I have just completed my six weeks of volunteer work and my week tour (more of a vacation) along the Garden Route. Now, I begin a complete new journey… one that involves school (ugh… just kidding!) at the University of Cape Town. But before I begin, I thought this would be a good point to look back on my journey and reflect on the time and experiences I have had here in Africa thus far. Along with my blog, I have also been keeping a journal—more of a personal one for myself. Although all of this writing is quite time consuming, I know I will appreciate it so much in the years to come. Normally I wouldn’t do this, but I decided to share a bit with you from my own, personal journal (leaving out just a few details) as I wrote a bit of reflection (sorry if it is a bit lengthy, but I think it sums my trip up pretty well so far and I certainly hope it’s worth your time!):
“Not going to lie, I am pretty darn jealous that all of my best friends are together at home right now spending some quality hangout, summer time with one another and I am left here, alone wishing I could be with them (even just for a few hours)… but I know that this will be over far too soon and that they will still be there when I get back. As this entire trip approached, I questioned whether I had made the right decision in coming to Africa, especially in the coming early aspect. I missed out on an entire summer at home, hands down my favorite time of the year! This also meant leaving family, friends, horse time, Daisy time, missing the Fourth of July, missing time at the lake, and just missing home in general. I remember even questioning my decision as I got on the plane as I was literally giving up everything I knew and everything I was comfortable with and heading to some random place in Africa… I had no idea really what I was going to be doing, where I would be staying, or who I was even suppose to meet at the airport once I arrived. I was completely shocked when I walked into my dorm room at my backpackers for the first time… it was nothing like what I had expected as there were mosquito nets and six bunk beds crammed into a small, small room. I remember Lameck leaving me with my suitcases and alone in the room, I simply broke down. I remember literally crying to myself that I just wanted to go home and see my parents (see sometimes I want to see you guys… just kidding!). A special friend also gave me a care package that made leaving even that much harder so I was pretty much longing for home at this point. This was the ultimate shock of my trip—I was nineteen years old and by myself, alone in Africa. I remember making a decision right then and there however and it was a decision to make the most of the opportunity I had. I was now over here in Africa, away from my family, friends, and everything I knew… and now I couldn’t really do much about it… heading home was not even an option so it was either be miserable and cry alone in my room or go out and explore all that Africa has to offer. Fortunately I chose the latter… to take this opportunity and run with it as these are literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and who knows when I would ever be back in Africa again. I can assure myself that I made the right decision and I have no doubt that these experiences will forever make a difference in my life. I can’t believe that seven weeks have already passed and that my time of volunteering is over (well, let’s be honest… it will never really be over, but over in a sense of that being my sole purpose). In those seven weeks (six of which were truly volunteer work while the last was a bit more of a vacation… a definite educational vacation however up the Garden Route), I can’t even put into words all that I did and all that I experienced… it was jammed packed and I definitely can say that I made the most of my experience. Starting in Zambia, I was opened up to a world of poverty that was unimaginable and quite honestly unexplainable. I visited a village where making a dollar a day was considered a good living but despite the incredible poverty, they were so welcoming and excited that I was there visiting their village. This was the same village that Paul was introducing the solar powered lighting units to. Traveling, especially alone, forces you to open up and meet people… although there have been some crazy ones along the way, most of them have been amazing and they all have their own stories to share.
In Zambia, I met Louise and Sister Mary and even just six weeks later, I can say that I certainly miss them already! I was so thankful for Louise who became my buddy quickly and we literally did everything together—saw an mind-blowing sunset over the Zambezi river, went on a safari in Botswana, and even bungee jumped both for the first time together! Sister Mary was just about the nicest person one could ever meet and I was so grateful when she invited me into her home for lunch… it was neat to see how locals really live. I met a few other locals like Boyd who gave us drumming lessons and many teachers, student teachers and students at Libala Basic School. Granted I had absolutely no previous teaching experience what-so-ever and had absolutely no qualifications, I gave teaching a try and I absolutely loved it! I taught science and math to about fifty kids in grade four… although there were a lot of them and they could get a bit loud at times… I loved it! They were all so excited to have a new, American teaching them…, even if it took me awhile to become accustomed to them referring to me as “teacher” (a bit foreign of a concept for me). These kids were wonderful and the entire experience really makes one appreciate all that you are given at home and in America (or anywhere else in a developed country). But what really stole my heart were the kids (or rather my new friends) from the Lubasi Home. These kids literally had nothing; some didn’t even have a pair of shoes. Although it was incredibly hard seeing this as I know my life is just about completely 100% opposite from theirs, I had the most wonderful experience ever. Kids are kids and all they want is some love and attention which unfortunately they didn’t get enough of! It was such a fulfilling experience to volunteer there as we simply played and spent time together… showing them that someone still does indeed care about them. I enjoyed my alone, “big girl” time with David along with pushing the little ones on the swing. These are the moments that I will never forget and the experiences that are so unique. It is so hard to put into words how much of an impact all of these experiences have had on myself but I know that they are only positive and I couldn’t be more grateful for them.
Next, I was off to play with lions at a lion conservation project in Zimbabwe. Besides completely falling in love with the animal and gaining four new, furry friends, I gained a lot from the conservation work. I learned all about the problems here in Africa with the diminishing wildlife and the efforts they are taking to prevent animals from becoming extinct. I have always been the biggest animal lover so it was a complete joy working with the massive and surprisingly sweet animals even if there was a lot of “dirty work” involved… like cleaning the enclosures and preparing their food with bare hands (nothing like pulling apart and sawing zebra meat). Fortunately, I met some wonderful friends in the process and I couldn’t have asked for a better two weeks as I met two wonderful volunteers who became very close friends of mine. Sarah and Monika (from Norway) are two of the nicest people I have ever met… literally. It was so great getting to know them and I can practically guarantee that I will see them again… in fact they’re planning a trip to visit me here in Cape Town! I have a feeling that I will also be headed to Norway soon as I may know of a few free, open beds which I could sleep in! they made this portion of the trip more than I could have asked for and we surely had a LOT of fun whether it had been during our culture lessons or at night. They also made my birthday extra special… it was definitely my best one yet! Of course it was great getting to know the other volunteers and the entire Mesuwe staff as well—both at work and not at work! Zimbabwe was incredible and never in my craziest dreams would I have expected to walk with a lion let alone spend two weeks with them!
So far here in Africa, I have learned plenty of life lessons along the way as well… like to always double and triple check that you have all of your belongings (passport… cough, cough). Fortunately everything turned out and now it will just be a great story about my high-stressed adventure in route to South Africa. I was pretty shocked when I arrived at African Dawn my first day and figured out two things… the first being that I was actually living on an isolated farm and the second being how cold Africa can really get. The first night was miserable as I cuddled up under my one blanket and shivered throughout the entire night. Luckily I got a sleeping bag the next nights, making them bearable at least! I really enjoyed my two weeks at African Dawn but it was a perfect length of time as the work was exhausting and another two weeks would have gotten quite long… but at least I really enjoyed the time I had while there! I also learned that I still really dislike birds! They had a ridiculous number of birds (like 2,000 or so) and I just never really grew fond of them… I find them to be quite loud, annoying, and messy… but I’m glad that some people like them! However, I fell in love with the other animals that they had at the sanctuary… especially with Indie, the cheetah cub. I got to spend a lot of time playing with her and I was amazed by how similar she was to a domestic cat… she even purred as she rubbed up against my legs. Now all I have to do is find a way to get one home with me. I also really liked all of the other wildlife that they had like the monkeys, kudu, servals, lynx, emu, cows, sheep, etc. Although the mornings were early and it was a lot of hard work (and oh so bitterly cold), the work was certainly worthwhile as we (the volunteers) literally took care of the animals. I felt a bit like a zookeeper as we prepared their food then fed them all twice a day and looked after them… making sure they were all happy and healthy. With more than 250 species of animals, I was definitely in animal lovers’ heaven and I learned a lot about the animals in the process. I met a lot of great volunteers but there was definitely a special one named Anne and the two of us cliqued immediately. We were inseparable (except when we were assigned to different jobs) and I loved getting to know her… she definitely is considered a good friend and I will be adding Germany to the places I will be visiting… right after Norway! Timing-wise, it worked out perfect as we were able to spend a few days in Knysna before ironically making our way to Cape Town on the same day. We randomly visited during their big, annual oyster festival so we had a great two days… and we of course had to take part so I even tried my first oyster! It was awesome getting to spend a few extra days with a friend in what many consider to be the prettiest city in all of South Africa (and of what I’ve seen so far, I might just have to agree!).
Despite spending only twelve hours in Cape Town before I started my tour of the Garden Route, I was able to hit up Long Street with Anne and her friends making for a fun but very short night! My last week was basically a vacation as we toured the Garden Route from Cape Town to Addo Elephant National Pack and back again. With only a week’s time, we were on the go a lot but we got to do and see so much… we saw penguins, dolphins, lots of animals on the safari, caves, and so much more… all of which had picturesque scenery to go with it! We partook in wine tasting, swam in hot springs, and visited many different national parks along the way. I even to bungee jump off the world’s tallest bungee jump… of course loved every second of it! However, the highlight of the trip for me hands down was the horse ride along the beach… I was definitely deprived of a good ride and this certainly fulfilled my passion for a little while. I can’t even explain how fabulous it was just to let loose and go… galloping down the beach… ahh it was amazing! We got to explore a lot of cities as we made our way up and back along the Garden Route and I even stood at the most Southern Point in Africa! It is amazing all that South Africa has to offer and it was also a very educational trip as I learned A LOT while also having a lot of fun! I met some great, fun people as well on the trip!
The whole experiences, all seven weeks, have been mind-blowing. It seems like the time went so fast but in looking back, leaving my family at the Omaha airport along with the life I knew seems like forever ago. Sure, I miss my family and friends… alright, I miss them a whole heck of a lot but I also know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I have certainly lived it to the fullest! I have absolutely no regrets in the decisions I made and I can guarantee that I have grown as a person because of my experience.”
I really appreciate those of you reading this as it makes the very time consuming writing definitely worth it. I hope that maybe it has inspired you to partake in a bit of an adventure of your own… in whatever way best suits and interests you! However, do some volunteer work in the process as I hope and bet that you would find it just as rewarding as I have myself. And always live life to the fullest… you’ll never know when you’ll have the same opportunity again.