‘Shine bright like your mother’ – 2nd March 2014

Africa
Hello!
 
I always enjoy going to church at Otjikondo but Sunday’s service seemed a bit strange; firstly it was Father Erasmus taking the service instead of Gilly and about a third of the children had gone home with their parents so it felt a bit empty. No one really knew what was going on with the songs/marimbas/piano and Father Erasmus even quoted a Rihanna song… He said ‘Who is the most beautiful mother? Our own mothers are the most beautiful. Beautiful like diamonds in the sky’. I tried my best not to burst out laughing. Throughout the day I heard a few children say ‘shine bright like your mother’. 
 
I went straight to the birthday cupboard afterwards to give 3 pieces of clothing to every child whose birthday was in the past week. They all were well behaved, they put the clothes back neatly and found things they liked really quickly which is not usually the case! I even got to help my sponsor child choose her clothes because she’s just turned 8, she then came to the GAP flat garden with her best friend Eengwi to open some small birthday presents that I’d brought and wrapped way back in August (I’d completely forgotten what I’d got). I gave them both presents because I didn’t want Eengwi to feel left out and they were only small things like a fairy wand, Mr Men book, keyring and a few sweets. Little did I know that Tjazupo would have a mini strop because she got 1 less sweet (I must count more thoroughly next time!), I sent them back to their hostels and Tjazupo quickly got over it because Eengwi was kind enough to share her sweets. 
 
That afternoon the GAPs (Rebecca, Eleanor, Iris and Luisa) went on a farm drive with Gilly, Katy and Reiner whilst Annika and I chilled in the garden and went for a quick swim in Gilly’s pool. I was asleep in our garden when Karina, Japs and Destiny threw a massive branch at me through the gate screaming ‘have some spinach Miss Mary! We brought you some spinach, eat it Mary!’. I kindly declined their lovely offer and guessed they wanted some entertainment. I have a great video of them using their best compliments on me as we walked around school, ‘Mary you are the only rose in the garden! Mary you are the sharpest thorn in the bush. Oh Miss Mary you are the only snake that bites, the only key to open my heart, the only Mopani worm that I’ll eat!’. When I sat down to quickly check my Facebook they saw some photos of me from when I was 14, about the same age they are, and were shocked at how different I looked. I personally just think I look a bit lankier and have nicer hair but they were screaming and shouting about how it looks like a different person. ‘Miss Mary, why aren’t you pretty anymore?!’ – ahh you have to appreciate their honesty! After googling things like ‘world’s deadliest snake’ and ‘world’s fattest man’ for a while (they love to google!) we walked over to the big girls hostel where Audrey offered to braid my hair, I chose orange, pink and grey. Meanwhile Karina dragged a big clear container out from her locker, it was filled with murky green water and about 50 tadpoles, Karina never fails to surprise me! She then showed me her photo album where she’s put photos that I’d given her last year when I’d left. As well as a photograph of her in her traditional tribal outfit and she’d captioned it ‘I’m proud of my culture’.
 
Rebecca made a huge lasagna for dinner and I contributed with fudge that didn’t quite set. I don’t like lasagna because food in layers seems very strange to me so I used the mince meat to have spaghetti bolognese. Having 6 GAPs in the flat was hectic but so nice to hear everyone’s stories.
 
Lots of love,
Mary
xxx

Snakes and lions – 1st March 2014

Africa

Hello!

We had a music concert on Saturday morning to show the parents what the children have been working on this term with Mr Faustinus. Fran’s music concert sign stood outside of the church as the children and parents piled inside. There were so many parents there that every inch of space inside the church was used, children were sitting down the aisle, at the sides, parents were out of the door and any small children had to sit on the laps of others. I had Armando on my lap and although he’s a really well behaved little boy he found it hilarious to tickle my neck during the performances, I managed to contain my giggles and luckily he fell asleep after a while. The music was really good and even if I didn’t know the kids I’d be really impressed. Faustinus used tambourine’s and drums to make the recorder pieces more lively and even had whole percussion groups. Mrs Vermaak made a quick speech at the end and thanked Faustinus, Rebecca and Sara for their involvement before we all exited ready for the parent’s meeting.

I met Iris and Luisa, the two Project Trust GAPs at St Michaels, the school ‘down the road’ from us. We all chatted for a while, accompanied by Armando who we seemed to be babysitting for the day. The girls were all meant to go somewhere for the out weekend but couldn’t decide on anywhere worthwhile so decided to stay in Otjikondo but take time off from their usual activities.

Because the parent’s were in the meeting I went to occupy some children with tennis bats and balls, skipping ropes and hula hoops and when the parents came out Tabs and I sold Vet cakes for $3 each. I was so tired already so went to the little girls hostel to return Armando to his mum and I nearly fell asleep on a little girl’s bed. I sunbathed at lunch then went with Annika to do Bank (handing out pocket money), I don’t know why it took so long but I was sat there with the books and money for more than an hour and a half! I helped in the shop with the other GAPs afterwards before the boys greeted us with a lovely present swimming around in a bucket. A live python. We all had a look until it started sliding to the top of the bucket and looked like it was going to come out. Tabs ordered the boys to take it out of the shop and to release it outside, we tipped the bucket over and it disappeared into the grass.

Karina, Destiny and Agnola had become my sidekicks for the day, following me everywhere and when I didn’t see them for an hour or so they’d come knocking on the GAP flat door asking to do something. I was in a good mood so put my laptop on a bench and we sat outside of the GAP flat watching The Lion King, so African! There’s been news in the past few days that theres a lion wandering near St Michaels and that it’s been killing cows so we made endless scenarios of what we’d do if the lion just jumped out of the grass while we were watching the film. Soon we were joined by about 6 more children and used my duvet to keep warm as it got dark and cold outside.

Rebecca and Eleanor are so much more adventurous with their food than Fran and I ever were so we had a Mexican themed dinner which was delicious! 6 GAPs in the flat meant lots of story swapping and giving the girls advice on where to go in their holidays. Another busy day at Otjikondo meant I slept like a baby, even if I did wake up a few times worried there was a lion waiting outside…
Lots of love,
Mary
xxx

Dance, bugs and raps – 28th February 2014

Africa
Hello!
I feel like so much happened so this day deserves a whole post, sorry for my rambling!
Friday started differently to most days, I was the only one in the GAP flat as Rebecca, Eleanor and Annika had gone to Otjiwarongo with Sara to buy some essentials. This meant I was teaching PT for the morning, my favourite and easiest PT lesson is to teach dance so I spent the morning with the speaker, my laptop and the kids teaching them a dance to ‘Katatura Baby’. I think it’s good for them to do something different every so often as obviously not every GAP will want to teach dance in front of nearly 40 judgemental kids (especially if they’ve never danced before). Before the classes even began I had a scare when moving the tables to the sides of the room, a bird was just sitting on the table and I’d touched it before I saw it which really freaked me out (I thought it was a giant rat or something…). Shepherd kindly came to my rescue when I screamed and picked up the bird, opened the window ready to let it fly it, as he let it go it didn’t fly off like we expected, it fell straight to the ground and landed on it’s back… I’m not saying we killed the bird but we didn’t do the best job of trying to save it, sorry bird!
 
At lunch I went to get Vet cakes from Sister Albertina (like big balls of deep fried dough) and attempted to tidy the GAP flat and found some unusual bugs whilst doing so. You’d think after spending a year in Namibia I’d have seen all these different types of insects but apparently not, almost everyday I have to ask the GAP’s ‘what on earth is this?!’. As I started the mop the girls returned from Otjiwarongo. When I asked if they’d bought much they looked guilty, they’d bought LOADS. They showed me their purchases; lots of toiletries, pesto, more peri peri sauce, chocolate, doritos etc etc. 
 
I went to Skype Fran and was surprised that it actually connected as the internet has been playing up recently. It was so nice to ‘see’ her and chat about the gossip here, the kids that were around were really happy to hear her voice and chat to her too. I can’t wait for Fran to come and visit at some point! That evening we decided to have a talent show as the hall was being cleaned so we couldn’t have our usual TV time. I was the organiser but didn’t really organise much, the GAPs and Sister Albertina were judges, I did the music and Renico ‘presented’ it. There were some hilarious acts performing and I hope the GAPs agree that it was great entertainment for us. The kids here rarely get nervous and most are happy to just get up on stage in front of 250 others and sing or dance. The standout act for me was definitely Damian and Peterson rapping, the lyrics were hilarious even if they weren’t intended to be and we all got to dance along (put your hands in the sky, I’m guna make you fly) plus the height difference was great. The GAPs voted for the top 3 places, all of which won some sweets, crisps and some biscuits. Even though there might of been a bit of a mix up with the winner (Renico’s fault!) everyone had a wicked night, it’s fun to do something different as to not get bored of the Otjikondo routine. 
 
In the evening we saw a car pull up to the flat, we assumed it was one of the teachers but we didn’t recognise the guy when he came in. He told us he was driving to Otjiwarongo and needed food. He wanted the crisps but I refused and offered him 2 of our apples if he gave us $10. He then asked for a beer, we obviously refused and I proceeded to push him out of the flat.
 
The kids keep asking when I’m leaving and it’s just starting to dawn on me that I only have a few days left here before returning to Cape Town so I’m trying to cram in as much as possible! I’m having an amazing time and I’m so grateful for how welcoming the GAPs have been to me. That’s all for now 🙂
Lots of love,
Mary
xxx

 

Filling the gaps – February 23rd-24th

Africa

Hello!

The past 2 days have been so busy that I feel like I’ve been here for weeks already (in a good way!) Sunday evening was spent watching the GAPs do their drama rehearsal. This year’s play is ‘Wind in the Willows’ and from what I’ve seen/ heard so far it will be a really good performance. The kids were so enthusiastic when they sang the songs that it reminded me of how unenthusiastic they sometimes were with us when we we rehearsing for ‘The Giant Slayer’!

Monday morning felt like the first day of a new job for me, it’s so different seeing everyone in their school uniform and attending lessons rather than on the weekends when life is a lot more relaxed. Monday morning also was the first time I saw the teachers again! Hugs and questions about England filled my morning. I spent 2 hours assisting Miss Bitz in the grade 2 classroom. We played games and used beads to teach the number ’13’. I then read ‘The Sly Fox and the Red Hen’ to the children before asking them questions on the book to help their understanding. By before 10 o’clock I was already on to the next set of jobs. Gilly had trusted me with the school car (God knows why!?) to collect the Christmas presents for children who are now at High School for me to sort out. Driving in Otjikondo is bizarre as you can only really go about 20km per hour… Later on I sorted out templates for the kids to send thank you letters to their sponsors for their Christmas presents and typed up examples for them to copy. The rest of my morning was spent in the birthday cupboard, basically a big room full of cupboards of clothes to which we give the children 3 items from when it’s their birthday. Anyway, the room was a mess because of a big pile of new clothes so I sorted them out and put them away in the relevant cupboards.

In the afternoon I played football with the grade 1 boys who are all very sweet. There’s even a boy called Frans who is ADORABLE and I know Fran (my friend, other volunteer Fran) would love. After offering 2 girls a quick dance in the hall I was greeted by almost 20 girls begging for a dance lesson. I also played table tennis with the older boys so it ended up being quite a hot and sweaty afternoon.

That evening we were invited to the Stommel’s for a music concert. We had a delicious buffet (and laughed at how small the mustard spoon was…) and then listened to Rebecca and Faustinas on the violins and Ian on the piano. They’re all so talented so we felt pretty lucky to be listening to them play. When you think about it there aren’t many people who can say they’ve listened to live professional classic music on a Monday evening on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Africa. Life is bizarre here but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lots of love,

Mary xx

‘God is good’ – Back to Otjikondo – 22nd-23rd February 2014

Africa
Hello!
I’m back home! My african home of Otjikondo, Northern Namibia, The school village where I spent a year volunteering from August 2012 to 2013. It was so emotionally tough to leave 6 months ago that I was skeptical about returning, would it still be the same place that I left? This question was answered as soon as I stepped out of gillys car and  onto the now very green grass of Otjikondo. I knew that Gilly’s husband Reiner was praying in the church so i decided to quickly greet him before finding the children. At first he didn’t recognise me at all and just stared at me … after almost screaming ‘it’s Mary!!!!’ at him he jumped up and gave me a massive hug. Someone must’ve heard because as soon as I let go of Reiner I was surrounded by excitable girls. ‘Miss Mary’s back! Miss Mary’s back!’ I burst into tears after seeing all the faces of the children who I grew so close to. My sponsor child Tjazupo ran and jumped on me. 6 months ago I could pick her up with one arm, now I struggled to keep hold of her with both, she’s grown so much and looks so beautiful! I made sure to introduce myself to one of the new GAP’s, Eleanor. She was so nice and welcoming that it threw all of my fears out of the window. Stepping back into the GAP flat bought back so many memories, most of which were with Fran. It’s frustrating and upsetting that she’s not here to share all of these experiences with but I know that she’ll get an even bigger reception when she does visit. The children have bombarded me with questions as to where and how she is and I’ve only been here 2 days!
 
I later met Rebecca and Annika at Paul and Sara’s house where we had a braai (bbq) with Mrs Vermaak, Gilly, Reiner, Kate, Ian and Paul and Sara’s 3 children; Matty, Olivia and Helena. After a steak, salad and a few amarulas we called it a night and returned to the gap flat. The girls were very grateful for the percy pigs, snacks, magazines and CD’s I bought over for them. Sleeping was difficult in the GAP flat as I’m used to having Fran in the bed next to me. Another reason I found it so hard to sleep was because I’d heard some terrible news earlier that day. A student called Franzelle had been killed in a car crash 3 weeks ago. She was a grade 7 student that we taught art and PT to for a whole year, I took her for extra maths twice a week, had her for afternoon activities, spent weekends playing with her, wrote letters to her and she had a big part in the school play that we put on. Franzelle was so cheeky, talkative, confident, funny and loving to everyone she met and i can’t believe that she’s no longer with us. 
 
This morning I tried to take my mind off the terrible news by seeing the boys. Renico and Petersen ran and gave me the warmest welcomes of all the boys, hanging out with them again was so much fun and they gave me all the gossip that i’d missed. At 9:30 we went to church, the songs came flooding back to me and I felt like I’d never left. After church we gathered at the dining hall for one of my favourite activities at Otjikondo… handing out the christmas presents! Each child has a sponsor (usually from Germany or England) who sends them chrismtas presents. They take so long to arrive it was only today that we had the chance to hand them out. After singing ‘God is good’ Gilly counts down to opening the boxes. The room goes wild with paper and cardboard being thrown in every direction. The kids usually recieve toothbrushes, sweets, toy cars, dolls, clothes, colouring pencils and loads more. They are all so grateful and you realise how much of an impact a few toys can have to a child who doesn’t have much else. I loved seeing my sponsor child, Tjazupo’s face light up when she opened her box full of clothes, sweets, a pink water bottle, pink knickers, a torch and a teddy bear. Such a beautiful day in Otjikondo. 
lots of love,
Mary xxx

UK to Cape Town(ish) 1st -21st Feb 2014

Africa

Hello!

Here’s a quick round up of my time in South Africa so far, I’ve had an incredible time and it’s difficult to express in writing. I left the UK on 1st February, saying goodbye to friends and family was as horrible as ever, especially as I don’t have a definite date of return. My parents dropped me off at Gatwick airport and after i went through security I suddenly felt very alone. It was weird not having ANYONE to chat to, I’m so used to having Fran by my side that I felt a bit lost without her. After watching Bridesmaids while I waited for my delayed flight I boarded the Emirates plane to Dubai. From Dubai I waited for 4ish hours to then board the next flight to Cape Town! In total my journey was over 24 hours long but I managed to keep myself entertained and almost sane.

Stepping off the plane onto African land was amazing, I felt like I’d arrived back home again. I forgot how slow everyone is though. Everyone’s chilled out, no rushing around… Which is great most of the time but not so fun when you’re waiting 20 minutes for some fast food. I now live in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town with my boyfriend Callum and a friend Dirk. It’s a quiet town but it feels safe and I like to compare it to Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives… Just a bit more ‘urban’. Even though I’m looking to move here permanently, I spent the first week on holiday.

My first evening here was spent drinking cocktails at a bar by the beach, meeting the guys and discussing different words we use in England (apparently we call pineapple’s ‘Cosapungas’…) The week took me from the Waterfront where Callum and I spotted seals whilst on a boat tour, to go karting at Canal Walk (I crashed into the tyres and lost). One day was spent beach hopping, from Cape Town to Muizenburg to Kalk Bay to Fish Hoek, all for 30 Rand (like £1.80). Another day we went ice skating and seemed to be the only non professionals in the rink, which was daunting to say the least! The same day Callum and I played some old school games at the arcade and watched Wolf of Wall Street at the cinema (amazing film!).

I’ve managed to get 2 jobs in our local town since being here which is amazing as they’re both doing things that I love. The first is working for Camber Clubs, leading children’s parties. On my first day we travelled to Durbanville to set up a toddlers party. Setting up the slides, climbing frames, see-saws and ball pit didn’t seem like too much hard work. The house where the party was was maybe the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen. The second job is assisting in a children’s photography studio in Plattekloof, I haven’t started yet but I can’t wait to get involved.

I think I can say I’ve occupied myself well since arriving and now I’m on my next adventure, in Namibia on my way to Otjikondo, the school where Fran and I spent a year volunteering. I’m returning without Fran which feels horrible! But I’m still extremly excited and I’m looking forwards to seeing the children, Stommels and new GAPs!

Sending lots of love to everyone at home,

Mary xxx