Monday, August 29, 2011

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ~Marcel Proust

Veereninging & Nelspruit, South Africa
No, going was not a life-changing experience for me, but more along the lines of a life-affirming experience. Going to South Africa re-affirmed to me that I love people. I love adventure and experiencing the new and unknown. I love nature and orgasmic views. I love culture. I can never be happy living in suburbia when there is so much more out there.

My dearest, most beautiful Charné picked my mom and I up from the Joberg airport with her sisters at the baggage check. We ran and embraced and I couldn't believe how crazy it was that we were both in South Africa, her home, together at the same time. Honestly, such a cool feeling. We headed home through Johannesburg to Vereeniging, Charné’s hometown. We were warmly greeted by Charné’s precious mother, Auntie Felicity and sweet father, Uncle Thinus. Auntie Felicity and my mother were like two peas in a pod on this trip. It’s so nice to know that your mother can play with the other mothers nicely and get along. Charné’s mom made us some bomb curry type of dish, which my mouth melted over. We spent our first night in South Africa chatting the night away over hot drinks (namely Chikree, the most amazing drink in the entire world, I’m addicted).  

The next day we chilled around Vereeniging. It was interesting to wake up to several maids and landscape guys working around Charné’s house. In South Africa it’s common for middle-class families to have maids do all their laundry, dishes, cleaning, and maintenance. We headed to the mall which was interesting as well. As we pulled into the parking lot, there were guys in uniform standing outside and they helped us find a parking spot. When we left the mall, we tipped them for watching our car. Apparently, people can have a job as a car watcher to make sure that cars don’t get jacked into whilst people are shopping. Super interesting. I acknowledge that I have no grounds to stand on for this opinion, but while we were driving I kept thinking to myself that the government should stop making minimum wage (really quite useless) jobs in order to increase employment, but should focus their efforts on the education system and work on creating real jobs with stable incomes that would actually help boost the economy and middle class. Granted, I know very little about the politics in South Africa, and from what Auntie Felicity was telling my mom about the current president it seems like a very complicated system. 

As we drove around I found a recurring thought pop into my head about South Africa. In my amateurish opinion, I see South Africa caught in-between being a developed and a developing country. Unlike in India*, there is infrastructure and roads and modern technology, but at the same time there are shantytowns all over the countryside and uncontrolled fires burning along the roadside. A country caught in between. One of the major reasons Charné decided to move to America was because she would be able to have a career and real future. For those middle class South Africans, jobs are scarce and difficult to come by, as is attending university because of factors such as their own form of affirmative action. 
*I realize there are roads, infrastructure, and modern technology in India, but in a small portion of the country. The majority of the country has yet to experience development. My argument is that the majority of South Africa appears to have these institutions in place for the majority of the population of the country.*

We then preceded to enter a mall where smoking indoors is still allowed (I’d forgotten that smoking in public places is still allowed in other countries) and where none of the stores looked even remotely familiar. It was refreshing to see not every country is super Americanized. After we bought our Harry Potter 7 Part 2 tickets we went to Kariba Ranch and ate a delicious meal of savoury meat pancakes. And we got our first glimpse of safari-type animals because it was also a ranch!

After dinner we got to go on an incredible insider look of South Africa. Charné’s family is good friends with Brother Stanley Gorman, who is a branch president over the Sharpeville branch. It was an incredible experience to go into these cities of tin and meet the residents who live there. As we were driving into town, there was tons and tons of trash all along the roadside and people walking everywhere. Our first stop was to meet this woman, Sister Rose, and deliver some Airborne-type medicinal tablets for her cold. She is an inspirational woman. Every month after she receives her stipend from the government, she pays 10% of that money to the LDS church as tithing and then puts away enough money towards a trip to the Johannesburg LDS temple. After she has put away money for those two major expenses, she uses the rest for her food and living arrangements for the month. What incredible faith and dedication. We asked if we could give her anything and all she asked for was an American prayer. I offered the prayer and she was beyond thrilled. It was such a humbling experience to give something that meant so much to her, which cost me absolutely nothing. I need to reevaluate what my wants are in life and re-prioritize what’s truly important. Sister Rose had this amazing garden, it was small but she tended to it everyday and made sure her house was spotless, even though it wasn’t large or was impressive in any material way. She was a sweet, wonderful woman whom I will remember for years to come.

Our next visit was this old blind man who also lived in a small home and all he asked for was a priesthood blessing from Brother Gorman. Another simple gift. He was fortunate enough to have a backyard where he allowed Brother Gorman and others from the LDS church to build a tin house for a young girl and her brother to live in, since they had no home. Another amazing example of charity and kindness in the midst of destitution. Our third visit was to a widower who had recently lost his wife. We caught him cooking dinner on a small stove and doing dishes in a big bowl of water on his tiny, card table. He had the biggest smile on his face, but needed crutches to walk due to a bad knee. The sisters from the Sharpeville branch had come over to his home earlier in the week and cleaned it for him. He hadn’t had time to clean his house because in that month alone he had gone to at least 1 funeral every weekend of close friends, one of them being his wife, whom you could tell he missed dearly. Funerals in parts like this in South Africa turn into huge occasions because there is food present, so even if people don’t know the deceased or their family they will come to the funeral to pay respects and receive a meal for the day. The same with weddings. No one sends wedding invitations because there are sure to be 300-500 people in attendance just based on word of mouth and people finding the wedding on the day of. Our final visit was to Nozzy and her family. Nozzy is a high-spirited 20 year-old hoot who lives with her sisters, mother, baby cousin, and uncle all in one tiny house. Nozzy was so excited to meet Americans and got our information so she can look us up if she’s ever in Atlanta. 

And then, the night that ended my childhood. What a better way to see Harry Potter 7 Part 2 than a day before every other person in the United States? I’ll save you my rant on HP 7 Pt. 2, because that could be a couple blog entries to say the least. I will say this: I was displeased with how Bellatrix and Voldemort both turned into confetti when they were killed, Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter deserve to be knighted for their performances throughout the series, I almost puked my guts out with the pathetic attempt at creating the epilogue. I already almost ripped the epilogue out of my book (some endings should not be told), but didn’t want to ruin the binding. Trying to make Daniel Radcliffe and gang look mature and like parents was a sad joke to put it kindly.

Having one’s childhood end on such a sour note leaves one sour, even in the midst of a foreign country.

Luckily, the next day we were off on our roadtrip to Kruger National Park! We loaded up the buggy, with Shireen and Kylie riding in style in the back of the flat bed, and spent 5 hours heading North, where it gets warmer. Btw, it was winter in South Africa, which was wonderful because it was like a mild winter in Georgia. My kind of winter! One where you can still wear shorts=].

We get up to Nelspruit (the city where Kruger is) and find our Hazyview Cabana. We did some grocery shopping and even grocery shopping was a completely foreign experience to me. Later that evening we had a real South African braai and it just reaffirmed my love for meat. And for lamb, I wish we ate more lamb here in the States because it is freaking delicious. Charné’s mom also made this manioc dish that was somewhat similar to au gratin potatoes but not really. After our meal we all got our hot chocolate and Chikree hot drinks and chatted the night away. I really love the culture of hot drinks and late night chats, it's right up my alley.

The next day we went all around the Kruger area to all the panoramic views and potholes, all of the amazing landscape views of South Africa. Breathtaking doesn’t do justice to the incredible imagery. From the blood red sunrise and sunset, to the mountains rolling beyond what the eye can see, it was majestic. Everything was majestic. A few of the sites we saw were the Potholes, God's Window, Rondaval Hills, and a Mbombela waterfall. I am a sucker for scenic views and I was in heaven. We hiked a little, we saw major ant hill mounds all over the landscape, and we got to barter for some sweet souvenirs with the locals. I attempted and failed at having a South African accent, I’ll get it with some practice eventually. 

One crazy side note: the bus system in South Africa is crazy cool. There aren’t bus stops to reach, you just stand on the side of the road or the highway or wherever and hold out some sort of hand signal (the signal changes depending on what route you want to board) and you see these people everywhere. This one guy crossed over the waterfall we were at and walked down the highway to get on a bus. People walk everywhere and anywhere and it was so insane to me. South Africa is definitely a land of travelers.

The next morning we got up with the sun and headed off to Kruger for our safari hunt! Kruger was intense. It’s basically a paved road through the savannah of Africa. You have to watch your side of the car and keep your eyes peeled for any and all life. Our first sight was a herd of impala, which we were stoked to see because the wildlife is literally a foot away from your car in their natural habitat doing their everyday routine. By the end of the trip the only thing we thought impala were good for was food for luring the lions and leopards out into the open. They were everywhere, the plague of Kruger. The entire day was incredible. To be able to see baby elephants and giraffes at the watering hole alongside warthogs and hornbills, etc. I felt like I was living The Lion King (kudos to the artists because they were dead on with everything). It was a once in a lifetime experience for sure.

For lunch we stopped by the riverside camping area, where there was a braai pit for every table (South Africans love their braais) and baboons and other monkeys up the wazoo. When you first see a monkey your initial reaction is “Check it out! It’s a real life monkey!” for South Africans who live with these pests, they are dangerous nuisances. Just when we were at lunch there was a monkey that tried to steal a baby, a few monkeys that stole food, and a monkey that pooped on the driver seat of a safari tour bus. They are vicious and have been treated as circus pets by unaware and stupid tourists which makes them think they’re entitled to whatever food they want. So when they don’t get what they want, they go all monkey crazy on you. Beware of the monkeys.

The next morning, my mom and I got up early to go to the Elephant Sanctuary. It was absolutely beautiful being amongst the jungle with dew on the greenery and the sun rays shining through the trees. I had some Rooibos tea before our guide took us around the sanctuary and taught us all about elephants. After our lesson we got to have a hands-on experience with the elephants. We got to touch their tusks, bottom of their feet, ears, tongue, the whole shebang, and we got trunk kisses on our necks which was way fun. We then got to feed and walk the elephants, and finally we got to ride on top of them! I have a better understanding of how tall people must feel like, being able to see over the tops of everything. I also thought it was crazy that literally the day before we had seen these mammoth creatures, and now I was experiencing their vantage point. It was incredible to think that this is what an elephant sees and experiences every day. Wicked cool.
Later that evening we went on a real night safari, which was way tight. We got to ride around in a legit safari jeep and use intense huge flashlights to look for critters in the bush. We saw a hyena going after impala, some elephants, servets, aardvark, and some other cool little cats, but no leopards or lions which was a bit depressing.

The next day we headed to the Sudwala Caves and those were way cool. I love caves and this one had a theatre inside of it which was sweet. They actually hold concerts there because the acoustics are so good. I also dipped my hands inside the fountain of youth, climbed into an echo chamber, and squeezed to see the Fairy Country. We ate at Nando’s, which is this bomb Brazilian fast food restaurant and I got some spicy chicken pita, which made me cry a little but was way tasty.

We arose early the next morning and went back to Kruger to find our lions and leopards. And we succeeded! At least in finding some lions laying out in the sun. SO SICK! Even though the cars in front of us were rude and chose to park for eons instead of letting others have a chance to check out the lions, we got to see a real life lion! After we saw our lion, we headed down to Joberg to catch our flight back to the States. In the airport we had our parting dinner at Spurs which is ironically a Native American Indian themed restaurant. The food was delicious and my mom cried as we said our goodbyes to the Van Jaarsvelds and South Africa.

Blood red sunrises and sunsets, infinite panoramic views, the richest food imaginable paired with a people who love to hug and braai. Whether it’s developing or developed or somewhere in between, South Africa’s people are as pure as the gold found in the hillsides. South Africa. A world apart. 

 Peace and Blessings

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.~Grandma Moses

Provo, UT

A miracle happened last weekend. I found a hidden Jewel in the midst of the city which I deem as a plague.

The Provo River.

My favorite Scotty in the whole world and I have been trying to tube down the Provo River ever since he got into town. Friday, the stars aligned and Scotty, our fresh-from-Oregon T.T. McPhee, and fellow Georgia Belle Kelsey, and I all went to a ghetto nook on the side of the Provo River and rented rafts and a bus ride for a 2-hour magical journey.

Paddling in the ice-numbing waters, feeling the masked strength of the current, and being completely surrounded by clear blue skies and forest-green mountains reminded me that even in the midst of a desert, a jewel of an oasis can be found. 

Rivers have always taken my breath away. I love the absolute peace and serenity that the slow-moving waters bring which in a moment's notice are thrown to the riverbed as the secret current underneath grabs you and hurls you into an onslaught of rapids. I love the rush and the thrill of rowing through the rapids, trying to read the undercurrent, while dodging boulders and hanging branches and tree trunks, white water sprayed in your face. 

The Provo River offered everything I love about rivers. No, the rapids could hardly be classified as such, but they were thrilling nonetheless. The greenery of the trees overhanging on the riverbed, the fly fishermen casting their lines around our bodies, the powerful horses and timid cows drinking from the life-giving waters, and the feeling of nothingness as you look up at the rising moon in a clear blue sky touched by the tips of mountaintops makes me feel whole. Complete.

All I want out of life is to live on the river. Not to be confused with living in a van down by the river. Who would've thought that Provo could deliver such majesty?

Sorry, we didn't bring our cameras into the river with us, so this is the best for photos I can do.

Peace and Blessings