Thursday, August 11, 2011

Will need to fill in the gaps here...ah! just a couple of hours, I'll be together with Mom and Dad (and Mary!!! -who flew in Tuesday night) heading off for four nights in Kruger.  Tonight will be Satara, then further north to Shingwedzi, then beyond to Punda Maria and then south a bit to Mopane and then on down and out to White River to stay the night. It's going to be a whirlwind trip, but what a treat for the opportunity to go to the northern part of the Park! I love to see the changes in landscape...from the central plains, to the Mopane trees stretching as far as the eye can see, to the giant sycamore figs and jackalberry trees along the Limpopo and Levhuvhu Rivers.

I am sorry to be leaving the Wildlife College though... it's been a lovely respite for me and I've thoroughly enjoyed meeting new friends - everyone here has been so welcoming. It seems wrong to leave so soon!

I'll fill in the gaps here with more info... I've yet to share about the flying speed bump...the Shangaan dancers, going to Mochuchi Primary School, etc. More when I get back to Mozambique...

Salani kahle....stay well!!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Well, it's one of those pleasantly mild African winter evenings...the half moon is shining brightly and the stars are ever so clear! I'm trying to savour each and every moment I have. Last night, I was delighted to fall asleep listening to the sound of a white-faced owl (Here are some clips if you want to listen!). It's been very quiet most evenings...I was hoping to hear lion or hyena, but so far, nothing...or at least I'm sleeping through it.

Yesterday (Sunday), I slept in a wee bit later than usual, was at breakfast by 8AM or so and was a bit disappointed to discover that there was no church service after all... I guess because of the graduation on Friday and so many students leaving, they weren't having it after all. I wandered around the classrooms, just in case it was being held (I asked a number of students and they seemed to know nothing about it -- even though there was a flyer up on doors, notice boards, etc.). Oh well. Shame. I asked some staff folks about where they go to church (they do, but on weekends when they go back home)...

I was debating over going to spend some time reading my Bible in my room or walking the perimeter fence around the campus, when I found  out that Vali (the Canadian library volunteer) in the library so I went in and worked a bit on the display (I figured I better fit it in then since she was going to close the library at noon).

After she closed up shop, I wandered back to my room to read my Bible a bit and spend some time with God. After that, I did go and walk the perimeter (about 2.4km)...saw lots of birds, giraffe, impala and wildebeest. It was lovely!

Life is very relaxed and quiet here, something I've definitely needed -- and to be cut off from cellphones, TV, and internet (except for in here in the computer lab) is definitely a good thing, since I've been so used to going, going, going! I've needed this. Just the same though, I feel a little at a loss of what to do sometimes... I guess I was hoping to really be put to work and feel like I've done something worthwhile to help. I am painting this display for the library's 'realia' (collection of bones, skulls, nests, etc.), but it's not really 'work' if you know what I mean. I've been on three game drives so far, which has been absolutely lovely!!! But I feel kinda guilty that I'm having more fun with that, then working or volunteering, which was what I came here to do. I'm trying to take it all in stride, as an unexpecting blessing -- a time to just relax and enjoy this place. People are so friendly and nice here...everyone says hi and when they ask how you are, they mean it. It's been nice to make some new friends -- a shame to leave them so soon though! 
Yesterday afternoon, I went on a gamedrive, a lady named Sandy was driving a couple of her friends around and Matt hopped in along with some other folks. We were out for several hours, saw rhinos with babies, stopped for lots of birds (especially raptors, saw a couple brown snake eagles, a bateleur, a couple others we weren't able to identify in time), saw a gorgeous kudu bull, and the other usual folks (impala, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra...). We stopped at a waterhole at sunset and got out of the vehicle to wanderdown to the water's edge to look at tracks...pretty cool! There wasn't much there aside from white rhino and impala tracks.

We continued on our way and it got dark quickly -- always does in Africa! Sandy was having trouble changing gears and it soon became evident, after stopping to look at another raptor, that the clutch was stuck and she was having trouble even getting into gear. Thankfully one of the guys was familiar with landrovers and he jumped down to take a look. They managed to get it going but could not change the gears...we were stuck in 3rd. We were still several kilometers away from the campus so we tried to go the shortest route possible, which included 7kms along the boundary fence (heading parallel to the tar road going to Orpen). Sandy handed me the spotlight, as I was sitting directly behind her so I dutifully shone it back and forth --- only problem was that we couldn't stop! (We might not get it started again) We bumped along the road, saw several bushbabies in the trees, wildebeest, zebra and impala by spotlight...had a couple close calls with scrub hare, nightjars and a couple red-crest korhaans that didn't want to get out of the way, but thankfully everything moved out of the way in time to let us through (thankfully no rhino or ellies in the way either!!).

They managed to get the landrover into 4th gear, so we were going a bit faster, but it made for a really bumping ride, driving along the perimeter fence!! There were several steep (and bumpy!) descents down into dry streambeds and equally bumpy ascents too! We took it all in stride though...I tried to shine the spotlight on up ahead so that we could anticipate what was ahead -- it really felt like the bush-version of a roller coaster! Anyway, we eventually made it back and pulled up in front of reception (which is where the poor vehicle sat until this morning, until it was taken away to be repaired). Oh all made for a memorable experience!

After the drive, I wandered over to the volunteer/staff housing area to join the volunteers having a farewell braai for one of the guys (yesterday morning he set off for the Kalahari, his new employment). I tried to make myself useful, helping to get dinner ready...a bunch of us sat around the fire, warming our feet and listening to stories...the guy who was leaving is a real story-teller and had us all laughing. It's clear that he will be missed! It was nice evening, all around and I felt welcomed into the bunch.

On a slightly lower-note, I seem to be fighting a cold or something. This evening I'm feeling much better, but I get this tickle in my throat and cannot stop coughing. The thatched apartment I'm in has just a screen in a section of the thatched roof (architectural design) which would normally be quite lovely, but because it was so cold the last few nights, it's been a bit drafty. I've been wrapping my capulana around my neck and face and that does seem to help (my blankets are very nice and warm). I've also been drinking a couple cups of tea in the mornings... most mornings they serve hot porridge which is delicious! 
I've not even started to recount today's activities... so I think I'll leave them for tomorrow. To be continued...

Saturday, August 6, 2011 I've skipped a week in between (will try to go back later and fill in the gaps on the Gaza trip, etc. -- every time I come over to Africa, I realize how technology isn't the highest priority here)...

So here I am at the Southern African Wildlife College and thoroughly enjoying myself (can't post any photos at present, those will have to come later). Am sitting here in the computer lab...feeling sleepy, but excited -- and Mum, you are right, the nervousness is wearing off! Just had a good meal of squash, pasta and meat/gravy and salad (the vuswa was finished, shame!).

Thursday morning my parents and I set off around 6am from Maputo and made it up here to the college around 2pm or so. It was interesting to drive up the R40 and see how once-familiar towns and villages (and landscapes!) have changed. In some cases they were so developed, I doubt I'd have recognized them! 
We took a turn around the old Arthurseat mission, where I grew up in the '80's. It's in a pretty sorry state now. Especially our house....was rather heartbreaking as we reminisced of what it used to be like when we were there.
We continued on down the R40, made a brief stop in at the Acornhoek Pick-n-Pay for some AA batteries and then it was on to the college. Mom and Dad stayed just along for me to meet up with someone to take me on to my little apartment, and they headed on back to Maputo (a long trek ahead of them, shame!).

The people here at the college are so friendly and as I was given a tour and introduced to folks, the response was "what?! Just one week?!" I got a tour of the place right after sticking my stuff in my apartment, on the end of a thatched building of about 6 apartments. Mine is #17 "Nyika". It has 2 beds, a little fridge, a nice little bathroom and a spacious, lovely thatched roof. I took the bed by the window and opened it a bit (just so I can hopefully hear lion and hyena during the nights --nothing yet).

I digress...after sticking my bags in there, Blondie, the lady showing me around, took me over to the library - a small but really pleasant place - and I met the volunteers (one from Canada and an assistant to her from Switzerland). They both seem really nice - one thing they asked me to is set up a display in the library for their 'realia' (nests, skulls, 'pickled reptiles', etc.) as it is largely an empty space they'd like to have filled (they asked the right person). I  reported for duty around 8:00AM yesterday (Friday) and got started on it. This coming Monday I'll be going out with Matt (who is responsible for community outreach) to Welwierdend to do some outreach and it sounds like this afternoon (Sat.) there might be a game drive I can join (I got to go on one on Thursday and Friday afternoons!!).

One of the longer-term volunteers is leaving tomorrow so on Thursday, everyone (the staff, that is) went out for a "farewell game drive" and since someone decided they weren't going after all, there was room for me to come along. We took two game drive vehicles, each with a tray of sandwiches and other appetizers and coolers full of cooldrinks. We drove in a big meandering circle around the camp -- didn't see TOO much, impala, warthog and zebra. We pulled up near a herd of wildebeest and got out to have our snack and drings. The administrator folks made a little speech, thanking the guy for all he's done the past year (sounds like he's dating the volunteer in the library--the gal from Canada. He's moving to the Kalahari and it sounds like next year, she'll be following him out that way).

Anyway, as we were milling around, chatting, I greeted the guy who had been sitting in front me in the vehicle. He introduced himself as George Kanjere....we got talking and lo and behold, he's a NAZARENE PASTOR!!! Lebowa something-or-other Church of the Nazarene. He doesn't work here, but his wife Miriam does. He was "adopted" by fellow Nazarene missionaries and was so excited that I knew them too. I was able to give him their daughter's email address --so he can surprise her (they'd all lost contact long, long ago). A number of the folks it seems attend that Church. Pretty cool!!! There is, I discovered, an Interdenominational Church here on Sundays in one of the classrooms, from 9 - 11, so I think I'll maybe just attend that tomorrow.

Anyway, after speeches and snacking, we hopped back in the vehicles to complete the circuit around back to the campus, when we came up about 5-6 elephant bulls, one quite impressive. We stopped and watched a while before moving on and heading back to campus. Once back, I finally met Matt-- he'd just gotten back a short time before and promised to meet up with me for dinner. I was a little at a loss of what to do next, so I just wandered around a little and went on back to my little apartment, unpacked a few things and got settled. Dinner was at 6pm at the cafeteria but it was only just past 5pm, so I stepped back out to wander. A lady named Nel, who I'd met just a briefly during the tour around, passed by me and then called back at me to see if I wanted to go for a walk. We walked about a third of the fence perimeter. Didn't see much, but it was beautiful, especially the sunset!! (Yes, Dad, I got some sunset shots of those mountains!!) It got dark pretty quickly and we headed back towards the buildings. Nel is here to recruit learners and teach about 11-12 people from the surrounding area (and as far afield as Phalaborwa) --it's not conservation, but microfinance. She's a city gal (lives in Joburg) and has been here just about 2 weeks, so still rather new here herself. We had a lovely chat while walking around. She showed me a few more areas around campus.

There was quite a line for dinner as the field ranger trainees were having a braai --though I didn't see it happening, actually-- Nel went to the boma area (for faculty and visiting lecturer folks). Matt met up with me and we got into line with the rest of the students at the dining hall. Dinner was very good, Matt and I sat with one of the lecturers (I forget his name, ah! But he teaches environmental ethics, soil erosion, bush fire management, etc.). He's in the midst of grading cumulative exams and other assignments (in total about 400 tests, ugh!). We had an interesting chat....he was telling us all about the poaching going on in Kruger from Mozambique (from Nwanedzi down all the way to Crocodile). According to him, people in Moz are provided with weapons and even the police are in on it. They hide out along the Lebombos in late afternoon, seeking out rhino, shoot them and then wait until dusk to go in and retrieve them. He shared about an instance where SA police and rangers were onto some poachers and when they got close, they heard a whirring sound and a huge transport helicopter emerged from behind a kopjie. The SA folks had to retreat, they were no match. Another recent instance was a whole herd of buffalo that ended up in no-man's land (a 500 meter strip between SA and Moz). Apparently the Moz. police managed to get them over onto the Mozambique side, where they were picked off one by one. So obviously poaching is still a big thing. Shame. All interesting stuff though...I'm taking it all in.

Folks are surprised when I share my background with them and in some cases, their manner changes towards me somewhat --particularly when I shared about growing up nearby and spending a year at Drakensig. I've been practicing my  Zulu on several people --  it gives them a good laugh and they have pronounced me good (phew!!). I've forgotten a lot though, so need to continue to practice!

I've no TV, computer or cell phone at all, so it has been very quiet -- doing me lots of good, I think!!
Breakfast is from 7-8am and I have my meals in the cafeteria with the field ranger trainees...they come from all over South Africa, so it has been interesting to sit and talk to them during meals. Lunch is 12 to 1, with a line going out the door if you arrive spot on at 12 (better to come early or a bit later).

Yesterday, the Field Ranger trainees graduated and I was asked to help photograph the ceremony. It was interesting to watch them do their drills on the soccer field and then to stand in and watch the ceremony in the dininghall afterwards. Last night they were up until the wee hours in the Bush Pub, playing music, dancing and drinking. I went to my apartment fairly early on (just after dinner) as I wasn't feeling too well (sore throat -beginnings of a cold?!), but I wrapped up snug on my bed and enjoyed reading my book for a while before turning the lights off early.

There's not been much to do around here today...being Saturday and after graduation, the place is very quiet. Some students are new (just completing their first week), but they are mostly in classes or out doing field training, so the campus buildings are fairly quiet. The resource center is closed today, so I wasn't sure what to do with myself -- felt a bit guilty for running off on a later afternoon game drive yesterday afternoon (Matt asked me and I couldn't resist! (We had two separate sightings of white rhino!!)), so I felt like I should probably be doing some work and 'earning my keep'. Met an American lady this morning at breakfast who is a field biologist studying Samango monkeys a ways from here. I ended up giving her an impromptu tour of the campus. She's actually a missionary too -- pretty cool! Had a lovely time chatting with her and just about the time that I was at a loss of what to do next, one of the long-term volunteers came along and I ended up being shown the staff residential area and helping her clean up the shared staff kitchen. We chopped up onions so she could make onion chutney later. The other volunteers popped in and out, one was taking his final exam for FGASA (Field Guide Assoc. of SA), which was interesting to listen to (what little bits I heard). I had a nice time getting to know them better. At noon I wandered off to lunch and here I am. I hear there is a game drive at 3pm, so I'll see if I can hop on there (if there is a space). I'll bundle up as it's noticeably cooler today, with a stiff wind and cloudy skies. I'm a little worried about my sore throat, but hopefully it won't get too much worse.

Anyway...that's it for now. Sorry no photos yet....I cannot upload them from my memory card onto these computers, so I'll save the photos for when I'm back in Mozambique again.