Johannesburg. Nairobi. Home. So Long, South Africa.

15 08 2013

As emotional as it is to write about my last couple of weeks in South Africa with Outward Bound, I think it might help me to get closure and move on from the life I had to the life I’m moving into at home. (England home, that is.) So here you are. 


A seven-day program in Potchefstroom with St Benedicts College for Boys was my last course instructing with Outward Bound South Africa and spending the week abseiling, hiking, camping and rafting with a group of high school kids confirmed my fears that leaving Outward Bound once the course was over wasn’t going to be easy. 

Despite my best efforts, I did shed a tear or two after my last ever closing circle when St Benedicts were leaving; it hit me that theirs was going to be the last school bus I’d be waving away and that the next time I left base myself I wouldn’t be coming back. The course went really well and at the end of it I actually felt that I’d done a decent job, which was a nice feeling and I was grateful to end my OBSA career on such a high note. 

Even once I’d gotten over saying goodbye to my last group, nothing could have prepared me for the ordeal of leaving Outward Bound behind me to go to Johannesburg on August 12th. Packing my life back into my backpack was the most depressing act I’ve ever undertaken and getting dropped at the bus stop by Joe, Themba and Bizo (some of my closest friends at OB) made my emotional display even worse – from the fuss I was making I think people on the bus were genuinely speculating my mental stability. Outward Bound has been my family for the past year – we live together, move together, work together and play together and are more than a few screws loose between us, but that’s what makes us who we are and gives us the bond that we share. Getting on the bus was horrible, but once we’d pulled away I started trying to make myself accept that this year had to come to an end sometime and think about what an amazing experience I’ve been lucky enough to have. 

After a melancholy and boozy debrief in Johannesburg with the other returned Project Trust volunteers (it was our last night in South Africa, after all) the time came to start our pilgrimage across oceans and hemispheres to return to England. With the state we were all in about having to leave our beloved projects, none of us had really given much thought to what would be waiting for us in Nairobi given that the airport had suffered a huge and very damaging fire the week before. We gave a lot of thought to it however when we disembarked to see a gargantuan wedding marquee tent pitched on the runway in the pouring rain – which was to act as the holding area/ departure lounge for every single passenger passing through the airport. The cherry on the cake was that the emergency food station wouldn’t accept South African currency, so we spent a very hungry few hours shivering on chairs or on the floor in the cramped communal space. 


After a five hour wait we finally boarded our last connecting flight to Heathrow and landed at 8am this morning. I hadn’t really had time to speculate on what my reaction to seeing my parents would be, but as soon as I’d grabbed my bags from the conveyor belt I was hurrying everyone along to the arrivals gate and true to my socially inept persona I screamed like a banshee when I glimpsed my Dad at the gate. 

Coming back to my house and being reunited with my bedroom and my dog has been pretty awesome, and I’m sure the next few days will be the same with emotional reunions with friends and family that I’ve been missing from my life all year, but after I’ve settled back into my home life (and got my Mancunian accent back) I know I’ll start to feel the little part of me that I left in South Africa.

The Outward Bounder in me, though, I’ll carry with me always. 


This Time in Two This Time in Two Weeks I Could Be Sitting in a Beer Garden or Making My Nan A Cup of Tea…

2 08 2013

So yeah, this is just more on me and my homecoming revelations.


It’s the weirdest reality to think that in two weeks my life in South Africa will be over and I’ll no longer be an employee of Outward Bound SA. I’ll be on the other side of the world from the friends I’ve made, a job I love and a country that it’s been amazing to be a temporary resident of.


There are so many things about this year that have made me think about everything I’ve done and everything I want to do; I still don’t really have a clue what I actually want to do in ‘the future’ but apparently that will come on its own. That’s what my Mom says, anyway.


I feel like the luckiest person alive to have worked for Outward Bound South Africa this year. What makes this company is the people – the love they have for the job; the hours they put in to deliver the OB message to hundreds of young people every year; and how everyone fits in with everyone else, no matter what the differences are.

Even I’ve felt like I belong here. And that’s saying something.


Soooooooooooo, this time in two weeks when I’m on home turf I could be doing a whole host of homely things such as:


-walking my dog

-buying toothpaste in Tesco

-making my nan and granddad cups of tea

-eating Nandos with my mates

-watching Friends on Comedy Central

-sitting in the beer garden of my local with my Dad

-having a HOT shower in FRESH, non-salt water (huzzah!)


There are many other things that I could be doing, but I won’t know until I’m actually home so the best thing to do is probably to stop speculating about things like dog walking and Nando’s and focus on actually getting through my last course with OBSA and getitng home.


I shall try to leave Outward Bound in something other than a mess of tears and emotional hugs, but thinking about it that doesn’t seem too likely.

Everything That’s Happened, with Two Weeks to Go.

2 08 2013

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, and a LOT has happened in that time which I shall endeavour to relay without rambling (which it’s in my interest to do anyway seeing as I’m at our Potchefstroom base usurping the office’s limited internet bytes).


            The original plan for my last few weeks in SA was to support on a youth at risk course in Harrismith for two weeks, then come back down to Sedgefield to support on a course there and then support on my last course in Potchefstroom in August before leaving Outward Bound and coming home.

Like I say, that was the ORIGINAL plan.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time at Outward Bound it’s that the only thing you can be certain of around here is change. With less than a fortnight (THIRTEEN DAYS) to go until I’m once again on UK soil, maybe I thought that the rest of my time here was going to pass in a haze of relative predictability. Maybe I thought I could relax and start planning my homecoming and going back to doing normal home-y things like walking my dog and going to Tesco.

The happenings over the last few weeks have proven me quite wrong and pushed all home-comfort-related thoughts far from my mind.


            I spent just over a week in Harrismith according to the ORIGINAL plan before the new staff planner was released informing me of an unexpected return to Sedgefield the next day. As I was mid-course at that time the change was a surprise in itself, and it hit me suddenly that I would be leaving my favourite base where I get to sleep outside under the Milky Way for the last time; but throwing my bags back into the thuli a week earlier than scheduled paled in comparison to what took place the following Monday morning at base in the office with Owen and Deon.


            They informed me that there had been an unexpected rise in the number of courses happening over the next couple of months and that Outward Bound was experiencing a serious lack of staff to be able to facilitate the numbers. To help remedy this, I was to be given a week’s training and then be put to work.

As an Outward Bound instructor.

            Me! Instructing! My first thoughts were along the lines of ‘wahey, ten to one my students set fire to their campsite or one of them drowns’, but after the initial ‘oh God’ moment I got pretty excited. Not many volunteers have been trusted to instruct in the past and even though I’m sort of the last resort, it was nice to be resorted to.


I didn’t have any time for this to sink in as training started that day for a course that I would be SOLO instructing in ten days time. The following week was a hectic few days of facilitation lectures, sailing lessons and emergency abseil procedure workshops among other things designed to calm and prepare me for the complete and utter unknown that lay ahead in instructing on my own.


            As is usual when you need time to slow down in order for you to adjust, training was over in a blink and Day 1 of the course rolled around with me feeling woefully unprepared to receive a group of fourteen students for whom I would be solely responsible for the next ten days. The course was a group of international high school students with a special focus on community service and working with the disadvantaged youth in the township schools of Sedgefield, and once I’d spent the first couple of days carefully watching what everyone else was doing and worrying far too much about what I was doing I settled in to what was going on and really worked to get the most out of my group and to give them the experience that they came for.


            I naturally had no idea how I was doing but at the end of the course when my group were coming out with things like ‘I feel sorry for the other groups, we actually like you being our instructor’ I felt that I must have done at least something right to make them feel that way. They even gave me a signed group photo when they left which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like they actually valued me! Yay.


            For me, the course ended on a massive high note and then (we don’t rest at Outward Bound, you see) it was straight into packing up my life for the past year to move from Sedgefield for the last time – this time permanently. Emptying my room at base was a surreal experience and how close I am to coming home really hit me when I saw it bare and clean (ish).


            Me and all my belongings are now in Potchefstroom, where I’m going to be instructing for the last time before I leave Outward Bound. This time around I’ll be co-instructing with an instructor from Outward Bound Zimbabwe, to give him a chance to get to know the area and the way we do things here.

            Funny thing is (and the reason why I’ve been able to grab time to post this update) that the course was supposed to start today, so we’re all here, packed, hyped and ready to go – but the information that the organizers of the 110 students had was that Day 1 of the course was on Sunday… two days from now.


            None of us really knew what to do once we’d been told that we now have the next two days off until the group shows up, but it didn’t take long for ‘Hello, weekend!’ to set into everyone’s minds and town trips were soon organized. Naturally I ran straight to the office to grab some computer time to fill you in on all this lovely (if slightly garbled) news. Because I’m nice like that.


             It’s finally hitting me that this time in two weeks I’m going to be doing something freakishly British like sitting in a beer garden or making my nan a cup of tea…

Return to My Sea-Level Abode, Sedgefield for One Week Only. Next Stop – Harrismith.

25 06 2013


  I’ve been journeying all over South Africa like a mad thing for the past two months – hitting places at polar ends of the civilization scale from the beautiful, barren wilderness of Lapalala to the buzz of inner city Johannesburg. I’ve generally been having a ball visiting friends and family and doing my best to take everything in (and to remember to take pictures, Mom), plus I’ve travelled on so many buses that by now I half expect the conductors to recognize me when they see me coming (they don’t, though).


                 I eventually disembarked from my final bus pilgrimage that brought me home (relatively speaking) last week to Sedgefield, Western Cape. Home! I haven’t been around here for what feels like an age and it really did feel like coming home.

                 During my time away I’ve seen all manner of South Africa’s natural beauty – from the tranquil pastel-palette sunsets of Polokwane to the breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains – and while I feel very lucky to have been able to experience such a range of natural phenomena, nothing quite compares to the nostalgic feeling that hits me every time on the remote drive back to the Outward Bound base on the outskirts of Sedgefield. Speeding alongside the Swartvlei River, with the sun throwing its last jagged rays between the peaks of the familiar Outeniqua Mountain range that nestles on the far side of the water is a sensation in itself, and one that I’ll never grow tired of or take for granted. Pair that with the reassuring greeting calls of the various birdlife that inhabits the vast waters and surrounding hills (fish eagles, cormorants, hoopoes and Egyptian geese to name a few should give you an idea of the scale of the diversity of the vlei’s wildlife) and you should be able to see why I feel like the cat’s pyjamas calling this place home.


                   SO getting back was awesome and this week has been full of my favourite Outward Bound chores – painting, fixing up where things are falling down and generally trying to keep base from falling apart. I’ve been green-fingered (literally) for the past three days after Owen was inspired to paint the bathrooms green with oil-based paint (I only realised about the oil-base after i was covered in it).

               Alas! I’ve got to go, Owen is letting me use his limited internet supply and it’s almost five o’clock = go time. I’m leaving for Harrismith at 5am tomorrow morning to work on a fourteen-day Youth at Risk course up there, then I’m coming back down to Sedgefield. Harrismith is by far my favourite Outward Bound base so there’s baaaare excitement about going back up there, albeit for the last time. SCARY THOUGHT.


                 I won’t be able to blog from Harrismith as there’s no form of signal or electricity of any kind (we’re lucky to have hot water most nights) but all will be caught up on when I return!


Peace and love, see you on the flipside x

Scottish-Themed Afrikaans Hunting Festivals = Whisky, Kilts and Everything Going A Bit Pete Tong. Followed By This Is England. Lady Grey, Drakensberg, June 2013

24 06 2013

                  I arrived in the small town of Lady Grey in the even smaller hours of Friday morning (Friday 14th). Given the unsociable hour I couldn’t actually see much of my surroundings (that and the fact that I was struggling to keep my eyes open at any rate), and we tumbled into bed as soon as we reached the hostel where Rory and Georgia stay. The next morning however, with my vision restored and sleep-deprivation cured I was able to take in and fully appreciate the amazingly picturesque mountains that serve as a backdrop to the quaint residence of Lady Grey.

                     Everything about the town, from the grassy mountainous terrain to the crispness of the cool clean air (and its extremely cool below-freezing temperature) reminded me of the transformation that takes place with the change of season and loss of snow in small alpine settlements in resorts like Chamonix and Morzine. It reminded me irresistibly of a summer that I spent with my family at a chalet in Mont Blanc; I’d never been to a ski mountain out of season before and I couldn’t get used to seeing the pistes so bare and brown with their lifts out of use. Just like then, I could easily picture Lady Grey lying comfortably under a thick blanket of snow with a steady stream of alpine enthusiasts bringing the local bars (all three of them) to life.

                      But this particular weekend the bars and streets were full of a different breed of enthusiast as there was being held the annual Scottish-themed hunting festival known as the McNab. Hunters came from all over SA to Lady Grey with their bounty – eligibility requires you to provide one fish, one bird and one buck for the Country Club McNab Dinner Dance, which was to take place on the Saturday night. Rory, Georgia and I arranged to go as soon as we heard about it and I even managed to dig out a red checked shirt which I wore in vague homage to the Scottish tartan.

                The Friday before the McNab I took a trip with Rory and Georgia to the school that they volunteer at and spent the morning with Georgia in the Grade One class that she assists with. The kids were really cute, and very happy to be released for the day at eleven o’clock due to the older students writing exams. After the early start we’d had to get to school me and Georgia took this as our cue to head to Annie’s, a local pub/restaurant (complete with wooden décor and antique signage, further adding to après-ski alpine feel of Lady Grey) for breakfast. We walked everywhere that we went in the town for the duration of my visit; it really is a beautiful place with breathtaking mountain views from all angles and I really liked the seclusion and familiarity of the streets with their little convenience stores and well-worn sidewalks.

                 Obviously in such a small town it hadn’t taken long for Rory and Georgia to become considered locals, and consequently Georgia was called upon to do a reading of the famous ‘Ode to the Haggis’ at the McNab dinner on Saturday night. She initially enthusiastically agreed, and to give credit where it’s due gave an absolutely sterling performance, in spite of her alcohol-fuelled nerves complete with kilt and the backdrop of an authentic kilt-clad bagpipe band. Unfortunately, by the time the reading came around me and Rory had consumed a fair amount of whisky (the rugby had been on, and we lost) and found the whole thing more than faintly hilarious. (‘Chieftain of the sausage race’?! I dare you to try not to find that amusing when you’ve had a few.)


I recorded the whole thing though; I considered it my patriotic duty.


The rest of the evening was spent in camaraderie with a mixture of locals and visitors in varying (in our cases, progressive) degrees of drunkenness, and a good evening was had; rounded off by me and Georgia in true Brit style spending half an hour sitting on the floor inside the local garage eating our way through seemingly the shop’s entire pie display. Just doing our bit to represent the British Isles by displaying some of its’ lovable idiosyncrasies…


Sunday (yesterday, 16th) was lost in a blur of hangovers, The Beatles and This Is England (patriotism had taken hold) and after much frantic scrambling around their Lady Grey contacts Rory and Georgia have arranged a lift to Bloemfontein for me with a returning hunter to catch my bus back to my sea-level abode of Sedgefield tonight.


I can’t remember the last time I saw Sedgefield; I imagine it’ll be something like coming home! Huzzah.

If You Thought Cycling 30km Off-Road Wasn’t Easy At The Best of Times… Try It At 1700m Altitude. Johannesburg (June 12th, 2013)

24 06 2013

            A few days ago I arrived in Johannesburg in anticipation of being hosted for the week by relatives that I didn’t know existed until last month. The journey from Polokwane to Jo’burg was uneventful and I managed to sleep most of the way; time not spent sleeping was spent in speculative thought about the family whose introduction was imminent. I’d been in contact with Martin, who is a cousin of an uncle back home, via email for a couple of weeks before hand finalising details of my stay, and he sounded like a cool guy so I wasn’t too nervous about meeting him (I tell myself…).


Martin picked me up from Johannesburg Park Station and we talked easily throughout the short drive to his family’s home in Craighall; he’s from England originally and was really enthusiastic about having me to stay with him and his family. We got to their home and I met his two daughters Jessie and Georgia, who are both well-mannered, chatty and love netball and riding – they reminded me of better-mannered versions of me and my sister at that age. A little later in the afternoon I met his wife, Jane, who works in wildlife conservation with a company that operates throughout Africa. The whole family was very welcoming and engaging, and they made it easy to forget my initial nerves and get to know them.


The morning after the first evening of my stay, Martin offered to take me for an off-road cycle around Johannesburg to see the city’s skyline from the more scenic perspective of Delta Park and the Botanical Gardens. I gladly accepted.

I didn’t take into account the fact that I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was fifteen, on or off-road, or that the bike would be of the high-tech mountain variety complete with cleat pedals and more gear meters than I knew what to do with.

I also didn’t stop to consider what the effects of cycling thirty kilometers at an altitude of 1700meters would be until we’d reached the summit of Delta Park and I thought I was going to throw up. Then I considered them alright. (‘I WILL NOT throw up in front of someone that I’ve known for less than a day’ = my subconscious mantra during this time.) It was only after Martin commented on how well I was doing for someone who lives at sea level (HA. Obviously he couldn’t hear the anti-vomit mantra I was screaming in my head) that I was told that I was nearly two miles high.

Yay me.

Apart from the altitude sickness and nearly running over an innocent sausage dog, I did alright and the view of the different districts of Johannesburg was stunning (and well worth the bloody gash that I took to my right shin as the result of an almost-on-purpose fall when faced with a tree that appeared out of nowhere.)

The rest of the week that I spent with the family was awesome; while the girls were at school one day Martin and I went for lunch at a mall in nearby Sandton; I went to watch Georgie ride her horse Nightlight one afternoon; Jessie gave me a tour of her school; and I got to catch up on some long-overdue letter writing. I also had the time to become overly-attached to the three resident dogs Stretchy, Dodo and Buster (Georgia has trained Stretchy to jump over a meter high pretty much at the click of her fingers while my spaniel Ruby remains the singularly most spoilt and lazy dog in existence.)

                    I’ve had a great week getting to know Martin and his family; I’ve been SUPERBLY looked after and I’m already looking forward to seeing them again whenever I come back to South Africa. Sadly, I’m leaving the Edge household tomorrow (Thursday 13th) as I’m going to visit two mates that volunteer at an arts academy in Lady Grey, a small town in the Drakensberg Mountains. My bus leaves at five pm so it’ll be a nice late night/early morning arrival at Aliwal North, which is about forty minutes away from Lady Grey but is also the nearest bus stop.

Rory and Georgia (afore mentioned mates) are going to love the jaunt to Aliwal during such unsociable hours.

Back to School and Blood-Red African Sunsets in Polokwane. (If I Hear ‘Under The Sea’ One More Time…) June 2013

12 06 2013

Spending time with other volunteers is a brilliant way to learn about different parts of the country we’re all living and working in, because no two volunteers have the same experience and we can learn things from each other that will help us to make the most of our time away from home.
It’s also a breath of fresh air to be around fellow Brits and to hear the Mancunian in me (more specifically in my accent) come out of hiding for a change!

I spent the last week (June 2nd – 8th) in Polokwane visiting friends who volunteer at a school. It isn’t an ordinary school. There’s the mainstream school that ranges from Grade 00 all the way up to the Matric students in Grade 12, with around 50 students in each grade. But attached to the mainstream school is an enrichment centre – a separate set of buildings for children with all different kinds of physical and mental disabilities. This is where Daisy, Amelia and Nicola work six hours a day, five days a week (another volunteer, Kim, works with the mainstream Grade 0s).
There are three classes, each with eight students – Juniors, Seniors and Life Skills. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time in each class and (hopefully) be of some practical use during the week that I helped out there. I spent most of my time with the Juniors, because these children were some of the most demanding in terms of needing constant supervision and assistance, and while there’s already one carer for every two pupils, it was nice to be trusted with some responsibility for the care and supervision of members of the class. The teachers and carers were all really welcoming and reassuring, which helped whenever I felt I was making a mess of things or when I was unsure of what to do.

I’ve worked with children of that age group before (around 4-7) but the wide variation of disabilities affecting the pupils meant that the teaching and care required was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The class was a real mixed bunch – ranging from an eight year old with cerebral palsy who aside from the crippling physical condition that confined him to a metal frame for support, interacted with others around him like a normal kid to a four year old whose condition is currently undiagnosed yet so severe that it renders her both physically incapable of supporting herself and unable to communicate physically or verbally. There were students at varying degrees of the autistic spectrum, some children’s condition made worse by being coupled with ADD or ADHD while others were able to communicate more or less completely intelligibly. The point of the enrichment centre being part of Mitchell House School was the centre’s inclusion programme, which involves placing the disabled children into certain mainstream lessons with children their own age. The enrichment classes included subjects like cooking, music and numeracy, all catered to help the children in the class get the most out of the lessons according to their ability.
There was one little boy in Juniors whose disability (cerebral palsy) didn’t appear to affect him mentally at all. He was quite capable of holding long and detailed discussions with me about one subject in particular – Arial and all things The Little Mermaid. Once he realised that I knew all the lyrics to ‘Under the Sea’ (don’t ask) that was it. We practised and practised every day until he even knew the complicated rap, which for your information is pretty tricky. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it goes like this:

The newt play the flute
The carp play the harp
The plaice play the bass
And they soundin’ sharp
The bass play the brass
The chub play the tub
The fluke is the duke of soul (yeah!)
The ray he can play
The lings on the strings
The trout rockin’ out
The blackfish she sings
The smelt and the sprat
They know where it’s at
An’ oh that blowfish blow!

He worked so hard at learning the words that I couldn’t bring myself to get annoyed, no matter how many times we sang it. And we sang it A LOT. Working in the enrichment centre was a really grounding experience, and I really admire the volunteers at the project for throwing themselves into the round-the-clock care they give every single day.

Classes in the enrichment centre finished at 12.30, so after the students had gone home I headed to Aftercare with the other volunteers to look after the mainstream Juniors, usually until around five o’clock. My first day there = one minute I was answering a little boy’s query as to how the prince was turned into a beast by the disguised witch (see opening scenes of Beauty and the Beast) – I was horrified to learn that he’d only seen the ‘Beastly’ movie version and sent him home with strict instructions to ask his Mummy and Daddy to get him the Disney version, or even better, the actual book; and before I realised what I’d done I was surrounded by a group of minature sunhat-clad listeners demanding that I tell the rest of the story.
And then how Peter Pan got to Neverland.
And after that The Little Mermaid.
My favourite quote from aftercare: ‘She reads stories without the books!’
Various other occupations included circuits of the jungle gym, charades marathons and long and complicated hand-clapping games. As you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

It was awesome catching up with the girls as well, and with a huge mall right next to the school we spent a couple of chilled evenings at the cinema and winding down with cocktails underneath the amazingly blood-red, chalky Polokwane sunset.

I’m en route out of Polokwane this morning (June 8th. Hung over to horrifying proportions, but I couldn’t very well refuse the girls when they requested to show me the local nightlife. That’d make me a pretty poor guest.) Headed to Johannesburg to spend the next leg of my trip staying with relatives that I didn’t know I had until a few weeks ago. Going to be meeting them in a few hours… pressure? Me? Nah. I mean, if they’re related to me they’ve got to have awesomeness in their genes. (Or something like it, anyway)