Finetastic Adventures

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Back at Site

Back at Site


After what seems like forever, we are both back at our site in Polokwane.  One month ago Dave left for Detroit to be with his ailing mother for two weeks.  Though it forced us to change our plans for visiting Alyssa, it was better that he be with her then.   He was able to spend some quality time with her, and left her in better condition than when he arrived, though she is, of course, still weak and ill.


While Dave was in the US, I worked for a few days then left site when our NGO sent its clients home for winter break.   We are fortunate that we are able to take seven days of vacation leave, without using accumulated annual leave, when our organization closes, as long as we stay in South Africa.  So I used my week to travel with another Peace Corps friend to the province of the Northern Cape.  Sarah lives in the Northwest Province, so I spent a couple of days with her before we headed west towards the Kalahari.   She had taken annual leave so she was able to drive (the only time PC allows us to drive) and we were fortunate to have rented her landlord's car for the few days.   We gradually entered the desert and it wasn't long before we came upon the red sand dunes of the Kgalagadi.  It is beautiful; I can imagine that the huge dunes of the Namibian desert must be awesome.   But we stayed in-country and thoroughly enjoyed our time.  We entered the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is shared with Botswana.   The only problems we encountered were road-related.  It took us almost 2 hours to travel 40 K; even with that slow speed we had a flat tire, definitely caused by the rocks as evidenced by the gaping hole in the side of a new tire!   Thank goodness we had just reached the tar road when that happened; the jack had no support in the sand.  We could have handled changing the tire on our own but were glad for the kind soul who stopped to help.   After spending one last night in Mafikeng with Sarah I headed back to Polokwane via taxis (arriving just at dusk), to spend two nights at home before heading back to Pretoria to meet Dave upon his return from the US.


We had tickets for Mauritius on July 4; he arrived late on July 2.  So I got tickets to see the Lion King in Joburg for the night of July 3 rd.  (We had originally had tickets to see it after our return from Mauritius, but had to sell them.)  We had so looked forward to seeing it, and we were not disappointed.   Neither of us had seen it on Broadway; seeing it here in South Africa was simply amazing.  The theatre was built especially for this production; all the cast was local.   Some of the lyrics were changed slightly for this audience.  (I believe the major change was having some lines spoken in Afrikaans.)   So every South African in the audience could understand almost every word spoken or sung, which is different when it is performed outside the country.  It was just so incredible; words can't describe the feeling of seeing this production here. In fact it is so popular here that the theatre was sold out and Dave and I sat on opposite ends of the same row - the last two seats left!


We spent ten glorious days with Alyssa in Mauritius.  The country is a very small, beautiful island east of Madagascar, about a 4 hour flight from Joburg.  She lives in the town of Quartre Bournes, an inland urban center virtually devoid of tourists.  Most of the population of about 1.2 million lives in the urban areas; the capital of Pt Louis is a harbor city.  You can be at the beach from almost anywhere in the country in about 30-40 minutes.   Each beach is different, with different sand, but the water is absolutely beautiful in all of them.  It's clear, and though it's the middle of winter, several people were swimming and many (including us) just went to relax and walk.   Most of the island is surrounded by a reef, which means the waves break far enough out from shore so that swimming is possible, but surfing can only be done at the one beach where there is no reef.



Almost 70% of the population is Indian, 25% Creole (mixed descendants of African slaves and Europeans) and a small percentage is Chinese; the combination of these cultures leads to excellent food.   Needless to say, we ate our way through the ten days, and loved every minute of it!  It would be a great place to bicycle, but most of the roads are not conducive.   The streets in the urban areas are extremely narrow, with deep ditches on one or both sides of many of them.  Driving there (or just being a passenger) is a nightmare.   No wonder Alyssa doesn't really want to drive; the combination of narrow streets and terrible drivers makes for a dangerous situation.  Some days there we rode the bus with her, which was a pleasure in itself, especially compared to our S. African experience.   Passengers there actually wait for the bus to stop before they even leave their seat to exit; it's so civilized.  Other days we were chauffeured around by either her boyfriend or other friends of hers.   She has some amazingly generous and wonderful friends, mostly our age, who have helped and watched over her.  One of them is another Fulbright professor, who actually just finished his year there this week, and into whose house Alyssa is moving.   He drove us to the national park there for an incredible hike to the highest point in the country.  In addition to the coastline, the country has beautiful jagged mountain peaks on most of the island.   This peak is reached from a trailhead that starts well above sea level, so it's not as hard as it sounds.  But the final 50 meters or so is straight up, and with the mud from the day's rain it was treacherous, especially coming down!   We were so glad that mud washes out of clothes and shoes!  It was a harrowing experience, but well worth it.  The 360 degree view was obscured most of the time we were on top, but the clouds opened enough for us to see in all directions.  The rain was a nuisance, but the real damper that day was that Alyssa's phone and my cash (though I had very little with me) were stolen from the trunk of the car, most likely while we were at a viewpoint before going to the trailhead.   As is the case in South Africa too, it's not the phone that's of most value; it's the SIM card inside with all your messages and phone book.   Mauritius does not have the violent crime that South Africa does, but it does have its fair share of petty theft.  But we didn't let that spoil our time there.


We went with Alyssa to her gym where she is leading spinning classes, and which is now a short walk from her new house.   She tried to tire us out and she did.  We spent one day up North at a picnic, on a beautiful quiet beach, with her French class members and teacher and their families.   A couple of days we were driven to different parts of the island by her Mauritian friends, and saw that fields of sugar cane do indeed cover most of the country's land.  Tea is also grown there and we spent one afternoon touring and tasting, and buying some to bring home.    All of these social outings and most evenings involved eating out at either restaurants or from street vendors, and I think I can safely say that there was no food that we didn't enjoy!   It was mostly wonderful just spending time with Alyssa, and meeting all the people and seeing all the places she had talked about since last year.  She is now waiting to hear from the local Research Council about a grant for which she applied; this will allow her to extend her research for another year or more.  If we were in the US I would be hoping she wouldn't extend, but since we will be in Africa for another year or so we are hopeful that she will continue to be only a 4 hour flight away!




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