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Sunday Snapshots: Time for Girls

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The 8th and 9th grade girls at school were buzzing with excitement on Thursday after I announced that they were all invited to a girls-only life skills workshop on Saturday. 

I am happy to have worked with an awesome student leader to  start a girls group this year that follows a program focused on health, education, and life skills development. There are 10 8th grade girls in the group, and we meet twice a month.

In order to include more girls, the 12th grade group leader and I planned a life skills workshop for the other girls at school. The 10 group members ran stations for the girls that came, covering the topics from our meetings so far:goals for the future, common gender roles and ‘thinking outside the box’ about gender roles, staying in school, strong communication, making good decisions, and strong friendships.

“Qualities of a good friend.”

Using every day scenarios to practice the 4 steps of strong communication.

Creating small theater pieces to show common gender roles of women and girls: cooking, cleaning, raising children, and helping elders.

Theater about common gender roles of boys and men: drinking, dancing, and playing.

Drawing successes from the past and goals for the future.

46 happy girls at the end of the workshop!

The Heart of A Mozambican

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I am struck by an image, a simple thing: 2 oranges in a bowl.

“Servido,” Laila says to me. ‘Help yourself.’

We have been sitting together for more than an hour on a straw mat on the floor of her newly rented room. We talk about her 10th grade studies, her little sister, her new boyfriend, her twin siblings. We talk about my 8th grade students, my nieces and nephews, my sisters.

There is a lot left unsaid.

“Gosta de beber vinho?” I ask, pointing to a half-empty bottle of wine in the corner. ‘Do you like to drink wine?’

Only some days, when my head is really full, she tells me. I think a lot, she says, calmly.

I feel squeamish, instinctually, about a 10th grader drinking. But Laila is 20, past the legal drinking age, and long ago an adult in every sense of the word.

She asks if I drink. Just once in a while, I tell her.

A neighbor stops by and peeks into the room.

Já dividiu o quarto. É bonito como assim,” she says with approval. ‘You already divided the room. It’s beautiful like this.’

Laila has strung a rope from post to post across the middle of the room and draped two kapulanas over it as a divider. On one side there is a twin matress on the floor, the bed neatly made and the blue mosquito net tucked in tight around the bottom. We sit on the other side, slightly wider. Here is the straw esteira mat that is a staple of the Mozambican household; the esteiras are often laid down outside in the shade and here people will relax together, nap in the heat of the day, shell peanuts, do homework, braid hair. Propped against one wall of Laila’s room are her school notebooks and the notebooks of her younger sister, who lives with her. Her hair pieces and cosmetics are lined up between the notebooks. In one corner are her three plastic kitchen shelves, some food, and a couple pots and dishes. Along the wall are her jugs for hauling water and her larger basin of water. I feel a breeze come through the caniço grass walls of the room, and feel the soft evening sun rays come through the door. People pass by and greet us. A pan clatters to the floor in the room next door and Laila says something in the local language to the neighbor. A colleague from her class comes in and sits down for a couple of minutes, talking about Physics homework.Laila’s collection of brightly-colored, freshly-washed plastic sandals dry outside the door; A number of neighbors have left her smiling since I arrived with comments about her beautiful shoes.

In the extended moments of silence that are the norm in any conversation here, I sneak glances at her face. What I see there feels familiar now: a thoughtful calm. If she is stressed, it doesn’t show. For the longest time, I mistook this absence of apparent stress in Mozambicans for the absence of stress. ‘Mozambicans are so resilient, they never seem to worry,’ I used to think. I am embarrassed to admit that now; all people worry. My gaze moves to her hands, a knife in one and a kakana plant seed in the other. They too are calm in their task of dissecting the seed. Seeing her there, so grounded and almost stoic, I begin to uncoil slowly. It is comfortable here, and my own mind is more settled than it has been in days. The feeling that visiting her felt like an obligation after a full week of work seems ridiculous now, and I feel guilty for it.

Laila is a former student and good friend of our first sitemate, Sarah, and I said I would continue to check in with her this year. She is a hard worker and a good student. She supports herself and her little sister with minimal help from family; This situation is not uncommon here. These students struggle, undoubtedly. In their communal culture they are supported by friends, neighbors, teachers, each other. Many of those that support them have been in this situation themselves.

The day before this visit, Laila had texted me asking me for help buying food. I do not come from a communal culture; requests such as this make me feel at once responsible,unsure, and guilty. I did not reply that day and by the time I arrived the next day, someone had brought her the vegetables for dinner, a coconut, some rice, and the two oranges that she then, without hesitation, insisted on sharing with me.

I apologized for not replying to her message. I couldn’t tell her it was because I wanted to help but just didn’t know what to do, that I didn’t feel I could just buy her food, that I feared giving to her meant that I would inevitably be asked to give to an unpredictable number of others in similar situations. I couldn’t say that it was because I have never in my life known people that run out of food, and that I don’t have an instinct for this situation. They all seem lame excuses now for not responding. But I couldn’t tell her that either.

All I could say was, “Desculpe.” Sorry.

In the peels of the two oranges that lay between us now, in her tidy and calm and comfortable room, after two hours of conversation, I see the things that I consider to be the heart of Mozambicans: an unending and unquestioned generosity, pride in what they have, and a priority on the people around them. These are the things that all at the same time make me feel welcomed and starkly foreign, guilty and grateful, naive and a smidge wiser. These are the things I ache for within myself, the things I aspire to in this life.

I rise to leave and Laila insists on accompanying me outside, three short steps to the front door. In the fading sunlight she gathers her shoes, and I promise to come over again soon.

Zambia: Victoria Falls and Friends

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The perfect way to end a trip began with the perfect way to start a day. We rose early in Livingstone, Zambia, despite our weariness from travel. Three out of our group of 5 had just finished travelling across the world to visit the other 2 of us, as we were just wrapping up a month of travel.

We were the first to arrive at Victoria Falls at 6:15 a.m. that morning. As we woke up slowly and quietly, the falls rushed over the cliffs as always, their rumble breaking the silence of the morning as we approached.

The falls are unimaginable; a place that absolutely can’t be captured. It’s that ever-present rumble of of 625 million liters of water per minute falling off the cliffs. It’s the subsequent mist, drifting up and clinging to you. It’s the fragmented rainbows caught in the thin strands of water. It’s the jagged, jutting gorge. It’s that cloud in the distance that isn’t a cloud coming down from the sky, but a cloud coming up from the river. It’s the wondering how early explorers crossed this massive work of nature.

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These early morning hours that we had all to ourselves at the falls switched seamlessly between staring transfixed out into the water in awe and letting our silly nature bubble over. For Sarah (far left in our group pic) and I, this trip saw the start of our 10th year of friendship. For Sarah, Liesel (gal in the middle!) and I this trip was a reunion of our time spent as hiking buddies when we worked in Yellowstone in 2010. For Jared and Liesel, it was their first trip out of the country together, and a celebration of their first year of marriage. For Alex and I, it was our 8th African country and a much-anticipated visit from friends at the end of our first year teaching abroad.

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As proven time and and time again in my life, there’s no better way to get to know a friend than being together somewhere beautiful in spirit and scenery, and experiencing new things together.

We saw it in our laughing moments at Victoria Falls.

We saw it in the chance meeting of a new friend, Bwalya, an exceptional young Zambian woman that we met in an urgent attempt to find a bathroom one afternoon and then passed hours together over the following days.

We saw it in a New Year’s sunset river cruise, dancing for hours in a Zambian bar/club and, after counting UP to ten for the “ball drop,” escaping the chaos of a middle-of-the-street firework show.

With souls refreshed from friends and Falls, we entered into 2017. Cheers to a great year ahead!

Planning a trip to Victoria Falls:

Zimbabwe vs. Zambia: We chose to stay on the Zambia side during our visit to Victoria Falls, mainly because we had heard the Zimbabwe side gets very busy and a bit crazy during New Year’s with an annual festival that happens in the town of Victoria Falls.  We wanted a more mellow experience and are really happy that we chose the Zambia side! After staying a few days in Zambia and visiting the Zimbabwe side for a day, here are our impressions. Livingstone felt more like a normal town, whereas Victoria Falls felt more like a town built for tourists. This meant a few things and you can decide if they would be positives or negatives for you: we saw a lot less foreigners on the Zam side, we experienced considerably less ‘touting’ from vendors/ crafts and souvenirs were not as easy find, Livingstone felt like a small African city-a bit of trash in the streets, chickens about, familiar markets selling more than crafts. Second impression: in Livingstone, things are more spread out; it is necessary to take a taxi to the falls from town and getting around to markets and such requires some walking. Thirdly, the Zambia side seemed much cheaper to us for lodging and food. Finally, the main falls of Victoria Falls are located on the Zim side, with the many smaller falls on the Zam side. Personally, I enjoyed viewing all of the smaller falls more, and had a hard time seeing the main falls because of the amount of mist. Both sides were beautiful and it was worth seeing the falls from both sides and seeing both towns. It is important to note that I think overall we felt more comfortable in Livingstone because it was quieter and felt familiar and comfortable to us after living in Mozambique.

Getting there: We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia by air from Johannesburg. After researching the time and cost of good charter buses, like the Intercape Bus, it seemed a better use of our time and money to fly. It is worth noting that the price of flying into Lusaka (in which case we would have bused to Livingstone) was not considerably cheaper than flying straight to Livingstone.

Visas: We were so delighted to find upon arrival that the Kaza UNI Visa had been reinstated. This visa costs $50 and gets you multiple entry into Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as day trips to Botswana. Otherwise, the Zambia single entry visa is $50 or a day trip entry for $20. The Zimbabwe single entry is $30, double entry is $45, and multiple entry is $55.

Lodging: We stayed at Fawlty Tours in Livingstone, Zambia. The five of us shared one dorm room (6 rooms per bed), but there are also private rooms and camping space available. This is a well-kept up hostel with a pool, beautiful garden, and clean shared kitchen for self-catering. They offer free transfers to the falls every day at 10 a.m., as well as free crepes every day at 3 p.m. They can also organize any and all tours or adventurous activities you would like to do at Victoria Falls. There are many, including bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, elephant back safari, ziplining, horeseback riding, micro-flight trips, helicopter tours, sunset river booze cruises, bicycle rentals…and more.

Money matters: The currency in Zambia is the Kwacha and the currency in Zimbabwe is the U.S. dollar. We saw plenty of ATM’s in both places and used our card to pay for lodging, food at nicer restaurants, and the park entry fee on the Zim side.

 

South Africa: My 10 Favorite Things about Cape Town

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1. A wine, cheese, and chocolate picnic on the luscious grass at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of such a variety of plants that you could easily spend 5 or 6 hours strolling the grounds. Some of their gardens include the Boomslang Tree Canopy Walkway, useful plants, fragrance garden, the arboretum, and a collection of Bonsai trees. Although more flowers are in bloom during winter-June and July- we still found plenty to look at during summertime. The gardens were beautiful and I believe nearly anyone would recommend you visit them on a trip to Cape Town. But, after living for more than a year in the land of sand, what I really appreciated at Kirstenbosch were the well-maintained lawns. And the BYOB (bottle…) norm. Glasses or no glasses. We spent almost two perfect hours in the grass, under a tree, eating and drinking with views of Table Mountain.

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Logistics: Kirstenbosch Gardens entry fee is 60 Rand per person. There are 2 cafes in the Gardens, and you can also bring in your own food and drinks. If you are using public transport, you can reach the gardens on the Golden Arrow public bus or on the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tours.

2. Mexican food and margaritas at The Fat Cactus after a hike up Table Mountain.

There are many routes up Table Mountain and we had originally intended to hike up Skeleton Gorge, starting from Kirstenbosch Gardens. But because of the lack of public transportation to this area on Boxing Day, when we were going to hike, we ended up starting from the Table Mountain cable car station and hiking up Platteklip Gorge. I am fairly certain this hike was the third steepest I’ve ever done, followed by the Trough on Long’s Peak and hiking down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Platteklip Gorge gains 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) in 3 kilometers (just under 2 miles) and was almost entirely exposed to the sun at the time of day we were hiking up. Although the hike was a stark reminder that I need to get back into mountain climbin’ shape, I was still happy we slogged to the top of Table Mountain instead of waiting hours in line to take the cable car up. Additionally, this hike made our dinner of fajitas and nachos and margaritas taste that much better.

Logistics: The Table Mountain cable car area can be reached on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, or on the MyCiti buses. MyCiti was a great service that I wish we had known about earlier on in our trip. You must first visit their main station downtown-near the main transportation hub on Adderly Street- to load up your bus pass card with money, and then you just scan the card when you get on and get off. The system is well-organized and runs all over the city, including Hout Bay, Camp’s Bay, and Sea Point.  I would definitely recommend The Fat Cactus for a satisfying meal! They have three locations: Woodstock, Mowbray, and Gardens.

3. A rainy day visit to The Beerhouse, followed by a movie at the old Labia Theatre.

It may sound silly, but many of our goals for Cape Town were simple things originating from our past life as residents of the developed world: eating and drinking well, buying nice underwear, and seeing a movie. Of course, Cape Town has many more unique things to offer, but some days we just needed things any city could offer. On the one rainy day of our trip, we headed downtown on the public train, walked through Company Gardens to the Labia (yes….you read it right) Theatre to check their movie schedule.This theatre was originally an Italian Embassy Ballroom and was opened by Princess Labia in 1949 for staging live performances. We arrived there with no specific movie or schedule or mind; we had all day. Finding one that looked good, we set off to pass a couple hours before it started. We were close to Long Street- full of food and drinks and music and funky architecture- so we headed to the Beerhouse, where we found 99 bottles of beer on the wall and a dizzying menu, that described them all succinctly for us and organized the draught beers into categories like fruity and playful, dark and delicious, and the bitter way.

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Logistics: If you are staying in the suburbs of Cape Town, it is easy and cheap to reach the downtown area on the public trains. They all leave from the main terminal on Adderly Street. You can also take the MyCiti buses all around downtown (see link and info in the #1).

4. Eating, drinking, and being merry.

As noted above, one of our main goals in Cape Town was to eat and drink well. And Cape Town is an easy place to accomplish this goal. We found everything we’d been missing for the last 15 months, including berries, chai tea lattes, mexican food, sushi, brunch food in all forms, varied wines and beers, a Bloody Mary, margaritas, Ethiopian food, and this strange thing called a Cronut, pictured below. It is worth noting that it is permitted to bring your own bottle of wine to any restaurant in Cape Town, as long as you pay the small corking fee.

5. Strawberry sorbet on the lively beach at Camp’s Bay. 

We rented a car for one afternoon, a full day, and a morning during our trip and the first afternoon we drove up Signal Mountain for a picnic and then dropped down into Camp’s Bay. Here we strolled the bustling beach front and found delightful ice cream and sorbet. We found a nice spot near the water to enjoy our treat and do some people-watching, the dotting of blue umbrellas in the sand conjuring images of how I picture a California beach in the 1950’s. We stuck our toes in the frigid Atlantic and watched little kids run away from the chilly surf. We stopped to watch a touch-Rugby tournament and then wandered back the short length of beach to continue our drive to the V & A Waterfront.

Logistics: If you are on public transportation in Cape Town, Camp’s Bay can be reached on the MyCiti bus or on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, both links found above. 

6. The Food Market at the V & A Waterfront.

After a small headache of finding parking at the V & A Waterfront, our journey into the depths of developed world commercialism continued with me bee-lining it through a frighteningly large mall, searching for the information desk that could, more or less, tell us the way out. We succeeded and popped out the other side of the mall into a bustling but slightly more charming area of outdoor storefronts. We wandered wide-eyed for a while, considered going for a spin on the Ferris Wheel, stopped to listen to some live music, and then stumbled across the Food Market. This market was by far our favorite part the Waterfront experience. It is a warehouse-type building full of booths and vendors selling all sorts of foods and drinks, from Biltong,to sushi, to fancy teas, pizzas, tandoori, and waffles. We settled on an order of gourmet samoosas and a strawberry vanilla bubble tea.

7. Honeybunch Chenin Blanc and Huguenot cheese from the Remhoogte Wine Estate. 

A wine tour of Cape Town is like seeing Table Mountain or driving to Cape Point. It’s just one of those things you have to do. We booked ours through Wine Flies and had a great time on this laid-back tour. They picked us up right at our doorstep and we spent the day visiting 5 wineries and vineyards. We sampled about 25 wines and had two pairings along the way: chocolate and cheese. My favorite wine was the Honeybunch Chenin Blanc paired with Huguenot cheese. I even bought a bottle to bring home to Mozambique!

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View from the Remhoogte Wine Estates.

8. The drive through St. James, Kalk Bay, Boulder Bay and Simonstown, ending at Cape Point.

On our full day with the rental car, we decided to spend the whole day on the scenic drive to Cape Point. We stopped along the way to watch the penguins at Boulder Bay and then continued on into the part of Table Mountain National Park where the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are located. The views along this drive were spectacular, with cliffs dropping down to the ocean all along the winding route. Once inside the park, we stopped at the tidal pool area and found out that tidal pools in Cape Town are built up swimming pools on the ocean’s edge that fill up with water when the tides come in. We then snapped some pictures among the crowds at the Cape of Good Hope and stopped on our way out of that area to watch windsurfers on the Atlantic. From there we drove and parked at the Cape Point area and walked up to a lighthouse and down from there to Cape Point. Although the views from here were wonderful, I was a bit disappointed to find out that Cape Point is not actually the official meeting point of the Indian an Atlantic Oceans. The oceans do meet at Cape Point sometimes, but the true meeting point is Agulhas Point, a bit further south.

Logistics: The cost to get into this part of the park was 130 Rand per person. We did not see any public transportation of Hop-On-Hop-Off buses here, but there are plenty of tours available for this area if you don’t want to rent a car. We highly enjoyed it as a self-drive so that we could stop in all the funky little beach towns along the way. 

9. Lunch at The Brass Bell and a stroll through laid-back Kalk Bay.

On the way back from Cape Point we stopped in the funky little town of Kalk Bay for a delicious lunch at The Brass Bell, where we found more ‘tidal pools’ for patron’s use. With tummies full of fish and pork, we went for a stroll through town, where we found an actual bookstore  and bought a book of short stories by authors from all over Africa. Planning to take a loop back through Hout Bay, we stopped to fill gas only to have our credit card rejected, scrounge every last Rand from my purse, ask a stranger for some money, and return home along the same route, as we no longer had money for the toll road to Hout Bay.

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A little taste of adventure: all of our change lined up on the car seat as we scrounged around for gas money.

10. A Christmas picnic in the Rondebosch Commons.

This was Alex and my second Christmas away from home and our first – and probably only- Christmas just the two of us. After getting up early to Skype in for Christmas Eve in the U.S. we went back to bed for a couple hours, made crepes for breakfast (with three types of berries!) and then headed for the public train stop to go to the beach for the day. After waiting a considerable amount of time for a train that never came, we wandered around quiet Mowbray, trying to find somewhere nice outside to linger. We finally settled in Rondebosch Commons and laid out a capulana for a picnic under the pine trees.

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Sunday Snapshot: Life is Good on the Indian Ocean

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The Indian Ocean was at peace this morning, turquoise and flat and calling my name. We hurried from our friend’s house with her two stand-up paddleboards, before any wind picked up over the water. We paddled with the beach to one side and the Bazaruto Archipelago to the other, watching a couple happy kids swimming, a group of women gathered together, men working on their boats.

We jumped in for a swim ourselves a couple of times and stopped to drift in the current some on the way back. As we look ahead to the coming year, we know we can always find peace and contentment in these waters.

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Lesotho: Pony Trekking and Hiking in Semonkong

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We stopped on a corner at the bottom of a hill. A big hill. The man in the front seat of our mini-bus got out and the driver flipped to seat up to get to the engine. In the back we waited, just the two of us and a mother and father with their young daughter. A man on crutches came down from a house above and helped the driver top up his oil; they chucked the empty jug aside and stood chatting. The family got out and stood nearby. Then there was a bit of bustling and yelling in Sesotho.

“Come. Get in this truck and they will take you,” the driver told us.

Our mini-bus couldn’t make it up and over the mountain pass leading into the town of Semonkong; the driver had flagged down another car to take us the rest of the way.. Along with the mother and father and daughter, we got into the seats in the back of the truck, while our bags were put in the bed.

We chuckled quietly about the patchwork, piecemeal, clown car nature of getting around in this part of the world. And up and over the hills we went slowly, wondering how this pass compared to Colorado’s Berthoud Pass, which we had to cross each time we wanted to get home to our little mountain town.

“Is it steeper?” I wondered aloud. “Or am I just not used to it anymore?”

We watched the scenes pass out the window: the primary schools perched on hilltops that seemed so far away from any houses where the students might live, the wild calla lillies, the shepherds and their shaggy sheep.

We were dropped outside of Semonkong, before a police checkpoint for cars, as we had now become hitchhikers in a car with an insufficient number of seats. We walked into the town center, noticing the hints of wild west mixed with modern day that we would continue to see over the next few days here,like the man on horseback with a patterned wool blanket wrapped around him and a big ‘ole bag of Cheetohs strapped to the saddle.

By the next morning we ourselves were riding through the hills around Semonkong on horseback, but without wool blankets and Cheetohs. We were staying at the Semonkong Lodge-a beautiful place spread out up a hill next to the river- and had arranged a ride with a guide. It was just the two of us and our young guide, riding through the quiet countryside to go see a waterfall. We didn’t follow a set trail, but made our way through town and then up and down hills and across fields, being careful to keep the horses from stepping on young corn plants. And our horses weren’t made to follow the guide in a line, but often began to stray off and, in the case of mine, seemed to really enjoy picking up speed on the downhills.

At the edge of the gorge we perched for some time, watching the thin waterfall on the other side be taken by the wind as it fell to the river below. We watched sheep munching grass on the rocky cliffs, wondering where the shepherd was. We chatted with our guide about schooling in Lesotho and the Kings and missionaries and colonialism and independence. And when we were ready to go, we went: across fields, down to the river, across a bridge, up a ravine and on to the lodge.

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The next day, too, was characterized by a trip to a waterfall, this time by foot. We left the lodge with loose directions: go up that hill behind the lodge, walk through the town until you see you a tin building, then keep going to a clump of pine trees. Our horseback guide pointed us toward the right saddle between the hills on our way out. We picked our way through the muddy tracks from the rain the afternoon before and dropped down into a small village. We asked a young girl for directions.

“Just go there,” she said, pointing across the river, uninterested. “Give me a sweet.”

We left her passing a number of small tin shacks in the direction she had pointed us, some flying the flags outside indicating which type of local beer was sold there: yellow for ginger beer and white for sorghum beer.

“Do you think that was the tin building they meant?…Or that one? Maybe that one up there…”

Before too long we saw the king of all the tin buildings and the clump of pine trees in the distance. When we arrived, we saw a small, thin waterfall falling delicately down the gorge wall, and we wondered how to best position ourselves so as to get a view that wasn’t blocked by any rocks or trees. While wandering around the clump of pine trees searching for the best view we soon looked left to see a waterfall much more grand than the one we had been trying to get a view of.

“I think it’s that one actually,” I said to Alex as we laughed at ourselves.

Feeling a bit sad for the delicate baby waterfall we had thought we’d come for, we moved on for a better view of what we had really been looking for: Maletsunyane Falls, Southern Africa’s highest waterfall at 192 meters.

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With only a few other people around, it was easy to linger at the falls taking silly jumpy pictures, listening to the water crashing into the river below, sharing a Strongbow cider, and enjoying the views.

Planning a trip to Semonkong:

Getting there: We were travelling from Roma to Semonkong and were told that only one mini-bus per day does this trip, leaving Roma around 10a.m. At the bus station, we were told by an exceptionally kind Basotho woman that it is easy and safe to hitchikie for this trip, as long as you pay the driver the same amount as you would a mini-bus, 70 Rand. We did catch the bus to Semonkong..and you know the rest already. Warning for your mini-bus travels in Lesotho: bring good earplugs. Our bus ride back to Roma proved to be the loudest ever, with ‘Basotho Soul’ music blasting out of 6 speakers in the roof of the mini-bus. The teenage girl next to me at one point asked if I liked the song. “WHAT??” I shouted, her face about a foot from mine. “Oh…yes…I like it..it’s just a bit loud…”

Lodging: We stayed at the Semonkong Lodge, an easy and well-marked walk out of the town center if you are arriving by public transportation. As it was busy season, we reserved ahead of time. We paid 200 Rand per person per night to stay in a clean and cozy rondavel hut that had 3 sets of bunk beds and a bathroom. There was a great kitchen for self-catering and a grill area; we cooked every night as it was so clean and well-stocked with cookwear. The lodge offers a variety of activities, including day and overnight pony trekking, guided hiking, a pub crawl via donkey, guided rock climbing and fly fishing, and the longest commercial abseil in the world down Maletsunyane Falls. They also have private rooms, family rooms, and camping and a restaurant and bar.

Money Matters: We did not see an ATM in Semonkong or at the lodge. We paid for our lodging and activities with credit card and only needed cash for the 70 Rand bus ride each way and groceries in town.

Other Notes: There are a number of supermarkets in Semonkong where we bought materials for basic meals like rice and beans, eggs and toast, and soup. Secondly, if you are crunched for time, I think it is possible to get a taste of Semonkong  with just two nights. We stayed longer and enjoyed lingering around the river, playing cards, and walking around town eating a few “fat cakes”…delightful hot, fresh, fried dough balls. The town and lodge are a great quiet place to relax for a couple of days.

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Most photo credits go to Alex Romanyshyn… but a few to Cece too!

Lesotho: Roma and Thaba Bosiu

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Thaba Bosiu was quiet when we reached the top; we could only see one clump of people on the other side of the flat-topped mountain. We looked out over the valley, a patchwork of crops and little houses guarded on all sides by distant mountains.

It was easy to imagine the mountaintop as a sort of bustling village as we followed the paths that led us around to various parts of of the former capital under King Moshoeshoe I in the 1800’s.

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Some of the many houses in the Royal Village of Moshoeshoe I. These structures housed Moshoeshoe’s many wives and other members of the royal family. 

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Traditionally the Basotho people of Lesotho built stone houses in a circular shape. Building square houses was taught to Moshoeshoe I by Europeans in the 1800’s. 

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Being as Kingly as I could in Moshoeshoe’s Chair, where he sat to watch battles and command his army in the valley below.

 

 

The mountain is said to have gained its name- meaning ‘Mountain of the Night’- because of the story that Moshoeshoe I spent almost all night upon arrival securing the mountain and from the belief that it grows so much during the night that it becomes unconquerable. When Moshoeshoe left the plains in 1824 to be far from battling warrior clans, he looked to settle somewhere that would be difficult to capture. The climb to the top is steep, but the flat, open top offered plenty of good grazing and multiple freshwater springs; it was the perfect place to settle. Although the mountain was attacked multiple times, it was never taken. It now serves as a burial ground for Lesotho’s Kings, including Moshoeshoe I.

Thaba Bosiu is one of the most important heritage sites for the people of Lesotho; the first map along the trail notes that “during times of psychological stress and national catastrophes the people of Lesotho look to the mountain for strength, guidance, and inspiration as they strive to uphold the values of freedom, political independence, national unity and cultural identity of their ancestors.”

With perhaps less at stake, Alex and I had gravitated toward the mountains of Lesotho for a bit of strength ourselves, to start recharging our bodies and minds for the year ahead.

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Planning a trip to Roma and Thaba Bosiu

Getting there: The first leg of our trip was Maputo to Johannesburg on the overnight Intercape bus. We arrived at Park Station in Johannesburg at 4a.m. It is worth noting that, although we heeded warnings about Jo’burg and Park Station, we felt safe arriving at this hour. There were multiple indoor restaurants open, and the station was well-lit and full of people. We stuck around until well after the sun came up. We then took a taxi to catch a mini-bus to the South Africa-Lesotho border. The bus ride was about 5 hours. We crossed the border by foot, with no Visa cost for U.S. citizens, then got in a shared taxi to the bust station in Maseru. From there we caught a mini-bus about 1 hour to Roma. We got off a little before Roma, at the turnoff for the Roma Trading Post. To get to Thaba Bosiu, we walked the 3 minutes from the Trading Post to the main road and caught a mini-bus going to Maseru. We told them we were going to Thaba Bosiu, and they let us off at the turnoff, where we caught another mini-bus to our destination. Total travel time was less than an hour.

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My favorite pal at the Roma Trading Post. I called him Chewy Louie, as he was constantly chewing on all parts of me.

Lodging: We stayed at the Roma Trading Post on the outskirts of the town of Roma. The rooms were in various outbuildings, spread all around the gorgeous garden that filled almost every corner of the property. The lodging was clean and comfortable, and the property was very quiet and relaxed. We had reserved ‘dormitory beds,’ but were pleasantly surprised that this meant being put in our own 2-person rondavel (200 Rand per person per night) with a shared bathroom and access to a kitchen for self-catering. If you plan to cook here, I would recommend going into the town of Roma to buy groceries, as there is only a small, basic market near the trading post. There are no restaurants nearby, but the staff offers home-cooked dinners and breakfasts, as well as complimentary cereal, coffee, and tea for breakfast. There is also a staff member available to lead guided tours of Thaba Bosiu, nearby dinosaur footprints, and other destinations in the region.

 

 

 

 

 

Money matters: Lesotho accepts both South African Rand and their own money, the Maloti Rand. These two have the same value and can be used interchangeably in Lesotho. However, the Maloti Rand is not accepted in South Africa, so be sure to spend those first if you take money out in Lesotho. We took money out from ATM’s in Maseru and in Roma.

Other Notes: There is a visitor center in the town of Thaba Bosiu that can arrange guided hikes up the mountain, depending on the season. It costs 40 Rand to do a self-guided walk up, and it took us about 45 minutes to reach the top. The historical site at the top is well-mapped out and it was easy to follow the map and signs to the different areas of interest.

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Travel Teaser: Bazaruto, Lesotho, Cape Town, and Vic Falls

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There are moments when I remember that I never wanted to visit the African continent. What a strange thing it is now, to write these words from a part of the world I’ve come to love so much. It’s been nearly 7 years since my first trip to Kenya, and it boggles my mind now to think how lucky we’ve been over these years to visit 8 African countries, live in 1, and experience the beautiful people and places along the way. On our most recent wander, we climbed the dune on Bazaruto Island, took in the crisp mountain air of Lesotho, ate our way through Cape Town, and found ourselves in awe of both the grand Victoria Falls and an exceptional secondary school student in Zambia.

Here’s a sneak peak of what we’ve been up to.

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We started our school summer vacation at the lovely beaches in Mozambique, and then bounced around from there, realizing that we were spending every Thursday for 4 weeks in a row in a different country!

Thursday, December 8 we visited Bazaruto Island in the Bazaruto Archipelago for the first time. This stunning archipelago is visible from the beach of Vilanculos, our home away from home in Mozambique. We visited the smaller island of Magaruge in this same archipelago with my parents in August. We visited Bazaruto with my friend Sinead from the States and her little sister and 2 friends. Standing on top of the dune on the island and looking out at the Indian Ocean, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have lived here for the last 15 months. The feeling was reminiscent of how I always felt at our home in Fraser, Colorado when I looked out at the mountains all around us. The feeling on Bazaruto just came with a lot more sand, sweat, and saltwater!p1280958

By the next Thursday, December 15, Alex and I were pony trekking in the hills of Lesotho. As the months pass in Mozambique, we always find ourselves aching a bit for elevation change and cool weather. The rolling hills and crisp mountain air of Lesotho satisfied our cravings, as we spent a few days exploring the hills and waterfalls.

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On the third Thursday, December 22, we made our way to Cape Point. This was right in the middle of 10 days in Cape Town, where we had plans to eat, drink, and be merry over the Christmas holiday. I’d say we accomplished all of these goals, seeking out fajitas and sushi and wine and beer and margaritas-among other things- and even managing to do some activities in between the feasting, like climbing Table Mountain, picnicking (aka day-drinking wine) on the grassy knolls of Kirstenbosch Gardens, and watching the penguins at Boulder Bay.

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The final Thursday of our trip, December 29, found us in Livingstone, Zambia. With 3 more friends that were visiting from the U.S., we got up early this day to go see Victoria Falls. We spent a few hours wandering the paths, in awe of the falls,   and taking loads of silly pictures, as we had the whole park to ourselves for the early hours of the day. Over our 4 days here we visited the falls on the Zimbabwe side, spent hours chatting with our new friend Bwalya, completed a Secret Santa shop and gift exchange in a local market, and spent New Year’s Eve dancing the night away in a proper African ‘discoteca,’ Rihanna, fireworks, and attempted pickpocketing included.

Happy New Years from Happily Lost, and THANK YOU for visiting the blog. I logged on to write this post today and saw my stats from 2016: 6,379 views from 3,489 visitors in 85  countries. Thanks Readers, for getting happily lost with me!

More details on these travels coming soon!

Sunday Snapshots: School’s Out

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I remember the first day of school in February, standing in front of my classes to sing the Mozambican National Anthem with butterflies in my stomach.

‘Those lines are really long,’ I remember thinking, looking out at my stretching lines of 8th graders, 50 or more to each class. I was scared; I had never worked with kids of this age, and certainly never in groups this big.

Now, I know all of their names, most of their personalities, and, for a few, I know about their families, their opinions, and their aspirations. I can recognize their voices when they call from the gate of our neighborhood. A number of them, we have seen six or seven days a week all year.

These students have challenged me and frustrated me. They have been 8th graders: crazy and loud and emotional and just plain mean. They have done strange things: plucking my blond hair from my head, grabbing my hand to examine my white skin, smelling my hair, and telling me I have beautiful legs.

For all these odd and angering moments, I am grateful to them. I have a long ways to go, but I am at least a bit stronger and tougher now. I have been challenged to find ways to manage a large classroom with limited resources and to encourage their confidence. I am more aware of where I need improvements as a teacher and of where my strengths are.

I am grateful too, for all the good things. These students have educated me: I understand a Mozambican classroom a bit more and I understand some of the problems these kids bring to school with them.

And they have surprised me , too, a few of them, with their eagerness to learn and to help, their curiosity, their silly nature, and their occasional appreciation.

So, I say goodbye to my first-ever classes as a teacher.

Até a proxima.

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What Makes A Place A Home

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“My students were so bad today!” I ranted to Marcia last week. I had arrived at her shop in a tizzy, having felt the urgent need to flee our house on the school grounds after an exceptionally frustrating morning in class. “They steal my things, they show me disrespect, they only want to play during class. I am tired. I had to escape from them!”

“Ayay,” she listened, making this common sound, a sign of disapproval.

“Then, another student asked me if I even speak Portuguese! He said he only ever sees me speaking English,” I told her. “I speak Portuguese every day!”

“Ayay! You speak Portuguese,” she said. “But you came here to be an English teacher. Your Portuguese will probably end after Mozambique, but the English you teach people could help them in their future.”

“I told him that exactly! Then, he told me all my students say I am not tough enough because I don’t hit them. These students! They frustrate me, Marcia.”

I went on to spout multiple frustrations from recent weeks: they don’t say thank you when I give them things, they show disrespect to each other, they cheat on their tests!

“And they are always telling me my hair is disorganized!” I huffed.

Her response: When they tell you your hair is disorganized, you tell them ‘I am good how I am.’ You worry about your furture. Right now, your future is low because you are worrying about my hair. Worry about your future!

“Yeah!” I agreed, laughing now. I sighed, gathering myself. “Tomorrow is a new day.”

“Yes,” she agreed.  “Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow, enter the classroom with strength.”

“Thank you, Marcia,” I told her, giving her the small handhold-handshake that is customary for saying goodbye.

I ranted to Marcia. She empathized with me. She advised me well.

It was the most common of interactions between friends.

I had never had a conversation like that with a Mozambican before. I had never let my guard down enough to let a Mozambican friend in like that. I am always careful to leave the house with a smile, constantly aware in the back of my mind that I am being watched, that my actions, words, and expressions contribute to shaping people’s view of foreigners, of Americans.

A month and a half ago, I was fairly certain that I wanted to leave Mozambique in January.

‘The thought of being here for 14 more months is completely unbearable,’ I said on multiple occasions.

I felt defeated. Since May, so much of my mental energy had been consumed by worrying about health issues. Any energy that was left was used up just doing the bare minimum to get by each day. I went through periods of time where I woke up multiple times a week, sometimes every day, and the first thought that came into my head was ‘I want to go home.’

It’s a strange thing, because those months weren’t all bad; there were beautiful moments, successful moments, happy moments. I found a lot of joy in the slow pace of life here, in getting projects up and going, in hearing great ideas from students and counterparts, in getting to know people. And I kept on going.

But, the same thought kept coming up: I just don’t feel right.  In my heart, I felt a squirming, restless, discomfort.

When this discomfort is felt, it needs validation. It became easy to give reason to this feeling by noticing and hanging on to all the frustrating parts of being here: the naughty students, the language barrier, the health issues, the negative interactions with people.

And those things are all real. They are not merely inventions of an uncomfortable mind but, rather, a lens through which I was seeing life here.

From the glimmers of happy moments that I occasionally noticed during this period, I knew there was another lens to look through.

‘I think I am just choosing to see all the bad things,’ I said to Alex one day. ‘I know those good things are out there, I am just not choosing to see them right now. And I don’t want to live my life like that.”

Eventually, some months after this statement, I made a deal with myself: at the end of each day I will write down three good things about the day and hang them on the wall.

I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be here for the next 14 months, but I was sure I didn’t want to spend my days trudging through, trying not to be miserable.

And I didn’t want my good moments stashed away for later in a jar or journal. I knew I needed to see them there, all the time.

Knowing I needed something to write down each day, I started to notice things like the little girl, alone on the path to town at 7a.m. dancing gracefully, her arms swaying in the air. I committed to memory the moment an elderly woman with a bucket on her head that gave me a thumbs up and a “Nice” in English, with a completely straight face as she passed me on the street. And I had to document the punishingly hot day that all the market ladies were sitting around in their bras, completely unabashed.

These moments are a reminder of how strangely and beautifully different life here is. They are a reminder of what a unique time in life this is for us.

More than these moments, though, the wall is filled with moments experienced or observed in the context of relationships between people:

A students’ smiley face next to my name on his test heading, a small indication that he was happy to be in my class that day. The easy and admirable friendship between two of our favorite Mozambican friends. The times I was brought to tears of laughter, sitting around our kitchen table with Alex and the Sara/hs. Someone’s shout of “Servido!” as I walk by, an invitation to come share food or drink with them. The days I spend more than an hour just talking to someone. The neighbor girl toddling over to play. Uninhibited laughter with our adult English learners. Ranting to Marcia.

I look at the wall and I see it. This is what I value. This is what makes life here, and anywhere, feel normal. This is what makes a squirming heart want to settle and stay. This is what makes a place a home.

“Quando está aqui em Moçambique, tem familia,” Marcia said to me earlier this week, her hands on her heart.

When you are here in Mozambique, you have family.