Twende Bhubesi

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Reflections

I’ve been back in Switzerland for just over a week. It’s nearly been a month since I finished my time with Bhubesi Pride. Time for a little reflection then.

“So now you’re back, how was it? Was it amazing? Did you just love it?”.

My response is, without fail, “it was an experience.” A bit of a non-answer, if I’m honest. Not through ignorance, but simply because my time out in Africa is not easy defined. At least, not by me. There were times when I was happier than I have been in many years. There were times when I felt that I was back at school and suffering the worst of all that living with a multitude of bitchy girls can bring (except, in my new reality, they were boys!) I was exhilarated, I was frustrated, I was amused, I was in despair. A wild rollercoaster of emotions that I find very difficult to describe.

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Am I glad I did it? Yes.

Would I do it again? No – it’s called a once in a lifetime trip for a reason! Seriously though, there is no need to do it again. I did it at a time in my life when I needed to. That time has now passed and I’m moving on with the next thing.

Would I recommend it to someone else? Absolutely. (For more information, you can apply here)

As you would expect, I have a couple of final things I’ve learnt and pondered over the last few weeks. So here we go… for the final time.

Never underestimate the restorative powers of a hot shower

I think one of the biggest things I realised was those little things we take for granted in our day to day life. Whether it’s a hot shower, a sharp knife, clean sheets, Jeremy Kyle, or simply sitting on the balcony putting the world to rights with friends in the summer sun. I missed all of these things. And every morning I wake up and feel blessed that I have them back and pledge to make more time for them (and myself).

Make up is over-rated

I think I’ve worn make up about twice since I’ve been back. And even then, it was a swipe of eyeliner and some mascara. Now, before I went, I was never a ’50 minutes in front of a mirror applying the perfect shade of foundation with additional contouring (how do you do that anyway?)’ kind of girl. But you know, I spent about 15 minutes putting on some slap. Not anymore. There’s more to do with my time. That said, toenails do look so much prettier when they’re painted.

Human nature is a complicated thing

So this isn’t much of a revelation, obviously. Being in close contact with a bunch of people who, I think it’s fair to say I would never encounter in my “normal” life, has opened my eyes a little. Not only to the intricacies of different personalities but also the foibles and limitations of my own character. I have seen myself through other people’s eyes and sometimes I didn’t like what I saw. I wouldn’t claim I have “found myself” in Africa (c’mon, I’m not an 18 year old travelling for the first time) but I have been pushed, and realised my weaknesses and areas I still need to work on. Sobering stuff.

And so we come to the end. The end of travelling (for a while), the end of my reflections, the end of this blog.

Thank you once again to all of you who took the time to sponsor me on my journey. I hope that you feel it was well worth your support. You can see more about the work I did in the video below:

So that’s that. I’ve already started on the next thing. I’m drowning in a mountain of paperwork as I wrestle with Swiss bureaucracy and endless to-do lists. In the next couple of months, however, I should be in position to start making some money. My own money. Earnt through my own hard work. It’s make or break time.

I’m stepping up.


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TTILTW: part X

And so we have finally made it to the last coaching stop of the journey. After a quick pit stop in East London, we’ve moved down the coast to Port Elizabeth. We’re lucky enough to be staying at the United Through Sport hostel here in PE (as us travellers call it). In symmetry with Bhubesi Pride, young volunteers from around the world (UK, US, Germany, Holland) have teach a wide variety of sports in the local public schools with the aim of improving educational standards, raising health standards and imparting vital life skills. The UTS team have 16 volunteers here at the moment working in the same schools as Bhubesi Pride teaching hockey, football, netball, cricket and rugby as well as going into the classroom and teaching english and maths. The UTS, kids from Port Elizabeth are nominated and put forward for scholarships. If they excel academically and in sport, they may be eligible for a paid passage through a private high school. A worthy charity, I’m sure you’ll agree. Check it out.

Anyway, enough plugs for other people. Let’s talk about me for a while.

 

1. South African hospitality is second to none

You cannot fault the South Africans on their hospitality. Nothing seems to be too much to ask. One of our key sponsors, Flya, took the team out for an evening of snake handling, night golf, and food. I don’t think my hand was empty all night. If I wasn’t being press-ganged into a glass of wine (or, later in the evening, when my protests were finally heard, diet coke) then someone was making me try out the food they’d just cooked. It was such a fantastic evening – not only for us to have a little bit of social time together, but also to talk to the vast range of people there and get a chance to tell them about all the great work their sponsorship is funding.

2. The language and accent may change, but rugby clubs are rugby clubs

The boys are always on the look out for a game on our travels. At the night golf evening, we met up with a couple of guys from Cambridge rugby club in East London. The boys wangled a chance to run on for their first team and so, after a morning coaching in Duncan Village we made our way to a beautifully kept rugby ground for them to make their South African debut.

I propped up the bar.

Obviously.

After the game, the boys were hustled away for a fine session and then the whole team ended up in a distinctly dodgy club with a multitude of shots and bad music.

Rugby clubs are rugby clubs.

3. I’m more girlie than I thought

I’m not normally that girlie. At all. However, one night, the boys were out and I decided to have a moment to myself. Now, now, calm down, minds out of the gutter please. What I mean is I had a long bath with a glass of wine and a book, then spent some time painting my nails before settling down to a rom-com.

I hang my head. Apparently I am quite girlie. It’s weird how just a little bit of time to myself, away from the constant hubbub of people around me, makes all the difference in the world.

For now, however, I have a week left of coaching before we make the leisurely drive down to Cape Town.


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TTILTW: parts VIII and IX

A distinct lack of wifi means that I’m kinda cheating on this post – it’s going to be a little shorter and a little less…fact filled. Sorry. You’ll survive, I’m sure.

We’ve finally made it to South Africa. After a 9 hour drive, we’re in Bloemfontein – the capital of the Free State and home to the Cheetahs (both Central and Free State). 9 hours is a long time to sit anywhere. It’s an especially long time to sit in a cramped bus when surrounded by (and I’m sure they won’t mind me saying this) incredibly smelly men.

We’re staying at St Andrew’s School, a local private boarding school here. When the house-mistress realised that there was a woman in amongst the mass of testosterone, she took me aside. “Where are you going to stay dear?” she said. I shrugged my answer, “with them? I have for the last 3 months.”

“Oh no,” she says, “we can’t have that. I’ll get you a bed in the sanatorium. You’ll have your own shower and time to feel a bit more like yourself.”

Done and done! Sexism for the win!

We’re now on a bit of a whirlwind tour of South Africa as my trip slowly winds up (can you believe that I have less than a month left until I’m back in the real world?!). We’re here for a week and then off to East London and Port Elizabeth before the week-long drive back to Cape Town.

Just when you thought I couldn’t learn anything more, I have. Every day’s a school day.

1. Money makes a difference

I always pinned Namibia as a rich country. Given its proximity to South Africa, I just assumed that the poor aren’t as poor here. A naive perception, certainly. But possibly not a million miles away from what most people think?

Well, I was wrong.

The team was spread across 8 schools while in Namibia. The two schools I was working with were, by far, the poorest of the bunch. And when we got to compare the private and the public schools at different stages of the tour – boy did it show. And not in the way you may think. “My” kids had a completely different attitude towards the game, and towards the day, to the others. They were thrilled at the smallest things, amazed at the change in day-to-day routine, having fun (even, it has to be said, when they were just sitting on the side of the pitch waiting to play). All the school children were polite (to the extent that I started to feel a little uncomfortable!) and just happy to be there. When we went to the private school, I felt a little intimidated by the green grass and shiny uniforms. When the kids found out we weren’t doing tackle training, they switched off – they really didn’t care whether we were there or not (and nor should they – they had 2 rugby coaches full-time at the school!)

2. Rugby is a thing in Namibia

We were lucky enough to get to see a high school game while in Swak (which is what all the cool kids call Swakopmund) and it was amazing. Not only was the pitch beautiful and HUGE but there must have been about 400 people there watching. There were cheerleaders, there were food stalls, there were those annoying disney-like vouchers that you have to buy in order to buy anything else thus ensuring a profit etc. Anyway, it was cool. The passion, the chanting (a weird version of Flower of Scotland seems to be a favourite) – it was great to see. I love it when people love rugby!

3. There is hope (and I’m really old and know stuff)

Although the would deny it if tortured, if you get them on their own, some of the boys can actually be quite sweet. Get them in a group, however, and its a different story.

What has struck me the most this week though is that age does bring wisdom. There is so much that these guys don’t know. Sometimes, this leads to hilarity (like the long conversation around the campfire about what exactly makes up a star – not dead people apparently, what kindling is, and why we can’t visit the sun for a holiday). Sometimes, however, it reminds me how old I am. I forget that these kids were, well, kids, when Tony Blair took us to war in Iraq. (and they don’t even know about the first gulf war!)

As I listened to the chatter the other night I realised – again – how lucky I am to be blessed with naturally inquisitive parents who passed that “need to know” onto me. I also realise there’s a lot of things I don’t know. Like how to quote the whole of the Inbetweeners movie.

I am, however, a general knowledge goddess (as evidenced by my solid 2nd place behind an economics on-his-way-to-a-first-and-I-only-got-a-2:2-in-english student).

Like seriously, how else would I know that Scotland won the world championships in elephant polo?


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TTILTW: part VII

“Tell me some interesting facts about Namibia”, I pleaded. “It’s for the blog, I need to make it interesting.”

“Fine”, he said, “did you know that Namibian men have the biggest length and girth combination penises in the world?”

And that, my friends, is what you get when you ask a rugby boy for any kind of help. Penis facts. Probably inaccurate penis facts. Facts that made my eyes cross as I tried to work out what they actually meant in reality.

Obviously, my own research was required. Here you go…. Namibia only gained independence in 1990 and it is the second least densely populated country in the world (after Mongolia). This is mainly due to the presence of the two huge deserts – the Kalarahi and Namib – that dominate the landscape here. This means, naturally, that sand gets EVERYWHERE and that, although the stars are beautiful, it’s bloody cold the whole time.

After a day in Windhoek, we’re now down in Swakopmund which I have decided to name “the Bournemouth of Namibia”. It has a pier, and aquarium (4.2 stars on the google review), and lots of old people. The team is having a little time off before the rigours of coaching start again next week. After that, we’re off again on an expedition trip to our final country – South Africa.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! First, what I’ve learnt this week (note to my father: apologies for any typos in advance, wifi is sporadic and it’s enough that I’ve got this post up!)

1. Never underestimate the power of peer-pressure

As already admitted, I was a wimp when it came to the gorge swing. I’m not scared of a lot, generally. Spiders? I would prefer not to hang out with them. Moths? They tend to attack me which is mildly annoying. But heights..? *shudder* can’t stand them. I come over all peculiar when required to stand on a chair to change a lightbulb (my next house will have no high ceilings, I shall live in the Shire with the Hobbits). So therefore when we were offered the chance to go skydiving in Namibia, I was… reluctant… to say the least. However, never underestimate the power of 10 people laughing at you for a month. I knew that if I didn’t go skydiving I would never live it down. Ever.

Was it worth it? Was going through all that fear and anticipation worth it? Sort of. Granted, it was beautiful up there (especially when we weren’t plummeting in a death spiral towards the ground). And yes, I’m stupidly proud of myself. And no, the others aren’t laughing at me anymore but…. meh. I think abject fear overcame any adrenalin rush I may have felt. I think pure relief that I made it to the ground in one piece meant that I couldn’t feel the euphoria that overcame the others.

I did, however, experience a complete sugar crash in the supermarket an hour later and nearly passed out. Happy days.

2. Old friends are sometimes the best friends

I will never again underestimate how wonderful it is to be in the company of someone who knows you completely. While in Windhoek, I took advantage of the hospitality of a former House of Heroes occupant (whom I haven’t seen since his wedding 5 years ago). Totally unexpectedly (read: totally according to script) we had copious amounts of red wine, the best steak I’ve had in years, shots, gin, cigarettes (yes, I caved after 4 months off, sorry not sorry) and inane chatter. It was amazing – and just what I needed at a time when I was feeling more than a little homesick. My only regrets? That a) his lovely wife wasn’t there and b) I didn’t have more time there to catch up.

Seeing Hermie reminded me that while we all move and grow and change and have different things going on, there is nothing like getting back together with old friends and renewing those relationships. I have resolved to be better at this moving forward.

3. Some days you just have to admit you’re not 20 any more and go with it

The morning after the night before was not pretty and so, after a 5 hour drive, the younger members of my group went out to discover the joys of Swakopmund. I went to bed. And I’m ok with that. I’m slowly starting to realise that I don’t have to do something just because everyone else is (which, I realise, is the complete antithesis of my first learning of this week!). I am more than capable of making my own decisions and deciding what it is I want to do. If I want to go to bed at 8.30 and read my book, I will. If I want to buy shots for the whole bar, I will. If I want to try skydiving, I will.

It’s a novel position I find myself in – being able to make my own decisions – and I’m starting to relish it. This bodes well for the day I get home and I have to start the biggest decision-making process yet… how to make money working for myself!


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TTILTW: part VI

And so our journey has continued to Botswana.

Lush savannah transforms to sparse scrub and finally to sand. Lots and lots of sand. After the undulations of Zambia and the dramatic majesty of the falls, Botswana stretches out in front of us. Miles and miles of flat nothingness.

Botswana has transformed itself over the last couple of years. Formerly one of the poorest nations in the world, it now boasts some of the most exclusive (and expensive)  tourist experiences in Africa. The country is not without its problems though. Behind the fantastic infrastructure, lack of corruption (Botswana ranks 30th out of 167 states in the Democracy Index) and burgeoning economy, AIDS still stalks the land. In 2006, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in adults was 24%. There are also huge problems with desertification and drought – not ideal in a country that heavily relies on agriculture for its income (When I asked our host from the Botswana RFU what the country relied on as a cash crop, he replied “diamonds and beef”.)

It takes us two and a half days of driving to cover the 1,200km from Livingstone to Gaborone. After three short days of coaching kids from a Gaborone township, we’re on the road again towards Namibia. I’m writing this from a campsite in the middle of the Kalarahi desert. Sporadic wifi is the only nod towards civilization. About 20m in front of me, 6 eland pick at the short shrub without a care in the world. Last night, some form of wild pig (boar? warthog?) scampered around our campsite with gay abandon.

We said goodbye to 5 of our number last week and lose another 3 at the end of our Namibia leg (I hasten to add that they’re going home, we haven’t misplaced or killed them). We pick up 4 new people in the next couple of days and so the team will change again. It’s staggering to realise that it’s nearly the end of May and I only have just over a month or so left out here.

So, before we move into Namibia, it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learnt this week.

1. Foot and mouth isn’t just a thing that happened to the UK in 2001.

Foot and mouth is a huge problem here in Botswana. With the emphasis on beef here, the strictness shown by officials on the movement of meat, vegetables, and other animal produce isn’t particularly surprising. What was a little more surprising was the fact that we weren’t allowed to move fresh vegetables and meat from one part of Botswana to another (having done some shopping in a small town on our way to Gaborone). This led to an impromptu picnic at the side of the road whereby the team had to eat 2 days worth of food for supper at 3.30 in the afternoon. As ever, of course, we rose to the challenge.

food

The Bhubesi Bus and our fairly rustic kitchen…

touch

We obviously found some time to throw a rugby ball around while we were waiting!

 

2. Elephant sightings can become common-place

Where most countries may have signs on the side of the road warning about deer or cows crossing the road, Botswana has signs about elephants. Seriously, there are millions of them – Botswana has the highest population of elephant in Africa. On one of our pitstops, we were lucky enough to spend the night at Elephant Sands camp. A truly humbling experience to sit on a wall next to a waterhole and watch these magnificent animals relax in the evening cool.

3. If I thought it was cold a week ago, it’s much colder now

As we’ve moved further into the desert, the evenings have got colder. Like, cold cold. Like, wearing two jumpers, socks, trousers and a hoodie in bed and still being cold, cold. It’s not the temperature so much, but rather the huge drop in degrees as soon as the sun sets. From a rather lovely 27 during the day, the thermometer plummets to a measly 8 or so degrees at night. And when you’re sleeping on the sand, it gets right into your bones. I’m not above admitting that I’m seriously looking forward to being back in a bed! Oh, and having a shower which is slightly warmer than tea that’s been forgotten about for an hour.


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TTILTW: part V

It’s starting to get cold now. The illusion that Africa is always hot is just that – an illusion. As we move further south, the evenings get a little bit chillier, the jumpers come out, shoes replace flipflops.

After a successful week coaching in Choma, Zambia (“my” school won the tournament) we’ve moved on to Livingstone, home to a vast amount of statues and Victoria Falls – which, according to Wikipedia, is the largest sheet of falling water. A slightly dubious accolade but it should in no way belittle the sheer awesomeness of this world heritage site.

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After the boys (and one girl) tried to kill themselves by jumping off a ledge into a gorge (yes, I wimped out, but it’s likely that I’ll be forced into a skydive in Namibia) we moved to the national park and spent a good 3 hours hiking, swimming, and generally marvelling (and getting really wet!)

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Next, onto Botswana.

Anyway, a short version of the things I learnt this week (last night was mildly heavy – it involved caterpillars, beer pong, and a dodgy nightclub on the outskirts of Livingstone)

The joy of clean clothes cannot be underestimated

As per last week, I’m still amazed at the things I take for granted at home. If I wear something once, I throw it in the wash and wear something else. Here, tops and jeans and shorts and everything else are recycled over and over again. When you eventually find somewhere to do laundry, there is nothing that beats the smell of clean clothes and the feeling that comes from a good wash.

Everyone has their own way of doing things

… and it’s not wrong, it’s just different. Jess would be proud of me. As an English woman, I sometimes have the tendency to be a little stuck in my ways, rigid almost. One of the best things about being here is that I’m starting to learn (and tolerate) the way other people do things. And no, just because they’re different, it doesn’t mean that they’re wrong (although really, they’re totally wrong)

18 year olds – oy vey

I wish I was 18 again. Correction, I wish I was 18 and knew what I now know about 18 year olds. My life could have been so much easier. Living in close proximity to a group of guys over 10 years younger than me is teaching me things I thought I’d never learn. It has also made me thankful for the fact that a) I’m not 18 anymore b) I don’t have to go out with 18 year olds anymore and c) I never have to be 18 again. Ooof, what an age to be.


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TTILTW parts III and IV

The difference between Lilongwe and Lusaka is stark. Whereas Malawi depends on tobacco to prop up its economy, Zambia is all about mining. As you drive into the capital, advert after advert proclaims the virtues of this drilling company over another. With such mineral resources comes wealth. With wealth comes choice. Even the fact that Zambia is a couple of centimetres closer to South Africa on the map makes a difference. KFC, Nandos, Wimpy, Steers – chain restaurants prevail. There are shopping malls, proper ones, with high end cafes serving high priced cappachinos. They serve wine in the bars. Bizarrely, the one thing lacking from Zambia so far has been access to the internet (hence the delay on this post). In Malawi, wifi hotspots were prevelant. Here, I’ve managed to highjack a pretty poor Wimpy signal for 10 minutes before we went to the cinema. I’m now sitting outside our guest house (Brethern of Christ Guesthouse, Choma) taking advantage of the fact that the wifi is working for 10 minutes.

Anyway, onward, I’ve learnt things over the last couple of weeks.

1. There are people doing amazing things

Laurence is a young Malawian who acted as a buddy coach to the Pride in Malawi. One day on the way back from training we got talking about what he was up to when he wasn’t teaching kids with us. He’s writing a grant application he tells me. Albinism is a huge problem in Malawi. Those born with the affliction find it hard to integrate into society and are under constant threat (especially in more rural areas) of being murdered for their body parts – the organs and blood of an albino are much in demand by local witch doctors. There is a strong need for education on what the disorder is and what it means for those who have it. Laurence is hoping to start that process. He aims to develop a travelling roadshow which will visit the townships and villages in Malawi. Through film (an event which is likely to bring all the village together as moving pictures is still relatively rare) he aims to get the chiefs and elders on board and slowly, slowly change hearts and minds.

Deb and Ash are an English couple we met at our Lilongwe base camp. Having met while both working in Kenya (Ash for the army and Deb for the Red Cross) they decided to pack it all in, get on a motorbike, and drive down to South Africa. Well why the hell not?

2. I don’t tan

It is official. I’ve been out here a month and I am still the whitest person in Africa. I don’t know what it is about my skin but I think I could give a rhino a run for its money. My fellow travellers are all a beautiful deep shade of walnut. I am creamy white. I reassure myself that at least I won’t look like a handbag when I’m older/have sun spots etc etc etc but deep down, I’d quite like to have just a tinge of colour.

3. It is possible to live without the internet

My younger companions may disagree with me, but it is possible to live without the internet. As we travelled from Lilongwe to Lusaka, we were out of contact with the world for a week. We had no idea what was going on. We forgot what date the election was. We didn’t know who had won various sporting events. We didn’t know what had happened in the world. And it was fine. The world didn’t end. Yes, I missed being in touch with the people I love and yes, it was lovely to finally catch up with them when I got wifi back but…. it really wasn’t that bad. Which is just as well, because I doubt I’m going to have internet for another couple of weeks (and so who knows when I’ll get a chance to post this!)

4. My face isn’t that bad

A major change in my daily routine has been a distinct lack of preparatory time before I crawl out of my tent. No make up. No brushing of hair. Up. And out. And it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. I look at myself in the mirror and, surprisingly, I don’t recoil in horror. Even more surprisingly, neither does anyone else when they see me. That said, I don’t think I’ll be throwing out my hair straighteners any time soon.

5. It’s the little things

Today I bought a pillow. This is incredibly exciting. I’ve been sleeping on rolled up clothes for the last 4 nights and my neck was starting to complain, a lot. So today I bought a pillow. And my oh my, I’m exciting about sleeping tonight! It’s different things for different people. For some in the group, it’s Nando’s. For others, chocolate spread. There are small things that each of us are missing while we’re here and even the littlest bit of luxury makes all the difference.

6. Time has different speeds

It’s just under a month since I arrived in Africa. This time a month ago, I was in Milan, stuffing my face with pasta. guzzling wine, and generally enjoying myself. It feels like another world away. Since then, time has sped up and slowed down with no warning. The days before I left whizzed by. My first week coaching flew. Our days off by the lake were over before they began. On the other hand, our two days in Luwanga National Park passed by lazily. The drive to Lusaka took weeks. The time now, waiting for new people to arrive and our team dinner tonight, is crawling. Two months left, 4 more countries, 4 more real weeks of coaching, 4 weeks of travelling. I’m not going to wish it away – I’m going to let time do its thing and enjoy each moment (fleeting or otherwise)

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