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Watching Maverick grow up was also a major highlight of 2012.

Better late than never, right?

Here is a list of some of our fun 2012 highlights, as decided upon between Carla, Miriam, Sofie and myself. Obviously when you work somewhere where you get to help people every day, there are countless highlights. However, these ones stuck out to us mostly because they embody the randomness and hilariousness that were our lives in 2012.

Ice cream corkage fee

The local restaurant didn’t have any exciting desserts, so we ran over to the store to grab some ice cream. Little did we know, when we were to bring it back the restaurant owner would charge us R30 for each ice cream.

That was quickly remedied by a visit by Carla to his office.

Prank on Henk

Not sure why all of our highlights occurred in Reef and Dune (see above), but once again on an evening out for dinner, a large group of us pulled a very nasty prank on our epically slow waiter. Running out of the restaurant and hiding behind a big bus, the look on his face was almost as priceless as how many other patrons came up and thanked us for our comedic performance.

Getting lost in RCB

When local South Africans give directions like: “Just look for the airplane on a big stick” you know you’re going to get lost. This is exactly what happened to Sofie and I when we tried to pick up our car in Richard’s Bay. Lesson to all: this town’s roads lead to the middle of no where.

World AIDS Day

Check out what we did for World AIDS Day – always a highlight of every year.

As you can see, there was very little champagne to go around, but it was enjoyed anyway.

As you can see, there was very little champagne to go around, but it was enjoyed anyway.

Team Champagne Dinner

Sofie arranged a lovely dinner out for our staff, which funnily coincided with me getting accepted into my MSc programme. Our Zulu staff thought I was joking when I said I’d buy us all champagne, but I did! Many questions then arose about how the bubbly would make everyone drunk, loud singing on the drive home ensued and a few headaches were felt the next morning.

Everyone had about three sips.

Finishing the container

Now for the real highlights – on project stuff. We were finally able to arrange the entire container into a library, and every Friday kids now read, hear stories and have the occasional dance. After months of organising, it was a great accomplishment to see.

Inkanyezi opening

Not to mention what a great honour it was to see the opening of Inkanyezi Creche. Seeing the principal, Mama Gumede, open the doors for the first time is a sight that will never leave us.

Chickens

Peak season at any job can be tough, and ours was busier than usual when the African Impact – Mozambique project was forced to close down due to visa issues and we were suddenly flooded with double the amount of volunteers for which we had planned.

Typically, we fed our stress each Sunday (sometimes Saturday) with a slow-roasted chicken from the local grocery store. Soaking in grease and delivered in a paper bag, we made sandwiches, or just picked chicken off the carcass, usually while watching Keeping up with the Kardashians on Chris’ TV. Let’s just say it kept us sane.

Team meetings everywhere

Dancing

When you work in the field of development, team meetings and pow-wows have to happen everywhere, anywhere and at any time. In the parking lot of the house, over coffee, after a few drinks, at the mechanic, in a bed, on the top of a mountain from your cell phone – when a meeting is needed, it is held.

Sofie’s birthday

Our most epic party was Sofie’s birthday – hands down. Everything typical of a night in South Africa – crappy music from the 90s, dancing, a blender, six litres of cocktails, a tasty braai, and whatever is happening in this photo.

Funny ailments

From bites and rashes to intestinal infections and flu, the volunteers came down with many ailments in 2012. But nothing could compare to Miriam, Sofie and I, who were all diagnosed with different types of fungal infections on the same day. Toenail, head, chin, each one of us left the pharmacy with a different concoction of sprays, pills and creams.

We’re so attractive.

Cyclone

Let’s just say, Sofie left for a week and in the meantime a cyclone hit and the house flooded. I don’t want to talk about it. Why did we say this was a highlight!?

Motorcycle accident

Every once in a while, while living in South Africa, there is a good chance you will stumble across an act of racism. However, one night I also witnessed two Afrikaans men refuse to help a fellow white South African after he had assaulted a black man for doing absolutely nothing. And then been bumped off his motorcycle in retaliation. True karma.

No volunteers reading club

Every once in a while, when there are no volunteers, us staff take over and take time to remember how incredible it is to be a volunteer.

Magic Mike

The one time in 2012 that we all went to watch a film and we chose Magic Mike. Think about that.

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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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Top 5 of T.O.

This blog was also published by GotSaga.

Sometimes it’s refreshing to feel like a tourist in your own city, so when my boyfriend came to visit I was faced with the daunting task of ensuring he saw the sights that would make him fall in love with my hometown.

Toronto is a great metropolis, filled with multiculturalism and rich history. The challenge is to find places (and deals) that will give a visitor a feel for the city. Toronto is home to some great hostels and a hidden backpacker culture filled with travelers that never left. Lonely Planet claims that 1 in 2 Torontonians was born elsewhere, and the multiculturalism of the city’s different areas – from the Danforth to Chinatown – drives that statistic home.

Although I’ve chosen some pretty cliché locales, I find these destinations create a foreground for exploring the hidden treasures Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area have to offer.

In the city

1. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

Although I may be a huge nerd, the ROM has been one of my favourite Toronto destinations since before I can remember. Although it’s considered an eyesore by many Torontonians, the newly redesigned “Crystal” entrance, by architect Daniel Libeskind, has given the museum a facelift in recent years. For its architecture both inside and out and the largest museum in Canada for world culture and natural history. If you’re on a budget, be sure to check out the museum’s website – admission is free on Wednesday afternoons.

2. The Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

For art and architecture lovers, OCAD and the AGO could provide a days’ worth of entertainment. With a few galleries, including one that exhibits student art, the young OCAD has become a trendy downtown destination. Located just behind the school is the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the 10th largest in North America and houses more than 68,000 works. Although visiting both could be expensive for the budget traveler, some exhibitions can be free but operating hours are sparing, so be sure to check out the deals.

3. The CN Tower

It may be cheesy and a bit pricy at $34.99, but the revolving CN Tower is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is a must-see for travelers to Toronto. The view of the harbour, Lake Ontario and the city are spectacular and if you wish to splurge, the tower houses the award-winning 360 Restaurant.

4. Harbourfront

Uniquely operated by community-based volunteers, Toronto’s Harbourfront is bustling with festivals and events throughout the year. Although it’s a much better attraction in the summer months, visitors can walk along the boardwalk, participate in an art workshop or attend the International Festival of Authors in October.

5. Distillery District

In the east end of Toronto (if you want to take the walk down Front Street from Union Station, the St. Lawrence Market is well worth a stop), the historic Distillery District offers everything from theatre to quaint cafes. The old cobblestone streets combined with the refurbished buildings that house businesses including Balzac’s Coffee make for a great atmosphere. Although isolated from the rest of the city, it provides a great escape for an afternoon lunch or evening of theatre-going.

Outside the downtown core

1. Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake

2. Casa Loma

3. Science Centre

4. Toronto Zoo

5. High Park

6. Blue Mountain Ski Resort

7. Haunted Walk of Kingston, Ontario

8. Stratford Festival

9. Canada’s Wonderland

10. Explore the Toronto Islands

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I am always told that change is good. Maybe it’s best to be told that, being in a new situation and all.

Uncertainty is something I fear most – being an A-type personality, I guess it comes with the territory. But I feel like the changes I’ve undergone in the last tow months haven’t been filled with uncertainty at all – more so, they seem to be an alignment of sorts that has made me the way I’ve always wanted to be. Or maybe I’m just happy because I don’t have to wear shoes here – it’s a fine line.

So here are some changes that have occurred since my departure from Pearson in April:

Feet

Yes, my feet are yucky. I walk everywhere barefoot; grocery store, internet café, breakfast shop, you name it. Today I even built bricks and mixed cement barefoot. I play with the kids, teach, farm, paint the church barefoot. Mpho makes fun of me because every morning I retrieve my shoes from the car and put them on, only to leave them there once we arrive at the day care. I wear a toe ring and an anklet made by the women at the support group. I’ve bought a de-worming tablet, because it’s been raining and I have probably got sandworms. Either way, life is better barefoot.

Day Care Centre

From the Isoyi until now there have been so many improvements in the building of the new crèche. We broke ground, and next week the roof is going on! I’ve made over 400 bricks, and the building should be done next week. Finally, the kids will be able to have shelter to learn in (although teaching under a tree is fun), a dry place when it rains, and warmth during the winter.

Education

Over forty adults have passed the HIV education test since I arrived, after their week-long course. They’ve provided one of the most memorable experiences for me here. The joy they experience learning to help their families and fight stigma and discrimination is too inspiring for words. Ongoing is our school program, which has been deemed a success by all parties involve and will continue at the local primary school with a new group of kids next week.

Support

Most agree that support is a key component in the fight against HIV. Cynthia, the nurse at Monzi Clinic said everyone needs council about their status – where they are negative or positive. Rasta, HIV positive for ten years, says the support of his family got him through his two years of TB and continues to keep him healthy. The women that gather at African Impact’s support group in Khula support each other through friendship, shared interests and activities like farming and beading. Support is something I have come to believe would help us all if we could all manage to provide more for one another.

First Aid

Bar a couple of disgusting burns, I have been able to change my squeamish ways to aid in many medical situations with both Amy (nurse) and Jenna (doctor). The baby with the third degree burns is doing much better. One hospital trip later and little S’fiso’s brother was back at crèche in a couple of days. Sandworms have been squeezed out of at least a dozen kids. Cuts have been mended, sores have been dressed and many accidents have been cleaned up. I’ve learned that sometimes the best way to help during the dressing of a wound is with kind words (Zulu or English), a hug, a cuddle and a few stickers.

So those are just a few examples of the improvements and changes that have occurred to and around me over the past two weeks, or at least some of the most profound. I have no idea what it will be like to go back home. It’s so hard to explain the joy, pain, heartache, pleasure, frustration and so many other emotions I’ve experienced. It’s so clichéd – but I’ll never be the same. I don’t think I want to stay unchanged. I like this new feeling.

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I figured that sometimes my blogs are a little depressing and sad. Not everything we do here is so serious, I promise! The volunteer house is so much fun and everyone is really great. Although we’re winding down because it’s the beginning of the month and many people are leaving (just like I was supposed to). So I thought I’d recap the eight best moments (in no particular order), that I’ve had with the people who’s been here. I consulted them, and we’ve come up with some of the most entertaining moments that I’m sure none of us will ever forget.

1. The Five Shapes / The Five Colours / ABCs with Actions

Each morning at the day care starts with a circle time of songs and dances. Some are Zulu (we’ve all tried to learn the words), and some are English (we taught them I’m A Little Teapot last week). We try to do the ABCs each morning, and for some reason Nonklakla has decided that it would be fun to perform the ABCs by making letters with her arms. Really, only A, C, H, and X end up working out consistently; most of the time she ends up missing letters, or entire sections of the alphabet. It ends up being a complete mess, and even the five year old kids look confused when she jumps from K to R. For some reason, the teachers have learned somewhere that there are also five shapes; circle, triangle, square, acute angle and right angle. No more needs to be said about that. The five colours change every time they’re called out, normally they are red, blue, yellow, purple, orange. Sometimes green replaces purple, sometimes black replaces orange – it’s so hard to keep track of. Nonetheless, the teachers try so hard to keep up with the other crèches in the area, that sometimes they don’t have all of their information correct. They’re usually happy to have us correct that “right angle” is not a shape, and there are many colours.

2. Lost Keys

Yes, the keys were lost somewhere in Kosi Bay, near the border of Mozambique. Although it wasn’t that big of a deal, and Anna and I ended up driving up to get the four girls that were stranded in one of the small town’s bars. As we were taking the two and a half hour drive back, we actually passed the large truck that was towing the rental car back to Richard’s Bay to get the only extra key AVIS had. Funny enough, even with all the commotion, no extra charge was put on the car.

3. Monkeys and Bananas

One afternoon, we came home to find Zanelle, our cleaner, in our room. She was apologizing profusely and when we finally got her to tell us why she was so shaken, she said that she had been cleaning our room and had opened the windows. Then Andrew had asked her to go to the store and when she left our room, she left the windows open as well. When she came back, banana peels were all over our room and all over the wall outside. Monkeys had jumped off the wall onto our window sill, gotten up into our cupboard and stolen four bananas. Even a week later, the monkeys are still stalking our room, although the dog, Peanut, tends to keep them at bay.

4. Wild Dogs and a Black Rhino

As I’ve said, we saw a pack of tracking wild dogs on our game drive in Hluhluwe on the first full day of my arrival. No one else has seen any wild dogs since I’ve been here – although I’ve learned that Hluhluwe has a large wild dog conservation program. We all agreed that we would never forget turning the corner and seeing all those wild dogs, and how we could have leaned out of the car window and pet them. Also agreed we’d never forget how one of the volunteers leaned out the window as we came so close to being charged by a black rhino, one of the most aggressive African animals (probably only second to Buffalo). And Theo just turning to Ben, our driver, and saying “start the engine” in a very frightened voice.

5. Crocodile Attack

So, I guess we’ve had a lot of close encounters with very dangerous African wildlife. On our Hippo and Croc tour, we got followed while we were on shore by a pod of hippos, only to have our guide’s paddle attacked by a croc, and then have it run into our kayak. We were so close to so many crocs that day, it was really unbelievable. It was probably the best experience so far, to be paddling around the estuary seeing so much of the wildlife so close – even birds and fish.

6. Surfing

Last weekend, I had a surfing lesson with Hannah, one of the girls from Manchester. We paid less than $40 for an two-hour semi-private surfing lesson. We actually got to stand up riding the waves (not for long). I got hit in the head with the surf board, and at the end I was cut and bruised and sore. I had so much fun though that it was well worth it. I’ve never been able to pick up a sport so quickly and be able to have so much fun on my first try. The Indian Ocean is quite warm all year round, and it was so comfortable I just wore board shorts and a rash vest. Elaine, from Canada, and Emily, from Manchester both surfed the next morning. We’re all going to go again this weekend, we enjoyed it so much.

7. Giving Out HIV Certificates

Giving out the HIV certificates has probably been one of the best experiences of my life. The smiles on the people’s faces when they receive their certificates has been all the reward I need for coming to South Africa to volunteer. They represent the future of HIV/AIDS in this country. They progress from believing that ARV drugs are made out of human brain, to understanding safe sex and the effects of opportunistic infections. Most people here believe the lack of education is a major obstacle in the fight against HIV, and with each person that we educate, it feels as though we are creating positive-thinking community members and helping to quell discrimination.

8. Building Buildings

The new day care centre has really progressed since the ground breaking in my second week. We’re about two weeks away from finishing the entire building. We have been digging a giant hole (about eight feet deep) in the back of the building to use as toilets, as well as a pit for sand. We’ve made the bricks by hand, we mix the cement on the ground, and we plaster the walls by hand as well. We cut all the grass by hand and dig away the weeds in the same manner. The manual labour that the hired builders endure every day is unbelievable. They work so quickly and even on the weekends for such a low price. In total, the entire building from start to finish will cost about $10,000; that’s including labour and materials.

Until next time,

-A

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