began to realize something: despite what I sometimes make myself believe, I have made some pretty good friends this semester. In the last week especially, I feel like I’ve had some really, really good conversations (with both Renna and Morgan especially), discovering a lot of things we have in common, and it’s a little sad that we didn’t discover those things thirteen weeks before.

a fun photoshoot with the orange wall and wire words

waiting for the train

in Muizenberg

the whole group

the three of us that got "Yummy" ice cream

more colorful houses!

Sunday – Another relaxing day. I walked to church by myself, and then came back to find the other girls packing up their stuff. The weather was beautiful and sunny, which was really nice considering it rains on most days in Cape Town, so after packing I joined some of the others outside. Many of us sat out in the sun, reading (I’m curently addicted to Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers) or journaling, and we even opened a packet of henna and had a little tattoo party with it. Around 4:00, we packed up all our stuff and loaded it onto the bus. We met up with all the rest of the group and drove to the hotel in Cape Town city central that we had stayed at the first nights after travel week. We’ll stay there for 3 nights and then head to the airport…

field trips in Cape Town

During homestays, we also had class everyday.  We all got picked up in a taxi and taken to the Bible Institute each morning.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we had Culture & History of South Africa class for 2 hours, and then free time until 5:30, where we were free to do our homework, use the internet, relax, buy lunch, walk around the town, or take a train into the city.  The university is really, really small (with only 50 residential students), but I found that it has a computer lab, so that made the laptop-less me happy.  Still, it’s a lot of free time and I often just wanted to be back at homestay.  I was sick with a cold for a lot of the time (and still am a little bit), and it was also sometimes frustrating with all the stuff I had to catch up on after not having internet for a couple weeks.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays we went on field trips.  On the first Saturday, we went to climb Table Mountain.  However, it was SOOO incredibly windy that when we got to the bottom of the mountain and got out of the bus, we decided it wouldn’t be safe to climb.  I’ve never felt such STRONG wind before!  We were almost falling over because of it, and a couple people’s hats blew away.  Instead of climbing, we then decided to go into the city and explore a little more around Green Market Square and V&A Waterfront.

V&A Waterfront - stores, ferris wheel, and huge mall

On Tuesday the 19th, we took a tour of a township.  It was weird because it was just a regular Black (the Xhosa people – yes, their ethnicity has the “x” click sound in it) township, but they had created a touring industry.  They had a tour guide who took us around different streets, showing us the houses, the schools, and more.  It was interesting to hear about how there were poor, middle-class, and richer people all in the township.  The richer people didn’t have major security or barbed wire around their houses because they weren’t afraid of the poor.  The rich didn’t look down on the poor and the poor didn’t envy the rich.  All the people had come from the same place in life, so it was respected when someone made it to a better place.  The poor people had two choices of where to live.  They could live in the government flats/apartments, where many people had to live in the same room, or they could live in shacks, where they would have more privacy but be very susceptible to fires and floods and not have toilets (port-o-potties were cleaned out once a week).  Lastly, a lot of us felt weird about touring the township, like we were treating the people like zoo animals or something.  We asked the tour guide about it, and he said it wasn’t like that at all.  The Xhosa people loved having white people coming into their township – they wanted white people to walk where they walk and to see what they see, because back during the apartheid no one would have done that.

the government-built flats

the poor shacks right across the street from the nicer houses

On Thursday the 21st we drove to the Cape of Good Hope.  I hiked with a few others for 45 minutes to Cape Point, the southwestern most part of the continent.  It’s supposedly the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, but our tour guide said that fact was disputed.  The hike was beautiful, climbing up cliffs right next to the ocean.  At the lighthouse up on the cliff at the edge of Cape Point, my favorite thing was leaning over the edge and feeling the cool sea breeze on my face.  Beautiful.  On our drive back, we stopped at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, where little penguins freely wander around.  Penguins – that was something I never expected to see in Africa!

arrival at Cape of Good Hope

hiking to Cape Point

a cute, furry, strange creature we found on the way that wasn't afraid of people

we made it!

hair blowing in the sea breeze, almost at the Cape Point lighthouse

African penguins - who would have thought?!

The Saturday before Easter (April 23) I said a sad goodbye to the Abrahams family (who ALL walked us to where the bus would pick us up) and moved into the Bed & Breakfast (B&B) where I’d be living with thirteen other girls for the next eight nights.  It’s really sad to not be with my homestay family anymore, but I also like the feeling of being able to spread my stuff out in a hotel room and just feel settled, like I finally LIVE somewhere.  Easter Sunday I walked to a local church with Shayna, which I really enjoyed.  There was no sermon that day – just worship, scripture, and communion – yet I feel like I learned so much.  I realized something completely new about God and my relationship with Him through the service, and that just goes to show what going back to the basics of church can do.  We then got lunch and spent the rest of the day at Bible Institute to use the internet there.  We met up with the other girls (who had taken the train to the city for the day) at a local grocery store, where we all bought stuff for dinner and walked back to the B&B to eat and watch a movie before bed.  For food, we get money each week for all the meals we need, but most of us are trying to save as much money as we can.  Sometimes we go out to eat, but most of the time we try to take food from the hotel, or we buy stuff at the grocery store.  For the past week at the B&B, I’ve been surviving off a bag of apples, a bag of mixed carrots and broccoli and cauliflower, grocery store hot chicken drumsticks, PB&J sandwiches made at the B&B out of their breakfast items, hot cross buns, and muffins.  It’s the cheapest food I can find (all either free from the B&B or cheap in grocery store bulk), but it tends to get a little repetitive.

view out the cafeteria window at BI

Tuesday, April 26 – We were supposed to try to climb Table Mountain again that day, but it was raining so we had class instead and switched the day’s plan with Wednesday.  After class I spent the afternoon on the internet to figure out the lasts of my Victoria Falls trip plans, and then took a walk around the town and the pier.  That night, however, we went to a little local theater and saw an improv act, sort of like Whose Line is it Anyway, that they call “Theatresports.”  It was really funny and we all enjoyed the night.

the cute coffee shops, bakeries, and other stores near BI

Wednesday, April 27 – Some of the group went to climb Table Mountain, while many of us, including me, decided to stay back.  If the chance was offered a month ago, I would have gone, but now things are just winding down and all we want to do is take it easy.  Plus, I felt like I had done enough hikes this trip.  I was really glad I stayed because it ended up raining a little bit.  I had a nice day with Morgan, going out for lunch (which was crowded because it was a holiday – Freedom Day, which I realized was the day in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the first black president), and then walking along the stores and the beach to the “colorful houses,” a place often featured in postcards of Table Mountain.

the colorful houses are actually changing rooms

Thursday, April 28 (that’s today!  I’m finally caught up!) – Field trip to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were kept during the apartheid.  I had been looking forward to that for a while because I, strangely enough, enjoy prisons (like Alcatraz).  I like hearing the stories about life on the island, because it’s almost like a different culture that fascinates me.  It wasn’t very different than a normal old prison, except for the fact that there was the whole apartheid thing going on – black, Asian, and colored people went to the Robben Island prison, but they still had separate treatment, including what their meals were like.  Another different thing was that all the tours were led by ex-prisoners (remember, they were political prisoners who had been against the apartheid – that’s it, nothing dangerous!), which was really cool because then we knew we were getting the most accurate description of what it was like.  Lastly, when we went to Nelson Mandela’s cell and took pictures, we all thought it was neat to think about how he, the former president of the country, had lived there for 18 of his 27 years in prison.  However, I loved when one girl said out loud what many of us were thinking: “Matt Damon’s been here too!” (in the movie Invictus)

it was a 25-minute boat ride from the waterfront to Robben Island - here's a view of one of the World Cup stadiums on the mainland from the boat window

the high-security prison that we toured

Miranda: "You look a little too jolly to be in front of a prison cell." Me: "Well, Nelson Mandela is a jolly man."

Friday, April 29 will be our last day of class!  Yes, we HAVE been going to class.  For each field trip we go on, we also have to write a paper about it, and there was also a big end-of-term paper due for our History & Culture class.  So it’s not all a vacation – I just like to blog about the fun parts, obviously. : )

If you’ve read this far, please comment, even if you just say “Hi.”  I’d like to know who’s kept up with reading all these!

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