Sunday, March 29, 2009


I feel as if I'm in a transition time of sorts, here in Empangeni and at Ikhaya. Things are settling, children are being adopted, and the potential for a lot of change is upon me. One of our most lovely babies has been placed with her new family from Canada, one of our infants (who I visited today) is in the hospital with Meningitis and TB complications, and the number of children at Ikhaya is down to two. It will be a quiet place tomorrow when I go back to work for the week. That said, we are welcoming a new long term volunteer, John, from the states as well (yipee) and hopefully starting a new feeding/cooking program. My job is ever expanding but my feeling of "grasping" has come to a new level, so its a good feeling to bring to this new chapter. Its almost April! I have many things I'm going to miss about not being at home for this month, because of the holidays and two very special birthdays (hello lauren and maria), but I'm thinking that the new challenges will be enough to keep my occupied and motivated. Despite major plumbing problems at Ikhaya recently, we now have phones and a printer and are close to having internet. We are also making some headway with several of our children's cases that have lapsed beyond reasonable expectations and our causing major problems in placing children into families. Hopefully we can clear those up with visits to the commissioner this week and then we can focus on potentially getting new kids into the home!

Other than the Ikhaya happenings, things are strolling along in my life outside of work. The road-trip-of-a-lifetime was out of this world and I still can't stop staring at the beautiful mercedes in the driveway. We made it over 1400 kms in two days of driving and managed to eat our selves silly at fast food restaurants (who so generously sold us their used oil for very cheap). Gas station coffee here is luckily far better than the states and if there is ever a comfy car to take a road trip in, an old mercedes is it. April brings possibly more trips, to Pretoria for a weekend, and a really awesome lady who helps at Ikhaya (who I have recently bonded with) has invited me to Mtunzini for exploring and a day with her lovely family.

This upcoming week brings more visits to Ngwelezana Hospital to visit and care for Sipho, new volunteer training, handing over some cooking to someone else (finally!), and hopefully some cooling down of the weather. That's all folks.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Its been two months!? No way!

Soooooo, as promised, an update on my life here in Empangeni. I started out as a regular volunteer, when volunteers were on 12 hour shifts throughout the week. It became apparent that the house, although still benefiting from having two staff on nights, really needed a hands on person there during the day managing the day to day life of the Home. Everything from grocery stock and ordering, medications, doctors visits, staff management and training, office stuff, processing donations, hosting visitors and delegating to volunteers, etc etc, and that person magically became ME. And I have been loving it. So I am officially House Manager and we are attempting to turn it into a long term position, a for reals hire, because..really...what would they do without me? :)

So, here are some highlights and feelings of accomplishment that have come from my coffee fueled 7-5 workdays so far.....

1. Staff manual is almost finished and there will be a centrally located and multi-lingual resource book for how to do everything, from meds to cleaning to feeding, to the daily routine to bathing, to all the advice and tips you could need for acting like you know what you're doing with 5 crying children.

2. Medication System. A new meds record system, with preplanned charts and notes. Yeehaw.

3. An organized nurses station with med procedures, office supplies, sterile syringes, and communications binder.

4. Staff Training: a successful first of many monthly trainings to come. We did almost 4 hours on house basics and it was a hit, lots of discussion and lots of input from our wonderful staff and eager volunteers. And the muffins were fantastic! Just to look around the house and see organization, 'how to' signs for ever task, and a resource center for our volunteers makes my heart beat a little slower.

5. We have really got on the ball about taking care of our medically fragile child (a new addition) Sipho and we have been on schedule with her appointments, ARV treatments, and a proper instructions on her meds and diagnosis.

6. We have potentially found a doctor that wants to supervise our children's medical care. That is pending, but of course that will hopefully result in my ability to put together a medical care system that will ensure continuity of care and excellent supervision of meds and overall health.

7. Organization of clothes and newly donated cupboards. It may seem trivial, but we now have a cupboard for each age group and child and a change to do an overhaul of the clothes we have, throw out old ones, and rotate in some really adorable clothes we have set aside from the plethora we found in the storage unit.

8. The Storage Unit. That is an ongoing project, one that I have failed to delegate this week due to many no shows by volunteers (shame!), but it is almost done and much improved from its prior state of bee infestation and moldy bags of nappies. We have managed to donate quite a bit to another care center, put the boxes on shelves and properly labeled, and found a place for our recent donation of cleaning products.

9. Groceries. Although our eventual goal is to get meals and 'en masse' foods made off site and frozen for the week, we are functioning fairly well on the system currently, with weekly fresh groceries, and efforts by all our staff (including me!) of daily cooks of the basics such as chicken, vegetables, beef, butternut, mashed potatos, etc. I wish I ate as well as the kids do :) But we have consulted an eager to help nurse for an age appropriate feeding guide, as well as many hours on the american pediatric website, and have put together feeding schedules and meal options for every imaginable age group. Go us!

10. We are getting internet and phone lines....any day now....things are slow here. Ask anyone.

11. I (and eventually all the staff) am going in to the NPA hospital on Tuesday for ARV (AIDS treatment) training so that we can all better prepared to take care of medically fragile children. And of course, there will be a SYSTEM created. OH how I love systems.

12. We have been working with a social worker from christian social services, Zinhle, to get our butts in gear for opening, solidifying, and hopefully closing each case (ie trying to get these kids fostered and adopted into a realy family). Its a little confusing for me to get my head around the system, and I give major credit to Zinhle who does all the real work, but we are making progress.

13. Well, I could go on and on and on but what I really want to talk about is MY SOUTH AFRICA ROAD TRIP.

Long story short, we are going to pick up a car from capetown that my "neighbor/housemate/friend" Gerhard has bought that run on sunflower oil. It is a mercedes 4x4, apparently really old, and I picture it being like one of those old SUVs that you see in movies about Africa. Actually I'm positive thats what it looks like. So anyways, we're flying there friday morning, Me, Lizl, Gerhard and we're driving back to Empangeni in two nights, three days. And its over 1000 kilometeres. Soooooo wish us luck. AND that we don't break down. But I'm mainly looking forward to being the annoying American with my camera out the whole time. Yeeehhaawww. Road Trip.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I have been delinquent in blogging, mainly due to the SAGA it has been to get my internet working on my laptop in my flat. As that hopefully comes to a close this weekend, I give you a sincere apology as to my absence and promise to be better at keeping up with this blog. Things/Life have changed dramatically since I got here, so there is much much MUCH to update you all on once I have some uninterrupted time with my long lost friend the internet. For now, I have a few stolen moments on a computer so I thought I would finally do a quick blog.

After some significant culture shock, I have settled in quite nicely here in Empangeni. Its a small town, but the people are friendly and I have some really great friends. I have taken on the role of House Manager at the children's home, and it is a lot of work. Everything from medication management, staff training, cooking, bottle schedules, donations, and drop ins to bonding with the staff and letting my organization streak (newfound!) have its way with the house. The children are completely magnificent, each with their own personalities and needs and its totally magical to see them grow and learn english and laugh.

Outside of work, I have been somewhat adopted by my "neighbors" the Van Rooyens and they are wonderful. Lizl, 27, is the Occupational Therapist that volunteers to work with our kids. Gerhard is her brother, 24, an architect who has been awesome in his dedication to fixing my computer. My flat is in the driveway (of sorts) of their moms house, where they all currently live, and we get along swimmingly. There door is always open and they make the best dang coffee ever. So of course I was easily sold. :)

I will update more this weekend (with pictures!) and hopefully something a little more witty and entertaining.

Love from Zululand


Thursday, February 5, 2009

25 Things about my African Life in Empangeni

25 - people standing on the side of the road every half mile or so waiting for their ride to work, a bus, or a "combi" which is equivalent to a VW Van packed full of 23 people. I kid you not. All dressed in work clothes, blue road worker uniform, or carrying a sack of potatos on their head.

24 - the number of bugs I have killed with my bare hands since I got here. I am so badass I know!

23 - the number of things to do here in the office, all somewhat on hold untill office supplies arrive soon! Yay!

22 - the number of minutes it takes for a "handover" at shift change. plus or minus a few.

21 - more or less the number of bibs we use in one day.

20 - the maximum number of minutes it takes to walk to the central park "spar" in town for groceries and the like

19 - hours I spend awake per day, on night shift weeks

18 - the ounces of water i drink per two hours when its really really hot here (aka most of the time)

17 - the approximate number of ants that are probably walking around on the floor of my kitchen this very minute.

16 - hours my staff partner Glory spends at work and commuting. dedication I say!

15 - the number of minutes it sometimes takes for an internet page to load if using the 2g network.

14 - approximately the number of minutes it takes to drive to the nearby ocean town!

13 - the number of clips it takes to hang one small load of wash on the sun drying rack out back!

12 - Shift length, in hours.

11 - number of kisses to and from Jabu during the bedtime process

10 - baths that we give per day, two per child

9 - amount of nappies I change a day, plus or minus

8 - the cups of coffee I drink in one week. Who knew that powdered coffee via Nestcafe is actually pretty good!?

7 - hours of sleep when on day shift

6 - times a day I find myself laughig with/at my roomate birte!

5 - the number of children staying at Ikhaya, 1 month old Carol, Two year old Jabu, 19 month old Keisha and her 7th month old sister Kiara, and 6 month old Mpilwenhle (Angel).

4 - palm trees in my yard!

3 - number of awesome neighbors, Lizle, Garrett and their lovely mom, that I recently acquired, that are constantly offering me rides, a hairdryer, tips, internet, and coffee in their airconditioned backroom!

2 - hours untill Carol will most likely need another bottle

1 - times a day that I pinch myself and/or act like a tourist and take pictures of 'my' town


Monday, February 2, 2009

South African Time

After a whirlwind of a week, I finally have internet at my new flat (long story) and can calm the many people who are worried sick. Which, by the way, just totally blows me away, that people are emailing and freaking out because I haven't blogged in so long. I'm fine. The first week at Ikhaya was hard and amazing, at the same time. The children are some of the most amazing kids I have ever worked with. All have distinct personalities, well except the 4 week old of course, and they are bright shining lights in my life. I have had the last two days off and I miss them terribly. Anyhoo, it was very hard to be organized here, at least during my first week, because the outlets are different, the time change, the internet issue, etc etc. But now that I'm settled into my new flat (as they say), I have all things squared away and can now update you with pictures and stories. But mainly, I want to reassure people, that the instant I got to this country I just knew that this was what I was supposed to be doing.

Blogs to Come = My day of "teaching" and the inspiring faces of Sapphire Elementary Grade 7 in Port Elizabeth and some adventures with Lions.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Port Elizabeth - So Far

Sorry for the many days of absence from my blog, but my internet access is limited to the one public computer in the bed and breakfast lobby (where I am currently, in my pajamas tired and hot). We have been spending all day every day with our host friends, out in the townships and the schools (where apparently most white people never go) and preparing for todays celebration. There are many stories to tell and photos to share, but we have been mainly spending our time with Sue's organization, MoloCare and Active Schools and seeing their progress, checking in with the group of sponsored kids (that were brought to Seattle to record an album with Eddie Vedder) and have since been sponsored and supported throughout their college education. But it is amazing to see how little we can actually do, not because it is destitute, but because they are doing it all for themselves. There is nothing they are not addressing, and they are doing so with little to no resources and astounding honesty. Schools are organizing marches against abuse, principals are listening to the needs of their children, and the pride in their communities is overflowing. And the "South African welcome" is like nothing I have ever seen. This all sounds incredibly cliche I'm sure, but it is all so real and meaningful to me, and I'm sure I will be processing it for weeks if not longer. The race and economic issues here are also very present. Race seperations are very clear (although improving) and the economy (although booming due to tourism) is still struggling. And in an exciting bit of news, the big political group here (the ANC) is being challenged by an opposition group called COPE and there is a big election coming up. This is very big for South African politics and everyone is talking about it. Its funny to have the same conversation with the people here about their concerns as we were just having in the states, about "corruption" and "jobs" and "health care" and "education". It is so cliche, but we all really do want the same things. Anyways, I don't have a way to upload pictures right now, but since I have made many many new friends here in the last few days, I will be putting up pictures and narratives as soon as I get settled into my new home in Empangeni, Kwazulu Natal.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We are totally crazy - Table Mountain Hike Extravaganza

So, Table Mountain is this huge flat top mountain above capetown and its crazy high, like crazy 'only stare at it in awe' jagged high. So on our excursion to the Botanical Gardens at its base (which were gorgeous and super britishly formal and proper), what did we decided to do? Yeah, to CLIMB it. As super inexperienced hikers, we thought naively that "oh for sure we can do this" and in the end, we probably shouldn't have. Thankfully I was with a doctor who reminded me to take a break every 5 minutes because of how insanely fast we were gaining altitude. We even had to climb straight up in the air (probably 100 degree angle) on these ladders on top of cascading rocks. My mother would faint if she knew that we did it. Regardless, we had a freaking blast being totally determined and haphazard alone in the African forest on this huge STEEP as heck "trail". Yeah, after a while it was only a rock hill in front of us, no human activity or sound in sight. The pictures show our adventure in chronological order and bet your bottom dollar that we were saying many-a-hail-marys on the way down as our jelly-shakin (literally shaking) legs got almost lost. Enjoy!

Us, at the bottom.... see that little dip in the top, that little V, thats where we hiked, to the freaking TOP

The trees = Other-wordly. Me = super sweaty.

beautiful tress, everywhere, canopy of africa

Sue, who was extremely patient with me while I took picture and laughed and she freaked out on the ladders.

Ummmm, that's the top, yeah, no big deal!

Yeah, I was obsessed with picture taking, and this view down was suprisingly not dizzying

More of the infamous ladders, a completely insane shot which shows just how steep it was, which I had to include because I'm obsessed with our awesomeness

We then proceeded to get back down to the base, to a restuarant for some much needed frittes, and then eventually to the really nice hotel down the waterfront from us that had peanut butter brownies. With peanut butter icecream on top. It was incredibly off the hook, ya'll. That and some sauvignon blanc. We are off to Port Elizabeth tomorrow around lunch time and one thing I won't miss is the "we don't want to go outside for fear of death" winds. They are what kept me from going on the Robben Island tour, Darnit. More Updates from PE soon!

Have I mentioned how at peace I feel here? It's cliche, but its true, it's like coming home. Magnificent.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'm heee-eerrreee!

Capetown. After a long long long flight, I arrived in capetown and checked into my amazing hotel last night. Thanks to some dramamine, I was able to sleep through the night and now I'm waiting for my travel buddy Sue to arrive tonight (sunday) but so far I've done some solo exploring. Check out some pics!

Table Top Mountain from the waterfront!

Me and the Penguins, fast friends

Dancing and Singing - this energy is everywhere

My hotel at almost-dusk

Everyone kept asking if I was planning on swimming with the sharks, and the answer is no. But I will stare at their teeth in a tunnel in the dark by myself. Yeah.

More Later!

thanks to all who helped me get here, wished me well, and love me still



Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mind Flush

I had my first cry. It was terrible. But in better news, I have a great backpack from REI and I cancelled my netflix. I've packed away my purses, heels, scarves, and winter jackets. I'm cancelling my phone starting friday, picking up my last paycheck, and doing some last loads of laundry. It's beginning. And as my regular at the deli said yesterday, it's going to be a 'mind flush'. I like that.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Itinerary - So Far

So my nervous tummy has officially moved into the captain's chair of my life as the true countdown to South Africa begins. And it's not that I'm not excited and happy and totally and completely exihilirated, but when the unknown is still lurking, stress and nerves seem to take themselves out on my stomach. So I've accepted it's place in my day to day life. Acknnowledement is the first step right?

So the plans are as follows -

Sue Taylor - (family friend, doctor, surrogate-mom, and general bad ass lady) and I fly in on sunday, we are spending saturday evening to monday in Capetown. I'm going to spend a day going to classes at Nelson Mandela University with a couple students that she and her family are helping to put through school. I'm going to tour the prison where he was kept and other Capetown-y things (not to mention give ourselves a day or two to get over jet lag). We are then going to move on to Port Elizabeth, where her project is, to meet with folks and work. She will be in meetings most of the rest of the week and our time there will be planned/hosted by her people. I will be helping in the classrooms and clinic at Saphire Elementary. I am going to be soaking it all in. She said to be prepared to be "in awe". Here is a little idea of the project that she, her husband, and the University of Washington educators are involved in there.

We are then going to head to Durban on saturday or sunday and then a short train/bus to Richard's Bay (the town nearest my town that has an airport) on that coming monday. I arrive at my program on monday, January 25th. That feels like a good day.

And just for shits and giggles, and since it has been dubbed my/our song by two lovely boys at work, here is a littly diddy to make you smile.