Sunday, February 26, 2012


I was astounded to learn that there is a large gay community in Capetown.  I had expected it to be very conservative.  Homosexuality is illegal in East Africa.

There is a two week gay festival every year in Capetown.   I and some of the other volunteers went to the Gay Pride Pageant .  It was mainly a lot of transvestites in a beauty pageant modeling bathing suits, fancy clothes, play clothes, etc.  There were both "male" and "female" contestants, but all were male.  There were also some good dancers and a talented, cross dressing emcee in a beautiful, flowing white gown.




Robbens Island prison

Nelson Mandela's cell


Table Mountain from Robbens Island

Fellow volunteers May from Egypt, Sara from the US, Tabitha from Germany,  Chun from Australia, and me

Robbens Island lighthouse

The venue was at the Waterfront, a very built up, touristy area with an aquarium, hotels, shopping centers, boat tours, etc.  That afternoon, some of us took a boat 1/2 hour to Robbens Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 26 years in prison.  Our tour guide was a man who had actually been imprisoned there.  He was arrested but held without charges for 8 months then sentenced to 15 years for "political acts."  He told us Mandela took care of a garden in the corner of the walled prison yard and buried his manuscript there.  It was found, but he had a copy and it was smuggled out behind the pages of a friend's photo book.  We also had a bus tour around the island and saw penguins, cannons from World War II, and the old leper colony site.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Tim, the head of the IVHQ volunteer program in South Africa, picked me up at the airport in Capetown and drove me to my new home, a condo overlooking Sunrise Beach.  It was a breezy afternoon, and there were about 15 kite surfers on the beach directly in front of me.  It is about one mile to the town of Muizenberg, which is at the top end of the Marine National Park.  It is in a bay surrounded by mountains and includes Surfer's Corner, where hundreds of surfers seem to congregate every weekend.  There are numerous surf shops and eating places, so it reminds me a lot of where I grew up in Santa Monica, California.

View from the condo: sand dunes, beach and ocean

Muizenberg Train Station

View of Surfer's Corner from the Train Station

Train Station

Our condo is third from the left

There are 10 women in my condo and one bathroom.  I have been getting up earlier than most so I can shower in the morning.  Most of them get up after 7.  There are four girls in the upstairs loft who I call "the girls," because they love to party and go out almost every night.  They are from New York, Australia, and two cousins from Canada, all aged 19 to 22.  My roommates are Claudia from Switzerland and May from Egypt.  In the other bedroom are Kate from Connecticut and Brooke and Molly from Colorado, all under age 25.

The loft, home of "the Girls"
The girls:  Jacki from NY, Nicole from Australia, Sam and Nicole from Canada

The first day they took us for orientation in Capetown.  There is a train station in Muizenberg and it is about 45 minutes away, with about 25 stops.  We went to the Vodacom shop and I got a local SIM card for my phone and modem, then walked through the main part of town, including the Company Gardens, where the old Dutch East India Company grew their food, the Parliament Buildings, the Market Square, and Long Street, which is full of Backpackers hostels, restaurants, and shops.  It definitely feels like a first world city here, unlike the other big cities I visited in East Africa.  They still drive on the left side of road, though.


There are three main programs here: a nursery school and primary school in the township, and the surf program to reward good students by teaching them to surf.  I am based at the primary school, where some of us act as teaching assistants and some do a sports program.  It is about a three mile walk from the condo.  I have been helping out in 5th grade since their teacher is absent this week.  I don't think they have any substitute teachers so they usually just spread the students around and the other teachers babysit them.  Since we have a lot of volunteers, three of us are taking on the fifth grade.  Truthfully, they are little monsters and we could not control them.  One or two would get up and start to sing or dance, then as soon as you made them sit down, another group would start singing a marching song or something.  Some students didn't even pretend to be listening and sat at their desks and drew pictures of gang symbols.  When the principal came in periodically, of course they sat at their desks quietly.  It really makes me wonder why I wanted to be a teacher.  My students in Tanzania were so polite and listened to me.  Very frustrating.  Don't know if I will make it 5 weeks here.

God's Hope Nursery School

New volunteers entering Sunrise Nursery School

Christian David Primary School

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Living at a zoo is a unique experience.  The first day, we got a tour and met a lot of the staff members.  The zoo takes up to four volunteers at a time, and most are sent from their home zoos all over the world.  At present there are two other female volunteers from Sweden, plus Leah and me.

It rained a little the first day, so we went to help cut up vegetables for the animals then stayed mostly in the cab of the truck while we went out and delivered the food.  The second day we were much more active in the feeding.  We also cleaned out the rhino cage.  Leah changed the water by scooping it out of the trough then putting new water in by hose.  I raked the sand in the rhino cages, smoothing over the big holes in the sand they make with their bodies.  Henry, a regular staff member took care of the poop.  Rhinos only defecate in one part of the cage so it was in a nice pile already.

On the food truck:  Leah, me, and Teddy, a Ugandan volunteer for 7 months who hopes to get a paid job there.  Previous volunteers waited up to 4 years.

Giant Forest Hog

We sat on the top of the bags of food in the truck while we went to the various animal surroundings to deliver food.  The animals seem to know you are coming.  We watched them feed the water buffalo, since it is dangerous to get out of the truck with them around, but were able to empty the bags on the ground for the zebras, rhinos, gazelles, etc.  The giraffes get their food in a high trough but will also eat out of your hand.  We put the food in the lion cages and then let up the cage door by pulling on a rope so they can get into the cage for the night and eat.  We could not get up close and personal with the chimpanzees, since we had not had rabies shots, but were able to watch them as they went into their "night" cage and ate.  They peel their bananas.  During the day they live on their own island in the zoo.

African ostrich

Nile crocodile



Lion waiting to get out of her cage

We use truckfuls of food daily

Hungry rhino

There is an 8 month old baby elephant that was abandoned by its parents when they were running away from poachers.  A fisherman found the elephant and brought it in his boat to the zoo.  It is still in isolation but we were able to put on masks and sterilize our shoes so that we could get closer to it.

There is a cat hanging around the lakeside restaurant that looks almost like Poa, the cat Breanna adopted in Tanzania.  I am not a cat lover but kind of miss him.

Poa's cousin

They do camel rides but the camels are often walking around free.  Also there are warthogs and monkeys wandering around.

Getting the food in the truck

Leah feeding the gazelles and water bucks


Rough tongues

Feeding the rhinos elephant grass

Chopping up food to bite size pieces

Gourmet food for animals

Secretary birds

The last night, there must have been a party at one of the hotels on the lake.  Usually I wake up in the night and hear lions and chimpanzees, but this night the music went on till 5 a.m.  Not the way I want to remember the place.

On 2/18 I flew from Uganda to Capetown.  I don't print out my reservations anymore, but they did not even ask for the reservation number, just took my passport to check me in. At immigration in Johannesburg, almost all the people in the South Africa line were white, but in the "others" line it was about 50% black.   I had a pretty uneventful flight, then Tim picked me up at the airport in Capetown to take me to my new volunteer assignment.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


After a week including overnight trips to Kampala and Jinja with Leah and others, I left the orphanage for the last time on Sunday, February 12
Painting the girls' dormitory

Melissa from Australia and friends

My gifts included bubbles to blow...

...ropes to jump

soap to wash with

Joseph got my binoculars

Isaac got a chemistry book

Fashionista Fiona got school shoes

. The kids were very sad to see me go.  I gave out a few gifts,  such as my binoculars, speakers, some toiletries, a fan, etc., which also lightened my bag.  The kids were very happy to get them.  I had charged up my laptop in Jinja, so was able to show them one more BBC nature show on forests.  By popular demand, they again watched "Horton Hears a Who" by Dr Seuss.  It is always strange seeing 20 kids patiently crowding around a laptop to watch a movie, without any pushing or arguing.

Per Yvonne, an AIDS volunteer who conversed extensively with Joshua, the founder of the orphanage, he was a soldier in Idi Amin's army from the age of 10 until Amin was deposed and fled the country.  Joshua apparently had an epiphany that children on the streets would be hardened to that life and unable to change unless they were taken from there early.  He became a pastor and started the orphanage, as well as his endeavors to feed the poor and house battered women and widows.   

Joshua's brother, Regan, showed up to take Leah, Melissa and me to Entebbe.  James, the IVHQ representative, had said Joshua, the head of the orphanage, would take us at no charge, and I don't know if he realized that his brother, Regan, was going to charge us 100,000 shillings (about $42).  Melissa texted James and he met us at a gas station outside of Kampala and got a friend of his to take us the rest of the way.  He gave Regan 70,000 shillings and said he would settle the rest later, but that it was too much money.  I don't know if he will get in trouble for charging us.

Leah and I got dropped off at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center in Entebbe, while Melissa continued on to the airport, where she will get a plane back to Australia.

One of the orphanage volunteers, Alexandra from Australia, had spent a week at the Wildlife Center as a volunteer and raved about it.  Since then, several of us have spent a few days there before leaving the country.  Leah will spend 3 nights with me before meeting the boys and going to Kenya.  I plan to stay the whole week, but I am not sure if I will be volunteering the whole time.  I will have to see what that involves.

We are staying in a banda, a round brick hut with thatched roof about 10 minutes walk from the front gate.  The ceiling rises to a point about 30 feet high.  The interior walls are plastered, but the sloping ceiling is wood lattice covering sheets of aluminum.  We feel we are living in luxury with hot water, TV, electricity and a refrigerator.  We can see and hear the waves of Lake Victoria from our doorstep, but there is a chain link fence with barbed wire on top separating us from the road along the lake.  On the other side of us is a fenced enclosure with giraffes, ostriches, elands, hartebeests, and cows.

Bandas at the Wildlife Center

View of Lake Victoria from the Center's restaurant

Grooming the young
Inside the banda

Interior view of the banda roof