The days are trickling by ever quicker; time here doesn’t possess the same quality it does when you’re at home or plodding away at uni. It skips by in great chunks; you make it to the end of Wednesday and then all of a sudden it’s Friday night and you find yourself in Kruger Park. It’s bizarre how much time it feels like you’ve got at the beginning of the week, to get stuff done and make some serious progress, but while Monday and Tuesday feel interminable, you hit mid-week and suddenly someone slams on the accelerator.
The volunteers have surpassed themselves this week. April has organised sign up for the forthcoming Arts and Culture Day; Tabi has managed to get in contact with SANCA, a drug and alcohol NGO, and invite them to do a session in her school; James is in the process of setting up a formal after-school homework club; and Billy has inexplicably managed to produce lesson plans for every single Grade 6 maths lesson for the rest of the the year. Go team! Rachel and I feel like proud parents. Our babies are growing up!
This week has also been mid-project review week, which has meant that our days have been even longer than usual, because instead of allocating it to a weekend, we’ve been doing bits and bobs throughout the week, on top of all our other work. It’s been pretty hectic, but also quite fun – Thursday we had a group meet up at Clara’s and got chicken dust (aka Nando’s) as an incentive for people to talk about their feelings – something I know they find very trying. From this session the main things we have drawn is that Billy is getting fat and is no longer able to do up the top button on his trousers without significant difficulty and consequent discomfort, and that James found it very useful before he came out on project to be armed with such worthwhile information as ‘the photocopier sometimes doesn’t work’. Fascinating stuff. As for Rachel and I, the freedom we get in our homestay is great because it means we can basically get home at 5.30 and watch telly for 4 hours straight with nobody complaining. Apart from the fact that our biscuits have mysteriously disappeared, which I will get over with time, everything has been very much to our satisfaction.
This weekend has been particularly exciting: we’ve had our long awaited trip to Kruger National Park in celebration of James turning 22! I have to confess that part of the excitement lay in getting to finish work early on Friday (which most people here do anyway); however this did also provide a problem in that we essentially had to squeeze a full day’s work into a very short timeframe, as Rachel and I were to get picked up at 11.30am. It was a stressful morning, especially as we had arranged to have two meetings with partners we hadn’t met before on top of all our regular Friday jobs. Of course you always have to allow for two key factors in South Africa: meetings going on for longer than they strictly need to, and people working according to what they call African time – aka not considering that ‘meet at 9’ actually means ‘be there at 9’. We managed it though, largely through a combination of promises to come back and meet them again next week (which we will, and are honestly quite excited for), and well-chosen white lies: ‘Really sorry but we’ve actually got another meeting at 10 so we can’t stay long enough for coffee’. Aunty Busi from Lifa Lessive, a new outreach partner we’re making links with, absolutely insisted we couldn’t leave their office empty handed, so she gave us a large bag of crisps for the road. Like I said, we are honestly quite excited to revisit these partners…
Anyway, the long and short of it is that we made it back in time for the bus to pick us up, though frantic packing did mean that I forgot the one thing that I knew I’d need: a jumper, or any item of warm clothing. I decided it couldn’t matter too much (it could – see 5 Things I Learnt on Safari), and we were off to collect the volunteers, hastily decorating the bus with balloons and banners, determined to surprise and embarrass James as much as possible, as is obligatory when turning 22. Party hats aboard the party bus were mandatory (at least they were for all of 15 minutes before we decided they were too irritating to wear for any prolonged period of time).
The bus journey was surprisingly short (we really are living quite near to the Park), and before we knew it up popped Netto to greet us and sort out our rooms. We raced to get a quick dip in the pool before heading out for our evening drive, though Netto declined the offer to join us, and with good reason: of course the water was freezing.
The night drive was a nice introduction to safari; the wind wasn’t too much to bear after the sun had had all day to heat up the ground and the air (though borrowing Rachel’s cardigan significantly helped my lack-of-jumper situation), and in all honesty it was just a good way to relax after a hectic day. Turns out I just really love being driven around by other people. We saw some elephants and a load of zebras (zebras are cool), and then it got dark and unsurprisingly we didn’t see much after that. I imagine night drives can be a really great way to see animals that aren’t out in the daytime, except that I kept nodding off, which wasn’t particularly conducive to seeing anything. Still, it was an enjoyable ride, and by the time we got back in the dead of night (sorry, half past 7) I was a bit more awake.
We were met at the huts by the welcome sight of Netto in a very becoming flowery apron, who had cooked us an absolute banquet – April said, and I quote, that it was ‘the best meal I have had here’. The highlight had to be the cheesy garlic bread cooked on the braai – honestly; I think Netto might do well to think about heading in a different career direction. After his exertions, Netto headed to bed early, and the rest of us stayed up chatting about such scintillating topics as the efficiency of the Manchester bus service. I took this as my cue to go and sleep, and Rachel followed shortly after – I think we might be getting old.
In fairness, though, the next morning we were up at the crack of dawn (oh wait, that’s the time we get up every day…) to head out on safari once more, so an early night was probably a sensible idea. Not that it stopped me dozing off every once in a while – there’s something very soothing about trundling along dirt roads, I don’t know. I wasn’t the only one – Netto started snoring at one point; clearly he’s been on one too many safaris! I don’t think you could ever have too much of it though; surely the novelty of seeing animals in the wild could never wear off. Sadly we never got to see any lions, leopards or cheetahs, but ticking off three of the Big Five before breakfast isn’t bad going, and I definitely feel like we got our money’s worth. By 4 o’clock we were on our way home to KaNyamazane, and by the evening we realised just how tired you can get from driving around exposed to the fresh air for the whole day. Rachel was in bed by half past 8, I kid you not.
Our Sunday morning lie in was interrupted twofold; firstly by Toockey at 5.20am who wanted us to meet (and say goodbye to) her eldest son Wandile, who had stopped for a flying visit this weekend, and then by our own agenda, as we had been invited to Nontobeko’s engagement party! We met Prince (who also works at the Msogwaba library) on the way into Pienaar so he could show us where the house was, and settled in for an awkward wait before it all began (obviously we were early). We were introduced to lots of people who all seemed very confused about what exactly we were doing there, and then at last we heard music drifting in from the large tent which had been erected in the garden for the purpose of the ceremony. Nontobeko looked incredible in her full South African dress, and everyone was dressed to impress with beads and killer heels – we felt so dowdy in our long skirts and smart tops. Annoyingly we couldn’t stay for long, but we had so much fun dancing badly to the music and being laughed at for doing so by all Nontobeko’s relatives and friends. It was a great way to spend our morning.
I can’t describe how welcoming everyone has been to us here, and that was just the perfect example of why I love it here. A couple of random white girls show up to someone’s engagement party and, though we naturally got a few stares, everyone was just so accommodating; inviting us to sit down in the front of the tent even though we could only stay for an hour or so, and not minding that we clearly couldn’t understand what was going on when they were talking in SiSwati. The lady who was up on stage speaking to the crowd even said that she appreciated our efforts at joining in the dancing (very polite of her, I thought). I’m going to be so sad to go back to the anonymity of England… though I’m sure I’ll be grateful for it for the first couple of days. South Africa is great.