Monday, January 14, 2008

December Holiday

How time flies! One day you are at the onset of a long break from work and a holiday vacation, then next you open your eyes and the first week of work in the new year has already come and gone in flash.

December was a whirlwind of fun and excitement. School ended for the students at the end of November and the staff stayed on until the 4th of December to tie up loose ends from the year. With five weeks of break from schools ahead of us, we felt as though we had all the time in the world to catch up on email, update friends via this blog and post some more pictures of what we have been up to. Obviously those goals seem to have escaped us! Those first few weeks of December were spent doing a good deal of work at the Drop In Center to organize for the end of year party held annually for the children there. It was a busy time, but the event went off with great success and we had a wonderful day. Our final week before heading out on our holiday vacation was spent with friends in the village. We hosted dinner at our place one evening for a good friend to celebrate a good year and all of the help he has given us in getting settled in the village. We introduced him to tacos, complete with homemade guacamole, sour cream and cheese. He was thoroughly impressed and enjoyed every bite! It was nice to have a friend over for the evening. We truly enjoy hosting and it feels like a big step to have already made good friends in these short months to invite into our home.

On the eve of our departure for holiday adventure, Brandon and Rachel came to our place so that we could all leave together the following day to head out for Pretoria. We enjoyed a rather eclectic meal that consisted of anything in our combined refridgerators that needed to be consumed before departing for a couple weeks. It turned out to be a rather cold, rainy night, in fact one of the coldest we have had in quite sometime requiring long pants and socks just to sleep comfortably. The low temp that night dipped into the low 40's farenheit, which we realized later was within 10 degrees of the high temp back home in Minnesota! Not typical for this time of year, but we were not complaining since the alternative is weather in the 90's. En route the next day we stopped in Ellisras, the town where we do our shopping etc. to drop off Safiri. Our friends, Pieter and Denise, were kind enough to look after him for us while we were gone. He lived up to his name by traveling relatively well in his box on Jess' lap all the way to town in the taxi. We tried to be discrete about having him on the taxi with us, not because animals are uncommon on taxis (in fact, chickens are quite common) but because we already draw enough attention to ourselves as it is. Adding a cat in a box with blankets and toys might be pushing the envelope. We did get a few inquisitive stares and confused faces, but all of our fellow passengers thought it was more or less hilarious that we would carry our cat with us to town. I suppose that all we need to do now is get a lease for him and start taking him on walks through the village. Then any doubt about how crazy the Americans are will be put to rest!

With Safiri settled in and introduced to Pieter and Denise's two dogs (quite a shock for all parties involved), a wonderful meal shared with friends, and good night's sleep under our belts, we caught a 5am bus on our way to Pretoria and holiday enjoyment! We arrived and spent the day exploring Menlyn Mall, which is enormous, savouring the taste of a Cinnabun for breakfast, and catching a movie. It is rather incredible that in a few short hours we can transport ourselves from a quiet life in the village to a bustling mall in the suburbs of the city. Most people in our village will never see the suburban, upper-middle class side of their country. They see it on TV and read about it in the paper, but it still remains an idea in their mind, yet to be seen with their own eyes. We feel privileged to be able to live and work in the village, to exchange conversation about our respective lives with our friends here and to be able to learn from each other. Yet at times is easy to feel guilty about the privilege we have to pick up and leave for a time to explore the city and the country. Our mobility is a bit of a double-edged sword, allowing us to connect in ways many others cannot, or do not, and at the same time it clearly defines us apart from those we live and work with. What we have come to realize is that there is no ill feeling toward us for this ability, only a desire to learn about what it is that we do when we leave, where we go, and how much of this beautiful country of theirs we will be able to see.

The following day in Pretoria we ventured out to collect a bag that was being held for us in a nearby suburb. Amanda, a good friend and former colleague of Jess was kind enough to tote along an extra suitcase with her in November when she came to South Africa on business and leave it with a friend for us to pick up. Packed with goodies from home contributed by family and friends from all over we were extremely excited to finally retrieve it. So on a sunny, warm morning we hopped in the rental car with Brandon and Rachel to find our bag. They were kind enough to chauffer us around a bit, and it helped pass some of the time while they waited for Brandon's parents to arrive that evening from home. We met up with our bag and it's handler, Wojtek, who is an exceptionally personable man who invited us in to share a seat on his patio in the shade and chat for a while. It was a great way to pass an afternoon and we very much enjoyed getting a chance to meet. Our hope is to cross paths again the next time we are in the Pretoria area. The genuine sense of welcome we felt at his home is a characteristic that seems to run through most any of the people we encounter on our travels here, one not found in every corner of the world. We have come to appreciate this hospitality more and more everyday.

Early the next morning we caught a cab to Pretoria Station and the bus that would carry us south to our main destination, Amanzimtoti. Having met up with some fellow PCVs at the backpacker the night before, five of us climbed aboard at 7am. The drive was scenic to say the least. Initially we drove through Pretoria and Jo'burg to pick up a few more passengers at other stops and then made our way into the countryside. Initially we drove through grassy fields and rolling hills that gradually morphed into crisp plateaus that rose straight up out of the surrounding flatlands. Eventually we came to a point of winding descent into the valleys east of the Drakensburg mountains. Hills and cliffs climbed around us as we snaked our way through and every once in a while we could glimpse the Drakensburg themselves off in the distance. This continued for the remainder of our drive (quite a time when the overall trip took just over nine hours) and as we finally made our last drop toward the coast and Durban we finally looked out upon the end of the land and the vastness of the ocean. We were picked up at the Durban Station by the landlord of the house we had rented for the holiday. A quick half hour jaunt south of and we were there.

The house was beautiful. Room for all 11 of us, with multiple showers to clean off all the sand and salt each day. Five minutes walk to the beach, grocery store, bottle store, restaurants, coffee shop, book store etc. Out of 10 days in Amanzimtoti, Jess and I spent 9 of them on the beach. The water was perfect, large waves crashed on shore all day long, and it was relatively quiet apart from Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Each day we would fill a bag with some light literature, some food to graze on and a bottle of sunscreen. Shouldering the umbrella we would make the trek down the hill and across the beach front road right to the waterfront. Naps were a common occurance. With shade, a cool breeze, and the sound of the water it was hard not to doze off. One of our favorite activities was sending a delegation over to the Indian restaurant for take away. For 9 rand (about $1.30) we would get vegetable curry bunny chow. It was incredibly good and large enough to split between two people. The coast around Durban has a rather large Indian population. Along with that comes fabulous Indian cuisine and we took full advantage. The one day we did stray from the beach, we ventured to Durban proper to explore the Victoria St. Market. Housed in large purple and pink building just off a trainstop and shadowed by the overpassing interstate it is packed with small African craft boutiques and Indian spice shops. Bins full of Masala, Tikka, Biryani and other wonderful spices crowded out of entry ways onto the sidewalk. We mingled around for the afternoon and enjoyed chatting up store owners. It was a Sunday and the market was a bit quieter, which we prefered. After having our fill of shops, we were now thoroughly craving a traditional Indian meal. Taking direction from one of the women who had helped us at her shop, we hopped out onto the street. A few rights and a couple of lefts later we were sitting down to one of the best meals of our holiday. Not only was the food tremendous, but the owner himself took care of us and made the entire experience memorable.

In the evenings after the beach we took to either relaxing or exploring the neighborhood. One night we had a large braai with friends and sat watching the lights of ships pass up and down the coast. Another night we ventured to nearby 'Funland', which was complete with bumper cars, arcade, bowling, and bar. There we stunned the local population with amazing renditions of classics during their weekly karaoke night. The locals also stunned us with their own versions of classics as well as their amazing ability to dress as if it were still the 1980's. Most nights however were spent making dinner with whomever was around the house and playing games. We sat on the patio eating and talking into the night, guarding our food from the monkeys that enjoyed stealing from the table when they could.

It was the holidays and of course we celebrated them together. Christmas morning we all woke and gathered around the table to share a homemade breakfast of egg's benedict and vanilla cinnamon pancakes. Our friend Erin had made Santa hat stockings for everyone and we decorated a paper Christmas tree with ornaments. With our yule log burning on the TV screen behind us, we also played a gift exchange dice game which was a big hit. People took calls throughout the day from friends and family back home telling of sunburns, great food, huge waves and a much needed rest. It was the best way to spend the holidays when you are away from home. A highlight of the day was watching a train of Santa had clad beach goers descend the stairs en route to another day of fun in the sun. We rang in the New Year by heading down to nearby tavern with a patio overlooking the ocean. We danced, talked and took in a beautiful night. As the clock struck midnight we toasted having made our way through everything to get to this point and to a successful year ahead of us all.

As we made our way back up through the hills and watched the ocean disappear behind us on our way back to Pretoria we felt refreshed and ready to head back to our villages. The last few months had been exhausting as we struggled to learn new communities, people and languages. Having the chance to recharge mentally and physically was extremely beneficial and will make a world of difference as we approach this new year. As we walked up to our front door after our journey back, cat in hand, we were greeted by all of neighbors with excitement, eager to know how our holidays had gone. People waved as we went to the store to pick up a few provisions and children were continually asking us if we were going to be back at school this year, wanting to make sure we would still be around to hang out with them. We felt as though people were welcoming us home again, and in many ways this is becoming our second home.

1 comment:

Katy said...

So glad to hear that you had a good holiday! I have been checking your blog for updates and this long one was a great surprise! Miss you lots! -Katy

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