Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Into Africa

From June 17 until July 3, I had the privilege of visiting South Africa with The Meadowbrook School of Weston. They do a semi-annual trip, under the guidance of Peter Johannsen, who is on the board of an incredible organization called the Kliptown Youth Program. Although I had no children on the trip, as an alumni parent, they welcomed me on the trip with open arms, for which I was and remain truly grateful. So, at the crack of pre-dawn, 15 Meadowbrook students, two Beacon Academy students, five Meadowbrook teachers, three current parents, the headmaster of Beacon Academy, and I set off on the trip of a lifetime.

It will take me quite awhile to write up all the different parts of the adventure, so I'll be populating the links below as I complete the various writeups. I'll leave the links for not-yet-written pages red. If you would like to see the full picture collection (without words), send me email and I'll send you a login/password for the web site (once it's up, which will also take a bit).

Our adventure started in Johannesburg, or "Jo-burg," hitting the ground almost 24 hours after we left (we flew through Heathrow).

  Once there, we met Pete's Aunt Chris and Uncle Nick (Chris and Pete have been managing this trip since its inception) who helped us find ATMs and our bus. There we met our driver Niels, who quickly became part of the family (more on this later). We headed to the Hertford, which would be our home base for the first week. After a hearty lunch, we headed out to the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden. It was precisely the right activity to keep jet-lagged travelers awake, provide fresh air, and burn off some of the pent-up energy that was stifled on two long plane flights.

Day two (Monday, June 19) started with a tour of Soweto, one of the old African townships of apartheid days, and now home to roughly 2.5 million people, almost all African, and a visit to a local elementary school, the Florida Avenue School. After lunch, we headed to Kliptown to meet the penpals from the Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) with whom we'd all been corresponding.

Day three (Tuesday, June 20) was a tourist day (KYP students were writing exams the week we were there, so our schedule was closely tied to their availability): The Elephant Santuary, The Cheetah Reserve, and The Carnivore Restaurant,
where we dined on the likes of Kudu and Impala (both species of antelope), Zebra (I heard this was the best, but couldn't bring myself to try it), and Crocodile (I also passed on this).
Day four (Wednesday, June 21) we visited the The Apartheid Museum where (no pictures were allowed, and) we were joined by our penpals, with whom we had lunch and then headed back to KYP for the afternoon.

Day five (Thursday, June 22), we started out with a trip to The Cradle of Humankind followed by a trip to the Lion Park, where we met up with our penpals, who then came back to the Hertford with us for dinner.

Day six (Friday, June 23) was incredible. We began with a tour of Constitution Hill and then headed to KYP for a service project, presentation of books and clothes to the community, lunch, culture classes, and our final farewells.

Day seven (Saturday, June 24), we headed out to the Madikwe Game Reserve for four days in the bush and on safari.

Day eleven (Wednesday, June 28), we were once again awakened at the crack of dawn, but this time, our destination was the airstrip where we boarded our bus (with our now beloved driver Niels) for the drive back towards Johannesburg and Lanseria airport from which we flew to Capetown. Everyone adored Niels, and when the students heard that he was doing our final bus ride in Johannesburg, they all were thrilled and raced to the road to greet him as he arrived. It was incredibly heart-warming. Our kids also seemed to make an impression on our guides who bid us farewell in this adorable video.

After a four hour bus ride, a flight to Capetown, finding our new bus, and getting back to the hotel, there wasn't much left in the day -- just dinner and some downtime before bed.

Day twelve (Thursday, June 29), was our service day. We headed to the township of Imazamo Yethu and the Ikhaya Le Themba or Home of Hope -- a facility to keep children safe after school, help them with homework etc. It's similar to KYP, but also different. Recall that "township" is the name given to the segregated communities set up during apartheid. While 90% of the land went to the white south africans, the remaining 10% of the land was given to the black and colored South Africans -- frequently by relocating them to these townships.

After our visit to Ikhaya Le Themba, we toured Original Teabag Designs. This is a fascinating business -- they create beautiful items out of used teabags, which are handpainted by employees from the community. The products range from bookmarks to sculptures to notebooks to bags to pictures. People send them teabags (deconstructed and dried) from all over the world. They also have bead necklaces made from tea boxes that are created by prisoners.

Day thirteen (Friday, June 30) was supposed to be the day we hiked Table Mountain, but weather was not looking good, so Pete, Christina, and Roger worked their magic and we swapped things around. So, we set off on a short boat trip to see the seals at seal island (really more like seal rocks).
It was cold, rainy, windy, and sea was quite choppy. Fortunately, the tourist group ahead of us wanted to stay dry -- that meant that we got the outside front of the boat. This had two important advantages: we got a much better look at the seals and we didn't get seasick. I never ventured inside, but from what I understand, it was not a pretty site (or smell).

As we dried off in the bus, we headed out to Cape Point, where we first hiked to the lighthouse and then hiked to the Cape of Good Hope After that, we stopped at Boulders to see penguins.

Day fourteen (Saturday, July 1), otherwise known as "T-1" was the big hike up Table Mountain . We had lunch at the top of the mountain, took the cable car down (thank goodness; my knees hurt just watching people go down the trail we came up), and then zipped off to The District Six Museum. District Six was a vibrant multicultural community in Capetown until 1966, when the different ethnic groups were relocated to mono-ethnic townships.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed out to Bo-Kaap, where we had a tour of the Bo-Kaap museum and the Auwal Mosque, the first mosque in Capetown. I forgot to bring my camera, but the area is quite striking, because the homes are all painted in different bright colors, and as one of our students said, "It makes me happy just seeing these homes." Interestingly, the Malay of the Bo-Kaap are one of the few non-white groups that was not relocated under apartheid.

Day fifteen (Sunday, July 2) was a very long day (and night and subsequent day). We started out with a visit to Robben Island. We then grabbed lunch and spent a couple of hours shopping at the Waterfront, before heading to the airport for the long journey home.