Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Toyless

I am going to start this post off by reminding you, just in case you've forgotten, that I know nothing about children. All that I do know comes from two sources. First, once I was a child (although admittedly that was a very long time ago.) Second, I have been volunteering at the Diepsloot Combined School and working with students in grades three and four for over a year. 

Recently, I went over to Gift's house to spend a few hours with Gift and Beatrice. Gift's nephew (his brother's son), a five year old boy named Wayne, was there.  

I couldn't help but notice a few things about Wayne and the situation that were so different than other families with children that I have visited and observed. 

First, Wayne doesn't have any toys. There was a rubber ball outside that I assume is his but that is all.

Second, Wayne was not the center of attention. The adults talked and did their thing and Wayne was just....well he was just there. He was not neglected. He was not running out into traffic or putting a plastic bag over his head but no one really talked to him, played with him or was too concerned with him. When Beatrice made him a snack he went a got a small chair (so he may not have toys but he does have his own small chair) and sat quietly at the table and ate.  When she walked to the shop he went along with her. When we went outside, he came with us. 

Third, Wayne did not whine, complain, cry or fuss. He was perfectly behaved. 

Fourth, Wayne was put to work. When the adults drank tea, each of them, one by one as they finished, summoned Wayne to collect the empty mug and put it in the sink. And he did it.

Like so many things that I see in South Africa, I really don't know what to make of this. It was so different than my other experiences of being around people and their children. Usually, children are constantly interrupting adults who are trying to have an adult conversation. Adults will say things to children like, "I am talking to Mrs. Deep right now Myrtle, please wait a moment and then I'll get you a sippy cup of juice." And then the mother will turn back to the other adult and say, "I'm sorry about how Myrtle is acting. She missed her nap today." 

Often when you are visiting a home with children in it, a child will come up to you and push a toy into your face in an effort to get you to play. There is also normally some amount of crying, whining or even a full on melt down. And usually when you are in a house where kids live, toys are strewn about everywhere. 

On the one hand my reaction to Wayne's situations is this. Oh my God this child has no toys. Isn't play an important part of child development? Won't he be behind with his motor and other skills when he gets to school? Is his childhood completely joyless? 

But then there is a part of me that I thinks this. Many kids have tons of toys. They have so many toys that they don't even know what they have. Are kids with toys smarter, happier, better adjusted or on a path to a brighter future? Did Albert Einstein have any toys as a kid? Did Nelson Mandela? I read Long Walk to Freedom and I don't recall toys being mentioned. Most of our grandparents and great grandparents probably had very few if any toys. Many kids today, in my opinion, are spending their childhoods being entertained every minute either by someone or something. Is that really the best way to grow up?  

Of course it important for children (and adults) to know that they are loved and it is important that they are cared for properly. But how much attention is the right amount?  Is it better to be showered with attention as a young person? Or, do you end up feeling less entitled and less frustrated by what life throws at you if you grow up the way that Wayne is? Isn't one of the hardest parts of being an adult that people rarely fuss over you? Adults don't spend time telling other adults how smart, cute or funny they are. Yes, at work someone may say, "great job in the meeting today." Or one adult may say to another, "have you been working out? Your butt is looking very firm and high." But accolades and adoration are rare once you become an adult. 

I don't know the answers to these questions. And I try hard not to judge. I don't judge the parents who smother their children with attention, toys and bounce houses (that's not true I draw the line at bounce houses but only because I am repeatedly traumatized by their very existence.) And I don't judge Wayne's family either. But last week I did take Beatrice and Wayne to to the zoo just in case joy and play are an essential part of childhood. 


Wayne at the zoo. And while he doesn't look particularly thrilled in this photo, trust me, he had fun. 




Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Last of Zambia


This will be my last post about our recent trip to Botswana and Zambia. I had so many photos and stories and it took me a while to sort through it all. Hopefully I didn't bore you. Now, it's just a few more memories and some photos that I never shared before I leave this topic.

On our last morning in Zambia, Mr. Deep tried again to catch a tiger fish. He was not successful, but the guide he was with did catch one so at least I can share a photo with you.



Mr. Deep did have some great last wildlife sightings while he was out for that final fishing trip.






On our last night in Zambia during our final boat ride on the Zambezi, there was a special surprise. When we rounded a bend at sunset there was a bar set up (always a happy surprise to see) and the staff were all there to welcome us and offer us a happy hour by sunset. It was so pretty and I took a ton of photos of the same scene but played around with different camera settings. 








And here is one last photo from Zambia. The Birdman and me looking happy and relaxed. Until next time Zambia. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Oh The Stories We Could Tell

"Talking to myself again wondering if this traveling is good. Is there something better doing we'd be doing if we could? But oh the stories we could tell."
 - Everly Brothers

These are the song lyrics I chose to quote in my high school yearbook. They appear under my photo. At the time, I credited the lyrics to Tom Petty because I had no idea that he didn't write the song. But in fairness to me I graduated high school before the Internet was invented so how was I supposed to know it was actually the Everly Brothers?

While we were in Zambia we had the unique opportunity to hear two tall tales. In the evening, after the afternoon activity and before dinner, there was a campfire at each of the Wilderness Safari Camps. After a few visits to the campfire, Mr. Deep and I noticed that we seemed to be the only guests enjoying it. This was understandable when we were the only guests at Jacana but a little strange when we arrived at Toka Leya. Maybe none of the other guests knew there was a campfire? Or maybe they just didn't care? But at Toka Leyo Mr. Deep and I were the lone regulars at the campfire or, as it's referred to when you are out in the African wilderness, bush TV.

On our second to last night at Toka Leya, Mr. Deep and I were sitting (alone of course) around the bush TV when one of the managers of Toka Leya came down to talk with us. Maybe he was intrigued and wanted to meet the couple who actually sat around the campfire? The manager's name was Stephen which you will remember is also Mr. Deep's name. We ended up chatting with Stephen for a while and that's when he told us these two stories. 


A very cool fire pit. I mean bush TV. 
Stephen and Stephen 
The first story was told to Stephen when he was young by a friend of his father. The friend had been working far away from his village making and selling charcoal. As an aside when we were out driving with Godfrey we had seen men on bikes with baskets full of charcoal so going to the forest and making charcoal to sell is a thing.  

While making charcoal the man began to feel ill. He realized based on his symptoms that he had malaria and so he decided to try to make the long walk back to his village before the illness worsened. It was a long walk of about seven hours. After about three hours of walking the man spotted a herd of elephants along the path. He was nervous because elephants can be unpredictable. Also by this time he was feeling very sick and weak and although he cannot be sure what happened next he thinks he fainted from his illness. 

When the man woke up he was confused and unsure where we was. He was no longer on the path and instead was lying the shade of a large tree. He also could not find the bag he had been carrying. After a few minutes of searching for his bag he finally spotted it way up high hanging from a tree branch. The bag was hanging too high for the man to reach.

The man continued on his journey home. When he arrived he was very sick. He finally began to recover he told his family the story about what had happened to him on the path. The man said that as the herd of elephants was the last thing he remembered seeing, that he believed that while he was passed out that an elephant picked him up and carried him under the tree setting him down in the shade. He also believed that an elephant had hung his bag high in the tree to keep it safe. The man's family was skeptical of this story but when he was strong enough they accompanied him to the tree and saw his bag hanging higher than a man would be capable of placing it. It was then that they began to believe the man's story. In order to retrieve the bag, someone had to climb up the tree and cut down the branch from which the bag hung. 


The second story was about Moto Moto. You may recognize this name as the name of the hippo in the movie Madagascar. I didn't because I haven't seen a Disney movie since the 70's. Anyway, Moto Moto as he came to be known (he was named by guests at Toka Leya) was a young male hippo living near Toka Leya but struggling to survive. Male hippos can be very cruel to each other and the staff working at the lodge often noticed Moto Moto had scars and cuts caused by fighting with the other male hippos. 

Moto Moto was very smart though. He began to notice that the other male hippos were afraid of humans and would not venture near the lodge and so he carved out a territory for himself and made the beach on the banks of the Zambezi next to the lodge his home. He often slept underneath the Toka Leya lodge deck. Under the deck was a perfect hippo home because hippos have very sensitive skin and cannot stay out in the hot daytime sun for too long. After about four years of living at the lodge Moto Moto was big and strong and he reentered the hippo pod as a dominant male. Sometimes the Toka Leya staff still spot Moto Moto out swimming and walking with his pod. 


Mr. Deep snapped some photos of hippos out of the water. A very rare thing to see! Could one of these guys be
Moto Moto? 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Mother of Invention

Charles and me
Yesterday, my flip flop broke. These things happen as anyone who has ever owned a pair of flip flops knows. When you think about it, flip flops are a ticking time bomb. It's not a matter of if they will break but more a question of when.

These flip flops were about three years old. They served a good purpose and I was not particularly upset that one broke because they had a good run, but I was inconvenienced.  At the time of the breakage I was in a parking lot. I had just finished chatting with my friend Charles (pronounced to rhyme with house) a car guard who works in the shopping centre across the street from where we live. I have known Charles since we moved here and I see him several times a week. I know all about his life and his family because of our many chats. I have given him some (nice) old clothes that belonged to Mr. Deep and I have also bought him some groceries a few times. I had just said goodbye to Charles and when I tried to walk away, the plastic piece between the toes broke. It didn't just come out of the hole, it actually broke in two. The flat, nail head like piece that sits under the hole in the bottom of the sole broke off the stalk like piece that goes between the toes. 

"My shoe just broke" I told Charles, mostly because I felt I had to explain why I was stumbling around.  I showed him the shoe and he kindly offered to try to fix it for me so I left the flip flops with him. Luckily, as I mentioned, I was at the shopping centre at the time and I walked (barefoot obviously) to a store that fortunately sold flip flops and I bought a new pair. 

Walking barefoot isn't so strange in South Africa but you don't often see adults doing it.  And, I had two reasons for being in the shopping centre. I was getting a manicure and then I needed to get a few things at the grocery store. I wouldn't have minded going to the nail salon without any shoes. I am in there often enough and I would have explained what happened and gotten a few laughs over it, but the grocery store could have been problematic. Not that there is a no shirt, no shoes, no service rule here, there isn't. But you generally don't see barefoot adults in the grocery store. Barefoot kids are seen all the time. 

When I got back to my car I saw Charles again and proudly showed him my new shoes. I was feeling pretty good that I was at a shopping centre at the time of the break, that in the shopping centre was a store that sold flip flops and that the store was open and had flip flops in my size.

And then Charles told me that he had fixed my shoe. He somehow found a piece of strong wire and threaded it through the plastic stalk. The wire, placed on the bottom of the shoe was now holding the plastic piece in place. "How did you do this?" I asked him, meaning, how did you happen to find a piece of strong wire in the parking lot? And, even if one was lucky enough to find wire, threading it through thick plastic must have been difficult. 

"I used my brain" he said. 

This incident, although kind of silly, perfectly communicates what it is that I love about living in South Africa. I love that I can walk barefoot if I have to and people just have to deal with it. I love that I have a friend who is so kind that he would want to try to fix my shoe for me. I love that he was actually able to fix it. But mostly I love being reminded how many people in this world live differently than we do. They can't (and won't) throw something away just because it is broken and damaged but instead they will try to fix it. 

I will continue to wear my newly repaired flip flops. Granted, I will only wear them around the house because they certainly will break again, but I will wear them until that time and when I wear them I will be reminded of Charles, his life, his brain, and his kindness. 



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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Baptism and Machine Guns

More about Zambia.
View of the spray from Victoria Falls taken from the helicopter launching site.
The Tokaleya people named the falls
Mosi-oa-Tunya which translates to
Smoke that Thunders in Tonga. 
We had the choice of either a 15 minute helicopter ride or a 30 minute ride. We chose the 30 as that ride included flying through narrow river canyons and passing over Victoria Falls twice. Mr. Deep took Dramamine to avoid motion sickness. I did not. I felt o.k. but was glad the ride was not longer than 30 minutes...if you know what I mean. 

In the chopper it was only the two of us plus the pilot. I sat in the front and Mr. Deep sat in the back. We got to wear cool headsets so that we could hear the pilot and also communicate with each other.  Yes, just as I will take classes at the boxing gym so I can wear cool boxing gloves I will fly in a helicopter in large part because I want to wear the head set. Maybe this blog should be renamed My Thoughts From The Shallow End? 

Serious coolness
Our pilot
It was an amazing view and I highly recommend taking this flight if you ever have the chance. Whizzing through the canyons felt like living a video game. 





    




Heading back to land at the pad
After the flight Godfrey drove us to the falls and took us on a walking tour. There are a lot of baboons near the falls and they are quite aggressive actively trying to find food that people may be carrying. At one point Godfrey picked up a big stick to threaten the baboons with so that they would stay away from us. 




baboon


Finally we walked way out on a bridge until we were about halfway across the falls. This is known as the baptism as you get soaked with water. All of the cameras and phones had to be put in a dry bag and we wore giant ponchos.  Once it was dry enough we snuck the phones out for a few quick photos.

Godfrey and me
Even though I lived in New York State for most of my life I have never visited Niagara Falls. Vic Falls is one and half times wider and twice as high as Niagara. It is also one of the seven natural wonders of the world and only the second that I have visited (I have been to the Grand Canyon.) The falls span between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Across the falls we could see people on the Zimbabwe side. And...there was no fence or barricade between them and the falls. Imagine if the ground is wet and you slip? 

The wet season at Victoria Falls is February and March. At this time approximately 500 million liters of water is flowing through the falls per minute. November is the dry season and the water volume is reduced to about 10 million liters per minute.  

You would think nothing could top a morning of flying over and getting sprayed on by Vic Falls. But, in the afternoon we had the amazing opportunity to walk with rhinos.

Due to an epidemic of poaching for their horns, rhinos are critically endangered. Nine of the eleven white rhinos that live in Zambia live in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park where we visited. These rhinos are tracked and watched 24 hours a day seven days a week by armed Zambian Wildlife Authority guards. The guards carry AK-47s and they follow the rhinos around making sure they do not become victims of poaching. The guards have been instructed to shoot now and ask questions later if they suspect a poacher. This is how serious the poaching problem is in Africa. We had the chance to see four of the nine white rhinos that live in the park. Also, white rhinos aren't white. You can tell a white rhino versus a black one as the white have more of a square shaped mouth. 


You can see by our shadows just how close we were to the rhinos.
Mr. Deep and one of the guards

Mr. Deep gave the guards a donation to thank them for their work and then they were more than happy to pose with us for a photo. Their names were Stanley, Echo and Charlie. Now that I am writing this I wonder if those were not their real names because it sounds like military speak. Maybe they are undercover due to the dangerous nature of their work.





Sunday, August 28, 2016

Zam!

I'm finally getting back to posting about the amazing vacation we took in June. After Jacana, we went to Livingstone, (as in Dr. Livingstone I presume) Zambia. To get from Jacana to Livingstone, Zambia, we took four flights and then ended up at a real airport, meaning not a dirt air strip, called Kasane. At Kasane we went through customs, "checked out" of Botswana and were told to wait in the lounge for our pilot. We waited for just a few minutes and then a representative from Wilderness Safaris came over and introduced us to our pilot. I think his name was Steve. You'd think I remember that since Mr. Deep's name is Steve...I mean Stephen. 

Steve walked us out onto the tarmac to the plane. It was just the three of us. There was no co-pilot or flight attendant. Steve asked about our travels thus far. When he learned we'd been flying around in the small planes for the better part of a week he asked us if we wanted to recite the safety spiel to him. We did, he filled in a few gaps in the information, and we were on our way. I sat in the front with pilot Steve and Mr. Deep sat behind us. Steve told us that since we were the only passengers he would take our flight over Victoria Falls so we could get a good look and then he would take us to Livingstone Airport. 

I think I have somewhat of an overactive imagination. While we were flying, somehow, I got the idea in my head that maybe Steve wasn't a real pilot. Although he obviously did know how to fly as at the time I came up with this notion we were already in the air. So I thought that maybe he was a real pilot but not the pilot we were supposed to have. Do you ever have these strange paranoid thoughts? A few things made me wonder. First, the lack of a co-pilot and the fact that we had had one on all of the other flights. Second, he asked us to recite the safety briefing. Was this because he didn't know it? Third, would a real pilot with a schedule volunteer to fly us over Victoria Falls? Didn't he have something he needed to do? Fourth, and most alarming, he was wearing street clothes. I couldn't say anything to Mr. Deep about my theory because I wasn't sitting next to him. And since I couldn't come up with any motive as to why Steve would pretend to be our pilot if he really wasn't, I just told myself that I was crazy and looked out the window. Of course he was the real pilot after all and we had a wonderful flight to Livingstone and some great aerial views of Victoria Falls. 






When we landed in Livingstone the airport was empty. We went through customs and got our visas. At the time, we thought we wanted to also visit Zimbabwe so we got a multiple entry Zambian visa. We later heard the falls viewing was better from the Zambia side (not always the case but this was the story when we were there) so we didn't end up visiting Zim after all.  

We boarded a bus (again we were the only passengers) and were taken to our final lodge Toko Leya. Toko Leya sits on the bank of the Zambezi River. Toko Leya was a good re-entry into semi-civilization. There were no restrictions on electricity meaning my hair straightener could make a triumphant return. And, after a week of being cut off from any news or communications, there was wifi in the lodge. Mr. Deep wasn't too excited about that being he was on vacation from work but I was excited to check Facebook and what'sapp chat with my friends and family. 


Toko Leya Lodge
During the orientation we were told that at Toko Leya we didn't need to wake up until 7:00 a.m.! We had been waking up at 5:30 at Chitabe and 6:00 at Jacana for our morning activities so 7:00 seemed very luxurious. 

Shortly after arriving at Toko Leya we met Godfrey, our guide. No, his name didn't contain any B's. Godfrey took us out for our first afternoon activity, a boat cruise on the Zambezi river. Even though there were other guests staying at Toko Leya we had Godfrey all to ourselves AND he was more than happy to talk about birds with Mr. Deep. On one side of the river is Zambia and on the other side Zimbabwe. We saw lots of great wildlife which I will post shortly. Below are a few photos from that first river boat cruise. 




The next morning we planned to take a helicopter ride over the falls and then visit the falls on foot. We headed to breakfast and ordered the special, huevos rancheros. Being American Mr. Deep and I love Mexican food and any time we see anything remotely Mexican on a menu we are going to order it. But it was a bad idea because the huevos rancheros took forever to make as the chef was clearly not Mexican. After 30 minutes the food finally came out out but the eggs were raw and we had to send it back. Meanwhile Godfrey was waiting to take us to the helicopter and so we were getting stressed. Finally, we ate and met up with Godfrey. 

I have a trait, one that I don't love about myself, where I need to point out when I am right and when something is not my fault. I don't know why I need to do this but I do. I am working on it. Anyway, I felt I needed to tell Godfrey why we were late because it was important to me that he know that we are not tardy people and that we did respect the schedule he had created for us. I tried to explain the situation with the the huevos rancheros but Godfrey said not to worry about it. I don't even know if he caught the part about the huevos rancheros so I again tried to tell him. I am still not sure that he got it. He told us that because of the delay he would drive us through the town for a tour and then we would take the helicopter ride a bit later. After the helicopter we would visit the falls on foot. 

He took us through the town of Livingstone. He showed us schools, the hospital, a market, disco and more. Zambia has been an independent nation since the 1960's and it seems to be doing pretty well. Godfrey said government corruption is not really a problem. The town of Livingstone is doing particularly well because as Zimbabwe continues to falter, Zambia and specifically Livingstone has become the tourism centre for Victoria Falls. 


Maize meal for sale at the market
Beans!

Lots of pretty fabrics. They gave us a piece of fabric when we left Toko Leya but I gave it to Christine since I don't sew.


A tray of eggs selling for 27 Kwacha. That's about a $2.70.
This is the wall protecting a school. To prevent people from coming over the wall they stuck broken glass into the cement. 



We then headed for our helicopter tour. More about that and our trip to Vic Falls on foot in my next post. 


About Me

My photo
Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have moved from the U.S. to South Africa for three years. We moved due to an exciting opportunity my husband had with his job. Second, I won't be working anymore. I'm actually not allowed to work so that will be different given that for the past twenty years I've been somewhat of a workaholic. I'm excited to share our adventures with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.