Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pretoria June 11-16th

“This is all nothing but miserable stammering. I do not know what Africa is really saying to me, but it speaks.” –C G Jung, in a letter to his wife in 1920

My first week showed me just how true that is. The first week was spent at a wonderful guest house in Pretoria, called Kniff un Gaffel (if you ever go to Pretoria, stay there!). The owners there are marvelous; every meal is eaten together like a family so you meet everyone staying there. Ron, the owner's son, even took some of us out to a local square and taught us sokkie. Sokkie is a social ballroom dance that most people learn growing up; it's called sokkie, meaning “sock” in Afrikaans, because it is done in socks. It was a much different scene than something you'd see at a bar in the US. A lot of the music was familiar except for a few songs; those unfamiliar tunes seemed patriotic. The first night I was there, Steffi, who became a good friend, decided to make Shakira’s Waka Waka (the African version) our theme song for the next three weeks. The next day the rest of the girls arrived and our 22 day adventure began.

We were a group of thirteen girls: ten from the US, one from Canada, and two from Trinidad and Tobago. We met our guides Morne and Jaco (Ya-ku) and first laid eyes on, Jezebel, our bus; we had our first dinner and started to get to know each other. Our first day brought us to the University of Pretoria and the Onderstepoort campus, which is home to the only veterinary school in South Africa. The university was very impressive, and the vet school had amazing facilities. Unfortunately, it is a seven year program; once I found that out, I immediately changed my mind on applying there.

The next few days were spent with Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), an organization that provides free healthcare for animals and helps to educate their owners. We went to a township called Lawley, where there are one-room homes with metal walls held together by rocks and tires; broken glass shined on the ground where people walked barefoot. When the news spread that we were there every family paid a visit with their animals; we dewormed almost every animal we encountered, and ended up taking orphaned puppies home. It was hard to see some of the dogs because of their conditions--emaciation, tick-bite fever, etc., but in Africa, animals are viewed as protection not pets. Many dogs are given poisoned meat by intruders, and ticks are allowed to grow to the size of dimes; puppies and kittens were plentiful and regrettably, most will die because their owners cannot afford to feed them. Our second day with CLAW, we went to a school to spend time with children; they learn Afrikaans as their first language and English as their second. The school had no electricity or heat, and it does get cold during the winter months; it would never meet the standards of an educational facility in the US. The children loved it there and enjoyed singing songs about the days of the week and the months of a year, listening to music, dancing, running around and playing games; they were okay with where they were and made the best of it. The children were fascinated by cameras and loved to get their pictures taken. When we said goodbye, I wondered when the last time they had eaten anything was.

Back at the guest house, our 7 am breakfasts and 7 pm dinners were consumed with gusto. Our last breakfast at the guest house was a bit interesting though, we were served eggs and fish sticks; even our guides were a bit confused.

We loaded up Jezebel and set off toward Horseback Africa where we would get the chance to play with some lions! When we arrived we were given a second breakfast with the rundown of the facility; it is home to lions of all ages, and there are plans of introducing disease free lions into game ranches. Kruger Park’s lions have Feline AIDS and Tuberculosis which impede on the lion population. We went on a walk with some of the 7 month old cubs where we got to hold their tails and watch them play. They wrestled and climbed trees as if they were rowdy cubs in a Disney movie. We were warned of the “McDonald look” that they give when sizing up a target; their eyes get big and round and they stare hard. Apparently, a bop on the head is enough to tell them no, but if a lion's looking at me like its next meal, I’m not so sure that defense would even cross my mind. After the walk we migrated to a big enclosure where the rest of the older lions were and watched them tear apart pieces of a carcass. Next, we observed 12 week old cubs; we gave them belly rubs and played with sticks while their lunch was being prepared. They each received a bowl with milk and meat to help transition their bellies into growing up. At one point the runt was being bullied and ended up sharing his food--poor little guy. Finally, the cutest of them all, at 3 weeks old! There were two, a boy and a girl; I liked to call them Simba and Nala :). We bottle fed them and burped them and rubbed their bellies until they were bored. When you gave them their bottle they would reach up and try to grab your arm, it was adorable.

Back onto the bus we went, filled with giggles from all the adorable-ness we just experienced. We were on our way to Imbambala in the Loskop Nature Reserve. First, we had to stop at a food store to stock up on breakfast goods for the weekend; this is where the trip went sour. A half an hour passed while in Groblersdal and when we returned to the bus we found a broken window. Our bus was broken into and things were stolen. Out of 13 backpacks, 3 were gone. Since we were moving out of the guest house we had everything in our bags: journals, childhood friends, cameras with pictures, money, credit cards. By the end of our police report we found that the thief had taken over $6,000 worth of personal belongings between the electronics, medications, and documents (yes, two passports). The guides told us to leave our things so that we were not targets in the store, little did we realize that the bus (a giant safari bus) was to be left unsupervised, a target in itself. It was a long and emotional bus ride to Imbambala with cardboard over the broken window. Africa lost a bit of its charm.

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