Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

Although it got off to a rocky start, soon I had to ride in the trunk so all of our members could fit in the car!

Although it got off to a rocky start, soon I had to ride in the trunk so all of our members could fit in the car!

It’s no secret that when I first arrived as volunteer coordinator in May of 2011, my personality and the Zulu culture clashed. Badly.

The hardest lessons I have learned over the last 28 months have been about how to alter my conduct when working in another culture. It was particularly hard, as a young woman, to gain respect in a patriarchal atmosphere that holds experience, masculinity and age in high regard.

I had none of these things going for me.

And so for my first few months I fumbled along trying to make my mark as a coordinator. Mostly this consisted of attempts to work as hard and as much as possible. All I got was called “active.”

Then came a blessing in disguise – as my contract got extended I gained the opportunity to facilitate one of our weekly support groups in a community called Ezwenelisha – which means ‘a new world’ – and oh boy was it ever.

Fun with pedicures!

Fun with pedicures!

I was stoked for my first meeting with the weekly group, whose numbers had dwindled as the result of local politics and employment. Myself and the volunteers readied our plans, packed up the car, and headed to the group’s meeting point.

No one showed up. How anticlimactic!

However, bolstered by my fellow coordinator and local South African Nokwethemba, over the next two years the group grew and evolved. Nokwethemba busily recruited members of our 10 Families and home based care programmes, we made exciting and interactive plans like teaching about snake bites and performing pedicures on the members.

Slowly but surely I gained the respect of the group, and I found that once I relaxed and really started to bond with the community I started gaining, not the respect I thought I wanted, but the camaraderie of the communities, locals and even our staff.


Our last meeting, with Monique, who will now be taking over the facilitation of the group.

It was with a heavy heart that I spent my last morning on project with my Ezwenelisha Support Group. We had gone through so much together; domestic disputes and violence, stigma around HIV status, visits to the beach, St Lucia and Crocodile Centre, the death of both my grandfathers, one of our members and many, many of the group’s friends and relatives.

This group of incredible men and women taught me about loving and grieving. They taught me that it was okay to ask questions at any and be unsure, and to lean on others for support. However, most of all, the group taught me about respect – how it’s earned, how to show it and how important it can be.

I owe a lot of my growth over the last two years to this group, and how through them I learned about relationships, respect, and most of all, how to just relax.


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How time flies

Just over a year ago, I was playing this song on repeat.

It’s funny how so much can change in such a small space of time.

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You can also read this blog on GotSaga.

From the relatively obscure to the well traveled, my adventures are far from over. Up until now, here is a list of places that I would return to in a heartbeat and that I recommend you visit at least once.

1. Antrim coast, Northern Ireland

Breathtaking Northern Ireland’s hidden jewel is a car trip that can easily be navigated within a day, as the road around the north of the country has four magnificent sights. It’s such a great experience that I did it twice.

First stop is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, once used by fisherman and though not for the faint of heart, even if you don’t to cross the bridge its locale provides great views. Second is Torr Head, just off the Causeay Coastal Route which is another great lookout, though not as fantastic as the medieval Dunluce Castle, whose kitchen once crumbled into the sea. Finally the volcanic anomaly of the Giant’s Causeway, the most popular attraction in Northern Ireland, is the last, but not least stop on the road.

2. Drakensberg, South Africa

Trekking and hiking are among my favourite activities to do abroad, which is probably why climbing the Drakensberg mountains in Zululand ranks a very close second on my list.

A relatively easy climb for the inexperienced mountaineer, the mountain has breathtaking views from all altitudes. It may take a couple days, but one can camp or stay in beautiful mountainside lodges as they make their way up the mountain. Once at its peak, you’ll find yourself standing on top of Tugela Falls, the world’s second-largest waterfall.

Full of beautiful gorges and the rare opportunity to drink straight from the fall’s crystal streams, it’s a must-see for anyone traveling to South Africa.

3. Ezuluweni Valley, Swaziland

Swaziland is one of the most underestimated travel locations in southern Africa. With plenty of adventure attractions combined with luxury hostels and spas on the cheap, the Ezulwini Valley has everything any traveler could want in one street.

Surrounded by beautiful hills filled with typical African flora and fauna, Swaziland is rife with culture and beauty. Quad biking, game drives, white water rafting and caving all provide great experiences for the adventurous traveler. At the same time, spas and luxurious bed and breakfasts will please any traveler looking to relax on the cheap. I loved it so much the first time jumped at the opportunity to return two years later.

4. Santorini, Greece

Home to the best Greek salad I’ve ever tasted, this small Greek island is packed with activities for every breed of traveler. Whether you choose to hit the bars, stroll the streets or quad bike around the small island, you’re sure to be satisfied – and the beaches will not disappoint. If you arrive by boat, riding the donkeys up the steep slope from the harbour is a must – not only is it thrilling but you’ll be laughing about it for the rest of the day.

5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

My first experience on mainland Europe has really stayed with me, however it’s probably because I did everything right during my brief stay in this beautiful city.

If you only have 24 hours like I did, I highly recommend visiting the Amsterdam Historical Museum, located in what was once the city’s orphanage. Having a friend who was attending the university, I was able to borrow a bicycle and see the city the way it should be seen, and I recommend renting a bike and doing the same. And of course, don’t miss a brief stop in one of the local coffee shops.

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With my latest adventure (the possibility of seeing Egypt) being squashed by me hosting an international visitor myself in the next two weeks, I’ve been living vicariously through my new favourite person.

Backpack with Brock has taken over my Google Reader and become my new favourite person to follow. Traveling through Europe (for the moment), Brock is a Canadian backpacker who gives traveling tips through vlogging. He’s personable, funny, and he gives great advice.

It’s incredible how some people have been able to fund their entire trips by setting up personal websites. Although not always as visibly appealing as some independently-run blogs, mostly because of the added distraction of advertisements, they’re a great resource for learning about traveling and backpacking from a reliable source in the field.

Finding those reliable sources can be hard. I’ve mostly taken to Twitter, following companies like Lonely Planet as they link out to other independent travelers. I stumbled upon this gem of the Top 25 Most Inspiring Travel Bloggers in 2010, which has given me plenty of reading material. The website As We Travel isn’t half bad either.

Happy reading!


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Everyone I have spoken to so far that has been traveling agrees – if you walk like you know where you’re going, people won’t bother you because you don’t look like an easy target. When you look like you’re in control, if you can create the illusion of being in-the-know, you sweep by everyone with ease. To master this ability is like art.

My first day back on the road was a little tough. This trip was supposed to be taken with someone else, and being by myself is something I haven’t experienced in a long time.

For now though, I’m in Amsterdam with Emily. Yesterday she showed me around the city. I’m feeling somewhat melancholy that I should be leaving Europe so soon, since this was supposed to be just that: a trip to Europe. Change happens, as I wrote in a previous blog, and I must adapt. This trip is about enjoying every minute and not wishing my life away. Stop to smell the roses while you can, right?

It’s important, my mom always taught me, to live like this. Not hoping for tomorrow, when I’ll be back in South Africa, but to live in this moment, in a beautiful cafe in rainy Amsterdam.

And to pretend that I belong. This trip is about pushing my boundaries in a different way than I have before. It’s about fooling people into believing that I am confident when I am not.

Emily and I rode bikes around Amsterdam last night. For anyone who knows me, they know I am scared of bikes. For some reason I feel more comfortable on the back of a 17-hand, unpredictable Warmblood stallion than I do on the seat of a bike.

But I fooled everyone (except Emily who knew how scared I was). We rode through the red light district, through the town square. It was one of the most beautiful and exhilarating experiences of my life, and I’ll never forget it.

If you walk (or ride) like you know where you’re going, no one will know you are scared to death of bikes and the porters won’t bother you in the Johannesburg airport. No one will know that you are walking in the opposite direction, that you’re scared to death, or that it’s your first joint.

They’ll think you fit right in, that you were born to walk with confidence.

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No, I’m not having a break down. This is the part where I give you an overview of what I’m going to be doing in KwaZulu-Natal with African Impact.

Firstly, let me explain to you some ongoing South African history and some current events.

South Africa is among the 7 sub-Saharan African nations whose HIV prevalence exceeds 15%. There are approximately 5.7 million South Africans living with HIV and current statistics state that the country’s easternmost province, KwaZulu Natal, suffers from the greatest HIV prevalence rates, holding strong at 37% of the population. In some areas, like Dougoudougou (or Khula as it is called), rates are estimated at between 70 and 80%.

HIV can be treated with antiretroviral drug therapy. The therapy includes a cocktail or drugs that are administered at a certain time every day, orally, by the patient suffering from the virus. ARVs slow the progression of HIV into AIDS (where an individuals CD4, fighter cells, are below a count of 200, when a normal person can have upwards of 1,000). I know, it is all very complicated, but hopefully I can clarify a little more along the way. The South African government did not allow ARVs into wide circulation until November 19th, 2003, for various political and social reasons. Without boring you with the details here is the link to an overview on Mbeki’s delay of ARVs to state run clinics.

Before I arrive, there will have been an election where ANC leader Jacob Zuma is said to easily win a victory. ANC is Nelson Mandela’s party, which arose out of South Africa’s legacy of white apartheid rule. St.Lucia, where the project house is based, was one of the last towns to give up apartheid rule and racism is still rampant in the area.

The Project

I am travelling with African Impact, the largest African volunteer agency, operating in 8 African countries.

In the mornings, I will be working at a local clinic with a nurse I met last year. I will be providing nurses with some much needed relief by performing basic medical procedures like taking blood pressure or weighing babies. The clinic supports 20,000 Zulu locals, and sees over 100 patients daily. I will also be teaching the nurses basic computer skills.

The project also includes a home-based care program, where a group of women travel around the village to visit the sick who are unable to make the trip to the clinic. I will aid these women by accompanying them and caring for the sick.

In the afternoons I will work on community building, painting and farming projects as well as teaching an HIV education course.

The projects run all day, and most of the time volunteers who are willing to emerse themselves in their jobs eat, sleep and breathe their work. Weekends are a time where I will get to experience local culture, go on trips and do some adventure tourism as well as go on bush walks and do some photography with African Impact’s photography project and our guide Theo.

Whew! That was a crazy overview. Ten days until lift-off and hopefully I will get a video blog posted up here for you all!! In the meantime, below you can see a little video-diary of my last trip to KwaZulu Natal. I’m sure you’ll recognize some of the people and places from future videos. And check out The Cord website (though the link above) to see other Wilfrid Laurier students’ blogs from their overseas adventures…

and I hope to see you back here following mine!!


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Emma's African Impact

Emma's African Internship

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Flip-Flops and a Backpack

traveling as told by Kassie

The Duke St. Diggers

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