Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sojourning in South Africa

It seems so long ago, that first leg of my extensive holiday travels. So before too much more time passes, I'd better tell you about it... The election happened. We survived. Then it was back to Elamba for a frantic two-day rampage of marking exams and finalizing the grades. On the last day of school, all the learners came dressed to the nines and tens. They weren't required to wear their uniforms and wanted to look nice while they received their report cards, a single sheet of paper which shows the end product of a yearlong effort. Or lack of effort in some cases. I do not have a registered class so I didn't personally hand out any reports, but if I had, I certainly would have done it differently. The class teachers ranked the learners and called them up in front of the class from first best to last worst. It was really moving to see how happy the top learners were when they saw their high marks. My stoic facade crumbled just a tad as a few joyous salty drops of relief escaped the ducts. The kids who had worked hard all year were justly rewarded and I felt proud. Things went downhill from there. For each learner, the class rank and the total number of points (the equivalent of a GPA) was publicly announced. Not exactly confidential. The teacher kept calling names, and as the cutoff between passing and failing drew closer, the tension and fear escalated. The last few learners who passed were obviously relieved and then came the sorry kids who were condemned to failure and a repeat of the same grade next year. It was awful watching them fight back tears amidst the happiness of their successful peers. They also had to endure the taunts and laughter of a few of the more heartless/thoughtless/ruthless kids. For some that failed, it was no surprise given their effort and performance, but it was still a tough scene to swallow. Overall I was happy with the results, relieved to have completed my first year, and very ready for a vacation.

If I was to make it to the Windhoek airport for my afternoon flight on the 12th, I had to leave the village on the 10th. Three days of road movement just to get to the capital might seem crazy, but because this country is so huge and my lack of a personal car, it is necessary to allow so much travel time. First I have to walk to the school and wait and hope that someone is driving out of the village to town. Usually it is a rusty old pickup truck, and I pay N$7 to sit in the open bed for a perilously bumpy ride to Tsandi. After a few taxi rides, I arrive in Ongwediva where I stay with a friend who lives close to the magic speed bump. I'll have to write a separate entry about this sublime section of cement, as numerous times it has aided me in the quest to find a ride South to Windhoek that is fast, safe, and oftentimes free. The ride I found this particular day was extremely fast (160+kph), semisafe (they had been driving all night so I kept a watchful and wary eye), and semifree (N$40 =negligible compared to the standard price). Not the best of luck, but I arrived in record time (430 km in 3 hours when it usually takes 6). I jumped out in Otjiwarongo and met up with my buddy Greg and his lovely parents who gave me a lift the last couple hours to Windhoek and deposited me right to the front door of the hostel. A quick sleep and then I caught my flight to Cape Town, South Africa to meet my mother and sister! I had not seen them or traveled out of Namibia for over a year!

We picked up the rental car and, as the driver, I was immediately thrown into the maelstorm that is Cape Town. In reality it's not the hugest or busiest city in the world, but it sure seemed like it after a year of living at the poky village pace where donkey carts and ambling are the mode. It was overwhelming, the swarms of people buzzing their way from shop to shop, the multitudinous neon lights blazing their boastful electricity, the honking cars packing the narrow streets like M C Escher's tessellating geese. We ticked off the standard items on the tourist's Cape Town agenda: Robben Island, the prison where Mandela was incarcerated, and the Aerial Cableway up Table Mountain. Both were worth the visit and worth enduring the pushy crowds. On the island, we spotted some penguins but no robins. No robbings either. The guide, a former prisoner, had some unsettling stories of prison life when we asked him between presentations and made us interested to read more about Mandela and his cohorts. His book, Long Walk to Freedom, is circulating around the volunteer libraries but is in hot demand so it's fairly hard to come by. Later that day, on the top of the table, our eyes feasted on the sumptuous landspread complete with forking trails, knifelike ridges, and spoonfuls of wind-scultped brush. But can you believe it, I forgot to get a juggling picture at the top of the mountain! Maybe I'll have to go back sometime, but hike up instead of taking the tram.

We were relieved to leave the crowded city chaos and head down South to the actual cape. We spent a night in Boulders Beach where hordes of robotic penguins congregate in their realistically manufactured environment. I'm pretty sure it's all a big conspiracy designed to dupe unsuspecting tourist from their foreign dollars. I went along with their animatronic antics but couldn't help thinking that their wing flaps, waddle hops and head shakes were preprogrammed onto cleverly concealed circuit boards. That much cuteness can't be natural.

We also spent a morning exploring the national park which contains the Cape of Good Hope, the rocky outcropping mistakenly believed to be the most southern tip of the African continent. Ostriches danced the mating mambo and dangerous baboons frolicked about looking for a handout.

The beach will always amaze me, and the ocean calls with its relentless roar

I didn't forget documentation this time!
Juggling duo with my sister, Katelyn

Grape country was next and although my Mr. Yuck poison face emerges every time I sip wine, I still had a good time gawking at the scenic luxury and the luxurious scenery. The countryside is rife with grape fields and vineyards, wineries and grape-aging operations, wine tastings and opportunities to sample fermented grape juice. As I said, I am by no means a connoisseur so the subtleties of the jargon escape me.
We stayed at an awesome old estate and I had a nightcap of an exquisitely aged, balsa barreled, dry yet wet, minty bodied zesty Cabfanlot with just a hint of sarcastic fruitiness on the nose.
After our two nights at the Hawksmoor House we made the long drive to Tsitsikamma National Park. The beautiful green forests and rocky seashores brought me back to the Pacific NW and provided a much-welcomed change from the dry bleak desertous stretches of Namibia. We worked our car-weary muscles and enjoyed a couple strenuous hikes in the greenery. The next two days found us on safari in Addo Elephant National Park. It is much smaller than Etosha and there are a few differences in the animal populations: no giraffes or Zebras or springbok but that lack is made up for by the amazing number of elephants. We could hardly go ten minutes without seeing another herd, and several times a lengthy line of the big-eared long-trunked shufflers lumbered by mere feet from our car. I hope my mom and sister can pick out the few best pictures from the thousands that they took because those shutters were snapping nonstop racking up the future National Geographic photographs of the decade.

Thrilled, elated and euphoric with our Addo experience, it was time to depart South Africa and head to Namland. Two flights and six hours of driving made for one long day of travel, but we arrived safely in Otjiwarongo, Namibia. Our adventures with the African wildlife were not finished as we had two more days in Etosha National Park and they didn't disappoint. There was not such a preponderance of elephants and instead we were inundated with springbok, giraffes, wildebeest, zebra, and surprisingly, lions. Two different times we came across a large group lounging in the shade and also spotted a couple solo felines prowling the grasslands. On Christmas day we were lucky enough to chance upon two frisky leopards crossing the road, and at night a lone and extremely wary rhino at the watering hole.

Owamboland was our next stop, and we arrived in Okatha Kombago around dusk and spent a nice three days in the village with my host family, Meme Emilia, Mwingona, Angula, and Egumbo. Unfortunately most of my learners had gone elsewhere for the holidays so we were only able to see a few when we made a visit to Elamba Combined School. We played with the new frisbees, balls and jumpropes and I learned a traditional game which is accomplished with a series of scripted symmetrical movements within a 4x4 grid.

We said our goodbyes to the homestead and spent our last night together in Tsumeb. We almost bought out the craft center there snatching up the must-have wooden carvings and woven baskets. Being the tetris master that I am, their bags were packed extremely efficiently and of course I left the long straight pieces for last to obtain the optimal score. In the morning they dropped me on the side of the road where they continued on to Windhoek and I was able to hitchhike home.
It was sad to see them go of course but I am so glad we got to travel together and that they were able to come visit where I live and work. It was a most excellent vacation. One year can be a very long time, and two years is even longer so this visit was rejuvenating, refreshing, replenishing, and revitalizing. Thank you again Mom and Katelyn! Love, Parker--

No comments:

Post a Comment