Sunday, 4 February 2018

Leaving South Africa

Working with the kids at ICDM in South Africa was an amazing experience.
Durban's beachfront.
Great kids!
Some of you know already that I have now left The Republic of South Africa, heading back to my second home - Catalonia. A time comes in every journey for it to end, but some end before they should, as was the case here I think. Most people have had some visa issues at one time or another in their travels, I've had several. I won't go into all the details of these, as they are reserved for times where the beer is flowing and I have people around to share stories and experiences, but they include prison (yes, real prison), leaving a country in a hurry (not related to the prison story), delayed at airports and also having to leave a country for a bit before returning. This one though was simple bureaucracy and red tape, which South Africa excels at. I was on a 4 month, sponsored Volunteer Work Visa, which allowed me in the country and to stay with the organisation. Sounds simple - I read up as much as possible (as getting answers from the embassy was impossible before applying), talked to friends there and went for it. I was told that I could stay longer, I just need a sponsor, like the original visa. I visited the office of Home Affairs in person, risking yet more taxi trips and spending 2 hours getting there, only to be turned away. I got to the office and was staggered by the line that had formed out the front door, along the main building and around the corner. Luckily (for me) this was the queue for IDs and passports. The immigration office was actually closed - I was advised by a guy also waiting that sometimes they need to go to court (to kick people out?) and would be back sometime today so I went off for breakfast and came back slightly less hopeful of getting to speak to someone. There was indeed someone there but he couldn't help in the slightest - the one guy at the desk had no pen, no other people in the office and even no furniture to be seen, not even a chair or posters or advertisements on the walls! It was like they'd been burgled by the most desperate criminals who were also hoarders. He told me to go to another office, but couldn't write down the address for lack of pen and refused to type it on my phone or even spell it for me, for risk of misinformation or just laziness, I'm not sure. A long story short, I went to the address he gave me (which was a company that had been outsourced to do the Government's job), tried to renew but was told that I would need to leave and re-enter the country - something that I simply could not afford to do. So, it's time to come back and make the best of what you're given - it may even be a blessing in disguise. You can only take one path at a time, so make it yours and walk it bravely.

The crazy kids at ICDM.

Always stealing my hat and sunglasses, but I will miss them!

Some of the kids from the local primary school.
The family dog, "Dog."
Before I start on my new adventures back in Europe, I still have a few things to share about Africa. Although I didn't go on any safaris this time, see any lions or dive with Great White Sharks, there was still plenty of things I did see and do! Living in the Valley of the 1000 Hills was a wonderful experience - most South Africans haven't even visited and nearly everyone I knew from Durban or other cities nearby didn't even know where it was! I must say that living with a local Zulu family was also a great experience. I was able to share their daily lives, eat meals with them and learn a lot, as well as feeling part of the family. My mornings started fairly early, as the family rose early to work before the heat of the day and also went to bed early. My breakfast was fairly normal - cereal with coffee or tea - but sometimes the family made "vetkoek," or as I called it, "fat cook" as I'd never seen it written before and that's how everyone said it, also what the Afrikaans word sounds like. Basically a doughy dumpling, a round ball of fried bead, but so tasty and filling - I would sometimes put cheese inside too! Eat these every day and you will get fat! Lunch and dinner was usually maize meal or rice, with a mixture of beans and meat (mostly chicken), usually with a good helping of vegetables too, like cabbage, pumpkin and my favourite - a spicy kind of tomato relish called 'sambal.' Although the food was very repetitive I enjoyed it and never really got tired of it - but I did feel I had to exercise afterwards due to the high carbs I was eating, rice and maize with beans on the one plate is a bit heavy. As far as things to do, there wasn't that much on the list - but I'm the kind of person that enjoys peace and quiet, mixed in with some exploring and hiking. I would pick a mountain, get my boots on, pack some water and snacks, get my camera and head out.


Lifeguards at Durban's beaches.

The kids of ICDM.
I miss the kids already!
My family looked after me - I was never hungry. They looked after me a little too much sometimes though, always worried when I went off on walks! So I was alone and a stranger, but there was never any danger, apart from getting lost in the wild, which I did only once - but when I say lost, I only mean 'lost' as in lost the trail, never my direction. Some days I would also help out at the family creche, where the little kids too young for primary would come. Meal times were particularly busy - feeding 50 four year olds isn't a quick or easy task! These kids were always happy to see me, they got so excited and called out to me whenever they saw me - calling me "malume," which means 'uncle' in Zulu. In the afternoon I would head down to the Isithumba Community Development Movement building, working with the older kids organise sports and other games, indoor and outdoor, as well as monitoring the trampoline and playground equipment. The kids were the sweetest in the World - not all could speak English, some very well though, but this wasn't a problem for them or for me. Kids here are 'real' kids, they are happy to be outside and play, get involved and want you to do the same - whether it's football or just playing on the swing, they want you there, hold your hand when walking somewhere, want hugs, liked to be tickled, chased and to be picked up and are just genuinely wonderful! Some days they didn't want to play anything organised, like a team game, so I let them do what they wanted to do - they were happy to organise themselves. Other days they wanted to play a sport all together and when they did, their enthusiasm and energy were sky high! No moody teens or lazy 10 year olds saying they're bored or tired - these kids never ran out of energy! I will truly miss them - their energy, honesty, sweetness and their down-to-earth childishness. My evenings after working with the kids got dark quite quickly, but I usually spent it with work colleagues down at the store, called 'the mall' by the locals. A nice cold beer with friends, watching the sun go down, chat and laugh, talk to some of the locals in their various states of drunkenness and levels of English, and appreciate exactly where I was and how beautiful it was. Not too bad.

Pretending to be camera shy.

Two Japanese tourists who visited the Valley - always great to meet new people.

A view I will miss - The Valley of 1000 Hills.
Zulu delicacy- cow's tongue!
A life-long dream of mine was always to have a pet chameleon. I know this is a strange dream to have - in fact, most people that I've told look at me very strangely. Chameleons aren't high on the list of pets - you can't pat them (well kind of...), take them for walks, have them on your lap while watching tv, or much else, but I still wanted one. When I first moved to Barcelona they were sold on the Ramblas and I always said to myself "next time," until there was no next time and I never saw them again. All my time in Africa I had been on the look out for one, I knew there were here, and I did mention this fact to my Zulu work mates. A few weeks before I had to leave, I was working with the kids when my friend called out "Matt! You have your chameleon!" It was a hot day and they'd been sitting under a tree and when someone looked up, there was a large, green chameleon looking back at them from the branches! I finally had my ultimate pet! I got a box for him, leaves and branches to make him feel at home, and excursions to the light outside my room to hunt for dinner became a nightly affair. It's not true what people think - you can't touch them or hold them, they aren't affectionate... whenever I opened his lid in the morning, Charles (yes, Charles the Chameleon!) would reach out for my hand, grab it and climb up my arm in his funny way and sit on my shoulder. Their little claws are incredible, much like little human hands even, and it seemed very sweet the way he would hold on to my fingers and then his little tail would form a coil around another finger. Ok, so he didn't do much, he sat there in the sun looking at you, but at the same time he never meowed for food, scratched at the door or peed on the floor... and his eating style is the coolest! I did manage to see his long, spring-loaded tongue in action, picking up crickets and moths and pulling them into his mouth, all done in a flash.

Not all animals make cool pets - this 'thing' was huge and kinda scary!

The coolest pet in the World - Charles the Chameleon.

A colour-runner.
All 'coloured up' for the fun run!
One regret I have about leaving South Africa, apart from not being able to stay and chase my photography dreams, was travel. I just didn't have the time or money to do much. I miss the big things like Kruger National Park and one place everyone must go when visiting South Africa - Cape Town. I've seen pictures and been told stories, all of which tell me how awesome the city is. Not that I wanted to swim with Great Whites, but to climb table mountain and see the city perched on the bottom tip of a continent would have been something! I was lucky enough this time round to spend time in Durban with friends. Something this city does like no other is a Bunny Chow. Often referred to as just 'a bunny,' this Durban-invention is basically a curry in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. The history of this dish dates back to the 1940s when Indian migrant workers were arriving to work in the sugar fields of Kwazulu-Natal. Working long days, they brought their lunch with them - what better way to bring a packed curry lunch than in a tupperware container that you can eat too! The best Bunny I had while here was at a big betting store chain called Hollywoodbets. It doesn't sound like a great place to have a meal, but the atmosphere reminded me of some clubs in Australia - good, cheap food served with cold beer while other people gambled on horse races. The restaurant service is always fast and friendly here and the prices are very decent. I also got the chance to help out with the Durban Color Run - a fun-run with loads of colour thrown in. I didn't do the run, although it's an easy 5kms around the city, but was helping set up, throw colours at the runners as well as taking photos. I'd never been to one and it's a lot of fun for everyone! It was an early start to the day, more so as we'd a Gin and Tonic party the night before which only ended about 5 hours before we had to get up again. Loads of paint was thrown, people running with their families and loved ones, kids, adults and the elderly took part too. My camera came out completely covered in blue powder - so did I but it was hard to see myself till someone showed me a photo which I could have sworn was papa smurf!

A runner getting her groove on!

The Colour Run Crew - all blued out!
The beautiful and green Valley of 1000 Hills.
The village of Isithumba.
I'm now back to a normal life in Catalonia, working and renting, doing all the normal things in life. Boring some may say, but essential as well. Sometimes you do miss the simple routines in life, enjoying a coffee before heading off to work and of course my favourite time of the day when work is done and you can relax and have a beer with friends, or even just sit at home on a sofa and watch a bit of telly. The normal life is needed, not only to save money, but to make you realise that life isn't always an adventure, it can't be, there has to be normal levels of excitement and adventure, to make those highs even more special. I want to thank everyone in South Africa who I met there for the first time, friends who I hadn't seen for a while and my host family who truly looked after me for 4 months. Although I didn't achieve all I set out to do, it was a great time and a great experience. The people that I'm thanking know who they are and they know how special they are to me and that my time was made even better because of them. A huge thank you to my Hilton friends especially though - they put up with me when I visited from the Valley, drove me around and took me places and I was extremely grateful to be able to spend my birthday down at the pub with you guys - I miss you already. My house is your house - whenever you are here and wherever in the World that may be. Now I must thank you friends that live here in Spain - it's time to start doing things together, hiking and climbing, visiting cities, going to festivals and just hanging out on a sunny Sunday morning drinking Vermouth! Visca!


A great experience, one that I will never forget - I won't forget the kids either.

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