This story is about the feelings I had in a Montessori school in South Africa. This wonderful school I went to is called Auburn House School. In that school there were very nice people and I felt like everyone wanted to be my friend. It made me feel so happy.
One of the nice people I met was Iman, she is a kind girl who is my best friend. I am writing about Iman because on the 10th of April I was sitting on the playground and she sat next to me. Iman was very kind so I was kind back to her. One day me and one of my friends that I met on my first day (Haajir) walked over to Iman and asked her why she looked sad. She told us that some of her friends were not her friends anymore. I felt so bad that they weren’t her friends anymore so Haajir and I decided that we should do more things with Iman since she was all alone for at least three days. We then always worked with her or sat with her at lunch. I will always remember Iman because she is a really kind, loving and sweet friend!
On my first day of school I was very shy. Luckily, I knew the teachers so I thought that one of the teachers (Miss Cherry) would show me were to put my stuff. Instead, it was a girl named Bella who showed me where to put my stuff. She had lots of friends but I didn’t play with them because I felt very shy and didn’t know many of the kids she was playing with. So I decided that I would go sit on the steps by myself and wait. After awhile, I walked over to two girls one of them had braids (they call them plats in South Africa) and the other had a ponytail. They told me about the game they were playing. I became friends with them and started playing their game. It took me a couple of days to figure out what their names were. At first, I thought their names were Sydney and Taylor and then I thought their names were Sadhiv and Hacha but then I finally figured out their names were Haajir and Sadhiv. We all became BFFs (best friends forever) after that.
There is this language that we studied in class called Xhosa. One of my teachers, Miss Pili, teaches Xhosa. Xhosa is a native language to South Africa. It is actually a pretty fun language to learn. I liked learning Xhosa better than learning Afrikaans, which is another native language in South Africa. Some funny things that usually happened during Xhosa is that Miss Pili would always put funny things about one of the boys in my class on the board. One time she said he was dancing, singing and laughing. One time, Haajir and I were sitting down at reading time and reading a book about Xhosa words. We were trying to figure out what the word for fart was in Xhosa. We wanted to know because this same boy would always fart in class. No one in the whole class knew the word so we wanted to find out what the word was so that we could tell Miss Pili. The next day we did just that and we told Miss Pili what it was and she wrote down on the board and Haajir and I started laughing so hard while everyone else was looking puzzled.
The difference between the school I went to in Denver and the school I went to in South Africa is that back in USA after our teacher took attendance, we always had to sing The Pledge of a Allegiance but in the school we went to in South Africa we did not have to sing it. Another difference is that in Denver at the elementary school I went to there was only one grade in each classroom instead of three different grades in one classroom at Auburn House School. Some of the things that are the same are that we would always eat our lunch and then after that we would walk to the playground.
The five best words that describe South Africa are: friendly, amazing, best school, beautiful and lots of traffic. It is amazing because of Table Mountain. It is friendly because at the school I went to in Denver the cafeteria ladies were very strict and in South Africa there weren’t really cafeteria ladies who would boss you around. South Africa is beautiful because of all the sites you can see and all the nature with mountains. There is a lot of traffic every morning when we go to school and that is why it took 40-50 minutes to get there every morning. Some days I felt like I would vomit in the car because it was jerking around. The reason why my last word is the best school is because when I entered the school I felt really nervous and I felt like a lot of the kids were staring at me but then when I got to know it I felt like I could just walk around and be normal at the school.
On my last day of school I felt so sad and I remembered that I might never see my best friends or my teachers again. I was soo so so sad I even felt like crying. Since I came to South Africa I never wanted to leave but since I have I am glad I got the experience of being in the school.
Since we were unable to go to Johannesburg and Kruger National Park due to my rehabilitation needs and the girls’ school schedule, we needed to find an alternative animal park somewhere else to satisfy one last fix of the African wildlife. We decided on Addo Elephant Park, which is about 45 km from Port Elizabeth and seemed to fit nicely into our plans to drive along the Garden Route and stay overnight in one of the costal towns in the Eastern Cape. Addo is a national park a little over 1,600 square kilometers in size. Zebra, lion, Cape Buffalo, rhino and of course elephants are among the large animals you can see in the park. Hippo also live there but are found in an area of the park only accessible by 4-wheel drive. We heard that because of its size it is almost guaranteed that you will see all the animals. Unfortunately, we still missed the elusive lions but watched as a herd of about 15 elephants came charging out of the bush to drink at the water hole where we had front row seats. Our favorite character was the baby bouncing (and occasionally stumbling) alongside the mother with its trunk flopping around uncontrollably and exuding pure joy (actually we read that baby elephants have little control of their trunk for the first 2-3 weeks of life).
While planning our route, I read about Knysna (pronounced with the K silent) and Plettenburg Bay two coastal cities close to Port Elizabeth who are regaled for their beauty. I booked accommodation in Plettenburg or “Plett” as you would say if you were a local. I was also told to check out Knysna Elephant Park or KEP, which is located between Knysna and Plett. It is a privately owned elephant rescue program that also allows tourists to walk with, feed and ride the elephants. According to the website and the elephant caretakers we spoke to while there, KEP is a rescue sanctuary and their prime goal is to care for injured elephants and provide a safe haven for elephants from other game parks who are threatened for one reason or another, such as an aggressive older rhino who is on the attack. Once the elephants are safe and nursed back to health, they are reintroduced into larger, private game parks. These rescue elephants never see tourists. The elephants that tourists meet are the nine that make up their “resident herd”. One of the trainers was keen to make a differentiation between an elephant sanctuary and elephant park whose prime goal, according to him, is for tourism and profit.
Even though the option to ride the elephants was enticing, Jacob and I knew right away that we did not want to support this practice. Abusive training protocols in Southeast Asia has gained much publicity in recent years. From my research, I learned that elephants are not built to be pack animals and their backs cannot tolerate very much weight. I also read that many elephant tours in Southeast Asia use saddles perched in the middle of the elephant’s back and the elephants are forced to carry one to two people on long rides for up to 12 hours per day with little water. There was a story in April 2016 of an elephant at Angkor Wat in Cambodia that collapsed and died of exhaustion. The practice in Southeast Asia to train elephants for tourism as well as perform pack-animal work for farmers is called Phajaan or “the crush”. Baby elephants are stolen from their mothers and undergo this abuse and torture to break them of their “wildness”. Smugglers tranquilize the baby elephant so they can transport it and often they will shoot and kill other adult elephants that linger over the collapsed baby. The “trainers” will submit the baby to isolation, starve them of food and water and use bullhooks to beat and prod the elephant into submission. In Northern Thailand, there are now a few parks whose mission is to rescue and protect abused elephants. These elephants are already desensitized to humans and the park allows tourists to get up close and personal but not ride them.
Knysna Elephant Park does not use saddles to transport the riders. Instead, they use blankets and riders sit at the front of the elephant’s body above their shoulders where their backs are stronger. Additionally, the rides there are only 15-20 minutes long, which is more tolerable for the elephants. However, I still did not want to support riding elephants even if their way was more “humane”. As soon as the girls saw the other tourists getting ready to ride, they challenged our ability to hold steadfast to our decision with immediate tears and protests about how we are unfair and horrible parents. However, we are not parents who cave easily just to keep our children from experiencing disappointment. You know me, I of course think it is valuable for kids to experience the breadth of their emotions as well as understand that the world does not need to bend to their every whim. That is how they will learn that they have the strength to tolerate tough emotions and make responsible choices. Actually, this event gave us the opportunity to talk with them about the controversy and why we were choosing to walk instead of ride.
Our walk with the elephants was magical. I did not envy the riders one bit because all they did was sit on top holding onto the elephant’s trainer. They missed out on the relationship we created with our walking partners, Nandi and Thandi (mother and daughter). The trainer who was walking with Mackenzie and me told us that Nandi and Thandi have never been willing to accept riders and the trainers are of the belief that they will not force an elephant to do a job they do not want to do. As we walked, we got to look into their eyes, put our hand on their warm, rough skin and feel the wiry hairs on their bodies and trunks. By the end of the experience the girls had come around and understood that this experience was just as good if not better than a ride.
Still, after our walk, the memory that the trainers at KEP all carried bullhooks floated to the front of my mind. I started thinking more about elephant abuse and the training required for elephants to allow people on their backs. I wondered if KEP’s stated method of positive reinforcement was really all they use and if so, why the need for bullhooks? I watched how the trainer, walking with Mackenzie and me, used his hook to sort of push Nandi back into her line; he also used a strong voice like you would with a dog so maybe the bullhook is like a leash. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology in which I learned all about positive reinforcement and how to get rats and pigeons to do tricks for me using food as a reward. I imagine this is what they do with the elephants as well but is this really humane? If elephants backs are not built to carry weight why do we think it is ok to put two adults up there even if their agreement is a bucket of fruit at the end. I then started to wonder about how much poking and prodding the elephants endure so that people can walk next to them? Is it really any better? I decided to ask Google about elephant abuse in Africa and guess which “sanctuary” came up in the feed? The owners of KEP also own and an elephant park called Elephants of Eden. In 2014 the owners were charged with and admitted to cruel and abusive treatment of baby elephants at Elephants of Eden but denied that the practice also occurs at KEP. Click to read for your self.
There are many businesses and organizations in the world that use animals in captivity to bring in money and raise awareness. It is pretty damn cool to be that close to an elephant or pet a cheetah but is my life going to be any less full if I just see these animals from a distance instead? Is keeping animals in captivity the right method to bring about awareness and conservation? Would people care as much about endangered species and land conservation if they didn’t get to see the animals in person and develop an empathetic connection?
These are multilayered, difficult questions and I really don’t have a clear answer. However, after all this research, what I do know is that if an elephant park or sanctuary offers elephant rides, it is best to steer clear. These parks are keeping their “resident herds” well stocked, so to speak, which means that when a baby like Thandi is born at the park, they are “training” her early to be willing to allow people to walk and/ or ride her. True sanctuaries, like the ones in Northern Thailand, are rescuing elephants from establishments like these and offering a place for them to retire and have a better life not further abuse and hard labor.
South Africa is one of the most biodiverse places on earth and home to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. There the country’s unique vegetation flourishes and the Nursery Ravine hike begins. From the entrance of the gardens, you follow a cobblestone path lined with huge clusters of tall, thick bamboo reeds and fig trees. The long branches snake upward to create a canopy overhead. At the fork in the path, continue straight and the canopy suddenly opens revealing the first of many long, wide green lawns surrounded by shrubs, flowers and more trees. Towering above it all is Table Mountain. The gardens are located on the backside of the mountain where you can see the three major peaks: Castle Rock, Fernwood and Devil’s Peak. The trio radiate a powerfully entrancing energy that draws you inside.
Fernwood Peak is my favorite. The top of the peak is as tall as it is wide and the rock juts out of the fynbos in a sheer, steep cliff. The layers of sediment are shades of gray with a scattering of green from the brush that hang onto the rock with a tight grip.
Our neighbor once told us that many people come to Cape Town for various medical procedures and the wind and air here are often described as the “Cape Doctor”. I think of this every time I see Fernwood and have an urge to be as close to her as possible. When my physiotherapist told me about a hike that starts in Kirstenbosch and leads up to the top of Table Mountain, I was an easy sell. She explained that the trail would eventually lead to the cable car on the other side of the mountain; a ride down would drop us at the stop for the double-decker Red City Tour bus that would then take us back to our car at Kirstenbosch. Based on my research it appeared the whole experience should take about five hours.
I worked hard building the strength in my knees and a month later, during the school holiday the perfect time was upon us. The winds were finally calm and the sky a clear blue. We packed our snacks and lunch and set out unknowingly into our twelve-hour day (yes, you read that correctly…twelve hours, not five). We entered the grounds of Kristenbosch at about 9:30am, followed the map and immediately began our uphill climb toward the Nursery Ravine trail. My PT made it clear that we should follow the Nursery Ravine and not Skeleton Gorge. Skeleton Gorge is much steeper and has several ladders one must use to scale the walls of the cliffs. Nursery Ravine has only one. She assured me that once on top the trail would then “gently undulate” toward the cable car.
The Nursery Ravine trail is more like a long staircase ascending up the side of the mountain for 1,903 ft. (580m) though a forest of tall trees. Step after step this staircase follows the rocky Nursery Stream, which in summer is a trickle but in winter (lucky for us) was flowing in a long beautiful waterfall. Once the trees clear the reward is a close up view of Castle Rock (the girls thought it looked more like a multi-layered cake). The trail takes you right along the side the monstrous rock, which had patches of bright green moss seeping with water. Quinn led the way for most of the two-hour ascent, living up to her nickname of Mountain Goat. We stopped frequently to rest, take pictures and assess our progress (Less rest time and you can make it up in one hour). Once we reached the top we celebrated our success with lunch, long views of the city below and the view of the ocean stretching out in the distance. We all felt ready for the undulating trail that was promised.
The trail, however, did not level out until after another two hours of hiking up, over and through the rocky terrain. On the upside, the unexpected, non-undulating part of the hike allowed me to finally get my feet on my beloved Fernwood Peak. I stopped every now and then to breathe in the beauty and allow her medicine to flow up through my feet. Really, this mountain is that powerful. Jacob usually gives me a loving eye-roll when I talk about nature in this way, but even he agreed the energy was palpable.
Just as when we explored Machu Picchu, I was in awe of the girls’ ability to stick with our hike. They were led by their curiosity instead of glued to the spot by the awareness of their tired legs. Don’t get me wrong, there was a time or ten when the glue tried to take hold but that was when Jacob and I came to the rescue. We have learned that shaming and yelling at our kids (hey, I’m not proud of those moments but every parent has them) does not motivate them to persist at whatever they are trying to accomplish. Positive parenting wins the day every time. We often used snacks to entice them to push on and in the last hour of our six-hour hike (when the trail was finally undulating), Jacob used humor and games to keep them moving forward (I, myself, was lost in the music of the frogs and auburn colors of the fall fynbos).
The signage for most of the trail was severally lacking but once we reached the tip top of Table Mountain, the National Park Service finally marked the way with little yellow feet painted on select rocks. Jacob, in his stroke of genius, named these marks “energy feet”. One step on the marks and both Mackenzie and Quinn sprang into action. There were also low, wooden bridges scattered throughout the trail that elevate hikers over rocks covered with slippery moss. After Quinn took a spill that sent her sprawling, Mackenzie quickly understood the purpose of our energy game and came to Quinn’s rescue by wisely naming the walkways “healing bridges”. That was all it took; Quinn’s bruised knee was miraculously healed and she was on her way again.
Once at the cable car station, Jacob and I sipped happily on a cold beer while the girls ate a free candy ring from the gift shop. We took in the eagle-like view of Table Mountain with its rippling edges that drop into the cornflower blue ocean.
We reached our destination about an hour later than what was planned but we all had a feeling of pride and achievement. After our rest, we found the end of the hour-long cable car line (need I remind you that this was a holiday weekend, oops). Luckily we met a very nice family and so while Jacob and I were entertained by conversation, the girls were entertained by watching a couple of Rock Dassies (small animals who are a distant cousin to the elephant.) hop across great gaps between steep rocks (an action that indicates they may be adrenalin addicts or evolved without depth perception).
Once at the bottom of our cable car ride, we found our Red City Tour Bus and picked a perfect yet chilly seat on top. Off we went, making the best of the six o’clock hour and rumblings in our tummies (our snacks long gone) by naming our ride the “sunset tour”. There must have been a nagging doubt in Jacob’s head that made him pull out his phone and look up the tour bus route. Suddenly an, “oh, crap!” came from behind me. “Amy,” Jacob said with exhaustion in his voice, “we are on the wrong bus.” “What?” I asked stunned, “There is more than one bus line?”
Why yes, yes in fact there are four. This bus line would neither take us back to Kirstenbosch nor to our car. No, that bus left over an hour ago and was the last one of the day.
I immediately felt shame and panic that I had totally screwed up. I was in charge of this little excursion and it had already been way longer than I anticipated. Travel is a constant test of one’s ability to pay attention to details and thoroughly read all the information before setting out on an excursion and sometimes things happen. Sometimes you take for granted that an outing appears straightforward or that another person’s assessment of what you and your kids can handle is accurate. There is no use stewing about it; flogging yourself does neither you nor anyone else any good at any time but especially when traveling. Plus, these we-survived-it stories are the ones that make blog posts and create laughter when shared with friends, right? After a quick chat with the bus driver it was apparent that our only solution was to find a taxi back to Kirstenbosch. Thankfully, our tour bus tickets were not wasted, they are good for two weeks from the date of purchase and the driver did not scan the barcode when initially got on, whew!
This crazy excursion reminded me that sometimes we get things right and sometimes we don’t but we always go away a little smarter about how to make this crazy journey with our kids work. So, here are a few ways we have become a bit more travel savvy:
Ten Tips for Foreign Travel with Kids:
Understand that travel is slower. Do not try to pack everything in. Either plan for a longer holiday so that you can space out all the places you want to go or prioritize the important places and be ok with it. Remember, no matter how hard you try, you can never see it everything.
Pack lots of snacks and a little extra just in case.
Pack lots of Band-Aids, antiseptic spray and antibiotic ointment. It may seem obvious but don’t forget hats, sunscreen, plenty of water, tissue and toilet paper.
Use positive, motivating games to keep your kids engaged in the present moment (helps cut down on the frequency of the question “are we there yet?”), for example
Count the Stairs
Ask them to find their favorite bug, flower, tree etc
Let them take turns as the photographer
If in a safe spot, let your kids take turns as the leader
Rest, rest, rest and remember to stay in the moment too.
Get them engaged in the planning, where they will go, what they will see, etc. Give them an outline of what the day will entail.
Read about the history or science before you go and talk about it as you are there
Have them carry their own little purse or bag with small toys or coloring stuff inside
Remember that play is the way kids work out their stress and their triumphs. Find a playground when things are tough and you won’t be sorry.
Wednesday, April 27th was Freedom Day here in South Africa. To honor this time, the girls were given the week off from school. I took the week off from writing and have been suffering a bit of writer’s block as I attempt to get my head back in the game. Until then, I will share that I have been consumed with learning about the history and social politics of South Africa. As soon as we arrived here I began to learn more about Apartheid. The first book I read is titled: Kaffir Boy: The True Story of A Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa by Mark Mathabane. I am now reading A Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.
It has been interesting to read these books and at the same time watch the political race in the US from across the ocean. I have found myself drawing parallels between the current political rhetoric in the US and the history of Apartheid (translated as “apartness”) in South Africa. It is hard not to see the fear and “separateness” creating more division in the US. When I read about the recent laws that were passed in Mississippi and North Carolina against the LGBTQ community I am reminded of the legislation that was created to marginalize and oppress many South Africans. I know we do not all share the same political views and my intention is not to get on a soap box (this blog is not for that purpose) but want to share with you some of my recent readings that have deeply inspired me. The struggles for freedom in South Africa have made me think about the ways the United States might work to bring community together in all our glorious differences and unite by our shared humanness.
“The Time for the healing of the wounds has come.
The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
The time to build is upon us.
We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.
We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete and lasting peace.
We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity-a rainbow nation at peace with its self and the world.
~excerpt from Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech on May 10th, 1994 (taken from the ANC website)
Our Deepest Fear
Our deepest fear is not that we are
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We say to ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about
So that other people won’t feel insecure
We are all meant to shine.
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people
Permission to do the same.
Our presence automatically liberates
This just in: Quinn lost her first tooth today and happily shouted to all who could hear, “THIS IS THE DAY OF MY LIFE!”
It is autumn here in South Africa. This season must be a secret Capetonians never tell. The Swallows have flown from their summer nests back to the UK and full time residents bask in the glow of the autumn sun. The Fynbos (shrub-land) of the Western Cape shows pops of bright colors from the fall blooms, renewing its claim to the name of Garden Route. The vineyards begin their metamorphosis from green to amber and finally to rust creating a quilt of colors on the hillsides. The ocean goes from frigid to freezing making feet ache when they touch the water.
The winds are always lurking here in Cape Town no matter the time of year but, as we have been told, are slightly calmer in autumn. When they do come, the Northeasterlys or Southwesterlys (I’ll learn the difference one day) rise up in a fury. Sometimes they bring sheets of rain that blow across the house in loud bursts. We woke one night to the powerful carwash noise of the rain surrounding the house, pulled the blankets to our chins, and stared up at the ceiling expecting the roof to go spinning off into the sky.
It is strange to go backwards in season from the end of winter to the end of summer. Instead of new buds and spring fever, we are watching the leaves change, sunlight wane, our kids go back to school; the flu bug sneaked into our bodies. Bed-time, dinner-time, and morning-time have become more strict and structured. We engage in conversations with other parents at school about the coming of the winter season and the enjoy-it-while-you-can talk of the present day’s warmth. It is so familiar a routine it is almost like we are at home. Almost, until someone comments on my American accent or I have a double take when the menu reads, “come take a squiz” (as far as I can tell squiz = look).
Autumn for me is a time to bring to light ideas, goals and changes that have been manifesting throughout the year. At this point on our journey it is hard to know which seeds have grown and which have just shriveled up and become part of the compost. Still, it is tempting to allow the harvest energy to work its way into my psyche, to root around and look for the changes in us that are ready to give nourishment. I laughed out loud this morning as I read an article from a fellow travel blogger who was lamenting her children’s lack of awareness and continued need for “stuff” to make their play exciting. Her kids failed to understand the issues of poverty and could only whine about boredom at the neighbor’s house due to the lack of toys. Whew, that was a validating read. I feel less disappointed in Quinn’s stomping, screaming, snot-flying temper tantrum in the parking garage after I told her she would need to wait to wear her new shoes. It had been a long day and she is just a kid after all and as the blogger concluded, how can I expect her to be at the same intellectual level as me? I’ll keep watering that seed, though.
At first, Mackenzie didn’t like the comments from her new classmates on the way she has “weird” names for things. She didn’t appreciate the giggles she heard when she said trashcan instead of bin and eraser instead of duster but I am elated at her experience of being different. I am grateful for the opportunity to help her learn and understand that her way of speaking is not better or worse than her new friends and vice versa. Jacob and I get to encourage her to have fun with the differences. Her assignment is to gather up the new terms she learns and teach them to us. The theme of oppression and power over groups of people due to differing religious beliefs, skin color, or desire to overtake the land has been poignant. I know these huge abstract concepts are marinating in her brain because she notices them and asks questions about them when we see the acts and effects of oppression depicted in artwork or alive in the shantytowns (which, are more like cities in some places). These are experiential opportunities for her continue to flourish in her understanding of how to be a human living in love and respect.
For Quinn, she is cultivating her sense of self and discovering her knack for humor. The Montessori environment was the exact thing she needed to feel safe and confident in returning to formal school. The shelves and materials had the familiarity of past experience; I could feel her sigh of relief on the day we toured the school. Her challenge, however, on her first day was to learn how to navigate the new social environment without her sister. Even though they are in the same classroom, Mackenzie wanted to make her own friends and play separately from her sister. Day one was a painful reality for Quinn that she has to make her own way but for me, it’s a valuable lesson toward self efficacy. Now, of course, she comes home with stories of bringing her new friends into “QuinnWorld (a world that is invisible to outsiders and you need a lollypop to enter).
I know it’s too early to fully realize all of the changes that are going on in each of us. We are still in the planting phase of this “gap year”. Our true harvest time will be when we return to the States at our projected time of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. I am aware that I have never been very patient with the working phase of project development, the extended tension of the in-between place, or the unknown. I want to see the results of my exercise now; the business to flourish before it is even launched; have the knowledge before the process of learning. I also know it is valuable to stop, lean on the rake, wipe the sweat, catch your breath and notice the pride you feel about the work that you have already accomplished.
…and so, here is another song lyric to guide your day and mine:
“Let it flow, let yourself go, slow and low that is the tempo” ~Beastie Boys
We are now in Simon’s Town, a small village near Cape Town, South Africa about 15 minutes away from our first apartment in Muizenberg. I get to sit at the kitchen table in this stunning house and write my post about Sevilla. As I do, my eyes drift from the computer screen over to the ocean view out the window. My heart leaps with the hope for a view of a dolphin and then falls as the ocean reveals only a dark rock in the near distance. How many times am I going to fall for her trick? Or will that rock turn into a dolphin if I stare at it long enough? There are also Great White Sharks in these waters. Is it the mixing of the Atlantic and Indian oceans that draw them to this bay? Or do the flocks of seagulls that circle in the air and drop like bombs into the water in their death defying fishing technique bring the sharks salivating for a taste of bird? There are professional shark watchers, paid to sit atop the mountain and scan the sea for the Great Whites. The property manager told us that just last week the siren blared shouting at the swimmers and surfers to get out of the water. My eyes widened as she spoke but she just shrugged it off.
Ah, just another day in Cape Town.
This will only be a temporary house for us. Initially, we planned to stay only a week in Cape Town but due to unforeseen circumstances we now plan to stay for three months. The owner of the apartment we stayed in for the last several days had already promised it to other renters for the week after our stay and then would be returning to it themselves after their three-week holiday in New Zealand. Due to the Easter Holiday, it was an incredible challenge to find affordable accommodation. The city is also hosting a large marathon for the same weekend; therefore, the best we could find for the dates we needed was an apartment 40 minutes from my doctor and the girls school and it is unavailable until the 24th. Leaving us homeless for four days.
Acts of kindness come in many different packages. The rental company said they had a house we could use and offered it to us for the same price/night as the much smaller apartment we would be moving into on the 24th. They were battling with the electricity company as the ownership of the house had recently changed hands. It was a risky agreement, book the apartment for the 24th and hope for the electricity to come on in the “stop gap” house. However, now we are here in this huge house the management company kindly opened up for us. It is decorated with antique, colonial fixtures and has way more space than we need; although, the girls have already spread into all of it. They made quick work of exploring this house, running out onto the porch to tell me all about it before I had even stepped foot inside. It is strange to think that this house feels like more space than we need since it is smaller than the house we sold in Denver. I am grateful for my change in viewpoint.
While our stress to find housing to fit our budget and timing was very real, the barbed awareness of my first world problems pierces my consciousness as we drive around the city passing from gorgeous beach homes to corrugated tin shantytowns. I am filled with a growing curiosity about Apartheid and how much its impact on the people here still lingers. I can’t help but assume it is significant when I watch from across the ocean the continued struggle for equality in my own country of the US. The amount of sadness I feel about how horrible humans can be to one another fills me; a victim of my own cognitive dissonance, my mind focuses once again on the beauty of the ocean scene and my eyes drift back to my writing about lovely Sevilla.
In three days, we will have been on the road for six months. First, I want to thank those of you who are following along and sending us messages of encouragement and support. I have received a lot of loving questions about “the knees” which makes me feel cared for and grateful. I was never much of a “Facebooker” until we began our travels. It has now become my lifeline to our many friends and family members. If you love or even like a little bit of the blogs you are reading, please share them with your own circles on Facebook or forward our website to your friends who boycott Facebook. We would love more followers.
I thought I would take a moment and give you all a real time update on our whereabouts. We are currently in the city of Cape Town in beautiful South Africa. As you know, I have been battling problems with my knees since we left Colorado. While in Namibia, the swelling gave way to a lot of pain and so we searched with spotted internet service, and found an orthopedic surgeon in Cape Town. After undergoing MRIs on both knees (wow that was intense, who knew how difficult it would be to stay perfectly still for 20+ minutes/knee?), his assessment is that I have broken up cartilage that is irritating the knee joint and causing the inflammation and pain. I must have a piece in my left knee joint that is preventing me from fully straightening it. His recommendation is arthroscopic surgery to “clean out” the cartilage in both knees. Apparently the right knee is the worst and I am even missing bits of cartilage on that side. Because of this news, we have opted to stop here in Cape Town to receive the needed treatments. The long flight from Spain to Namibia (10 hrs) taught me that when inflammation is running amuck it will fill up your whole leg, is really painful and takes several days to subside. In my case, the swelling in my knees has been ever present for the last 5 months. Traveling back to the US is not only very expensive on such short notice but it is also a 35-hour journey.
Here in Cape Town, I will be able get treatment and proper rehabilitation. Our visa allows us a 3-month stay and we have found an apartment to rent for that time. We can even apply for an extension if needed (which I am pushing for so we can explore the many nature trails and mountains of the Cape once I am healed). We have found a very sweet Montessori school called Auburn House School where the girls are enrolled and will start the new term with the rest of the students on April 5th. This was at their request and they are very excited. It will allow me time to catch up on writing and Jacob to continue to work on his plans for his own career goals.
That is the Real Time update for today March 19th, 2016. Happy Birthday to my nephew Roarke who turned 12 on St. Patty’s day. We are sending so much love to Jacob’s family as they celebrate Shirley Martin’s life at her memorial service today. She was a kind, hilarious, beautiful woman, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother and friend to many people.
Keep watching your inbox for our blogs. In queue are more words from Mackenzie and Quinn, my take on Sevilla and our amazing experiences in Namibia.