Thursday, January 3, 2008

Vacation Part 1, Kruger Park

After an enthusiastic, but tearful, good-bye in Tweeling, Andy and Kate took themselves on a three-week vacation to Kruger Park, Mozambique, and Swaziland before heading back to the U.S.

Part one of the vacation brought us to Kruger Park in far Northeastern South Africa, a park that is much bigger than most U.S. states and some small countries. The park is unbelievable, stretching through Northern South Africa, Zimbabwe, Western Mozambique, into Zambia and Tanzania. The park itself is gorgeous, including desert, savannah, jungle, and forest landscapes that provide home to countless animals that would eat or stomp you if you got out of your car.

Knowing that Kruger was likely their last game-viewing opportunity for a long time, Andy and Kate drove around the park for an average of 10 hours per day, collecting game-spotting points. Andy came up with a point system that assigned a value to each animal spotted and determined the points total for each day. The points were as follows:

Lions: 20 points each
Total spotted (in 4 days): 5

Hippos: 2 points each
Total spotted: 83 (and they were making a racket!)
More people are killed by hippos in Africa than by any other animal.

Giraffes: 2 points each
Total spotted: 118 (including a giraffe that was scratching himself on a tree)

Nice birds (such as this Yellow Hornbill): 1 point each
Other birds that we could identify: Ground Hornbills, Fish Eagles, Lilac-Breasted Rollers, and Bee Eaters 14

Elephants: 3 points each
Total spotted: 121!

We saw a group of over 20 elephants two different times, including several baby elephants (too cute for words)

African Wild Dogs (highly endangered): 4 points each
Total spotted: 2

Herds of African Buffalo: 6 points per herd
Total herds spotted: 11

Antelope herd: 1 point per herd
Total spotted: 25
Impalas are everywhere, so they didn’t count for points, but Kate thought that they should be included if they were doing funny things, like these two.

Troops of baboons: 2 points per troop
Total spotted: 11
No extra points for the baby, but it’s pretty cute.

Crocodiles: 2 points each
Total spotted: 7

Rhinos - White Rhino: 3 points each
Black Rhino: 10 points each
Total spotted: 20 (all White Rhinos)

Hyenas: 3 points each
Total spotted: 8 (strangely, every hyena that we saw was with babies, the so-ugly-that-they’re-cute kind)

Zebra herds: 1 point per herd
Total spotted: 26
Zebras and Wildebeest like to hang out together.

Wildebeest herds: 1 point per herd
Total spotted: 8 herds and 18 individuals.
When the leader of the wildebeest herd gets old, the herd throws him out and he has to go live with the zebras or the impalas. It’s sad and funny.

Another funny-and-sad spotting was the dung beetle, who makes big balls of rhino poo and then pushes it along the road.

No points, but lots of giggles.

All in all, we had a great time at the park, which is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Park administrators are working on opening the borders between the countries that share the park so that wildlife may move over 1000 miles without fences. It’s an incredible conservation effort, and one that brings an impressive amount of well-needed tourist money into the countries that host the park.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Goodbye Party!

The teachers and students at Refeng-Thabo threw a rockin Goodbye Party for Kate and Andy yesterday and sponsored a very sweet sendoff.

The teachers chose to give the party the theme of a Cultural Day, so everyone dressed in their traditional Basotho gear.

And carried their babies around all day...

The party actually started the night before, when Mrs. Motsitsi (in the center, obviously) came to Kate and Andy's house to give Kate a dress that Granny Motsitsi had made for Kate.

Kate caused quite a stir on the way to school with her traditional Basotho dress. A very old lady started laughing and yelling from across town and gave Kate the double thumbs up in approval.

Andy got dressed up in the Basotho cow-herd style.

The party itself was a cultural festival, with dancing girls...

Traditional drumming and singing...

The gorgeous choir led by one of the teachers...

And a fabulous feast. Mrs. Motsitsi was cooking all morning with her party team.

Kate was actually given two Basotho dresses, this one from the entire staff, a gorgeous Basotho blanket, and the traditional Basotho hat.

Kate took pictures with everyone who attended the party...

And then everyone wanted to take a picture with Andy...


We were very thankful for all of the gifts (especially the dresses!) and it was very nice to have such a positive last experience with Kate's colleagues from Refeng-Thabo. All of the teachers made very generous contributions to be able to buy the gifts and we are both very grateful to be able to have such beautiful reminders of Tweeling!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Last of the Donations

We just finished spending the last of the donations and we're blown away by how generous our friends and families have been. We're especially blown away because we didn't ask anyone for anything, but an impressive amount of money was collected and very generous donations were made.

This final round of donations started with Kate's mom's collections for Refeng-Thabo. The money that she collected funded two projects. First, the ongoing quest to fill the library. Kate asked Refeng-Thabo's librarian what types of books the school needed most. She said that the library desperately needs reference books so that students will be able to do research.

We were able to order $1000 worth of reference books for the library.

The second project that this money funded was a very nice, and very big, fence for the school's garden.

The school currently has no garden because some naughty sheep broke into the school grounds and ate everything.

The teachers that were running the garden had been asking all year for money from the school to fence in an area of the school's huge grounds to protect the plants from the sheep. The school is currently completely out of money, so there was no chance of the fence being built in the next year.

Since there are almost always either sheep, cows, or goats roaming the school grounds, the teachers didn't want to plant vegetables without a way to protect the plants, so the school has been without a garden since January.

The fence will set aside a 60-meter by 30-meter rectangle, a huge area that will support a very large garden.

It is also taller than the tallest boys, an intentional move to avoid pumpkin-snatching.

We broke ground on the garden last week and students planted pumpkins, onions, and tomatoes.

The teacher who will run the garden is planning to use the food he will grow to start a feeding plan for the students. He plans to cook every day for the students, many of whom are terribly malnourished and eat about one meal per day. Usually that meal consists usually of cornmeal and sausage.

Sherry and Andy Farkas and Betty and Andy Farkas both made donations that were to be spent on things that were needed by the community. We chose to use this money to help the family that lives across the street from us in a few different ways.

First, there are two schools in Tweeling, one in the township, and a vastly better school in town. Ntombi is currently enrolled in the school in town and we are hoping that she will stay at that school, even though the family is moving into the township at the beginning of January. In order to motivate the family to keep her at the town school, we bought her the next size of the town school's uniform.

Fana is starting school next year, so we bought him his first-ever school uniform, which he was incredibly proud of.

Kate asked, "Are you excited for school, Fana?"


His uniform is a little bit big (as you can see!), but his mother, Flora, is going to hem it and take it in for him.

Andy attended Fana's graduation from pre-school, which he says was the cutest thing he has ever seen.

It turned, as things do here, into a rockin' dance party.

And, a massive photo shoot...

We also bought ten chickens for the family, 8 hens and 2 roosters, in the hopes that they will eat the eggs and breed the chickens to eat and sell. The chickens were about to be slaughtered (the same afternoon that we bought them), but now are running around in the Tweeling township, laying eggs.

We have been feeding the kids regularly and we were worried that our leaving would create a hardship on the family when the kids lose the chance to eat at our house.

Both Ntombi and Fana were terrified of the chickens. Ntombi had to be coaxed to get as close to them as she is in this picture.

On Thanksgiving, Kate's grandmother's reflections on how thankful she was led her to send a very generous donation to Tweeling. Andy suggested that the money go to the orphan feeding program in the township so that they will be able to expand their bi-weekly meal program and save some of the grant money that they receive.

There are, very sadly, many orphans in Tweeling, due mostly to AIDS, TB, and other health issues. Many of the orphans are at great risk of the health problems that took thier parents, and are even more so because most people in the township are terribly malnourished.

The orphan feeding program cooks up very good, healthy meals for the 30-50 orphans who come for lunch every Monday and Friday.

The grant that the program receives from the town government is only enough for them to provide full meals twice per week.

Andy took the volunteers grocery shopping on Tuesday and filled the program's freezer with frozen vegetables, chicken, and other meats, and also bought cups, plates, bowls, and pots that the program badly needed and would not have been able to purchase on its weekly grant. Because the freezer is currently full, the program will save the next few weeks of its grant money and will expand the feeding program to three times per week.

We, and the people of Tweeling, are incredibly grateful for the generocity that our family and friends have shown. Very unfortunately, we have not been able to determine a way to continue these donations after we have left Tweeling, since, in addition to currency exchange issues, we have not been able to set up a way to ensure that donated money will reach its intended recipient (email Kate if that euphemism doesn't translate). Also, donated goods, such as clothes and books, carry a huge import tax when they arrive in South Africa, which will be a great burden on the person who collects the donations.

So we must say Thank You to everyone who contributed and end our brief experience as philanthropists here. It has made us very proud to be able to distribute the donated goods and money and to say that they have come from our friends and family in America. Thank you very much.