Saturday, December 8, 2007


I'm back in the States, and I have about a zillion things I want to share. There's projects I want to show you and lots of thank yous to be said. But before I get to any of that, I've been trying to post this video for about a million years, and after multiple failed attempts, I finally got myself a YouTube account. Perhaps I'll make the effort to figure out direct uploading from YouTube to Blogger, but alas, not today. So for now, just click the little ol' link above, and prepare to be dazzled by Asemahle's fab singing abilities!

And keep checking back here if you're up to it - don't want to miss those upcoming projects and thank yous (especially because it might very well be YOU I'm thanking! Speaking of: Special heads up to Duke and Cheryl - one of the best projects we did is thanks to you guys!). Until later, then. Cheers :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


This is going to be a post full o' pictures, mostly of all the lessons and projects we've been doing in these parts. They're not exactly in the order I'd like, as I'm having some trouble getting everything to load properly (and the formatting is a pain in the neck), but whaddaya gonna do? Personally, I'm just going to get over it and get on with it. So here goes.

Last week, we worked on healthy food choices. The kids colored the letters for a big poster, and I made different foods out of paper. Then the children had to decide whether each food item was a "Good Choice" (happy face) or belonged to the "Foods to Avoid" category (sad face). Foods in the latter group got a big red "X" placed over them. However, I did try to make clear that ice cream and chips are OK sometimes, just not every day. This was partly because it's true, but also because I treated them to ice cream after our library visit a couple weeks before, and I didn't want them thinking, "If I'm not supposed to eat it, why on earth did she buy it for me?"

As part of our healthy foods theme, we also made fruit bowls. Personally, I thought the kids did a brilliant job.

They first colored paper "bowls," which were then glued like big pockets onto white paper. I made fruit shapes (apples, oranges, and bananas) which could be placed inside, and I had the kids cut out carrot shapes. I would've let them cut out all the fruit, but then the craft would've taken two days instead of two hours. So. Learning how to handle scissors is a process, and for our class, it seems to be a fairly new process :)

At one point, I know I mentioned the flower projects and growth chart we made after our trip to Kirstenbosch. And now you finally get to see what I was talking about. Below, our colorful class height measurements.

Each flower turned out so differently! Some really got the hang of it, adding sunshine, grass, and insects:

Others chose to forgo the center of the flower in favor of a root ball (forgive my lack of technical terms there):

And some just did their own thing entirely:

All in all, two very successful projects!

I have more projects, as well as some pictures of my gorgeous children (yes, that's right, at this point, there's no doubt about it: they are my kids). I'm going to try and post all that as soon as I have a chance. Hopefully, that'll be in the very near future, but hey, this is Africa. So we'll see what happens :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


First off, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: introduce you to my wonderful African family.

Front, from left to right: Jessy from Germany, host mom Gertrude (or Nzwaki), baby Sitetile, sister Evelyn, host dad Boi (or Tetile). Back, from left to right: sister Thania, brother Sipho.

Tetile, better known as Boi, works for SA intelligence/national security, and I’ve heard him described as the James Bond of South Africa. While this is probably true in that he has access to some serious spy equipment, guns, and inside information, I’d say he’s more teddy bear than ladies’ man (albeit a teddy bear who can do an intense 180 if necessary).

Nonzwakazi, also called Gertrude, is the director of Angels and Starfish, but she’s involved in an endless list of projects, all for the sake of community development. In 2000, she founded South African Female Empowerment (SAFE), which is the umbrella organization for Angels and Starfish. She’s also the chairperson and co-founder of the Mandela Park Economic Forum (Mandela Park being the township that neighbours our home).

As for my siblings....

Evelyn is my age and we get along really well. She loves to cook and dreams of opening her own tea shop someday. Sitetile is her adorable daughter, born in March of this year.

Thania is finishing up her senior year at the American International School and will hopefully start classes at the University of Cape Town in February. She recently got a job with Projects Abroad as their “social director” – proof that she definitely knows how to have a good time (not to mention the details on virtually every club/cafe/hangout spot in Cape Town!).

Sipho, the youngest and the only boy, is a sophomore at the American International School. Despite the fact that he’s quite a few years younger than me, he still feels we should get married – after all, “Age is nothing but a number.” Somehow I doubt he’d feel this way were it not for my chocolate cupcakes!

Favorite family hangout spot: mom and dad's bed! Everyone piles in together to talk, watch TV, and even eat. Sounds weird, but it works :)

Auntie Thania and Sitetile, hanging out on St. George's Mall.

Sitetile and me, hanging out on the couch.

And now for a disappointing (and even slightly teary-eyed) goodbye. Jessy, my cohort in the crèche and at home, left for Germany early this morning, a month earlier than anticipated. I’ve been debating whether or not to share the reason behind her departure, and I’ve finally decided I should, as the whole incident is shaping up to be an integral part of my experience in South Africa.

This past Friday, Jessy and I joined fellow Projects Abroad volunteers for a weekend trip to the Robertson Wine on the River festival. Before we left, Jess said goodbye to her parents, who’d come for a visit two weeks prior and were scheduled to depart the next day. All seemed well as Jess and I headed off for a few days of wine tasting and relaxation. But when we returned Sunday evening, Jessy’s family called with some disturbing news.

After we’d left on Friday, Jessy’s parents were at the crèche with Gertrude, playing with the kids and taking some pictures. They left around eleven and walked back towards our house, just up the road. Gertrude said goodbye before leaving for a doctor’s appointment, and Jessy’s parents continued on to their guest house. They didn’t get very far, though – as they turned the corner from our house, two young men jumped out and attacked them. One of the men placed a small white pill in his mouth before stabbing Jess’s dad in the hand, creating a wound 2cm deep. The men got away with his camera bag and cell phone, and Jess’s parents filed a police report before flying home the next day. By the time Jess got word of all this on Sunday, her parents were adamant she come home straight away.

I suppose it makes sense, especially considering that this isn’t even the first incident to have occurred. About a month ago, a young man attempted to mug Jess in broad daylight, just down the street from our house. Luckily, I was able to pull her away and nothing was stolen, though she did end up with quite the scrape on her arm. We, too, filed a police report, but nothing has come of it.

I don’t want to frighten or mislead people, which is why I’ve debated sharing any of this. South Africa is a magnificently beautiful country, and so many of the people here are absolutely incredible. Still, crime obviously exists. And it makes me so angry. I hate that crime can detract from all the good in a place, that crime is the reason I’ve had to say goodbye to a friend.

While I may be angry, I’m trying not to be afraid. Fear takes away one’s freedom, restricts one’s thought and movement. And a lack of freedom in this supposedly “new” South Africa seems pretty damn ironic.

So, anyone up for a visit?

Monday, October 8, 2007

a little love story

It was bound to happen eventually. A young woman, thousands of miles from home, will inevitably peak the interest of the opposite sex. But while I’ve done my fair share of explaining that, “I already have a boyfriend,” and, “No, he’s not here right now, but that doesn’t change anything,” the attention hasn't been entirely frustrating.

Still, I suppose I never anticipated a suitor quite this....short.

Meet Musa. Musa happens to be in love with me.

The other day, his mother told my host mom that Musa kept going on and on about another child from the crèche.

“He’s always saying, ‘Oh, Emy did this, Emy said that.’ So I’m wondering, who is this Emy?”

My host mom laughed and told Musa’s mother that “Emy” was in fact Musa’s teacher, not his classmate.

Apparently, Musa also asked Jessy if I had a boyfriend. (She wisely suggested he talk to me himself.)

Of course, I have had my own hints here and there.

It began two weeks ago. Everyone was working on a project and, as usual, vying for attention. Generally this involves shouting, “EMY! EMY! EMY!” until I say something like, “BEAUTIFUL!” or “Perfect job!” and smile approvingly. Should the yelling approach fail, there’s always jabbing me repeatedly in the side until I respond.

Musa was doing a bit of both that day. Finally, after enough jabbing to form a proper bruise, I looked down and said, “WHAT, Musa?”

He just gazed back up at me and said, “Emy? I love you.”

Naturally, the impatient wench I’d been the moment before disappeared completely. “Oh, well, thank you Musa. I love you, too. Now get back to work.”

Later that day, he kissed me on the cheek after I tied his shoe. And last week, he kept making me hearts out of playdough.

It seems Andy better watch himself, eh? :)

Really, though, certain males out there would do well to take a few cues from Musa. Frequent affection, open devotion, and presents? He’s definitely onto something!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

health, heritage, and the great in-between

Where to begin?

I’d begin at the beginning, except there isn’t one. And as far as I can see, there’s also no end. Life really is about being between the trapezes, isn’t it?

In my last post, I said there’d be more to follow on Kirstenbosch, but so much has happened since that I can hardly bear to go back and tell the whole “Story of Our Field Trip.” So I won’t. However, I do want to mention a few things. Namely, that in addition to leaving the park without any broken bones or major injuries, a second miracle occurred: I didn’t pull my hair out. Not even after Sinothando threw her chip bag in a pond and laughed as she watched it float towards a family of ducks, while Sihle ran to the other side of the pond and began dumping her juice into the water. To have all my hair after that and to have stayed calm? Miraculous. (Well, anyway, I stayed calm-ish....)

And then of course there were the flowers, which were absolutely gorgeous. The kids counted the petals and named the colors as we went along. But forget flowers – it was actually the automatic hand dryers in the bathroom that took center stage. My group must’ve spent thirty minutes by the toilets, washing their hands multiple times, just so they could dry them. We have been working on hand-washing at school, so it was still educational. (Well, anyway, it was educational-ish. And as far as I’m concerned, “ish” is enough.)

Anyway, since Kirstenbosch, we’ve done LOTS. The week following, we made flower projects connecting the theme “What I Saw at Kirstenbosch” to our new focus: “We Are Growing!” The projects turned out very sweet and highly original. There were paper circles the children were supposed to glue in the center of the petals on their flowers, but many of circles ended up at the bottom of the stems – as bulbs! I guess you stick to what you know, eh? (And bulbous plants happen to be one of the four major groups of flora and fauna here in SA.) I’ll post pics of the projects once I’ve got them properly displayed.

Later in the week, we also made a class growth chart. This was partly in preparation for a visit from Shelli Marx, a local woman studying to be a dietician. As part of her internship at a nearby clinic, she asked to weigh and measure all the kids to assure they are growing properly. I’m pleased to report that, for the most part, our children are growing well – and I'd think the meals provided by Angels and Starfish each day certainly help. Ms. Marx will be back next week to do some de-worming. (Gross, maybe, but as the township lacks any proper sewage/sanitation system, worms are a big problem in children, adults, and dogs.)

Shelli Marx measures Rowundi.

Besides keeping an eye on health these past few weeks, we also took advantage of Heritage Day (which fell on September 24th). I developed a semi-simple South African flag craft, then gave Voiswa (the head teacher) the materials and "how-to" so she could instruct the kids. The flags turned out beautifully. Jessy and I laminated them, then strung them into a banner. I must say, I’m always amazed that the “same project” turns out so differently for every child. It’s remarkable to see the reflection of the creator in his or her work. Awesome, really.

The completed banner, hanging in our classroom.

There was a bit of confusion about the red and blue :)

Last week, Jessy and I also tackled the not-so-fun task of sorting and washing all the toys from the crèche. And there were some pretty nasty ones, let me tell you. There were broken bits of plastic and metal, and a few toys with mold growing (obviously we threw these away.) The white fabric torsos of the dolls had become black with grime, and many stuffed animals were losing their insides. Jess and I salvaged everything we could, then set to work scrubbing away with sponges and toothbrushes. We put the dolls in the bathtub to soak (which looked incredibly creepy, what with many of them missing eyes and such), but even overnight in a tub of bleach didn’t get them visibly clean. At least we can assume the germs were killed, I guess. So while the toy situation may still be far from perfect, it’s certainly better than it was before. Far less dangerous, too.

Of course, it hasn’t been ALL work around here. We’ve been going out, taking trips, even building houses. Well, ok, building houses is kind of a lot of work. In any case, I definitely have more to share – next time. Cheers!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

field trip

Friday marked our first-ever field trip, to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. In other words, sixteen children between the ages of “almost 5” and “just turned 7” were let loose on an unsuspecting world. It’s a miracle that we left with all bodies and bones still intact (albeit sans pants in a couple of cases). To all the strangers assaulted somewhere along the way, I’m deeply sorry. But then again, what does one expect when there are wide open green spaces to run through and giant stone statues to climb all over? What kid wouldn’t see this as one big playground? A blind one perhaps, but that’s about it.

Anyway, more to follow when I've a bit more time! For now, enjoy these photos from our adventure!

Sculpture? More like jungle gym.

Okuhle poses briefly for a photo -- then it's back to chasing and being chased!

Musa (l.) and Duncan, enjoying the day.

My group for the day. From left: Lisa, Sihle, Amanda, Sinalo, and Sinothando.

Barefoot on the rocks. Pretty soon, we were all barefoot in the water!
Jessy's tranformation into a flower child, thanks to Amanda. (For some reason, this seems shocking to Musa, far right.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

world, meet anelle

This is Anelle, age 3, enjoying a peanut butter sandwich. (Through the generosity of a given few, Angels and Starfish is able to provide lunch and breakfast for the kids.)

During the mad rush of morning greetings, Anelle (pronounced Ah-nell-ah) sometimes shouts, "Mama! Mama!" as she enters the building, instead of the typical "EmyEmyEmyEmy!". I look at her like she's crazy, which makes her giggle and drop the "Mama" in favor of "Emy." This is followed by a face-first dive into my legs -- a giant hug for my lower half.

I love Anelle. I don't know for sure what her home situation is like (though I have heard a few things that break my heart to pieces), but I'd adopt her if I could. I'm just saying.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

all in a day's work

So, in my last post, I mentioned that, in addition to being sick, I've also been really busy. With what, you ask? Well......

Last week we made flowers to welcome the spring. The kids had to cut the bottom "petals" out of cardstock, which gave them practice with scissors. These were then stuck on pipe cleaners, followed by crepe paper petals. After some crunching and bunching and a spray of perfume, voila! -- flowers.

(They loved it, can you tell?)

This week's project was a class bulletin board. On Tuesday, the kids colored letters spelling out "The Stars of Our Class." Then, on Wednesday, each child received a star with his or her name on it to decorate.

Tulisile (l.) holds up a classmate's star, while Asanda finishes up.

Sinalo (foreground) and Amanda, gluing away.

They went crazy for the final product, unveiled today:

I am SO proud of them! And what's more, they are proud of themselves.

what goes up must come down...and sometimes vice versa

Were you thinking I’d forgotten about this whole blog thing? Or that I’ve become too lazy to write? Or that maybe my personality has done a 180, and suddenly I don’t have anything to say?

Well, no, on all accounts. In fact, I’ve been really busy, and I was also pretty sick for a time. It started two weekends ago, when I lost my voice. It came back fairly quickly, accompanied by an intense cough and mucus coming out my eyes (pleasant, I know). After five days of telling myself it was a normal cold that just needed to run its course and disappear, I finally gave in and went to the doctor this past Friday. Turns out I had acute sinusitis. Armed with eye drops, nasal spray, antibiotics, and a command to REST, I felt about a hundred times better within 24 hours. Go figure.

In fact, by Saturday evening I was feeling so good that I decided to join Evelyn (my host sister) and Jessy (a fellow volunteer, from Germany) for a drink at the Chapman’s Peak Hotel, here in Hout Bay. And it was incredibly beautiful and very relaxing—at first.

Now, as many of you know, I’ve been a vegetarian for about 9 years now. However, in researching for this trip, it became clear that the town of Hout Bay is synonymous with seafood. Good, straight-from-the-water-to-your-plate seafood. (In one informational video I rented, the 2 minute portion on Hout Bay consisted entirely of close-ups of fresh fish. I’m not even kidding.) So I began to think that, while away, I might adopt a “when in Rome” attitude concerning seafood.

All I can say now is, too much, too soon.

After sampling a few small bites of fried calamari my first week here (at a seaside restaurant, no less) and discovering I liked it, I was eager to eat more. The restaurant at the Chapman’s Peak Hotel happens to be known for its calamari, so this past Saturday, that’s what I ordered. I’m slightly embarrassed to fess up to the pleasure I took from squeezing the lemon wedge over the pan-fried rings, then dipping each piece in garlic cream sauce—just a touch, mind you. With a glass of white wine in hand, I savoured every single bite.

Experiencing it all coming back up again was not nearly as pleasurable, let me tell you.

I was so sick. And I thought the sinusitis was awful. Yeah, right. This was like the icing on the cake. (Speaking of icing, that’s something else I won’t eat, ever since my fourth birthday — and I’ll bet you can guess why.) Ah well, I’m not sure how I could’ve expected my stomach to be prepared for such a surge of seafood after nine years of nada. Cheers to new experiences, eh?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

role playing

A favorite game of the little ones here at the creche, and one that I find incredibly sweet. The children take off their jackets or sweaters, then loop them around, African-style, and cart around babydolls. One of my fellow teachers recently had a baby, and this is the way she brings her child to the school each day -- in a blanket on her back. It's wonderful to watch the way the children mimick and learn.

Monday, August 27, 2007

the beginning...

but no way to begin!

There is SO MUCH I want to write about, observations to note, people to introduce, places to describe -- I'm finding it hard to put my finger on where to start. So, while my host family is amazing, and my trip to see the wildflowers/rock art in Namaqualand over the weekend was incredible, I'm electing to focus on what I came to South Africa for in the first place: the children.
To sum it up, I love them. I adore them. They are so beautiful and loving and unique, and I'm unbelievably fortunate to have this opportunity to work with them. And I have so many ideas on how to help them learn and grow.

My main goal on this project is going to be establishing some sort of day-to-day routine/curriculum, as currently there is very little (if anything) in place. As it stands right now, there's not even a class roster. And while the school's two "teachers" are lovely, caring women, they are not trained, nor are they very educated.

So, today I jumped right in -- we began learning shapes (I cut a heart out of red construction paper for each of the children participating), then colors, then colored shapes. Eventually we did "opposites" (very physical -- we were big/small, up/down, loud/quiet, and so forth) and animals. We also read a children's version of The Jungle Book. I tried to be as animated as possible, as most of the children speak very little to no English. I'm amazed they can stay so attentive when the words are foreign. And they are so eager to learn, pointing at things and having me name them.

Following all this, each child sat down to have his or her picture taken. Quite the production, I assure you, this one at a time thing! My plan is to have two copies of all the photos made. One will go to the child's family; the other will become a name tag. I figure that this way, they'll start recognizing their names and I'll have an opportunity to learn them! Eventually, I'll take the pictures away, and they'll have to find just their written names. We'll see how it goes.

I'm also going to try and get a proposal going to buy some cubbies/cabinets for the school, with hooks and shelves. Right now, jackets and backpacks are just thrown about on desks and tables in the rented room where the daycare is currently housed. Again, we'll see. After all, "we've only just begun!" (You can sing that last bit if you like :) ).

Well, I'd best be on my way. My apologies for any spelling mistakes/ grammatical errors. I've only got so much internet time (I'm at a cafe), so I'll have to come back and do any editing later! And hopefully I'll also have an opportunity to post pictures soon, too. I tell you, I absolutely love these kids!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

london calling

Sitting in Heathrow with seven minutes of internet time remaining to let you know that I am so far safe and sound (though unfortunately completely sleep free).

I've already done some walking, reading, browsing, eating, people watching, and emailing; now it's on to the tooth-brushing and further time-killing, as my flight to Cape Town isn't until 7:20 pm and it's hardly noon. Ah well, hopefully the lack of sleep means I'll sleep through the eleven hour flight south. We shall see. For now, I'm off to rid myself of coffee breath and swallow a couple Advil. Cheers.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

anticipation has a habit to set you up...

Four. More. Days. (!)

Less, actually -- come this time Monday, I'll be on an overnight flight to London. Well, hopefully, provided there aren't any delays/other major disasters.

I'm ready to just BE THERE -- no airports or airplanes, no packing left to do or goodbyes left to say. Practically speaking, I'm not ready. I have laundry to do, for one thing. There's money to transfer, traveler's cheques to sign, forms to fill out, gifts to buy. But still, inside, I am so READY. I want everything I "have" to do to be over, out of the way. And no more of these crazy dreams waking me up in the middle of the night, either. It's all airports and Germany these days (er, make that nights). Course, right before I went to Germany, I kept dreaming I was pregnant via immaculate conception, so perhaps this is an improvement.

Anyway, I'll keep you posted. And soon enough, I'll be writing about my weekend trip here -- an actual African experience instead of the anticipation of one (of many, in fact!) :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

gearing up and counting down

This is just a quick post to say that I haven't forgotten my promise to write about something South Africa related! Because I have indeed been preparing. On Monday morning, I went to REI with meiner mutter to pick up a few required/suggested items: sleeping bag, insect repellent, oral rehydration salts -- you know, the usual. Still haven't quite gotten my mind around actually packing. All I know is that I want to travel with as little as possible. Less stuff, less burden. As for further preparations, well...

This weekend, I was able to watch two (very different) South African films. The first, Cape of Good Hope, is a sort of romantic comedy, though there are some underlying race- and culture-related themes. I rented it figuring, 'Hey, South Africa, great,' and after I got it home realized that the entire movie was filmed in Hout Bay, where I'll be living. Definitely a plus.

I also watched the documentary Amandla!, which was so fascinating and inspiring. It examines the role of songs in the South African freedom movement, from the beginning of the apartheid era to the release of Nelson Mandela. Incredible music, incredible stories. I'd definitely recommend this film.

I've got a stack of guidebooks checked out from the library, and three more are on their way from Amazon, but all that'll have to wait 'til tomorrow. At the moment, I'm having trouble thinking of anything more than my pj's and pillow, which tells me it's time for bed. Until later, then -- good night!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

summer love / promises promises

I hate mosquitoes. I hate humidity. I can't really swim, I burn about a thousand times more easily than I tan, and I happen to like wearing sweaters.

And yet, somehow, I can't help but love summer. No, not because I feel some newfound sense of freedom or have overt amounts of time to relax. I love summer for pretty much one reason: food.

That's right, farm stands and markets overflowing with so much produce that my heart races, my mouth waters, and my head starts to spin. Certain people can attest to this love I have for food; it has the power to make me giddy with excitement. Now, I'm not exactly a wizard in the kitchen, though I do make a mean chocolate cupcake. Fact is, I'm an amateur. I approach cooking and baking the way I do photography: I do what I can given my lack of skill, test things out, and hope for the best. And while the results may prompt utterances of "what is that?," every once in a while I end up with something pretty spectacular.

Case in point: the "breakfast pizza" I made on Sunday.

SO delicious! It was filling but still (felt) nice and light, with the sweetness coming mainly from the berries. The recipe was on Everyday Italian, though I modified it here and there. I'll definitely make it again, but I think it deserves a better name than "breakfast pizza"....

Further efforts on the berry front yielded a fruit cobbler. I actually used this blueberry cobbler recipe, but as I only had one cup of blueberries and had picked around a cup's worth of wild blackberries earlier in the day, I decided to switch things up a bit. In place of the third cup o' berries, I sliced up a peach.

Eaten right out the oven with vanilla ice cream makes for one satisfying dinner, let me tell you. There were definitely seconds involved.

On the savory side of things, we (mein vater and moi) used up some zucchini in a pasta dish with light cream sauce. Don't know that this is something I'd cook again -- I'd rather make zucchini pie (actually, my overall preference would be to eat zucchini pie made by somebody else! HINT HINT).

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Remember how this is supposed to be a blog about Africa? As opposed to my domestic efforts? Yeah, so do I. Thing is, I kinda sorta have to go to Africa to write about my experiences there. But it's close, less than three weeks away. And I am SO excited. I have indeed been reading many books and watching movies related to all things South African. So this week, on my honor, there WILL be a South Africa post! Not from South Africa, but at the very least ABOUT it. Until then, well -- you'll probably find me in the kitchen :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

all signs are go

Can you tell I'm feeling optimistic at the moment? Maybe it's because I've been running every day and the endorphins are flowing, or perhaps it's because I spent the weekend relaxing, immersed in Harry Potter. Or maybe not, who knows? In any case, I don't mind it at all.

The picture above was actually taken awhile ago. I came across it when I was organizing my computer files, and it just fit my current mood so perfectly, I decided to post it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how one goes from feeling guilty to feeling grateful. In many ways, this is tied to my upcoming trip, though it's something I've dealt with for a long time. I have a tendency to feel bad about the things I have because I know so many people are living with much less. If I take a bath, for example, I can't help thinking that, somewhere in the world, there are people who don't have running water. And I start to feel guilty that, here I am, about to immerse myself in a tub full of hot water when others don't even have enough to drink. It's this inner battle, these seemingly unanswerable questions about why I "have" when so many do not. And I end up worrying so much about the state of the world, about humanity, that I essentially become paralyzed, which does no good whatsoever.

So for a long time, I've been trying to concentrate on being grateful for the many blessings in my life, whether material or intangible, instead of getting lost in the guilt. Guilt brings with it a tangled mess of anxiety and worry; it slows you up, traps you. But gratitude, I believe, is intricately linked to respect -- you are more likely to respect what you truly value. You protect it, cherish it, treat it with integrity. All of which is a lot more powerful -- and a lot more hopeful -- than anxiety and worry.

I cannot turn my head from the injustices in the world, but I don't want an awareness of them to drown me in guilt. I'd rather let that awareness lead to gratitude. To some sort of understanding. And, ultimately, to hope.

It's more than I can fully put in to words here, a complex idea that is pretty basic at its core. A bit of a paradox. But then, more often then not, that's life, isn't it?

Friday, July 20, 2007


It seems like I've been pretty busy since my last post, but seeing as none of it's been all that exciting, I haven't bothered to write about it. In between appointments and errands, my life has mostly been a blur of reading, running, and babysitting.

You know, there's something about the word "babysitting" that is innately middle school. "Nannying" might be a bit more age-appropriate, but let's face it, that's not what I'm doing. Nope, my primary source of income at the moment is babysitting, and, really, it's not such a bad gig. As a matter of fact, I happen to like it. Probably a good sign, eh? Me, liking kids? Because if I didn't, volunteering at a daycare center would be an awfully stupid idea. Not to mention the whole "elementary ed" major....

Anyway, more to follow on another day, when I actually feel like I've something to say!

Friday, July 13, 2007

back home, yet on my way

Finally! More of our zoo photos uploaded successfully. Below are a few of the images from the butterfly garden. The piglets, however, don't seem ready to be exposed to the greater public at such a young age, so there'll be no photos of them (meaning that, for whatever reason, those files STILL won't upload. And I give up already!). The butterflies will have to do.

Good, I'm glad that's out of the way (I say relieved, as if someone was holding me to it. Hmph!). Because I happen to have some very exciting news. Namely...

...I got my placement in South Africa! I'll be in Hout Bay, near Cape Town, living with the Sgwentu family and working at the Angels and Starfish daycare, which the family started in their converted garage. I'm told there are 44 kids, ages 18 mos. to six-and-a-half years. Most of the kids are from the Imizamo Yethu township. The school already has some "basics" and two teachers. That means two people to care for all 44 little ones. Crazy, when you think I had my hands so full with fifteen. And I had three helpers!

Oh, I am so excited to start working with these kids, I can hardly stand it! Whenever I think of it, I can't stop smiling. The feeling of being on the "right track," like somehow I'm headed where I'm meant to be, is overwhelming. Of course, once I'm being peed on and having my hair pulled as I attempt to get a group of 20 or more shouting children to settle down and pay attention may change that somewhat. But let's cross that bridge when we get to it, shall we?

In the meantime: I. Can't. WAIT!!

I suppose I'll have to, though, won't I? Agh, the anticipation!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

the zoo! (sort of)

In my previous posts, I haven't exactly been at a loss for words. So this time around, I thought I'd limit myself text-wise and just share a few photos from the Minneapolis Zoo, where Andy and I went the day before I flew home.

Gibbons defending their territory (the black one is the male).

While I may not see these particular flowers in South Africa, they get me excited for everything I might see.

Well, it seems I'm having trouble getting any more images to upload, so the butterfly garden and 6-week-old piglets will have to wait!

Monday, July 9, 2007

there may not be a beach, but it's still a vacation

Well, it's been nearly a week since my last post, and a busy one at that. I finally have a little downtime today (nothing to do but pack, really), so I thought I take some time to write.

This has really ended up feeling like a true vacation, I must say. My days have continued to be filled with museum visits, great food, coffee, and books. Oh, and movies. Definitely have seen a lot of movies this week, mostly because it's such a great way to escape the heat. What more could I ask for?

On Wednesday, Andy and I celebrated the country's independence by going downtown....and eating at a British-style pub :). It was on Nicollet Avenue, sort of touristy, but still fun. Seeing as I drank a couple pints of Guinness, it would have been difficult for it not to have been fun. Later we watched the fireworks from a bridge near Andy's apartment. There were lanes for bikes and cars on the bridge, though very little traffic passed by -- most people ended up stopping and parking along the sides. The best word I have to describe the atmosphere is gemütlich; there is no exact English equivalent. The fireworks just seemed to slow down the world for a little while, put people in a good mood. It was nice, it really was.

Thursday evening, we visited the Walker, which currently has an exhibit on Picasso and American art. The museum was OK, I suppose. I mean, I'd go back, but the atmosphere was far from gemütlich -- in my opinion, it felt downright pretentious. The sculpture garden across the street, on the other hand, was great, yielding some good photo ops and a pleasant walk.

Afterwards, we headed back to Dinkytown and ate at the gorgeous Loring Pasta Bar. The food was good (highlights being our appetizer -- a steamed artichoke with buttermilk dipping sauce; and our dessert -- an incredibly rich, ganache-like chocolate cake. YUM!), but the interior of this place, well, WOW. It's like being inside a fairy tale, from the dripping candles and thick, draping fabrics, to the swirling brickwork and long, spindly tree branches reaching across the room. Absolutely beautiful.

Speaking of fabulous food and restaurants, have you seen Ratatouille yet? LOVED this movie! I couldn't help myself. I especially enjoyed the way they depicted what it's like when you truly taste your food, the whole experience of food. It wasn't anything too flashy, but I found myself going, "Mmm! Yes, it IS like that!" And also craving Valrohna chocolate. And fresh strawberries. And cake. And buttery steamed vegetables. And pastries. And soft French cheeses. And....well, you get the picture :).

We also saw Knocked Up and Transformers, both of which I liked (though not as much as Ratatouille). The former completely reminded me of many of my friends, while the latter was an excellent way to kick back for awhile. Kind of mindless without being mind-numbing -- all in all, good (albeit sometimes ridiculous) entertainment.

Well, I do have more to write about, but I'm no fool -- I know this post is getting long, so the rest will have to wait. You'd think posting every day would feel like too much, but I'm starting to understand that just the opposite is true.

In the meantime, enjoy this view of the city, courtesy of Andy; sit back, and we'll make a toast: to vacations! Of any and every kind.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

the time has come, the walrus said... talk of many things!

And while I may not have much to say about shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, or kings, I do think I can figure out SOMETHING for this first-ever post.

Originally, I was thinking I'd wait to start posting until about a month or so before I'm set to leave for South Africa, since that trip is the main reason behind starting this blog. But I've been bouncing around Minneapolis for the past few days, and I thought, why not? Why not write, right now?

So that's what I'm doing.

I'm staying at Andy's place in Dinkytown, right next door to the U of M campus, and there's a lot to do within walking distance. Still, I find myself frequently wishing I had a bike to use -- there are lanes EVERYWHERE for cyclists and no shortage of people riding. Not that I'm complaining. Nice as a bike might be, I can be content with my own two feet. Mostly because I have to be.

Yesterday I walked to the Weisman Museum (gotta love Gehry -- the building really shines from any angle, no pun intended), followed by the Bell Museum of Natural History. As to which one I preferred, well. Intriguing art, including an exhibit exploring the role of light in the work of nine Minnesota-based artists, vs. stuffed birds and mammals in glass cases. C'mon, people -- is there really any question? Plus, the Bell Museum cost five bucks and smelled weird, and the Weisman was free, both dollar- and scent-wise (did you catch that one? Haha!).

However, I will give the Bell some credit, as a lot of the birds on display were ones I'd seen "in action" on my birdwatching trip to Ohio (this bird, for example), so it was kind of cool to seem them up close and in a very "study-able" way. Oh, and there were also live turtles -- I liked them, too. Oh, and the Amazonian fig trees, those were cool. Oo, oo, and the mock-bog you could walk on! Ok, fine, so I guess it was better than I made it out to be. Even if it smelled funky. I suppose I'd call the scent "stale taxidermy" if I had to give it a (not-so-technical) name.

Apart from museums, much of my time has been spent in coffee shops (I've been to four different ones in Dinkytown alone), browsing used books, getting lost while taking the bus (I misjudged where I could walk from my stop -- whaddaya gonna do?), eating excellent food with Andy (here, and also here), and reading. Granted, it's not exactly Africa, but it IS a bit of an adventure. And I must say, I like it.

View of the Weisman as the sun sets (thanks, Andy!)