Travel post-volunteer

South Africa is known as a truly varied and colorful holiday destination. It appeals as a vacation spot for line travelers, families and couples from all across the world.

Many of our volunteers end up taking a couple of weeks after the close of their MozVolunteers program to travel to different areas of this diverse and beautiful country.

I recently took a drive from Stellenbosch, down the garden route to Port Elizabeth. On route I stopped at Hermanus (the whale town) and Knysna (famous for fresh fresh seafood and a giant lagoon). I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty and variety I encountered along this route, the friendly places, and the stunning landscapes. The garden route is easily accessible: after leaving mozvol, fly from Durban to Port Elizabeth. Hire a vehicle and drive through to Cape Town, ensuring to take the time to explore the wine routes of stellenbosch, franschoek and Paarl.

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What is Africa?

What is the ‘real’ Africa?

Ask this question to any one person, anywhere in Afrixa and you will get a different answer each time.

For me? The real Africa, well, that’s easy.

Africa is certain sounds, or absence of sounds: the silence of the dawn, early morning waves of the Indian Ocean, too loud African house music- we call it ‘jelly legs music’ because young children dancing to it have legs wobbly like jelly, melancholy church gospel singing, cicada beetles and frogs lulling you to sleep and the gentle rumble of a lion’s call in the darkness.

Africa is also the smell of the potato bush.

Africa is the taste of fresh fish, the taste of salt on my lips and above all, a cold beer or glass of wine from the West coast.

Africa is hot and cold. Sunshine and snow with open fires and warm soup.

Above all, Africa is happiness, love, smiles, friendship, a struggle, but one that is truly worthwhile. Why? Because the rewards you get are better than anything else ever could be.

Creepy crawlies and bugs and things

I’m not a person who minds spiders, they have never bothered me, and I know that I can live happily side by side with all sorts of flying bugs, moths, insects and beetles (Bean on the other hand is terrified of spiders, and runs a mile screaming whenever one makes a visit).

One summer in Mozambique, we had just moved house, and after a good spring clean, we doused the outside walls liberally with fendona insecticide (a major necessity in the war against the anopheles mosquito and cerebral malaria). Settling into bed (after the rigmarole of showering in cold water, spraying liberally with peaceful sleep insect repellent, securely tucking mosquito net under sides of bed, cranking the fan up to high power, turning lights out and jumping into bed without disturbing the tenuous arrangement, or getting bitten by a sneaky mosquito in the process), I was about to fall into my usual deep dreamless sleep, when *ouch* I felt a sharp pain on my left shoulder blade, followed by a numbness on the left side of my body. I screamed, jumped a mile in the air, Scott also jumped, but to turn on the light and examined the place of impact. Spider bite. Huge, painful, red, swollen, instantly explosive spider bite.

After a massive dose of antihistamine, some ant-inflammatory and a large glass of wine, I was still numb (probably exacerbated by the wine), just a little sort but fine and even managed to fall back to sleep.

However, a couple of nights later, whilst lying in bed reading (again after the usual bed time rigmarole) Scott looked up at the corner of the door-jamb and immediately turned white (usual reaction to a large creepy crawly). Wedged between the hinge and the wall was the largest spider I have ever seen in my life, at least the size of a large dinner plate, with protruding eyes and fluffy legs. Mesmerised by the arachnid, we sat there for a while, and then in a moment of decision, Scott picked up the bug spray and doused the thing, full spray for at least 5 minutes – he was clearly taking no chances! It may or may not have been the thing that got me previously (doubtful, as smaller spiders usually cause the largest bites), but it definitely got the full force of our truly anti-arachnid feelings!

Luckily (for Bean anyway..!) spiders of that size are less common in South Africa than Mozambique, and I can safely say that we happily left that species well behind us with our move to South Africa.

Recently, however, now that summer is on its way, we are getting the usual increasing snake population here in South Africa. Although most species that reside here in South Africa are harmless and probably just a little curious, sadly, there are a few that can be very dangerous (to animals as well as humans), and although you can keep vigilant, check through your grounds for invaders who are the worst of the species, and never tramp through long grass without shoes, some (poisonous and not) do inevitably slip through the surveillance.

In January this year we had the most fabulous Australian girl volunteering with us. She was lying in bed, finishing writing up her volunteer diary entry for the day, and reached to the lamp at her bedside to turn out the light. As she did so, she noticed a small, grey snake coiled around the lamp’s stem. Very bravely, instead of screaming, or waking Scott or I (we were already sound asleep and oblivious to the maneuvers going on in the next room..!) she picked up the lamp by the shade, and moved it into the lounge. A little later, she realized what had happened (possibly after the adrenaline caused by finding a snake inches away from her head had subsided), and on second thoughts woke us up with the worry that one of the indoor animals may be vulnerable to being hurt by the snake. We removed the snake (luckily a non-poisonous variety) using a golf club, and all trundled back off to bed…

Are you scared of spiders like Bean? Do you not like snakes? Or are you more like me, and only worry about them when they hurt you?

Creepy crawlies and bugs and things often pop into our lives here to say hello, 99% of the time they are perfectly harmless and possibly just curious about what we are doing and who we are. Don’t get scared by them, try and stay calm, and always let someone know if there’s a snake on your lamp, or a spider in your bed -we can quickly set it free (its probably much happier outside anyway!) and carry on with our day or fall back to sleep to the wonderful sounds of the bush, the crickets, frogs and the cicadas: that African lullaby that makes our sleep so peaceful here.

Welcome, Summer.

We have come to the end of our busy period, here at MozVol HQ. Volunteers have been subjected to torrential rainfall, high winds and hale storms reminiscent of snowfall in the northern hemisphere. However, summer is now here, and we are enjoying long, lazy summer days, weekends at the beach with the children from the children’s centre, and breezy boat trips down the estuary hippo and croc-spotting and monitoring.

We are looking forward to starting the reno at the children’s home (orphanage) – over the next couple of weeks we will be replacing broken windows, painting, fixing play equipment, decorating and redoing the kitchen facilities and replacing exterior doors to ensure the safety of the children at all time.

The creche facilities are going from strength to strength, and we are starting to develop the new syllabus for the 2013 academic year, starting in January.

With these two activities in mind, we are keen to have career break-ers join us in the forthcoming months. We are particularly looking for teachers, builders, healthcare workers and others with practical skills.

We are going to be making an effort to market our projects to family groups, in a bid to provide ethical family holidays to our beautiful part of the world, and selling the concept of a ‘mature gap year’, for when the daily grind of office work gets a bit much and you just need to get away… why not take an extended holiday and use your skills to the sustainable benefit of others less fortunate than yourself?

Participants in our conservation project has had a 100% success level over 2012, with all participants sitting the THETA examination passing with flying colours. Conservation volunteers have particularly enjoyed learning wildlife spotting techniques in the Big 5 reserve Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, and taking plaster of Paris imprints of wild animal spoor through the reserves to help with spoor recognition and learning animal behaviour.

Watch this space for our annual sports projects coming up in May and August 2013 and join our community care project (South Africa) for either 3 or 4 weeks in December 2012 and January 2013 through One World 365 and receive a 25% discount.

Beach weekends.

Waking up this morning, I looked out the window and saw sunshine. Real summer sunshine. For the first time since winter.

We have had highly unseasonal weather over the past few weeks. Being over half way through September, you would expect, given the tropical climate of our area that we would be nearly into our summer sunshine, 40 degree heat and wake up every morning to beautiful clear skies. Not the case. We have had torrential rain, unseasonal floods, high winds and rivers with burst banks. Although this morning, the wind was still there, the sun was out, and it has been warm enough all day to resort to usual summer attire of bikini and t shirt.

We’re now off to the beach. Because of the wind, there will be no waves, but there will be warm water, sunshine and clear skies.

What a way to spend a weekend.

Vegetarian food at MozVolunteers

We *try* quite hard to make sure all our volunteers get a South African culinary experience when they join one of our projects. By the nature of the meal and rushed mornings, breakfast is nothing to shout about, lunch a packed sandwich, but at supper time, everyone is invited to site round the table on our verandah, next to an open fire if it is cold, and enjoy South African cuisine, from summer braais (bbqs), potjies and boboetie to butternut soups, samp and beans and other traditional Zulu meals.

Occasionally we have a vegetarian volunteer, then we usually refer back to the cook books, and often our days in Mozambique, where meat was expensive, poor quality and hard to come by, so naturally ate very little of it.

A favourite is our South African veggie burgers.

Ingredients:

1 x large butternut, peeled and cut into small portions

about 4 large potatoes

2 onions

1 small punnett mushrooms

1 small tin of ready-cooked kidney/sugar beans.

1 cup of breadcrumbs

1 aubergine peeled and chopped

2 eggs

2 cups home made crumb coating (or shop bought to substitute)

2 cloves garlic

2 cups chopped fresh parsley

spices (we use paprika and a little curry powder)

1 chopped red birds eye chilli

salt and pepper to taste.

A little flour

Method

1. Fry onions and chilli in a little olive oil until cooked,. Add the aubergine, cook a little longer, add mushrooms and the cloves of garlic crushed, and fry off any spices too.

2. In a separate pan, boil potatoes (peeled and chopped into large portions) and butternut until soft.

3. Drain the potatoes and butternut and add into a dish with the onion mixture. Mix and leave to cool.

4. Add one egg, breadcrumbs and chopped, fresh parsley and mix until it sticks together.

5. Make into burger shapes.

6. Dip each burger into flour, then egg, then the home made breadcrumb coating.

7. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

8. Cook on a griddle for 1 minute each side with a little olive oil until sealed, then transfer all burgers into a greased oven dish and cook for around 30 minutes or until hot throughout.

Serve in hot buttered rolls (homemade are best 🙂 with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber from the garden, with Bean’s tomato chutney and real mayonnaise YUM.