Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Our final post for the blog is that we have a new member of the family – a 9-week-old Havanese pup – currently going by “Hootie!” Upon our arrival back in Jax, we had a wonderful homecoming with Murphy and Kim’s family. Murphy was wagging his tail so hard that he could hardly keep his feet on the floor. We headed down to Bushnell (between Ocala and Tampa) for a visit with our potential puppy. He was just what we wanted and was ready to come home so we loaded him up and headed for Tallahassee Tuesday night – and all collapsed for several hours. Murphy was a bit overwhelmed at Lynn and Tom’s house (the breeders) with four puppies and four adult dogs underfoot but did well on the way home and seems to be tolerating, if not yet welcoming, the new little guy. Come by for a visit and to meet Hootie – would love to see you all! (Be prepared for pictures!)

We're home!

Phew! Flying half way around the world can take it out of you, but we made it safe and sound. Once again, we had a flawless trip (how many people can say that these days??? Every flight we took was perfect). All in all, it was an absolutely amazing trip - academically, culturally, and socially. I'm hooked, and want to go back. It was also remarkable that we had no significant illnesses, injuries, psychosocial crises, or other dramas (save for that one day of weirdness at the hotel). I'm lucky for my first time doing this kind of a program.

So...back to the real world now. More news to come, though...

O-M-G! Final safari day

Off for our morning drive at 6:30. It was Sunday so there were lots of private cars on the road, too – busy with traffic. We drove and drove and drove and saw hardly anything…not even the elephants. They had moved on to the wilderness. A few impala here, a giraffe there…nothing much. It was a very quiet ride. We then said good-bye to our European friends and had our final afternoon drive to ourselves. Shawn asked us what we wanted to see, and of course the answer was a leopard! Otherwise, just take us to a cool spot even if there are no animals, and we’ll just see what we see on the way. We drove past the elephants (only 5 or 6 – not enough for us anymore and not close enough to the road) and to a place where they are keeping some African wild dogs in captivity while they are preparing them to be released back into the wild. Apparently, the alpha female of the pack of dogs was killed by a lion, and the males started mating with their “daughters.” They needed to separate the pack and introduce new females into the pack. They’ll be reintroduced into the wild in September. Shawn then drove us up a mountain road to this incredible viewpoint. It was peaceful and quiet and you could see forever and we ended up watching the sun go down up there- beautiful. And then we heard a lion roar. You guessed it…off we went. We came down the mountain and started to go find the sound when our light caught some eyes in the road…a brown hyena she thought. It crossed the road, look at us again and she said…it’s a leopard! She pulled the vehicle forward, and I expected it to dart off into the grass but it kept on coming – slowly. It crossed the road right in front of us again and went into the brush next to the road. I though for sure it was gone then. But it turned and walked parallel to the road – about 10 yards off. We turned around and followed it for a ways and then it had to cross another road. We just sat and waited, and there it was again. Shawn said this is very unusual behavior because they are typically very shy and most people just get fleeting glimpses. It was stunning, and an incredibly beautiful animal. We were lucky enough to see all the big five on our trip plus a whole lot more (we even saw a flat backed chameleon asleep in a tree – it should have been in hibernation – who knows?) I have officially run out of superlatives for this trip.

I had previously mentioned that we had celebrated Kim’s birthday on this trip, and Shawn (who is also the manager of this place) said that for special occasions, they provide a private meal in our cottage. When we returned from our evening drive, we went back to our cottage and found a roaring fire and beautiful table set for us. The chef and waiter arrived to announce our dinner menu and take our main course orders. We had a lovely meal in our cottage that lasted almost two hours and Kim was ready to fall asleep in her dessert. The waiter came to take away our final dishes followed by someone bringing the hot water bottles to keep our toes warm. Divine!

So that was the safari trip - it exceeded my wildest hopes for the trip.

Monday, July 28, 2008

O-M-G! Safari Day 2

Off for our very early lion hunt at 5:30 am – no sun at that point (did I mention that it was cold without the sun??) Here’s the outfit: long sleeve shirt, fleece pullover, fleece vest, fleece jacket, windbreaker/raincoat, jeans, two pairs of socks, and a hat – eventually, Shawn loaned me her gloves, too, oh yes, and a wool blanket. Aside from my cheeks, I was pretty toasty. OK – perhaps it was overkill, but I wasn’t complaining about being cold which, as most of you know, is my modus operandi.

We were the first ones on the road (there are probably 4 different vendors that are driving the park – seemed like maybe 8-12 game vehicles at any given time). Cruising out to the place where the lions had been reported, we saw MORE elephants (well the same ones just in a different spot). We hung out there for awhile again and then off we went. The sun started coming up so Shawn was able to start looking for tracks on the road, too. Eventually she spotted a track. We were all gazing into the distance looking for anything that resembled a lion (and in a park filling with rocks and boulders, lots of things do), when she slams on the breaks and there is “Kitamese” not more than 10 feet in front of us and walking right past us. Kitamese is a male with a magnificent mane. He was walking away from us toward a dam where, it turns out, two of his sons were with a wildebeest kill. We watched as long as we could before losing him in the brush and then went over to the dam. We saw the two adolescent males playing with each other, and eventually saw Kitamese stroll over the ridge. Each of the boys separately ran over to him and did what can only be described as face nuzzling. Then dad walked over to the kill, grabbed this wildebeest and startes dragging him into the shade – it was his meal now. The sons were none too happy about that and tried to stop him but he shooed them away. I bet he dragged that carcass about 200 yards. He would stop and rest about every 10 yards or so. And then he was gone. Wow! Time to head back after that with our usual assortment of impala (very common), zebras, elephants, giraffes, and wildebeest…with a couple of warthogs thrown in, too. We got to the road taking us to our lodge and there were two rhinos blocking the road. They let us get right up to them. They stopped to check us out but eventually just moved on so we could get through. We never felt scared being so close to the animals. Shawn would talk us through each encounter to explain what to do and what to look for to know we were safe – various things from their demeanor to the look in their eyes, etc. So we’re back at the lodge now…must be time to eat!

We said goodbye to our Utah friends and had some time to rest, shower, read, nap. There is a watering hole outside of the lodge that was frequented by animals. When we got here on Friday, there was a giraffe munching away on a tree, and today, there were lots of zebra (which rhymes with Debra) and wildebeests just hanging out.

We had new trip companions on the afternoon drive – a couple, one from France and one from Italy. Off we go and what do we see? Elephants – same group but they were moving further away. Shawn got us access to a private road so we had them all to ourselves – another indescribable experience. Truly…you just can’t imagine what it’s like to be surrounded by a herd of elephants. On this trip, we were also introduced to kudu, springbok, and red heartabeest, which is the second fastest in the antelope family. Then, more unintelligible Afrikaans over the radio and off we go. She wouldn’t tell us what we were chasing, but whatever it was, it was on the move. We go to one spot – nothing. A second spot – nothing. More Afrikaans and off to a third spot before she finally tells us they’ve spotted the cheetah (the one and only cheetah in the park). She finds it in her binocs, but it’s far away and dusk out. We go to a spot where everyone thinks it’s heading (there were about 5 other vehicles there) and…no cheetah. No one knows where it went, but it disappeared. By now it’s dark – more Afrikaans on the radio, and off we go. This time we learn that we’re on a lion hunt, and once again, Shawn was the one to find them…a male and a female. We tracked them for awhile as they moved parallel to the road we were on and then we moved up to the spot where they were going to cross the road. We had a front-row seat to the lioness roaring several times – calling for her family and the majestic male following her. As they say here, we were all quite chuffed (happy). Back to the lodge – more eating (I never made it past the 4th course and that was with only eating about ½ of what was on my plate). The thing I tried tonight was springbok carpaccio – not my favorite although I couldn’t get past the fact that I was eating raw meat. I had a couple of bites, though…

What a day!

O-M-G! Safari Day 1

We left our rental car at another lodge at the Pilanesburg park and were picked up and transported to Tsukudu Lodge. There were 132 steps up to the lodge (which is the only thing I’m not going to miss about this place). We arrived to our cottage (1 of 6 on a hilltop overlooking a watering hole and a great valley that attracted a number of animals.) and were there long enough to put down our stuff and return for high tea at 3:00 - generally some type of salad, some type of a hot dish, cheese and crackers, and some dessert. Then we were whisked off on our first drive with a family from Utah. Our guide, Shawn, who ended up driving us on every trip, asked what we wanted to see. Having missed the elephant the first time around, we said we wanted to see those and otherwise just show off the beauty of the park and it’s animals. Our first sighting was of rhino – there were 3 including a 3-month old baby that Shawn watched being born. Then she said “gotta go” because something had come over the radio about a sighting (the guides speak in Afrikaans when they’ve spotted something) and we needed to get there. A few minutes later we arrived to find…ELEPHANTS! And more elephants, and still more elephants! We were surrounded by probably 100 of them…on the road, crossing the road, next to us, behind us, in front of us. Several times we had some come to check us out. And they had several babies (one 2-3 weeks old) with them and they still seemed totally unconcerned about our presence. They were close enough to us that…well…did you know that elephants have very long eyelashes??? We probably spent 30 minutes just sitting there before we were ready to move on and the road was clear enough for us to do so. It was spectacular. I learned that elephants live about 60 years because they have 6 sets of teeth that last about 10 years each. When they’re done with teeth that’s it…they essentially starve to death although Shawn says they usually get “taken down” before then (a euphemism for hunted by predators). They eat constantly and they are incredibly destructive creatures. They snap off tree branches with their trunk to eat the bark and layer just inside the bark and also use a combination of their trunks and feet to rip bushes off of the ground. They apparently don’t have very good digestive systems and therefore need to eat 200 kilos of food a day (about 440 lbs of leaves and grass). Shawn insisted we smell fresh elephant dung which she handled – surprisingly fresh like hay.

Next up, giraffe, wildebeest, and a stop for a “sundowner” (drinks and snacks at a place to be able to watch the sunset). The nighttime drive is to search for the cats and other nocturnal animals. Lions and leopards are the prizes (I was wrong when I said last post that we were after cheetah as one of the Big 5 – it was leopard). If we saw any, it would be lions. Leopards apparently are very shy and are hard to find because they don’t vocalize the way lions do, and there is only one cheetah in the park). Did I mention that it was cold? Biting cold??? When the sun goes down and you’re driving in an open game vehicle with the wind, it is nasty cold. Pilanesburg park is a desert climate zone so the temperatures can go below freezing and above 120. Our temps were probably between 45 and 70, although the sun really warms things up nicely. They do provide nice wool blankets so that it’s not that bad if you’re dressed properly. The second half of the trip was after dark, and the way they do that is to have spotlights on the side of the vehicle, and then the guide sweeps a light (very powerful) back and forth. The goal is to look for the eyes of the animals. We saw black-backed jackel, a spotted eagle owl, and a steenbok, which is the tiniest member of the antelope family. The owls were often found sitting in the middle of the road as it is apparently easier to catch the rodents who are running across the street that way (seems like cheating to me…). No lions, though. Shawn was convinced that we would see some in the morning, though, and suggested leaving an hour earlier in the morning. So, we turned around and headed back toward the lodge - there were the elephants again. Still in basically the same area, still eating away, still crossing in front of us back and forth. One was apparently pretty tired and laid down to nap for a bit. We had no idea how long we were going to be sitting there and watching. Turned out to be not such a long time – 5 minutes maybe before it got up and ambled away. Then we saw a hippo out of water (eating, of course) and finally made it back about 3.5 hours later. We had enough time to drop off our stuff before we returned for our 6 course dinner! Gourmet, of course. Tonight it ostrich filet (pronounced fill-it here) with risotto…this was the fanciest place I’ve been to where I could hang out in jeans and a sweatshirt and not feel severely underdressed.

Here’s the general schedule for this place: 6 am wake up, 6:15 tea and biscuits, 6:30 leave on the morning drive (scheduled for 3 hours), 10:00 am brunch, 3:00 high tea, 3:30 leave on the afternoon drive (scheduled for about 4 hours), and then dinner at 8:00. Eat, sleep, drive – that was about all we did. On day 2 however, we’re searching for lions so were up at 5 and off by 5:30. Fabulous!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quick Note

We've reached Pilanesburg National Park and are awaiting our transport to Tshkudu Bush Lodge. We got here early because the Apartheid Museum didn't open when we thought it did, so we decided to leave and go to Sun City. When we arrived there, they wanted to charge us to drive into the city. Imagine having to pass through a gate and pay an entrance fee to Las Vegas (supposedly that's what Sun City is modeled oaisis built in the desert). So we have some time to kill here.

Thank goodness for GPS. We rented one in Jo-burg and were very happy we did - I doubt we would have found where we were going last night or today. Of course, when I was setting it up I hit the "shortest route" rather than "quickest route" button which ended up taking us through all different slices of life in the neighborhoods of the city.

I believe that the security industry is probably the largest employer in SA (actually, the country code is ZA or Zed A as it's called here). There is razor wire or electrified wire running over the top of just about every fence (and just about everything is fenced). There are also guards that monitor all of the doorway entries to places, and the guards that were placed at the hotel escorted us places whenever we requested (like to an ATM machine). Still and all, we never really felt unsafe.

Off on our safari - and since spending a relaxing time in the wild is the perfect setting for a competition, we're looking for the Big 5 - and apparently in the past couple of days, they've been spotting the ones we haven't seen...elephants, cheetahs, and lions. No contact for awhile - we'll try to check back in early next week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Random thoughts

As I was thinking about what to put in this blog, it occurred to me that it might be the last one for awhile. We leave tomorrow for Jo-burg and then off to Pilanesburg National Park for our vacation! Maybe our hotel in Jo-burg will have internet and I can fill you in on the Apartheid Museum (our primary destination in Jo-burg).

Anyway, here are some random thoughts…

• There are 12,000 registered social workers for a country of 47 million people (give or take a million or so). We heard from the Deputy Minister for Social Development who said that the recently passed Children’s Policy will require a minimum of 16,000 social workers just to fully implement that one policy. That doesn’t address any of the other needs (although we know that no one specializes…these folks do it all).

• The faculty at UKZN indicated that they are under heavy pressure to admit more students in order to increase the number of trained social workers in the country. They have 6 faculty and have decided to admit 125 per year. SW is a 4-year degree while most bachelor degrees are 3.

• The social workers that we met were mostly Indian, with a few Blacks, particularly doing the HIV/AIDS work. However, I don’t know if that was a function of the fact that the woman who helped us arrange the visits is Indian and these were the agencies she knew the best. Most of the social workers are supported by paraprofessionals who seem to have come up from the ranks…starting as service recipients, moving to volunteers, and then to paid staff. UKZN did tell us that 90% of their students were Black, so the demographic makeup of the workforce is bound to be changing in the coming years.

• The agencies we visited were all NGOs. Some received a modicum of their funding from the government, Hope Worldwide and the Advise Desk for Abuse Women relied on donations of private money or grants.

• Colloquialisms: Instead of “you’re welcome,” folks say “pleasure.” Grandmothers seem to be referred to as Grannies here, and “shame” is used as if saying “that’s too bad.”

• The racism here has been shocking on two levels. First, there are the blatant comments made to us, e.g., “black people aren’t too smart and I don’t think they could come up with this. They may be sneaky, but they’re not too clever.” This from the hotel manager who didn’t think it was his housekeeping staff who ransacked a room. That’s only one example…there are others. The second shocking element was the presumption that because I’m white, that I would be a kindred spirit and surely must share their ideas. Several students described similar experiences. I keep reminding myself that they are only 14 years post-apartheid and that these attitudes are going to take generations to change. And of course, the two people I met here I truly thought were idiots were white.

• Ethnic food run-down: Indian, Pakistani (not much difference between the two as I’m sure you might guess), Ethiopian, and African. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but I’ve had my fill of Indian food. It’s been delicious, but I think between the meals provided to us and the restaurants we’ve selected on our own, we’ve had curry just about every day that we’ve been here. Kim had had a couple of seafood dishes, although apparently it’s hard to select a dish when you’re not familiar with the fish. She had good luck with a hake. Other local fish include kingklip and dorado, along with mussels, calamari, prawns, etc.

• We’ve had 5 birthdays on the trip (including Kim’s) and everyone has done a great job of making the birthday girl feel important despite being a long way from home. The students all signed a card for Kim, and have generally treated her like one of the gang.

• Did I mention the shark dive? Several students went on a shark dive and one student managed to have the shark bite the cage directly in front of her. It apparently was right out of Jaws.

• Kim had a lovely trip to Pietermariztburg on Monday. She rented a car and jumped in to drive away and then realized she was on the passenger side. Aside from that, most of the driving was uneventful. She was visiting a former co-worker who was at FSU getting her PhD and then returned to SA. She lives about an hour north of Durban in an area that they call the Midlands. She says it looks like an English countryside…like the Cotswolds (sp?) for those of you who have traveled through England.

• Did I also mention that I’ve had it with hanging out with students for awhile? While these folks have really been fun and thoughtful people, they are still students!

Well...I guess that's it for now. Off to a very interesting-sounding plenary session on globalization, women, and children.